Fact-checking the U.S. Senate debate between Marco Rubio and Patrick Murphy

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., left, and Rep. Patrick Murphy, D-Fla., shake hands before their debate at the University of Central Florida, Monday, Oct. 17, 2016, in Orlando, Fla. (AP photo)
Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., left, and Rep. Patrick Murphy, D-Fla., shake hands before their debate at the University of Central Florida, Monday, Oct. 17, 2016, in Orlando, Fla. (AP photo)

U.S. Senate candidates Marco Rubio and Patrick Murphy trashed each other’s legislative records in Washington — and their parties’ presidential nominees — during their first-ever debate.

Murphy, a Jupiter Democrat, attacked Rubio, the Republican incumbent, over his Senate attendance record and his support of Donald Trump, while Rubio knocked Murphy for never breaking with Hillary Clinton.

PolitiFact Florida has been fact-checking their campaign jabs and ads since the beginning. Here’s our running list of fact-checks.

Murphy: "I got my start as an auditor and CPA."

The National Republican Senatorial Committee has challenged Murphy’s resume, saying he "never worked as a CPA" (and also was "never a small business owner"). The word "never" is too extreme to characterize Murphy’s work experience. But he did work as a CPA, albeit for only several months. He first worked as an audit assistant, and then got licensed through the state of Colorado, but he left his accounting job less than one year after he got his license.

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Rubio: Hillary Clinton lied to the families of Benghazi victims.

Clinton spoke to the families of the victims in brief conversations at a private reception only three days after the terrorist attacks at the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi. There’s no way to know for certain what Clinton told them. Some, but not all, family members who have spoken to the media said Clinton mentioned a video or protests in their meeting. Some said she didn’t mention a video. Clinton says she did not. We did not rate this statement on the Truth-O-Meter, because there simply is not enough concrete information in the public domain for Rubio or anyone to claim as fact that Clinton did or did not lie to the Benghazi families.

Murphy: Rubio has the worst voting record of any Florida senator in 50 years.

Rubio has the highest absentee rate since George Smathers, who left office in 1969. There are plenty of ways to slice the data: Some senators missed more votes overall, and his record is largely in line with other presidential candidates from the U.S. Senate. It’s important to keep those points in mind, but we rated the statement Mostly True.

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Murphy: Donald Trump wants to be buddies with Vladimir Putin.

Over the years, Trump has changed what he’s said about whether he’s had a relationship with Putin. In 2013, he said, "I do have a relationship." In 2014 he said, "I spoke, indirectly and directly, with President Putin" and said the Russian leader had sent him a present. In 2015, he said, "I got to know him very well" due to their joint appearance on 60 Minutes. More recently, though, Trump has said, "I never met Putin — I don't know who Putin is" and "I have no relationship with him." We rated Trump’s position a Full Flop.

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Rubio: Murphy hasn’t gotten anything done in the House.

Rubio’s counterpunch to Murphy’s scolding about his attendance was to point out that Murphy has not managed to pass a piece of legislation he sponsored despite having a Democrat as president. That attack ignores the fact that Murphy had little chance of seeing legislation through committee as an outnumbered Democrat in the Republican-run House.

It echoes an attack by one of the third-party groups supporting Rubio, the American Future Fund, which lashed Murphy for being "one of the least effective" House members earlier in the campaign. That claim rated Mostly False because it is based on a study with a limited view of Murphy’s record — just sponsored bills that passed out of committee through 2014. Another review showed he met expectations for a freshman of the minority party.

Murphy: PolitiFact debunked all of the attacks against me.

Not quite. PolitiFact Florida has fact-checked several attacks on Murphy’s resume, some of which which stretched the truth. Not all of the critiques were off-base.

For example, when Rubio previously said, "Murphy embellished, according to reports, his University of Miami academic achievement," we rated that Mostly True.

On his congressional office and U.S. Senate campaign websites, Murphy said he had "dual degrees" when in fact he had a single degree with a double major in two areas of study: accounting and finance. When the Miami Herald/Tampa Bay Times pointed out the inaccuracy, his campaign said it was an error and fixed it. Murphy had also referred to "dual degree" at times in the past while other times his websites reflected a single degree.

Murphy: Rubio turned his back on the "people who needed him most."

Murphy has attacked Rubio for turning against bipartisan immigration legislation he worked on from 2013. After a comprehensive bill with a path to citizenship failed in 2013, Rubio called for a piecemeal approach with border security first. Rubio still wants to change immigration laws, but he believes it is politically impractical to do it in one swoop. Some immigration advocates argue that Rubio’s piecemeal approach is a delay tactic and kicks a path to citizenship even further down the road.

Murphy’s campaign has linked his support of Trump, who has said he will overturn a program that temporarily allows Dreamers, the group of immigrants who came to the United States illegally as children, to avoid deportation. That action by itself would leave those undocumented immigrants to face the threat of deportation. Rubio, however, also has said he supports a legislative replacement for DACA.

Rubio: I worked to address the Obamacare "bailout fund."

