GOP debate fact check: Live look at what Ramaswamy, Haley are getting right (and wrong)

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Five Republican presidential candidates are on the stage tonight in Miami for a third debate 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 the war between Israel and Hamas, the war in Ukraine, the trials of former President Donald Trump, election fraud, the Jan. 6 Capitol riot and more. This file will be updated throughout the debate.

The candidates who qualified are Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, businessman Vivek Ramaswamy, former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley and Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina.

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Third Republican debate live updates: Here’s how to watch 5 GOP hopefuls face off in Miami

Nikki Haley claim: Ron DeSantis banned fracking in Florida

This is false. Ron DeSantis spoke out against offshore drilling and fracking in his first campaign for Florida governor in 2018, with an archive of his campaign website showing his opposition to both procedures. And DeSantis signed an executive order just days into his first term encouraging state agencies to oppose fracking.

However, none of DeSantis’s actions banned fracking. DeSantis was elected on the same ballot as a constitutional amendment that banned offshore drilling in Florida.

Haley accused DeSantis of banning fracking after he rebutted her claims that he had opposed the procedure. DeSantis clarified in in the debate, saying he opposed drilling in the Everglades but his energy plan for the nation includes offshore drilling for oil and natural gas, as well as fracking in shale formations.

-Nate Trela

Vivek Ramaswamy claim: Ohio constitutional amendment creates right to have an abortion up until birth without parental consent

“It was my home state of Ohio, I’m upset about this, yesterday, that passed a constitutional amendment that now effectively codifies a right to abortion all the way up to the time of birth without parental consent.“

Ramaswamy is overstating the nature of the amendment. While Ohio voters did approve a ballot measure to amend the state’s constitution to establish a right to abortion on Nov. 7, the would-be right is not unlimited.

Known as “Issue 1,” the ballot initiative states the amendment would make abortion available to “every individual” but notes “abortion may be prohibited after fetal viability.” Fetal viability is generally considered to be around 23 or 24 weeks, but the initiative states that determination is to be made by medical professionals on a case-by-case basis.

The measure says nothing about parental consent and therefore does not change Ohio’s existing parental consent law, which requires minors seeking abortions to have parental permission, according to the Associated Press.

Some believe the amendment may be interpreted in a way that allows for abortion without parental consent. But the existing parental consent law would have to be challenged and struck down in the state’s Supreme Court under that interpretation for any change to be made. This appears unlikely given the court’s current conservative majority.

-Brad Sylvester

Chris Christie claim: Migrant encounters at southern border topping 200,000 a month

“Customs and Border Patrol agents are overwhelmed. There (were) 200,000 encounters a month over the last 11 months.”

This is accurate. A record of migrant encounters published by Customs and Border Protection shows monthly totals approaching or exceeding 200,000 over the past year. In September, the agency reported more than 269,000 encounters at the border.

It’s worth noting, though, that number represents events, not people. One person could try crossing the border multiple times and every attempt would increase the tally.

Read more:

-Chris Mueller

Nikki Haley claim: 87,000 IRS agents are ‘going after middle America’

This misleading figure has been debunked so many times that it has been called a “zombie falsehood.”

The 87,000 refers to a suggestion in a May 2021 U.S. Treasury Department report that included a proposal of what the Internal Revenue Service could do with an additional $80 billion in funding.

The IRS says audit rates on average households will not change, CNN reported in April. The money would help the IRS go after fighting high-end tax evasion, officials said.

One proposal would hire that many employees over the course of a decade – not all at once. They would replace others in the agency’s aging workforce who have retired. The IRS has lost roughly 50,000 workers in five years due to attrition, The Associated Press reported.

The agency expects to collect an average of $10 billion per year in new revenue over a 10-year period as a result of the improvements, according to CNN.

-Joedy McCreary

Tim Scott claim: Obama sent millions to Iran and Biden sent billions

While it is possible there are other transactions Scott is referring to, critics have held Joe Biden responsible for $6 billion in oil revenue released to Iran in September.

However, those funds were not held by the U.S., and none of that money ever made it to Iran.

The funds were Iranian oil revenue held in South Korea. The Biden administration signed off on a sanctions waiver allowing the money to be transferred with the condition that it could only be released for humanitarian purposes. The Qatari central bank oversaw the releases, and after Iran-backed Hamas attacked Israel on Oct. 7, the U.S. and Qatar agreed to block the release of any of the funds to Iran.

The funds released under Barack Obama that Scott was likely referring to were held by the U.S. Iran had deposited funds in escrow for purchases from American defense contractors in the 1970s, but the U.S. seized the funds after revolutionaries took over the country. The administration agreed to release $1.7 billion, beginning with a $470 million cash payment in August 2016.

