GOP debate fact check: Separating fact from fiction on Republican candidates' claims

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Republican presidential candidates are on the debate stage tonight for the second time ahead of the 2024 primary.

Follow along here with the USA TODAY Fact Check Team as we dig into candidates' claims and add context on expected campaign themes, including election fraud, the Jan. 6 Capitol riot, the war in Ukraine and more.

More: Republican debate updates: GOP Candidates face off in California

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Here's some background from our archives on topics we expect to see through the campaign and perhaps this evening:

Tim Scott claim: Nikki Haley spent $50,000 on curtains as the UN ambassador 

“As the UN ambassador, you literally put $50,000 on curtains.” -Scott

This is false, and Nikki Haley has a New York Times correction to prove it.

The Times published an article in September 2018 suggesting Haley made the decision to purchase customized and mechanized curtains for picture windows in the official residence for the ambassador to the United Nations, a role that she was serving in at the time.

The outlet later issued a correction saying the article and headline “created an unfair impression” about Haley’s involvement in the purchase. Its correction said the purchasing decision was made during the Obama administration and that Haley was not involved.

Haley said as much in responding to Scott, who asked if she sent the pricey curtains back. Haley responded by saying Scott was “scrapping.”

— BrieAnna Frank

Mike Pence claim: Trump administration oversaw record-low unemployment for Blacks, Hispanics

"We saw literally the lowest unemployment ever recorded for Hispanic Americans, lowest unemployment ever recorded for African Americans." - Pence

The unemployment rates for Blacks and Latinos fell to new lows in 2019 – specifically, 4% for Hispanics or Latinos in September 2019 and 5.3% for Blacks in August 2019.

But this cherry-picked data ignores that these rates have fallen even lower under Trump's democratic successor.

In September 2022, the Hispanic or Latino unemployment rate hit a record low of 3.9%, and in April the Black unemployment rate hit a record low of 4.7%, according to Federal Reserve Economic Data.

Read more:

-Chris Mueller

Nikki Haley claim: China is ‘stealing $600 billion in intellectual property’

Haley is offering a precise figure in an area experts say is difficult to quantify, and her figure is the high extreme of an estimated range.

The Commission on the Theft of American Intellectual Property, a bipartisan and independent group, estimated in 2018 that Chinese intellectual property theft costs the U.S. between $225 billion and $600 billion annually. The FBI estimated in 2019 that the annual cost of all counterfeit goods, pirated software and theft of trade secrets is between $225 billion and $600 billion.

The report from the FBI states that China is “the world’s principal infringer of intellectual property, and it uses its laws and regulations to put foreign companies at a disadvantage and its own companies at an advantage.”

-Brad Sylvester

Mike Pence claim: US became net energy exporter under Trump

Under Donald Trump, "We became a net exporter of energy for the first time in 75 years." - Pence 

This is accurate. The U.S. has been an "annual net total energy exporter" since 2019, when Donald Trump was still president, according to the Energy Information Administration.

This was a reversal of the prior seven decades.

"Up to the early 1950s, the United States produced most of the energy it consumed," the administration's website says. "U.S. energy consumption was higher than U.S. energy production in every year from 1958 (to) 2018."

In 2022, the country's total energy exports were the highest on record, having increased more than 9% from 2021.

Read more:

-Chris Mueller

Vivek Ramaswamy claim: Ukraine banned 11 opposition parties

“Just because Putin’s an evil dictator does not mean that Ukraine is good. This is a country that has banned 11 opposition parties.”  - Ramaswamy

This happened, but Ramaswamy left out key details on why.

Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelenskyy announced in March 2022 that Ukraine suspended 11 political parties because of their ties to Russia, as reported by The Guardian. The announcement came one month after Russia launched its invasion of the country.

“Therefore, the national security and defense council decided, given the full-scale war unleashed by Russia, and the political ties that a number of political structures have with this state, to suspend any activity of a number of political parties for the period of martial law,” Zelenskyy said, according to the outlet.

Ukraine’s parliament voted in July to extend the country’s martial law until Nov. 15, Reuters reported.

— BrieAnna Frank

(From left) Former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and businessman Vivek Ramaswamy debate during the FOX Business Republican presidential primary debate at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum.
(From left) Former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and businessman Vivek Ramaswamy debate during the FOX Business Republican presidential primary debate at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum.

