With less than three weeks left before the Feb. 1 Iowa caucuses, seven Republican candidates clashed Thursday in their debate over foreign policy, gun control and qualifications to run for the White House.
Let’s look behind the issues they debated.
Gov. John Kasich’s corporate tax claim
Ohio Gov. John Kasich reminded viewers that the United States has the world’s highest corporate tax rate. The 39 percent maximum rate is the highest among developed nations, but not the highest in the world. And it is a misleading number because it reflects the statutory rate, not the effective tax rate, which accounts for loopholes and deductions. A 2014 study by the Congressional Research Service put that real-world, after-deductions rate at an average around 27 percent, roughly on par with the average of other “first-world” economies.
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Sen. Ted Cruz on his citizenship
Donald Trump has said “there’s a big question mark” over Cruz’s head because he was born to a U.S. mother in Calgary and a Cuban father who became a Canadian citizen. It came up again Thursday night.
The Constitution includes the natural-born citizen phrase as one of the requirements to be president but didn’t define it. As a result, the term has never been tested in the courts as it applies to the presidency.
Many constitutional scholars say that the legal history of the term means that a child of U.S. citizens born abroad is a U.S. citizen at birth. Cruz often says it is “settled law.”
Last year two former U.S. Solicitor General’s, one Democrat, one Republican, wrote an article in the Harvard Law Review that said: “We may have different ideas about the ideal candidate in the next presidential election, but we agree on one important principle: Voters should be able to choose from all constitutionally eligible candidates, free from spurious arguments that a U.S. citizen at birth is somehow not constitutionally eligible to serve as President simply because he was delivered at a hospital abroad.”
Still, Trump cited Laurence Tribe, a Harvard Law School constitutional expert who taught Cruz as well as President Obama, who said last week that he considers it “unsettled.”
Tribe said in a published report that “the kind of judge Cruz says he admires and would appoint to the supreme court – an ‘originalist’ who claims to be bound by the historical meaning of the constitution’s terms at the time of their adoption – Cruz wouldn’t be eligible because the legal principles that prevailed in the 1780s and 90s required that someone be born on U.S. soil to be a ‘natural born’ citizen.”
Trump says Trump says Democrats will sue over the uncertainty and stall the election in court if Cruz becomes the nominee. In fact, a lawsuit was filed Thursday in Houston. According to Bloomberg News, the suit wants a clarification of whether Cruz is eligible to serve.
“This 229-year question has never been pled, presented to or finally decided by or resolved by the U.S. Supreme Court,” Houston attorney Newton B. Schwartz Sr. said in his 28-page complaint, according to Bloomberg. “Only the U.S. Supreme Court can finally decide, determine judicially and settle this issue now.”
On gun restrictions
Several candidates, including former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Sen. Marco Rubio, accused Obama of wanting to try to take guns away from “law-abiding citizens.”
Last week, Obama said he was expanding the number of background checks on gun purchases by requiring more sellers to register as federally licensed gun dealers. Specifically, his administration will require sellers, including those at stores, gun shows and on the Internet, to get a license.
Obama did not introduce a proposal that would confiscate guns. Instead, his executive action is modest, much more modest than the bills he has urged Congress to pass with no success, and would allow people to buy guns if they pass a background check. The background check is designed to keep guns out of the hands of certain people, including criminals, fugitives, those who are accused of domestic violence, those who have denounced U.S. citizenship.
But Obama has not indicated that he is considering an executive order that involves confiscating guns. He has said he has done all he can do without Congress’ actions.
Bush challenges Obama on Syria
Former Gov. Jeb Bush criticized President Barack Obama for setting a “red line” with Syria that he didn’t follow through on.
Obama initially drew the line in a seemingly off-the-cuff remark at an August 2012 news conference. “We have been very clear to the Assad regime, but also to other players on the ground, that a red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized,” he said at the time. “That would change my calculus. That would change my equation.”
Republican lawmakers has called on Obama to act for months as Syria’s civil war dragged on and they said it became apparent that Syrian President Bashar Assad had used chemical weapons.
Finally in 2013, after determining Syria did cross the line with what the U.S. calls an August chemical attack on its people, Obama decided to launch airstrikes against Assad’s regime, seeking approval from Congress and support from other nations.
But as he decided to act Obama said he wasn’t the one who’d set a red line against chemical weapons in Syria, it was one the world demanded.
Experts say Obama changed his language as part of a strategy designed to take the focus off the president as he pressed reluctant U.S. lawmakers and world leaders to use military force against. Part of his goal was to persuade lawmakers, especially Republicans who are often reluctant to act on proposals he’s pushing, that the issue of chemical weapons is bigger than he is.
