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Fact-checking the second GOP presidential debate

Republican presidential candidates Carly Fiorina, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and Jeb Bush walk onstage at the Reagan Library on Sept. 16, 2015 in Simi Valley, Calif. (Getty Images) Republican presidential candidates Carly Fiorina, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and Jeb Bush walk onstage at the Reagan Library on Sept. 16, 2015 in Simi Valley, Calif. (Getty Images)

Republican presidential candidates Carly Fiorina, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and Jeb Bush walk onstage at the Reagan Library on Sept. 16, 2015 in Simi Valley, Calif. (Getty Images)

Aaron Sharockman
By Aaron Sharockman September 17, 2015

Former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina seized her moment on stage at the Republican debate, launching a passionate attack against Democratic policies on abortion and Planned Parenthood. Fiorina said defunding Planned Parenthood should be a priority since videos about fetal tissue procurement have been publicized.

"I dare Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama to watch these tapes," she said on the stage at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library Wednesday night. "Watch a fully formed fetus on the table, its heart beating, its legs kicking, while someone says, 'We have to keep it alive to harvest its brain.' "

It was one of many tough attack lines in a night filled with them. But it wasn’t entirely accurate. Fiorina’s claim makes it sound like there is actual footage of Planned Parenthood examining an aborted fetus whose heart is still beating. There isn't. We rated her statement Mostly False.

The videos, which amount to at least a dozen hours, are produced by the anti-abortion Center for Medical Progress. They primarily show people posing as tissue brokers and talking with Planned Parenthood employees about procuring fetal tissue for medical research.

One of the videos attacking Planned Parenthood shows a woman identified as a former tissue procurement technician, who tells of an experience in a Planned Parenthood pathology lab where she saw a fetus. According to the woman, her supervisor said they would procure the fetus’ brain. The video’s creators added stock footage of an aborted fetus on what appears to be an examination table. The new videos don’t document actual medical procedures.

Fiorina wasn’t the only one to exaggerate the facts.

Vaccines and autism

Dr. Ben Carson, a retired pediatric neurosurgeon, took the side of science when asked about Donald Trump’s comments suggesting a link between vaccines and autism.

CNN moderator Jake Tapper asked Carson if Trump should stop making such claims.

Carson said Trump should look at the evidence, noting that there is "extremely well-documented proof that there’s no autism associated with vaccinations."

But Carson then made a comment that wasn’t accurate, saying that too many vaccines were being given in "too short a period of time. And a lot of pediatricians now recognize that, and I think are cutting down on the number and the proximity in which those are done, and I think that’s appropriate."

Actually, doctors have recognized no such thing, and we rated Carson’s claim Pants on Fire. The major medical groups continue to support as many as 24 immunizations by a child’s second birthday and up to five injections during a single doctor’s visit. A more spread-out schedule is being pushed by parents, but the evidence doesn’t support it.

Eugene R. Hershorin, chief of the division of general pediatrics at the University of Miami, pointed to what happened a decade ago when England and Japan delayed the DTaP vaccine, a combination vaccine used to prevent diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis.

"There was a tremendous increase in the incidence of pertussis in both countries, leading them to re-institute the schedule immediately," he said.

Huckabee on religious rights

In the days before the debate, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee flew to the side of Kentucky clerk Kim Davis, who went to jail rather than issue same-sex marriage licenses. Davis said it violated her religious beliefs to put her name to the forms.

"We made accommodation to the Fort Hood shooter to let him grow a beard," Huckabee said Wednesday night, adding, "You’re telling me that you cannot make an accommodation for an elected Democrat county clerk from Rowan County, Kentucky?"

Huckabee’s details are wrong on the Fort Hood shooter. He was allowed to briefly have a beard, but it wasn’t due to a religious accommodation.

A military judge ordered Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan forcibly shaved; an appeals court overruled him. But the appeals court specifically avoided the question of religious freedom and instead said that it wasn’t the judge’s job to enforce the military dress code, which requires personnel to be clean shaven.

When Hasan was ultimately convicted and sent to Fort Leavenworth, he was forcibly shaved. We rated Huckabee’s claim Mostly False.

Huckabee on the Iran deal

Large parts of the debate focused on Iran. Huckabee said Iran is getting a sizeable award for the nuclear deal with the United States -- to the tune of $100 billion.

