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Fact-checking the Republican Fox Business Network debate

Donald Trump talks to supporters after the Republican presidential debate on Nov. 10, 2015, in Milwaukee. (AP Photo) Donald Trump talks to supporters after the Republican presidential debate on Nov. 10, 2015, in Milwaukee. (AP Photo)

Donald Trump talks to supporters after the Republican presidential debate on Nov. 10, 2015, in Milwaukee. (AP Photo)

Angie Drobnic Holan
By Angie Drobnic Holan November 11, 2015

Updated Thursday, Nov. 12, 2015, at 4:25 p.m.

The Republican presidential candidates debated serious public policy on the economy, taxes and immigration on Tuesday night, steering away from personal attacks that defined earlier matchups. But they sometimes misstated the facts.

(We'll update this story as we publish more fact-checks.)

One of the first questions was about the minimum wage. Moderator Neil Cavuto noted the presence of protesters asking for a $15 an hour wage outside the Milwaukee Theatre in Wisconsin.

Ben Carson, the retired neurosurgeon who’s leading the polls, said he opposed increasing the minimum wage. "Every time we raise the minimum wage, the number of jobless people increases," Carson said.

That’s not accurate. PolitiFact looked at the 12-month period following every minimum-wage hike since 1978. While joblessness did rise on seven occasions, it also fell on four occasions, contradicting Carson's sweeping claim.

In addition, it’s not at all clear that a minimum-wage hike was the primary culprit for the periods in which joblessness rose, since those periods also coincided with broader recessions in the economy. Finally, economists disagree on whether minimum wage increases reduce employment. In some cases, the increased wages promote spending, which offsets the higher labor cost. Overall, we rated Carson’s statement False.

Rubio on welders vs. philosophers

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio said the United States needs more vocational training.

"For the life of me, I don’t know why we have stigmatized vocational training," Rubio said. "Welders make more money than philosophers. We need more welders and less philosophers."

It was a big moment in the debate for Rubio, but was he correct? Philosophically and statistically speaking, no.

Both government and private sector research show philosophy majors make more money than welders, and with much more room to significantly increase pay throughout their careers.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median wage for welders, cutters, solderers and brazers is $37,420 -- about $18 an hour. According to Payscale, a company that collects salary information, philosophy majors make an average first-year salary of $42,200. The average mid-career pay for philosophy majors is even better: $85,000 per year. We rated Rubio’s statement False.

Trump on deportation

Donald Trump, the billionaire developer, defended his immigration policy of urging mass deportation of illegal immigrants by turning to history.

"Let me just tell you that Dwight Eisenhower, good president, great president, people liked him. ‘I like Ike,’ right?" Trump said. "Moved 1.5 million illegal immigrants out of this country, moved them just beyond the border. They came back. Moved them again beyond the border, they came back. Didn’t like it. Moved them way south. They never came back."

Trump has some historical basis for his comments.  Eisenhower did oversee a 1954 campaign that was actually called "Operation Wetback." Did it result in 1 million deportations? Historians say that number is far too high for a variety of reasons, including the fact that hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants would have had to self-deport. Also, it wasn’t just a deportation program. The campaign accompanied more legal immigration opportunities. Overall, we rated Trump’s claim Half True.

Paul on Rubio's plans, income inequality

Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky addressed inequality, defending GOP policies by noting that inequality "seems to be worst in cities run by Democrats."

He has a point that one credible study shows a fairly strong correlation between high inequality and a Democratic mayor. But experts say it’s a stretch to draw conclusions from this. The claim inflates the actual powers of mayors to shape inequality in their cities and it ignores the role of population size and suburbanization in driving inequality. It also glosses over the fact that metropolitan areas, as opposed to cities, show no such relationship.

We rated Paul's statement Half True.

Paul also vehemently defended his reputation as a conservative and called out Rubio for proposing a new $1 trillion "welfare program" in tax credits and "$1 trillion in new military spending."  

Rubio’s tax plan includes a new, partially refundable child tax credit of up to $2,500 per child. It is meant to offset income and payroll taxes and is considerably larger than the $1,000 credit that is currently available.

Rubio is proposing that the credit would be phased out at higher income levels --  beginning at $150,000 for an individual and $300,000 for a family. It’s estimated that over 10 years, a common time frame for federal budget planning, Rubio’s child tax credit would result in the loss of $1 trillion in tax revenue.

Rubio has backed more defense spending since at least March 2015, when he and U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., introduced a budget amendment to increase the Pentagon’s budget. On his campaign website, Rubio says he would restore defense spending to the 2012 level, "and begin to undo the damage caused by $1 trillion in indiscriminate defense cuts."

It’s a stretch to call the tax credit welfare, and Paul didn’t state that the $1 trillion costs would be over 10 years. Other than that, his statement is accurate. We rated Paul’s statement Mostly True.

Trump on China

When talk turned to trade, Trump lamented that "We’re losing now over $500 billion a year in terms of imbalance with China."

That number is too big. In reality, the United States' 2014 trade deficit with China totaled $343 billion. It’s expected to be larger in 2015 but not more than $500 billion. Trump’s statement rates Mostly False.