-Nate Trela

Ron DeSantis claim: Flights brought ‘over 700 people to safety’ from Israel after Hamas attacks

“I scrambled resources in Florida, I sent planes over to Israel and I brought back over 700 people to safety.”

This is a reference to an executive order that Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed Oct. 12 that directed the state to help Americans in Israel who were left stranded due to the conflict, according to Politico.

DeSantis’ order came just hours after the Biden administration also announced plans to arrange charter flights for any Americans trapped in Israel. DeSantis’ office later announced that the state had helped nearly 700 Americans return from Israel.

The State Department on Oct. 13 began chartering flights from Tel Aviv to help Americans leave Israel amid the ongoing conflict in the region, and those flights continued through the end of the month, Reuters reported.

Read more:

-Chris Mueller

Nikki Haley claim: ‘Half a million people have died because of Putin’

“We all remember what that thug did when he invaded Ukraine. We know half a million people have died because of Putin.”

This overstates the known casualty counts in the Ukraine.

That number matches an August estimate, but it’s a tally that includes troops who were either killed or wounded in the war’s first 18 months, The New York Times reported.

Ukraine only has about 500,000 troops – about a third of the 1.3 million that Russia has, according to analysts.

Officials also cautioned that those numbers are tough to estimate because they believe Moscow undercounts its casualties and Kyiv does not disclose its official figures, the newspaper reported.

– Joedy McCreary

Chris Christie claim: New Jersey ‘is the most ethnically diverse state in this country’

The former governor’s claim is off the mark. While multiple studies found the Garden State to be one of the most diverse states in the nation, it is not the most diverse.

In 2020, the U.S. Census Bureau ranked New Jersey as the state with the sixth-highest diversity index in the country, behind Hawaii, California, Nevada, Maryland and Texas. It ranked similarly in 2010, when Christie was governor.

A 2023 report from WalletHub that examined a variety of factors to determine the most and least diverse states in the country came to a similar conclusion. It ranked New Jersey as the fourth most diverse state, again behind California, Texas and Hawaii.

-Brad Sylvester

Chris Christie claim: He was appointed US attorney in New Jersey one day before 9/11 attacks

“I was appointed by President Bush to be the U.S. attorney in New Jersey on Sept. 10, 2001.”

Christie has made this claim before, including at another Republican primary debate in 2015. At the time, a spokesperson for Christie said he received a phone call on Sept. 10, 2001, from then-Attorney General John Ashcroft that set in motion a months-long hiring process, according to PolitiFact.

While that may have started the process, Christie wasn’t confirmed by the Senate until Dec. 20, 2001. He was sworn into office on Jan. 17, 2002. He served in that role until 2008.

Read more:

-Chris Mueller

Vivek Ramaswamy claim: Ukraine banned 11 opposition parties

Ramaswamy recycled this claim from the second GOP debate, and it’s still misleading.

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

Vivek Ramaswamy claim: ‘This media rigged the 2020 election’

The election was not rigged by the media or any other group – and the sheer number of protective measures in place makes the idea of rigging an election impossible. Votes in each state are counted and recounted by an array of staffers and volunteers to ensure the votes counted match the votes cast and that tallies are tabulated correctly.

A mountain of evidence – including lawsuits, recounts, forensic audits and even partisan reviews – affirmed the results of the 2020 election.

“The November 3rd election was the most secure in American history,” the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency and its partners said in a November 2020 statement. “There is no evidence that any voting system deleted or lost votes, changed votes or was in any way compromised.”

Numerous audits and recounts affirmed Democrat Joe Biden’s victory over Republican Donald Trump. A six-month audit in Arizona’s largest county confirmed the state’s election results, and three separate audits in Georgia found no evidence of wrongdoing affecting the outcome of the election.

In Wisconsin, some people falsely claimed late-night vote dumps for Biden were proof of fraud – but the state is not allowed to count absentee ballots until Election Day. That resulted in a late addition of absentee votes that trended heavily Democratic.

Other false claims about fraud centered around an election-night typo in Michigan and misconstrued footage of poll workers placing ballots in their proper storage containers

– Joedy McCreary

Abortion sparks debate, misinformation after Roe v. Wade ruling

Abortion rights are likely to be a key issue for voters, as they already played an important role in Tuesday’s elections.

In Ohio, voters overwhelmingly approved an amendment enshrining access to abortion in the state constitution. In Kentucky, Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear won a second term after a campaign that focused on abortion rights. And in Virginia, Republicans lost control of the state’s House of Delegates in a blow to Gov. Glenn Youngkin, who vowed to curb abortion rights if his party gained unified control of the state legislature.

