Fact checking the December GOP debate



Four of the Republican presidential candidates made a variety of false, misleading or lacking-in-context claims on Wednesday during the fourth debate of the 2024 party primary.

Former President Donald Trump did not participate in the debate. Here is a fact check of some of the claims from the candidates – Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, former Ambassador Nikki Haley, entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie – who participated in the debate in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.

Ramaswamy went on a rant against the so-called “deep state” and promoted a widely debunked conspiracy theory about the January 6, 2021, insurrection during Wednesday’s GOP debate.

“Why am I the only person on the stage at least who can say that January 6 now does look like it was an inside job?” Ramaswamy said.

Facts First: This is one of the most pernicious right-wing lies about the January 6 insurrection. It’s false, unsupported by any real evidence, and has been repeatedly rejected by FBI Director Christopher Wray, a lifelong Republican appointed by Trump.

This particular conspiracy theory emerged in summer 2021 in a series of articles and TV segments from pro-Trump news outlets. The false and self-serving narrative claims the US government orchestrated the US Capitol attack, sending undercover FBI agents to trigger the violence, so they could frame Trump supporters and make Trump look bad.

The supposed evidence backing up the theory is nothing more than a conspiratorial web of unproven claims, half-truths and inaccurate drivel from Trump supporters who have aggressively tried to absolve him of responsibility for the deadly assault that day.

“If you are asking whether the violence at the Capitol on January 6 was part of some operation orchestrated by FBI sources and/or agents, the answer is emphatically not. No. It was not violence orchestrated by FBI sources or agents,” Wray said last month.

About 850 rioters have been convicted of crimes stemming from January 6, according to the Justice Department. Most of them pleaded guilty, and many acknowledged that they were at the Capitol because they supported Trump.

Ramaswamy has a history of peddling disinformation about January 6. At a campaign event last week in Iowa, he falsely claimed “the cops were just letting them in,” referring to the rioters. Here’s a previous CNN fact checkfrom January 2022 on this specific lie.

From CNN’s Marshall Cohen

Haley’s rivals attacked her policy proposal to push social media platforms to require name identification on social media and ban anonymous posts on the platforms.

Haley disputed this claim from the debate stage, saying, “What I said was that social media companies need to show us their algorithms. I also said there are millions of bots on social media right now. They’re foreign. They’re Chinese. They’re Iranian. I will always fight for freedom of speech for Americans. We do not need freedom of speech for Russians and Iranians and Hamas.”

But her rivals DeSantis and Ramaswamy quickly and loudly pushed back. “That is false,” Ramaswamy said.

Facts First: What Haley said is false: she did initially propose banning anonymous speech for “everyone” on social media platforms and later walked back that proposal to focus on foreign-actors online. 

Haley did propose to ban anonymous posts on social media and require posters to be verified by their name on social media, saying on Fox News in November that, “Every person on social media should be verified by their name. It’s a national security threat.”

Following blowback for her proposal from right-wing media and her rivals, Haley walked back those comments the following day by proposing that foreign-based actors, not US citizens, should be banned from posting anonymously, though she did not specify how she would require social media companies to identify those users.

From CNN’s Em Steck

DeSantis claimed that the Biden administration wants a “central bank digital currency,” saying that the president “want[s] to get rid of cash, crypto, they want to force you to do that. They’ll take away your privacy.”

Facts First: The Biden administration has not officially proposed a policy of a “central bank digital currency,” but it has commissioned the government to study what the future of money and cryptocurrency would look like. 

In March 2022, President Biden signed an executive order requiring government agencies to create reports assessing the risks and benefits of creating a “central bank digital currency” or a digital dollar.

Six months later, the Biden administration released a framework for its approach to digital currency that encouraged agencies to conduct further research. The Federal Reserve has yet to announce whether it will implement a digital currency.

From CNN’s Em Steck

Haley said during Wednesday’s GOP debate that younger people can’t afford a home and “the banks aren’t lending them any money; they’ve made the regulation so hard that they don’t want to give loans on mortgages anymore.”

Facts First: Haley’s claims need more context.