Ron DeSantis claim: Toddler died after fentanyl exposure at Florida AirBNB

“In Florida we had an infant, 18 months, parents rented an AirBNB. And apparently the people who rented it before were using drugs. The infant was crawling, the toddler was crawling on the carpet and ingested fentanyl residue and died.” – DeSantis

The Florida governor was talking about the death of 19-month-old Enora Lavenir.

The girl died in 2021 while she and her family stayed at a rental property in Wellington, Florida, while they visited from France, according to a report from the Palm Beach Post on the wrongful death lawsuit her family filed in March in Palm Beach County.

The lawsuit alleges that the home was not properly cleaned after a party was held there in which fentanyl and other drugs were present.

But official reports have not yet confirmed that. The county medical examiner’s office ruled her death accidental and said it was caused by acute fentanyl toxicity.

It is not clear how the child ingested the substance, and an incident report from the county sheriff’s office did not indicate how the toddler was exposed to the drug, according to the newspaper report. She was napping on the afternoon of Aug. 7, 2021, when her mother found her unresponsive. She was taken to a hospital, where she was pronounced dead.

– Joedy McCreary

Chris Christie claim: Trump built 52 miles of border wall

"(Trump) built 52 miles of wall and said Mexico would pay for it."

The length of border wall built by the Trump administration varies based on how it's counted. A count based on U.S. Customs and Border Protection data puts the total at 458 miles, but many of those additions replaced existing barriers.

PolitiFact reported in August that a CBP report says former President Donald Trump's administration built "52 miles of new primary wall systems and 33 miles of new secondary wall systems where there were none before."

Some experts say Trump's replacement barriers shouldn't be set aside because they replaced inferior barriers. For example, nearly 200 miles of short fencing, around 3 to 4 feet high, that is intended to stop vehicles was replaced with 18- to 30-foot steel barriers, according to a Cato Institute report.

Read more:

-Chris Mueller

Former New Jersey Gov.ÊChris Christie speaks with Florida Gov.ÊRon DeSantis during a break in the FOX Business Republican presidential primary debate at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum.
Former New Jersey Gov.ÊChris Christie speaks with Florida Gov.ÊRon DeSantis during a break in the FOX Business Republican presidential primary debate at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum.

Nikki Haley claim: Fentanyl has killed more Americans than the wars in Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq

Fentanyl has killed more Americans "than the Iraq, Vietnam or Afghanistan wars combined." -Haley

The number of U.S. deaths in the Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq wars totals about 65,000 people.

In 2021 alone, there was a total of 106,000 drug overdose deaths reported in the U.S., including about 70,000 involving synthetic opioids other than methadone, which is primarily fentanyl, according to the National Institutes of Health. That makes Haley's claim true.

Read more:

-Chris Mueller

Doug Burgum claim: 'China controls 85% of the rare earth minerals'

This claim is true.

China dominates the rare earth market. The country accounts for at least 85% of the world’s capacity to process rare earth minerals, according to the research firm Adamas Intelligence.

The research firm reported in September that China upped its mining quotas to 240,000 tons, a 14% increase from last year. Relaxed environmental laws have helped China gain an advantage over other countries in rare mineral production, according to Reuters.

Rare earth alloys and magnets are key components in the use of some military equipment, such as missiles, firearms, radars and stealth aircraft, according to Politico. Rare earth materials are also needed for more familiar technologies, including smartphones, electric vehicles and LED lights, according to the Science History Institute.

-Brad Sylvester

(From left) Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, businessman Vivek Ramaswamy and South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott spar during the FOX Business Republican presidential primary debate at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum.
(From left) Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, businessman Vivek Ramaswamy and South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott spar during the FOX Business Republican presidential primary debate at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum.

Tim Scott claim: First bill under Biden had $86 billion for union pensions

“We should look back at the first bill in Congress under Joe Biden. The first bill had $86 billion for the union pensions, because they continue to overpromise but underdeliver.” – Scott

Scott’s numbers were right, but he was a bit off on his timing. He was talking about the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package that included $86 billion in aid for about 185 union pension plans that were near collapse, The New York Times reported at the time.

But it wasn’t the first bill during that term, according a search of the Congressional website. Dozens of other bills and procedural actions were introduced first.

It was first proposed a week before Biden’s inauguration in early January 2021, according to CNN. But it wasn’t until Feb. 24, 2021, that it was formally introduced in the House by Kentucky Democrat John Yarmuth.

