FactCheck.org http://www.factcheck.org A Project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center Tue, 01 Sep 2015 21:28:41 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.2.1 Walker’s Economic Spin http://www.factcheck.org/2015/09/walkers-economic-spin/ http://www.factcheck.org/2015/09/walkers-economic-spin/#comments Tue, 01 Sep 2015 21:10:05 +0000 http://www.factcheck.org/?p=98641 Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, a Republican candidate for president, strained the facts when he compared his state’s economic performance with that of the United States:

  • Walker said his state is “doing better than America in terms of the unemployment number going down.” That’s false. Under Walker, Wisconsin’s unemployment rate has fallen, but not as quickly as the U.S. rate — in part because the state’s job growth has lagged behind the U.S. average.
  • The governor also said Wisconsin is “doing better in terms of labor participation rate.” Actually, Wisconsin’s rate under Walker has mirrored the national trend almost exactly. The state’s rate was 4.9 percentage points higher than the U.S. rate when Walker took office, and now it is 4.8 percentage points higher.

Walker made his remarks in an Aug. 29 interview with “Meet the Press” host Chuck Todd. NBC used clips from that interview for its Sunday show and posted the full interview on its website. His remarks on the economy, which were shown only on the website, came after Todd asked why Wisconsin isn’t faring as well economically as neighboring Minnesota. Walker said the question Todd posed is the wrong one.

Walker, Aug. 29: The difference should be how does America stand up with Wisconsin. I had an unemployment rate before I came in of over 8 percent, it’s down to 4.6 percent. We made up for all the jobs that were lost during the recession, and we have a labor participation rate – which you know is the rate at which people are working – it’s almost 5 points higher than it is nationally. … We’re doing better than America in terms of the unemployment number going down. We’re doing better in terms of labor participation rate.

Let’s first look at the unemployment rates.

When Walker became governor on Jan. 3, 2011, the state’s unemployment rate stood at 8.1 percent, and the national rate was 9.3 percent. That was based on employment levels as of December 2010. So, Wisconsin’s rate was 1.2 percentage points lower than the U.S. average.

But the state’s advantage over the U.S. has shrunk by 0.5 percentage points under Walker. As of July, Wisconsin had an unemployment rate of 4.6 percent, and the U.S. rate was 5.3 percent, meaning Wisconsin’s rate is now only 0.7 percentage points below the national average.

Wisconsin’s jobless rate has fallen more slowly than the national rate mainly because its job growth has been slower. From January 2011 to July 2015, the U.S. added 11,245,000 jobs, an increase of 8.6 percent, while Wisconsin has added 148,300 jobs, an increase of 5.4 percent.

As for the labor participation rate — which is the percentage of the 16-and-older population that is working or seeking work — Walker is correct that the state’s rate is “almost 5 points higher than it is nationally.” But that was the case before he became governor, and little has changed.

As of July, the U.S. labor participation rate was 62.6 percent, and the Wisconsin rate was 67.4 percent, so the state rate was 4.8 points higher. In January 2011, Bureau of Labor Statistics data show that the Wisconsin rate was 69.1 percent, and the U.S. rate was 64.2 percent, a difference of 4.9 percentage points.

During Walker’s time in office, Wisconsin’s rate has fallen by 1.7 percentage points, while the U.S. rate declined by 1.6 points. There’s not much difference there.

— Eugene Kiely

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A Decade-Old Democratic Claim http://www.factcheck.org/2015/08/a-decade-old-democratic-claim/ http://www.factcheck.org/2015/08/a-decade-old-democratic-claim/#comments Mon, 31 Aug 2015 15:50:04 +0000 http://www.factcheck.org/?p=98597 For years, Democrats have been twisting Republicans’ positions to claim they want to “privatize” Social Security and risk your retirement on the stock market. The latest distortion: Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz claimed Jeb Bush supported his brother’s plan that would put “Americans at risk of losing their retirement savings with the ups and downs of Wall Street.”

No one’s retirement savings would have ever been wiped out by George W. Bush’s failed 2005 plan, which called for allowing younger workers to voluntarily invest only a portion of their Social Security taxes in private mutual fund accounts. And Jeb Bush has said he doesn’t want to pursue such a plan now. Instead, he has proposed gradually raising the retirement age and lifting the cap on taxable income.

Wasserman Schultz made her remarks at the DNC’s summer meeting in Minneapolis, claiming broadly that while Democrats wanted to preserve the “promise” of Social Security and Medicare for “generations to come,” Republicans were “looking for any excuse they can to break that promise.” (See the 51-minute mark of the video.) She then got into specifics, saying this about former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, a Republican candidate for president:

Wasserman Schultz, Aug. 28: Jeb Bush supported his brother’s plan to partially privatize Social Security and phase out Medicare, putting Americans at risk of losing their retirement savings with the ups and downs of Wall Street.

The “phase out” line about Medicare also twists Bush’s words on that program, but we’ll start with the Social Security claim.

Bush on Social Security

Bush did offer support for his brother’s sales pitch of the Social Security plan back in 2005, appearing on stage with him in Florida, along with their mother, according to an Associated Press account. Much more recently — in June — Bush said that his brother “tried” to do something about Social Security and “got totally wiped out.” He added: “The next president’s going to have to try again.”

A liberal PAC called American Bridge 21st Century made much of that quote, but Bush didn’t say that the next president would have to try again with the same plan. In August, when he was asked specifically at the Iowa State Fair about his brother’s private account plan, he said he didn’t support it.

“It would have made sense back then; now we’re way beyond that,” he said. “What we need to do is to reform Social Security to preserve it and protect it for those that already have it and to reform it in the logical ways where there’s broad bipartisan consensus, which is to, over an extended period of time, raise the retirement age and raise the income cap limit. You can solve Social Security that way.”

So, while he supported George W. Bush’s plan in the past, he’s not calling for private Social Security accounts now.

Wasserman Schultz’s claim continues a years-long effort by Democrats to link Republicans to the idea of “privatizing” Social Security. President Obama has done it — at least twice — as have Democratic politicians in many congressional races.

And in doing so, Democrats often distort the facts of the 2005 plan, which was so unpopular it was never even introduced as actual legislation. Wasserman Schultz said the plan would put “Americans at risk of losing their retirement savings with the ups and downs of Wall Street.” But no one would have been forced into private accounts, and even those who did want to invest in them would have been limited in how much they could invest and where.

