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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

The Final Iowa Debate

The final Republican presidential debate in advance of the Jan. 3 first-in-the-nation Iowa party caucuses produced a few claims we found worthy of quibbling over. Gingrich challenged Bachmann’s factual accuracy regarding the former speaker’s record on abortion — but we found Bachmann was mostly correct. On the other hand, Bachmann used an inflated jobs figure when she criticized Obama’s decision to delay approval of a Canadian oil pipeline through the U.S.

Seven Republican presidential candidates debated Dec. 15 at the Sioux City Convention Center: Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, Gov. Rick Perry of Texas, former Gov. Mitt Romney of Massachusetts, and former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania.

We’re still reviewing some of the claims for accuracy, and may post more findings in the days to come. Meanwhile, here’s what we found so far:

Bachmann vs. Gingrich on Abortion

During a sharp exchange over abortion, Gingrich accused Bachmann of not getting her “facts very accurate” and the Minnesota congresswoman insisted “my facts are accurate.” She was right — although her facts could have used some important context.

Bachmann criticized Gingrich’s leadership as House speaker on two fronts: federal funding for Planned Parenthood and so-called “partial-birth” abortion.

Bachmann: When Speaker Gingrich was speaker of the House he had an opportunity to defund Planned Parenthood, and he chose not to take it. That is a big issue. And also what I think is even more troubling, when he was in Washington, D.C., he made an affirmative statement that he would not only support but he would campaign for Republicans who were in support of the barbaric procedure known as partial-birth abortion. I could never do that. …

Gingrich: Sometimes Congresswoman Bachmann doesn’t get her facts very accurate.

Gingrich launched into a defense of his abortion record without addressing either Planned Parenthood or “partial-birth” abortion. Bachmann responded with outrage. “I think it is outrageous to say over and over through the debates that I don’t have my facts right when as a matter of fact I do,” she said.

On the abortion claim, Bachmann is referring to an intra-party dispute over “partial-birth” abortion in 1998.

Anti-abortion forces pressed the Republican National Committee to cut off funding for Republicans who did not support a ban on “partial-birth” abortions. Gingrich opposed such procedures, but he also opposed efforts to deny funding to Republican congressional candidates who had won their party’s nomination. At the RNC winter meeting on Jan. 16, 1998, Gingrich and other GOP congressional leaders argued that it would hurt the party in the general election and, ultimately, cost the GOP control of Congress and dash any hope of passing a ban on the late-term abortions. (At this point, President Clinton had twice vetoed the legislation, but the GOP-controlled Congress could not override his vetoes.)

The RNC sided with Gingrich and other party leaders and voted against the so-called abortion litmus test. Prior to the vote, Gingrich invoked Ronald Reagan’s name in seeking to unify the party in opposition to the litmus test, as CNN reported at the time. Gingrich said “our focus should be on why is he (Clinton) stopping this legitimate ban of an inappropriate act, rather than allowing the news media to have a field day trying to divide us.”

According to a recent item by conservative blogger Jennifer Rubin in the Washington Post, Gingrich also said at the RNC meeting that he would “actively campaign” for all Republican nominees — even those who “are to my left.”

Des Moines Register, Nov. 28: Gingrich addressed the RNC meeting on Jan. 16, 1998, calling for tolerance of candidates who support partial-birth abortion, saying he would campaign for them: “It’s the voters of America who have a right — in some places they’re going to pick people who are to my right, some places they’re going to pick people who are to my left and in both cases, if they’re the Republican nominee, I am going to actively campaign for them, because when they get to Congress, whether they are a moderate Republican from the northeast, whether they are a very conservative Republican from the south or west, whatever their background.”

That promise is what Bachmann is talking about.

Gingrich did later explain his position during the intra-party dispute over the “partial-birth” abortion ban. He said he did not want to “purge Republicans,” and he questioned whether someone can govern the nation “when you run around and decide who you are going to purge.” He did not challenge Bachmann’s statement on Planned Parenthood, so we will not get into that — except to say that other conservatives, including Christian broadcaster James Dobson — have criticized Gingrich on this point.

Bachmann’s Inflated Jobs Claim

Bachmann criticized President Obama’s decision to delay the Keystone XL oil pipeline, saying the president’s efforts to appease “radical environmentalists” came at the expense of building a pipeline “that would have brought at least 20,000 jobs.” But that jobs figure is inflated.

