FACT CHECK: Debate Over 'Ghetto Language' Ad

Mitt Romney accuses Newt Gingrich of calling Spanish a "ghetto language." Close, but not quite.

Gingrich denies doing so and said he merely promoted the use of English, "period." That's even more of a stretch.

The last Republican presidential debate before the GOP Florida primary Thursday brought viewers a blitz of charges and countercharges over immigration, the financial lives of the candidates and more. Here are how some of the claims compare with the facts:

GINGRICH: "It's taken totally out of context.... I did not say it about Spanish. I said in general about all languages. We are better for children to learn English in general, period."

THE FACTS: At issue is Romney's Spanish-language radio ad running in Florida that says Gingrich branded Spanish a ghetto language in a 2007 speech. In the contentious remarks in question, much more came after Gingrich's "period."

In his speech to the National Federation of Republican Women, Gingrich advocated making English the official language, a position he still holds, and added: "We should replace bilingual education with immersion in English so people learn the common language of the country and they learn the language of prosperity, not the language of living in a ghetto."

He did not explicitly call Spanish a ghetto language. But at the time, the remark was widely taken to mean Spanish, overwhelmingly the main foreign language spoken in the United States and the primary language of many immigrants.

Gingrich recognized as much when, in response to a Hispanic backlash against his remark, he made an online video days after the speech in which he more or less apologized for his choice of words and for producing "a bad feeling within the Latino community."


ROMNEY on the same topic: "I doubt that's my ad, but we'll take a look and find out."

THE FACTS: It's his ad.


RICK SANTORUM: "You had a president of the United States that held (up) a Colombian free trade agreement. Colombia, who's out there on the front lines working with us against the narco-terrorists, standing up to Chavez in South America - and what did we do? ... The president of the United States sided with organized labor and the environmental groups and held Colombia hanging out to dry for three years."

THE FACTS: When President Barack Obama took office, he actually tried to revive a free-trade deal with Colombia that had been negotiated by his Republican predecessor but left to languish without congressional approval, just as he tried to make similar progress with South Korean and Panamanian free-trade pacts. He bucked considerable opposition from organized labor and fellow Democrats in doing so.


Obama did hold off on submitting the three deals to Congress as his administration tried to negotiate more palatable terms to Democrats. He finally submitted them in 2011 and Congress approved them in the fall - with substantial GOP support and a fair amount of Democratic opposition.


ROMNEY: "Obamacare takes over health care for the American people."

THE FACTS: Obama's health care overhaul does increase the role of the federal government in the health care system, but even after it is fully implemented in 2019, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office says 56 percent of Americans under age 65 will be covered by employer plans, about the same share as today. That's hardly a takeover.


ROMNEY: Fannie and Freddie are "offering mortgages again to people who can't possibly repay them. We're creating another housing bubble, which will hurt the American people."

THE FACTS: If there is another housing bubble forming, most homebuilders, mortgage lenders and real estate agents would like to find it. Instead, the housing market remains depressed, with sales low and home prices falling.

Fannie and Freddie don't sell or offer any mortgages. Their function has always been to support the housing market by purchasing mortgages from banks, packaging them into bonds and guaranteeing the bonds against default. This proved costly when the housing bubble burst: The two entities were formally taken over by the government in 2008 and have since cost taxpayers $150 billion.

The two mortgage giants are still functioning under government receivership, and now own or guarantee nearly all new mortgages, because banks are reluctant to make loans without the agencies' support. But banks have significantly toughened their credit standards since the housing bubble and are requiring higher credit scores and bigger down payments. That is causing an increasing number of home sales contracts to fall through as would-be buyers are unable to get mortgage loans.


SANTORUM: Criticized the Obama administration for its "abysmal treatment" of allies in Latin America, and said Obama has a "consistent policy of siding with the leftists, siding with the Marxists, siding with those who don't support democracy."

THE FACTS: Obama has not sided with the leading leftists, such as those ruling Cuba and Venezuela, and instead has roundly criticized them.

It's true that Latin America has been on the back burner for much of Obama's tenure, as he concentrated on other parts of the world, including the Middle East. But Obama visited three countries in Latin America last year, and the Panamanian and Colombian trade agreements were part of the biggest round of trade liberalization since the North American Free Trade Agreement and other pacts of that era.


ROMNEY: "My investments are not made by me. My investments for the last 10 years have been in a blind trust, managed by a trustee."

THE FACTS: Not all of his investments have been in a blind trust. Romney's personal financial disclosure forms show he owned between $250,001 and $500,000 in the Federated Government Obligation Fund, which contained mutual-fund notes of politically sensitive Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae. An addendum to Romney' disclosure forms says that certain assets - including the federated fund - were outside the scope of his blind trust.

The investment was not on Romney's 2007 financial form, making it a relatively new one - just as the housing and financial crises were hitting Americans full force.


RON PAUL: Obama "promises to end the wars, but the wars expand."

THE FACTS: By the most obvious measures, the wars are shrinking. Last month, the U.S. pulled its last troops out of Iraq, fulfilling a pledge by Obama to end the war there.

Obama did escalate America's fight in Afghanistan, announcing in December 2009 that he was sending an additional 33,000 troops.

The U.S. and its NATO partners in late 2010 agreed to end the combat mission in Afghanistan by the end of 2014. As part of that plan, Obama fulfilled his promise to bring 10,000 troops home from Afghanistan by the end of last year, and is moving ahead with plans to pull an additional 23,000 out by this fall. There are now about 90,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan.


GINGRICH: "We're in a continuous state of war where Obama undermines the Israelis."

ROMNEY: "This president went before the United Nations and castigated Israel for building settlements. He said nothing about thousands of rockets being rained in on Israel from the Gaza Strip."

THE FACTS: Obama has spoken at length about the plight of the Israelis and has talked about an Israeli girl near Gaza who fears for her life because of the rocket attacks launched by Hamas. In a June 2009 speech in Cairo, Obama said both Israel and Palestine have a right to exist, but the U.S. does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements. That's not only the view of his administration; it's long-held U.S. policy. Despite that, the administration sided with Israel by vetoing a U.N. resolution that would have condemned its settlement policy.


Associated Press writers Tom Raum, Lolita C. Baldor, Jim Drinkard, Christopher S. Rugaber, Jack Gillum and Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar contributed to this report.

This program aired on January 27, 2012. The audio for this program is not available.


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