The Fact Checker: Newt Gingrich

Romney and Plan B: The Santorum and Gingrich claims


(RICK WILKING/REUTERS)

“This is not the first time that elected officials have trounced on the fundamental right to religious freedom. In December 2005, Governor Mitt Romney required all Massachusetts hospitals, including Catholic ones, to provide emergency contraception to rape victims. He said then that he believed ‘in his heart of hearts’ that receiving these contraceptives — free of charge — trumped employees’ religious consciences. Now, a few years later and running for president, his heart is strategically aligned with religious voters opposing this federal mandate.”

— Former senator Rick Santorum, in an opinion article for Politico, Feb. 7, 2012

“There has been a lot of talk about the Obama administration’s attack on the Catholic church. The fact is Governor Romney insisted that Catholic hospitals give out abortion pills against their religious belief when he was governor. So you have a similar pattern.”

— Newt Gingrich, speaking in Cincinnati, Feb. 7, 2012

With GOP front-runner Mitt Romney attacking President Obama over the administration’s new rule requiring many Catholic institutions to offer birth control and other contraception services as part of employees’ health care coverage, his Republican rivals have begun attacking Romney for allegedly doing the very same thing when he was governor of Massachusetts.

We seem forever doomed to delve deep into ancient Bay State political tussles. It is well known that Romney’s views on abortion issues evolved as he edged closer to a presidential run in 2008. But is it correct that he “insisted” (Gingrich’s word) or “required” (Santorum’s word) that Catholic hospitals provide access to emergency contraception?

The Facts

At issue is the emergency contraception known as the morning-after pill, or Plan B, which is essentially a heavy dose of birth control pills that a woman takes after unprotected sex. It is generally effective only for the few days after intercourse but some anti-abortion advocates believe that it could thin the lining of a uterus and thus in theory could destroy a fertilized egg. (UPDATE: The New York Times reported in June, 2012 that a review of studies found no evidence that the pill affected fertilized eggs.)

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Newt Gingrich’s claim that George Soros ‘approved’ Mitt Romney

“We can’t afford two George Soros approved candidates this fall.”

— Voiceover from Newt Gingrich campaign ad, referring to Mitt Romney and President Obama, Feb. 2, 2012

“I think for most Republican voters, the idea of trying to nominate a Soros-approved candidate is not a very appealing idea.”

— Gingrich, during a Fox News interview, Feb. 3, 2012

Newt Gingrich has progressively turned up the heat with his rhetoric against Mitt Romney since falling flat in the first two nominating contests this year. It seemed to work when he pulled off an upset in South Carolina, but the former House speaker finished a distant second in the recent Florida and Nevada primaries. His latest Web ad suggests that “ultra-liberal” billionaire George Soros supports both Romney and President Obama.

The new ad also suggested that the GOP front-runner supports Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner — an unpopular figure among Republicans — and that his financial backing from Wall Street executives shows some form of concordance with Obama.

We looked at the entire Soros interview to find out where the billionaire philanthropist really stands on the 2012 candidates. We also examined the issue of Romney’ Wall Street backing and his stance on Geithner to find out whether Gingrich’s ad hit the mark.

The Facts

These types of accusations are typical for Gingrich. Part of his strategy after the New Hampshire primary was to draw ideological distinctions between himself and Romney, as well as to highlight parallels between his opponent and Obama.

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Newt Gingrich versus Mitt Romney: A guide to latest charges


(Matt Rourke/AP)

“I’m standing next to a guy who is the most blatantly dishonest answers I can remember in any presidential race in — in my lifetime.... I don’t know how you debate a person with civility if they’re prepared to say things that are just plain factually false.”

— Newt Gingrich, Jan. 29, 2012

The slugfest between Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich comes to a head Tuesday in Florida, where Gingrich is running behind because of a deluge of negative campaign ads by Romney and his allies and the perception that Romney bested him in the last two debates.

 It’s tough to keep up with the various charges the two men have thrown at each other — Gingrich even brought up an ancient Romney veto concerning kosher food on Monday — so here is a guide to their most recent and most frequent claims.

 (In addition to various columns on attack ads and charges, we previously looked at some of Romney’s claims about Gingrich when the battlefront had first moved to Florida.)

 “His experience as speaker of the House end[ed] so badly, with an ethics scandal and him having to resign in disgrace and with his own members, 88 percent of them Republican members, voting to reprimand him.”

— Romney, Jan. 30, 2012 

Here, the former Massachusetts governor echoes one of his TV ads, which we have already labeled as misleading. Gingrich was reprimanded, but he did not resign until two years later for reasons that had nothing to do with the reprimand he received from the House over an ethics issue. That issue involved whether it was proper for a tax-exempt foundation associated with the speaker to finance a college course that he had put together.