That jobs estimate — widely cited by proponents of the pipeline — comes from a report commissioned by the company pushing the pipeline, and it is based on “person-year” jobs, the equivalent of one full-time job for one year. If the same person works the same job for two years,  it is counted as two person-year jobs. The State Department in August estimated the number of direct jobs created by the Keystone pipeline at a much more modest 5,000 to 6,000.

Last month, FactCheck.org corrected Bachmann’s claim in a Nov. 22 debate that President Obama had “canceled” the oil pipeline from Canada. In fact, the Keystone XL pipeline extension has been delayed, not canceled, to give the government time to review an alternative route proposed to avoid Nebraska’s sensitive Sandhills area.

In making her pitch during the Fox News debate for immediate approval of the pipeline, which would extend from Canada to the Gulf Coast, Bachmann cited job creation figures that have been used frequently by proponents of the pipeline.

Alex Pourbaix, president of Energy and Oil Pipelines for TransCanada Corp., the company proposing the pipeline, cited the 20,000 jobs figure in testimony before a House subcommittee on energy and power on Dec. 2.

Pourbaix, Dec. 2: Construction of the segment from Cushing to the Gulf Coast would have created over 4,000 construction jobs next year in Oklahoma and Texas, pipe fitters, welders, mechanics, electricians, heavy equipment operators, etc. in Engineering, Land, Environment, Surveying and other construction areas. Construction of the segment in Montana, South Dakota and Nebraska would have created an additional 9,000 construction jobs. Also, there are 7,000 manufacturing jobs associated with the project. In its entirety Keystone XL was poised to put 20,000 Americans to work to construct the pipeline.

That estimate was based on an economic impact analysis performed by The Perryman Group, a Texas company commissioned by TransCanada.

But a closer examination of those job projections shows the figures were presented in their best possible light. According to a Washington Post investigation of the jobs numbers, TransCanada chief executive Russ Girling said the 13,000 direct construction jobs were one person, one year, “meaning that if the construction jobs lasted two years, the number of people employed in each of the two years would be 6,500.”

The Washington Post story noted that with regard to the projected 7,000 jobs to supply manufacturers, opponents of the pipeline noted that many of the indirect supply jobs would be outside the United States.

For a more impartial jobs estimate, we turn to the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs, which issued a report on the pipeline on Aug. 26, and concluded, “The construction work force would consist of approximately 5,000 to 6,000 workers, including Keystone employees, contractor employees, and construction and environmental inspection staff.”

Huntsman on Oil & Gas

Huntsman claimed that the U.S. has more natural gas than Saudi Arabia has oil. But that’s not accurate, according to Steven Grape of the Energy Information Administration.

Huntsman: We wake up to the reality in this country, that we have more natural gas than Saudi Arabia has oil.

Grape told PolitiFact.com that “we don’t have more natural gas in this country than Saudi Arabia has oil, but we produce more natural gas in this country per year than Saudi Arabia produces oil.”

Saudi Arabia had about 263 billion barrels of proved oil reserves in 2011, according to EIA figures. The U.S. had about 284 trillion cubic feet of proved natural gas reserves in 2009, the most recent year for which EIA has data. Grape said that 1 trillion cubic feet of natural gas is equal to 165 million barrels of oil. That means that the proved natural gas reserves of the U.S. amount to only 46.9 billion barrels of oil, or about 18 percent of Saudi Arabia’s proved oil reserves.

But U.S. production of natural gas amounts to 12.14 million barrels each day, according to Grape. Which is more than Saudi Arabia’s daily amount of 9.8 million barrels of oil in 2009.

Bachmann vs. Paul on Iran

Bachmann and Paul had a heated exchange over Iran’s nuclear weapon capability. Bachmann said that the International Atomic Energy Agency said that “Iran is within just months” of being able to have a nuclear weapon. Paul said that wasn’t true. He said that there was “no U.N. report that said that,” adding that “they have no evidence.”

In a way, both candidates are right, and both go a bit too far with their statements. The IAEA report, released in early November, said there was strong concern that Iran could develop a nuclear weapon and that it had, in fact, “carried out activities relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device.” But the report didn’t say that Iran was definitely building a nuclear weapon now.

IAEA report, Nov. 8: The Agency has serious concerns regarding possible military dimensions to Iran’s nuclear programme. After assessing carefully and critically the extensive information available to it, the Agency finds the information to be, overall, credible. The information indicates that Iran has carried out activities relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device.

The report itself also didn’t say that Iran was “within just months” of getting a nuclear weapon, as Bachmann said, but unnamed sources familiar with the report told the Los Angeles Times that before the document was released.