– Joedy McCreary

Tim Scott claim: 6 million illegal border crossings under Biden

Data from the U.S. Customs and Border Protection show its agents have had more than 6.2 million encounters at the southwest border since January 2021, when Biden took office. Encounters include both apprehensions, when a person is taken into U.S. custody under Title 8 of the U.S. code, and expulsions, when they are immediately expelled to their home countries or last country of transit without being taken into U.S. custody, according to the Pew Research Center.

Illegal border crossings climbed to near-record levels in September, CBS News reported. December 2022 saw more than 250,000 crossings – both the highest number during Biden’s term and the highest number ever recorded.

Nikki Haley referenced the same statistic later in the debate.

– BrieAnna Frank

Chris Christie claim: Donald Trump added $7 trillion to our national debt

Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie touted this stat in asserting a lack of fiscal restraint by Republicans, echoing a claim Nikki Haley made in the August Republican debate. Haley said the figure was $8 billion, which is a little closer.

Using Treasury Department data, the total public debt, which includes intragovernmental holdings and public debt, increased by approximately $7.8 trillion from the start of Trump’s presidency on Jan. 20, 2017, to when he left office on Jan. 19, 2021.

Read moreFalse claim Trump increased debt more than any president | Fact check

-Eric Litke

Election integrity a key issue for GOP candidates

A key issue for the candidates is whether they will trust – and abide by – the elections that will decide the winners and losers.

State-level reviews of the 2022 midterm elections found no indication of systemic problems with voter fraud. That’s significant because allegations from Trump and his allies have penetrated the Republican Party and eroded confidence in the process.

Several candidates have championed changes to address election integrity.

DeSantis created Florida’s Office of Election Crimes and Security. A year ago, his administration accused 20 felons ineligible to vote in 2020 of illegally casting ballots and charged them with third-degree felonies.

Haley as governor signed a law in 2011 that requires South Carolina voters to show photo ID. Christie vetoed a bill in 2016 that would automatically register New Jerseyans to vote when they obtain or renew their driver’s license, calling it “a cocktail of fraud,” reported.

Misinformation has circulated about the integrity of the elections. Here are some that have been debunked:

– Joedy McCreary

US aid to Ukraine divides Republican candidates

More than a year and a half after Russia's invasion of Ukraine began, there remain differing views among Republican presidential candidates when it comes to continuing U.S. support for Ukraine's defense.

Trump, who isn’t on the debate stage, has repeatedly suggested the U.S. is providing too much support to Ukraine. He has also refused to say whether he wants Russia or Ukraine to prevail in the conflict.

DeSantis has also been skeptical of U.S. support for Ukraine, saying in a March statement that the war is a "territorial dispute between Ukraine and Russia" and not one of the country's "vital national interests."

In a Fox News interview, Ramaswamy said the U.S. has done enough to help Ukraine.

Pence, who visited Ukraine in June, has said he supports providing Ukraine with military aid to fight back against Russia. Christie too has said he supports continuing U.S. support for Ukraine, as does Scott.

Haley, though, has said U.S. support should not come in the form of cash or troops on the ground, but through collaborating with allies to be sure Ukraine has "the equipment and the ammunition to win."

The candidates' varied views seem to reflect public opinion. A poll by the Pew Research Center found 44% of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents say, as of June, that the U.S. is providing too much aid to Ukraine.

The war in Ukraine has frequently been the subject of misinformation, including:

– Chris Mueller

Pence makes Jan. 6 a key part of campaign

The Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol riots loom large during the campaign because two of that day’s central figures – Trump and Pence – are in the race.

Trump has repeatedly and falsely claimed that Pence had the power to overturn the 2020 election results while he presided over the ceremonial certification process. Pence has made his handling of the day’s events a central theme of his campaign, saying he chose loyalty to the Constitution over demands from Trump to give him the election.

In the worst attack on the Capitol in 200 years, a mob of thousands of Trump supporters overwhelmed police and raided the building on the day lawmakers formalized Biden’s victory. Some rioters chanted that they wanted Pence hanged.

Other candidates have brought up the attacks, with DeSantis calling it not an insurrection but a “protest” that “ended up devolving, you know, in a way that was unfortunate.” Ramaswamy blamed the riots on “pervasive censorship” and called it “unproductive” to point the finger at Trump – who faces four charges and is accused of organizing a conspiracy to steal the 2020 election from President Joe Biden.

Three men involved in the riots are asking the Supreme Court to erase part of their indictment. If the justices hear their appeals, their decisions could affect part of the federal indictment Trump faces.

