FactChecking the Second GOP Primary Debate – FactCheck.org


The candidates argued about fracking, border fencing, curtains and more:

  • Former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley accused Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis of banning fracking and offshore drilling in his state. While DeSantis has supported such bans, he hasn’t actually implemented them.
  • Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and former Vice President Mike Pence seemed to contradict each other on the amount of border fence constructed during the Trump administration. But Christie’s figure of 52 miles represents new fencing where there was none before, while Pence’s claim of “hundreds of miles of border wall” includes replacement fencing for dilapidated or outdated barriers.
  • When DeSantis was asked about his state’s new social studies standards teaching that slaves “developed skills” that “could be applied for their personal benefit,” he called it a “hoax that was perpetrated” by Vice President Kamala Harris. It’s not a hoax.
  • Sen. Tim Scott wrongly accused Haley of spending “$50,000 on curtains” when she was the U.S. ambassador to the U.N. The curtains were purchased by the Obama administration.
  • Entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy falsely said being transgender “is a mental health disorder.” Being transgender is not a mental disorder, but some transgender people do experience gender dysphoria, which refers to intense distress over the mismatch between a person’s sex and their gender identity.
  • North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum boasted that his state “is now at the top of the median SAT scores in the country.” That’s true, but only 1% of North Dakota students take the SATs.
  • DeSantis claimed that in Southern California in the past few days he had “met three people who have been mugged on the street and that would have never happened 10 or 20 years ago.” But robbery rates in the state were higher back then.
  • Pence again wrongly claimed that the Trump administration had “reduced illegal immigration and asylum abuse by 90%.” The number of people apprehended at the southern border actually went up during that period.

The candidates also made several other claims we’ve fact-checked before on a variety of topics, from Ukraine to tax cuts.

The Sept. 27 debate was held at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California, and hosted by Fox Business Network and Univision.


DeSantis’ Record on Fossil Fuels

Haley scuffled with DeSantis about his record on two types of oil extraction — hydraulic fracturing and offshore drilling.

“You banned fracking, you banned offshore drilling,” Haley said, referring to actions DeSantis took early in his tenure as governor of Florida.

DeSantis denied banning either one, calling the claim, “ridiculous,” and pointing to a constitutional amendment voters passed prohibiting offshore drilling in the state.

Here are the facts:

When DeSantis was running for governor of Florida in 2018, he pledged to ban both fracking and offshore drilling.

His campaign website at the time said, “With Florida’s geological makeup of limestone and shallow water sources, fracking presents a danger to our state that is not acceptable. On day one, Ron DeSantis will advocate to the Florida Legislature to pass legislation that bans fracking in the state.”

Regarding offshore drilling, the site said, “Our coast is one of the most important economic drivers of Florida and Ron DeSantis has a proven track record in supporting measures to ban offshore drilling in the Gulf of Mexico. Florida has seen firsthand the dangers that off-shore drilling can bring to our beaches and shorelines. Starting day one, DeSantis will utilize his unique relationship with President Trump and his administration to ensure that oil drilling never occurs off Florida’s coastlines.”

It’s worth noting that, during his three terms as a congressman starting in 2012, DeSantis did vote in favor of an amendment that would have stifled offshore drilling in the Eastern Gulf of Mexico. But he also voted in favor of various actions that would have expanded drilling off the coasts of other states, such as Alaska, according to the League of Conservation Voters, which tracks the environmental voting records of elected officials.

On the ballot with DeSantis in that November 2018 election was an amendment to the state constitution that would ban both offshore drilling and, in an odd pairing, vaping in indoor workplaces. The amendment passed with 69% of the vote.

DeSantis took office on Jan. 8, 2019, and he signed an executive order two days later directing the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to “[t]ake necessary actions to adamantly oppose all off-shore oil and gas activities off every coast in Florida and hydraulic fracturing in Florida.”

Although there have been some legislative attempts in Florida to ban fracking, they have failed.

So, it’s true that DeSantis has supported bans on both fracking and offshore drilling in Florida. But he hasn’t actually implemented bans, and the prohibition on offshore drilling in the state was the result of a constitutional amendment.

