Fact-checking the Fox Business Network debate in South Carolina

Republican presidential candidates Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., Donald Trump and Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, participate in the Fox Business Network Republican presidential debate on Jan. 14, 2016. (Getty)
Republican presidential candidates Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., Donald Trump and Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, participate in the Fox Business Network Republican presidential debate on Jan. 14, 2016. (Getty)

Donald Trump and Ted Cruz jabbed over whether the Canadian-born Cruz is eligible to run for president, while the rest of the Republicans launched attacks at President Barack Obama and each other at Thursday's Republican presidential debate.

The event, hosted by the Fox Business Network from North Charleston, S.C., provided many heated moments. And plenty of opportunities for PolitiFact's Truth-O-Meter.

Trump wrong on refugees

Donald Trump repeated a false notion that the flight of Syrian refugees and other migrants is largely men.

Trump was asked by Fox Business moderator Neil Cavuto about his proposal to ban Syrian refugees and others from entering the United States.

Trump rattled off incidents around the world, including in Indonesia and France, and said that migration could be a "great Trojan Horse."

"When I looked at the migration, when I looked at the line … where are the women?" Trump said. "There look like very few women. Very few children. Strong, powerful men. Young. And people are looking at that and saying, ‘What’s going on?’ "

Trump made a similar claim in October. It was False then, and it’s False now.


The majority of more than 4.6 million Syrian refugees entering Europe are women and children 17 and younger. Of migrants arriving by sea -- about 1 million people -- 31 percent are children and 19 percent are women.

Christie did support Sonia Sotomayor

Marco Rubio tried to cast New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie as a liberal on many topics, including the appointment of Supreme Court justice Sonia Sotomayor. Rubio said Christie endorsed many of the ideas that Obama supports, "whether it is Common Core, or gun control, or the appointment of Sonia Sotomayor, or the donation he made to Planned Parenthood." Christie shot back, "Let’s get the facts straight. First of all, I didn’t support Sonia Sotomayor." He then continued to dispute the rest of Rubio’s statement.

That's wrong. Christie did support Sotomayor by the end of the confirmation process. The statement rates False


When Sotomayor was nominated by Obama, Christie said in May 2009,  "She wouldn’t have been my choice, no." But two months later, Christie said that she had "more than proven her capability, competence and ability," adding, "I support her appointment to the Supreme Court and urge the Senate to keep politics out of the process and confirm her nomination."

Christie and Planned Parenhood

Christie flatly denied Rubio’s charge about Planned Parenthood: "I never wrote a check to Planned Parenthood."

Sorting out this claim is difficult, and we can’t independently verify it either way. The Washington Post Fact Checker looked into it earlier this month and found evidence that was less than definitive. It goes back to Christie comments from 1994, when Morris County officials were debating funding for Planned Parenthood due to its abortion counseling. Christie ran for office that year saying he supported Planned Parenthood and gave it money, but he didn’t think the group should get public funds.

"I support Planned Parenthood privately with my personal contribution and that should be the goal of any such agency, to find private donations," said Christie in a Sept. 30, 1994, Star-Ledger article. The Star-Ledger noted recently that  reporter who wrote the article, Brian Murray, now works for Christie as a spokesman in the governor's office.

Christie said this year that the article misquoted him, telling the the Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin: "Listen, this is a quote from 21 years ago. I’m convinced it was a misquote. Understand what was going on. In 1994-95, I was fighting against county funding of Planned Parenthood even though I was pro-choice."

Planned Parenthood would not confirm or refute the donations, telling the Washington Post that it had a policy not to disclose donor information.

Christie did make a major switch on abortion rights. Christie spokeswoman Samantha Smith also told PolitiFact that Christie has been "open and honest" about becoming opposed to abortion rights. In 2009, Christie called himself pro-life and cited the birth of his daughter as a reason for the switch: "Hearing the strong heartbeat of my unborn daughter 14 years ago at 13 weeks gestation had a profound effect on me and my beliefs. The life of every human being is precious."

Spokespersons for Rubio’s campaign did not respond on debate night.

Is Hillary Clinton under an FBI investigation?

If Hillary Clinton becomes president, she might find herself preoccupied with an FBI investigation, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush told the Fox Business debate audience.

"She’s under investigation with the FBI right now," Bush said. "If she gets elected, her first 100 days — instead of setting an agenda, she might be going back and forth between the White House and the court house."

Actually, Clinton is not under FBI investigation. The inquiry to which Bush refers revolves around the private email server Clinton used while serving as secretary of state.  And it is not a criminal investigation.

So Bush isn't totally wrong. But he's not totally right, either. His claim rates Half True.


Cruz selectively quotes Holder on 'brainwashing'

One of the debate moderators, Maria Bartiromo of Fox Business Network, asked Cruz for "the answer" to stopping mass shootings and violent crime.

"The answer is simple," he said. "You prosecute criminals. You target the bad guys. You know, a minute ago, (co-debate moderator Neil Cavuto) asked, ‘What has President Obama done to illustrate that he wants to go after guns? Well, he appointed Eric Holder as attorney general. Eric Holder said he viewed his mission as brainwashing the American people against guns."

