Thursday, September 18th, 2014

Marco Rubio and the Truth-O-Meter

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., appeared on the cover of the Feb. 18, 2013, edition of Time magazine.
U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., appeared on the cover of the Feb. 18, 2013, edition of Time magazine.

It's hard to avoid Marco Rubio this week.

He's on the cover of Time magazine with a headline that declares he is "the Republican savior." On Tuesday night, he'll be delivering his party's response to the State of the Union.

The decision by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker John Boehner to enlist the Florida senator for the speech should not have come as a surprise. Rubio, 41, is a hot conservative commodity, a dynamic speaker who introduced Mitt Romney at the Republican National Convention in Tampa.

Rubio, the 41-year-old son of Cuban immigrants, will deliver his rebuttal immediately after Obama’s address. He will also air a Spanish version, said spokesman Alex Conant.

We thought it was a good time to review his record on the Truth-O-Meter. PolitiFact National and PolitiFact Florida have checked 46 claims by Rubio since 2009, when he finished his speakership in the Florida House and made his run for U.S. Senate.

His ratings lean toward the True end of the Truth-O-Meter: 10 Trues, 12 Mostly True, 11 Half True, four Mostly False, eight False, and just one Pants on Fire

Here are the highlights of his PolitiFact record:

Immigration
Rubio has become a key figure in the national debate over immigration reform, calling for a system that allows more legal immigrants into the country based on skill.

"I'm a big believer in family based immigration," Rubio told the Wall Street Journal in January. "But I don't think that in the 21st century we can continue to have an immigration system where only 6.5 percent of people who come here, come here based on labor and skill. We have to move toward merit and skill-based immigration."

We checked out his claim that 6.5 percent of immigrants come to the U.S. based on labor and skill. We found the figure is based on a valid study but there are other ways to slice employment data for legal permanent residents. The claim earned a Mostly True.

In an interview with Fox News last summer, he said 1 million people come into the U.S. legally every year, "no other country even comes close to that figure." We rated that claim True.

Three years earlier in his Senate campaign, he told Glenn Beck, said, "Close to half of the folks in this country illegally, entered legally (but) overstayed (their) visas. So we've got to get a hold of this visa program, too." Another Mostly True.

Federal spending
Many of our Rubio fact-checks have dealt with fiscal restraint, one of his favorite themes.

One of his 2010 campaign talking points was about the growing national debt: "Forty cents of every dollar being spent by the federal government is being borrowed from my children. I think that's outrageous. We have to stop doing that." While we don’t know exactly what his four children will pay in the future for our spending today, we do know that the government spent 40 percent more than what it collected in the 2009-10 fiscal year. We rated his claim True.

In 2009, Rubio said he never voted for a tax increase. Never? His claim overlooked that he had voted for tax increases several times in his career, including higher property tax collections as a West Miami city commissioner or, as a state legislator, for state budgets that required schools to collect more property taxes. We rated his claim False.

In his 2011 address at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, he said, "When Social Security first started, there were 16 workers for every retiree. Today there are three workers for every retiree and soon there will be only two for every retiree." Another True.

Getting into guns
Our most recent fact-check of Rubio was a claim about Washington, D.C. and guns. He said in a Fox interview, "Washington, D.C. had some of the strictest gun laws in the country and when they passed them, violence skyrocketed."

But we found crime did not go up after the nation’s capital passed sweeping gun-control laws in 1976. Instead, violent crime went up in some years and decreased in others. We rated his claim Half True.

Attacking the health care law
Rubio spent his first two years in the Senate as a vocal critic of the health care law, but his claims sometimes stretched the truth.

He earned our False rating for saying the law "adds around $800 billion of taxes on the American people. It does not discriminate between rich and poor." We found he cherry-picked the highest estimate for new taxes that he could find without explaining that it would be spread out over 10 years. Plus, the law treats people of varying incomes differently. The law taxes wealthier Americans more so that poorer Americans can have access to more services.

In 2011 on NBC’s Meet the Press, Rubio said he supported a plan pushed by Romney’s running mate, Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, to dramatically reform Medicare. Rubio said, "The Ryan plan doesn’t cut Medicare. Actually, it increases funding in it. The only people in this town that have voted to cut Medicare spending are the people who voted in favor of Obamacare. That’s a fact."

Well, not really. What Congress actually did with the health care law was vote to reduce future spending, a cost-reduction plan Ryan himself voted to keep in his loose budget proposal that had a bulk of Republican support. We rated Rubio's claim Mostly False.

His personal story
Rubio has often discussed his parents’ journey from Cuba to the United States, where his dad worked as a bartender and his mom as a cashier and maid. He often said or implied that they moved to flee the takeover of Cuba by Fidel Castro in 1959. An October 2011 Washington Post report said Rubio was embellishing the timeline of his parents’ naturalization, as they actually arrived to America a couple of years before Castro seized power.

As the story made waves, Rubio said he was not purposefully trying to mislead people about his parents’ immigration story; he was only relaying what they told him growing up. PolitiFact Florida rated the claim in his Senate biography that his parents "came to America following Fidel Castro’s takeover" as False.  

About that Pants on Fire...
Rubio’s only Pants on Fire came during his Senate race against Gov. Charlie Crist, then a Republican and now a Democrat.

Rubio tried to link Crist’s support for Obama’s economic stimulus program (and the famous man hug) with the health care law. Rubio said, "The path to ObamaCare becoming law all started with Charlie Crist supporting President Obama’s $787 billion stimulus."

The statement was silly. Crist was not instrumental in getting members of Congress to vote for the stimulus or the health care law. Pants on Fire!