The Republican candidates for president gathered in Houston
It was their last debate before Super Tuesday
CNN teams selected key statements and rated how true they were
The Republican candidates for president gathered in Houston on Thursday for their last debate before Super Tuesday, and CNN’s Reality Check Team spent the night putting their statements and assertions to the test.
The team of reporters, researchers and editors across CNN selected key statements and rated them true; mostly true; true, but misleading; false; or it’s complicated.
Reality Check: Trump on American taxes
By Kate Grise and Tami Luhby, CNN
Donald Trump reprised a claim he’s made in past debates, saying the United States is the “highest taxed country in the world.”
Responding to a question about his plan to cut taxes, Trump said, “If you look at what’s going on, we have the highest taxes anywhere in the world. We pay more business tax, we pay more personal tax.”
As CNN’s Reality Check team did when Trump made this claim two weeks ago, we’ll look at each part of his claim that American individuals and businesses pay more taxes than any other country.
So, do Americans really pay more individual taxes than citizens of any other country in the world?
America ranked 17 out of 34 Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development member countries for total tax revenue per capita in 2014. In America, the tax revenue per capita is $14,203.90. In Luxembourg, the country with the highest tax revenue per capita, that rate is almost $50,000. Norway’s tax revenue per capita hits more than $38,000. Denmark, Sweden and Switzerland round out the top five countries with the highest tax revenue per capita.
OECD’s 34 member countries are advanced, industrialized nations, which makes their data valuable in comparing the United States to similar countries. China, Russia and India are not included in the OECD’s list because they are not member countries.
We can also look at total tax revenue as a percentage of the country’s gross domestic product. This time, America ranks even lower – 27th out of 34 OECD member countries in 2014. America’s tax revenue is 26% of the country’s GDP. Denmark tops the list, with its tax revenue being equal to 50% of the country’s GDP.
Looking at whether American citizens face the highest taxes, we rate Trump’s claim as false.
Turning to companies, it’s true that American businesses face the highest official corporate tax rate. The federal rate stands at 35%.
But that’s not what many companies actually pay. The Government Accountability Office found that large, profitable U.S. corporations paid an average effective federal tax rate of 12.6% in 2010, thanks to things like tax credits, exemptions and offshore tax havens.
U.S. corporate tax collection totaled 2.6% of GDP in 2011, according to the OECD. That was the 11th lowest in a ranking of 27 wealthy nations.
So when it comes to American corporations, we rate Trump’s statement as true, but misleading. The United States has the highest official corporate tax rate, but that’s not what many companies actually pay.
Reality Check: Trump has a dirty mouth
By Sonam Vashi, CNN
Asked about former Mexican President Vicente Fox’s comments from earlier Thursday (“I’m not going to pay for that f**king wall!”), Trump said, “I saw him make the statement. I saw him use the word that he used. I can only tell you, if I would have used even half of that word, it would have been a national scandal. This guy used a filthy, disgusting word on television and he should be ashamed of himself and he should apologize, OK?”
However, the businessman has a history that shows his own mouth might need to be washed out with soap. Cover your ears, children.
In April 2011, he blasphemed at a large Las Vegas rally on oil prices (“We have nobody in Washington that sits back and said, ‘You’re not going to raise that f***king price!’”), on putting tariffs on China (“Listen, you mother***kers, we’re going to tax you 25%!”) and on military presence abroad ("We build a school, we build a road, they blow up the school, we build another school, we build another road they blow them up, we build again, in the meantime we can’t get a f***king school in Brooklyn.”). Listen for yourself in the (bleeped) Vine below.
That’s not even counting the profanity he’s uttered during this campaign season. Whether it’s wanting to “bomb the s**t out of” ISIS, calling Cruz a “pussy,” or casually cursing during interviews, Trump’s indignation over Fox’s expletive seems a bit feigned when it comes to his own history. We rate Trump’s outrage as %$*#.
Reality Check: Trump on paying for the wall with Mexico
By Tami Luhby, CNNMoney
Trump has long said he wants to build a wall between the U.S. and Mexico and get the Mexican government to pay for it. More recently, he’s been tying the issue to America’s trade deficit with its southern neighbor.
