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FactChecking the VP Debate

Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine and Republican Gov. Mike Pence twisted the facts in their sole debate.


FARMVILLE, Va. — Vice presidential candidates Mike Pence and Tim Kaine got their one chance to debate, and it was a fact-checking bonanza:

  • Pence said “that’s nonsense” after Kaine claimed Trump was proposing a “deportation force” to “go house to house” and send away millions of immigrants who are here illegally. Trump did say that.
  • Kaine claimed Pence was “the chief cheerleader for privatization” of Social Security. That’s misleading. Pence proposed voluntary private accounts, not a private-sector takeover.
  • Pence implied Clinton was wrong when she cited the fatal shooting of a black man by a black cop as a case of “implicit” bias. But research shows there can be implicit bias against members of the same racial group.
  • Kaine claimed that Trump’s plan would “raise taxes on the middle class.” That may be true for some middle-income taxpayers, but the Tax Foundation found that most would get a tax cut.
  • Pence said the Clinton Foundation gave less than 10 percent to “charitable organizations.” That’s misleading. One philanthropy watchdog said the foundation spent about 87 percent on charitable work.
  • Pence said, “The Trump Foundation is a private family foundation and they give virtually every cent to charitable causes.” But that’s far from true.
  • Kaine and Pence were both partly right and partly wrong in characterizing Donald Trump’s statements on other countries, including Japan and South Korea, getting nuclear weapons.
  • Pence denied that he said, as Kaine claimed, that Russian President Vladimir Putin was a “better leader” than President Obama. But Pence did say that Putin has been a “stronger leader.”
  • Kaine claimed that Trump said “we need to get rid of NATO.” Trump did say NATO is obsolete or may be, but he hasn’t said that the international security alliance should be eliminated.

We also flagged a host of repeated claims on job growth, Trump’s tax returns, abortion and more.

Note to Readers: Our managing editor, Lori Robertson, was at the debate at Longwood University. This story was written with the help of the entire staff, based in the Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., areas. Our annotated transcript of the debate can be found here.


The only 2016 debate between the vice presidential candidates was held at Longwood University on Oct. 4 and moderated by CBSN’s Elaine Quijano.

Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia, the Democratic vice presidential nominee, and Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, the Republican nominee, spoke little about themselves. Instead, they focused their attacks largely at the two candidates at the top of the ticket, Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton.

Deportation Force

Pence said “that’s nonsense” after Kaine claimed Trump was proposing a “deportation force” to “go house to house” and send away millions of immigrants who are here illegally. Trump did say that, although he has since backed away from it.

Kaine: These guys — and Donald Trump has said it — deportation force. They want to go house to house, school to school, business to business, and kick out 16 million people. And I cannot believe…

Pence: That’s nonsense. That’s nonsense. …Senator, we have a deportation force. It’s called Immigrations and Customs Enforcement.

Kaine: …So you like the 16 million deportations?

Pence: Senator, that’s — that’s nonsense.

Actually, Trump himself said last November in an interview on MSNBC, “You’re going to have a deportation force, and you’re going to do it humanely.”

“People will leave, people will leave, they’re going to go back where they came from. That’s the way it’s supposed to be,” Trump said. “They can come back, but they have to come back legally.”

Trump was speaking of those now living here illegally, currently estimated at about 11 million.

Later Trump laid out a plan to target about half that number for quick deportation – but stuck by his ultimate goal of deporting all. “Anyone who has entered the United States illegally is subject to deportation,” Trump said in a Sept. 1 speech in Arizona.

Trump also has said that the children of unauthorized immigrants would have to leave, even if they were born in the U.S. and are by law American citizens. On NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Aug. 16, 2015, Trump told Chuck Todd that “they have to go.”

Todd, Aug. 16, 2015: So you’re going to split up families? …

Trump: Chuck. No, no. We’re going to keep the families together. We have to keep the families together.

Todd: But you’re going to keep them together out–

Trump: But they have to go. But they have to go. …We will work with them. They have to go. Chuck, we either have a country or we don’t have a country.

