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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Sunday Replay

Politicians didn’t take a holiday from false and misleading statements on July 4. We found misstatements on the Sunday talk shows that touched on Afghanistan, Michael Steele and immigration.

A Firm Date for … What Exactly?

On ABC’s "This Week," Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona made it sound as though President Obama would pull all troops out of Afghanistan in July 2011, regardless of what happens in the country. But the president never promised that all troops, or even a certain number, would be withdrawn. Instead, in announcing his decision to send an additional 30,000 troops to Afghanistan, Obama said he would "begin the transfer" in July 2011, "taking into account conditions on the ground."

McCain: But what I worry about more than anything else is the — the July of 2011 firm date, which the president has not — certainly has not been positive as far as our commitment is concerned. In other words, we need a conditions-based situation, not a date for withdrawal. …

But the fact is that, if you say that you are setting a date certain for leaving as his key advisers have, including, I think, one on your show that said that we were — that it is a, quote, "firm date," his spokesperson said it’s, quote, "etched in stone and he has the chisel," and other statements by his civilian advisers have undermined the belief that we will have a conditions-based withdrawal.

McCain does accurately describe the words of White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, who told CBS News Chief White House Correspondent Chip Reid in December 2009 that the July 2011 date was, in Reid’s words, "etched in stone" and that troops would start coming home then.

Here’s what Obama said in December 2009:

Obama, December 2009: But taken together, these additional American and international troops will allow us to accelerate handing over responsibility to Afghan forces, and allow us to begin the transfer of our forces out of Afghanistan in July of 2011. Just as we have done in Iraq, we will execute this transition responsibly, taking into account conditions on the ground. We’ll continue to advise and assist Afghanistan’s security forces to ensure that they can succeed over the long haul. But it will be clear to the Afghan government — and, more importantly, to the Afghan people — that they will ultimately be responsible for their own country.

More recently, on June 24, Obama reiterated that: "We did not say that starting July 2011, suddenly there would be no troops from the United States or allied countries in Afghanistan. We didn’t say we’d be switching off the lights and closing the door behind us. What we said is we’d begin a transition phase in which the Afghan government is taking on more and more responsibility."  

More Dubious Deadline Claims

On CBS’ “Face the Nation,” Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina repeated a false statement he made last week on "Fox News Sunday." Graham claimed that White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel had said July 2011 was "a firm date of withdrawal" from Afghanistan. Emanuel wasn’t that definitive.

Graham: The problem is, you’ve had Rahm Emanuel, you’ve had David Axelrod, and other people saying that July 2011 is a firm date of withdrawal.

Emanuel actually said on ABC’s "This Week" on June 20 that the "firm date" is one that "deals with the troops that are part of the surge, the additional 30,000. What will be determined at that date or going into that date will be the scale and scope of that reduction." Emanuel didn’t say that all troops, or even a significant number, would be withdrawn on that date. He said the number coming home would be "based on the conditions on the ground.” 

As for White House Senior Advisor David Axelrod, he said on "Meet the Press" on June 13 that the White House “is committed to begin that process of withdrawal in July of next year, and that continues to be the plan, and we’re going to pursue that on that schedule.”

Steele’s Retraction?

Both Sens. Joseph Lieberman and Lindsey Graham said that Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele had retracted his controversial comments about the war in Afghanistan, which Steele called "a war of Obama’s choosing." Steele did clarify his remarks, but he didn’t apologize. We’ll leave it to readers to decide whether his response could be called a retraction.

Graham said on “Face the Nation” that he is “glad to see that Michael Steele is retracting his statement because it’s not the Republican Party’s position, my Republican Party position.” Meanwhile, Lieberman, an Independent from Connecticut, said on "Fox News Sunday” that Steele had "retracted" his comments.

Here’s what Steele originally said at a July 1 fundraiser in Connecticut:

Steele July 1: Keep in mind, again, our federal candidates, this was a war of Obama’s choosing. This is not, this is not something the United States had actively prosecuted or wanted to engage in. …

[I]f he’s such a student of history, has he not understood that, you know, that’s the one thing you don’t do is engage in a land war in Afghanistan? All right? Because everyone who has tried over a thousand years of history has failed. … There are other ways that we can engage in Afghanistan without committing more troops. …

Steele then encouraged candidates running for office to make use of "a whole text of resources" available through the RNC and Republican congressional committees that "help frame those arguments."

Republicans were quick to condemn Steele’s remarks, and the following day Steele released an official statement clarifying his stance on the war. He emphasized the necessity of winning in Afghanistan as well as his support for the troops and General Petraeus’ confirmation. But he didn’t disavow his original remarks.