“We have a trade deficit with Mexico of $58 billion a year. And that doesn’t include all the drugs that are pouring across and destroying our country. We are going to make them pay for that wall. Now, the wall is $10 billion to $12 billion,” Trump said.
It’s true that the trade deficit with Mexico was $58 billion last year. But that doesn’t mean the Mexican government can pay for the wall … not to mention whether they’d even agree to.
The deficit means that private firms in Mexico have earned more money from trading with the U.S. than U.S. firms have earned from trade with Mexico, said Gary Hufbauer, senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics.
“It not like it’s a pot of money available to the Mexican government,” he said.
So it’s false that the trade deficit gives Mexico the money to pay for the wall.
CNN also looked at the cost of building the wall. Construction experts said a wall fashioned out of pre-casted concrete panels – similar to those that run alongside highways – would be the most workable choice.
Based on the price of highway panels, the price tag for the wall alone would cost around $10 billion, which is not accounting for the cost of construction that would take at least four years over the border’s diverse terrain.
Other construction estimates have come in much higher. A retired estimator and economist for one of the nation’s largest construction firms calculated it would cost nearly $25 billion, according to The Washington Post.
We rate Trump’s claim that building the wall would cost between $10 billion and $12 billion as false.
Reality Check: Trump accidentally calls himself out
By Amy Gallagher and Chad Weaver, CNN
Trump said, “I don’t repeat myself. I don’t repeat myself.”
But by our count, he repeated himself at least 20 times during the debate.
“Because the country will become a dynamic economy. We’ll be dynamic again.”
“We will have a dynamic economy again.”
“We have the highest taxes anywhere in the world.”
“We have the highest taxes in the world.”
“I’ve hired tens of thousands of people over my lifetime. Tens of thousands …”
“Let me talk. I’ve hired tens of thousands of people.”
“And by the way, I’ve hired – and by the way, I’ve hired tens of thousands of people over at my job. You’ve hired nobody.”
We rate his claim false. False.
Reality Check: Trump on “Israeli Day Parade”
By Lisa Rose, CNN
Trump touted his bona fides as a supporter of Israel during the debate, sparring with Texas Sen. Ted Cruz over which one of them is a more devoted booster of America’s close ally. Trump said, “I was the grand marshal, (walking) down Fifth Avenue a number of years ago for the Israeli Day Parade.”
And Trump added, “I received their Tree of Life award and many of the greatest awards given by Israel.”
The real estate tycoon indeed marched in a parade called Salute to Israel in 2004. The New York Daily News reported that Trump was heckled by pro-Palestine activists chanting, “You’re fired.”
Trump said he has close ties with the nation he has yet to visit as a candidate. He was scheduled to go there in December but canceled the trip after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu criticized him for proposing a travel ban on Muslims in the wake of the San Bernardino attack.
The Tree of Life prize is awarded by the Jewish National Fund, a charity that supports environmental initiatives and land development in Israel. A number of Jewish organizations have honored Trump over the years for his philanthropy, but the government of Israel has not yet given him a prize as he claimed Thursday.
Verdict: True, but misleading.
Reality Check: Cruz on Wall Street Journal article on Arizona immigration
By Tami Luhby, CNNMoney
In a heated debate about illegal immigration, Cruz noted that undocumented workers fled Arizona after the state cracked down on them. He cited a Wall Street Journal story that outlined the impact on state and business spending.
“What the state of Arizona has seen is the dollars they’re spending on welfare, on prisons, on education, all of those have dropped by hundreds of millions of dollars, and the Americans, and for that matter, the legal immigrants, who are in Arizona, are seeing unemployment drop, are seeing wages rise,” Cruz said.
The number of undocumented workers in Arizona dropped by 40% between 2007 and 2012, the Journal writes, citing a Pew Research Center report.
Here’s what the Journal article actually said about the economic impact of that decline:
• The number of students enrolled in intensive English courses in Arizona public schools fell from 150,000 in 2008 to 70,000 in 2012 and has remained constant since. Schooling 80,000 fewer students would save the state roughly $350 million a year, by one measure.