If the U.S.-born children of illegal immigrants are also deported, the total could conceivably reach 16 million. The Pew Research Center estimated that in 2012, 4 million unauthorized-immigrant adults lived with one or more U.S.-born children.

So, “nonsense” or not, Trump indeed has called for a “deportation force” and the expulsion of many millions of unauthorized immigrants and even their U.S.-born children.

‘Chief Cheerleader for Privatization’

Kaine claimed that Pence was “the chief cheerleader for privatization” of Social Security. That’s misleading.

Kaine: When Congressman Pence was in Congress, he was the chief cheerleader for the privatization of social security, even after President Bush stopped pushing for it, congressman Pence kept pushing for it.

It would be correct to say that Pence, back in 2005, was willing to go further than President George W. Bush in establishing voluntary private accounts that would allow workers to invest a portion of their Social Security payroll taxes in diversified stock mutual funds similar to those the federal government runs for its own employees and retirees.

Pence was then chairman of the House Republican Study Committee, a group of conservative lawmakers who called for allowing workers to invest 6 percent of salary in private accounts, rather than the 4 percent proposed by Bush.

But as we’ve written before, it is a deception to call such a plan “privatization,” which implies turning the entire system over to the private sector. The private accounts then being proposed would have been purely voluntary, and would not have been available to anyone already retired or nearing retirement.

Implicit Bias

Pence implied Clinton was wrong when she cited the fatal shooting of an African-American man by an African-American cop as a case of “implicit,” or unconscious, bias. But research shows African Americans are not immune to this form of bias against members of their own racial group.

In his criticism of Clinton, Pence was referring to the shooting of Keith Lamont Scott by officer Brentley Vinson on Sept. 20 in Charlotte, North Carolina. Both men are African American.

When asked if “we ask too much of police officers in this country,” Pence responded by criticizing what Clinton said about the issue of law enforcement and race relations during the first presidential debate.

Pence, Oct. 4: Hillary Clinton actually referred to that moment [the Charlotte shooting] as an example of implicit bias in the police force … when she was asked in the debate a week ago whether there was implicit bias in law enforcement, her only answer was that there’s implicit bias in everyone in the United States. … Senator, when African-American police officers involved in a police action shooting involving an African-American, why would Hillary Clinton accuse that African-American police officer of implicit bias?

Pence was right that Clinton did say that she thinks “implicit bias is a problem for everyone, not just police.” And she did refer to the shooting in Charlotte that took place on Sept. 20 in passing during the debate.

But she didn’t directly accuse Brentley Vinson, the African-American police officer involved in the shooting of Keith Lamont Scott, an African-American man, of implicit bias.

Regardless, Pence was wrong when he implied that African Americans can’t be subject to implicit bias of other African Americans.

According to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, “implicit bias” refers “to relatively unconscious and relatively automatic features of prejudiced judgment and social behavior.” While implicit bias is a psychological mechanism that can influence judgments on a variety of topics, substantial research has concentrated on “implicit attitudes toward members of socially stigmatized groups, such as African-Americans, women, and the LGBTQ community.”

“Implicit bias” is opposed to “explicit bias,” or judgments a person consciously holds. In other words, it’s possible for a person to explicitly believe that white and black Americans should be treated equally, for example, but implicitly judge situations counter to that explicit belief.

Scientists at Harvard have used what they call an “Implicit Association Test” to quantify implicit bias by measuring “the strength of associations between concepts (e.g., black people, gay people) and evaluations (e.g., good, bad) or stereotypes (e.g., athletic, clumsy).”

The group has looked at a variety of biases, including those concerning racial issues, and found that “even numbers of Black respondents showing a pro-White bias as show a pro-Black bias.” They hypothesize that this bias “might be understood as Black respondents experiencing the similar negative associations about their group from experience in their cultural environments.”

So Pence was wrong when he implied that African Americans can’t experience implicit bias against members of their own racial group.

Trump’s Tax Plan

Kaine claimed that Trump’s plan would “raise taxes on the middle class.” An analysis of the Trump plan by a New York University professor found that some middle-income taxpayers would see a tax increase, but the Tax Foundation found that most middle-income taxpayers would get a tax cut.

