A group calling itself DefendArizona attacks Senate candidate Kelli Ward of Arizona in a TV ad filled with images of terrorists and misstatements of facts:
- The ad says Ward in a 2016 interview “called for restraint in fighting terrorism.” Actually, Ward called for restraint when it comes to “nation building” and trying to “spread democracy.” As for terrorism, Ward said “we have to be willing to decimate ISIS.”
- The ad claims Ward “would cut military funding,” citing Vote Smart as a source. In fact, Ward answered “no” in a 2016 Vote Smart survey when asked if she was willing to cut defense spending to balance the budget.
- After falsely saying she “would cut military funding,” the ad says “Ward’s position would even have prevented raises for the troops who keep us safe.” That leaves the mistaken impression that cutting funding would prevent military pay raises, which are set by statutory formula.
Kelli Ward, a former state senator, is one of five Republicans running for U.S. Senate in the Aug. 28 primary. Polls show she is running second to Rep. Martha McSally, who was elected to Congress in 2014.
A group calling itself DefendArizona was formed as a super PAC in February to support McSally’s bid.
The DefendArizona TV ad now airing in Arizona warns that Ward would be weak on national defense and fighting terrorists. But the facts don’t support the ad’s claims.
‘Restraint and Realism’
The ad starts with powerful images of armed masked terrorists, while the narrator talks about ISIS — the terrorist group also known as the Islamic State. The vilifying visuals continue throughout the 30-second ad.
“ISIS killed thousands. Plotted attacks on U.S. soil. They’re a real threat,” the narrator says. “But Kelli Ward called for restraint in fighting terrorism.”
On the screen, viewers see: “Kelli Ward on fighting ISIS ‘…restraint and realism,’” with a notation citing an interview that Ward gave to Seth Leibsohn on June 28, 2016.
We listened to the interview and Ward did not call for “restraint in fighting terrorism.” Quite the opposite. She said the U.S. has “to be willing to decimate ISIS,” not merely contain them.
The partial quote used in the ad — “restraint and realism” — wasn’t about fighting terrorists. It was directed at past presidents who, she claimed, overreached by trying to “spread democracy” and “do nation building.”
Here is her full response, which comes at about the 5:25 minute mark, when Leibsohn asked Ward about her policy toward ISIS.
Ward on “The Seth and Chris Show,” June 28, 2016: We can’t continue with this strategy of go in and do nation building, try to spread democracy, and unfortunately we had that policy under George W. Bush as well. It isn’t what traditional conservative foreign policy has been, which is restraint and realism. Those things need to be brought back into the process in the foreign policy arena.
I think that we also, we have to be willing to decimate ISIS – not control them, not to curb their activities … not live with them, not to empower them, certainly not to empower them, and I think it is going to take that strong commander in chief and then conservative reinforcements in both the House and Senate to make it happen.
Ward did not explain how she would “decimate ISIS,” but she also did not say that she would pursue a policy of “restraint in fighting terrorism,” as the ad claims.
The ad’s narrator goes on to say, “Kelli Ward would cut military funding, putting the war on terror at risk.” Again, DefendArizona misstates the facts.
On the screen, the ad cites “Vote Smart, 2016” as its source. But that source, in fact, contradicts the ad.
A 2016 Vote Smart survey asked candidates if they would be willing to cut defense spending to balance the budget. Ward answered “no.” She did say that “everything has to be on the table” when it comes to cutting spending, “including waste and bureaucracy in the Defense Department,” but she went on to say the U.S. “must fund our troops and maintain the strongest military in the world.”
Her answer, in full:
Kelli Ward, 2016: I think everything has to be on the table for spending reductions, including waste and bureaucracy in the Defense Department. I wouldn’t phrase it as “defense cuts,” but rather that we cannot have sacred cows.
Also military spending is constitutional while social spending is not. We must fund our troops and maintain the strongest military in the world. I believe in Peace Through Strength.
DefendArizona twisted Ward’s answer on cutting military spending to balance the budget — which was clearly “no” — by selectively seizing on how she would consider cutting bureaucratic waste everywhere in government.