• Annual emergency-room spending on noncitizens fell 37% from $167 million to $106 million.
• The annual cost to state prisons of incarcerating noncitizens convicted of felonies fell 11% from $202 million to $180 million.
• Wages rose about 15% for Arizona farmworkers and about 10% for construction between 2010 and 2014, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
It’s true that the Journal story said that spending on education dropped by hundreds of millions of dollars.
But Cruz exaggerates the other claims, so we rate them as false.
The savings from fewer incarcerations are much smaller and the Journal doesn’t mention welfare spending. In fact, it notes that undocumented immigrants cannot receive government benefits, including non-emergency hospital care.
Also, while wages have gone up, the story doesn’t specify whether pay is rising for legal immigrants. It noted that some of the low-skilled workers who benefited are native born.
Reality Check: Cruz on everyone’s illegal immigration records
By Kate Grise, CNN
Cruz kicked off the debate by defending his own record on illegal immigration and attacking others on stage.
He made many claims about his record and those of two of the other candidates on stage with him. Let’s look at them one by one.
“I really find it amazing that Donald believes he is the one who discovered the issue of illegal immigration. I can tell you that when I ran for Senate here in the state of Texas, I ran promising to lead the fight against amnesty, promising to fight to build a wall,” Cruz said.
During the race for his Senate race in 2012, Cruz said he opposed amnesty – which to him means no pathway to citizenship or legal status for undocumented immigrants – multiple times.
“Neither party is serious about stopping it. I strongly oppose illegal immigration. I categorically oppose amnesty. I support legal immigrants who come here supporting the American Dream,” Cruz said in an interview with Hot Air in May 2012.
In the same interview, Cruz said, “We need to do everything humanly possible to secure the borders. Electronic surveillance, a wall, helicopters and, most importantly, boots on the ground.”
We rate Cruz’s claim that he campaigned on a promise to fight amnesty and build a wall as true.
Reality Check: Cruz says Trump is for ‘socialized medicine’
By Chip Grabow, CNN
On the topic of health care, Cruz claimed Trump “for decades … has been advocating ‘socialized medicine.’ What he’s said is that the government should pay for everyone’s health care. And, in fact, a couple of debates ago, he said, if you don’t support socialized health care, you’re heartless.”
Cruz may be confusing “universal health care” with “socialized medicine,” two different things. The former means that everyone gets coverage. Socialized medicine means medicine and hospital services are paid for by taxes.
And while we haven’t found a record of Trump saying this during a debate, on ABC’s “This Week” last month, he did allude to Cruz being heartless. Host George Stephanopoulos reminded Trump that Cruz was telling voters, “A vote for Trump is a vote for Obamacare.” Trump responded, “I want people taken care of. I have a heart. I want people taken care of. If people have no money, we have to help people.” Trump went on, saying of Cruz, “Maybe he’s got no heart.”
We did discover multiple instances as far back as 1999 where Trump has made clear his support of universal health care. Here’s a few of them:
Last September, in an interview on CBS’ “60 Minutes,” Trump told Scott Pelley: “I am going to take care of everybody. I don’t care if it costs me votes or not. Everybody’s going to be taken care of much better than they’re taken care of now.”
Pelley: “The uninsured person is going to be taken care of. How? How?”
Trump: “They’re going to be taken care of. I would make a deal with existing hospitals to take care of people. And, you know what, if this is probably –”
Pelley: “Make a deal? Who pays for it?”
Trump: “The government’s gonna pay for it. But we’re going to save so much money on the other side. But for the most, it’s going to be a private plan and people are going to be able to go out and negotiate great plans with lots of different competition with lots of competitors with great companies and they can have their doctors, they can have plans, they can have everything.”
Trump also spoke highly of universal health care in his 2000 book, “The America We Deserve,” where he wrote: “We must have universal health care … I’m a conservative on most issues but a liberal on this one … We need, as a nation, to re-examine the single-payer plan, as many individual states are doing.”
In 1999, Trump flirted with a presidential run as a Reform Party candidate. That year, he told CNN’s Larry King: “If you can’t take care of your sick in the country, forget it, it’s all over. … I believe in universal health care.”