Pence: Donald Trump and I are going to cut taxes. We’re going to — we’re going to …

Kaine: You’re not going to cut taxes. You’re going to raise taxes on the middle class.

Asked for backup for Kaine’s claim, the Clinton campaign pointed to a Vox article about an analysis of Trump’s tax plan by Lily L. Batchelder of the New York University School of Law. Batchelder concluded that Trump’s plan “would actually significantly raise taxes for millions of low- and middle-income families with children, with especially large tax increases for working single parents.”

In all, Batchelder estimated Trump’s plan would increase taxes for about 7.8 million families with minor children, or roughly 25 million individuals.

The business-backed Tax Foundation told us it was able to replicate a number of Batchelder’s results. But its full analysis of Trump’s plan — using the same assumptions as Batchelder — found Kaine’s comment was too sweeping.

“As our distributional tables show, the typical middle class family would get a net tax cut of several hundred dollars,” Alan Cole, an economist with the Tax Foundation, told us via email. “Simply put, the middle class as a whole would see a tax reduction, but some middle class families would see a tax increase.”

Batchelder’s analysis was about specific examples, Cole said, not the middle-income group at large.

Cole said Batchelder’s estimate of about 7.8 million households (with a total of 25 million individuals) “sounds about right to me,” but he noted that “the U.S. as a whole has about 319 million people.” That comes to a little less than 8 percent of the population.

“All in all we’re talking about a single-digit percentage of households,” Cole said. “Absolutely worth mentioning, but not ‘the middle class’ as a whole.”

Overall, the Tax Foundation concluded that Trump’s plan would cut taxes by between $4.4 trillion and $5.9 trillion over 10 years. It found that, on average, taxpayers would see a tax cut at every income level, but that the amount and percentage of tax cuts would be greatest for those with the highest incomes.

Clinton Foundation

Pence claimed that “less than 10 cents on the dollar in the Clinton Foundation has gone to charitable causes.” That’s misleading.

Pence is referring only to the amount donated by the Clinton Foundation to outside charities, ignoring the fact that most of the Clinton Foundation’s charitable work is performed in-house.

One independent philanthropy watchdog did an analysis of Clinton Foundation funding and concluded that about 87 percent of its funding went to charity.

Carly Fiorina made a similar comment during the Republican primary, and as we wrote at the time: “Simply put, despite its name, the Clinton Foundation is not a private foundation — which typically acts as a pass-through for private donations to other charitable organizations. Rather, it is a public charity. It conducts most of its charitable activities directly.”

Among its charitable activities: training rural farmers in Africa and helping them get access to seeds, equipment and markets for their crops; helping reforestation efforts in Africa and the Caribbean region; lowering the cost of  HIV/AIDS medicine in nations around the world; and working with local governments and businesses in the United States to develop wellness and physical activity plans.

The Clinton Foundation’s latest IRS Form 990 shows total revenue of nearly $178 million in 2014, and total outside charitable grant disbursements of about $5.1 million (see Part IX). That comes to less than 3 percent of the budget going to grants. It came to about 6 percent in 2013.

Katherina Rosqueta, the founding executive director of the Center for High Impact Philanthropy at the University of Pennsylvania, described the Clinton Foundation as an “operating foundation.”

“There is an important distinction between an operating foundation vs. a non-operating foundation,” Rosqueta told us back in June. “An operating foundation implements programs so money it raises is not designed to be used exclusively for grant-making purposes. When most people hear ‘foundation’, they think exclusively of a grant-making entity. In either case, the key is to understand how well the foundation uses money — whether to implement programs or to grant out to nonprofits — [to achieve] the intended social impact (e.g., improving education, creating livelihoods, improving health, etc.).”

According to Charity Navigator, the Clinton Foundation spends about 87 percent of its expenses on “programs and services it delivers.” It gives the Clinton Foundation an overall rating of Four Stars. Charity Watch gave the Clinton Foundation an “A” rating.