Mortgage rates have spiked during the Federal Reserve’s historic inflation-curbing campaign of dramatic monetary policy tightening, with the average 30-year fixed-rate mortgage surpassing 7% in August and hitting as high as 7.79% in October. As of last week, mortgage rates averaged 7.22%.

Mortgage rates tend to track the yield on 10-year US Treasuries, which move based on a combination of anticipation about the Fed’s actions, what the central bank actually does, and investors’ reactions.

When Treasury yields go up, so do mortgage rates.

High mortgage rates are among several factors that have contributed to the US housing market becoming the least affordable since 1984. Historically low inventory has resulted in prices rocketing higher and tighter credit standards have made lending more difficult.

Banks and other lenders have tightened their lending standards in recent months following the financial turmoil this spring and the rising interest rates. In October, rejection rates for credit applications grew to 20.1% in 2023, up from 18% in 2022, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

Available credit for a mortgage has fallen to its lowest level in a decade. Demand for loans has also dropped considerably as well.

Homebuyers are finding it harder to qualify and obtain loans, but banks have not stopped issuing mortgage loans altogether.

From CNN’s Alicia Wallace

DeSantis claimed during the debate that “I did a bill in Florida to stop the gender mutilation of minors. It’s child abuse and it’s wrong.”

Facts First: The claim that gender affirming care is “gender mutilation” or “child abuse” is false based on the opinions of most major medical associations that consider gender affirming care medically necessary, evidence-based care.

Gender affirming care, a multidisciplinary approach to help a person transition away from the gender they were assigned at birth, is not “abuse” or “mutilation” according to the medical community. It is a recommended practice by most major medical associations. The American Medical Association, the American Psychiatric Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry – agree that gender-affirming care is clinically appropriate for children and adults.

Research shows that gender-affirming care can greatly improve a person’s mental health and well-being.

For children, gender-affirming care is considered “crucial to overall health and well-being” for transgender and nonbinary children and adolescents, the US Health and Human Services Department Office of Population Affairs says.

In May, DeSantis signed into a law that made it more difficult for adults to seek this treatment and banned this care for children.

Delaying, or denying care, can exacerbate stressors and health problems for kids, research shows. Gender-affirming treatment builds self-esteem and improves overall quality of life, according to the US Office of Population Affairs, and peer reviewed studies show that the care improves general well-being. The American Academy of Pediatrics also says that gender affirming care is developmentally appropriate, nonjudgmental treatment that’s provided in a safe clinical space. The care is individualized and based on peer-reviewed scientific studies that show its effectiveness.

Surgery is not “mutilation” and not every person who identifies as transgender or nonbinary will choose surgery. Surgery is usually done as one of the later steps in gender-affirming care experts say. No medical or surgical interventions are considered for prepubertal children. Some adolescents may choose what’s commonly called top surgery, which for transgender men and nonbinary people that removes breast or chest tissue, but the surgical choice would be rare. Generally, experts say, these are not procedures adolescents would need. The Endocrine Society and the World Professional Association for Transgender Health guidelines say that genital reassignment surgery should be reserved for adults only. Adults who have the surgery report high rates of long-term satisfaction with the procedure. Studies show those adults who have had surgery had a significant reduction in psychological distress and other mental health issues.

From CNN’s Jen Christensen

DeSantis vowed during the GOP debate on Wednesday to “open up all of our domestic energy for production” to “lower your gas prices.”

Facts First: As he did on Wednesday, DeSantis’s frequent campaign claim that the US can lower gas prices by producing more domestic oil is misleading. 

Under Biden, US oil production has reached a new record this year, even surpassing output under former President Donald Trump. As CNN has reported, the US currently produces more oil than any other country on the planet, at about half a million barrels per day more than the prior annual record set in 2019.

Prices at the pump in the US are highly dependent on the global oil market and the US cannot be truly energy independent when it comes to gas prices, energy experts have told CNN. Oil is a global commodity; the global price of oil determines US gas prices and it’s simply impossible to separate that price from shifting global dynamics like Russia’s war on Ukraine or OPEC’s recent decisions to cut oil production.

