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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Pre-Thanksgiving Leftovers

The latest GOP debate was thin on memorable moments or major factual bloopers, but we do have some leftover claims to dispute before we shut down for the Thanksgiving holiday. We wouldn’t want anybody’s turkey dinner to be spoiled by worries that terrorists have come over the border with Mexico, for example. We also found misstatements about an oil pipeline, presidential contacts with Iran and cuts to the defense budget.

The two-hour debate was held in Washington, D.C., on Nov. 22 and was televised on CNN. It focused on national security. The usual eight Republican presidential candidates participated.

Terrorists from South of the Border

Former Godfather’s Pizza CEO Herman Cain overstated the entry of terrorists into the U.S. through the border with Mexico.

Cain: Number one, we know that terrorists have come into this country by way of Mexico.

Actually, there’s no evidence of terrorists entering the country through Mexico. U.S. officials have certainly expressed concern about terrorists, or those with terrorist ties, using the U.S.-Mexico border to gain entry to the United States, but, according to a Houston Chronicle investigation published in March, no suspect has been charged with a terrorist-related crime.

Houston Chronicle, March 28: An independent analysis by Vanderbilt political science and law professor Carol M. Swain and Saurabh Sharad found a 67 percent increase in the number of arrests of border crossers from suspect nations — up from 213 in 2000 to 355 in 2009.

Yet none of these suspects has faced terror-related charges or carried out a terrorist act, according to senior federal law enforcement officials who have checked government records. …

“I’m not aware that anyone who has committed a terrorist act in the United States had crossed the southwest border,” a senior official with Immigration and Customs Enforcement told the Houston Chronicle, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Also, the Department of Homeland Security has said that the bigger threat is along the northern border with Canada.

Government Accountability Office report, December 2010: Historically, the United States has focused attention and resources primarily on the U.S. border with Mexico, which continues to experience significantly higher levels of drug trafficking and illegal immigration than the U.S.-Canadian border. However, DHS reports that the terrorist threat on the northern border is higher, given the large expanse of area with limited law enforcement coverage. There is also a great deal of trade and travel across this border, and while legal trade is predominant, DHS reports networks of illicit criminal activity and smuggling of drugs, currency, people, and weapons between the two countries.

Cain would have been correct to say that there is great concern about terrorists possibly using the Mexican border to gain entry, or recruiting accomplices from countries south of the border. An Iranian plot to assassinate the Saudi Arabian ambassador to the U.S. was foiled this fall after the Iranian-American, and Texas resident, involved in the scheme asked a person he thought to be a member of a Mexican drug cartel to help with the assassination. The supposed cartel member was an informant for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.

Also, a controversial Muslim cleric was arrested in January while trying to sneak into California in the trunk of a car. The cleric – who once led a Muslim congregation in Montreal – had been deported from Canada to his home country of Tunisia three years earlier.

Bachmann on Pipeline

Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota got it wrong when she said President Obama had “canceled” an oil pipeline from Canada.

Bachmann: [E]nergy independence is something that President Obama certainly has avoided. … [A]lmost every decision that the president has made since he came in has been one to put the United States in a position of unilateral disarmament including the most recent decision he made to cancel the Keystone Pipeline.

In fact, the Keystone XL Pipeline extension has been delayed, not canceled.

The president issued a statement supporting the delay, which the State Department announced Nov. 10, citing the need for an “in-depth assessment of potential alternative routes in Nebraska.” On Nov. 14 the developer announced it would change the route of the pipeline to avoid Nebraska’s sensitive Sandhills area, and said it was confident the project would ultimately be approved. On Nov. 15, Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman (a Republican) praised the State Department’s action and called the re-routing a “common sense solution.” And on Nov. 22 — just hours before Bachmann spoke — the governor signed two bills that enacted a compromise agreed upon with the pipeline builder to move the route, and approved up to $2 million in state funding for an environmental study.