Trump may have an out for some of his claims – he’s often added that, while it’s worked well in other countries like Scotland or Canada, he didn’t think it would work as well in the U.S.
While specific details are hard to come by regarding Trump’s health care policies, he has made clear his support of universal health care, but not socialized medicine as Cruz claims.
Donald Trump and Ted Cruz
Reality Check: Cruz and Trump on Libya intervention
By Jamie Crawford, CNN
In a discussion about the 2011 military intervention in Libya by the United States and its international allies, Cruz and Trump engaged in a vigorous debate about Trump’s stance on the issue and the question of whether Libya was better off without Moammar Gadhafi in power. Trump said the following about Cruz: “He’s saying I was in favor of Libya? I never discussed that subject. I was in favor of Libya? We would be so much better off if Gadhafi were in charge right now.”
In fact, Trump did speak out about the intervention in Libya in 2011 and the fate of Gadhafi. “I can’t believe what our country is doing,” said Trump on a video blog of his in 2011. “Gadhafi in Libya is killing thousands of people, nobody knows how bad it is, and we’re sitting around, we have soldiers all over the Middle East, and we’re not bringing them in to stop this horrible carnage and that’s what it is: It’s a carnage.”
Trump went further in the same remarks, saying that Gadhafi’s ouster would be best for Libya.
“Now we should go in, we should stop this guy, which would be very easy and very quick. We could do it surgically, stop him from doing it, and save these lives. This is absolutely nuts. We don’t want to get involved and you’re gonna end up with something like you’ve never seen before,” Trump said at the time.
Trump appeared to be calling for a military intervention in Libya and for Gadhafi’s ouster in his 2011 remarks, which are at odds with his statement at the debate that the country would be better off with Gadhafi in power. We rate his statement Thursday night as false.
In his remarks at the debate, Cruz said the following: “He stated that in an interview that will be on our website, TedCruz.org, and you can see and hear the exact words from Donald’s mouth. And I assume when he sees that interview, maybe he forgot about it, that I assume Donald will apologize where he sees that he said exactly that.”
Cruz’s website does indeed link to the same 2011 video, so we rate his remarks as true.
Donald Trump and John Kasich
Reality Check: Trump and Kasich on fracking and jobs
By Marshall Cohen and Sandee LaMotte, CNN
Trump said of Ohio Gov. John Kasich, “I just want to say – and I’m a big fan of the governor – but they also struck oil, OK, so that helped Ohio a lot.”
Kasich replied, “OK, let me just talk about that. Donald believes the energy industry is important and so do I. But of the over 400,000 jobs that we’ve created in the state, we think maybe 15,000 are connected to this industry, because it’s early-stage.”
We checked a similar claim Trump made during a debate last October.
Fracking first took off in Ohio four years ago. Since then, it has attracted more than $22 billion in investments to the state and the industry estimated that it would create 200,000 jobs. However, independent analysts concluded that job growth has not been nearly as robust as first predicted.
IHS Global Insight, an economic analysis company, attributed the improving economy in Ohio to the fact that the manufacturing industry was expanding and that the population was growing slowly. They determined that the auto and plastics industries were the main drivers of growth – not fracking.
We rate Trump’s claim as false.
As for Kasich’s response, we’ve fact-checked the 400,000 jobs figure before and found it to be true for private sector jobs, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Reality Check: Rubio on the FBI’s dispute with Apple
By Eve Bower, CNN
In the FBI’s battle to force Apple to help unlock a phone used by San Bernardino gunman Syed Rizwan Farook, Sen. Marco Rubio has been praised by both his supporters and his opponents in the tech community for his detailed comments on the dispute, revealing a nuanced understanding of the issue. But when pressed to clarify some of his positions during the CNN debate Thursday, Rubio seemed to discard much of his earlier nuance, reaching instead for statements that mischaracterized the dispute.