As we explained in 2010, George W. Bush’s plan, proposed in February 2005, would have given workers under 55 the option of investing some of their payroll taxes in private mutual fund accounts approved by the government. The plan would have allowed less than one-third of a worker’s taxes to be invested.

It’s true that the amount invested could go up and down, but no one would have been “at risk of losing their retirement savings.” And no one would have been forced to invest in government-approved mutual funds, since it would have been voluntary.

Bush on Medicare

Wasserman Schultz also distorts Bush’s position on Medicare, taking his words out of context to claim he wants to “phase out” the health insurance program for seniors. Bush said he wanted to “phase out” the current program and “move to a new system” for younger workers, otherwise, “they’re not going to have anything.”

Here’s the full quote from Bush:

Bush, July 22: I think a lot of people recognize that we need to make sure we fulfill the commitment to people that have already received the benefits, that are receiving the benefits. But that we need to figure out a way to phase out this program for others and move to a new system that allows them to have something – because they’re not going to have anything.

He was talking about finding a way to strengthen the program for future retirees — not get rid of Medicare and do nothing else. He has not explained what system he thinks should replace Medicare.

It’s the same type of misleading “end Medicare” claims we’ve also seen from Democrats for the past several years.

— Lori Robertson

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FactChecking Trump’s Press Conference http://www.factcheck.org/2015/08/factchecking-trumps-press-conference/ http://www.factcheck.org/2015/08/factchecking-trumps-press-conference/#comments Thu, 27 Aug 2015 22:26:14 +0000 http://www.factcheck.org/?p=98574 Donald Trump’s recent press conference garnered a lot of media attention for his put downs of two high-profile journalists, but he didn’t treat the facts much better:

  • Trump claimed “59 percent of our bridges are in trouble.” That’s way off. The Federal Highway Administration says 24 percent of the nation’s bridges were “structurally deficient” or “functionally obsolete” in 2014.
  • Trump said a recent poll in Florida showed him at 28 percent and Jeb Bush, the former governor of Florida, “much lower.” Bush wasn’t that much lower. The most recent poll, released Aug. 20 by Quinnipiac University, showed Trump at 21 percent and Bush at 17 percent in Florida.
  • Trump said under Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker the state is “borrowing to a point that nobody thought possible.” Actually, the rate of borrowing has slowed under Walker. It was 5.8 percent over his first four years in office compared with 31 percent over the previous four-year period.
  • Trump said the U.S. debt is $19 trillion, adding “it’s actually much more than that.” Actually, it’s a little less — $18.2 trillion — and that includes money the federal government owes itself. The U.S. debt held by the public is $13.1 trillion.

Trump’s Aug. 25 press conference in Iowa was marked by a confrontation with Emmy Award winning TV host Jorge Ramos of Univision that made news and generated punch lines. Ramos was kicked out of the press conference after he asked a question without being called on and refused to “sit down,” as instructed by Trump.

Trump also had some cross words for Fox News TV anchor Megyn Kelly that made headlines, continuing a feud with the TV news star that began at the first Republican debate.

But what about the facts? Our review found Trump swung wildly — and missed — on more than one occasion.

Bridges in ‘Serious Trouble’

Trump, Aug. 25: Our bridges, 59 percent of our bridges are in trouble. Think — whoever heard of that? I mean, in trouble. Serious trouble.

Whoever heard of that? Not the Federal Highway Administration. The agency annually produces a report on the state of the nation’s bridges. The FHWA’s most recent report found 61,365 bridges were “structurally deficient” and 84,525 were “functionally obsolete” in 2014. That’s a total of 145,890 “deficient bridges,” or 24 percent, of the 610,749 bridges in the U.S.

Functionally obsolete, by the way, doesn’t mean the bridge is unsafe. “A Functionally Obsolete bridge may be perfectly safe and structurally sound, but may be the source of traffic jams or may not have a high enough clearance to allow an oversized vehicle,” according to National Bridges, a website that tracks the conditions of U.S. bridges.

We don’t mean to minimize the number of bridges in need of replacement, repair or other attention, but the number is simply not as high as Trump says. Where did he get the figure 59 percent? We don’t know. His campaign did not respond to our questions. If it does, we will update this item.

Trump vs. Bush

At one point in the press conference, Trump is asked about polls in Wisconsin that show he is trailing the state’s governor, Scott Walker. Trump deflected the question and talked instead about Florida, which has two candidates in the Republican field: former Gov. Jeb Bush and Sen. Marco Rubio.

Trump, Aug. 25: I haven’t been thinking about Wisconsin right now and Governor Walker certainly has been. I don’t know what the poll is. I know this, in Florida, they just came out with a poll and I’m at 28 and Bush is much lower and Senator Rubio who is a sitting senator is much, much lower.

The latest poll does show that Trump has pulled ahead of both Floridians in their home state. A Quinnipiac University poll released Aug. 20 put Trump at 21 percent and Bush at 17 percent. Rubio was at 11 percent. But Trump’s four-point lead is within the margin of error, so to say that Bush is “much lower” is wrong.

Real Clear Politics, which aggregates polling data, says Trump’s polling average in Florida, as of Aug. 27, was 24 percent. Bush’s average was 21.5 percent, and Rubio’s was 9 percent.

Trump vs. Walker

Trump also took a swipe at Walker’s fiscal management of Wisconsin. He repeated the false claim that Wisconsin has a $2.2 billion budget deficit. As we wrote once before, state fiscal officials projected a $2.2 billion budget shortfall based on state agency budget requests. But those requests were trimmed back, and Walker signed a balanced budget into law.

After claiming the state has a budget deficit, Trump added this: “They are borrowing to a point that nobody thought possible.” Actually, the state’s total outstanding debt has grown at a far lower rate under Walker than under previous governors.

The nonpartisan Wisconsin Fiscal Bureau, which supplies budget data and analyses for the Legislature, gave us a chart labeled “Outstanding Principal on State Bonding Programs” for 1996 through 2014. The debt figures are all as of the month of December.

The historical data show that total outstanding state debt has increased slightly from $13.2 billion in December 2010, a month before Walker took office, to $14 billion in December 2014, which is the most recent data available. That’s a 5.8 percent increase, or a little less than 1.5 percent per year.

