Republican debate: Fact-checking the candidates’ claims

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WASHINGTON — The Republican candidates for president gathered in Boulder, Colorado, for their third debate Wednesday, and CNN’s Reality Check team is spending the night putting their statements and assertions to the test.

The team of reporters, researchers and editors across CNN are listening throughout the debate, selecting key statements and then rating them: True; Mostly True; True, but Misleading; False; or It’s Complicated.

Ben Carson

Reality Check: Ben Carson on his flat tax rate

Carson insisted he didn’t say his tax rate would be 10%, saying he merely used tithing as an “analogy.” He said his rate would be “much closer to 15%.”

Earlier this month, Carson told Marketplace that he uses a 10% flat tax because it’s “easy to work with the numbers” and reiterated that it would be closer to 15.

But Carson has, at least once, put a more exact figure on his flat tax idea and it was close to 10%. Speaking in Aiken, South Carolina, in September, Carson said his personal income tax rate would “probably” be 11.5% along with a 4% value-added tax on nonessential goods.

“Just to clarify, I actually think it would be probably be a bit more than 10%. It’s probably going to be about 11.5 %. And it’s probably going to require a 4% — what would you call it? A value-added tax on non-essentials. That would keep us revenue neutral. We only need to be revenue neutral in the beginning because there’s a lot of waste that could be cut out of our system.”


Chris Christie

Chris Christie on Hillary Clinton wanting to raise Social Security taxes

Christie said Clinton wants to raise Social Security taxes.

“Here’s the difference between me and Hillary Clinton,” Christie said. “What Hillary Clinton is going to say and has said before is she wants to raise Social Security taxes.”

Clinton has said that the U.S. needs to look at raising the Social Security tax cap on people who make more than $250,000 per year — but she has not formally proposed doing so.

On August 11, Clinton was asked at a Claremont, New Hampshire, town hall meeting about the Social Security tax cap — the fact that Americans do not pay Social Security taxes on anything they earn above a certain amount. That limit is $118,500 this year.

“I can understand why you’d think that was unfair,” Clinton said. “We do have to look at the cap, and we have to figure out whether we raise it or whether we raise it a little and then jump over and raise it more higher up.”

Although Clinton has left the clear impression she is supportive of raising the tax, she has not formerly proposed raising it, as Christie suggests.

VERDICT: True, but misleading

Donald Trump

Reality Check: Donald Trump denies saying Marco Rubio was Mark Zuckerberg’s ‘personal senator’

In a question about the nation’s immigration laws, and specifically H-1B visa policy, Trump was pressed about whether he ever referred to Rubio as Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s “personal senator” because of their stance over those visas. “I never said that, I never said that,” Trump told CNBC moderator Becky Quick. “Somebody’s really doing some bad fact-checking.” Trump was pressed on it again moments later and repeated his assertion.

It turns out that is exactly what it says on his campaign website in a section about immigration reform proposals:

“Raising the prevailing wage paid to H-1Bs will force companies to give these coveted entry-level jobs to the existing domestic pool of unemployed native and immigrant workers in the U.S., instead of flying in cheaper workers from overseas. This will improve the number of black, Hispanic and female workers in Silicon Valley who have been passed over in favor of the H-1B program. Mark Zuckerberg’s personal Senator, Marco Rubio, has a bill to triple H-1Bs that would decimate women and minorities.”


Donald Trump

Reality Check: Donald Trump on filing for bankruptcy

Trump said, “I never filed for bankruptcy, but many, many people did. What happened with Atlantic City is very, very disgraceful. Hundreds of companies I have opened, I have used it three times, maybe four times, came out great.”

The CNN Reality Check team looked at this at the September GOP debate. Here’s what he said then:

“I never went bankrupt by the way, as you know. Everybody knows. Out of hundreds of companies, hundreds of deals, I’ve used the law four times. Made a tremendous thing. I’m in business. I did a very good job. But I will say this: People are very, very impressed with what I’ve done, the business people.”

Trump has never filed for personal bankruptcy. But he has filed four business bankruptcies, which says makes Trump the top filer in recent decades. All of them were centered on casinos he used to own in Atlantic City. They were all Chapter 11 restructurings, which lets a company stay in business while shedding debt it owes to banks, employees and suppliers.

VERDICT: True, but misleading

Marco Rubio

Reality Check: Marco Rubio on missed votes

Marco Rubio, defending himself against accusations he’s been overly absent from the Senate as he runs for president, cited previous lawmakers running for president who also missed votes while out on the campaign trail.

“This is another example of the double standard that exists in this country between the mainstream media and the conservative movement,” he said.

He cited three former Democratic senators who ran for their party’s nomination — Bob Graham of Florida and John Kerry of Massachusetts in 2004, and Barack Obama of Illinois on 2008 — that he said also missed large percentages of votes as they campaigned.

Checks of his figures indicate Rubio is correct.