In an appearance last week on CNN, Rubio had stressed both the importance of individual privacy rights and the need for law enforcement agencies to “access encrypted information,” ultimately concluding, “it’s complicated.” On Thursday, Rubio pivoted away from his previous answer, saying, “the FBI made this very clear 48 hours ago. The only thing they are asking of Apple is that Apple allow them to use their own systems in the FBI to try to guess the password of the San Bernardino killer.” Rubio appeared to be referring to a statement from FBI Director James Comey that was posted to the blog Lawfare on Sunday night.
Indeed, in the blog post, Comey states, “We simply want the chance, with a search warrant, to try to guess the terrorist’s passcode without the phone essentially self-destructing and without it taking a decade to guess correctly. That’s it.”
But some have noted that if the FBI succeeds in its legal battle, the implications of the remedy would go far beyond the narrow scope Comey (and Rubio) suggest. Many fear it would empower local and state governments around the United States to seek court orders requiring tech companies to re-engineer their technology. Also, they fear that other countries would seek similar requirements. Indeed, officials ranging from a deputy police chief in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, to the Manhattan district attorney have publicly expressed their intent to leverage a ruling against Apple in this case.
Rubio accurately characterizes the FBI’s stated argument, but because that argument ignores the wider implications, we rate this part of his claim true but misleading.
Rubio then said, “Apple initially came out saying we’re being ordered to create a backdoor to an encryption device. That is not accurate.” Rubio’s claim here is again technically true, but not in the way he probably means it. In a February 16 open letter, Apple CEO Tim Cook did indeed claim that the FBI “asked us to build a backdoor to the iPhone.” Numerous tech experts have since clarified what Cook probably did not want to admit: The remedy that the FBI seeks is not the creation of a new “backdoor,” but rather, a “backdoor” that exploits a security loophole that is already known to exist in Apple’s operating system. In practice, Apple’s claim is indeed accurate, contrary to Rubio’s claim.
Rubio’s final claim was also misleading. He said, “all they are asking them to do is to disable the self-destruct mode or the auto-erase mode on one phone in the entire world.” It is true that the scope of the FBI’s complaint is limited to this one phone. But if the order stands, “Apple and other technology companies could be ordered to build backdoors – essentially defects – into other devices, rendering them insecure and vulnerable to attack by law enforcement and by others as well,” said Greg Nojeim of the Center for Democracy and Technology.
Because there is widespread agreement that if the court upholds the FBI’s demand, there will be ramifications that go far beyond the one San Bernardino phone, we rate his claims true but misleading.
Reality Check: Rubio says Obamacare is a certified job killer
By Tami Luhby and Kate Grise, CNN
Florida Sen. Marco Rubio repeated his claim that Obamacare is “a certified job killer.”
“It’s bad for our economy,” Rubio said. “It’s a health care law that is basically forcing companies to lay people off, cut people’s hours, move people to part-time. It’s not just a bad health care law, it’s a job-killing law, and I will repeal it as President and we will replace it with something substantially better for all Americans.”
In fact, Obamacare is not a job killer, according to the 2015 Kaiser Family Foundation/Health Research and Education Trust survey released in September.
The report showed that only 4% of employers with at least 50 employees said they shifted some staffers to part-time hours so they wouldn’t qualify for health care, and another 4% said they were reducing the number of full-time employees they planned to hire because of the cost of health benefits.
An ADP Research Institute study had similar findings. In fact, that study showed that 10% of employers reported that they were changing workers from part-time to full-time status to enable them to obtain coverage.
One reason may be that the economy has been improving. Some companies interviewed by ADP said they may increase their part-timers’ hours to retain talent and reduce training costs.
As to whether employers are cutting jobs because of Obamacare, it’s nearly impossible to determine from Labor Department data since the economy is recovering and adding jobs. The number of people who can only find part-time jobs has declined in recent years, signifying companies are hiring more full-time workers.
Reality Check: Rubio on Trump hiring undocumented workers
By Sonam Vashi, CNN
A fiery back-and-forth between Rubio and Trump elicited this lengthy exchange:
Rubio: “You’re the only person on this stage that’s ever been fined for hiring people to work on your projects illegally.”
Trump: “No, no, I’m the only one at this stage that’s hired people. You haven’t hired anybody.”