Bachmann on Obama Meeting with Iran

Bachmann got it wrong again when she claimed that the president met with Iranian officials.

Bachmann: President Obama has — has failed the American people because for two and a half years he gave the Iran the luxury of time.

He met with them with no preconditions. It’s the doctrine of appeasement.

It’s true that the administration has had diplomatic contacts with Iran, to be sure. And during the 2008 presidential campaign, candidate Obama said he would meet with leaders of Iran and other hostile nations “without preconditions” during his first year in office, a position he later fudged. But the fact is he has yet to meet with Iranian officials, with or without conditions.

Bachmann knows this perfectly well, as she acknowledged to the editorial board of the Des Moines Register on Nov. 16, when she corrected herself after making the claim that the president had met personally with Iranians. She said: “It was naive at best and deadly foolish at worst for the president to meet with Iran with no pre-conditions. That was unprecedented.” Then a moment later (at 22:55 on the digital recording), she said, “So the president sat down and met with them, or I should say, the administration met with them.” And that’s indeed what she should have said, then and at the Nov. 22 debate, if she wanted to be truthful.

Romney on Defense Cuts

Mitt Romney mistakenly attributed a decision to halt production of F-22 fighter jets to an unrelated debt ceiling deal reached last summer that cut $350 billion from the defense budget. The decision on F-22s was made back in the summer of 2009.

Romney: Let’s just talk about what they’re cutting with the first $350 billion, not the next 600 which is coming down the road. The first $350 billion, what do they cut? They stopped the F-22. They delayed aircraft carriers. They stopped the Navy cruiser system. They said long range Air Force bombers aren’t going to be built. They’re trying to cut our troops by 50,000. The list goes on. They’re cutting programs that are cutting the capacity of America to defend itself.

By way of background, the initial debt ceiling deal reached this summer by Congress — and signed by Obama — included an agreement to reduce the federal deficit by $1 trillion over the next 10 years, with about $350 billion of those cuts coming from the Pentagon.

The supercommittee this week failed to reach a compromise on how to cut the federal budget by an additional $1.5 trillion, triggering another $600 billion in defense cuts over the next decade (which may or may not actually happen).

But Romney was talking about that first $350 billion. The former Massachusetts governor spoke definitively about where those cuts would come from, but the Pentagon will ultimately decide where the cuts will be made. And those decisions have not yet been reached.

According to an Aug. 4 story in the New York Times, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta “declined to say where about $350 billion in defense budget cuts over the next 10 years would come from. But defense officials say there could be reductions in major weapons programs, cuts in the size of the armed forces, and increased premiums for the military’s health care system, Tricare.”

Panetta more recently warned that the additional cuts triggered by the supercommittee’s failure “would have devastating effects on our national defense.”

This week, the New York Times spoke to defense analysts about where the additional $600 billion in cuts might come from:

New York Times, Nov. 22:  They laid out the possibility of cutbacks to most weapons programs, a further reduction in the size of the Army, large layoffs among the Defense Department’s 700,000 civilian employees and reduced military training time — such as on aircraft like the F-22 advanced jet fighter, which flies at Mach 2 and costs $18,000 an hour to operate, mostly because of the price of fuel.

Other possibilities include cutting the number of aircraft carriers to 10 from 11 — the United States still has more than any other country — as well as increased fees for the military’s generous health care system, changes in military retirement, base closings around the country and delayed maintenance on ships and buildings.

But again, those were possibilities discussed for the additional $600 billion in defense cuts.

Moreover, the initial $350 billion in cuts had nothing to do with the decision to halt production of F-22s. The Times story raises the possibility of less training time using
existing F-22s, but the decision to halt production of additional F-22s
was an independent decision signed off on by the Senate — at the urging of Obama and then Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates — in the summer of 2009, two full years before the debt ceiling agreement. So Romney was wrong that the administration “stopped the F-22” as a result of the initial $350 billion in cuts.

— Brooks Jackson, Lori Robertson and Robert Farley