Graham missed 32% of votes in 2003, the year he declared his candidacy. That rate spiked to more than 70% in the late summer, as the race heated up.

Kerry’s absentee rate was even higher — 64% in 2003, and close to 90% in 2004, spiking after he had secured the Democratic nomination.

Then-Sen. Obama missed 26% of his votes in 2007 and 64% in 2008, and skipped almost all of the votes in the months directly leading up to the election.

But unlike those men, Rubio has said he’s finished with his Senate career, whether he wins the presidency or not. That fact has led to calls for his resignation now, including Wednesday night from Jeb Bush, a Florida resident.

Ultimately, however, Rubio’s defense that uses historic data is true.


Lindsey Graham

Reality Check: Lindsey Graham on Social Security and poverty

“Social Security is not just a concept to me,” Graham said at the undercard debate. “I know why it exists. Fifty percent of today’s seniors would be in poverty without a Social Security check. I promise you, if you make me your president, I will save Social Security because I know why it exists.”

Without Social Security benefits, 50% of seniors would have been in poverty in 2014, according to the Census Bureau.


Bobby Jindal

Reality Check: Bobby Jindal on cutting the Louisiana state budget

“What we did is cut (Louisiana) state spending. We cut our budget 26% … We have 30,000 fewer state employees than the day I took office,” Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal said at the undercard debate.

Jindal says he cut the budget by 26%, but the New Orleans Times-Picayune wrote in 2011 that much of the decline was due to the petering out of federal recovery funds in the aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita and the end of President Barack Obama’s federal stimulus funding.

It’s true he cut the number of state employees by 30,000. The state government payroll now stands at just under 85,000, down from just over 114,000, according to federal data.

But what Jindal didn’t say is that his state has suffered from financial shortfalls for years, in part because of the economic downturn and in part because of the governor’s refusal to raise taxes. Falling oil prices have also wreaked havoc. He and state legislators had to wrestle with a massive budget gap of $1.6 billion earlier this year.

VERDICT: True, but misleading

George Pataki

Reality Check: George Pataki says Hillary Clinton’s private email server was hacked and state secrets were stolen

“We have no doubt that (Hillary Clinton’s server) was hacked and that state secrets are throughout to the Iranians, the Russians, the Chinese and others,” former New York Gov. George Pataki said.

Clinton has said it was a “mistake” to use a private email server in her home during her tenure as secretary of state and has apologized for the confusion it has caused. She and her aides have also asserted that there was no classified information stored or sent on the server.

Since the discovery of the arrangement, the Justice Department is now looking into how the information on Clinton’s server was handled, and Clinton’s aides have turned the server over to the FBI as part of that probe.

The intelligence community and State Department inspectors general also revealed in July that some of Clinton’s emails contained classified information that was not identified correctly, but State Department officials maintain the information was not classified at the time it was sent.

But as to whether the server itself was breached by a foreign government and its contents accessed, there were reports in August that Russian hackers tried to break into her server five times. However, reporting by CNN to date has shown that five emails sent to her under the subject line of “Uniform Traffic Ticket” were part of a widespread phishing effort dating back to 2011 that was prevalent and that New York State Police had flagged for people to be aware of. While the presence of the emails shows there was a risk of vulnerability to Clinton, there is no evidence she ever fell for the hoax. There is also no evidence the scam was specifically directed at Clinton.

And there has been no indication to date of any Iranian, Chinese or other entities penetration of the server.


Reality Check: George Pataki on Obama’s military budget veto

“Barack Obama is the first president in American history to hold our military hostage,” former New York Gov. George Pataki said at the undercard debate, going on to suggest that Obama’s recent veto of the National Defense Authorization Act was the first time a U.S. president had held up military funding.

Pataki was referring to last week when Obama rejected the bill over a disagreement with Congress — issuing a veto in public for the first time in his presidency — because of the way it circumvented mandatory spending cuts and impeded his efforts to close the Guantanamo Bay naval prison.

But at least four of Obama’s predecessors vetoed annual Defense Authorization Acts:

— President Jimmy Carter objected to the bill in 1979 because it funded a $1 billion nuclear-powered aircraft carrier.

— President Ronald Reagan sent the 1988 NDAA back to Congress since it shrank U.S. missile defense programs.

— Missile defense programs were again the problem in 1996, when President Bill Clinton turned down the NDAA since he believed a new defense system violated international law.

— And in 2007, President George W. Bush vetoed an NDAA since it could have frozen Iraqi assets that were held in U.S. banks – holding up military funding as two U.S.-led wars were raging in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Ultimately, Obama’s veto of the NDAA will likely have little effect on the Pentagon’s operations. If the budget agreement currently making its way through Congress passes, as is expected, caps on military spending will increase by $25 billion for the next two years.

Pataki’s suggestion that Obama is the first commander-in-chief to hold up defense funding over disagreements in Congress doesn’t match up with history.


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