Rubio: “In fact, some of the people –”
Trump: “And by the way – I’ve hired tens of thousands of people over my job. You’ve hired nobody. You’ve had nothing but problems with your credit cards, et cetera.”
Rubio: “Let me say –”
Trump: “You haven’t hired one person, you liar.”
Rubio: “He hired workers from Poland and he had to pay a million dollars.”
Trump: “That’s wrong. Totally wrong.”
Rubio: “People can look it up. I’m sure people are Googling right now. ‘Trump Polish workers.’ You’ll see a million dollars for hiring illegal workers on one of his projects. He did it. That happened.”
And so on.
We Googled “Trump Polish workers” and here’s what we found.
In 1980, a contracting company called Kaszycki & Sons Contractors hired a group of undocumented Polish immigrants to demolish a building that would later make room for the Trump Tower in Manhattan. Some of the workers were paid $4 an hour, working 12-hour shifts, and some of the workers never received the wages owed to them, according to litigation cited by The New York Times.
In 1983, Trump was sued on the workers’ behalf, involving allegations that he used undocumented Polish workers to avoid paying union medical and pension benefits. Trump denied ever knowing that the workers were undocumented, since the hiring was made by the contracting company. In 1991, a judge ruled that Trump conspired with the union president “to withhold payments to the funds” and owed more than $325,000. That ruling was appealed, and the prosecutor in the case estimated that the money owed could reach about $4 million, according to the Times. The case was eventually settled out of court in 1999, and the amount paid was unclear.
We’re not sure where Rubio got his $1 million figure from, but the final figure that Trump paid out was never made public.
Additionally, The Washington Post reported last summer that a Trump company may have been employing some undocumented workers to construct a new hotel in downtown Washington, D.C.
We’re going to rate Rubio mostly true on his claim that Trump was fined for illegally hiring workers (since Rubio misstated the unknown amount Trump paid out), and we’re rating Trump false on his denial of Rubio’s claim.
We’re also going to rate Trump false on his literal claim that he’s the “only one at this stage that’s hired people.” While Trump may have the most extensive business experience of the Republican candidates, Ben Carson probably hired people as the director of pediatric neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins, Kasich likely hired people as a governor, and all of the candidates have hired numerous campaign staffers in the past year.
Reality Check: Rubio on Obama’s executive order
By Lisa Rose, CNN
During a discussion of immigration, Rubio said that President Barack Obama knowingly violated the Constitution with his executive order halting deportations of young people in 2012. “The problem with the executive order is it is unconstitutional,” Rubio said. “The President doesn’t have the power to do that. And he himself admitted that.”
During a 2014 speech, Obama said, “I just took action to change the law” in response to protesters who criticized him for not doing enough to help immigrants. But he also said that the administration was looking at how existing laws are being enforced.
“The way the change in the law works is that we’re reprioritizing how we enforce our immigration laws generally,” Obama said.
Conservatives criticized the executive order as overreach by the executive branch and the controversy continues to play out in the courts. The program, called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, is awaiting a ruling by the Supreme Court.
While Rubio claimed that Obama “admitted” he violated the Constitution with the executive order, the President didn’t say he deliberately crossed the line bypassing congress. Rubio raised a valid point, questioning if the executive order violated the separation of powers principle, but he mischaracterized how the President has described the action he took.
Reality Check: Rubio on entitlements’ impact on the federal budget
By Tami Luhby, CNNMoney
In talking about balancing the federal budget, Rubio once again talked about how just a few programs cost a lot of money.
“In less than five years, 83% of our entire budget will be made up of Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and the interest on the debt,” Rubio said. “That means only 17% of our budget will be for things like the military or the Department of Education or environmental protection issues.”
CNN’s Reality Check team looked at that claim when he said it at a recent CNN Town Hall. We found that those three programs and interest payments actually are projected to make up 60% of the federal budget in 2021, according to the Bipartisan Policy Center, citing Congressional Budget Office estimates. They currently make up 54% of the budget.
It looks like Rubio was referring to the increase in government spending, not the actual budget. Social Security, major federal health programs and interest will account for 83% of the increase in government outlays between 2016 and 2026, the center said.