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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Christie ‘Strains’ the Facts

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie was wrong when he claimed in a speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference that no “pro-life Democrat” has ever been allowed to speak at a Democratic National Convention.

In an attempt to turn the tables on those who call the Republican Party intolerant, Christie relayed an exchange he had with a reporter (at the 1:01:57 mark).

Christie, March 6: And this is what I mean about the media. I got asked a question last year: “Governor, you’re very popular in a blue state. How can you export that to the rest of the country given the intolerance on social issues in your party?” And I said, “Well, let me ask you a question. You say the Republicans are intolerant. Well, I’ll just tell you this, at our national convention, we’ve had people like Tom Ridge and Colin Powell and Condi Rice speak at our national conventions, even though our party platform, and I, don’t agree with their position on abortion. Tell me, sir, the last pro-life Democrat who was allowed to speak at a Democratic convention?” And I said, “By the way, don’t strain yourself, because there’s never been one.” They’re the party of intolerance, not us.

Christie’s claim about anti-abortion Democrats is false. Democratic Sen. Bob Casey Jr. — who began an op-ed last year, “I am a pro-life senator” — delivered a prime time address during the 2008 Democratic National Convention.

In fact, he said this:

Casey, Aug. 26, 2008: Barack Obama and I have an honest disagreement on the issue of abortion. But the fact that I’m speaking here tonight is testament to Barack’s ability to show respect for the views of people who may disagree with him.

Another featured speaker at the 2008 Democratic National Convention was Sen. Joe Manchin, then governor of West Virginia and chair of the Democratic Governors Association. In 2011, Manchin said from the floor of the Senate, “I am pro-life, and proud of it,” though he did not raise the issue in his speech at the convention. Also in 2008, former Indiana U.S. Rep. Timothy Roemer, a Catholic Democrat who is against abortion, was among those who participated in a panel at the Democratic convention that sought to find “common ground on abortion.”

And an Interfaith Gathering was held on the opening day of that convention, during which Bishop Charles Blake made the following anti-abortion appeal:

Blake, Aug. 24, 2008: Our children have sacred value, and every child is equally valuable.

May I observe, as a pro-life Democrat, that some of us have philosophic, humanitarian and theological differences with those who put forth abortion as an appropriate, routine and acceptable birth control procedure. There are millions of us who would hold that such a position conflicts with our conviction regarding our sacred responsibility to our youth and to human life itself.

Surely we cannot be pleased with the routine administration of millions of surgically terminated pregnancies. Something within all of us must be calling for a better way. If we do not resist at this point, at what point will we resist?

We know that our party will understand and acknowledge the moral and spiritual pain that so many feel because of this disregard for the lives of the unborn.

Those of us who support the Democratic Party, despite our disagreement on this issue, do so because the Democratic Party articulate and pursues more of the positions that are relevant to the lives and circumstances of our people, the people of America in general, and the people of the world. …

Although no elected anti-abortion Democrat delivered an address at the most recent Democratic National Convention in 2012, one of the convention speakers was Sister Simone Campbell, executive director of the Roman Catholic social justice organization NETWORK. And she expressed her “pro-life” position.

Campbell, Sept. 5, 2012: The Affordable Care Act will cover people like Margaret. We all share responsibility to ensure that this vital health care reform law is properly implemented and that all governors expand Medicaid coverage so no more Margarets die from lack of care. This is part of my pro-life stance and the right thing to do.

Kristen Day, executive director of Democrats for Life of America, told us that while the Democratic conventions have become less welcoming to those who oppose abortion rights, it’s simply not true that anti-abortion Democrats have not been allowed to speak at conventions. Christie’s error, she said, is likely linked to the controversy surrounding anti-abortion Pennsylvania Gov. Bob Casey Sr. (father of Sen. Bob Casey Jr.) being denied a speaking spot at the 1992 Democratic National Convention.

Casey Sr. alleged in the Wall Street Journal that “the party denied me … the right to speak because I am pro-life and planned to say so from the podium.” That account was disputed by some in the party who claimed Casey was denied a speaking slot for the sole reason that he did not endorse the Clinton-Gore ticket.

“It’s just not factual!” Clinton campaign manager James Carville told the New Republic of Casey’s claim. “You’d have to be idiotic to give a speaking role to a person who hadn’t even endorsed you.” The 1996 New Republic article noted that “a slew of pro-life Democrats, including Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley, Sens. John Breaux and Howell Heflin, and five governors, did address the delegates in 1992.” The article noted that those speakers “didn’t dwell on abortion.”

We note that none of the three speakers at Republican conventions who were mentioned by Christie — Tom Ridge in 2000 and 2008, Colin Powell in 1996 and 2000, and Condoleezza Rice in 2012 — made abortion rights a focus of those addresses either. But in his 1996 speech, Powell stated, “You all know that I believe in a woman’s right to choose and I strongly support affirmative action. And, I was invited here by my party to share my views with you because we are a big enough party — and big enough people — to disagree on individual issues and still work together for our common goal: restoring the American dream.” The comment earned Powell some “scattered boos from the convention floor,” according to the Baltimore Sun.

Correction, March 7: In our original story, we incorrectly stated that none of the three speakers at Republican conventions who were mentioned by Christie referenced the abortion issue. However, as the report now reflects, Powell did state in his 1996 speech, “I believe in a woman’s right to choose.” (Our fact-checking colleague at the Washington Post, Glenn Kessler, gets a h/t for spotting our error.)

— Robert Farley