By comparison, in the previous four-year period, from December 2006 to December 2010, the state’s outstanding principal increased 31 percent, from $10.1 billion in December 2006 to $13.2 billion in December 2010. The rate of increase was even higher the prior four-year period, from December 2002 to December 2006, when the state’s total debt rose from $6.6 billion to $10.1 billion.

(Wonky note: The historical data chart transposed two numbers for December 2014. The bureau tells us that the accurate number can be found in the January 2015 report on State Level Debt Issuance, which we used for the calculations above.)

U.S. Debt

Trump also criticized the size of the U.S. debt, which is indeed large. “We owe now $19 trillion. It’s actually much more than that but it’s $19 trillion,” he said.

Actually, the total U.S. debt is a little less than $19 trillion — $18.2 trillion — not “much more.” And that includes money the federal government owes itself, such as special Treasury securities held by the Social Security Trust Fund.

The U.S. debt held by the public is $13.1 trillion, according to the U.S. Treasury.

— Eugene Kiely

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Rubio’s Shaky ACA Hypothetical http://www.factcheck.org/2015/08/rubios-shaky-aca-hypothetical/ http://www.factcheck.org/2015/08/rubios-shaky-aca-hypothetical/#comments Thu, 27 Aug 2015 17:24:01 +0000 http://www.factcheck.org/?p=98536 Sen. Marco Rubio described a hypothetical Detroit business owner with 10 employees as facing higher costs under the Affordable Care Act, saying the man was considering moving one employee to part time to “save … a significant amount under Obamacare.” But a business of that size isn’t subject to the law’s requirements to offer insurance to full-time workers or pay a penalty. And the fictional employee in question would likely qualify for Medicaid.

Rubio, a Republican presidential candidate, laid out his hypothetical example in an Aug. 20 speech to the Detroit Economic Club. He described two fictional Detroit workers — David, the owner of a franchise of a national automotive repair company, and Danielle, a receptionist and one of David’s 10 employees (starting around the 8-minute mark).

Rubio, Aug. 20: Let’s call our business owner David, from Detroit. And David owns and operates a franchise of a national automotive repair company. And he has 10 employees. … But lately his costs have been soaring and when he looks at his books, it’s clear to him why. …

It’s getting harder for David to meet payroll, for a number of reasons. One is the higher cost of health insurance under Obamacare.

Rubio went on to talk about his second hypothetical worker, Danielle, a single mother of two who is David’s receptionist. Rubio says of David: “He’s thought about shifting her to a part-time position, which would save him a significant amount under Obamacare.”

We have fact-checked several personal anecdotes about the Affordable Care Act, but with a hypothetical example, there are many details we simply can’t fill in. We reached out to the Rubio campaign to ask for clarification on David’s situation as it would relate to the Affordable Care Act, but we have not received a response. We will update this article if we do.

But we can say that an owner of one franchise business with 10 employees isn’t subject to the ACA’s employer requirements to provide insurance to full-time employees or pay a penalty. He isn’t required to face any increase in health insurance costs under the law.

David would have to employ 50 or more full-time equivalents to be considered a “large” employer and subject to the law’s insurance requirements. Such large businesses must offer affordable coverage (based on a percentage of family income) to full-time employees or pay a penalty. (For 2015, this applies only to businesses with 100 or more full-time equivalent workers; businesses with 50 or more face the requirements in 2016, when they must offer insurance to at least 95 percent of full-time employees and their dependent children.)

The penalties are based on the number of employees who get tax credits or cost-sharing subsidies for insurance plans offered through the state and federal marketplaces. And for 2016, the first 30 such full-time employees don’t count toward that penalty. A flowchart from the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation explains the regulations.

It’s complicated, but these penalties aren’t something a business owner with 10 employees has to worry about.

If the fictional David did own other franchise locations with an aggregate workforce of 50 or more employees, he would be considered a large employer under the ACA. But Rubio didn’t say anything about David owning other franchise locations or businesses, or having more employees.

Franchise owners must count all of their employees to determine whether they are large or small employers under the ACA. A 2015 Congressional Research Service report explains that this follows IRS rules on “controlled groups.”

CRS, 2015: With regard to multiple franchises under a single owner, the ACA follows the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) aggregation rules governing “controlled groups” (26 U.S.C. §414). If one individual or entity owns (or has a substantial ownership interest in) several franchises, all those franchises are essentially considered one entity. In this case, for purposes of the 50-FTE-employee rule under the employer penalty, the employees in each of the franchises must be aggregated to determine the number of FTE employees.

“You can’t treat them as separate businesses” if you own multiple franchise locations, Paul Fronstin, director of the Health Research & Education Program at the Employee Benefit Research Institute, told us. “If you only have one location that you’re the owner of … that’s all you count. The other franchise owners would be responsible for their locations.” And then there’s the corporate company, which may own some franchise locations itself.

Perhaps the hypothetical David provided health insurance to his 10 employees anyway, even without being required to do so by the ACA. If so, it’s possible he could face a “higher cost” for health care under the law, as Rubio said. We’ll note that the average growth of employer-sponsored premiums has been slower in the years since the ACA was passed than it was for the early 2000s. But that’s only an average. Perhaps David offered a catastrophic health plan, and the health insurance company he had been using changed its plans to comply with minimum benefit requirements under the ACA. That could have raised his rates more significantly than the average growth rate.

David could, of course, decide to contribute less toward his workers’ premiums. Or it’s possible he could qualify for a small business tax credit to cover some of the cost of his premiums, since he employs fewer than 25 workers. The average salary would also have to be $50,000 a year or less to qualify, and we don’t know if that’s the case. David could only claim the credit for two consecutive years.

There are also some compliance requirements for small employers that take time — and therefore money — to meet. If David offered insurance to his employees, he would have to report the value of the insurance on his employees’ W-2s, according to the IRS. Also, small businesses are no longer allowed to reimburse employees for health insurance they purchase on their own elsewhere, without potentially facing excise tax penalties. The IRS had exempted small businesses (under 50 workers) from any possible penalties through July 1. David may also spend many working hours researching what exactly he is and is not required to do under the health care law.