Steele, July 2: During the 2008 Presidential campaign, Barack Obama made clear his belief that we should not fight in Iraq, but instead concentrate on Afghanistan. Now, as President, he has indeed shifted his focus to this region. That means this is his strategy. And, for the sake of the security of the free world, our country must give our troops the support necessary to win this war.

As we have learned throughout history, winning a war in Afghanistan is a difficult task. We must also remember that after the tragedy of September 11, 2001, it is also a necessary one. That is why I supported the decision to increase our troop force and, like the entire United States Senate, I support General Petraeus’ confirmation. The stakes are too high for us to accept anything but success in Afghanistan.

On "This Week," Sen. McCain said that Steele had sent him an e-mail saying Steele’s remarks had been "misconstrued."

Obama’s Immigration Plan

On "Fox News Sunday," Republican Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina mischaracterized Obama’s stance on immigration:

DeMint: When he says comprehensive reform, what he’s talking about is amnesty and voting rights for those who came here illegally.

We’ve written several times about the misleading use of the word "amnesty," which would mean a blanket pardon for illegal immigrants. That’s not what Obama has proposed. In fact, in his immigration speech on July 1, Obama rejected that idea, saying it was “unwise."

Obama, July 1: [T]here are those in the immigrants’ rights community who have argued passionately that we should simply provide those who are [here] illegally with legal status. … I believe such an indiscriminate approach would be both unwise and unfair. … [T]he 11 million who broke these laws should be held accountable.

Instead of a blanket pardon, Obama proposed creating a "pathway for legal status." Those in the United States illegally, he said, "should be required to register, pay their taxes, pay a fine, and learn English. They must get right with the law before they can get in line and earn their citizenship."

Immigration Hyperbole

DeMint went on to make various claims about immigration, saying that the president had done nothing about border security — not true — and implying that illegal immigrants were kidnapping and murdering people in Arizona. They’re actually often the victims of kidnapping, and murders have declined recently in that state.

DeMint: The president has refused to secure our border. And as others have said, he is holding border security hostage to his political agenda. And this is a serious problem when states like Arizona have to take matters in their own hands because their people are being kidnapped and murdered.

DeMint gives the impression that the president hasn’t acted on border security, but that’s not the case. For one thing, as we’ve mentioned before, Obama’s proposed budget for the 2011 fiscal year included a request for about $9.8 billion in discretionary spending for customs and border protection. That’s actually a slight increase over the almost $9.5 billion that President George W. Bush requested in his final budget for fiscal year 2009. White House officials have also said that the president plans to authorize the deployment of 1,200 National Guard troops to the southwest border to assist in the security effort, as well as ask for an additional $500 million from Congress to fund additional border protection efforts. And the Department of Homeland Security, back in March 2009, announced several southwest border initiatives including a "doubling" of agents on the Border Enforcement Security Task Forces and a "tripling" of the number of border intelligence analysts. Also, Obama reaffirmed his commitment to border security during his July 1 speech on immigration.

DeMint’s statement may be based on a similar claim that Republican Sen. Jon Kyl of Arizona made about the president. Kyl, speaking to an audience of Arizona Tea Party members in June, said that he had a private discussion with the president, and claimed Obama said: "If we secure the border, then you all won’t have any reason to support comprehensive immigration reform." The White House denied that Obama made that statement, but Kyl has stood by his account of his meeting with the president.

We can’t say what words were exchanged between Kyl and Obama. But the administration has done more to address border security than DeMint’s claim suggests.

In talking about Arizona, DeMint implies that murders and kidnappings have been increasing because of illegal immigrants, and that those factors led the state to enact an immigration enforcement law this year. The number of murders in Arizona has actually gone down, declining 13 percent from 2007 to 2008, according to the FBI Uniform Crime Reports. Preliminary data for 2009 show a drop in murders in Phoenix of 27 percent from 2008 and a decline in Tuscon of 46 percent.

ABC News reported early last year that while Phoenix might be the "kidnapping capital" of the U.S., most of the victims are "either illegal aliens or connected to the drug trade." Not that that makes the jobs of Arizona police departments any easier, but DeMint’s comment leaves the impression that the perpetrators are illegal immigrants, while the victims are law-abiding citizens. ABC News reported that the kidnapping was being done by Mexican drug cartels and that the victims "are often illegal aliens whose captors then demand ransom from the victims’ relatives in Mexico." 

— by Lori Robertson, Melissa Siegel, Lara Seligman and D’Angelo Gore