“The Clinton Foundation spends 87 percent of its budget on charitable work, as affirmed by independent charity watchdogs,” Brian Cookstra, a spokesman for the Clinton Foundation, told us in an email after the debate. “The Clinton Foundation is an operating foundation, which means our programs do the charitable work on the ground themselves. We are not a grant-making organization.”

Pence said the Clinton Foundation “has been a platform for the Clintons to travel the world, to have staff.” As we wrote in June, the Clinton Foundation spent 12 percent of its revenue on travel and conferences and 20 percent of its revenue on salaries in 2013.

But the Form 990 specifically breaks out those travel, conference and salary expenses that are used for “program service expenses” versus those that are used for management or fundraising purposes. For example, nearly 77 percent of the $8.4 million spent on travel in 2013 went toward program services; 3.4 percent went to “management and general expenses”; and about 20 percent went to fundraising.

Trump Foundation

Pence said, “The Trump Foundation’s a private family foundation; they give virtually every cent in the Trump Foundation to charitable causes.” But that’s far from true.

There have been several examples of the Donald J. Trump Foundation making expenditures on items and groups that are not charitable causes:

  • In 2013, the foundation gave $25,000 to a political group connected to Florida’s attorney general, Pam Bondi. This year Trump paid a $2,500 penalty to the IRS because of the improper gift, according to Jeffrey McConney, a senior vice president and controller at the Trump Organization.
  • The foundation also paid $258,000 to settle various legal problems, including a 2007 dispute with the town of Palm Beach over the height of a flagpole.
  • The foundation also famously paid $10,000 for a portrait of Trump, which ended up on the wall of a Florida golf course he owns outside Miami. (A spokesman said Trump was doing the foundation a favor by “storing” it there.)
  • The foundation also paid $20,000 for another, six-foot-tall portrait of Trump reportedly shipped to another of Trump’s golf courses in Briarcliff Manor, New York.

And unlike typical family foundations, the Trump Foundation’s money has since 2008 come from  others, not from Trump’s own pocket.

The Washington Post reported Sept. 10: “In tax records, the last gift from Trump was in 2008. Since then, all of the donations have been other people’s money — an arrangement that experts say is almost unheard of for a family foundation.”

In all but four of its first 28 years of operation, the Trump Foundation took in well under $1 million. By far its biggest year was 2007, when it took in just over $4 million (of which only $35,000 came from Trump himself), according to the Washington Post.

Trump and Nuclear Weapons

Kaine and Pence were both partly right and partly wrong in characterizing Trump’s statements on other countries, including Japan and South Korea, getting nuclear weapons.

Kaine: Donald Trump believes that the world will be safer if more nations have nuclear weapons. He said Saudi Arabia should get them, Japan should get them, Korea should get them. And when he was confronted with this, and told wait a minute, terrorists could get those, proliferation could lead to nuclear war, here’s what Donald Trump said and I quote, “Go ahead folks, enjoy yourselves.”

Later in the debate, Kaine asked Pence to defend Trump’s positions, starting with “more nations should get nuclear weapons.” Pence responded: “Well, he never said that, senator.”

Trump didn’t make a blanket statement about “more nations” getting nuclear weapons, but he has indicated that perhaps Japan and South Korea should have nuclear weapons to protect themselves.

For instance, here’s Trump in an April 3 interview with Fox News’ Chris Wallace:

Trump, April 3: So, North Korea has nukes. Japan has a problem with that. I mean, they have a big problem with that. Maybe they would in fact be better off if they defend themselves from North Korea.

Wallace: With nukes?

Trump: Maybe they would be better off — including with nukes, yes, including with nukes.

About a week earlier, the New York Times reported that Trump had said in interviews with the newspaper that “he would be open to allowing Japan and South Korea to build their own nuclear arsenals rather than depend on the American nuclear umbrella for their protection against North Korea and China.” The Times quoted Trump as saying if the U.S. “keeps on its path, its current path of weakness, they’re going to want to have that anyway, with or without me discussing it.”

On March 29, CNN’s Anderson Cooper tried to pin down Trump on those comments. In the back-and-forth, Trump said, “I don’t want more nuclear weapons,” but also said, “wouldn’t you rather in a certain sense have Japan have nuclear weapons when North Korea has nuclear weapons?”