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Mitt Romney: Medicare fraud allegations and ‘Blood Money’

“At the center of one such Medicare scheme: Mitt Romney. It is a story of fraud. It is a story of big profits, big lies and at the time the biggest criminal fine for health fraud ever levied in Massachusetts history.”

— Voice-over from “Blood Money: Romney’s Medicare Scandal,” a video produced by pro-Newt Gingrich super PAC Winning Our Future.

Winning Our Future, a Super PAC supporting Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich, has released another attack on rival Mitt Romney’s business practices. A one-minute “trailer” and a 30-second TV ad (see below) that amplify the themes of corporate malfeasance accompany the nearly eight-minute video, “Blood Money.” (The title refers to the fact that a company once partly owned by Bain Capital, Romney’s firm, was found guilty of charging Medicare for unnecessary blood tests.)

We were highly critical of Winning Our Future’s “King of Bain” film, awarding it Four Pinocchios, in part because it focused on business failures in which Romney was only tangentially involved. And anyone living in Massachusetts would find this Medicare fraud case to be old news because the case first emerged in 1992 as an issue in Romney’s successful race for governor.

Still, this time Winning Our Future gets closer to the mark. The case concerning Damon Clinical Laboratories is relevant because 1) Romney was a director of the firm while the fraud took place; 2) the fraud appears to have ended only after Bain sold its stake in the firm; 3) Romney personally earned nearly $500,000 from the sale of Damon; and 4) Romney’s statements about what he knew and when he knew it have been inconsistent.

We’re going to hear a lot more about Damon if Romney becomes the GOP presidential nominee. The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union is already running an ad in Florida that highlights the case. (The spot is at the end of the column.)

Let’s take a closer look:

The Facts

In 1996, the Justice Department announced that Damon had agreed to pay a $35.3 million criminal fine — one of the largest corporate fines in U.S. history — and an additional $83.7 million to settle whistle-blower lawsuits. The company, then owned by Corning, admitted that from 1988 to 1993 it had bolstered its earnings by submitting false claims to Medicare and other federal programs. Essentially, the firm billed for blood tests that doctors had not ordered.

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Fact checking the CNN debate in Jacksonville


(Paul Sancya/AP)

We can hardly believe that there won’t be another GOP presidential debate for about a month—assuming there are enough candidates left. Here’s our round-up of bloopers and dubious statements at the CNN debate in Jacksonville, Fla., in the the order in which they were made.

As always, we may delve deeper into other statements in the coming days — and please remember that we do not award Pinocchios for instant fact checks, only full columns.

“What I said was: We want everybody to learn English because we don’t want — I didn’t use the word ‘Spanish.’”

— Newt Gingrich

Gingrich complained about a radio ad aired by the Romney campaign that claimed that Gingrich had said that Spanish was “the language of the ghetto.” (Romney at first suggested he was not familiar with the ad, but it ends with his voice saying he approved of it.)

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Mitt Romney’s attack ad against Newt Gingrich in Florida

“While Florida families lost everything in the housing crisis, Newt Gingrich cashed in. Gingrich was paid over $1.6 million by the scandal-ridden agency that helped create the crisis.”

— voiceover in a new Mitt Romney ad attacking Newt Gingrich

The nasty nomination battle between former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich has moved to Florida, where Romney has launched a slashing ad attacking Gingrich for his business ties to mortgage giant Freddie Mac. Let’s take a look at the various claims in the ad.

“While Florida families lost everything in the housing crisis, Newt Gingrich cashed in. Gingrich was paid over $1.6 million by the scandal-ridden agency that helped create the crisis.”

The ad strains to make a connection between Gingrich’s service for Freddie Mac and the housing collapse in the economic crisis. The video cites a Kansas City Star editorial that said Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac “were at the heart of the crisis” but that’s a matter of opinion. Other experts disagree strongly.

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Rick Santorum’s debate attacks against Mitt Romney


(Octavian Cantilli, Reuters)

“If you look at cap-and-trade, Gov. Romney was very proud to say that he was the first state in the country as governor to sign a cap on CO-2 emissions, the first state in the country to put a cap believing in global warming — and criticized Republicans for not believing in it.”