Christie and Pence Talk Past Each Other on Border Wall

Christie and Pence seemed to contradict each other on how many miles of border barriers were built during the Trump administration: Christie said it was 52 miles; Pence said it was “hundreds of miles.”

As we wrote in “Trump’s Final Numbers,” 458 miles of “border wall system” was built during the Trump administration, according to a Customs and Border Protection status report on Jan. 22, 2021. Most of that, 373 miles of it, was replacement for primary or secondary fencing that was dilapidated or outdated. About 52 miles of it was new primary fencing where there were no barriers before.

Christie claimed Trump “said he was going to build a wall across the whole border” but only ended up building 52 miles. As we have written, on the campaign trail, Trump only ever promised to build a 1,000-mile wall along the nearly 2,000-mile border. Trump never achieved that. Combining what existed before Trump took office and the additions while he was in office, there are now about 706 miles of barriers, about 36% of the total southwest border.

Christie also mocked Trump’s promise that Mexico would pay for the new wall.

“I think if Mexico knew that he was only going to build 52 miles, they might’ve paid for the 52 miles,” Christie said.

Mexico never paid for any of the wall that was built. During his presidency, Trump tried to claim that Mexico was paying for the wall through the newly negotiated U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement, which was not accurate. Trump later claimed he never meant that Mexico would “write out a check” to pay for the wall. But as we wrote, that wasn’t true either.

But Pence was also correct when he said, “We built hundreds of miles of border wall.” As we said, that higher number includes replacement barriers. And border experts we spoke to at the end of Trump’s presidency said it would be a mistake to minimize the impact of that replacement fencing. In some cases, the new barriers erected replaced fencing made from Vietnam-era landing mats. U.S. Customs and Border Protection also replaced nearly 200 miles of vehicle barriers — the type that people could walk right through — with 30-foot-high steel bollards, lighting and other technology.

DeSantis’ ‘Hoax’ Defense

Moderator Ilia Calderón asked DeSantis what he would say to descendants of slaves who were hurt by language in Florida’s “new Black history curriculum” that says slaves “developed skills” that in some cases “could be applied for their personal benefit.”

In response, DeSantis said: “So, first of all, that’s a hoax that was perpetrated by Kamala Harris. We are not going to be doing that.”

But it’s not a hoax.

In July, the Florida Board of Education approved new social studies standards focusing on African American history, including what to teach students about slavery. Part of the standards intended for children in grades six, seven and eight, calls for examining “the various duties and trades performed by slaves (e.g., agricultural work, painting, carpentry, tailoring, domestic service, blacksmithing, transportation).”

The section goes on to say: “Instruction includes how slaves developed skills which, in some instances, could be applied for their personal benefit.”

Vice President Harris criticized the standards, including in a July 20 speech, in which she said Florida had “decided middle-school students will be taught that enslaved people benefited from slavery.”

The following day, in an exchange with a reporter, DeSantis distanced himself from the standards while also defending them. “I didn’t do it and I wasn’t involved in it, but I think what they’re doing is they’re probably going to show some of the folks that eventually parlayed being a blacksmith into doing things later in life,” he said.

Still, Calderón accurately quoted the language of the standards to DeSantis. What she said wasn’t fabricated by the vice president.

Scott-Haley Exchange on Gasoline Taxes and Curtains

In one of the more contentious exchanges during the debate, Scott accused his fellow South Carolinian, Haley, of proposing to raise gasoline taxes 10 cents per gallon while governor and spending $50,000 on curtains when she was the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.

Haley fired back, “You got bad information.”

The former ambassador said that the curtains were purchased by the Obama administration. And she’s right about that.

The New York Times did a story in 2018 on the State Department spending $52,701 for “customized and mechanized curtains … in the new official residence of the ambassador to the United Nations.” But, as the Times later said in an editor’s note added to the top of the article after publication, “the decision on leasing the ambassador’s residence and purchasing the curtains was made during the Obama administration.”

The Times acknowledged that the original article and headline left the “unfair impression” that Haley was responsible for the spending on curtains.