Trump, March 29: At some point we have to say, you know what, we’re better off if Japan protects itself against this maniac in North Korea, we’re better off, frankly, if South Korea is going to start to protect itself, we have…

Cooper: Saudi Arabia, nuclear weapons?

Trump: Saudi Arabia, absolutely.

Cooper: You would be fine with them having nuclear weapons?

Trump: No, not nuclear weapons, but they have to protect themselves or they have to pay us.

Here’s the thing, with Japan, they have to pay us or we have to let them protect themselves.

Cooper: So if you said, Japan, yes, it’s fine, you get nuclear weapons, South Korea, you as well, and Saudi Arabia says we want them, too?

Trump: Can I be honest with you?  It’s going to happen, anyway. It’s going to happen anyway. It’s only a question of time. They’re going to start having them or we have to get rid of them entirely.

But you have so many countries already, China, Pakistan, you have so many countries, Russia, you have so many countries right now that have them.

Now, wouldn’t you rather in a certain sense have Japan have nuclear weapons when North Korea has nuclear weapons? And they do have them. They absolutely have them. They can’t – they have no carrier system yet but they will very soon.

Wouldn’t you rather have Japan, perhaps, they’re over there, they’re very close, they’re very fearful of North Korea, and we’re supposed to protect.

Cooper: So you’re saying you don’t want more nuclear weapons in the world but you’re OK with Japan and South Korea having nuclear weapons?

Trump: I don’t want more nuclear weapons.

As for the “go ahead folks, enjoy yourselves” quote that Kaine mentions, that wasn’t directly in response to Trump being told that terrorists could get hold of nuclear weapons, or that proliferation could lead to nuclear war, as Kaine suggested.

Instead, Trump said that in an April 2 campaign appearance in Wausau, Wisconsin, in talking about Japan protecting itself against North Korea and the two countries potentially fighting.

Here’s that quote:

Trump, April 2: We’re protecting Japan from North Korea. … I would say to Japan you gotta help us out. … And I would rather have them not arm. But I’m not going to continue to lose this tremendous amount of money. And frankly, the case could be made, that let them protect themselves against North Korea. They’d probably wipe them out pretty quick. And if they fight, you know what, that would be a terrible thing, terrible. “Good luck folks, enjoy yourself.” If they fight, that would be terrible, right? But if they do, they do.

Putin a ‘Better Leader’?

Pence said that he did not say, as Kaine claimed, that Russian President Vladimir Putin was a “better leader” than President Obama. Technically, Pence didn’t say “better leader.” He said that Putin has been a “stronger leader” in Russia than President Obama has been in the U.S.

Kaine: Governor Pence said, “Inarguably, Vladimir Putin is a better leader than President Obama.”

Pence: That is absolutely inaccurate. I said he has been stronger on the world stage.

In a CNN interview on Sept.8, Pence said: “I think it’s inarguable that Vladimir Putin has been a stronger leader in his country than Barack Obama has been in this country. And that’s going to change the day that Donald Trump becomes president of the United States of America.”

Two days later, Pence told a crowd at the Liberty Farm Festival that his comment was meant as an indictment of Obama and not an endorsement of Putin.

“When Donald Trump and I said that the small and bullying president of Russia was a strong leader on the world stage, that wasn’t an endorsement of Vladimir Putin, that was an indictment of the weak and feckless leadership of this president and [Hillary Clinton],” Pence said.

Trump and NATO

Kaine claimed that Trump said that “NATO is obsolete” and that he wants to “get rid of NATO.” Trump did say NATO is obsolete or may be, but he hasn’t said that the international security alliance should be eliminated.

Kaine: That’s why Donald Trump’s claim that he wants to — that NATO is obsolete and that we need to get rid of NATO is so dangerous.

Pence: That’s not his plan.

Kaine: Well, he said NATO is obsolete.

There is no question that Trump has said, more than once, that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization either is obsolete or may be obsolete. He also previously suggested in an interview with the New York Times in July that he would not automatically defend NATO allies that do not pay their share of defense costs.