But, he would not have to cut Danielle’s hours to part time in order to “save … a significant amount under Obamacare,” as Rubio said. Businesses with fewer than 50 employees who do offer insurance are not required to offer it to all full-time employees, at least not under current IRS regulations.

We could not fault David, or small-business owners like him, for not knowing this. We consulted the Kaiser Family Foundation for clarification on whether businesses with under 50 employees had to offer health insurance to all full-time workers, if they offered it at all. Gary Claxton, a vice president at the Kaiser Family Foundation, told us that “the IRS has not yet issued rules on nondiscrimination which would address the ability to offer different things to different workers.”

David also could ask his employees to get their own coverage through the federal marketplace, where individuals earning up to $46,680 would qualify for subsidies to cover part of the costs of their premiums. In fact, his receptionist would qualify for Medicaid.

Rubio said that Danielle had two children and earned $9.50 an hour, working about 40 hours a week. That comes to less than $20,000 a year, well under the $27,724 threshold for a family of three to qualify for Medicaid. She could work several hours of time-and-a-half overtime a week and still qualify for Medicaid coverage for her family. That would save David money, and may even save Danielle money, depending on what she had contributed to her premiums through David’s company.

Perhaps the hypothetical David doesn’t want to do that — or has other circumstances that we’re not aware of. But as described by Rubio, David has other options besides paying more for health care or cutting Danielle’s hours to part time.

— Lori Robertson

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Cruz & Crosses http://www.factcheck.org/2015/08/cruz-crosses/ http://www.factcheck.org/2015/08/cruz-crosses/#comments Wed, 26 Aug 2015 18:33:21 +0000 http://www.factcheck.org/?p=98505 Sen. Ted Cruz set up a false bogeyman when he said the Supreme Court is “one justice away” from ordering that crosses on tombstones at Arlington National Cemetery be torn down.

Nobody is even asking the court to do such a thing. And in fact, the group that sought removal of a cross from formerly federal land in the Mojave Desert — losing the 5-4 decision to which Cruz referred — strongly supports crosses and other religious symbols on government-issued headstones at Arlington and other military cemeteries.

The Texas senator, who’s seeking the GOP nomination for president, made his claim at a religious rally in Iowa on Aug. 21. He referred to the Supreme Court’s decision allowing the Mojave Desert cross to stand:

Cruz, Aug. 21: Four justices were willing to say this monument to our veterans must be torn to the ground. Anyone who has visited Arlington Cemetery and seen row after row of tombstone with a cross or Star of David honoring our soldiers who gave the last, the ultimate sacrifice. We’re one justice away from the Supreme Court saying we must tear those down.

Sample Headstone

Sample VA Headstone

But it’s a long way from the Mojave to Arlington, where crosses or other religious symbols are carved into government-issued headstones only at the request of the deceased or their next of kin.

In the Mojave case, the American Civil Liberties Union argued that allowing the cross to stand on federal land was an endorsement of one religion over another, violating the First Amendment’s ban on laws “respecting an establishment of religion.” The ACLU continued to press even after the government donated the site to a private owner, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, in return for other land elsewhere. The ACLU argued that the swap was simply an evasion.

But when it comes to Arlington’s crosses, the First Amendment’s guarantee of the “free exercise” of religion supports them and any other religious symbol requested by the deceased, the ACLU has argued. In a 2006 lawsuit against the Department of Veterans Affairs (which had denied a request for a Wiccan symbol), the ACLU said:

ACLU, 2006: Displaying a Cross, a Star of David or any other emblem of religious belief on a gravestone or marker is a long-held tradition in the United States and serves as a means of professing the faith of the deceased. Forbidding some veterans from displaying an emblem representing their religious beliefs on their headstones or markers greatly burdens the free exercise of religion of veterans and their families.
In that case, the ACLU prevailed when the VA agreed to include the Wiccan circle-and-pentangle symbol among the “emblems of belief” it will carve into headstones if requested.
Bogus claims about nonexistent threats to crosses in military cemeteries have been circulating among the gullible for more than a decade. The myth-busting site Snopes.com reported on a 2003 viral email falsely claiming that the ACLU was suing to have cross-shaped headstones removed from military cemeteries. The claim took on new life after the inauguration of President Obama in 2009, but there was no truth to it then either, as we reported.
Cruz is quite correct to note that the Supreme Court is closely divided on many issues, and the next president may make one or more appointments that could tip the balance in one direction or another. But he goes too far when he suggests that crosses at military cemeteries are under threat.
— Brooks Jackson
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Huckabee’s Spin on Iran http://www.factcheck.org/2015/08/huckabees-spin-on-iran/ http://www.factcheck.org/2015/08/huckabees-spin-on-iran/#comments Wed, 26 Aug 2015 17:56:23 +0000 http://www.factcheck.org/?p=98410 In arguing against the Iran nuclear deal, Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee spins the facts.

Huckabee said “no American aircraft would be able to get through” the S-300 surface-to-air missile defense system that Iran plans to install. U.S. military officials and arms control experts dispute that assertion, including one expert who tells us Huckabee is “exaggerating.”

He also claimed the nuclear deal “lets Iran do their own inspections.” That’s wrong. Under the deal, the International Atomic Energy Agency would have daily access to and continuous monitoring at declared nuclear sites for at least 15 years. Huckabee was likely referring to a confidential side deal covering inspections at Parchin, a military site connected to nuclear weapon development. But the issue of inspections at that site is in dispute.

The IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano said claims of self-inspections “misrepresent the way in which we will undertake this important verification work” at Parchin.

Iran’s Plans for Defense System

The Iran nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, is complex and parts of it aren’t even public. It’s easy for those who support or oppose the deal to spin the facts to suit their argument.

That’s what Huckabee, the former governor of Arkansas, is doing here when he presents opinions as facts.

A vocal opponent of the Iran nuclear deal, Huckabee discussed the deal and related issues on “Fox News Sunday.” At one point, Huckabee warned that the threat of a U.S. military strike should the Iranians violate the terms of the nuclear deal is meaningless, because Iran plans to purchase an advanced anti-aircraft defense system from Russia. The S-300 surface-to-air missile, as it is known, could be used to protect Iran’s nuclear sites from attack.

