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Know the facts ahead of the GOP presidential debate

Eight Republican candidates will take part in the GOP presidential debate Wednesday night.
Know the facts ahead of the GOP presidential debate
Posted at 3:01 PM, Aug 23, 2023

The Republican presidential field is expected to assail President Joe Biden’s record on hot-button topics like the economy and immigration when they take the stage in Milwaukee Wednesday night.  

Some of the eight candidates expected on stage are also likely to take on former President Donald Trump's record over issues like Jan. 6, 2021, when his supporters tried to stop the 2020 election from being certified, and his fitness to return to office. Trump chose to not participate in the debate, claiming voters know his record.

So what are the facts behind those big issues that may get lost in the quick sound bites and made-for-TV moments? 

Economy

Inflation

At the start of 2020, inflation hit 2.5% before falling to 0.3% at the start of the pandemic (March 2020).  Since then, for a long time it continuously increased, peaking at 9.1% in June 2022, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.  

Currently, inflation sits at 3%, with workers' wages outpacing it.  

But that doesn’t mean price hikes have come down. The latest Consumer Price Index shows the food index continued to rise in July, up 0.2%. 

Unemployment

Also on a downward trend is the rate of unemployment. In the latest report from Bureau of Labor Statistics unemployment sits at 3.5% — remaining fairly steady since March 2022. 

The unemployment rate under Biden is technically better than that of most modern presidents' time in office, including Presidents Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama.

In addition, March’s Black unemployment rate dropped to the lowest level on record at 5%. 

Still, for many Americans, it may not feel like a strong labor force. And that is because the vacancy rate, a metric of labor force participation, sits at 6%. It's created what is known as an "inefficiently tight" labor market, in which participation is higher than unemployment.   

Immigration

During Biden’s time in office, illegal border crossings initially increased following historic lows during the COVID-19 pandemic.  

Data from the Pew Research Center shows those border encounters at near record levels at the start of Biden’s term.

Comparing border crossings during the Biden administration to previous administrations is tricky. Following COVID-19, the way officials report crossings and immigration changed. Part of that change, in part, was due to the beginning of Title 42, the public health emergency that allowed expedited removal of migrants. Customs and Border Patrol data now reports "encounters" under different policies, versus a raw number. 

With the end of Title 42, the Biden administration sought to stem the flow of illegal entries through a humanitarian parole program, essentially moving those crossing from between ports of entry to an online app and processing centers abroad. 

With the program, they used wide authority and increased the number of entrants under humanitarian policies, mostly from Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua and Venezuela; and to be approved, entrants must pass background checks and have a financial sponsor in the U.S. who vouches for them, and they must fly into a U.S. airport, not cross at the Southern border.   

It is a program currently being challenged by Republican-led states. 

The first month after the end of Title 42 and the beginning of the Biden program saw historic low levels of crossing between ports of entry, 99,539.  However, it was a short-lived decline, with crossings spiking, according to CBP data, back up to 132,652 in July.

Crime

According to a Gallup poll earlier this year, the majority of all parties are dissatisfied with the nation's effort on crime.  

Is the public perception of a ‘crime wave’ in line with the data?  

Homicide rates are up around the country, from New York to Los Angeles. Major cities had  seen spikes in homicide rates from pre-pandemic levels as of the end of 2022. But as for the first half of 2023, homicides and other violent crimes have been on a downward trend.

new study released by Council on Criminal Justice examined crime trends in 37 cities, showing a decrease of 9.4% compared to the first half of 2022. 

Hunter Biden

The president’s son has been a sticking point for many Republicans in Congress.   

They have accused the Biden administration of giving him a ‘sweetheart deal’ and special treatment.  

It all stems from an agreement the Justice Department, and U.S. attorney David Weiss, a Trump appointee, struck with Hunter Biden over his purchase of a gun while using drugs and a failure to pay taxes. 

It is a deal that has since fallen apart after the judge on the case wasn't sure grouping those two very different charges in one deal violated the constitutionality of the cases. She asked both sides to provide more information, but the two sides couldn't come to terms, which means the younger Biden will likely face a court battle

Republicans have accused the president of intervening on behalf of his son in the charges and instructing the Justice department to go easy on him. The White House has vehemently denied any involvement. The DOJ has now appointed a special counsel to handle the cases. 

Trump investigations/Jan. 6 insurrection

Nothing will perhaps be more divisive than Trump during Wednesday night's debate.

Facing more than 90 criminal counts, Trump has painted the proceedings against him, at both the state and federal level, as a political witch hunt. In the process, he's divided the Republican field in their criticism and support.  

The indictment most recently handed down by a grand jury in Georgia follows a two-year investigation into Trump’s effort to overturn the 2020 election via the use of "fake electors," as well as asking Georgia’s secretary of state to "find" more votes in a phone call. 

"All I want to do is this: I just want to find 11,780 votes, which is one more than we have," Trump told Raffensperger during the recorded call. "Because we won the state.”  

A grand jury in Washington, D.C. handed down four other federal counts related to the insurrection on January 6, 2021 and the 2020 election. The indictment outlines allegations of criminal conspiracies, “built on the widespread mistrust the Defendant was creating through pervasive and destabilizing lies about election fraud,” that “targeted a bedrock function of the United States federal government: the nation’s process of collecting, counting, and certifying the results of the presidential election.” 

Both those cases, as well as the two other criminal indictments, are pending ahead of a jury trial. 

Ukraine

The White House has officially put in a supplemental funding request that seeks an additional $24 billion for Ukraine, which has been at war with Russia for 18 months.

The funding would go towards more military aid, economic and humanitarian assistance, as well as replenishing Pentagon weapons. 

House Republicans have been opposed to more funding for the war, unless it goes through the standard appropriations channels, which have been plagued by in-fighting. 

The U.S. has been the largest donor to Ukraine in the war with Russia, sending more than $100 million in aid and tens of millions more for security and intelligence.

Ukraine aid has been a division point even among Republicans, with some saying they need to act faster in their support. Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell added that he looks “forward to carefully reviewing the administration’s request to make sure it is necessary and appropriate to keep America safe, secure our borders, support our allies and help communities rebuild after disasters.” 

Without funding from the U.S., national security experts say Russia could take Ukraine, creating a democratic setback globally and threatening European allies .  


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