— Rick Santorum, during NBC News debate in Tampa, Jan. 23, 2012

“When he was governor of Massachusetts, he put forth ‘RomneyCare,’ which was not a bottom-up, free-market system. It was a government-run healthcare system that was the basis of ‘Obamacare.’ And it has been an abject failure, and he has stood by it. He's stood by the fact that it's $8 billion more expensive than under the current law. He's stood by the fact that Massachusetts has the highest health insurance premiums of any state in the country; it is 27 percent more expensive than the average state in the country. Doctors — if you're in the Massachusetts health care system, over 50 percent of the doctors now are not seeing new patients -- primary care doctors are not seeing new patients. Those who do get to see a patient are waiting 44 days, on average, for the care.

  A lot of those people were, as you know, on Medicare and Medicaid, so they're already on government insurance, and you just expanded it, in fact. Over half the people who came on the rolls since you put ‘RomneyCare’ into effect are fully subsidized by the state of Massachusetts, and a lot of those are on the Medicaid program.”

 -- Santorum, during CNN debate in Charleston, S.C., Jan. 19, 2012  

 

These quotes represent some of the most pointed attacks Rick Santorum has made against Mitt Romney during the past two debates, as he tries to portray the two GOP frontrunners as moderates — he dished out similar cap-and-trade criticism toward Newt Gingrich during the Tampa debate. (We have previously examined Gingrich’s flip-flop on this issue.)

The first set of remarks draw a distinction between Santorum and Romney on environmental issues. The second is a detailed litany suggesting the former Bay State governor doesn’t stand a chance of distinguishing himself from President Obama when it comes to health care during the general election.

We researched Romney’s stance on cap-and-trade and examined the effects of the Massachusetts health-care law to find out how close Santorum’s remarks came to the truth. We already wrote about the Massachusetts health-care overhaul in our biographical series about Romney, but we’re always willing to dive a little deeper on that subject.

The Facts

A Wall Street Journal article from October 2011 noted that Romney strongly supported cap-and-trade while serving as governor of Massachusetts. It reports that he stood outside an old coal-fired plant in 2003, promising activists, “I will not create jobs or hold jobs that kill people, and that plant, that plant kills people.”

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Fact checking the NBC Florida debate


(Chip Somodevilla/GETTY IMAGES)

There were fewer fireworks Monday night as we continued our long march through GOP Endless Debate World, but still many dubious facts and statistics popped up at the debate hosted by NBC News with the National Journal and the Tampa Bay Times. We will examine some key ones in the order in which they were made, reserving the right to examine others in more detail in the coming days.

As is our practice, we do not award Pinocchio ratings during instant debate fact checks, only in full length columns.

“When I was speaker [of the House], we had four consecutive balanced budgets, the only time in your lifetime, Brian, that we’ve had four consecutive balanced budgets.”

— Newt Gingrich

We have repeatedly called Gingrich out on this, and yet he keeps saying it. There are three key problems with his claim.

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Romney versus Gingrich: A guide to the latest charges


(EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP/GETTY IMAGES)

Mitt Romney on Monday threw out new charges and innuendo against former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, in what may be the political equivalent of throwing spaghetti against the wall—seeing what sticks. We’ve examined the often bogus charges made by Gingrich allies (and the Obama campaign) about Romney’s tenure at Bain Capital. So let’s take a look at what is known about the issues raised by Romney.

The Romney campaign accompanied its attack with a new ad amplifying some of these claims, which we will also examine soon. But first here is a guide to the latest rhetoric.

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Pro-Gingrich cartoon ad slightly wrong about Romney

“I agree with Governor Romney on many things, for instance abortion. He was pro-choice most of his adult life, so was I. But he changed his position when he became presidential candidate Romney. Now, let’s take guns. Governor Romney and I, we were in complete agreement on gun control — now that is, until he changed his mind. And on health care, well, I was so inspired by Romneycare that I nationalized it and called it Obamacare. Now presidential candidate Romney is against the individual mandate and universal health care.”

— Remarks by a cartoon President Obama during a fictionalized debate with Mitt Romney, depicted in an ad from the pro-Newt Gingrich Super PAC Winning Our Future.

Gingrich describes himself as the only viable candidate left in the GOP race, and this innovative cartoon ad — the first of its kind that we’ve seen — feeds into that narrative, attacking one of Romney’s perceived strengths: his supposed ability to challenge Obama.

The Post’s Fix reports that this video is the first in a three-part series envisioning potential debates between Romney and the sitting president. It illustrates an increasingly negative strategy by Gingrich and his supporters since the candidate’s lackluster finishes in the Iowa and New Hampshire primaries. The approach appears to be working, with a new CNN poll showing Romney losing ground in South Carolina — an equally likely explanation is that the other candidates are resonating with Palmetto State voters.