The "bailout fund" is actually a provision in the Affordable Care Act called risk corridors, designed to temporarily aid insurers as they adjust premiums. Rubio helped persuade Congress to prevent the Health and Human Services Department from being able to cover expenses its own budget.  But experts have said Rubio is wrong to call the program a bailout, and that the program is supposed to pay for itself through fees from insurers.  The program has not been wiped out, as Rubio has said. At best, Rubio and Congress have temporarily limited one potential way CMS could have covered insurance companies' losses. We’ll have to see what happens when the program expires after 2016 -- then any outstanding bills will be due, one way or another.

Murphy: Rubio has called Trump a "con man" and said he could not be trusted with nuclear codes.

When Rubio was running for president, he didn't mince words when attacking Trump. Rubio told George Stephanopoulos Feb. 26 on ABC's Good Morning America: "There is no way that the party of Reagan and the conservative movement — I'm gonna allow it to be taken over by a con artist. He says I'm a choker, he's a con artist."

Rubio also said Trump can’t be trusted with nuclear codes on multiple occasions even after he endorsed the Republican nominee.

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Rubio: "His ad says I want to take away reproductive rights for women. That’s false."

That wasn’t the question. Politico Florida reporter Marc Caputo asked Rubio why his campaign ran a Spanish-language ad accusing Murphy of wrongly conveying Rubio's stance on abortion for pregnant women infected by Zika.

What Murphy originally said in a September ad is that Rubio does not believe those women should have a right to an abortion if they suspect their baby may suffer from Zika-related birth defects. Rubio had been the one who confirmed that stance in an August story in Politico. Rubio then disputed it in his Spanish-language ad in October. Unless Rubio has changed his stance and not spoken about it publicly, Murphy portrayed Rubio’s stance correctly.

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Rubio: No, the election is not going to be "rigged."

ABC reporter and debate moderator Jonathan Karl asked Rubio about Trump’s (Pants on Fire-worthy) claims that the election is "rigged" against him. Rubio did not defend the comments; far from it, Rubio ticked off several points to counter Trump’s assertion about a national voter fraud conspiracy, including that elections are run by local supervisors.

Murphy: Trump said it himself — "he’s unhinged."

Actually, that’s Clinton’s word to describe the Republican nominee. Karl corrected Murphy — Trump recently tweeted that he was unshackled.

Rubio: Murphy’s family made "millions" from business deals with Trump.

Rubio’s campaign has cited a BuzzFeed story about Murphy’s campaign that said Murphy’s own staff dug up research linking him to Trump. The story said that Murphy commissioned an opposition report on himself while running for re-election to the House if 2014.

The research book cited an April 2009 Construction Today article that said Thomas Murphy’s construction company was involved in two luxury condominium projects in Hollywood and Sunny Isles Beach. Thomas Murphy had said Trump had licensed his name to the projects and had no further involvement in the towers.

Patrick Murphy, meanwhile, has as much as $5 million in Coastal Construction shares.

Rubio: "It’s not that hard to open a small business when your dad opens it for you."

Murphy was a small business owner. But the business was owned by multiple people and grew out of a business owned by his father.

In 2010, Murphy, his father Thomas P. Murphy Jr. and Dan Whiteman incorporated Coastal Environmental Services to clean up the Gulf oil spill, but ultimately only did work in the Gulf for a few months. Murphy’s father owns the affiliated Coastal Construction, and Whiteman was listed as the president of both firms. Annual reports show Patrick Murphy was a director in 2011 and 2012. Once elected to Congress, he remained an owner but no longer a director. State records don’t show if someone is an "owner," and Murphy hasn’t said if he financed the firm.

The company has been dormant since 2010, so it hasn't generated any income. Murphy’s campaign said it therefore doesn't need to be reported as an asset.

Rubio: Hillary Clinton believes "it should be legal to abort a child even up to the day before they are due to be born" and believes "in partial-birth abortion."

Clinton does not believe that all abortion should be legal, but she clearly supports a woman’s right to choose. She has said she supports restrictions on late-term abortions except in cases of rape, incest and when the mother’s life and health are in danger, and has called for ending congressional restrictions on Medicaid funding of abortions. She did vote against advancing the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003 later signed into law by President George W. Bush. But she has said since 2000 that she’d support a legislated late-term limit on abortion if it included an exception to protect the health of the woman — which the current law against partial-birth abortions does not.

Murphy: "When asked about equal pay for women, (Rubio’s) quote was that it was a waste of time."

Rubio did use the expression to describe Democratic efforts to advance the Paycheck Fairness Act in 2014. Rubio thought the bill focused too much on allowing workers to sue employers for discrimination, and not enough time focusing on job training and other solutions. That’s not the same as dismissing efforts to close the gender pay gap out of hand. Murphy misrepresented the context of Rubio’s response, so we rated Murphy’s statement Half True.

Rubio: "In about three weeks over a half million Floridians are going to lose their coverage again" through Obamacare.

That’s a reference to more than 400,000 Floridians who are expected to lose their plans under the Obamacare exchange. However, Rubio omits that they will be offered another plan including by Florida Blue, which will remain in every county in Florida. Rubio also ignores the fact that due to the marketplace, 1.7 million Floridians have signed up for coverage — larger than the more than 400,000 who will have to switch plans. The percentage of Floridians who are uninsured has been dropping under Obamacare in recent years. We rated this claim Half True.