Huckabee, Aug. 23: The Iranians are right now, even before the deal is signed, negotiating with the Russians to get S-300 anti-aircraft weaponry, some of the most sophisticated, sophisticated enough that no American aircraft would be able to get through.

The claim that “no American aircraft” could penetrate the S-300s caught our attention. We asked the Huckabee campaign to support it, but didn’t get a response. If we do we will update this item.

The deployment of anti-aircraft missiles in Iran by most accounts would make a U.S. strike against Iran more difficult, but not impossible.

The Russian sale of the defense system to Iran has been in discussions for years. Russia first agreed to the sale in 2007, but suspended it in 2010 because of U.S. objections, as detailed by the New York Times. Despite continued U.S. opposition, Russia lifted the ban in April, leading to the most recent negotiations.

At an April 16 press conference, Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the military option in Iran would remain “intact” even if Iran purchases the S-300s. “[W]e’ve known about the potential for that system to be sold to Iran for several years, and have accounted for it in all of our planning,” Dempsey said.

Steven Pifer, a retired foreign service officer who now heads the Brookings Arms Control and Non-Proliferation Initiative, told us “Huckabee overstated the threat posed by the S-300 surface-to-air missile system.”

“The U.S. military has for decades invested significant resources to deploy the stealthy B-2 bomber, F-22 fighter and (now coming on line) F-35 fighter-bomber, as well as stand-off attack weapons and electronic countermeasures, to enable U.S. aircraft to conduct operations in areas defended by very sophisticated air defenses,” Pifer said in an email to us. “We will not know for sure unless the U.S. military has to fly against Iranian S-300s. If that had to happen, the smart money would be on the U.S. Air Force and Navy.”

Likewise, two research analysts at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, which is headed by former CIA Director R. James Woolsey, co-wrote an op-ed in the congressional newspaper The Hill that said the U.S. and Israel both could penetrate the defense system.

“The S-300’s formidable capabilities do not, however, make Iran’s air-defenses immune to all threats,” they wrote. “Both Israel and the U.S. have experience training against Western-acquired S-300s. And although both air forces have yet to face an S-300 battery in combat, there is little doubt they would be able to counter the system.”

Iran’s Self-Inspections?

Huckabee then went on tell guest host Shannon Bream that “this deal … lets Iran do their own inspections.”

Huckabee, Aug. 23: So this is just — I mean — I mean it’s balloon juice for the president to get out there and pretend that this deal is a good one, in part, Shannon, because this lets Iran do their own inspections, do their self-reporting. It’s like letting a tenth grader grade his own algebra exams or letting Hillary Clinton take care of her own server. Both are nonsense and this deal is nonsense.

First, let’s clear up what Huckabee is talking about.

Huckabee’s does not explain the reference to self-inspections, making it seem like he is talking about all inspections. That’s wrong and could leave some viewers with a false impression of the nuclear deal.

Under the JCPOA, the IAEA would have daily access to declared nuclear sites for 15 years and continuous electronic monitoring of those sites for at least 15 years, as explained in a 67-page guidebook published by the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard University.

Huckabee was most likely referring to a controversial side deal involving the Parchin military site, which has been the site of past high-explosive testing that the IAEA suspects is connected to nuclear weapon development. That separate agreement has not been made public, but the Associated Press on Aug. 19 wrote that a draft copy of the agreement indicated that “Iran will be allowed to use its own inspectors to investigate.”

IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano responded to the AP article by issuing a statement that said, “I am disturbed by statements suggesting that the IAEA has given responsibility for nuclear inspections to Iran. Such statements misrepresent the way in which we will undertake this important verification work.”

Amano didn’t explain the inspection process because the agreement is confidential. In his statement, he only said “the arrangements are technically sound and consistent with our long-established practices.”

The confidential agreement on Parchin and the claim that it allows Iran to self inspect has become a major issue in recent days.

The American Security Initiative, a bipartisan group of four former senators, has begun running TV ads targeting Democratic Sens. Cory Booker of New Jersey and Bob Casey of Pennsylvania that feature the AP story and a young man who says Iran sponsored the terrorist group that killed his father. In the ad, the man says, “This news about them self-inspecting. It doesn’t make sense. I wonder why we’re giving up so much control. We cannot allow Iran to self inspect.”

As with many aspects of the nuclear deal, the facts are in dispute.

Thomas Shea, a former IAEA inspector who once headed the agency’s Trilateral Initiative Office in the Department of Safeguards, co-wrote an op-ed for The Hill that carried the headline, “No, Iran is not allowed to inspect itself.” He wrote that IAEA inspectors will likely oversee Iranian collection of samples at Parchin.

Shea and Mark Hibbs, Aug. 21: The IAEA and Iran have developed a protocol to allow this to happen in a way that ensures, to the satisfaction of both parties, the integrity of the process. Without knowing the precise details of the IAEA’s understanding with Iran, IAEA inspectors at Parchin will likely oversee the taking of multiple samples using environmental sampling kits that the IAEA has prepared. Multiple samples would be prepared at each location identified by the IAEA inspectors. Each side would obtain samples taken with the kits. Critically, the IAEA would have samples using kits prepared in advance by its own laboratory.

Tariq Rauf, who once headed IAEA’s Verification and Security Policy Coordination Office, explained how that process could work on the website Atomic Reporters:

Rauf, Aug. 20: Under regular IAEA safeguards inspections, Agency inspectors carry out the swiping and collection of samples, as at Bushehr, Esfahan, Natanz, Fordow and elsewhere in Iran. Parchin being a military industrial facility is not subject to regular IAEA safeguards as it is not a “nuclear facility” as defined for purposes of IAEA safeguards. The IAEA, however, can request and obtain access to a facility such as Parchin under “managed access” provisions of Iran’s Additional Protocol (AP) to its safeguards agreement with the IAEA. It would be unusual but by no means technically compromising to have Iranian technicians collect swipe samples at sites and locations at Parchin in the physical presence and direct line of sight of IAEA inspectors, including filming, and using swipe kits and collection bags provided by the IAEA.

However, David Albright, an IAEA weapons inspector in Iraq during the 1990s and founder of the Institute for Science and International Security, writes in the Washington Post that IAEA inspectors will not be present during the sample collection. He writes, “The IAEA will not be able to visit Parchin until after the samples are taken, and it remains doubtful that the inspectors will be able to take additional samples.”

