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Republican candidates for president have a short but weighty to-do list as they face-off in the first debate of the 2024 election Aug. 23: Grab voter attention. Erode former President Donald Trump’s polling lead. And build a credible case for why they should be in the White House.
Until now, these candidates have tested attacks on their competitors in speeches, interviews and social media posts. They’ve criticized their opponents’ records on immigration, Social Security, pandemic lockdowns and the economy.
In dozens of fact-checks, PolitiFact has found the credibility of their statements ranged from Mostly True to False, while those of likely Democratic nominee President Joe Biden have also run the gamut of veracity. Trump announced that he won't be participating in the 9 p.m. ET debate in Milwaukee.
Here’s a look at some notable GOP candidate claims so far:
A photograph of former President Donald Trump hangs on the wall as Republican presidential candidate and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie takes a question during a June 6, 2023, gathering in Manchester, N.H. (AP)
Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie: Donald Trump "never changed one immigration law." Mostly True. No major bill passed during Trump’s presidency to change immigration law. That said, the Trump administration enacted hundreds of changes in immigration policy through executive action and earned funding for some of his priorities, including border wall projects. Executive actions can be powerful, but they also can be easily undone by new administrations.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis: Trump "wanted to amnesty 2 million illegal aliens in 2018 when he was president." Mostly True. In January 2018, Trump proposed a plan that would provide a path to citizenship for 1.8 million people brought to the U.S. illegally as children. The proposal was intended to be made in exchange for more legal immigration restrictions and $25 million in border security funding. However, it followed the Trump administration’s controversial attempt to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. Lawmakers responded by proposing ways to keep the program’s beneficiaries in the U.S. And as related bills moved through Congress, Trump went back and forth on his support for a bill that would provide a path to citizenship for DACA beneficiaries. At the time, think tanks estimated that 420,000 to 1.25 million people would have been eligible for citizenship under that proposal.
MAGA Inc., a pro-Trump PAC: DeSantis "voted against the wall." Mostly False. An ad in May cited DeSantis’ 2018 vote while in Congress against an appropriations bill that included $1.6 billion in funding for fencing along the southern border. At the time, DeSantis said the bill had been pushed through without enough time for review. Less than a year before, DeSantis voted for a bill that would provide the same amount of funding toward the construction of border barriers. He later voted for a bill requiring the Department of Homeland Security to build barriers along the border and co-sponsored a bill to fund construction of the wall.
DeSantis: "Illinois is now letting illegal aliens become police officers." Mostly False. A new Illinois law expands eligibility for becoming police officers from only U.S. citizens to people who are legally allowed both to work in the U.S. and own a firearm. This includes legal permanent residents. However, DeSantis’ statement ignores that the firearm requirement makes immigrants who are in the U.S. illegally ineligible.
Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals recipients who came to the U.S. illegally as children are included in the Illinois law, and they may apply for work permits after meeting certain requirements. But though they have temporary lawful presence in the U.S., they do not have a lawful status. Most courts have ruled that deferred action recipients cannot own guns, because federal law bars people without lawful status from owning firearms. However, one expert said there’s a possible exception if immigrants are using weapons owned by the police departments only while on duty.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, left, listens as President Donald Trump speaks July 31, 2020, speaks during a discussion on the coronavirus outbreak in Belleair, Fla. (AP)
DeSantis: "Donald Trump himself wrote a book where he was talking about the need to increase the age of eligibility for Social Security to 70." Mostly True. Trump’s 2000 book, "The America We Deserve," stated, "We can also raise the age for receipt of full Social Security benefits to seventy. This proposal would not include anyone who is currently retired or about to retire." Though Trump proposed raising the age for full Social Security benefits to 70 in his book, this has not been his position for years. DeSantis also left out details about how Trump’s old proposal would work.
MAGA Inc.: "in Congress Ron DeSantis pushed a 23% national sales tax." Half True. The Pro-Trump PAC made this statement in a May TV ad. DeSantis co-sponsored Fair Tax bills three times while in Congress. Those proposals would have set a national sales tax and replaced other federal taxes, including income tax.
Trump: DeSantis "opposed my China tariffs and he heartlessly opposed" $28 billion for farm relief, which was paid for by China. False, on multiple counts. DeSantis expressed a cautious position on tariffs. His view was that tariffs are risky, but that Trump could be trusted to negotiate for a better deal for the U.S. We found no evidence that DeSantis publicly opposed the aid to farmers. The amount paid out to farmers was $23 billion, and none of that money came from China.
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump holds a flag as he arrives Oct. 30, 2016, at a campaign rally at the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley, Colorado. (AP)
DeSantis: Trump is a champion of LGBTQ+ rights. A DeSantis social media account shared this sentiment by retweeting a controversial video portraying Trump’s record as being favorable toward LGBTQ+ rights. But the video omitted context. It didn’t make clear that most of Trump’s comments supporting gay and transgender rights were from before he was elected president. As president, Trump sometimes made pro-LGBTQ+ overtures, but his administration took several actions that LGBTQ+ rights advocates opposed.
DeSantis: Donald Trump is an "affirmative action advocate." Mostly False. Trump expressed support for affirmative action during a 2015 "Meet the Press" interview. But focusing on the interview ignores what has transpired since, including Trump’s presidential administration actions to oppose affirmative action. And Trump appointed three justices to the U.S. Supreme Court who signed onto the June 29 majority opinion that overturned the policy. Trump also applauded the Supreme Court ruling in a June 29 Truth Social post.
Vivek Ramaswamy: DeSantis signed "a last-minute exception into an anti-discrimination law for anyone who also operates a theme park more than 25 acres in Florida," benefiting The Walt Disney Co. Mostly True. In 2021, DeSantis signed a bill that sought to punish tech companies for removing statewide candidates in Florida from their platforms. After weeks of consideration, legislators in the hours before passage added a carve-out to the bill to protect Disney, which offers streaming services and has large Florida operations. DeSantis signed the bill that included the Disney provision. He said after passage that he didn’t believe the language was necessary, even though his staff was involved in late negotiations over wording. DeSantis and Disney have been feuding since Disney opposed the Parental Rights In Education Act, which critics labeled the "Don't Say Gay" bill, in 2022.
A beach entrance is cordoned off, March 21, 2020, in Surfside, Fla. Miami-Dade County's mayor ordered all beaches, parks and "nonessential" commercial and retail businesses closed because of the new coronavirus pandemic. (AP)
Trump: DeSantis sealed "all beaches" in Florida. Mostly False. DeSantis issued an executive order on March 17, 2020, directing all Florida residents to "limit their gatherings" at public beaches to no more than 10 people and to "support beach closures at the discretion of local authorities." He also ordered beaches in Broward and Palm Beach counties to close for 11 days, following recommendations from local officials and the CDC. DeSantis did not, however, close beaches statewide.
MAGA Inc.: DeSantis was a "big lockdown governor." This is missing context. Clips of DeSantis speaking about pandemic closures were featured in a video created by this pro-Trump PAC. And although the clips are real, some of DeSantis’ statements came early in the pandemic, when virtually all governors oversaw lockdowns. The video ignored that DeSantis was among the early wave of governors to reopen their states. It also ignored that Trump previously praised the Florida governor’s pandemic response and that DeSantis often cited Trump administration guidance in his pandemic decisions.
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