A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center
FactCheck.org is celebrating 15 years of holding politicians accountable.

Sunday Replay


Call this one the Axelrod Edition. President Obama’s senior adviser, David Axelrod, was on three of the political talk shows on July 11, and we found that he strayed from the factual straight-and-narrow several times in talking about the oil spill, border security and other issues.

We also found Republican congressman Brian Bilbray overstating support for an immigration bill and Attorney General Eric Holder repeating a claim we’ve critiqued before about how many terrorism trials have taken place in the civilian justice system.

Ax on Angle

Appearing on CNN’s "State of the Union," Axelrod said that Republican Senate candidate Sharron Angle in Nevada described the $20 billion escrow fund that BP agreed to set aside to compensate victims of the spill as a "slush fund." She did. During a radio interview last week, she was asked by a caller what she thought of "the $20 billion slush fund." She responded:

Angle, July 7:  I think you named it clearly: It’s a slush fund.

But Axelrod didn’t mention that the very next day Angle retracted the label in a statement posted on her website:

Angle, July 8: Having had some time to think about it, the caller and I shouldn’t have used the term "slush fund"; that was incorrect.

My position is that the creation of this fund to compensate victims was an important first step– BP caused this disaster and they should pay for it. But there are multiple parties at fault here and there should be a thorough investigation. We need to look into the actions, (or inactions) of the Administration and why the regulatory agency in charge of oversight was asleep at the wheel while BP was cutting corners. Every party involved should be held fully accountable.

Borderline Truth

Also on Fox, Axelrod said the administration had 20,000 Border Patrol agents, double the number in 2004.

Fox News’s Chris Wallace: In fact, Mr. Axelrod, your new homeland security budget actually cuts spending for border enforcement.

Axelrod: Chris, we have more manpower there than ever before, . . .We have 20,000 — there are 20,000 agents on the border, and now another 1,200 National Guard. That’s more than it’s ever been.

Wallace: But that’s…

Axelrod: That’s double what…

Wallace: But that’s less than one per mile.

Axelrod: … has been there since 2004.

Both Wallace and Axelrod are right. But viewers shouldn’t be misled into thinking that Obama had anything to do with doubling the number of Border Patrol agents. It was President Bush who did that. He signed the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act on Dec. 17, 2004, which among other things, authorized adding 2,000 new agents each year (section 5202). According to the Bush White House, there had been only about 9,000 Border Patrol agents in 2001. According to the Border Patrol, it was able to deploy 20,119 agents on a typical day in fiscal year 2009 — which began nearly four months before Obama took office.

It’s true as Wallace said that the Obama administration proposed last January to cut spending for Customs and Border Protection, from $10.1 billion currently to a proposed $9.8 billion in the fiscal year starting Oct. 1. (See page 83). The administration proposed to maintain Border Patrol staffing at 20,000 agents, despite those cuts, and to add 300 new CBP officers for passenger and cargo screening at ports of entry.

Since then passage of Arizona’s controversial immigration law has made border security a hot issue, and Obama reacted in May, by ordering 1,200 National Guard troops to the Mexican border to assist. And last month he asked Congress for emergency funds to hire another 1,000 Border Patrol agents.

Polling Data Goes for a Spin

On ABC’s "This Week," White House Senior Advisor David Axelrod tried to deflect a question posed to him by host Jake Tapper about independents’ declining support of President Barack Obama.

Tapper, July 11: One year ago, he was at 56 percent approval with independents. Now it’s 38 percent. Why do you think independents are turning away from the president?

Axelrod: Well, first of all, there are all kinds of numbers out there, so this is one set of numbers. There are other sets of numbers.

In fact, the declining approval of the president by independents reflects a trend — not just “one set of numbers,” as Axelrod claimed. The latest Gallup Poll, which was released July 7, showed Obama’s approval rate among independents at a record-low 38 percent. It’s true that there are some polls that put the rate slightly higher – for instance, a recent Newsweek survey found it to be 43 percent. But pollster.com — which aggregates polling data from numerous sources, including Gallup and Newsweek — put Obama’s approval rating among independents at 37.6 percent.

 What About the Dinosaurs?

Axelrod claimed on Fox News Sunday that the current oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is “the greatest environmental catastrophe of all time.” It is certainly a catastrophe, especially for Gulf residents and many forms of marine life. But “all time” covers a lot of ground, and several other environmental catastrophes are by many measures worse.

The Dust Bowl disaster of the 1930’s is one. It devastated sections of Oklahoma, Texas and the surrounding plains, sending an estimated 300,000 to 400,000 persons streaming to California in the migration described by John Steinbeck in "The Grapes of Wrath."

Another example is the 1986 nuclear disaster at Chernobyl, which forced evacuation and relocation of 336,000 persons in and near what is present-day Ukraine. Some parts of the so-called Zone of Alienation are still restricted and officially uninhabitable due to radiation, and likely to remain so for decades more.

And since we’re looking at “all time,” how about the Cretaceous-Tertiary extinction of 65 million years ago, thought to have been caused by an asteroid slamming into the earth? About 18 percent of all land-dwelling vertebrates went extinct, including most famously the dinosaurs. According to Doug Erwin of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History, that’s just the most recent of five massive extinction events in the history of Planet Earth. 

Bilbray Overstates Support for Immigration Bill

Also on “This Week,” Republican Rep. Brian Bilbray of California touted an immigration bill sponsored by Democratic Rep. Heath Shuler of North Carolina as one of two bills that has the support to pass — if only House Speaker Nancy Pelosi would bring them up for a vote. In making his case, Bilbray claimed that Shuler’s bill has 230 supporters.

Bilbray, July 11: Jake, the first thing you do is pass the two Democratic bills the Republicans agree on, the Heath Shuler bill, where you have 230 people support it, Republicans and Democrats. Then you have Silvestre Reyes’ bill, which has Republican — we could pass that tomorrow if Speaker Pelosi allowed it to be done.

However,Shuler’s bill — H.R. 3308, Secure America Through Verification and Enforcement Act of 2009 – has only 112 cosponsors. That is far short of the simple majority (218 out of 435) needed to pass a bill in the U.S. House of Representatives.

We called Bilbray’s office, where Fritz Chaleff, the congressman’s spokesman, told us that Bilbray was referring to the bill’s support in the previous congressional session. But Shuler’s bill — H.R. 4088 — had 157 co-sponsors in the 110th Congress and that’s still not enough. Chaleff said 75 additional signatures on a discharge petition that Shuler and others signed in March 2008 to force a floor vote on the bill brings the number to 232. True enough. But the bill’s supporters didn’t hang together when it counted: The discharge petition failed, receiving only 190 signatures of the 218 it needed. 

So while it’s true that 232 current members of the House have at some time in the past expressed some degree of support for the Shuler bill, it’s not clear they all would actually vote for it.

Holder Repeats ‘Dubious’ Claim

On CBS’ "Face the Nation," Attorney General Eric Holder defended his decision — which he is now reconsidering — to try alleged Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in federal court in New York, rather than in a military tribunal. But in doing so he repeated a claim that we labeled "dubious" five months ago.

Holder, July 11: We have tried over 300 terrorists in our criminal justice system.

Vice President Joe Biden made the same claim in February. As we said at the time, NYU’s Terrorist Trial Report Card reported 174 individuals who were "convicted of terrorism or national security violations" by civilian courts. The report card, the most recent available, tracked terrorism-related cases from September 2001 through September 2009. President Barack Obama himself has put the number at 190.

– by Viveca Novak, Brooks Jackson, Eugene Kiely, Kelsey Ferguson and Lara Seligman