In an email to us, Albright said he got his information from unnamed “congressional sources, based on briefings by senior U.S. officials.” He questioned whether Rauf knows the details of the agreement.

“Rauf’s statement that you quote is largely what would be expected if normal IAEA procedures were followed and Rauf does not imply any knowledge of the actual Parchin agreement in this statement,” Albright said. “The Parchin agreement is not normal, so it is to be expected that the procedures would vary from the standard ones.”

Rauf acknowledged that he has not seen the confidential agreement, “but neither has Mr. Albright.” He told us in an email that he based his op-ed “on the actual practices of the IAEA” and the reassurance by Amano that the arrangements with Iran are “consistent with established IAEA safeguards practices.”

At an Aug. 24 press briefing, White House spokesman Josh Earnest was asked about the AP report and referred reporters back to Amano’s statement.

“The fact is that the arrangements between Iran and the IAEA are sound and consistent with the IAEA’s long-established practice; that the IAEA in developing this inspection plan didn’t compromise its safeguards or standards in any way,” Earnest said.

There is no resolution to this dispute at this point and perhaps there won’t be unless the agreement is made public or if the IAEA fully explains the verification process that it will use at Parchin.

But this much is clear: Huckabee’s statement that the nuclear deal “lets Iran do their own inspections” is at the very least in dispute. And, because he didn’t make clear what part of the nuclear deal he was talking about, viewers could have easily been left with the false impression that he was talking about all inspections. That would be wrong.

— Eugene Kiely

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Jeb Bush Attacks Planned Parenthood http://www.factcheck.org/2015/08/jeb-bush-attacks-planned-parenthood/ http://www.factcheck.org/2015/08/jeb-bush-attacks-planned-parenthood/#comments Tue, 25 Aug 2015 23:10:47 +0000 http://www.factcheck.org/?p=98413 Jeb Bush claims Planned Parenthood should not receive federal funding because “they’re not actually doing women’s health issues.” That’s simply false.

In 2013, Planned Parenthood affiliated clinics provided nearly 10.6 million services to 2.7 million women and men, including contraception, tests and treatment for sexually transmitted infections, cancer screenings, abortions, and several other women’s health services, according to the organization’s most recent annual report.

Yet Bush said Planned Parenthood is “involved in something way different than” women’s health when answering a question at a veterans town hall event in Colorado on Aug. 25.

Bush, Aug. 25: As it relates to women’s health issues in general, when I was governor, we expanded those programs through community based organizations and that’s something I think the federal government needs to continue to do. I for one don’t think that they should, that Planned Parenthood ought to get a penny, though. And that’s the difference. Because they’re not actually doing women’s health issues. They’re involved in something way different than that.

Anti-abortion politicians have pushed to defund Planned Parenthood after undercover videos showed Planned Parenthood officials talking about aborted fetal tissue being collected and used for research. According to Planned Parenthood figures, abortions represent 3 percent of the organization’s total services, and roughly 12 percent of its clients received an abortion.

The services its clinics provided to women and men in 2013 included:

  • 4.5 million tests and treatment for sexually transmitted infections
  • 3.6 million contraception related services
  • 935,573 cancer screenings including breast exams and Pap tests
  • 1.1 million pregnancy tests and prenatal services

A more detailed breakdown is available in the annual report, which also included this graphic:


Planned Parenthood graphic from its 2013-2014 annual report.


We contacted a spokeswoman for Bush’s campaign to find out why those services didn’t count as “women’s health issues,” but we didn’t receive a response.

Bush, a Republican presidential candidate, did respond to Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton on Twitter, writing on Aug. 25: “PP treatment of unborn has been horrifying. Let’s support quality women’s health programs instead @HillaryClinton.” That was after Clinton, also on Twitter that day, wrote that “Jeb is just wrong” for saying that Planned Parenthood is “not doing women’s health issues.”

This isn’t the first time Bush has called for the elimination of federal funding for Planned Parenthood.

In early August, Bush was criticized for saying, “I’m not sure we need half a billion dollars in funding for women’s health programs.” He later said that he “misspoke” on funding for women’s health broadly, and only meant to refer to federal funding for Planned Parenthood, which received $528.4 million in “government health services grants & reimbursements” in 2013. That figure includes federal and state government money, however. Federal money cannot be used for abortions, except in cases of rape, incest and to save the life of the mother.

— D’Angelo Gore

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Trump on Birthright Citizenship http://www.factcheck.org/2015/08/trump-on-birthright-citizenship/ http://www.factcheck.org/2015/08/trump-on-birthright-citizenship/#comments Tue, 25 Aug 2015 22:45:07 +0000 http://www.factcheck.org/?p=98412 Donald Trump was off base with his claim that Mexico does not have a birthright citizenship policy like the U.S. Although the two countries use different terminology, the two policies are actually very similar.

Trump also overstated the rarity of such policies around the world, claiming that “we’re the only place, just about, that’s stupid enough to do it.” While the majority of countries do not have such a policy, 30 of them do, including Canada and a number of other countries in Central and South America.

During a rally in Mobile, Alabama, on Aug. 21, Trump reiterated his support for doing away with the birthright citizenship provision in the 14th Amendment — which grants citizenship to babies born in the U.S. even if their parent or parents are in the country illegally.

Trump, a Republican presidential candidate, said that as a result of the policy more than 300,000 babies a year, or about 7.5 percent of all children born in the U.S., are born to parents in the U.S. illegally. A 2010 report from the Pew Research Center estimated that “340,000 of the 4.3 million babies born in the United States in 2008 were the offspring of unauthorized immigrants,” which was about 8 percent of births that year. Our fact-checking colleagues at the Washington Post concluded that Trump’s updated figure is accurate, or nearly so.

Trump then went on to say (at about the 35-minute mark): “And you know, in the case of other countries, including Mexico, they don’t do that. It doesn’t work that way. You don’t walk over the border for one day and all of a sudden we have another American citizen. It doesn’t work that way. Mexico doesn’t do it. Other places don’t do it. Very few places do it. We’re the only place, just about, that’s stupid enough to do it.”

