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PolitiFact FL: What Republican candidates got right, wrong in first debate on Fox News

Former Vice President Mike Pence speaks as Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and businessman Vivek Ramaswamy listen during a Republican presidential primary debate hosted by FOX News Channel Wednesday, Aug. 23, 2023, in Milwaukee. Moderators Brett Baier and Martha MacCallum are in the foreground.
Morry Gash
/
AP
Former Vice President Mike Pence speaks as Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and businessman Vivek Ramaswamy listen during a Republican presidential primary debate hosted by FOX News Channel Wednesday, Aug. 23, 2023, in Milwaukee. Moderators Brett Baier and Martha MacCallum are in the foreground.

WLRN has partnered with PolitiFact to fact-check Florida politicians. The Pulitzer Prize-winning team seeks to present the true facts, unaffected by agenda or biases.

For updates to this story, check here.

Eight Republican candidates faced off in Milwaukee for the first presidential primary debate.

Former President Donald Trump skipped the Fox News debate, citing his lead in the polls. The candidates who qualified and appeared on stage are North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum, former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, former Vice President Mike Pence, entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy and U.S. Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C.

PolitiFact is fact-checking their comments for accuracy.

Click here for updates to this story, with fact-checks throughout the evening.

Ron DeSantis: "In Florida, we led the country out of lockdown. We kept our state free and open."

This is misleading. DeSantis revels in his record of snubbing public health recommendations to curb COVID-19’s spread. But he largely omits the closures of schools and businesses that happened under his watch.

Seven states did not issue stay-at-home orders to their residents, but not Florida. On April 1, 2020, DeSantis issued an executive order directing all Florida residents to "limit their movements and personal interactions outside of their home." The order expired April 30, 2020, and Florida began a phased reopening in May.

Though he carved out an exception for religious services and some recreational activities, DeSantis didn't exempt in-person classroom instruction. DeSantis' Department of Education issued a March 13, 2020, recommendation that Florida schools close their facilities for an extended spring break before lengthening the closure through the end of the school year in early June.

Schools reopened in person in August 2020.

Nikki Haley: "Donald Trump added $8 trillion to our debt." 

This figure is close, but a little high.

One measure is publicly held debt. During Trump’s four years in office, debt held by the public rose by $7.2 trillion.

The other measure is to take publicly held debt and add to it the borrowing between one part of the government and another. This is known as gross federal debt, and it increased by $7.8 trillion during Trump’s presidency.

A president is not the sole driving force when it comes to federal debt. Congress passes spending bills before they are sent to the president to be signed. And during Trump’s tenure, the Senate was held by Republicans for all four years, and the House was held by Republicans for two years.

Also, about two-thirds of federal spending consists of entitlements that are paid under longstanding formulas, including Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.

Tim Scott: "Parents who show up at school board meetings, they’re called, under this DOJ, they’re called domestic terrorists."

This is False.

PolitiFact has found no evidence that the Justice Department has labeled parents who speak out at school board meetings domestic terrorists.

This narrative sparked in October 2021 after Attorney General Merrick Garland issued a memo directing the FBI to address violent threats against school board members. The memo did not call parents "domestic terrorists." It noted that "spirited debate" is protected by the U.S. Constitution.

In 2022, a judge appointed by former President Donald Trump found that Garland did not apply this label to parents and that no parents’ rights had been violated.

Our Sources
See links in fact-checks.

READ MORE: PolitiFact FL: Checking GOP presidential candidates' attacks ahead of first primary debate

WLRN has partnered with PolitiFact to fact-check Florida politicians. The Pulitzer Prize-winning organization seeks to present the true facts, unaffected by agenda or biases.
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