Military Pay Raises
After falsely saying she “would cut military funding,” the ad immediately says “Ward’s position would even have prevented raises for the troops who keep us safe.” That’s misleading.
As juxtaposed in the ad, “Ward’s position” would grammatically refer to the preceding false claim about cutting military funding — leaving the mistaken impression that cutting military funding would prevent military pay raises. But that’s not how it works.
Military pay is set by statutory formula.
As we have written before, federal law mandates that military pay raises be equal to the change in the Labor Department’s annual Employment Cost Index, or ECI, for private sector wages.
The automatic pay raise could be changed in two ways, as explained in an May report by the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service:
- The president can “specify an alternative pay adjustment that supersedes the automatic adjustment.”
- Congress can pass legislation that would “override the automatic adjustment and/or any presidential adjustment if it were enacted.”
That means military pay raises cannot be prevented unless Congress or the president specifically acts separately from appropriating less funding for defense.
The ad’s narrator doesn’t explain what he means by “Ward’s position,” but viewers may notice the language on the screen that says, “Kelli Ward: Opposed Defense Authorization Act.” In larger type, it adds, “Included pay raises for troops.”
This refers to statements Ward made about the annual National Defense Authorization Act in 2013 and 2016. But the ad doesn’t explain what Ward said about the NDAA, so viewers would not know that those statements had nothing to do with cutting defense spending or blocking military pay raises.
The ad cites a Dec. 1, 2013, interview that Ward gave to Luca Zanna, and a survey that she took during the 2016 campaign for the Arizona Liberty Caucus.
In both cases, Ward expressed her opposition to a controversial provision in the NDAA that would allow the military to detain U.S. citizens without trial if they are suspected of terror-related crimes.
In the 2013 interview, Zanna said the provision would violate the U.S. Constitution and deny American citizens due process. Ward agreed.
“I don’t support the bill, and I think there should always be due process — that’s why it’s put there to protect the little guy,” Ward said.
In the 2016 survey, Ward checked “yes” when asked: ” Will you oppose any legislation that includes or allows the indefinite detention of US citizens without charge or trial, such as the most recent NDAA?”
This is not an unusual position for a conservative Republican. Days after Ward’s interview, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, among others, voted against the NDAA for the same reason.
In a Dec. 19, 2013, statement, Cruz said, “Today I voted against the National Defense Authorization Act. I am deeply concerned that Congress still has not prohibited President Obama’s ability to indefinitely detain U.S. citizens arrested on American soil without trial or due process.”
Republican Sens. Mike Lee of Utah and Rand Paul of Kentucky have also opposed that provision and voted against the NDAA in 2013. The bill passed the Senate 84-15 with 12 Republicans opposed — so the “no” votes actually cast that year, as opposed to the ad’s speculation about how Ward would have voted, did not prevent a military pay raise.
It’s also worth noting that the NDAA for fiscal years 2014 and 2016 did not include any language for military pay.
For 2014, President Obama specified an alternative pay adjustment of 1 percent, revised down from the statutory formula of 1.8 percent, and Congress took no action to override Obama when it passed H.R. 3304, the National Defense Authorization Act of 2014.
In a report on the fiscal year 2014 defense authorization and appropriations bills, CRS said “H.R. 3304 included no provision setting the FY2014 military pay raise.”
More recently, CRS said in May 8 report: “Congress specified no percentage increase for 1983, 2011, 2012, or 2014-2016, thereby allowing the permanent formula or the presidential alternative adjustment to go into effect.”
The NDAA is the first of a two-step process to fund the military. The NDAA process gives the Defense Department the authority to make financial commitments, but an annual defense appropriations bill actually gives the department the money to pay for its commitments.
The NDAA is routinely approved and the “no” votes made no difference in 2014 and 2016. “Enactment of the annual NDAA has come to be expected, as the FY2016 NDAA was the 54th consecutive defense authorization act to be enacted,” CRS says.