Mexican Policy

Let’s start with Trump’s remarks regarding U.S. policy on birthright citizenship and the claim that it “doesn’t work that way” in Mexico. In fact, it mostly does. According to Article 30 of the Mexican Constitution, “The Mexican nationality” is acquired by birth if someone is born within Mexican territory, “whatever their parents’ nationality might be.”

Technically, according to the Mexican Constitution, people don’t become “citizens” of Mexico until they turn 18, at which point they can vote, be elected to public office and join the military. That’s true even of babies born in Mexico to Mexican parents.

But that’s more of a difference in language between the two countries than actual practice, Emilio Kourí, director of the Katz Center for Mexican Studies at the University of Chicago, told us in a phone interview.

Having Mexican “nationality” conferred upon someone entitles them to many of the same types of civil and social rights that are conferred upon a child in the U.S. who is deemed a “citizen,” Kourí said.

In Mexico, “citizenship” is a legal term that implies political rights, such as being able to vote and hold office, Kourí said, and those rights are conferred automatically upon one’s 18th birthday. That’s similar in practice to the policy in the U.S., where “citizens” still can’t vote until they turn 18. (One difference between the two countries’ policies is that in order to be president in Mexico, one needs to have been born to at least one parent who is a Mexican citizen — see Article 82.)

The Mexican Constitution notes that in addition to being 18, to become a citizen one must “have an honest way of life.” That’s to prevent felons from having voting rights, just as is the case in many states in the U.S., Kourí said.

“Mexico currently has a system that is nearly identical to that of the United States,” Kourí said. “What we call birthright citizenship, their constitution calls nationality.”

Though the distinction in language is understood by lawyers, in public discourse, people in Mexico consider themselves to be citizens even without the political rights attached to citizenship, Kourí said. When women’s suffrage came to Mexico in 1953, he said, the constitution’s language was changed so that anyone who turned 18 was then a “citizen,” as opposed to citizenship only being afforded to men. But before then, he said, women certainly considered themselves citizens of Mexico, even though they could not vote.

The Policy in Other Countries

As for Trump’s claim that “very few places” have birthright citizenship policies, it’s true that America’s policy is in the minority in the international community. But the U.S. isn’t alone, by any means.

According to a 2010 analysis by the Center for Immigration Studies, a think tank that advocates for lower immigration, 30 of the world’s 194 countries grant automatic birthright citizenship to the children of immigrants in the country illegally. The U.S. and Canada are the only ones among those 30 countries that have advanced economies as defined by the International Monetary Fund. Outside North America, most of the 30 counties that have birthright citizenship policies are in Central and South America. No country in Europe has such a policy. See Table 1 for the full list of countries that do, and do not, recognize automatic birthright citizenship. CIS was unable to confirm the policy in 19 countries.

Jon Feere, the author of the CIS report, told us via email that if the U.S. were to stop granting automatic citizenship to children of immigrants who are in the country illegally, “it would be following an international trend.”

Feere, Aug. 24: In recent years, the international trend has been to end universal birthright citizenship. Countries that have ended universal birthright citizenship include the United Kingdom, which ended the practice in 1983, Australia (1986), India (1987), Malta (1989), Ireland, which ended the practice through a national referendum in 2004, New Zealand (2006), and the Dominican Republic, which ended the practice in January 2010. The reasons countries have ended automatic birthright citizenship are diverse, but have resulted from concerns not all that different from the concerns of many in the United States. Increased illegal immigration is the main motivating factor in most countries. Birth tourism was one of the reasons Ireland ended automatic birthright citizenship in 2004.

Feere also noted that some of the countries that grant birthright citizenship don’t experience much illegal immigration. For example, he said, Fiji has an estimated illegal immigration population of 2,000 people, which is 0.2 percent of the country’s population. In the U.S., the estimated 11.3 million immigrants living in the country illegally, according to the Pew Research Center, make up about 3.5 percent of the total population.

So it’s true that the U.S. policy of birthright citizenship is at odds with the majority of the world’s countries. But there are still quite a few countries in the Americas that grant birthright citizenship. And that’s a fact that Trump glosses over.

— Robert Farley

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Aug. 21: Immigration, Health Care, Government Shutdown http://www.factcheck.org/2015/08/aug-21-immigration-health-care-government-shutdown/ http://www.factcheck.org/2015/08/aug-21-immigration-health-care-government-shutdown/#comments Fri, 21 Aug 2015 21:22:06 +0000 http://www.factcheck.org/?p=98585
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Planned Parenthood Goes on Offense http://www.factcheck.org/2015/08/planned-parenthood-goes-on-offense/ http://www.factcheck.org/2015/08/planned-parenthood-goes-on-offense/#comments Fri, 21 Aug 2015 19:05:01 +0000 http://www.factcheck.org/?p=98308 A Planned Parenthood ad wrongly implies that New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte supports shutting down the government in order to defund Planned Parenthood. She doesn’t. The ad also exaggerates the potential impact of a shutdown.

Ayotte did vote in favor of a failed bill to defund Planned Parenthood, as the ad says. But she is on record saying that she does not support allowing a government shutdown to attempt to force that defunding.

Planned Parenthood launched the ad against Ayotte on Aug. 18 as part of a campaign that targets three other Republican senators who also voted for the bill to prohibit federal funding of Planned Parenthood – Sens. Ron Johnson, Rob Portman and Pat Toomey. They have not publicly taken a position on a shutdown.

The ad features several people raising questions about the effects of a shutdown on services such as veterans benefits, Social Security, Medicare, Head Start and small-business loans. While it’s true that a government shutdown would likely affect some people who access or are trying to access these programs — at least based on the last shutdown in 2013 — most of the programs listed would largely continue to operate as they do now.

Social Security and Medicare payments, for example, would continue to be made, and veterans hospitals would remain open.

Planned Parenthood has been under increased scrutiny recently due to undercover videos that showed Planned Parenthood officials talking about the procedures for collecting fetal tissue for research and the fees they charge tissue procurement companies. That has led to a renewed push by some Republicans to defund Planned Parenthood.

The ads all have the same script, but are personalized for the candidate being targeted. Here’s the opening of the one targeting Ayotte in New Hampshire:

Planned Parenthood ad: First Kelly Ayotte voted to defund Planned Parenthood, risking health care for millions of women. Now Republicans want to shut down the government to block funding for Planned Parenthood. What would a shutdown mean for New Hampshire?