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Fact checking the CNN debate in Charleston


(PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/GETTY IMAGES)

Two debates in a week…and another two next week. This could get tiring. Here’s quick round-up of some of the more dubious or interesting claims at the CNN Debate in Charleston, examined in the order in which they were made. As always, we may come back to do a fuller look at other, more elusive claims in the coming days.

Glenn Kessler will live chat with readers today at 1 p.m. ET about fact checking this debate. Submit your questions and opinions now.

A reminder: we do not award Pinocchios in these sorts of debate round-ups, only in full-length columns.

“The Corps of Engineers today takes eight years to study — not to complete — to study doing the port. We won the entire second World War in three years and eight months.”

— Newt Gingrich

We are not sure whether the U.S. involvement in World War II has any relevance to a study about whether to deepen the Charleston Port from 45 to 50 feet. Kudos to Gingrich for knowing local issues, but according to local news reports the Corps said that such a study would normally take five to eight years but “Corps officials say they are streamlining the review and approval process as much as possible to save time.”

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Fact Checking the Fox News-WSJ debate in South Carolina

And then there were five ... which made for a feisty evening of misstatements. We focused on 11, and may come back for more later in the week. Let’s take them in the order in which they were made.

“As [House] speaker, I came back, working with President Bill Clinton. We passed a very Reagan-like program: less regulation, lower taxes. Unemployment dropped to 4.2 percent. We created 11 million jobs.”

— Newt Gingrich

Former president Clinton would be shocked at this description, since he always credited the 22 million jobs created during his presidency to the deficit-reduction package he narrowly passed early in his tenure without a single GOP vote.

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Four Pinocchios for ‘King of Bain’

“This is a story of greed, of playing the system for a quick buck, a group of corporate raiders led by Mitt Romney more ruthless than Wall Street. For tens of thousands of Americans, the suffering began when Mitt Romney came to town.”

— Voice-over from “King of Bain” video promoted by a pro-Newt Gingrich super PAC, “Winning Our Future.”

Newt Gingrich, meet Michael Moore!

 The 29-minute video “King of Bain” is such an over-the-top assault on former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney that it is hard to know where to begin. It uses evocative footage from distraught middle-class Americans who allege that Romney’s deal-making is responsible for their woes. It mixes images of closed factories and shuttered shops with video clips of Romney making him look foolish, vain or greedy. And it has a sneering voice-over that seeks to push every anti-Wall Street button possible.

 Here’s just a sampling of what Romney and Bain Capital, which he once headed, is accused of: “Stripping American businesses of assets, selling everything to the highest bidder and often killing jobs for big financial rewards . . . high disdain for American businesses and workers . . . upended the company and dismantled the work force; now they were able to make a handsome profit . . . cash rampage . . . contributing to the greatest American job loss since World War II . . . turn the misfortune of others into their own enormous financial gain.”

 The video ends with a crescendo of images of despair, with voices of the victims adding emotional punch: “A lot of lives were ruined . . . he took away our livelihoods . . . he took away our future . . . he destroyed a lot of homes . . . it all gets back to greed.” (Irritatingly, few of these ordinary citizens are identified.)

 The video is reminiscent of the devastating series of attack ads released by then-Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) that derailed Romney’s Senate campaign in 1994. In fact, we’d swear some of the people interviewed for “King of Bain,” who are identified as working for Ampad in Marion, Ind., are the same as those interviewed for the Kennedy ads at SCM, which Ampad acquired. They just look two decades older. (We have embedded a collection of the Kennedy ads at the end of this column.)

 Let’s take a look at some of the claims in “King of Bain.” The video clip above is from a 60-second commercial aired by “Winning Our Future.” The full video can be found here. As we will demonstrate, at least some of the interviews of ordinary citizens appear to have been conducted under misleading pretenses and have been selectively edited to leave a false impression.

The Facts

 First of all, it is a stretch to portray Romney as some sort of corporate raider, akin to Carl Icahn (whose image is briefly seen).  Bain Capital initially was in the business of providing venture capital — seed money — for start-ups, such as Staples. Then it moved to the more lucrative business of private equity, in which Bain won control of firms, reorganized them and then sold them for profit. (Our colleague Suzy Khimm earlier this week did an excellent job of explaining the two sides of Bain Capital.)  

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Newt Gingrich’s claim that Romney governed as a ‘pro-abortion’ governor

"What happened after Massachusetts moderate Mitt Romney changed his position from pro-abortion to pro-life? He governed pro-abortion. Romney appointed a pro-abortion judge, expanded access to abortion pills, put Planned Parenthood on a state medical board but failed to put a pro-life group on the same board.”

