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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Sunday Replay

On this week’s political talk shows, we found false and questionable statements about Rand Paul, unemployment and then-Sen. Obama’s impact on immigration legislation.

Paul Didn’t Go That Far

On CBS’ "Face the Nation," Democratic National Committee Chairman Tim Kaine twisted the words of Rand Paul, the Republican nominee for Senate in Kentucky. Kaine claimed that Paul, a tea party member, "says the Civil Rights Act shouldn’t have been passed." That’s not true.

Paul did kick up a controversy when he told MSNBC host Rachel Maddow that while he personally did not agree with discriminatory practices, private businesses should have the freedom to act as they choose. When politicians quickly condemned, or distanced themselves from, Paul’s remarks, he stated that he supported the Civil Rights Act of 1964:

Paul, May 20: I support the Civil Rights Act because I overwhelmingly agree with the intent of the legislation, which was to stop discrimination in the public sphere and halt the abhorrent practice of segregation and Jim Crow laws.

Even on Maddow’s show on May 19, Paul didn’t say the act never should have been passed. In fact, he said he agreed with most of the act but would have tried to modify the section pertaining to private businesses.

Here’s the edited exchange on MSNBC:

Maddow: Do you think that a private business has the right to say we don‘t serve black people?

Paul: Yes. I‘m not in favor of any discrimination of any form. I would never belong to any club that excluded anybody for race. We still do have private clubs in America that can discriminate based on race. But I think what‘s important about this debate is not written into any specific “gotcha” on this, but asking the question: what about freedom of speech? Should we limit speech from people we find abhorrent? Should we limit racists from speaking?…

Maddow: … There were businesses that were saying black people cannot be served here and the federal government stepped in and said, no, you actually don‘t have that choice to make. … Which side of that debate would you put yourself on?

Paul: In the totality of it, I‘m in favor of the federal government being involved in civil rights and that‘s, you know, mostly what the Civil Rights Act was about. And that was ending institutional racism. …

[T]here‘s 10 different titles, you know, to the Civil Rights Act, and nine out of 10 deal with public institutions. And I‘m absolutely in favor of one deals with private institutions, and had I been around, I would have tried to modify that. But you know, the other thing about legislation—and this is why it‘s a little hard to say exactly where you are sometimes, is that when you support nine out of 10 things in a good piece of legislation, do you vote for it or against it? And I think, sometimes, those are difficult situations.

What I was asked by “The Courier-Journal” and I stick by it is that I do defend and believe that the government should not be involved with institutional racism or discrimination or segregation in schools, bussing, all those things. But had I been there, there would have been some discussion over one of the titles of the civil rights.

And I think that‘s a valid point, and still a valid discussion, because the thing is, is if we want to harbor in on private businesses and their policies, then you have to have the discussion about: do you want to abridge the First Amendment as well. …

Bad Unemployment Still Exaggerated

On CNN’s "State of the Union," Republican Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California falsely claimed that the U.S. unemployment rate has been "above 9 percent" for two consecutive years:

McCarthy: This is the first Congress for the last — since the Depression, for the entire two years, where unemployment has been above 9 percent.

That’s not so, according to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data. The nation’s unemployment rate has been above 9 percent for only 15 months, going back to May 2009. In March and April 2009, the unemployment rate was close to 9 percent. But even if we generously included those two months, McCarthy would still be seven months short of being correct.

Before the most recent 15-month streak, there was a 19-month stretch from March 1982 to September 1983, when the unemployment rate was 9 percent or higher. And during the Great Depression, the annual unemployment rate was 9 percent or more for 11 consecutive years from 1931 to 1941. (BLS only has month-by-month unemployment rates going back to 1948.) The annual unemployment rate was actually 20 percent or more for each year from 1932 to 1935.

McCarthy’s claim could eventually prove to be true: A number of economic forecasters expect that the unemployment rate will stay above 9 percent through at least November, and possibly well into 2011.

Who ‘Torpedoed’ the Immigration Bill?

On "Face the Nation," Ed Gillespie, a former chairman of the Republican National Committee, gave then-Sen. Barack Obama too much blame (or credit, depending on your point of view) for killing the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2007.

In a brief discussion over the failure of Congress to pass a comprehensive immigration bill, Gillespie said: "President Obama torpedoed the immigration reform bill. When he was senator, President Obama torpedoed the bill in the Senate."

Gillespie was cut off before he could explain further. We called him to find out what he meant. He said he was referring to Obama’s support for amendments that were opposed by a bipartisan group of senators who had negotiated the tentative immigration deal. In particular, Gillespie said Obama supported a "poison pill amendment" backed by labor unions that effectively killed the bill.

This is a claim that Sen. John McCain made during his 2008 presidential campaign as well. McCain ran an ad on Spanish-language stations that blamed "Obama and his congressional allies" for "poison pills that made immigration reform fail."

It is true that Obama voted for an amendment, sponsored by Democratic Sen. Byron Dorgan of North Dakota and supported by labor unions, that would have ended the temporary worker program after five years. Business groups and some Republicans supported the temporary worker program as a way to increase the labor pool, but unions opposed it for fear it would take jobs from U.S. citizens and drive down wages.

The Dorgan amendment was opposed by the bill’s chief negotiators — Sens. Edward Kennedy, a Democrat, and Arlen Specter, who was a Republican at the time — for fear it would undermine the bill. It passed June 6, 2007, by a single vote, 49-48, so Obama’s vote was critical. Specter called the addition of the amendment to the bill a "tremendous problem." 

The immigration bill failed a crucial test vote just a day after the Dorgan amendment was added. The bill’s supporters sought to end debate on the bill and bring it up for a final floor vote, but they fell far short of the 60 votes they needed — gaining only 34 votes. Sen. Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, who was among a small group of pro-business Republicans considering voting for the bill, voted against ending the filibuster — calling the Dorgan amendment a "poison pill." 

The bill died for good June 28, when there was a second attempt to bring debate to a close and vote on the bill. That attempt failed by 14 votes. In the end, groups as disparate as the AFL-CIO and the conservative Heritage Foundation opposed it and praised its defeat.

The bill failed so badly that it is hard to say that any one person "torpedoed the bill," especially a person who voted twice to bring the bill to the floor for a vote. The Washington Times gave credit to Republican Sens. Tom Coburn, Jim DeMint and David Vitter for leading opposition to the bill, so it depends on your perspective. As the Washington Post wrote of the bill’s final defeat:

Washington Post, June 29, 2007: In truth, opposition to the bill was far more complex than proponents were letting on. In crafting a delicate compromise, the bill’s 12 architects created a measure that was reviled by foes of illegal immigration, opposed by most labor unions and unloved by immigration advocates. Opposition came not only from radio hosts such as Rush Limbaugh and Michael Savage but also from the American Civil Liberties Union and the AFL-CIO.