The ad then cuts to an elderly man in a wheelchair who asks, “Will anyone be there to process my veterans benefits?” An elderly woman then asks, “What will that do to Social Security and Medicare?” A woman holding a toddler asks, “Will I be able to get my daughter into Head Start?” And finally, a woman asks, “What about small-business loans?”

It’s true that all four senators voted on Aug. 3 in favor of a bill that sought to prohibit federal funding of Planned Parenthood. Johnson, Portman and Toomey were also cosponsors of the bill, which failed to get the 60 votes needed to move forward (the vote was 53-46).

As for whether that vote risked “health care for millions of women,” that is a matter of political debate. Ayotte’s office says any federal funds taken from Planned Parenthood would be “redirected to local community health centers that provide services such as cancer screenings, mammograms and contraceptives.” Planned Parenthood officials say its clinics serve many rural and under-served areas where there are no other health center alternatives. And, they say, many alternative community health centers are not equipped to handle the influx of women now served by Planned Parenthood.

Republicans on a Shutdown

After highlighting the failed vote to defund Planned Parenthood, the ad’s narrator says Republicans are considering a new strategy. “Now Republicans want to shut down the government to block funding for Planned Parenthood,” the ad says. The ad against Ayotte ends with: “Tell Sen. Ayotte: Stand up for Planned Parenthood health care — not a government shutdown.”

It’s true there are some in the Republican Party willing to risk a government shutdown over the issue. On July 29, 18 House Republicans wrote a letter to House leadership saying they “cannot and will not support any funding resolution — an appropriations bill, an omnibus package, a continuing resolution, or otherwise — that contains any funding for Planned Parenthood.” There are some in the Senate who have voiced similar sentiments, including presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz.

Specifically not in that camp, however, is Ayotte.

From the New York Times on July 3o:

New York Times, July 30: “I’m going to want to make sure that we keep the government funded,” said Senator Kelly Ayotte, Republican of New Hampshire, who would like Congress to cut off Planned Parenthood’s funding, but not by holding hostage appropriations that keep the government’s lights on.

An Aug. 4 Bloomberg article about the possibility of a government shutdown over Planned Parenthood had this to say about Ayotte’s position:

Bloomberg, Aug. 4: New Hampshire Senator Kelly Ayotte called for a “responsible” agreement to fund the government given that 60 votes are required in the Senate, adding: “I think that we should ensure that we do not have a government shutdown.”

Another target of the ads, Portman, said this:

The Hill, Aug. 3: Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), another incumbent facing reelection next year, said he’s “for defunding,” and then said “I don’t think anybody is talking about shutting down the government, but we want to defund Planned Parenthood, so we’ll see.”

Johnson was even more noncommittal. When asked if he would shut down the government over the Planned Parenthood funding, Johnson told The Hill: “That would be a hypothetical question. I’m not going to answer it.”

A spokeswoman for Toomey said he “thinks we should fund women’s health programs through organizations that do not hold Planned Parenthood’s outrageous disregard for human life.” However, Toomey has not publicly taken a position on whether he would support a government shutdown over Planned Parenthood funding.

More broadly, the ad implies there is greater consensus among Republicans about a shutdown over Planned Parenthood funding than actually exists. In fact, the very article cited in the Planned Parenthood ad — an Aug. 4 article in the Christian Science Monitor headlined, “Will Republicans shut down the government over Planned Parenthood?” — carries a subhead that says while the idea has been floated by some Republicans, it “has few advocates.” According to the article: “Much of the Republican party … has been quick to emphasize that a government shutdown is neither likely nor desirable.” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, for one, has vowed that the issue would not lead to a government shutdown this fall.

The Effects of a Shutdown

Nonetheless, the ad hints at the possibility of disastrous problems should the government shut down. The potential problems from a shutdown are posed as vague questions, rather than declarative statements. But the consequences of a shutdown are far less dire than the questions posed by the people in the ad imply.

For example, one elderly woman asks, “What will [a shutdown] do to Social Security and Medicare?” Based on the experience of the federal government shutdown in 2013, the answer for her is, “Probably nothing.”

The federal shutdown in 2013 stretched from Oct. 1 through Oct. 16, largely over the issue of whether to defund implementation of parts of the Affordable Care Act. The shutdown resulted in some 800,000 federal employees being furloughed, and caused substantial disruption to many federal services.

But Social Security and Medicare are part of mandatory funding streams, funded outside the regular appropriations bills. And so Social Security payments continued to be made. In fact, during the second week of the shutdown, more than 8,000 furloughed workers were recalled to ensure the prompt payment of benefits. But there were some who were affected. For example, in an analysis of the effects of the 2013 shutdown, the White House Office of Management and Budget noted that the Social Security Administration suspended the issuance of new Social Security cards, and could not verify existing numbers, affecting thousands seeking jobs or loans.

In the ad, a man in a wheelchair asks, “Will anyone be there to process my veterans benefits?” During the 2013 shutdown, veterans hospitals remained open, but Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki told Congress that a discontinuance of overtime during the shutdown slowed its review of benefit claims, meaning that “we are no longer making the significant gains we have made in recent months toward eliminating the backlog in claims.”

As for the woman in the ad who worries whether she will be able to get her daughter into Head Start, the OMB noted that the two-week shutdown in 2013 “forced Head Start grantees serving nearly 6,300 children to close their centers for up to nine days (before re-opening with the help of private philanthropists or their state).” That’s a real disruption, but to put it into context, there was a funded enrollment of nearly 904,000 in Head Start that year.

The overwhelming majority of 1,600 Head Start programs continued to operate through the government shutdown, a spokesman for the Administration for Children and Families told us via email. However, of those 1,600 programs, the grants for 23 of them were due for new funding on Oct. 1, while the government was shut down. Seven of these grantees were not able to operate during the shutdown, while 16 operated through interim funds provided by private donors.

In other words, there were some disruptions to the programs highlighted in the ads, but by and large those programs continued to operate normally.

Planned Parenthood can legitimately warn of the (slim) possibility of a government shutdown by those who oppose funding the group — some Republicans indeed support such action. But not Ayotte. And the ad’s images of seniors questioning what will happen to their Social Security and Medicare imply a far more dire consequence than most seniors would face.

— Robert Farley

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