“Illegal crossings are near their lowest level in decades.”
— President Obama, remarks on immigration reform, June 11, 2013
— Obama, State of the Union address, Feb. 12, 2013
We are always interested in even slight shifts in presidential rhetoric. What happened in the space of four months, so that the president’s claim that illegal crossings were at a four-decade low was suddenly softened to the lowest level in “decades”?
Let’s take a look.
When the president speaks of “illegal crossings,” he is speaking of “illegal alien apprehensions.” This is an imperfect metric, because officials can somehow manage to tout as a success both a high number (“look how many we caught”) and a low number (“look how much it has dropped.”) It’s also unclear if the same person is caught more than once.
“They are saying that there's no abortion, and they want to make it a federal law that there be no abortion in our country.”
— Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), June 13, 2013
The Fact Checker always ventures into questions about abortion rhetoric with trepidation. Given the intensity of emotions, virtually no one is ever happy with our rulings, no matter how much we try to just stick with the facts. So we try to stick with statements that appear pretty clear cut.
A reader, for instance, drew our attention to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s comment at a news conference as something that appeared to be clearly in error. From the context of the remarks, Pelosi appeared to be referring to a GOP-crafted bill on abortion.
The bill in question, HR 1797, would prohibit “the abortion from being performed if the probable post-fertilization age of the unborn child is 20 weeks or greater,” which is similar to saying after the 22nd week of pregnancy. (There originally was an exception only to save the life of a mother, but GOP leaders late last week quietly added exceptions for rape and incest.)
The bill was approved Wednesday by the House Judiciary Committee on a 20 to 12 vote. The Supreme Court has set a threshold of 24 weeks for legal abortions, but advocates claim that fetuses can begin to feel pain earlier than that. That assertion is disputed, but in any case the bill would not result in a sweeping ban on all abortions. (Update: Readers have pointed out the Supreme Court test is not the number of weeks but “viability” of the fetus.)
Indeed, the National Journal also spotted Pelosi’s false claim, initially reporting that “Pelosi then wrongly or mistakenly characterized the Republican bill as one that would ban abortion completely, which it does not.” But when we checked with Drew Hammill, her spokesman, he said that her comment was being misinterpreted.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie: “I had a choice of whether to pick a handpicked replacement or let the people vote on their new senator. …This special election is not about playing politics. It is about doing the right thing.”
Jimmy Fallon: “You ain’t lying, C.C.”
— exchange during “Slow Jam the News,” Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, June 12, 2013
Under fire from newspaper editorials for scheduling a special election to fill the Senate seat of the late Frank Lautenberg (D), Gov. Chris Christie (R) used an appearance on a late-night comedy show to offer a defense of his actions.
In Christie’s telling, he had the choice of “whether to pick a handpicked replacement or let the people vote on their new senator,” and so he opted for a special election. “The decisions that need to be made in Washington are too great to be determined by an appointee for 18 months,” he said.
The clip has gotten the most notice for a segment in which Fallon’s house band, The Roots, refer to Christie’s apparent interest in running for president in 2016 by singing, “Baby, you were born to run.” But Christie’s presidential aspirations actually have a lot to do with his decision-making — something he left out of his claim that the decision was “not about playing politics.”
When Lautenberg died, many commentators quickly pointed to a conflict in the New Jersey laws regarding a Senate vacancy. While the governor clearly had a right to appoint someone to fill the seat until a successor could be elected, one provision (N.J.S.A 19:3-6) pointed to the election being held in November 2013 and another (N.J.S.A 19:27-6) suggested it should be held in November 2014. Most analysts suspected the vacancy statute, with its 2013 election date, would hold sway.
“The incidence of rape resulting in pregnancy are very low.”
— Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.), June 12, 2013
This column has been significantly updated.
Rep. Franks made this comment during a House Judiciary Committee debate over a bill that would ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, in which he opposed a Democratic amendment to make exceptions for rape and incest.
After a firestorm erupted, Franks later sought to clarify his somewhat ungrammatical comments, claiming he was referring to women seeking abortions in the sixth month. “Pregnancies from rape that result in abortion after the beginning of the sixth month are very rare,” he said. “This bill does not address unborn children in earlier gestations. Indeed, the bill does nothing to restrict abortions performed before the beginning of the 6th month.”
We’re not sure his clarification really tracks with the comment he originally made after this statement: “But when you make that exception, there’s usually a requirement to report the rape within 48 hours. And in this case that’s impossible because this is in the sixth month of gestation.” After all, how many women know they are pregnant after being raped?
Readers can listen to the audio recording above and judge for themselves.
In any case, Franks raises an interesting issue: What is the incidence of pregnancy after a rape? And is it much lower than rate of pregnancy after consensual sex?
