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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

FactChecking the GOP Responses

There were multiple official and unofficial Republican responses to President Obama’s State of the Union address, but only a few instances of the president’s critics stretching the facts:

  • Sen. Ted Cruz falsely claimed that “not a word was said about radical Islamic terrorism.” In fact, Obama vowed to combat “violent extremism” and asked for congressional authority to use force against the Islamic State.
  • Cruz also said Obama “could not bring himself even to bring” up the president’s executive action on immigration. But he did. Obama said he would veto legislation that attempts to undo it.
  • Sen. Rand Paul said “liberal elites” wanted to regulate “what light bulbs we can use.” Actually, GOP President George W. Bush signed a bill that phased out traditional incandescent bulbs, in favor of more energy efficient ones.

Cruz: ‘What I Saw’

Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst gave the official GOP response. But “rather than respond to a speech,” as she put it, the freshman senator focused much of her short speech on her personal background and general statements of support for “your priorities.”

Two likely presidential candidates — Cruz and Paul — gave more forceful speeches attacking the president’s leadership.

Cruz gave what his aides called an “impromptu video response” to the State of the Union address that was posted on the senator’s Facebook page. It was one of five videotaped GOP responses (six if you count the first aborted attempt by Cruz).

In his video, Cruz criticized Obama’s speech for failing to address terrorism and immigration — except that the president did discuss both.

Cruz claimed “not a word was said about radical Islamic terrorism.” That’s false.

Cruz, Jan. 20: Tonight not a word was said about radical Islamic terrorism. Those words did not come out of the president’s mouth. We cannot win a war on radical Islamic terrorism with a president unwilling to even say the words “radical Islamic terrorism.”

While it is true that Obama did not utter the phrase “radical Islamic terrorism,” the president did use the phrase “violent extremism” and asked for congressional authority to use force against the Islamic State, a radical Islamic terrorist group that the president referred to in his speech as ISIL (Islamic State of Iraq and Levant).

Obama, Jan. 20: In Iraq and Syria, American leadership — including our military power — is stopping ISIL’s advance. Instead of getting dragged into another ground war in the Middle East, we are leading a broad coalition, including Arab nations, to degrade and ultimately destroy this terrorist group. (Applause.) We’re also supporting a moderate opposition in Syria that can help us in this effort, and assisting people everywhere who stand up to the bankrupt ideology of violent extremism.

Now, this effort will take time. It will require focus. But we will succeed. And tonight, I call on this Congress to show the world that we are united in this mission by passing a resolution to authorize the use of force against ISIL. We need that authority.

Obama’s critics, including Cruz, have frequently chided the president for not using certain phrases, such as “war against terror” and “radical Islamic terrorism.” The president broadly addressed that in an interview early in his administration with Hisham Melhem of Al Arabiya, a news agency that covers the Middle East.

Melhem, Jan. 26, 2009: President Bush framed the war on terror conceptually in a way that was very broad, “war on terror,” and used sometimes certain terminology that the many people — Islamic fascism. You’ve always framed it in a different way, specifically against one group called al Qaeda and their collaborators. And is this one way of —

Obama: I think that you’re making a very important point. And that is that the language we use matters. And what we need to understand is, is that there are extremist organizations — whether Muslim or any other faith in the past — that will use faith as a justification for violence. We cannot paint with a broad brush a faith as a consequence of the violence that is done in that faith’s name.

Regardless of what language he did or didn’t use, the president directly addressed what Cruz calls “radical Islamic terrorism.”

On immigration, Cruz said the president “could not bring himself even to bring” up the executive action that he took on immigration. The president’s actions, as we have written, provide a three-year reprieve from deportation for parents who are in the country illegally but who have children who are U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents.

Cruz, Jan. 20: Tonight it was also striking the president did not mention his illegal and unconstitutional executive amnesty. He issued that in defiance of the voters, in defiance of the constitution and in defiance of the law, and yet when he stood in the state of the union he could not bring himself even to bring it up. It underscores the obligation of Republicans in Congress to honor the promises we made.

But Obama did bring it up. It’s just that Obama didn’t say what Cruz would have liked. Obama said he would veto any legislation that attempts to undo his actions on immigration, health care and financial regulations.

Obama, Jan. 20: We can’t put the security of families at risk by taking away their health insurance, or unraveling the new rules on Wall Street, or refighting past battles on immigration when we’ve got to fix a broken system. And if a bill comes to my desk that tries to do any of these things, I will veto it. It will have earned my veto.

At the end of his video response, Cruz said: “That’s what I saw tonight.” We don’t know what Cruz saw, but we can say what Obama said in his speech.

Paul: ‘Liberal’ Light Bulbs

In his YouTube video response to Obama’s State of the Union, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul said “liberal elites” wanted to regulate “what light bulbs we can use.” Actually, it was a 2007 energy bill, signed by President George W. Bush, that phased out traditional incandescent bulbs, in favor of more energy efficient ones.

Congress passed the Energy Independence and Security Act on Dec. 18, 2007, and Bush signed it the following day. It passed with widespread support — the final vote in the Senate was 86 to 8, and 314 to 100 in the House — but Republicans have fought implementation of the law as its requirements were taking effect in recent years. Obama first signed a spending bill in December 2011 that delayed enforcement of the new efficiency standards.

We explained in May 2011 that instead of traditional incandescent bulbs, consumers would have to buy LEDS, halogen incandescent or compact fluorescent bulbs. Products that manufacturers, who support the 2007 standards, have been producing. Incandescent light bulbs aren’t banned but now must be between 25 percent and 30 percent more efficient.

While spending bills have continued to include riders blocking the Department of Energy from using funding to enforce the 2007 regulations on light bulbs, those provisions haven’t repealed the efficiency standards themselves. The National Electrical Manufacturers Association said in a 2011 press release that manufacturers had “invested millions of dollars in transitioning to energy efficient lighting” because of the 2007 law, and the group opposes the spending bill provisions to prohibit enforcement. “Delay in enforcement undermines those investments and creates regulatory uncertainty,” NEMA said.

The Obama administration certainly supports the energy efficiency standards for light bulbs. Way back in 2007, when he was on the campaign trail, Obama said he wanted to “phase out all incandescent light bulbs,” a promise our colleagues at Politifact have rated a “compromise” due to the 2007 legislation before he took office and Obama’s efforts to make florescent tube lamps and incandescent reflector lamps more efficient. But Paul, and other Republicans, have continued to blame Obama for regulating light bulbs, when the legislation affecting the common incandescent bulb was signed by Bush.

In his 2012 response to the State of the Union, then-Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels made a similar misleading remark about Obama and light bulbs, and the same year then-Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney wrongly claimed “Obama’s regulators” had “banned” the incandescent bulb. He earned three Pinocchios for that one from the Washington Post‘s Fact Checker.

— Eugene Kiely and Lori Robertson