— Newt Gingrich ad attacking Mitt Romney

Gingrich, still justifiably angry at a tough ad by a Romney-affiliated Super PAC that mischaracterized his position on abortion, has counterattacked with his own ad that calls into question Romney’s support for restrictions on abortion.

 Romney, of course, has spoken openly about his conversion on the abortion issue, so Gingrich must prove that Romney was an inconsistent convert to the cause of fighting abortion. Romney’s record was certainly inconsistent but was it indeed “pro-abortion”? Let’s look at some of the claims in this ad.

 

The Facts

 The definitive list of Romney flip-flops on abortion was compiled in 2007 by our predecessor as The Fact Checker, the estimable Michael Dobbs. After meticulously examining Romney’s twists and turns on the issue, Dobbs awarded Romney Three Pinocchios for his comments on abortion, saying he has “changed his position so often on abortion that he lacks much credibility” to claim that every piece of legislation he signed as governor was “on the side of preserving the sanctity of life.”

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Fact checking the ABC News and ‘Meet the Press' debates

Boy, three- and-a- half hours of debates to check this weekend! The candidates were up to their usual tricks and so the list of suspect statements is long and varied. We will go through them quickly, in the order the statements were made, beginning with the ABC News/Yahoo debate on Saturday night. After that, we tackle the Meet the Press/Facebook debate from Sunday morning. As always, we may take a deeper look at some assertions later in the week.

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THE ABC NEWS/YAHOO DEBATE, JAN. 7, 2012

“But in the business I had, we invested in over 100 different businesses and net-net, taking out the ones where we lost jobs and those that we added, those businesses have now added over 100,000 jobs.”

--Mitt Romney

Last week, when Romney mentioned this statistic, his campaign said the 100,000 figure was based on the number of employees at three companies with which Bain Capital was involved.

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Romney versus Gingrich: a Super PAC’s over-the-top ad

“As Speaker, Gingrich supported taxpayer funding of some abortions.”

--from a new ad in Iowa sponsored by “Restore Our Future”

Super PACS will cause endless headaches for fact checkers this political season. The advertisements they produce are often insidiously inaccurate.

 A good example is the latest advertisement trashing Newt Gingrich, “Smile,” by Mitt Romney’s Super PAC--Restore Our Future--which is spending more than $3 million just in Iowa in the weeks before the Jan. 3 caucuses. The former House Speaker certainly has some baggage from his long political career, as the ad asserts, but that would be all the more reason not to need to twist the truth.

Brittany Gross, a Restore Our Future spokesman, declined to answer questions. “We aren’t commenting on the ad,” she wrote in an e-mail. “Thanks for reaching out.”

 Let’s take a tour through some of the more egregious fouls in the ad.

“Freddie Mac, which helped cause the economic collapse, paid Newt Gingrich $30,000 an hour for a total of at least $1.6 million.”

The suggestion here is that Freddie Mac caused the 2008 economic crash, which is a simplistic assertion. Restore Our Future cited as a source an opinion article written by Peter Wallison of the American Enterprise Institute.

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An Iranian ‘terrorist’ in the White House?


(JIM YOUNG/REUTERS)

“Last week, when [Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-] Maliki visited the president, one of the people in his entourage is a commander in the Iranian Revolutionary Guard.”

--Newt Gingrich, on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” Dec. 18, 2011

Republican presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich, when he made this comment on “Face the Nation” on Sunday, was referring to Iraqi Transportation Minister Hadi al-Amiri. Gingrich apparently based his comments on an article in The Washington Times—headlined “Ex-Iran Guard commander visits White House with Iraq leader”-- that generated some attention in the blogosphere. One report headlined it this way: “President Welcomes Suspected Terrorist to the White House.”

But this is a simplistic version of a complex story involving U.S. relations with the current government of Iraq. Let’s explore what’s going on here.

The Facts

First of all, there is a long tradition of militants aspiring to become statesmen. Martin McGuinness, a former Irish Republican Army leader, this year ran for president of Ireland. And, as House speaker in 1995, Gingrich hosted a lunch at the capital that include Gerry Adams, the head of Sinn Fein, the political wing of the IRA—at a time when Britain regarded the IRA to be a terror group.