Because of the violence and stigma associated with rape — as well as different definitions — there are a wide range of statistics concerning rape. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, for instance, estimates that nearly 1.3 million American women were victims of rape or attempted rape in 2010. (About half were actual rapes.) But RAINN, the Rape Abuse and Incest National Network, says about 64,000 women were raped between 2004-2005, citing Justice Department data.
SEN. RON WYDEN (D-Ore.): “This is for you, Director Clapper, again on the surveillance front. And I hope we can do this in just a yes or no answer because I know Senator Feinstein wants to move on. Last summer, the NSA director was at a conference, and he was asked a question about the NSA surveillance of Americans. He replied, and I quote here, ‘The story that we have millions or hundreds of millions of dossiers on people is completely false.’
“The reason I’m asking the question is, having served on the committee now for a dozen years, I don’t really know what a dossier is in this context. So what I wanted to see is if you could give me a yes or no answer to the question, does the NSA collect any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans?”
Director of National Intelligence JAMES CLAPPER: “No, sir.”
SEN. WYDEN: “It does not?”
DIR. CLAPPER: “Not wittingly. There are cases where they could inadvertently perhaps collect, but not wittingly.”
SEN. WYDEN: “Thank you. I’ll have additional questions to give you in writing on that point, but I thank you for the answer.”
— exchange during a hearing of the Senate Intelligence Committee, March 12, 2013
This exchange during a congressional hearing has suddenly achieved new prominence in the wake of the revelations of National Security Agency programs that include the collection of data from U.S. phone call records and the NSA’s surveillance of online communications to and from foreign targets.
Through the top-secret program known as PRISM, authorized by federal judges working under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), the NSA apparently can gain access to the servers of nine Internet companies for a wide range of digital data.
On Tuesday, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) issued a tough statement, saying Director of National Intelligence James Clapper did not give a “straight answer” to his question. Wyden added that the day before the hearing, he gave Clapper’s office advance notice that he would be asking this particular question and that “after the hearing was over, my staff and I gave his office a chance to amend his answer.”
Wyden’s staff declined to release the correspondence, citing a policy of wanting to keep communications with administration officials private. But Wyden’s statement strongly suggests Clapper had been deliberately misleading when he appeared before the Senate panel.
Clapper has long indicated his discomfort about addressing confidential matters in public, particularly in response to questions from lawmakers. At the beginning of the hearing involving the exchange with Wyden, Clapper made the following observation:
“Now, the programs that have been discussed over the last couple of days in the press are secret in the sense that they're classified, but they're not secret in the sense that, when it comes to telephone calls, every member of Congress has been briefed on this program. With respect to all these programs, the relevant intelligence committees are fully briefed on these programs.”
— President Obama, remarks to the media, June 7, 2013
Something unusual happened shortly after President Obama made the statement above about the National Security Agency’s domestic phone surveillance program, in the wake of leaks to The Guardian newspaper and The Washington Post: A fellow Democrat, Sen. Jeff Merkley of Oregon, rushed out and said the president was wrong.
“It’s not something that’s briefed outside the Intelligence Committee,” Merkley told MSNBC. “I had to get special permission to find out about the program.”
Meanwhile, another Democrat, Rep. Keith Ellison of Minnesota, also appeared to dispute the president’s statement. He said he knew “almost nothing” about the program and had double checked his e-mails to see if he had received notice of a briefing. Even then, he suggested, he would be at a disadvantage because lawmakers can only hear the briefing without the benefit of staff expertise.
“The reality is you can't bring your staff in there, so we are moving around Capitol Hill at lightning speed, nearly every member of Congress is,” he said on ABC’s “This Week.” “If you can’t get staff support, that means you’ve got to go into that room, you’ve got to sit there and pore through documents over the course of hours.”
Ellison spokesman Jeremy Slevin clarified that Ellison was referring to the PRISM program — which Obama had said was briefed just to the Intelligence Committees. Ellison is not a member of the House Intelligence Committee. “Regarding phone records, he has attended classified briefings on the Patriot Act, but the content of those briefings, including whether or not they covered the Executive Branch’s interpretation of Section 215, is classified,” Slevin said.
What’s going on here?
The Guardian newspaper last week published a court order showing that a unit of Verizon had been ordered to turn over phone metadata to the NSA over a three-month period. This appears to have been a renewal of a program that has existed for at least seven years and presumably includes other telephone companies.
“The good news is, today, our businesses have created nearly 7 million new jobs over the past 38 months. Five hundred thousand of those jobs are in manufacturing.”
— President Obama, remarks on college affordability, May 31, 2013
During a speech calling on Congress to halt a hike in the student loan rate, President Obama referenced the creation of 500,000 manufacturing jobs since February 2010 as part of the opening sentence in a paragraph touting good news about the economy (“The housing market is coming back. The stock market has rebounded.”).
But there was something about that phrase that sounded familiar.
Here’s the president speaking to the Democratic National Convention on Sept. 6 (nine months ago):
“After a decade of decline, this country created over half a million manufacturing jobs in the last two and a half years.”
