Fact checking the Republican debate

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GOP Candidates at the CNN GOP presidential debate in Houston, Texas on February 25, 2016.

WASHINGTON (Feb. 25, 2016) — The Republican candidates for president gathered in Houston on Thursday for their last debate before Super Tuesday, and CNN’s Reality Check Team spent the night putting their statements and assertions to the test.

The team of reporters, researchers and editors across CNN selected key statements and rated them true; mostly true; true, but misleading; false; or it’s complicated.

Donald Trump

Reality Check: Trump on American taxes

By Kate Grise and Tami Luhby, CNN

Donald Trump reprised a claim he’s made in past debates, saying the United States is the “highest taxed country in the world.”

Responding to a question about his plan to cut taxes, Trump said, “If you look at what’s going on, we have the highest taxes anywhere in the world. We pay more business tax, we pay more personal tax.”

As CNN’s Reality Check team did when Trump made this claim two weeks ago, we’ll look at each part of his claim that American individuals and businesses pay more taxes than any other country.

So, do Americans really pay more individual taxes than citizens of any other country in the world?

Hardly.

America ranked 17 out of 34 Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development member countries for total tax revenue per capita in 2014. In America, the tax revenue per capita is $14,203.90. In Luxembourg, the country with the highest tax revenue per capita, that rate is almost $50,000. Norway’s tax revenue per capita hits more than $38,000. Denmark, Sweden and Switzerland round out the top five countries with the highest tax revenue per capita.

OECD’s 34 member countries are advanced, industrialized nations, which makes their data valuable in comparing the United States to similar countries. China, Russia and India are not included in the OECD’s list because they are not member countries.

We can also look at total tax revenue as a percentage of the country’s gross domestic product. This time, America ranks even lower — 27th out of 34 OECD member countries in 2014. America’s tax revenue is 26% of the country’s GDP. Denmark tops the list, with its tax revenue being equal to 50% of the country’s GDP.

Looking at whether American citizens face the highest taxes, we rate Trump’s claim as false.

Turning to companies, it’s true that American businesses face the highest official corporate tax rate. The federal rate stands at 35%.

But that’s not what many companies actually pay. The Government Accountability Office found that large, profitable U.S. corporations paid an average effective federal tax rate of 12.6% in 2010, thanks to things like tax credits, exemptions and offshore tax havens.

U.S. corporate tax collection totaled 2.6% of GDP in 2011, according to the OECD. That was the 11th lowest in a ranking of 27 wealthy nations.

So when it comes to American corporations, we rate Trump’s statement as true, but misleading. The United States has the highest official corporate tax rate, but that’s not what many companies actually pay.

Marco Rubio

Reality Check: Rubio says Obamacare is a certified job-killer

By Tami Luhby and Kate Grise, CNN

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio repeated his claim that Obamacare is “a certified job-killer.”

“It’s bad for our economy,” Rubio said. “It’s a health care law that is basically forcing companies to lay people off, cut people’s hours, move people to part-time. It’s not just a bad health care law, it’s a job-killing law, and I will repeal it as president and we will replace it with something substantially better for all Americans.”

In fact, Obamacare is not a job killer, according to the 2015 Kaiser Family Foundation/Health Research and Education Trust survey released in September.

The report showed that only 4% of employers with at least 50 employees said they shifted some staffers to part-time hours so they wouldn’t qualify for health care, and another 4% said they were reducing the number of full-time employees they planned to hire because of the cost of health benefits.

An ADP Research Institute study had similar findings. In fact, that study showed that 10% of employers reported that they were changing workers from part-time to full-time status to enable them to obtain coverage.

One reason may be that the economy has been improving. Some companies interviewed by ADP said they may increase their part-timers’ hours to retain talent and reduce training costs.

As to whether employers are cutting jobs because of Obamacare, it’s nearly impossible to determine from Labor Department data since the economy is recovering and adding jobs. The number of people who can only find part-time jobs has declined in recent years, signifying companies are hiring more full-time workers.

Verdict: False.

Reality Check: Rubio on Trump hiring undocumented workers

By Sonam Vashi, CNN

A fiery back-and-forth between Rubio and Trump elicited this lengthy exchange:

Rubio: “You’re the only person on this stage that’s ever been fined for hiring people to work on your projects illegally.”

Trump: “No, no, I’m the only one at this stage that’s hired people. You haven’t hired anybody.”

Rubio: “In fact, some of the people –”

Trump: “And by the way — I’ve hired tens of thousands of people over my job. You’ve hired nobody. You’ve had nothing but problems with your credit cards, et cetera.”

Rubio: “Let me say –”

Trump: “You haven’t hired one person, you liar.”

Rubio: “He hired workers from Poland and he had to pay a million dollars.”

Trump: “That’s wrong. Totally wrong.”

Rubio: “People can look it up. I’m sure people are Googling right now. ‘Trump Polish workers.’ You’ll see a million dollars for hiring illegal workers on one of his projects. He did it. That happened.”

And so on.

We Googled “Trump Polish workers” and here’s what we found.

In 1980, a contracting company called Kaszycki & Sons Contractors hired a group of undocumented Polish immigrants to demolish a building that would later make room for the Trump Tower in Manhattan. Some of the workers were paid $4 an hour, working 12-hour shifts, and some of the workers never received the wages owed to them, according to litigation cited by The New York Times.

In 1983, Trump was sued on the workers’ behalf, involving allegations that he used undocumented Polish workers to avoid paying union medical and pension benefits. Trump denied ever knowing that the workers were undocumented, since the hiring was made by the contracting company. In 1991, a judge ruled that Trump conspired with the union president “to withhold payments to the funds” and owed more than $325,000. That ruling was appealed, and the prosecutor in the case estimated that the money owed could reach about $4 million, according to the Times. The case was eventually settled out of court in 1999, and the amount paid was unclear.

We’re not sure where Rubio got his $1 million figure from, but the final figure that Trump paid out was never made public.

Additionally, The Washington Post reported last summer that a Trump company may have been employing some undocumented workers to construct a new hotel in downtown Washington, D.C.

We’re going to rate Rubio mostly true on his claim that Trump was fined for illegally hiring workers (since Rubio misstated the unknown amount Trump paid out), and we’re rating Trump false on his denial of Rubio’s claim.

We’re also going to rate Trump false on his literal claim that he’s the “only one at this stage that’s hired people.” While Trump may have the most extensive business experience of the Republican candidates, Ben Carson likely hired people as the director of pediatric neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins, Kasich likely hired people as a governor, and all of the candidates have hired numerous campaign staffers in the past year.

Reality Check: Rubio on Obama’s executive order

By Lisa Rose, CNN

During a discussion of immigration, Rubio said that President Barack Obama knowingly violated the Constitution with his executive order halting deportations of young people in 2012. “The problem with the executive order is it is unconstitutional,” Rubio said. “The President doesn’t have the power to do that. And he himself admitted that.”

During a 2014 speech, Obama said, “I just took action to change the law” in response to protesters who criticized him for not doing enough to help immigrants. But he also said that the administration was looking at how existing laws are being enforced.

“The way the change in the law works is that we’re reprioritizing how we enforce our immigration laws generally,” Obama said.

Conservatives criticized the executive order as overreach by the executive branch and the controversy continues to play out in the courts. The program, called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, is awaiting a ruling by the Supreme Court.

While Rubio claimed that Obama “admitted” he violated the Constitution with the executive order, the President didn’t say he deliberately crossed the line bypassing congress. Rubio raised a valid point, questioning if the executive order violated the separation of powers principle, but he mischaracterized how the President has described the action he took.

Verdict: False.

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