Los Angeles Times, Nov. 7: United Nations nuclear inspectors have concluded that Iran has acquired the technical means to design a nuclear weapon and would require about six months to enrich uranium to the quality needed for a bomb if it decided to do so, according to officials familiar with the evidence.

The Times story also said: “The IAEA report provides no ‘smoking gun’ proof that Iran’s government intends to build a nuclear weapon, said a European diplomat.” So, the country potentially would be months away from building a weapon, if it chose to do so, according to the Times‘ unnamed sources.

But Bachmann gives the impression that Iran is actively working toward having that weapon within months, and the IAEA said it could not say for certain whether all of Iran’s nuclear activities were peaceful. “[T]he Agency is unable to provide credible assurance about the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities in Iran, and therefore to conclude that all nuclear material in Iran is in peaceful activities,” the report said.

At the same time, Paul plays down the concern over Iran’s ability to build a nuclear weapon, if it wanted it. Paul claimed that Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said that “there is no evidence” of Iran actively building a nuclear weapon. It’s true that Clapper said there wasn’t definitive proof that Iran would build a weapon, but he also said that Iran was keeping the option open.

Clapper, Senate testimony, March 10, 2011: We continue to assess Iran is keeping open the option to develop nuclear weapons in part by developing various nuclear capabilities that better position it to produce such weapons, should it choose to do so. We do not know, however, if Iran will eventually decide to build nuclear weapons.

Clapper said that “Iran is technically capable of producing enough highly enriched uranium for a weapon in the next few years, if it chooses to do so.”

Gingrich on ‘Right Wing Social Engineering’

Gingrich implausibly claimed he was not referring to Rep. Paul Ryan when making his critical comment about “right-wing social engineering.”

Gingrich: If you go back and look at the ‘Meet the Press’ quote, it didn’t reference him.

That’s just not true. In a May 15 interview, “Meet the Press” host David Gregory asked two questions about Ryan’s Medicare plan. First, Gregory asked whether it was smart to “buck the public opposition and really move forward to completely change Medicare,” describing Ryan’s plan in some detail (“a voucher program where you give seniors some premium support … so that they can go out and buy private insurance”). Gingrich responded by making his now-infamous comment about “right-wing social engineering.”

That’s not all. Gingrich also called Ryan’s plan “too big a jump” when Gregory sought to clarify that Gingrich did not support “what Paul Ryan is suggesting.” Here is the full exchange.

Gregory, May 15: Do you think that Republicans ought to buck the public opposition and really move forward to completely change Medicare, turn it into a voucher program where you give seniors…

Gingrich: Right.

Gregory: …some premium support and — so that they can go out and buy private insurance?

Gingrich: I don’t think right-wing social engineering is any more desirable than left-wing social engineering. I don’t think imposing radical change from the right or the left is a very good way for a free society to operate. I think we need a national conversation to get to a better Medicare system with more choices for seniors. But there are specific things you can do. At the Center for Health Transformation, which I helped found, we published a book called “Stop Paying the Crooks.” We thought that was a clear enough, simple enough idea, even for Washington. We — between Medicare and Medicaid, we pay between $70 billion and $120 billion a year to crooks. And IBM has agreed to help solve it, American Express has agreed to help solve it, Visa’s agreed to help solve it. You can’t get anybody in this town to look at it. That’s, that’s almost $1 trillion over a decade. So there are things you can do to improve Medicare.

Gregory: But not what Paul Ryan is suggesting, which is completely changing Medicare.

Gingrich: I, I think that, I think, I think that that is too big a jump. I think what you want to have is a system where people voluntarily migrate to better outcomes, better solutions, better options, not one where you suddenly impose upon the — I don’t want to — I’m against Obamacare, which is imposing radical change, and I would be against a conservative imposing radical change.

Gingrich on Balancing the Budget

Gingrich twice used one of his favorite false talking points — that he helped balance the budget for four straight years. As we’ve said several times, Gingrich was in office for only two of those budget years (fiscal 1998 and 1999). But he continues to claim credit for two balanced budgets that were passed after he left office (fiscal 2000 and 2001). At the debate, he said he worked with a divided Congress and a Democratic president to get it done, claiming that “I actually worked things out with Bill Clinton to get welfare reform, a tax cut and four balanced budgets signed in a way that required bipartisanship.”

— Eugene Kiely, Lori Robertson, Robert Farley and D’Angelo Gore