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Fact-Checking Haley and DeSantis in Their Race to Rival Trump

Nikki Haley, a former governor of South Carolina, and Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida are vying to dethrone the Republican Party’s clear presidential front-runner, Donald J. Trump. But first one needs to triumph over the other.

As Ms. Haley and Mr. DeSantis battle to be the unequivocal alternative to the former president, they and their supporters have repeatedly turned to attacks, some of which distort the facts, to cast doubt on each other.

The claims have centered on dealings with Chinese companies, energy, taxes and refugees.

Here’s a fact check on some of their claims.

WHAT WAS SAID

“Ambassador Haley said somehow I wasn’t doing — she welcomed them into South Carolina, gave them land near a military base, wrote the Chinese ambassador a love letter saying what a great friend they were.”
— Mr. DeSantis during the debate last week

This requires context. As governor, Ms. Haley welcomed Chinese companies coming to South Carolina. On Facebook in 2016, Ms. Haley celebrated the fact that China Jushi, a fiberglass company, would be opening its first manufacturing plant in the United States in Richland County.

China Jushi is partly owned by China National Building Material, which is tied to the Chinese government. The plant is about five miles from Fort Jackson, used for Army combat training.

But South Carolina did not give the company land, as Mr. DeSantis claimed; the county did, with certain conditions.

Richland County transferred 197 acres to China Jushi under a deal in which the company would invest $400 million in the project and create at least 800 full-time jobs, according to the 2016 agreement.

The state did help: South Carolina’s Coordinating Council for Economic Development in 2016 approved a $7 million grant to Richland County to help fund site preparation and infrastructure improvements, said Kelly Coakley, a spokeswoman for the state’s Commerce Department.

It is true that Ms. Haley wrote a 2014 letter to China’s ambassador to the United States at the time, thanking him for congratulating her on her re-election and calling the country a “friend.”

During her bid for the presidency, Ms. Haley has positioned herself as being tough on China, casting the country as her foil and saying she came to better understand its dangers when she became ambassador to the United Nations.

Mr. DeSantis attacked Ms. Haley because of her relationship with Chinese businesses while she was governor of South Carolina.Credit…John Tully for The New York Times

WHAT WAS SAID

“DeSantis gave millions to Chinese companies. DeSantis even voted to fast-track Obama’s Chinese trade deals.”
— A pro-Haley super PAC, SFA Fund Inc., in an ad

False. There is no evidence Mr. DeSantis directly gave “millions” to Chinese companies; the ad was referring to technology purchases by state agencies. And the trade-related vote in question, when Mr. DeSantis was in Congress, did not result in the Obama administration signing trade deals with China.

In regards to the claim that Mr. DeSantis gave millions to Chinese companies, a representative for the super PAC cited a 2020 article in The Washington Times, a conservative publication. The article concerned a report that asserted that state governments around the country were introducing security threats because of technology contracts with two companies: Lexmark, which was acquired by a Chinese consortium in 2016, and Lenovo, a Chinese tech company. Both companies disputed the report in statements to the news outlet.

Florida records do show state agencies have spent millions in purchases from the companies, mostly Lexmark, for printers and other products, since Mr. DeSantis took office on Jan. 8, 2019. South Carolina has also worked with the companies, including under Ms. Haley’s governorship.

Florida used those companies before Mr. DeSantis’s tenure, too, and SFA Fund provided no evidence that Mr. DeSantis himself directly approved the purchases. Last year, Mr. DeSantis issued an executive order instructing state officials to create rules to prevent state entities from buying technology that presents security risks, including because of a connection to China or other “foreign countries of concern.”

The ad’s contention that Mr. DeSantis “voted to fast-track Obama’s Chinese trade deals” is similarly flawed. It is based on a vote Mr. DeSantis made as a congressman in 2015 to extend the president’s authority to fast-track trade legislation. He was among 190 Republicans in the House to vote for it.

But Mark Wu, a Harvard law professor with expertise in international trade, said no trade agreements subject to that authority were made with China.

“In passing T.P.A. in 2015, Congress agreed only to fast-track trade agreements that addressed tariff barriers (along with possibly nontariff barriers),” Mr. Wu said in an email, referring to the trade promotion authority bill that bolstered the president’s power to negotiate trade deals with Asia and Europe. “None of the negotiations that the U.S. conducted with China during the Obama administration fell into this category. Nor did these negotiations result in any trade deals with China during the Obama administration.”

WHAT WAS SAID

“Ron, you are the chair of your economic development agency that, as of last week, said Florida is the ideal place for Chinese businesses. Not only that, you have a company that is manufacturer of Chinese military planes. You have it. They are expanding two training sites at two of your airports now, one which is 12 miles away from a naval base. Then you have another company that’s expanding, and they were just invaded by the Department of Homeland Security.”
— Ms. Haley during the debate last week

This requires context. Mr. DeSantis previously served as the board chairman of a public-private economic development organization known as Enterprise Florida. The governor signed legislation earlier this year that consolidated the organization’s work into what is now the state’s Commerce Department.