There’s also the fact that the US consumes a different kind of oil than it produces, Bob McNally, president of Rapidan Energy Group, and a former George W. Bush White House official, told CNN last year. McNally compared the light crude the US produces to champagne, and the heavy crude it imports to coffee. US oil refineries are specifically built to separate out the “heavy and gunky” crude we consume, McNally said.

From CNN’s Ella Nielsen

During a discussion about US policy toward Israel, DeSantis made a claim about the American death toll from Hamas’ massive October 7 attacks in Israel, which killed about 1,200 people in total.

“If you looked at this terrorist attack and the number of Americans, this would be one of the top 10 terrorist attacks in American history,” DeSantis said. “So, our own people were killed in that attack. And I think it’s absolutely appropriate to point that out.”

Facts First: DeSantis’s claim is correct based on available terrorism statistics.

There aren’t robust statistics that go back to America’s founding in 1776. But the Global Terrorism Database, maintained by the University of Maryland, contains detailed information about terrorist attacks that have occurred in the US since 1970.

The US State Department said in mid-October that Hamas killed at least 32 American citizens in its sweeping assault in southern Israel. Available data from the Global Terrorism Database indicate that, as DeSantis said, this would’ve been among the top 10 deadliest terrorist attacks if it happened on US soil.

In addition, some US citizens were taken hostage during Hamas’ attack in October. While four American hostages have been released since the start of the war, the White House has said there is still one American woman and seven men unaccounted.

From CNN’s Marshall Cohen

DeSantis on China and land purchases in Florida

DeSantis said during Wednesday night’s GOP debate in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, “I banned China from buying land in the state of Florida.”

Facts First: This needs context. The law signed by DeSantis prohibits most land purchases in Florida by Chinese entities and individuals (who are not US citizens or permanent residents), but the law did not completely ban all land purchases by these entities and individuals – as DeSantis’ categorical claim here may have suggested to debate viewers.

DeSantis signed a bill this year that prohibits the ownership of real property in Florida by the Chinese government, its ruling Communist Party, members or officials of either the government or the party, other organizations based in China, or “any person who is domiciled in the People’s Republic of China and who is not a citizen or lawful permanent resident of the United States.”

But the law contains an exemption for Chinese individuals who have been granted asylum in the US or are on a US visa that is not a tourist visa. Those individuals are allowed to make one purchase of a residential property, of up to two acres, if the property is more than five miles from a military installation.

From CNN’s Kaanita Iyer and Daniel Dale

DeSantis claimed some progressive members of Congress, known as “the Squad,” called for the US to “import 300,000 people from the Gaza strip.”

Facts First: This is misleading. While some progressives have signaled that the US should join other countries in accepting refugees, they haven’t floated a specific number.  

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a “Squad” member, told CNN’s Abby Phillip in October that while other countries in the region may be able to support Palestinian refugees, it “does not abdicate the United States from our historic role that we’ve played in the world of accepting refugees and allowing people to restart their lives here.”

The UN reported in October that more than 300,000 people have been displaced in Gaza, but CNN could not find evidence that any of the members of the “Squad” advocated for accepting a specific number of refugees.

From CNN’s Kaanita Iyer

Christie claimed in the Republican debate Wednesday that it was untrue that he signed a law the moderator characterized as requiring schools to “accept a child’s preferred gender identity, even if the minor’s parents objected” which would allow “the serious issue to remain a secret between the school and the child.”

Facts First: Christie’s claim was true, but it needs context. In the debate, he argued that the law was put into effect and regulated in 2018 after he left office and that he did not issue the guidelines as the moderator was suggesting. 

What Christie did was sign a bill into law in 2017 that required the state’s education commissioner to create guidelines that would help schools understand what best practices would be in managing its transgender student population to include how to address what names and pronouns school staff should use when referring to a student. It also allowed students to dress in a way that was consistent with their gender identity, among other trans-inclusive policies. In the months prior to signing the bill, Christie had said that each school should handle the matter on its own. Later, when he signed the bill it was without comment.

The guidance the moderator referred to was not released when Christie was in office. Instead, the guidance was released in 2018 under the next governor, Democrat Phil Murphy.

From CNN’s Jen Christensen  

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