Republican debate: CNN’s Reality Check Team inspects the claims

Posted at 9:18 PM, Feb 13, 2016
and last updated 2016-02-13 23:18:57-05
By CNN’s Reality Check Team

WASHINGTON (CNN) — The Republican candidates for president gathered Saturday in Greenville, South Carolina, for their final debate before the Palmetto State’s primary next week, 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.

Jeb Bush

Reality Check: Obama blames George Bush for Iraq problems

By Sonam Vashi, CNN

In response to Donald Trump, who said that President George W. Bush knew there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, Jeb Bush said, “So here’s the deal. I’m sick and tired of Barack Obama blaming my brother for all of the problems that he’s had.”

We found several instances that Obama has blamed the Bush administration for problems in Iraq.

First, a little background: in 2008, Bush reluctantly signed the Status of Forces argument, which set a December 2011 deadline for the withdrawal of troops in Iraq. While Obama had three years to work toward a new agreement to possibly delay that withdrawal, negotiations hit a wall over the issue of ensuring that U.S. military personnel would be granted immunity from criminal proceedings.

In August 2014, at a press conference on ISIS amid the Mount Sinjar siege, a reporter asked whether the President had any second thoughts about his decision to pull ground troops out of Iraq. Obama responded, “What I just find interesting is the degree to which this issue keeps on coming up, as if this was my decision. Under the previous administration, we had turned over the country to a sovereign, democratically elected Iraqi government. In order for us to maintain troops in Iraq, we needed the invitation of the Iraqi government … And the Iraqi government, based on its political considerations, in part because Iraqis were tired of a U.S. occupation, declined to provide us those assurances.”

And again, last June, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest responded to a question about whether Obama should accept responsibility for ISIS’ rise. Earnest said, “(al Qaeda in Iraq) didn’t exist until the United States had invaded Iraq in the first place, under the leadership of the previous administration. What’s also true is that out of the remnants of the defeated (al Qaeda) sprang ISIL. And the primary responsibility for that actually lies at the feet of Prime Minister Maliki, who failed to govern Iraq in an inclusive way, but rather, because of his failed leadership, allowed sectarian divisions to emerge and weaken that country and create an environment where ISIL was able to make surprising and significant gains across the countryside.”

While the President hasn’t placed the blame fully on Bush, it’s clear that Obama has blamed the Bush administration for many of the problems in Iraq. We’ll leave it up to our readers to decide which president truly deserves the blame for the situation in Iraq, but in the meantime, we’re rating Jeb Bush’s claim as mostly true.

Ted Cruz

Reality Check: Cruz on arming the Kurds

By Marshall Cohen, CNN

Asked about his strategy to fight ISIS, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz said the Kurds would play a key role.

“They are fighting ISIS right now, they are winning victories right now,” Cruz said. “ISIS is using American military equipment they’ve seized in Iraq, and the Obama administration refuses to arm the Kurds, the Peshmerga, fighting forces who have been longtime allies. We ought to be arming them and letting them fight.”

The Kurds are an ethnic group that is spread across parts of Iraq, Syria, Turkey and Iran. They’ve emerged as one of the most effective and organized fighting forces that have directly engaged ISIS in northern Iraq and Syria. But contrary to Cruz’s claim, they’ve done it with assistance from the United States.

Iraqi Kurds do receive weapons and equipment from the Pentagon, indirectly channeled through the central Iraqi government in Baghdad because of sovereignty issues. In addition to that assistance, CNN reported in 2014 that the CIA was covertly providing arms directly to Iraqi Kurdish forces.

On the Syrian side, the U.S. does not provide weapons to Kurdish forces there. But the U.S. does provide weapons and ammunition to some opposition groups comprised of Sunni Arabs. And those groups coordinate with the Syrian Kurds, under the umbrella of the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces.

So, what’s the bottom line? Cruz said the U.S. “refuses to arm the Kurds,” and that is clearly not true.

Verdict: False.

Marco Rubio

Reality Check: Rubio on Russia occupying 20% of Georgia

By Ryan Browne, CNN National Security Producer

In discussing Russian President Vladimir Putin’s actions in Eastern Europe, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio said that Russia controlled significant territory in Georgia and Ukraine.

Rubio said: “Rebuilding and reinvigorating NATO in the European theater, particularly in Central Europe, in Eastern Europe where Vladimir Putin is now threatening the territory of multiple countries, already controls 20% of Georgia and a significant percentage of Ukraine.”

Rubio is referring to the Georgian provinces of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. The area of both provinces is about 18.2% of overall Georgian territory.

In the early 1990s, after the collapse of the Soviet Union and formation of the independent Republic of Georgia, secessionists in Abkhazia and South Ossetia fought battles with the central Georgian government in a bid to obtain independence.

While the fighting eventually ended in a ceasefire, the separatists maintained their own autonomous and unrecognized governments.

In August 2008, then-Georgia President Mikheil Saakashvili sent troops to regain control over the Russian-backed self-proclaimed autonomous region. Russia responded by intervening and sent thousands of troops into South Ossetia and invaded Georgian territory, threatening the capital of Tbilisi.

During the five-day conflict, nearly 200 Georgian military personnel and 228 civilians were killed. Sixty-seven Russian servicemen and 365 South Ossetian militia members and civilians also lost their lives.

Russia recognized the two provinces as independent countries soon after but only three other countries have followed suit.

Russia maintains troops in both regions, and in 2009, assumed control of the South Ossetia-Russia border. In 2011, the European Union’s parliament passed a resolution that labeled the Russian presence as an “occupying force.”

Verdict: True.

Reality Check: Rubio on ‘lame duck’ presidents making Supreme Court nominations

By Will Cadigan, CNN

During an opening round of questions that focused on the passing of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia and his successor’s potential effect on the political landscape leading up to the 2016 election, Rubio said “It’s been over 80 years since a lame duck president has appointed a Supreme Court justice.”

The definition of what makes a president a “lame duck” varies, but it is generally considered to be a president who is in the final period of their term and is not eligible to run for re-election.

Rubio is right that no president who fits a narrow description of a “lame duck” has appointed a justice to the Supreme Court in the past 80 years. However, President Ronald Reagan nominated Anthony Kennedy on Nov 30, 1987, and he was confirmed on Feb 3, 1988 — the last two years of Reagan’s final term. Whether that constitutes as “lame duck” is up for debate.

In addition, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt successfully nominated Frank Murphy to the court in 1940, an election year that was the final one of his second term.

Why was this not a “lame duck” appointment? Roosevelt at the time was running for (and eventually won) a third term as president, the only commander in chief to ever do so.

The 22nd Amendment, passed in 1951, established the two-term limit for the presidency and created the “lame duck” period that we know today.

That being said, in 1968, President Lyndon Johnson was a “lame duck” and unsuccessfully nominated Abe Fortas to serve as chief justice and Homer Thornberry to fill Fortas’ seat on the court. Fortas’ nomination was filibustered in the Senate and eventually withdrawn. Thornberry’s nomination was withdrawn as well as there was no vacancy left to be filled.

Rubio’s time frame of “80 years” seems to be a nod to Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley’s statement on Scalia’s death in which he said, “The fact of the matter is that it’s been standard practice over the last nearly 80 years that Supreme Court nominees are not nominated and confirmed during a presidential election year.”

So depending on your definition of “lame duck,” Rubio is mostly correct. No lame duck president has appointed a Supreme Court Justice in the last 80 years, but the “lame duck presidency” has only existed for 65 years.

Verdict: Mostly true.

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