“An earlier version of this article and headline created an unfair impression about who was responsible for the purchase in question,” the editor’s note read. “While Nikki R. Haley is the current ambassador to the United Nations, the decision on leasing the ambassador’s residence and purchasing the curtains was made during the Obama administration, according to current and former officials. The article should not have focused on Ms. Haley, nor should a picture of her have been used. The article and headline have now been edited to reflect those concerns, and the picture has been removed.”

As for gasoline taxes, Scott was right that Haley “offered a 10-cent gas tax increase in South Carolina.” However, the former South Carolina governor told Scott she initially opposed the gasoline tax hike and told those proposing it that she would only endorse it if it was offset by income tax cuts.

An article by The State, a South Carolina newspaper, supports Haley’s version of what happened.

The State, Sept. 21: She initially opposed any increase to the gas tax when she was governor but later said she would support an increase if it came along with an income tax cut and restructuring of the South Carolina Department of Transportation.

Haley supported a 10-cent increase per gallon of gas from 16.75 cents in the state in exchange for lowering the top income tax rate from 7% to 5%.

Ultimately, the increase in the gas tax in the state came in 2017 after Haley resigned to become U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.

Transgender Falsehood

When asked whether he would pass a federal law requiring schools to inform parents if their children wanted to identify as another gender, Ramaswamy responded: “Transgenderism, especially in kids, is a mental health disorder.”

This is incorrect, and confuses being transgender with gender dysphoria, a diagnosis that appears in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. (According to GLAAD, the term “transgenderism” should be avoided, as it can “dehumanize transgender people and reduce who they are to ‘a condition.’”)

The utility of the diagnosis is debated, but gender dysphoria specifically refers to the psychological distress that some transgender people experience. As the American Psychiatric Association explains, a diagnosis requires “clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning.”

“A psychological state is considered a mental disorder only if it causes significant distress or disability,” the American Psychological Association has similarly said. “Many transgender people do not experience their gender as distressing or disabling, which implies that identifying as transgender does not constitute a mental disorder.”

“For these individuals, the significant problem is finding affordable resources, such as counseling, hormone therapy, medical procedures and the social support necessary to freely express their gender identity and minimize discrimination,” the expert group continues. “Many other obstacles may lead to distress, including a lack of acceptance within society, direct or indirect experiences with discrimination, or assault. These experiences may lead many transgender people to suffer with anxiety, depression or related disorders at higher rates than nontransgender persons.”

One health system, UNC Health, told us for a previous story that gender-expansive children are “rarely” diagnosed with gender dysphoria.

North Dakota SAT Scores

When asked about parental rights in schools, Burgum turned instead to school performance — boasting about North Dakota’s median SAT scores.

“We made every school in North Dakota an innovation school. Every school got out from under the red tape,” Burgum said. “And, by the way, North Dakota is now at the top of the median SAT scores in the country right now.”

That’s true. But only 1% of North Dakota students take the SATs, and states with low SAT participation rates had the highest scores, according to a recent blog post by a company, OnToCollege, that prepares students for college entrance exams.

North Dakota students this year had an average SAT score of 1287, which was the highest of any state. However, all 10 states with the highest average SAT scores — 1200 or above — had low SAT participation rates, ranging from 1% to 3%, according to testing data compiled by OnToCollege.

“In states with high average SAT scores, participation rates are very low, because the only students who participate tend to be very well prepared,” the Public Policy Institute of California explained in a blog post interpreting California’s 2014-2015 SAT scores.

Most North Dakota students take the ACT, and the state does not rank No. 1 in that test.

For 2022, which was the most recent year available, North Dakota tied for 37th with Wyoming for the average ACT scores among the 51 states and the District of Columbia, according to OnToCollege and PrepScholar, another test preparation company.

Crime in California

In talking about crime, DeSantis made the dubious suggestion that muggings are occurring in Southern California in a way that “would have never happened 10 or 20 years ago.” The state violent crime rate was lower 10 years ago, but the robbery rate was higher. And both the violent crime and robbery rates were higher 20 years ago.

“Well, the crime in these cities is one of the strongest signs of the decaying of America. We can’t be successful as a country if people aren’t even safe to live in places like Los Angeles and San Francisco,” he said. “Just being in Southern California over the last couple of days, my wife and I have met three people who have been mugged on the street and that would have never happened 10 or 20 years ago.”