And here’s the president at the State of the Union address on Feb. 12 (four months ago):
“After shedding jobs for more than 10 years, our manufacturers have added about 500,000 jobs over the past three.”
It’s pretty rare to hear the same talking point regarding a job statistic, month after month. What’s going on here?
According to Bureau of Labor Statistics data, the low point in U.S. manufacturing was reached on February 2010, when there were just 11.46 million manufacturing jobs in the country. That was about 1.1 million fewer than when Obama took office — and nearly 2.3 million fewer than when the Great Recession officially began in December 2007.
“Time and again, congressional Republicans cynically used Senate rules and procedures to delay and even block qualified nominees from coming to a full vote. As a result, my judicial nominees have waited three times longer to receive confirmation votes than those of my Republican predecessor. Let me repeat that: My nominees have taken three times longer to receive confirmation votes than those of my Republican predecessor.”
— President Obama, remarks on nominations to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, June 4, 2013
This is the second of two columns looking at the rhetoric concerning the debate over the D.C. Circuit.
President Obama was so fond of this statistic that he repeated it during his ceremony announcing his three nominees to what is generally regarded as the second-most-important court in the United States. On Thursday, we analyzed Republican claims that the D.C. Circuit is underworked and does not need its full slate of judges.
Now let’s examine the president’s claim.
We became curious about this statistic when we noticed an unusual correction to the White House transcript after spokesman Jay Carney repeated this talking point at a news briefing. Carney originally said, “The duration from nomination to confirmation is three times greater in his presidency than it was in his predecessor’s.” In the correction, the word nomination was replaced by “Committee approval.”
“No matter how you slice it, the D.C. Circuit ranks last or almost last in nearly every category that measures workload.”
— Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), news release, June 3, 2013
Note: This is the first of two columns looking at the rhetoric concerning the debate over the D.C. Circuit. On Friday, we will look at the White House claim that its judicial nominees face unusual delays.
President Obama’s move this week to simultaneously nominate three judges for three vacancies on U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit has once again placed a focus on this court.
The D.C. Circuit is generally regarded as the second most important judicial body in the United States, after the Supreme Court. It is currently split between four Republican and four Democratic appointees, though six senior (semi-retired) judges also hear cases; all but one of the senior judges are Republican appointees.
The D.C. Circuit has a unique role in the judicial system because it oversees many cases concerning independent federal regulatory agencies, often without even an earlier stop at a lower-level federal court. The court also is considered a stepping stone for the Supreme Court, where four of the nine justices are alumni of the D.C. Circuit.
Republicans have argued that the court does not need its authorized level of 11 judges, making Obama’s nominations unnecessary. Grassley has some credibility on this issue because, during the George W. Bush administration, he led a successful effort to reduce the size of the D.C. Circuit from 12 to 11 active judges.
But we clearly have a case of dueling rhetoric here. White House spokesman Jay Carney has told reporters that “the caseload is higher now than it was in 2005 when some of the same Republican senators were arguing for the necessity of confirming President Bush’s nominees to that court.”
Grassley, in direct response to such statements, has claimed that “there were nearly 200 fewer appeals filed in the D.C. Circuit in 2012 than in 2005.” His staff also provided an impressive list of 20 different ways to measure workload, involving filed cases, pending cases and terminated cases, that they say shows the D.C. Circuit at or near the bottom of the appeals courts.
What do the data show? Are there different ways to slice them?
Let’s start with the basic data on the number of appeals filed in the D.C. Circuit, using the voluminous charts on the Web site of the Administrative Office of the United States Court. (We will mainly use data for fiscal years ending in September.) In 2005, 1,379 appeals commenced, compared to 1,193 appeals in 2012. That’s a decline of about 200 appeals filed, as Grassley noted.
“House appropriators have moved us forward by agreeing to adhere to the limit of $966 billion for non-entitlement spending in 2014. This is the maximum amount the law would allow without having to make any across-the-board cuts – in other words, no sequester. We should not put in the law for the next nine years to break spending limits that we already accepted. We could, on the other hand, agree on a budget that respects those limits – but hits them in a more rational way than sequestration.”
— Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), in an opinion article titled “Seeking a smarter approach to the budget,” May 30, 2013
Often, the most difficult and complex subjects — such as the federal budget — are the most likely to be factually manipulated by politicians. You need to carefully parse the words to understand how a seemingly innocuous sentence can leave the wrong impression.
Let’s take a look at what Blunt is saying here. We will try not to get too far down in the budget weeds.
The 2011 Budget Control Act was a deal reached between the White House and congressional Republicans to avert a default on the national debt. It set up a process of automatic across-the-board cuts in security and nonsecurity spending known as sequestration — designed to be so onerous that both sides would reach a deal to prevent the cuts from taking place. But that did not happen, so the cuts went into effect this year.