Since the Supreme Court overturned the landmark Roe v. Wade decision in June 2022, more than a dozen states have banned, or attempted to ban, abortion. The court’s 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.

At the first GOP presidential debate in August, former South Carolina Gov. Nikki 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:

Claim: Roe v. Wade marked the end of women dying from abortions (False)

Jan. 6 riot remains an issue in primary

The Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol riot remains a point of contention in the campaign, even with one of that day’s central figures – former Vice President Mike Pence – no longer in the race.

Pence, who Trump repeatedly and falsely claimed could have thrown out electoral votes cast for Joe Biden, ended his campaign on Oct. 28. Pence had made his handling of the election certification and restoring civility in politics key themes of his campaign.

The day’s events remain front and center in the campaign, however, as court cases began last week in Colorado and Minnesota seeking to disqualify Trump from the ballot, the first of dozens of such lawsuits. Each effort is based on a post-Civil War-era clause of the 14th Amendment that bars anyone who “engaged in insurrection” after taking an oath to uphold the Constitution from holding higher office.

Trump on Nov. 2 called people convicted for their roles in the riot “hostages.” Other candidates have also brought up the riot, 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.

The attack has been a consistent source of misinformation for nearly three years. Here are some claims we’ve previously debunked:

Fact check roundup: False narratives linger two years after Jan. 6 attack on Capitol

Claim: FBI operatives organized the attack (False)

Claim: Pence was arrested that day (False)

Claim: The Jan. 6 House select committee destroyed records that would exonerate Trump (False)

Claim: GOP Rep. Lauren Boebert of Colorado took photos with rioters the day before (False)

Claim: A video showed the Trump family celebrating the riots from a nearby tent (False)

– Nate Trela

Trump’s absence doesn’t stop talk of indictments, civil trial

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

Trump lately has been occupied with his civil fraud trial in New York, where prosecutors claim he committed fraud by inflating the value of his assets and are seeking an estimated $250 million in damages, among other penalties.

Trump has already testified, and he has called the trial a “scam” and a “disgrace,” asserting the judge who ruled he committed fraud knew nothing about him. Trump’s sons, Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump, have also testified.

Trump and several allies were indicted in August 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 part of 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

Concerns over election integrity remain key for GOP hopefuls

The debate comes less than a year before the next presidential election – and before the end of the fight about the results of the last one.

Allegations of voter fraud from Trump and his allies are at the root of two indictments against the former president, who is accused of trying to steal the 2020 election. His claims have resonated throughout the Republican Party and eroded confidence in the process, even as state-level reviews of the 2022 midterm elections found no indication of systemic problems with voter fraud.

Whether the five candidates on the debate stage trust the election process in the U.S. remains a key issue. Some have made moves in their states intended to enhance the integrity of elections.

  • DeSantis created Florida’s Office of Election Crimes and Security. A year ago, his administration accused 20 felons ineligible to vote of illegally casting ballots in 2020 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

Candidates voiced support for Israel, concerned about Biden, Trump’s leadership

In the month since Hamas militants attacked Israel, the five Republicans who take the stage tonight have offered full-throated support for Israel in its war. But they have differing views of what U.S. involvement in the Middle East should look like in the future and expressed doubts about Biden and Trump’s ability to lead.

A pair of candidates used the Republican Jewish Coalition forum last month to offer direct critiques of Trump, after the former president criticized Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for alleged intelligence failures before the Oct. 7 attack. Haley portrayed Trump as too unpredictable and said, “We cannot have four years of chaos, vendettas and drama.” Christie told the same crowd it is “much too serious a moment for unserious people.”

DeSantis and Scott have expressed harder positions. DeSantis said all residents of Gaza were “anti-Semitic” at a campaign stop last month, while Scott has said that Biden has “blood on his hands” and was “complicit” in the surprise attack by Hamas.

Ramaswamy has been more nuanced with his position, questioning how much financial support the U.S. should provide Israel and for how long.

The fog of war has allowed misinformation about the conflict, which has left thousands dead, to flourish. Here are some claims we have debunked:

Israel-Hamas War newsletter: Sign up to get the latest news and analysis on the conflict in your inbox.

– Nate Trela

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 about continuing U.S. support for Ukraine’s defense.

Trump, who again chose to skip the debate, 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 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.

Christie has said he supports continuing U.S. support for Ukraine, as has 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.”

Meanwhile, U.S. lawmakers have been increasingly split over whether to tie aid to Ukraine and Israel together in a single legislative package. House Republicans have been supportive of a standalone aid package for Israel, but the Senate and White House both favor approving aid to the two key allies together.

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

– Chris Mueller

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Republican debate fact check: What candidates get right (and wrong)

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