PolitiFact FL: Checking GOP presidential candidates' attacks ahead of first primary debate
To hear some Republican presidential candidates tell it, Democratic leaders want to ban gasoline-powered cars, permit post-birth abortions and are to blame for illegal immigration.
These attacks mislead to varying degrees. We have fact-checked about four dozen statements by Republican presidential primary candidates, including many attacks on President Joe Biden or his party more broadly.
With the first GOP debate scheduled for Aug. 23 in Milwaukee, we rounded up some of the claims that could resurface as candidates take the stage. Trump announced he will not be participating in the debate, citing his lead in the polls.
Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C.: "There have been more illegal encounters under Biden than the previous two administrations combined." False. Available data doesn’t support this. That’s partly because immigration data changed in March 2020, complicating an exact data comparison across administrations. Nationwide and southwest border data shows there have been fewer enforcement actions under Biden than under Trump and Obama combined. Scott’s calculation also used inconsistent metrics and cast a wider net for Biden than for the other two presidents.
Former Vice President Mike Pence: "The family separation policy actually began under the Obama administration." False. The Obama administration did not have a policy to separate families arriving illegally at the border. Family separations rarely happened under the Obama administration, which sought to detain families together and based on a court decision, released families from detention together. Separations under Trump occurred systematically as a result of his administration’s policy to prosecute all adults crossing the border illegally. After mounting public pressure and criticism, Trump signed an executive order to stop separating families.
Miami Mayor Francis Suarez: "In Biden's America, 7 million people illegally crossed the border and are given a free cellphone and airline tickets." Mostly False. Although immigration authorities nationwide have encountered migrants nearly 7 million times at and between ports of entry during Biden’s presidency, that doesn’t mean 7 million people have crossed into the country. Customs and Border Protection’s data tracks events, not individuals. Immigration and Customs Enforcement issues cellphones to some migrants released from federal custody, but these phones track migrants; they’re not for personal use. Immigration and Customs Enforcement uses flights to remove people from the U.S. or to take them to detention centers. Following the law, a separate U.S. agency flies unaccompanied children around the country to reunite them with family members or get them to shelters for care.
Economy and environment
Former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley: Democrats "want to ban gas-powered cars and gas stoves." Half True. Haley’s spokesperson sent us articles about a few left-leaning states banning new gasoline-powered car sales by 2035. but people could keep gasoline-powered cars they already have. The Energy Department proposed a rule that would render many of the current models of natural gas-powered stoves obsolete for new hookups by 2027. But that’s not an outright ban, because no federal official would go into existing kitchens and rip out gas stoves. Haley failed to explain that these are not blanket bans and her statement misleads by tagging the Democratic Party broadly without specifically saying who has called for such policies.
Scott: "Median income in this country is … $35,000 a year. Because of Joe Biden's inflation, the average monthly expenses have increased by $500, almost." Half True. One measure of median income offers a number close to what Scott said. But it’s not the most commonly used metric, and it’s one that moves the median income downward, because it counts children and nonworking spouses in its denominator. Meanwhile, the $500 increase in costs was calculated based on a June 2022 analysis, when year-over-year inflation was 9.1%. When we published this fact-check in June inflation was at about 4%; which suggests that the amount of cost increase would be lower in the most recent month. (Today inflation is about 3.2%.)
Pence: "In three short years, we achieved energy independence." Half True. Although there are various interpretations of "energy independence," Pence has a point that on Trump’s watch, the U.S. began producing more energy than it consumed and exporting more than it imports. Both were achievements the U.S. hadn’t seen in decades. However, this didn’t happen "in three short years" — it built on more than a decade of improvements in shale oil and gas production, as well as renewables. The U.S. also did not achieve net exporter status for crude oil, from which gasoline derives. Energy production also outpaced consumption under Biden in 2021, and the U.S. has remained a net exporter of both energy overall and petroleum specifically under Biden. This undercuts Pence’s argument that Biden squandered energy independence.
DeSantis: "In some liberal states, you actually have post-birth abortions." False. There is no evidence to support this frequent conservative talking point. Killing an infant after birth is infanticide and is illegal in all 50 states. Situations resulting in a fetal death in the third trimester are exceedingly rare, and involve emergencies such as fetal anomalies or life-threatening medical emergencies affecting the mother. Sometimes, labor is induced, followed by palliative care, for babies with very short life expectancies. Some families choose this option when faced with life-threatening diagnoses that often limit their babies’ post-birth survival to just minutes or days after delivery, experts said.
Pence: "The fact is, today abortion law in the United States is more aligned with China and North Korea than with Western nations in Europe." Mostly False. Pence’s campaign said he was referring to laws in states, most Democrat-led, that don’t restrict abortion access or have restrictions after viability, around 24 weeks into pregnancy. His claim oversimplifies a complex web of global abortion laws, ignores exceptions and accessibility, and relies on outdated information about abortion policies in China and North Korea. It also ignores that both countries have participated in coerced abortions for their own goals — something that doesn’t happen in the U.S. Some western European countries have stricter limits for "elective" abortions than some U.S. states. But abortion access can often be easier in some, with costs covered and exceptions that include mental health and income. China and North Korea don’t have clear or publicly updated abortion policies, but recent reports suggest both are tightening restrictions or outlawing the procedures.
Investigation of handling of Biden classified documents.
Trump: Joe Biden as vice president didn't "have the right to declassify" documents. False. The applicable executive order on such matters is one Obama signed, which gives the vice president the authority to classify and declassify documents. There is some ambiguity about the order’s effect on the vice president’s ability to declassify documents that other agencies classified first, but experts are divided about this unknown and say it has never been tested. It's also unclear how any of this might apply to the documents in Biden's case.
Trump: "Biden is obstructing by making it impossible to get the 1,850 boxes" of documents. This is unsupported. Trump was referring to Biden’s donation to the University of Delaware of 1,850 boxes containing his senatorial papers. The documents have been housed on the campus since June 2012, according to the university library, and date from 1973 to 2009. They include committee reports, drafts of legislation and other files. In 2020, Biden said the collection also contained speeches and policy positions.
The university’s website says the records would be made publicly available no sooner than Dec. 31, 2019, or two years after Biden retires from public life. Until then, access is available only with Biden’s express consent. CNN reported that the FBI has searched these papers twice, with the president's legal team’s consent and cooperation.
The searches of the university collection followed FBI searches of Biden's homes in Wilmington and Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, and the Penn Biden Center’s Washington, D.C., office.
Trump: "It is also no coincidence that these charges against me came down the very same day evidence revealed Joe Biden took a $5 million bribe from Ukraine." This referred to allegations that were vetted by the FBI in 2020 and the Justice Department declined to proceed; there is no evidence that Joe Biden took a bribe. Trump’s suggestion that the indictment was filed to overshadow the details of Biden corruption allegations ignores key facts — namely that claims of a Biden bribe have circulated for three years and are based on an unverified account.
Our Sources: See links in fact-checks
PolitiFact and WLRN will be fact-checking the first GOP debate - live. You can find that coverage on WLRN.org this Wednesday evening.