How accurate were the GOP candidates at the New Hampshire debate?

February 7, 2016 at 5:02 PM EST
Saturday's Republican debate yielded a slew of statements from candidates that warranted fact checking. 'Truth-O-Meter' monitor Jon Greenberg of PolitiFact joins William Brangham from Washington to discuss.
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WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Last night’s Republican debate yielded a slew of statements that warranted fact-checking.

So, helping us do that again is PolitiFact, the online project run by The Tampa Bay Times.

Jon Greenberg is one of their Truth-O-Meter monitors, and he joins me now from Washington.

So, Jon, let’s start with Donald Trump. When he was asked about his economic plan, Trump offered this claim:

DONALD TRUMP (R), Presidential Candidate: Right now, we’re the highest taxed country in the world. Under my plan, we cut not only taxes for the middle class, but we cut taxes for corporations.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: So, Jon, highest taxes in the world, what’s your verdict on that?

JON GREENBERG, PolitiFact: Well, the verdict on that is false.

I will say there are two ways you can measure tax burden. One is comparing tax revenues to the size of the economy. So, when you do that, you find that, out of the 30 wealthiest countries in the world, you see that the United States ranks 27th in terms of tax revenues relative to the size of our economy.

Now, there’s another way you can look at these things. You can take a look at tax revenues on a per capita, per person basis. And when you do that, the United States doesn’t fare quite as well. It ranks 17th. But in neither case is it anywhere near the top. And so Mr. Trump gets it wrong.

Now, there’s one little thing I want to mention. And that is that, if Trump were only talking about corporate taxes, at least the nominal — the stated tax level on corporations in the United States is at about the highest in the world. But, effectively, that turns out not to be true either.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: There was also a lot of talk about illegal immigration last night. And Trump and Ted Cruz are among those who have proposed building a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

But Cruz also made this assertion about undocumented immigrants. Let’s listen.

SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX), Presidential Candidate: We’ll put in place a biometric exit-entry system on visas, because 40 percent of illegal immigration comes not over the border illegally, but people coming on visas and overstaying.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Is Cruz right?

JON GREENBERG: Yes, basically, he is, at least in terms of the available information.

But the data is a little bit old. INS, the government agency, studied this in 1997. And then Pew Research looked at it again in 2006. So, it’s not the most current data. But we have been in touch with the researchers. And it really does — at least they affirm that the numbers still hold true. It’s at least 40 percent of the undocumented in this country.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: One immigration fact that Cruz did get wrong, while saying he would deport the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S., he incorrectly stated that President Clinton had deported 12 million and George W. Bush 10 million.

In fact, Clinton deported only 1.6 million and Bush only 870,000. President Obama is the record-holder, having deported 2.4 people to their home countries.

But, finally, let’s turn to Marco Rubio, who was repeatedly attacked last night by Chris Christie. But Rubio pushed back at one point with this particular counterattack:

SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R-FL), Presidential Candidate: Under Chris Christie’s governorship of New Jersey, they’ve been downgraded nine times in their credit rating.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Jon, is that right, nine times downgraded?

JON GREENBERG: Yes. If you want to count it nine times, you’re going to count it nine times. And Chris Christie does hold the record for a sitting New Jersey governor for the number of downgrades. There are three different credit rating agencies, and they do it.

The catch here is that Christie really can’t take full responsibility for it all, because it is largely, largely based on the pension fund liabilities that the state has. They are around $43 billion. And, essentially, the experts are saying they’re only meeting about 38 percent of their obligation with their current set-asides.

The issue here is that that pension problem has been building up for a long, long time. So, it belongs to both Democratic and Republican past governors. And they just haven’t decided to — and, by the way, not just governors, but the legislature, too — to put enough money aside.

Could Christie have done more? Sure, if he could have gotten the legislature to play along. It was on his watch. It was nine times. So, that comes in our rating scale as about mostly true.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: All right, Jon Greenberg from PolitiFact, thanks for helping us sort all this out.

JON GREENBERG: My pleasure.

WILLIAM BRANGHAM: For more election 2016 coverage, watch our story on the complex delegate rules that lead to each party nominating a candidate.

Visit PBS.org/NewsHour.

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