"We've just now given over $100 billion (to Iran)," Huckabee said. "The equivalent in U.S. terms is $5 trillion."

That rates Half True.

Huckabee’s $100 billion figure is one of the most commonly cited estimates of how much the Iranian economy will reap from sanctions relief under the Iran deal, though no one is fully certain of the amount. But he gives a misleading impression of the transaction by implying the United States is giving the money to Iran when it would just unfreeze the assets.

Immigration and ‘amnesty’

On one of the biggest issues in the 2016 Republican primary -- immigration -- Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, is nothing if not consistent.

Cruz, angling to be the primary field’s most hard-line candidate against illegal immigration, said, "A majority of the men and women on this stage have previously and publicly embraced amnesty. I am the only candidate on this stage who has never supported amnesty."

That was similar to something he said at the first debate, held in Cleveland and aired by Fox News in August -- that "a majority of the candidates on this stage have supported amnesty. I have never supported amnesty."

The claim rates Mostly True.

It’s important to note that many GOP candidates have changed their position on what to do about undocumented immigrants already in the United States. It’s also important to note that the definition of "amnesty" isn’t hard and fast. So what Cruz may consider amnesty might not be what any of these candidates considers to be amnesty.

Still, as far as we can tell, Cruz is the only one on the CNN debate stage who has never plainly supported something like a path to citizenship or some other form of legal status.

Trump, meanwhile, erred in the debate by saying that Mexico doesn't have "birthright citizenship."

Mexico does offer birthright citizenship, even if it’s not an exact copy of the American model. Trump's claim rates False.

Birthright citizenship in the United States was first established by the 14th Amendment of the Constitution, primarily to grant legal status to emancipated slaves. The amendment stipulates that "all persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside."

The Mexican Constitution says the Mexican "nationality" is obtained by birth if the person is born "within the Republic’s territory whatever their parents’ nationality might be," among other circumstances.

Anyone born on Mexican soil is considered Mexican by nationality, regardless of whether their parents are Mexican. No one in Mexico, even if a person’s parents are Mexican, is considered a "citizen" by the country’s Constitution until he or she turns 18.

Trump and Walker budget clash

Frontrunner Trump and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker got into verbal tussle over who had a worse fiscal track record. Walker charged that Trump had taken four projects into bankruptcy. Trump fired back that Walker had ruined his state’s budget.

"You were supposed to make a billion dollars in the state," Trump said. "You lost 2.2 (billion). You have, right now, a huge budget deficit. That’s not a Democratic point. That's a point. That’s a fact."

Actually, that rates Mostly False.

Wisconsin is required by law to have a balanced budget. As such, it can’t really have a deficit.

Now there was, in early 2014, a projection of a $1 billion surplus heading into the 2015-17 budget period. That eventually became a $2.2 billion shortfall -- the difference between expected revenues and the amount of money being requested by state agencies. But the shortfall was never a deficit -- and some of the surplus was consciously spent by Republicans in tax cuts.

Trump vs. Bush and Rubio

In one of the earliest back-and-forths of the evening, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush challenged Trump about trying to get casino gambling in Florida.

"You wanted it, and you didn’t get it it, because I was opposed to casino gambling before, during and after," Bush said, while Trump interrupted him with interjections of "Totally false!" and "Wrong!"

Actually, Bush was largely right. His claim rates Mostly True.

We couldn’t find that Trump directly petitioned the state for gambling, but there’s a pile of evidence that Trump was pursuing a deal to operate casinos on tribal land in Florida. And at the same time, Trump gave money to Bush and the state party during Bush’s 1998 race for governor.

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., attacked Trump as being unprepared for the presidency. "A president better be up-to-date on those issues on his first day in office, on her first day in office," Rubio said.

Trump fired back with this attack line: "You have to understand, I am not sitting in the United States Senate with, by the way, the worst voting record there is today," Trump said.

Trump’s statement rates Mostly True. Rubio has missed about a third of all votes, the most of the five current senators running for president. If we look at career truancy records, Rubio is a close second to U.S. Ted Cruz of Texas among the current field.

Rubio admitted that he didn’t have the best attendance record and suggested that’s because he’s focusing on something more important: the White House.

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Fact-checking the second GOP presidential debate