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Newt Gingrich tries to rewrite history of his ethics scandal (Fact Checker biography)


(Jim Young, Reuters)

“It tells you how capriciously political [the House ethics] committee was that she was on it. It tells you how tainted the outcome was that she was on it.”
— Newt Gingrich, Dec. 5, 2011, talking to reporters about suggestions from House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi that she could reveal secret information from a 1990s House ethics investigation of the current GOP front-runner.
“I think what it does is it reminds people who probably didn't know this that she was on the ethics committee, that it was a very partisan political committee, and that the way I was dealt with related more to the politics of the Democratic Party than the ethics.”
— Gingrich, Dec. 6, 2011, answering questions about Pelosi and the ethics investigation during interview with Greta Van Susteren on Fox News.
“The attrition effect on your members of that many ads and that many charges just gradually wore down people, and I gradually lost the ability to lead, because I was so battered by the process.”
— Gingrich, Dec. 7, 2011, during a meeting with the Republican Jewish Coalition.

Gingrich made these comments after Pelosi hinted that she could reveal damaging information about him “when the time’s right,” thanks to her involvement with a 1990 ethics investigation of the now-surging GOP candidate — a case that led to the first congressional reprimand of a House speaker.

We don’t question that Democrats relished the chance to nail Gingrich for ethics violations, especially after he gave the same treatment to former Democratic House speaker Jim Wright in 1988. But justice can still run its course fairly and impartially when enemies have blown the whistle, even if they enjoy watching you squirm.

We examined the congressional ethics committee that reprimanded Gingrich to find out more about its makeup. Was the panel truly as partisan as the Republican front-runner suggests, or has this prolific alternative-history writer crafted yet another fiction?

THE FACTS

The congressional ethics panel that investigated Gingrich — when the GOP controlled the House — consisted of four Democrats and four Republicans, a perfectly bipartisan group that voted 7-1 to reprimand the then-speaker. Furthermore, the House voted 395 to 28 to support the committee’s decision, with backing from 196 Republicans.

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Fact checking the Fox News debate in Iowa


(Eric Gay/AP)

It’s the final GOP debate before the Iowa caucuses. Let’s take a tour of the factually dubious statements made by the candidates, in the order in which they said them. As is our practice, we do not award Pinocchios during debate round-ups, though we will mention if a candidate has repeated something that we have previously rated.

“I balanced the budget for four straight years, paid off $405 billion in debt — pretty conservative. The first entitlement reform of your lifetime — in fact, the only major entitlement reform to now is welfare.”

— Newt Gingrich

Gingrich loves to make this claim, but it is simply not correct and is lacking context.

Listening to Gingrich, you would be forgiven for forgetting there was a president (Bill Clinton) in office at the time the nation started running a budget surplus.

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Newt Gingrich: historian? (Fact Checker biography)


(Brian Snyder / Reuters)

“My advice as a historian, when they walked in and said to me, ‘We are now making loans to people who have no credit history and have no record of paying back anything, but that's what the government wants us to do,’ as I said to them at the time: ‘This is a bubble. This is insane. This is impossible.’”

-- Newt Gingrich, defending his contract with Freddie Mac during a CNBC debate in Michigan, Nov. 9, 2011

“There's a whole issue about whether or not government-sponsored enterprises have any legitimacy. Well, I can tell you as a historian they have been used in a variety of ways over all of American history. There are times they've been very, very useful and very valuable.

And so part of the question was, ‘Can you make that case? Can you put in context the history of these institutions?’”

-- Gingrich, again defending his contract with Freddie Mac during an interview on Fox News, Nov. 17, 2011

“I didn't speak for the people of Israel. I spoke as a historian who has looked at the world stage for a very long time. I've known [Israeli Prime Minister] Bibi [Netanyahu] since 1984. I feel quite confident an amazing number of Israelis found it nice to have an American tell the truth about the war they are in the middle of and the casualties they're taking and the people who surround them who say, ‘You do not have the right to exist, and we want to destroy you.’”

-- Gingrich, defending remarks he made during an Iowa debate on Dec. 10, 2011, suggesting that Palestinians had based their “right of return” on an historically false story.

That’s at least three times that Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich has referred to himself as a historian during the 2012 election cycle. He’s gone a step further at times, suggesting that his knowledge of the subject gives him superior qualifications for policy -- and decision-making.

 “What it does is, it gives you a really rich background to go to, to analyze things, to think about things, to put in context what you would do in a way that if you don’t know history, you can’t possibly reinvent it,” he told Iowa Public Radio this year.

So how did the GOP front-runner develop his supposed acumen? We analyzed his résumé and his life in academia to find out just how much experience the former House speaker draws from, and whether he has any credibility as a self-proclaimed authority.

THE FACTS

 Gingrich spent the great majority of his professional life in politics, serving as a member of Congress for 20 years. He devoted just eight fulltime years to academia and history -- 18 if you include his time as a student. 

