AP FACT CHECK: Debate big on policy, off the mark on details

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Posted: Mar 11, 2016 1:40 PM
AP FACT CHECK: Debate big on policy, off the mark on details

WASHINGTON (AP) — They exaggerated, they generalized, they got some things flat-out wrong.

The latest Republican debate was thick on policy and pronouncements, about Muslims, Medicare, jobs, immigrants and more.

And it was crowded by the front-runner, Donald Trump, who by AP's count addressed far more questions than his rivals (36, with Marco Rubio next with 21 questions) and spoke longer than the rest (nearly 28 minutes overall, with Ted Cruz next at 22 minutes).

A look at some of the claims from Thursday night:

TRUMP: "Islam treats women horribly."

THE FACTS: No such generalization is supported by the diverse circumstances for women in the Muslim world. The United States has yet to see a woman as president, many years after Muslim women achieved national leadership in other countries, most prominently Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto back in the late 1980s and in the 1990s.

Some Muslim societies are indeed repressive by Western standards, enforcing or pressing for norms such as clothing that covers all but their eyes or faces; bans on driving, voting and education; and restrictions on interacting with the other sex. But many Muslim women adhere to Islamic norms not out of fear or repression, but in observance of faith and their own preference.

In almost all countries with majority Muslim populations, women set their own dress codes, graduate from universities, interact with men, work as Western women do, hold senior government posts and take part in competitive sports.

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RUBIO: "In less than five years, only 17 percent of our budget will remain discretionary; 83 percent of the federal budget in less than five years will all be spent on Medicare, Medicaid, the interest on the debt."

THE FACTS: He's misusing figures in several ways. Primarily, he's confused spending with spending growth. He's also left out the enormous Social Security program from the equation.

The nonpartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget projects that Medicare, Medicaid, debt interest — and Social Security — will together eat up 83 percent of the growth of spending by the 2022 budget year, five years after the next president takes office. But they are projected to take up 61 percent of spending by then — not 83 percent. Add in other government spending, not tied to these entitlements or the debt, and the projected figure is 75 percent, still well short of his assertion.

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TRUMP: "GDP was essentially zero percent in the last few quarters. ... Our jobs are gone, our businesses are being taken out of the country."

THE FACTS: He meant to say there's been essentially no growth in the gross domestic product — not that there is no GDP at all. But what he meant to say isn't right, either.

In the past three quarters, the GDP, the broadest measure of the economy's output, grew at an annual rate of 1 percent, 2 percent and a robust 3.9 percent. The quarter before that it grew just 0.6 percent, but economists considered that a fluke, caused partly by harsh winter weather. For all of 2015, the economy expanded 2.4 percent. That's not a case of "essentially" no growth.

As for his claim that "jobs are gone," employers added 2.7 million jobs in 2015 and more than 3 million in the previous year, the two best years for hiring since 1998-99.

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TED CRUZ: "We're gonna end welfare benefits for anyone who is here illegally."

THE FACTS: It's unclear what benefits Cruz could take away. Immigrants living in the country illegally generally are not eligible for federal welfare benefits already.

To be sure, the U.S.-citizen children and spouses of immigrants who are in the country illegally are entitled to federal benefits, including food stamps and housing programs. Public hospitals are required to provide emergency medical care regardless of immigration status.

And children are also legally entitled to a free public education, regardless of their immigration status. But that's because of a 1982 Supreme Court ruling, not something a president can merely end through executive action or legislation.

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TRUMP on why he opposes Common Core: "Education through Washington, D.C. .... It's all been taken over now by the bureaucrats in Washington."

THE FACTS: Common Core is not a federal program at all, but a set of standards developed primarily by governors and education leaders in states. The standards spell out certain skills that students should grasp, while leaving how those skills are mastered up to local school districts and states.

There was no federal mandate that states adopt the Common Core State Standards. However, the federal government did encourage them, through its Race to the Top education grants that were given to states that adopted rigorous academic standards. The flip side of rewarding states that take certain steps is that it punishes states that don't.

That's the root of complaints about Washington having a heavy hand in local education. But it's a far cry from the picture painted by Trump and some other Common Core critics of a local system "taken over" by Washington.

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TRUMP, when asked if he's created a tone that encourages violence against protesters at his rallies: "I hope not. I truly hope not."

THE FACTS: Trump has at times appeared to goad his supporters when protesters have emerged at his rallies, a common occurrence.

"You know what they used to do to guys like that when they were in a place like this?" he asked as a protester was removed from a Las Vegas rally. "They'd be carried out on a stretcher, folks." As the audience cheered, he added: "I'd like to punch him in the face."

Audiences usually hear an announcement before his rallies start telling them not to harm protesters but instead to chant "Trump, Trump, Trump" when a protest begins. This helps steer authorities to the demonstrators in a large crowd, while also focusing the audience's attention — sometimes its anger — at the protesters.

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RUBIO on the idea of closing the new U.S. Embassy in Cuba: "The embassy is the former consulate. It's the same building. So it could just go back to being called a consulate."

THE FACTS: It was never a consulate. What the U.S. had in Cuba before President Barack Obama restored relations was an "interests section," a smaller office that is standard in countries with which the United States has no diplomatic relations.

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TRUMP: "You look at the recent jobs reports, which are really done so that presidents and politicians look good, because all of these people looking for jobs, when they give up, they go home, they give up, and they are considered statistically employed."

THE FACTS: It's not true that people who stop looking for work are counted as employed in jobs reports. People who give up on job searches, whether because they get discouraged about finding work or decide to go to school or care for family, are counted as "not in the labor force."

This does have the effect of lowering the unemployment rate, but not because more people have actually found jobs.

People who stop looking for work are tracked for another year in a broader measure of unemployment, currently at 9.7 percent, above the main jobless rate of 4.9 percent. The number of people giving up on looking for work was high in the first years of the recovery. But in the past five months the proportion of Americans working or looking for work has risen.

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Associated Press writers Christopher S. Rugaber, Wendy Benjaminson, Alicia A. Caldwell, Jim Drinkard, Kevin Vineys, Vivian Salama and Robert Burns contributed to this report.