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Fact checking the GOP debate in Orlando

at 01:44 AM ET, 09/23/2011


(Fox News)

Another lengthy presidential debate, and more bogus claims and counterclaims to check. Let’s see what the candidates got wrong this time at last night’s debate in Orlando, Fla., hosted by Fox News, Google and the Republican Party of Florida:

Question: “Do you stand by your statement that the HPV vaccine is potentially dangerous, and if not, should you be more careful when you’re talking about a public health issue?”
“Well, first, I didn’t make that claim, nor did I make that statement. Immediately after the debate, a mother came up to me, and she was visibly shaken and heartbroken because of what her daughter had gone through, and so I only related what her story was.”

— Rep. Michele Bachmann (Minn.)

Bachmann, in trying to spin her way out of a political problem, is simply not telling the truth here. The transcript of her interview on NBC’s “Today” program shows that Bachmann not only said the vaccine “could potentially be a very dangerous drug,” but she made this statement before she ever mentioned the distraught mother.

Here’s the relevant part of the transcript:

REP. BACHMANN: Well, it’s very clear that crony capitalism could have likely been the cause, because the governor’s former chief of staff was the chief lobbyist for this drug company. This was an issue that could have gone before the legislature. But rather than putting it before hearings and before the legislature, the governor chose, by himself, unilaterally, to sign an executive order and put through the requirement that all innocent little 12-year-old girls or 11-year-old girls in the state of Texas would be forced by the government to take an injection of what could potentially be a very dangerous drug.
MATT LAUER: So do you feel —
REP. BACHMANN: And after the debate last night —
MR. LAUER: Do you feel he placed the health and safety of young girls in the state of Texas behind or below the need for campaign funds?
REP. BACHMANN: Well, I will tell you that I had a mother last night come up to me here in Tampa, Florida, after the debate. She told me that her little daughter took that vaccine, that injection, and she suffered from mental retardation thereafter. It can have very dangerous side effects. The mother was crying when she came up to me last night. I didn’t know who she was before the debate. This is the very real concern. And people have to draw their own conclusions.

It seems pretty clear she was reinventing history when she gave her answer during last night’s debate.

“I got lobbied on this issue. I got lobbied by a 31-year-old young lady who had stage-four cervical cancer. I spent a lot of time with her. She came by my office. She talked to me about this program. I’ve readily admitted that we should have had an opt-in in this program, but I don’t know what part of opt-out most parents don’t get. And the fact is, I erred on the side of life, and I will always err on the side of life, as a governor and as the president of the United States.”

— Gov. Rick Perry (Tex.)

Perry is being equally misleading when he discusses his controversial vaccine order. He makes it sound like he was lobbied by a cancer patient, not his former chief of staff working for a drug company, and that’s why he made his decision.

But he has the story backwards. He met Heather Burcham, a 31-year-old woman who died from cervical cancer after contracting HPV, after he signed the mandate ordering vaccinations for children.

Here’s how ABC News recently reported on the friendship:

Perry and Burcham, a teacher from Houston, Texas, struck up an unusual friendship in the months after he issued his executive order. While the Texas legislature was working to revoke the mandate, Burcham traveled to Austin to testify about her personal experience with cervical cancer and how the HPV vaccine might help spare other young women from suffering a fate similar to her own. Burcham was misdiagnosed by doctors when she was 26. Five years later, Doctors detected her cervical cancer when it was too advanced for treatment to be effective.

“The reason I said that I would be dead on ‘Obamacare’ is because my cancer was detected in March of 2006. And from March 2006 all the way to the end of 2006, for that number of months, I was able to get the necessary CAT scan tests, go to the necessary doctors, get a second opinion, get chemotherapy, go to get surgery, recuperate from surgery, get more chemotherapy in a span of nine months. If I had been on the ‘Obamacare’ and a bureaucrat was trying to tell me when I could get that CAT scan, that would have delayed my treatment. My surgeons and doctors have told me that because I was able get the treatment as fast as I could, based upon my timetable and not the government's timetable that's what saved my life.”

— Former businessman Herman Cain

“What you heard from Herman Cain is one absolutely key point, which is ‘Obamacare’ intends to put someone between you and your physician.”

— Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney

Herman Cain’s story of surviving cancer is inspiring, but it’s unclear how the Obama health-care law would have affected his medical treatment because it builds on the current insurance-company system. Of course, it’s true that insurance companies might put someone between you and your doctor, as Romney put it, but that’s what has been happening for years under so-called managed care. Most studies indicate that most people currently on private insurance would experience little change once the Obama health plan is implemented.

In fact, the main goal of the Obama law was to cover the millions of Americans who are uninsured. A major study by the American Cancer Society in 2008 found that uninsured cancer patients are nearly twice as likely to die within five years as those with private coverage, because people without health insurance are less likely to get recommended cancer screening. So cancer survival rates in theory would improve under universal health care.

“There is one person on this stage that is for Obama’s Race to the Top, and that is Governor Romney. He said so just this last week. And I think that is an important difference between the rest of the people on this stage and one person that wants to run for the presidency. Being in favor of the Obama Race to the Top, that is not conservative.”

— Perry

“As a matter of fact, between books, your hard copy book, you said that it was exactly what the American people needed to have — that’s Romneycare — given to them as you had in Massachusetts. Then in your paperback, you took that line out.”

— Perry

Mitt Romney dismissed a number of charges by Rick Perry as untrue — “nice try” he said with a smile — but there was an element of truth to some of Perry’s digs.

The claim that Romney supported Obama’s education reform proposals comes from an article that appeared in Politico. The reporter wrote:

At the event, Romney also praised Obama’s education secretary for the Race to the Top program that rewards state education systems for reaching specific goals.“I think Secretary Duncan has done some good things,” he said. “I hope that’s not heresy in this room.”

To be fair to Romney, the article does not have a direct quote saying he supported Race to the Top, just praise for Duncan which Romney repeated at the debate. But the Politico article certainly created concern on the right

Meanwhile, Romney did change portions of his book, “No Apology,” between the hard cover and paperback editions to add sharper language on Obama’s stimulus plan and health-care law. Here is how the Boston Phoenix reported on the differences, which Romney’s spokesman did not dispute at the time:

The first rewrite excises a relatively even-handed assessment of the 2009 economic-stimulus package. In the original, Romney wrote that it “will accelerate the timing of the start of the recovery, but not as much as it could have.” The paperback pronounces the stimulus “a failure,” and blasts Obama’s “economic missteps” with conservative red-meat language — for example: “This is the first time government has declared war on free enterprise.”
The other major change comes in a chapter on health care. In the original hardcover, Romney tried to carefully distinguish between the Massachusetts law and the national version that was nearing passage as he wrote.
But the Massachusetts model has become Romney’s bête noire among conservatives, who loathe the national reform they call “Obamacare.” The rewritten paperback swings much harder, proclaiming that “Obamacare will not work and should be repealed,” and “Obamacare is an unconstitutional federal incursion into the rights of states.”
Other additions in that section blame the Massachusetts legislature for altering his plan, and the current Democratic administration of Governor Deval Patrick for botching the implementation.
Asked about the changes, Eric Fehrnstrom, spokesperson for Romney’s Free and Strong America PAC, responded by e-mail: “The book was originally written in the months immediately following President Obama’s inauguration. A lot has occurred over the last two years, and these updates reflect those happenings.”

Scrolling through Romney’s book last night, we could not find the line in the hard cover that Perry claims is in there. The chapter on health care is mostly a critique of the current health-care system and what needs to be done to fix it.

“The president went about this all wrong. He went around the world and apologized for America. He addressed the United Nations in his inaugural address and chastised our friend, Israel, for building settlements, and said nothing about Hamas launching thousands of rockets into Israel.”

— Romney

Regarding the supposed apology, we have repeatedly called this out as a Four-Pinocchio falsehood. . A careful review of all of Obama’s overseas statements found that they had been taken out of context or had been misquoted. Frequently, Obama expressed sentiments not much different than George W. Bush on overseas trips.

Early in his presidency, Obama often tried to draw a rhetorical distinction between his policies and Bush’s policies, a common practice when the presidency changes parties. The shift in policies, in fact, might have been more dramatic from Bill Clinton to Bush than from Bush to Obama, given how Obama has largely maintained Bush’s approach to fighting terrorism.