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Gingrich on welfare and Medicare reform (Fact Checker biography)


(Jeff Haynes/Reuters)

“But even with Clinton in the White House, we passed the first major entitlement reform welfare, two out of three people went to work or went to school. We reformed Medicare and saved it for more than a decade financially.” — Newt Gingrich, during the Iowa Faith and Freedom Dinner, Oct. 22, 2011

These comments suggest the Gingrich-led Congress nudged welfare recipients toward increasingly productive lives and helped rescue Medicare from certain catastrophe. They fit with the image he has tried to project during the 2012 election cycle — one of an anti-socialist, money-saving innovator who recently called himself the “candidate of paychecks” while describing Barack Obama as “the finest food stamp president.”

We researched the Medicare and welfare reforms of the 1990s to determine whether Gingrich spoke accurately about his accomplishments as Speaker of the House of Representatives.

THE FACTS

Medicare today consists of four parts: Part A, which pays for hospital, nursing and hospice care; Part B, which helps pays for doctors, outpatient health bills and other services; Part C, which is “Medicare Advantage,” a competitive alternative to Parts A and B; and Part D, which provides prescription drug coverage. People frequently confuse these parts, but the government funds them differently.

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Newt Gingrich’s changing stance on health-care mandates (Fact Checker biography)


(Rainier Ehrhardt, AP)

EDITOR’S NOTE: This column will be the first in a series of five columns this week examining how factual former House Speaker Newt Gingrich has been in describing his past achievements. Reporter Josh Hicks has spent weeks examining Gingrich’s statements and deciding which ones best represent how Gingrich talks about his past. Hicks has previously examined biographical statements by Mitt Romney and Rick Perry.

— Glenn Kessler

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“If you explore the mandate, it ultimately ends up with unconstitutional powers. It allows the government to define virtually everything. And if you can do it for health care, you can do it for everything in your life, and, therefore, we should not have a mandate.”

— Remarks by Newt Gingrich during GOP debate in Manchester, N.H., June 13, 2011

“I am completely opposed to the Obamacare mandate on individuals. I fought it for two and half years at the Center for Health Transformation. You can see all the things we did to stop it at HealthTransformation.net. I am for the repeal of Obamacare and I am against any effort to impose a federal mandate on anyone because it is fundamentally wrong and I believe unconstitutional.”

— Recorded statement by Newt Gingrich, from the GOP candidate’s Web site.

Gingrich has voiced resounding opposition to the “Obamacare” insurance mandate during his 2012 campaign, describing the policy as unconstitutional. He says he fought hard against it with the Center for Health Transformation, a health-care industry think tank he helped establish.

Fellow GOP front-runner Mitt Romney challenged this point, insisting that Gingrich inspired the insurance mandate he implemented as part of a health-care reform bill in Massachusetts. We took a look at the former House speaker’s past to find out whether the conservative icon known for innovative and often shape-shifting ideas might have experienced a change of heart.

The Facts

Gingrich and Romney engaged in a brief but heated spat during the Oct. 18 GOP debate after the former speaker criticized Massachusetts’s health-care reform program as a big-government, high-cost solution for covering the uninsured. Here’s how the exchange unfolded:

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Fact checking the ABC-Yahoo Republican presidential debate in Iowa

It may have been bad politics for Mitt Romney to offer a $10,000 bet to Texas Gov. Rick Perry, but it’s a good thing Perry didn’t take it. He would have lost a fair chunk of change. Here’s our round-up of misses and bloopers committed by the GOP candidates in Saturday’s ABC-Yahoo debate, held at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, in the order in which they made them.

“Well, I think that there’s a clear record, I worked with Ronald Reagan in the early ‘80s and his recovery program translated into today’s population of about 25 million new jobs in a seven-year period. As Speaker of the House, I worked with President Clinton and he followed with a very similar plan. And we ended up with about 11 million new jobs in a four-year period.”

--Newt Gingrich

The former House Speaker conveniently ignores the fact that Bill Clinton pushed through a major tax increase on the wealthy in 1993 which, combined with the boom in technology stocks, brought forth a gusher of tax revenue that helped eliminate the budget deficit. Gingrich at the time predicted economic disaster when Clinton won approval of his tax increase with not a single Republican vote.

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Barack Obama: the ‘food-stamp president’?


(JONATHAN ERNST/REUTERS)

“We are going to have the candidate of food stamps, the finest food stamp president in American history, in Barack Obama, and we are going to have a candidate of paychecks.”

— Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, Dec. 6, 2011, on CNBC

As speaker, Gingrich helped push through the signature welfare overhaul that then President Bill Clinton signed into law in 1996. When Clinton, after two vetoes, agreed to accept the legislation, he shrewdly noted that he was eliminating the welfare system forever more as a campaign issue.