But he abruptly asked Congress to postpone a vote on airstrikes against Syria to allow time for a diplomatic solution. Since then, Obama has authorized air strikes against the Islamic State, but none so far against regime targets.
Christie on Planned Parenthood
Rubio accused Christie of donating to Planned Parenthood, a nonprofit organization that provides reproductive health services.
In 1994, during an election in Morris County, N.J., Christie’s first successful campaign for public office, he told a reporter he supported the organization.
“I support Planned Parenthood privately with my personal contribution and that should be the goal of any such agency, to find private donations,” Christie was quoted in a Sept. 30, 1994, Star-Ledger article, which was cited in “Chris Christie: The Inside Story of his Rise to Power,” a 2012 biography written by Bob Ingle and Michael Symons.
But now he denies donating to Planned Parenthood. He did it again in Thursday’s debate, and a campaign spokesperson has said there is no record of any donations from him to Planned Parenthood.
Christie told a Washington Post opinion writer that he may have been misquoted in the 1994 article. The reporter who wrote the article is now a spokesman for Gov. Christie.
Christie now opposes abortion rights. He said in 1995 that the moment” that led him to become pro-life: “Hearing the strong heartbeat of my unborn daughter 14 years ago at 13 weeks gestation had a profound effect on me and my beliefs. The life of every human being is precious.”
Christie assails Clinton on Assad
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie repeated a popular GOP line when he said that Clinton “called Assad a reformer.”
The truth is more nuanced. She was asked about the Syrian leader in the early days of the revolt and said, “There is a different leader in Syria now. Many of the members of Congress of both parties who have gone to Syria in recent months have said they believe he’s a reformer.” Clinton did refer to Assad as a “reformer,” but she attributed the statement to legislators, not her own opinion.
Carson on strategy against ISIS
Retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson criticized the Obama administration’s anti-Islamic State strategy as not including enough targeting of oil infrastructure – a key part of the jihadists’ economy. The U.S. military on Thursday released figures that showed that, as a result of 72 air strikes in the oil-focused Operation Tidal Wave II, the Islamic State’s production capabilities had dropped from 45,000 barrels per day to 34,000 barrels per day.
Trump on corporate inversions
Trump blasted a controversial tax loophole called a corporate inversion as “one of the biggest problems our country has” and suggested it is a reason companies are leaving the United States. The Obama administration actually took action late last year to make it harder to conduct an inversion, an action the GOP criticized and has rejected to two successive years.
Inversions involve a U.S. company merging with a smaller partner in a low-tax country such as Ireland, and on paper shifting its headquarters to that country while, in fact, leaving its U.S. operations intact. It’s an accounting trick that costs the U.S. treasury billions, but it rarely involves jobs leaving the United States, as Trump suggested.
Mike Huckabee on the Navy’s size
In the earlier undercard Republican debate with former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania and former Hewlett-Packard executive Carly Fiorina, Huckabee recited an oft-used line that the U.S.Navy is the smallest since 1917.
“We’ve got to rebuild our navy,” he said. “It’s the smallest navy we’ve had since 1915, when my grandfather got on a destroyer in World War I when he was in the U.S. Navy.”
But PolitiFact said that was not true when Republican nominee Mitt Romney uttered the fact in 2012 because the number had risen in recent years, the ships today are more powerful than their predecessors and that the false suggestion that the smaller number of ships would lead to a loss in American “military superiority.”
Fiorina claims about terrorism, social media
Carly Fiorina accused the Obama administration of failing to check social media, including Facebook or Twitter, for signs of terrorism.
“This administration has now told us they don’t know who has overstayed a visa. This administration has told us they don’t even bother to check Facebook or Twitter to find out who’s pledging allegiance to jihadis. We can do better than this, citizens. We need to take our country back.”
The U.S. has checked social media in some ways in refugee cases, according to an Associated Press story that quotes a Homeland Security official. It has three pilot programs to review social media as part of the immigration vetting process.
But Leon Rodriguez, director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, told members of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee recently that the checks are not being done frequently and in a small number of cases the information can be ambiguous.
“There is less there that is actually of screening value than you would expect; at least in small early samples, some things seem more ambiguous than clear,” Rodriguez told lawmakers. He said foreign alphabets frequently used in social media posts were a challenge to translate.
Anita Kumar, Maria Recio, Vera Bergengruen, Kevin G. Hall and Hannah Allam contributed to this article.