Meanwhile, Romney is right that Obama did not mention Hamas by name in his first speech to the United Nations, but Obama did glancingly refer to the rocket attacks: “It’s [the price of no peace] not paid by politicians. It’s paid by the Israeli girl in Sderot who closes her eyes in fear that a rocket will take her life in the middle of the night. It’s paid for by the Palestinian boy in Gaza who has no clean water and no country to call his own.”

As to whether Obama chastised Israel, that’s an opinion. Obama certainly did not do that this week, instead offering fulsome praise. We recently reviewed all three of Obama’s speeches at the United Nations, and how much his language has shifted.

However, months earlier in 2009, Obama did speak about Hamas (though not the rocket attacks) in his famous speech to the Arab world in Cairo. One could argue the reference in this speech may have had more impact than one at the United Nations. Here’s what Obama said:

“Now is the time for Palestinians to focus on what they can build. The Palestinian Authority must develop its capacity to govern, with institutions that serve the needs of its people. Hamas does have support among some Palestinians, but they also have responsibilities. To play a role in fulfilling Palestinian aspirations, and to unify the Palestinian people, Hamas must put an end to violence, recognize past agreements, and recognize Israel’s right to exist.”

“When we had the opportunity to sell India the upgraded F- 16s, we chose not to do that.”

— Perry

Perry also gets this story backwards. He may have been focused on the F-16 because it is built by Lockheed Martin in Fort Worth, Texas, but India made the decision to not buy F-16s and instead go with another military jet. It was not the U.S. choice. The Obama administration actually lobbied hard for the sale, and the aerospace firm had assured India that its F-16s would be “much more advanced” than the fighters provided to Pakistan.

“We’ve had a request in for the federal government so that we could have a Medicaid waiver for years, and the federal government has stopped us from having that Medicaid waiver.”

— Perry

Perry once again makes a misleading reference to this request for a Medicaid waiver. The George W. Bush administration rejected the application in 2008, saying it was incomplete and riddled with problems. The state has not yet resubmitted the waiver.

“We’ve seen these battles on the state level, where unions have really bankrupted states from pension plans to — here in the federal level for example, 30 [percent] to 40 percent union employees make above their private sector equivalents.”

— Former senator Rick Santorum (Pa.)

Our friends at Factcheck.org have done a good job explaining how the study from which this statistic was drawn is frequently misquoted. The gap is really closer to 10 percent, once geographic differences are accounted for.

“If anybody doubts my willingness to veto bills, I think I vetoed more bills than any governor in the history of the United States. I think I vetoed more bills than all the other governors in the country combined.”

— Former N.M. governor Gary Johnson

Johnson’s startling claim appears correct. Here’s what the National Review reported about a man known as “Governor Veto:” “During his tenure, he vetoed more bills than the other 49 governors combined — 750 in total, one third of which had been introduced by Republican legislators. Johnson also used his line-item-veto power thousands of times.”

“I think unemployment compensation should be tied directly to a training program.”

— Former House speaker Newt Gingrich (Ga.)

“So the first thing a president should do is that the goal should be set to get the government out completely, but don’t enforce this law of No Child Left Behind.”

— Rep. Ron Paul (Tex.)

Interestingly, these are both ideas that President Obama has supported in recent weeks. In his jobs speech, the president called for training people who are receiving unemployment insurance payments:

“We have to do more to help the long-term unemployed in their search for work. This jobs plan builds on a program in Georgia that several Republican leaders have highlighted, where people who collect unemployment insurance participate in temporary work as a way to build their skills while they look for a permanent job. The plan also extends unemployment insurance for another year.”

Meanwhile, the administration has also decided not to enforce the “No Child Left Behind.” As The Washington Post reported this week: “The Obama administration is offering states a way around provisions of the once-heralded No Child Left Behind law, contending many elements of the Bush-era law have become unintentional barriers to learning and that too many schools, even those showing modest progress, risk being labeled as failing.”

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    Glenn Kessler has covered foreign policy, economic policy, the White House, Congress, politics, airline safety and Wall Street.

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