That claim leaves out so much context that it rates Half True

Holder said the word "brainwash." But Cruz leaves out how long ago the comment was made, and the fact that it was targeted toward youth during a high-crime era in Washington, D.C., not the overall American public. 

In January 1995, Holder -- then the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia -- gave a speech announcing a plan to curb gun violence in the city of Washington, D.C. He said officials need to change a culture of gun violence: "What we need to do is change the way in which people think about guns, especially young people, and make it something that’s not cool, that it’s not acceptable, it’s not hip to carry a gun anymore, in the way in which we changed our attitudes about cigarettes," later adding, "We have to be repetitive about this. It’s not enough to have a catchy ad on a Monday and then only do it Monday. We need to do this every day of the week, and just really brainwash people into thinking about guns in a vastly different way."

Cruz mostly correct on job seekers stat

Cruz, a Republican senator from Texas, took time Thursday to try to undecut the economic successes outlined by Obama at Tuesday's State of the Union.

"The millionaires and billionaires are doing great under Obama," Cruz said. "But we have the lowest percentage of Americans working today of any year since 1977. Median wages have stagnated. And the Obama-Clinton economy has left behind the working men and women of this country."

The claim about the percentage of Americans working is largely accurate. It rates Mostly True.


Cruz is referring to a key employment statistic known as the civilian labor force participation rate. This statistic takes the number of Americans in the labor force -- basically, those who are either employed or who are seeking employment and divides it by the total civilian population.

And in that respect he's right.

We should note that there’s another way to read Cruz’s words. He said "the lowest percentage of Americans working" since 1977, which could also refer to a different statistic, the employment-population ratio. This statistic takes the number of people who are employed and divides it by the civilian population age 16 and above.

The difference in this case is that using the employment-population ratio, Cruz’s statement is incorrect. Unlike the labor-force participation rate, the employment-population ratio has actually been improving in recent years, although it’s below its pre-recession highs.

Cruz right in back-and-forth with Rubio about vote on defense spending

Amid a heated exchange, Rubio attacked Cruz's record on defense spending.

"The only budget you have ever voted for, Ted, in your entire time in the Senate is a budget for (Sen.) Rand Paul that brags about how it cuts defense," Rubio said.

Cruz shook his head and said Rubio knowingly made an inaccurate claim.

"The attack he keeps throwing out on the military budget. Marco knows full well I voted for his amendment to increase military spending to $697 billion," Cruz said. "What he said, and he said it in the last debate, is simply not true."

Rubio has criticized Cruz’s record on military spending before, as Cruz voted for a proposed Paul budget that would have resulted in lower defense spending than current projections.

But on his specific point about voting for Rubio’s amendment, Cruz's statement rates True. (We're not fact-checking whether Rubio "knows full well" about Cruz's vote.)

Trying to counteract defense spending cuts over the past few years, Rubio put forth an amendment to increase military spending in March 2015. If passed, the amendment would have raised projected defense spending outlays through 2022 in Congress’ proposed budget.

Cruz voted for the amendment. The measure failed 32-68.

Cruz mentioned $697 billion, specifically, but it’s a little unclear exactly how much Rubio’s amendment would increase spending. On the Senate floor, Rubio said defense funds should reflect the Department of Defense’s 2012 fiscal year request, which projected $611 billion in spending in 2016. But Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., who backed the amendment, said it would increase military spending to $697 billion.

Rubio misfires on Cruz's birthright citizenship position

Rubio and Cruz picked up their immigration battle at another presidential debate, with Rubio accusing his rival of flip-flopping on a laundry list of positions, including birthright citizenship.

"You used to say that you were in favor of birthright citizenship. Now you say that you are against it," Rubio said as Cruz vigorously shook his head.

Cruz has shifted his talk about birthright citizenship, but it’s not in the way Rubio described on national television. Rubio's attack rates Mostly False.


The claim boils down to a 2011 radio interview on The Duke Machado Show during Cruz’s Senate campaign. The show’s host asked Cruz whether the issue of birthright citizenship in the 14th Amendment should be changed. Cruz, a former prosecutor, said it would be difficult to revisit the provision because of the 14th Amendment.

"I’ve looked at the legal arguments against it, and I will tell you as a Supreme Court litigator, those arguments are not very good," he said. "As much as someone may dislike the policy of birthright citizenship, it’s in the U.S. Constitution. And I don’t like it when federal judges set aside the Constitution because their policy preferences are different.

"And so in my view I think it is a mistake for conservatives to be focusing on trying to fight what the Constitution says on birthright citizenship. I think we are far better off focusing on securing the border, because birthright citizenship wouldn’t be an issue if we didn’t have people coming in illegally."

The full interview isn’t available, so we can’t say what else Cruz may have said on the subject during the 2011 broadcast. Pressed to clarify his view during the current presidential campaign, Cruz gave a series of interviews in August 2015 to show he opposed the practice.

He told Fox News’ Megyn Kelly that birthright citizenship is an incentive for undocumented immigrants to come to America and that "we ought to change that policy" but that "there is a legal dispute about the best means to do it." He said "we should pursue" changing birthright citizenship through Congress or through a constitutional amendment, "whichever is effective."

Some conservative media outlets, and Rubio, have said this amounts to a "flip-flop" for Cruz. While he has now shifted in saying he wants to pursue a change of policy, that is different than what Rubio claimed.