The attacks have been a consistent source of misinformation during the past 2½ years. Here are some we’ve previously debunked:

– Joedy McCreary

Supporters, foes point to DeSantis’ record in Florida

With Ron DeSantis in charge, Florida has been anything but calm.

His five-year record as governor shapes up as a focal point of the campaign – both for his supporters and his opponents.

There is the “war on wokeness.” The legal feud with Disney that started over the so-called “Don’t Say Gay” law. The law he signed that led districts across the state to purge books from their shelves.

And then there were the changes to the state’s history standards that say enslaved people “developed skills” they could use for “personal benefit.” That drew direct criticism from Scott.

DeSantis recently added one more debate to his schedule after this one: He will face off against California Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, on Nov. 30.

We’ve previously debunked numerous claims stemming from the Sunshine State:

– Joedy McCreary

Hunter Biden's legal troubles a target for Republicans

The ongoing legal case involving Hunter Biden, Joe Biden's son, has already had broad political implications, with many Republican lawmakers looking to tie his business activities to his father.

Hunter Biden was indicted Sept. 14 on two federal charges for allegedly lying to a gun dealer and on a federal form when buying a revolver in 2018.

The case nearly went away in July, but a federal judge refused to accept a plea deal after prosecutors and defense attorneys couldn't agree on the terms. Hunter Biden had previously agreed to plead guilty to two misdemeanor counts of tax evasion and participate in a pretrial program for a firearm offense.

The Republican-led House Oversight Committee has also been investigating Biden in an effort to link actions by then-Vice President Joe Biden to his son's business dealings with the Ukrainian energy firm Burisma. Republicans repeatedly alleged that Joe Biden was involved in influence peddling during his time as vice president. The White House has denied that allegation, calling it baseless innuendo.

Hunter Biden recently filed lawsuits against the Internal Revenue Service for allegedly releasing his confidential tax information and Rudy Giuliani for allegedly releasing personal information from his laptop.

Here are a few of the Hunter Biden-related claims we’ve previously addressed:

– Chris Mueller

Trump's absence doesn't stop talk of indictments

Trump again won't be on the debate stage tonight, but the former president looms large over the Republican primary in light of both his commanding lead in the polls and his unprecedented legal troubles.

Most recently, Trump and several allies were indicted Aug. 14 by a Georgia grand jury that accused them of trying to overturn his 2020 election loss in the state, where Trump lost to President Joe Biden in Georgia by about 12,000 votes.

The charges against Trump in Georgia are only the latest in a series of prosecutions against him that began in March, when he was indicted for allegedly falsifying business records related to hush-money payments intended to silence two women before the 2016 election. Trump also faces charges for allegedly mishandling classified documents and allegedly conspiring to steal the 2020 presidential election, including his role in the Jan. 6 insurrection.

While recent polls show Trump doesn't seem to have lost support among Republican primary voters as a result of his criminal charges, a general election could be a different story. A poll released Sept. 24 by NBC News found 62% of voters have either major or moderate concerns about Trump’s indictments.

Trump's legal woes have been the subject of an array of false or misleading claims on social media:

– Chris Mueller

Abortion sparks debate, misinformation after Roe. v. Wade ruling

Abortion is expected to be a key issue, having sparked disagreement between parties as well as between the candidates on tonight’s stage.

More than a dozen states across the country have banned, or attempted to ban, abortion since the Supreme Court overturned the landmark Roe v. Wade decision in June 2022. The decision eliminated the constitutional right to have an abortion.

Democrats have sought to use the issue to mobilize voters ahead of the 2024 election. Republican presidential candidates have generally been opposed to the procedure, but vary in how they would try to regulate it if elected.

Former President Donald Trump, who will not participate in the debate, has suggested he would work with “both sides” of the abortion issue and has denounced total restrictions on abortions. He criticized Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ signing of legislation banning abortion after six weeks in his state.

Former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley and former Vice President Mike Pence clashed on the topic of a federal abortion ban at the first GOP presidential debate in August. Haley, the only woman on stage, called for finding “consensus” among people across the political spectrum on the issue while Pence responded by saying “consensus is the opposite of leadership.”

Businessman Vivek Ramaswamy has said he does not support a federal ban on abortion and believes the matter is a state issue, though he does support state bans of the procedure “around the six-week mark” of gestation. Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina has advocated for a federal ban on abortion after 15 weeks, while former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has called for leaving the matter up to individual states.

Abortion has sparked a flurry of misinformation online:

-BrieAnna Frank

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: GOP debate fact check: What Ramaswamy, Haley got right (and wrong)