However, as we wrote in May, Trump has said that he doesn’t want the U.S. to leave the NATO alliance even though he once said that he would “certainly look at” doing so.

Then, during the first presidential debate with Clinton, Trump said that he is “all for NATO.”

Trump, Sept. 26: I said, and very strongly, NATO could be obsolete, because … they do not focus on terror. And I was very strong. And I said it numerous times. … But I’m all for NATO. But I said they have to focus on terror, also.

And Trump has since said, “When I am president, we will strengthen NATO.”

More We’ve Heard Before

And there were more claims from the candidates that we’ve fact-checked before:

Unemployment: Pence compared apples to oranges in talking about the two candidates’ records as governors, when he said: “In the state of Indiana, we’ve cut unemployment in half; unemployment doubled when he was governor.”

As we wrote in August, Kaine was governor during the Great Recession, when every state saw unemployment rates rise significantly, and Pence, who took office in 2013, has served during the subsequent economic expansion, when every state but one saw job gains.

Job Growth: Kaine cited a Moody’s Analytics report on the impact of Clinton’s plans on job growth, but he left out important caveats.

Kaine said, “Independent analysts say the Clinton plan would grow the economy by 10.5 million jobs. The Trump plan would cost 3.5 million jobs.” First, most of those 10 million jobs would occur under current law; only 3.2 million would happen as a result of Clinton’s plans. Plus, Moody’s said the figures cited by Kaine were unlikely to happen. In the most likely scenario, job growth under Clinton was “a bit higher” than under current law and jobs would be added under Trump, but not as many as current law.

Trump’s Tax Returns: In criticizing Trump for refusing to release his tax returns, Kaine made a misleading comparison to Richard Nixon, claiming that Nixon “released tax returns when he was under audit” and chiding Trump for failing to “meet the Nixon standard.” Nixon never publicly released his tax returns as a candidate, though he did amid a swirling tax controversy during his second term in 1973.

Abortion: Pence criticized Clinton for supporting “a practice like partial-birth abortion,” adding that “the very idea that a child that is almost born into the world could still have their life taken from them is just anathema to me.” As we have written before, Clinton has said she’s “open” to restrictions on late-term abortions if there are exceptions for endangerment of the life and health of the mother.

Border Security: Pence wrongly claimed that Clinton and Kaine have “a plan for open borders.” Clinton supported a bill that would have created a path to citizenship for those in the country illegally, but it also would have increased border security.

On her campaign website, Clinton says she would “focus resources on detaining and deporting those individuals who pose a violent threat to public safety.” But the site also states that she will “uphold the rule of law” and “protect our borders and national security.”

Minimum Wage: Kaine repeated the misleading claim that Trump said “wages are too high.” Trump has not said that overall wages are too high. At a Nov. 10, 2015, GOP debate, Trump was asked about raising the federal minimum wage to $15, and he said he was opposed to that.

New Jobs: Pence criticized Kaine’s economic policy by saying the policies of the Obama administration, “which Hillary Clinton and Sen. Kaine want to continue, have run this economy into a ditch.” In response, Kaine claimed “Fifteen million new jobs” were created under the Obama administration. Actually, the number of new jobs created is 10.5 million.

Kaine’s count, which Clinton also has used, excludes public-sector job losses and starts at February 2010, the low point of employment during the Great Recession. A total of 15.1 million private-sector jobs were created between February 2010 and August 2016. However, overall employment, including government jobs, has increased by 10.5 million since Obama took office in January 2009.

Update, Oct. 5: We updated this story to include a link to our annotated transcript of the debate.

Correction, Oct. 6: We removed an item from this story regarding the FBI investigation of Hillary Clinton’s private email system. We misattributed a quote to Pence based on a live rushed transcript that proved to be inaccurate. Kaine said that the FBI “concluded that not one reasonable prosecutor” would bring charges against Clinton for mishandling classified information. We wrote that Pence disputed Kaine’s characterization of the FBI’s findings, and we mistakenly quoted Pence as saying, “That is absolutely false.” But Pence did not say that. We regret the error.


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