Ms. Haley was referring to an old report. A 2019-2020 report by Enterprise Florida described Florida as “an ideal business destination for Chinese companies.” Ms. Haley’s campaign has hit Mr. DeSantis over reports that the document was taken down this month.

Ms. Haley’s other points largely check out.

In October last year, Cirrus Aircraft — which was acquired in 2011 by a Chinese state-owned company that makes military aircraft — announced it had expanded locations at the Orlando Executive Airport and Kissimmee Gateway Airport. The first location provides aircraft sales and concierge flight training, while the other offers aircraft maintenance and management. The Orlando complex is less than 10 miles from a Navy training systems center.

Regarding the company raided by the Homeland Security Department, Ms. Haley was referring to a solar panel company, JinkoSolar, based in China. Homeland security officials in May executed search warrants at its factory in Jacksonville, Fla., and an office in California.

While federal officials have not provided details on that inquiry, it appears to be linked to multiple concerns. Those include whether JinkoSolar misrepresented the source of some imports containing materials from the Xinjiang region of China and incorrectly classified products, resulting in an incorrect duty rate, The New York Times has reported. The company has said that it is confident in its supply chain traceability and that U.S. customs officials have reviewed and released JinkoSolar products.

In June, Jacksonville’s City Council withdrew a bill that would have provided the company tax incentives to expand. A JinkoSolar representative said in a statement that the company still planned to pursue its $50 million expansion.

WHAT WAS SAID

“Nikki Haley promised South Carolina she would never support increasing taxes on gas. She broke that promise almost immediately.”
— A pro-DeSantis super PAC, Never Back Down, in a post on X last week

This is misleading. As governor, Ms. Haley rebuffed calls to increase South Carolina’s gas tax as a stand-alone measure.

The ad included in the post features clips taken from Ms. Haley’s State of the State addresses. First she is shown saying, in 2013, “But I will not, not now, not ever, support raising the gas tax.” She is then shown in 2015 saying, “Let’s increase the gas tax by 10 cents over the next three years.”

But Ms. Haley’s full 2015 remarks shows that the super PAC took her comments out of context. She first acknowledged that “some have advocated raising the state gas tax” to increase revenue for infrastructure projects and later said: “As I’ve said many times, I will veto any straight-up increase in the gas tax.”

Instead, Ms. Haley said she would only support a gas tax increase if the state reduced the income tax rate to 5 percent, from 7 percent, and made changes to the state’s Department of Transportation.

The state did not ultimately increase the gas tax under Ms. Haley.

Ms. Haley has accused Mr. DeSantis as anti-fracking.Credit…John Tully for The New York Times

WHAT WAS SAID

“DeSantis reacts to Nikki Haley wanting to import Gazan refugees to the U.S.”
— Mr. DeSantis’s campaign in a post on X in October

False. Ms. Haley did not call for the United States to bring in refugees from Gaza. But Mr. DeSantis and his supporters homed in on an interview Ms. Haley did with CNN to erroneously claim she did.

In that October interview, Ms. Haley was asked to respond to remarks in which Mr. DeSantis, seemingly referring to the Palestinian population, said: “If you look at how they behave, not all of them are Hamas, but they are all antisemitic. None of them believe in Israel’s right to exist.” (Survey data from before Hamas’s Oct. 7 attack on Israel suggested many Gazans wanted Hamas to stop calling for Israel’s destruction and supported maintaining a cease-fire with Israel, as the CNN host, Jake Tapper, pointed out.)

“There are so many of these people who want to be free from this terrorist rule,” Ms. Haley said. “They want to be free from all of that. And America’s always been sympathetic to the fact that you can separate civilians from terrorists. And that’s what we have to do.”

But Ms. Haley did not in that interview or elsewhere say the United States should take in Gazan refugees.

In fact, Ms. Haley expressed sympathy for the “Palestinian citizens, especially the innocent ones,” but she questioned why Middle Eastern countries like Qatar, Lebanon, Jordan and Egypt were not taking in such refugees.

She later explicitly said the United States should not take in such refugees.

“Honestly, the Hamas-sympathizing countries should take these Gazans now,” Ms. Haley said days later on Fox News, adding: “There is no reason for any refugees to come to America.”

WHAT WAS SAID

“Ron DeSantis. He’s anti-fracking, He’s anti-drilling.”
— Ms. Haley’s campaign in an ad

This is misleading. During his presidential campaign, Mr. DeSantis has said that he supports fracking and offshore drilling nationally — a point that Ms. Haley has omitted when airing similar claims.

It is true that while running for governor in 2018, he opposed such drilling and fracking in Florida. His campaign website said at the time that “Ron DeSantis has a proven track record in supporting measures to ban offshore drilling in the Gulf of Mexico” and called fracking a “danger to our state that is not acceptable.”

That same election, Florida voters passed a constitutional amendment banning offshore oil and gas drilling in state waters. Once governor, Mr. DeSantis ordered the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to take “necessary actions to adamantly oppose all offshore oil and gas activities off every coast in Florida and hydraulic fracturing in Florida.”

A formal ban on fracking in Florida was not enacted.

Curious about the accuracy of a claim? Email [email protected].

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