“After I sign my name to this bill, welfare will no longer be a political issue,” Clinton said. “The two parties cannot attack each other over it.”

 Having eliminated welfare as a campaign issue, Gingrich now appears to be trying to breath life into “son of welfare” by attacking President Obama as the “finest food stamp president.” But he has explicitly rejected the idea that this is a no-so-subtle form of racial imagery.

 (As is usual, Gingrich’s rhetoric excess got the better of him last month when he also declared people can use food stamps “to go to Hawaii,” a claim that our colleagues at PolitiFact correctly labeled “Pants on Fire.”)

In any case, how accurate is the claim that Obama is “the food-stamp president”?

 

The Facts

 Officially, the food stamp program is now formally known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which is administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. It is broadly available to almost all households with low incomes, though most of the benefits go to families with children. (It also has massive support from the farm lobby, which is why GOP efforts to cut it back have often failed.)

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Barack Obama: the ‘food-stamp president’?


(JONATHAN ERNST/REUTERS)

“We are going to have the candidate of food stamps, the finest food stamp president in American history, in Barack Obama, and we are going to have a candidate of paychecks.”

— Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, Dec. 6, 2011, on CNBC

As speaker, Gingrich helped push through the signature welfare overhaul that then President Bill Clinton signed into law in 1996. When Clinton, after two vetoes, agreed to accept the legislation, he shrewdly noted that he was eliminating the welfare system forever more as a campaign issue.

“After I sign my name to this bill, welfare will no longer be a political issue,” Clinton said. “The two parties cannot attack each other over it.”

 Having eliminated welfare as a campaign issue, Gingrich now appears to be trying to breath life into “son of welfare” by attacking President Obama as the “finest food stamp president.” But he has explicitly rejected the idea that this is a no-so-subtle form of racial imagery.

 (As is usual, Gingrich’s rhetoric excess got the better of him last month when he also declared people can use food stamps “to go to Hawaii,” a claim that our colleagues at PolitiFact correctly labeled “Pants on Fire.”)

In any case, how accurate is the claim that Obama is “the food-stamp president”?

 

The Facts

 Officially, the food stamp program is now formally known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which is administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. It is broadly available to almost all households with low incomes, though most of the benefits go to families with children. (It also has massive support from the farm lobby, which is why GOP efforts to cut it back have often failed.)

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Gingrich and cap-and-trade: a flip-flop?

“I’ve said publicly, sitting on the couch with Nancy Pelosi is the dumbest single thing I’ve done in the last few years. But if you notice, I’ve never favored cap and trade, and in fact, I actively testified against it. I was at the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee the same day Al Gore was there to testify for it, I testified against it and through American Solutions we fought it in the Senate and played a major role in defeating it.”

— Former House speaker Newt Gingrich, Dec. 3, 2011

“I think if you have mandatory carbon caps combined with a trading system, much like we did with sulfur, and if you have a tax-incentive program for investing in the solutions, that there’s a package there that’s very, very good. And frankly, it’s something I would strongly support.”

— Gingrich, Interview on PBS’s “Frontline,” Feb. 15, 2007

Every politician makes mistakes, although few are willing to admit it. Gingrich’s ad with Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on climate change is certainly amusing in retrospect.

But what of the Republican presidential candidate’s claim that “I’ve never favored cap and trade”? Rival campaigns immediately pounced, sending around quotes from a PBS interview in which Gingrich appeared to say the opposite, suggesting support for a limit on greenhouse emissions. The conventional wisdom holds that former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney has a flip-flop problem, but does Gingrich?

The Facts

As Slate columnist David Weigel has noted, cap and trade was once a very respectable conservative position and several of the GOP contenders have a history of expressing interest in it, to varying degrees.

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Romney’s claim that Gingrich has spent ‘40 years’ living in D.C.


(Wilfredo Lee/Associated Press)

“I don’t think I want to characterize Newt at this point, other than to point out our very distinct difference with regards to background. I think if America feels that we need somebody who’s lived in Washington for the last 40 years to run the country, he’s a good choice.”

— Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, on “Fox and Friends,” Dec. 2, 2011

Romney, trying to draw a contrast with the surging Newt Gingrich, not once but twice said that Gingrich had spent 40 years in Washington during a 10-minute appearance on “Fox and Friends.”

Four decades? We were immediately skeptical of this figure.

The Facts

Gingrich, who rose to become speaker of the House of Representatives, was first elected to Congress in 1978. Subtracting that from 2011, you end up with 33.

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