AP fact check: GOP debaters on high court, Syria

Sam Hananel and Bradley Klapper, Associated Press

Washington — The Republican presidential debaters misfired in assertions about Supreme Court nominees, Syria, immigration and more.

A look at some of the claims Saturday night and how they compare with the facts:

TED CRUZ: “We have 80 years of precedent of not confirming Supreme Court justices in an election year.”

MARCO RUBIO: “It has been over 80 years since a lame-duck president has appointed a Supreme Court justice.”

THE FACTS: Cruz is wrong. Rubio is in the ballpark.

Anthony Kennedy was confirmed by the Senate on Feb. 3, 1988, in the final year of Ronald Reagan’s presidency, by a 97-0 vote. That was a presidential election year.

Presidents don’t appoint justices to the high court; they nominate them for Senate confirmation. Kennedy was nominated in 1987 and confirmed the next year. That makes Rubio closer to correct.

Rubio and other Republicans argued that President Barack Obama, as a lame duck, should not fill the vacancy created by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia but leave it to the next president — which they hope will be one of them.

But the example of Kennedy, who is still on the court, shows that presidents in their last year aren’t always powerless in shaping the court — and not shy about trying.


JEB BUSH: “Russia is not taking out ISIS. They’re attacking our team.”

DONALD TRUMP: “Jeb is so wrong. You’ve got to fight ISIS first. … We’ve been in the Middle East for 15 years, and we haven’t won anything. We’ve spent $5 trillion in the Middle East.”

THE FACTS: Both spoke with too broad a brush. Russia is bombing both the Islamic State group and Western-backed rebels. But the U.S. and its partners say the majority of Russia’s strikes haven’t targeted IS fighters, and that its most recent offensive near Aleppo is primarily hitting “moderate” opposition forces.

As with most things in Syria, however, the picture is unclear because some of the moderates are fighting alongside other extremist groups, like the al-Qaida-linked Nusra Front.

Trump’s figure for total U.S. expenditures in the Middle East, though, appears significantly inflated. In November, Trump cited a $2 trillion figure. That number roughly matches the amount of money the U.S. spent fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq between 2001 and 2015, according to the bipartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget.


CRUZ on a failed 2013 immigration overhaul: “I stood with (Sen.) Jeff Sessions and (Rep.) Steven King and the American people to defeat that amnesty plan. The question for anyone on illegal immigration is, where were you in that fight?”

RUBIO: “When that issue was being debated, Ted Cruz at a committee hearing very passionately said, ‘I want immigration reform to pass, I want people to be able to come out of the shadows.’ He proposed an amendment that would have legalized people here. … So he either wasn’t telling the truth then, or he isn’t telling the truth now.”

THE FACTS: Rubio’s account is mostly right. While Cruz has been against an explicit path to citizenship for people in the country illegally, he did introduce legislation in that 2013 bill that proposed eventual legal status for millions of people. He also publicly supported the legislation in the Senate and urged its passing.

He has since said his amendment was designed to help kill the broader bill. The immigration bill co-authored by Rubio failed to pass in the House.


RUBIO: “Our economy is flat, it’s not creating jobs the way it once did.”

THE FACTS: While the recovery after the Great Recession has at times been sluggish, in the past two years job creation has been healthy. In 2014, employers added 3.1 million jobs, the most in 15 years. Job creation slowed to 2.7 million last year — still, the second-most since 1999.


CARSON: “When we have a debt of that nature, it causes the Fed to change their policy. It causes the central bank to keep the rates low, and who does that affect? Mr. Average, who used to go to the bank every Friday and put part of his check in the bank and watch it grow over three decades and be able to retire with a nice nest egg.”

THE FACTS: Carson misreads how the Federal Reserve works.

The size of the U.S. government’s debt, which is about $19 trillion, does not influence the Federal Reserve’s interest rate policies. The Fed seeks to keep unemployment low and inflation at about 2 percent a year.

Former Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke cut the short-term interest rate the Fed controls to nearly zero in December 2008 — before Barack Obama took office — and kept it that way for seven years.

It is true that the policy has significantly lowered the interest rates on bank savings accounts, but many savers have benefited in other ways. The S&P 500 stock market index nearly tripled from March 2009, when the market bottomed during the Great Recession, through the end of 2015.

EDITOR’S NOTE — A look at political claims that take shortcuts with the facts or don’t tell the full story