California crime data from the state Department of Justice show the violent crime rate was 494.6 per 100,000 population in 2022. That compares with 424.7 in 2012 and 595.3 in 2002. For robberies specifically, the rate was higher in both years in the past. The rate was 122.1 per 100,000 population in 2022, 149.3 in 2012 and 185.5 in 2002.

But as we’ve written before, the crime rates peaked in the early 1990s. In California, the violent crime rates were over 1,000 per 100,000 population from 1990 to 1993.

Pence on Immigration

Former Vice President Mike Pence is two for two in misrepresenting during primary debates the effect of the Trump administration’s immigration policy.

As he did in the first debate, Pence claimed that when he was in office, “we reduced illegal immigration and asylum abuse by 90%.”

But, as we’ve written before, the number of apprehensions at the southern border actually went up during the four years that Trump and Pence were in the White House. Apprehensions were 14.7% higher in Trump’s final year in office compared with the last full year before he was sworn in.

Pence could claim a roughly 90% drop if he compared the number of apprehensions in May 2019, the highest number under the Trump administration, with April 2020, the lowest number, according to reporting from PolitiFact. But that would be cherry-picking.

The “asylum abuse” portion of the claim is likely a reference to limits on asylum eligibility and the Migrant Protection Protocols, more commonly referred to as the “Remain in Mexico” program, which required immigrants to wait in Mexico during their immigration proceedings.

Familiar Talking Points

The candidates also repeated a number of claims we have fact-checked before:

  • Scott blamed a “wide open” southern border for “the deaths of 70,000 Americans in the last 12 months because of fentanyl.” But as we have written, the vast majority of smuggled fentanyl is discovered during vehicle inspections at ports of entry, where people legally enter the country. Much smaller amounts are found by border agents at interior checkpoints and during apprehensions of people who illegally cross between the legal ports.
  • Pence said, “We ought to repeal the Green New Deal,” but the Green New Deal was never passed. It was a nonbinding resolution introduced in 2019, and it laid out a broad vision for how the country might tackle climate change over the next decade. It never even came up for a vote in the House, where it was introduced by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, nor in the Senate, where it was introduced by Sen. Edward Markey.
  • DeSantis again claimed that in Florida “we eliminated critical race theory.” But there is little or no evidence that it was being taught in public schools anyway.
  • Christie claimed Biden said “a small invasion [of Ukraine] wouldn’t be so bad.” In a White House press conference about a month before Russia launched its attack on Ukraine, Biden said: “Russia will be held accountable” for an invasion, but the U.S. response would depend on what Russia did.
  • Reviving a claim we heard several times in the first debate, DeSantis said Democrats support abortion “all the way up until the moment of birth. That is infanticide.” Democrats support an exception for bans on abortion after fetal viability if the mother’s health is at risk.
  • Taking a page out of Trump’s playbook, Pence wrongly claimed that the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act he “worked on Capitol Hill” to get passed was “the largest tax cut in American history.” But as we have written repeatedly, there were more expensive tax laws in terms of percentage of gross domestic product and inflation-adjusted dollars.
  • Pence said that during the Trump administration, “we achieved energy independence, we became a net exporter of energy for the first time in 75 years,” but that Biden has since “declared a war on energy.” It’s true that during the Trump presidency, for the first time in decades, the U.S. exported more energy than it imported; produced more energy than it consumed; and again became a net exporter of petroleum. But that has not changed under Biden.
  • Christie said the inflation the U.S. is experiencing was “caused by government spending.” Economists have told us that government spending — including a $1.9 trillion pandemic relief measure championed by Biden and $3.1 trillion worth of pandemic stimulus laws enacted under Trump — has contributed to high inflation. But they said other factors such as the pandemic, supply chain issues, and the war in Ukraine and subsequently higher energy prices, also have been significant drivers of inflation.
  • As he did in the last debate, DeSantis boasted that Florida had “a 50-year low in the crime rate.” But the rate has been dropping steadily for three decades — and every year since 2008, the crime rate became the lowest on record. Plus, experts caution that the 2021 data isn’t comparable with previous years because of a new reporting method.

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