Trump didn’t stop there on China. When asked a question about the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a pending trade agreement between the United States and 11 other Asian countries, Trump said the deal was "designed for China to come in, as they always do, through the back door and totally take advantage of everyone."

As Rand Paul emphatically pointed out, China isn’t actually a part of the Trans-Pacific Partnership. While we considered Trump’s assertion that China could try and take advantage of the deal, the experts we surveyed all said the deal would most likely hurt China’s trade landscape.

We rated Trump’s statement Pants on Fire.

Cruz on the Bible vs. the tax code

Candidates also spent a good portion of the debate bemoaning the tax code and outlining their plans to improve it. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas -- who has pushed to abolish the Internal Revenue Service -- said, "There are more words in the IRS code than there are in the Bible."

It’s generally accepted that the tax code is about 4 million words long, while the Bible is about 800,000. So we rated Cruz’s statement True.

Fiorina on the health care law

On health care, Carly Fiorina, the former Hewlett-Packard CEO, lashed out at President Barack Obama’s signature law, the Affordable Care Act.

"I understand that you cannot have someone who's battled cancer just become known as a pre-existing condition. I understand that you cannot allow families to go bankrupt if they truly need help," she said. "But, I also understand that Obamacare isn't helping anyone."

Fiorina’s statement is wrong. Even taking the low end of estimates, tens of millions of Americans have benefited from the law, in big ways (such as securing insurance for the first time) or smaller ways (paying less for drugs under Medicare Part D). One does not have to buy into every aspect of the law or feel comfortable with its overall price tag to acknowledge that lots of people have benefited from it. We rated Fiorina’s statement Pants on Fire.

Carson on Benghazi

Finally, on foreign policy, Carson attacked Hillary Clinton, the Democratic frontrunner, for what she said about attacks in Benghazi, Libya, while she was secretary of state.

"When I look at somebody like Hillary Clinton, who sits there and tells her daughter and a government official that no, this was a terrorist attack, and then tells everybody else that it was a video. … Where I came from, they call that a lie," Carson said.

Carson’s hard-charging statement actually oversimplifies the many comments Clinton made in the wake of Benghazi.

He has a point that she told her daughter that terrorists attacked in Benghazi, and she told the Libyan president that a terrorist group had taken responsibility. But those were private comments made hours after the attack.  

Carson misleads when he said that she told everybody else that it was the result of a video. On the day after the attack, she told the Egyptian prime minister it had nothing to do with the film.  At other times, Clinton talked about the video but didn’t say it caused the attacks. She also blamed the video more broadly for protests in various places. A family member of a victim said Clinton blamed the video for his son’s death, but we didn’t find that same sentiment expressed in any of her public comments.

Carson is oversimplifying and distorting Clinton’s comments to portray a complex situation in the worst possible light. We rate his statement Mostly False.

The early debate

We also fact-checked some claims from the early debate, which featured four candidates with lower poll numbers than the eight who appeared on the main stage.

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal touted his executive record compared to his competitors, saying: "There’s only one of us who’s actually cut government spending -- not two, there’s one and you’re looking at him."

To his credit, a Cato Institute report backs his claim. However, there’s more than one way of looking at spending cuts. One other approach that an expert said is valid suggests that Jindal was out-cut by four other governors running for president this cycle (though two of the four have dropped out). Jindal’s claim is partially accurate, so we rated it Half True.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie knocked President Barack Obama's record on getting the country out of the economic recession. Christie said the United States is in "the worst recovery from an economic recession since World War II." The truth is it depends on what you measure.

Looking at GDP growth, he’s right. Looking at the employment picture, the 2001 recovery was worse. We rated Christie's statement Half True.

Christie also lashed out at the Democrats over taxes. Repeating an exaggerated claim on the Democrats, Christie said they plan "to raise your tax rates to 70 or 80 percent."

As we’ve previously noted, Senator Bernie Sanders, one of the most outspoken about raising taxes, has said he doesn’t think a top marginal tax rate of 90 percent would be too high. And he’s specifically proposed to raise the top rate from its current rate of 39.6 percent to above 50 percent.

However, experts said that while it’s plausible that the Democratic candidates would increase the rate on top earners, that’s not the same thing as raising "your tax rates to 70 or 80 percent."  

Christie is exaggerating the rate hikes proposed by the Democrats, the amount of people they’ll affect, or both. We rate his statement False.

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee questioned the motives and origins of "so-called ‘Syrian refugees,’ " some of whom the United States plans to admit. He said that only one out of five of those who "went into Europe were actually Syrian."

While the claim isn’t pulled out of thin air, it’s flawed. The statistic represents the three months before the actual influx of Syrian refugees into Europe, and the four out of five non-Syrians are not purporting to be Syrian. Rather, they came from war-torn countries. Overall, Syrian refugees account for half of all refugees arriving in Europe in 2015 so far. We rated Huckabee’s claim Mostly False.

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Fact-checking the Republican Fox Business Network debate