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Break It Down: Fact-Checking The Final GOP Debate Before Iowa


Republican presidential hopefuls - minus Donald Trump - held their last debate before the Iowa caucuses last night. With Trump boycotting the primetime program, other candidates turned on each other. We're going to talk now about whether their arrows hit the bull's-eye or found some other bull-related product with NPR's Scott Horsley. Hey there, Scott.


CORNISH: And we're going to break it down.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: For our friends in the press who place a high premium on accuracy, let me say, I can't help it. There you go again.

CORNISH: Fact-checking time, Scott. Last night, Republicans went after President Obama, specifically the Affordable Care Act. Here's Ted Cruz in the debate on the Fox News Channel.


TED CRUZ: It is the biggest job-killer in this country. Millions of Americans have lost their jobs, have been forced into part-time work, have lost their health insurance, have lost their doctors, have seen their premiums skyrocket.

CORNISH: OK, Scott, what about that?

HORSLEY: Well, Obamacare is still a big pinata for GOP candidates. It is unpopular, but there's no evidence it's a job-killer. On the contrary, the U.S. is in the midst of the longest period of job growth on record, adding more than 14 million jobs since late 2010. Now there was some concern that employers might cut back on workers' hours to avoid having to give them health insurance, but the number of people working part-time who want to work full-time has actually fallen.

CORNISH: Now, I want to play a clip from Marco Rubio next. In this one, he's talking about the size of the military.


MARCO RUBIO: Today, we are on pace to have the smallest army since the end of World War II, the smallest Navy in a hundred years, the smallest Air Force in our history. You cannot destroy ISIS with a military that's being diminished.

HORSLEY: Now, it is true troop levels have fallen from the peak of the Iraq and Afghan wars. But so far we've only deployed a few thousand American troops in the fight against ISIS, so it's hard to see how that drop might have affected that particular fight.

CORNISH: OK, Scott, this next one is an intramural squabble over immigration. Ted Cruz criticized Marco Rubio for backing what Cruz called amnesty. Rubio tried to turn the tables, arguing that, in the past, Cruz himself supported legal status for immigrants who were in the country illegally.


RUBIO: You said, on the issue of people that are here illegally, we can reach a compromise. Now, you want to trump Trump on immigration.

CORNISH: Now, there's a lot of history here, Scott, right - a lot of legislative history. Walk us through it.

HORSLEY: Yeah, immigration continues to be a minefield for Republican candidates. Marco Rubio has backpedaled on his past support for a path to citizenship. Cruz has tried to capitalize on that record. Last night, Rubio pushed back, saying, look, Cruz, you supported your own form of amnesty. In 2013, Cruz offered an amendment to the immigration bill that would have stopped short of a path to citizenship, but still offered a more limited legal status. We dug up some old tape of Cruz talking about that in a 2013 interview with NPR.


CRUZ: The 11 million who are here illegally would be granted legal status once the border was secure. Not before, but after the border was secured, they would be granted legal status. And indeed, they would be eligible for permanent legal residency, but they would not be eligible for citizenship.

HORSLEY: Cruz now says that amendment he offered was actually a poison pill designed to undermine the broader immigration overhaul. And there are lawmakers on both sides who agree that was Cruz's goal. This is an illustration of the kind of legislative maneuvering that goes on here in Washington.

CORNISH: Meanwhile, Rubio is catching flak from Jeb Bush for backing away from a path to citizenship.


JEB BUSH: And that he cut and run because it wasn't popular amongst - amongst conservatives, I guess.

HORSLEY: And that's basically what happened, although Bush has changed his own stance on this as well. All this shows the challenge for Republicans. They're trying to look tough on immigration to attract primary votes. But when they get to the general election, they'll need support from some Latino voters. And that's why Bush tried, perhaps in vain last night, to put a more welcoming face on the party.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Scott Horsley. Scott, thanks for sharing with us.

HORSLEY: My pleasure, Audie. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Horsley is NPR's Chief Economics Correspondent. He reports on ups and downs in the national economy as well as fault lines between booming and busting communities.
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