FARMVILLE, Va. — Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine and Indiana Gov. Mike Pence met Tuesday for the first and only vice presidential debate, and CNN’s Reality Check Team spent the evening analyzing their claims.
The team of reporters, researchers and editors across CNN listened throughout the debate and selected key statements from both candidates, rating them true; mostly true; true, but misleading; false; or it’s complicated.
Reality Check: Pence claims ISIS has overrun Iraq
Pence argued that “Iraq has been overrun by ISIS.”
In June, a top State department official said that ISIS had lost 47% of the territory it had previously controlled in Iraq, and its ranks had been nearly halved from the members it had in 2014.
“Whereas it once promised lavish pay for recruits, and free services in its ‘caliphate,’ it is now slashing pay, cannot provide services, and is facing internal resistance,” Special Presidential Envoy Brett McGurk said in congressional testimony.
In the first half of this year, the IHS Conflict Monitor found that ISIS’s territory had shrunk by 12%.
And Iraqi forces are about to launch a crucial offensive to retake ISIS’s prize: Mosul. ISIS engulfed Iraq’ second largest city in June 2014, but a long, bloody struggle for control of the city is expected to begin in the coming weeks.
While parts of Iraq have been ravaged by ISIS, Pence drastically inflates the group’s control over the country. His claim is false.
Reality Check: Clinton failed to negotiate plan to leave troops in Iraq
Pence accused Hillary Clinton of failing to negotiate an agreement with the Iraqi government allowing US forces to remain in the country past 2011.
“Hillary Clinton failed to renegotiate a ‘Status of Forces’ agreement,” Pence said. “We removed all our troops from Iraq and ISIS was available to be conjured up in that vacuum and overrun vast areas of Iraq.”
When President Barack Obama entered office in 2009, he inherited a Status of Forces agreement signed in 2008 by his predecessor, President George W. Bush. That agreement stipulated American troops would leave Iraq by 2011.
Obama ran on a pledge to end the Iraq War and vowed to reduce the number of US forces there during his first term. When the agreement neared its expiration, the Obama administration worked to secure a new plan that would have left a residual force of 5,000-10,000 troops in the country (down from more than 150,000 troops when Obama took office).
In negotiations with then-Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, the US insisted that its troops would be shielded from prosecution in Iraq. Iraqi lawmakers balked, and the two sides couldn’t agree on a pact that would allow US troops to remain. Obama announced in October 2011 that he would withdraw all US troops from the country. (Since then, 5,000-6,000 US troops have returned to the country in what the administration describes as a mission to “train and assist” Iraqi forces).
Pence’s claim that Clinton failed to renegotiate a plan to leave US troops in Iraq is accurate, but he failed to provide the context that the original plan to remove all troops from the country was signed by Obama’s Republican predecessor. He also didn’t note that the agreement failed because of the Iraqi parliament’s unwillingness to provide immunity to US troops.
Verdict: True, but misleading.
Reality Check: Pence claims Clinton called Trump supporters “not American”
Pence lashed out at Clinton for her description of a segment of Donald Trump’s supporters.
“She said that half of our supporters were a ‘basket of deplorables,'” Pence claimed. “She said they were irredeemable. They were not American. I mean, it’s extraordinary.”
Pence is quoting Clinton’s remarks from a fundraiser last month, when she told supporters you can “put half of Trump supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables” and added: “Some of those folks — they are irredeemable, but thankfully they are not America.”
Pence largely quoted Clinton accurately. But his claim she called some of Trump’s supporters are “not American” doesn’t accurately reflect her sentiment that racism, xenophobia, and Islamaphobia don’t reflect US ideals. For that reason, we rate the claim true, but misleading.
Reality Check: Kaine claims Trump and Pence praised Putin
Kaine attacked both Trump and Pence for their praise of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“You guys love Russia,” Kaine said. “You both have said Vladimir Putin is a better leader than the President. These guys have praised Vladimir Putin as a great leader.”
At NBC’s “Commander-in-Chief Forum” last month, Trump said Putin “has very strong control over a country,” even if he does not agree with the way the country is governed.
“Now, it’s a very different system, and I don’t happen to like the system,” Trump said. “Certainly, in that system, he’s a been a leader, far more than our president has been a leader,” Trump said.
Pence has made similar comments about Putin’s leadership in Russia when backing up his running mate’s comments.
“I think it’s inarguable that Vladimir Putin has been a stronger leader in his country than Barack Obama has been in this country,” Pence told CNN’s Dana Bash in September.
While it is certainly impossible to quantify how much, or even if, Trump or Kaine “love” Russia, we rate Kaine’s claim that they have praised Putin as a strong leader as true.
Reality Check: Pence says Russia ‘reset’ led to invasion of Ukraine
Pence hit Clinton’s record on Russia during Tuesday’s debate.
“Hillary Clinton’s top priority when she became secretary of state was the Russian ‘reset.’ The Russian reset,” he said. “After she reset, the Russians invaded Ukraine and took over Crimea.”
When Obama took office in 2009, he embarked upon an attempt to repair US relations around the globe, including in Russia. Clinton attempted to capture that “reset” in March 2009, when she posed with her Russian counterpart holding a button she thought read “reset” in Russian (it really read “overcharged”).
Flash forward five years to the beginning of 2014, when Russian troops intervened in Ukraine to quell a popular revolution, and have remained in the Crimea region since. Putin formally announced the annexation of Crimea on March 18, 2014.
Pence’s characterization of the flow of events is accurate — Clinton and Obama’s attempted reset came ahead of Russia’s annexation of Crimea, though there were many years between the attempted reset and the invasion.
Verdict: Mostly true.
Reality Check: Pence on Clinton Foundation receiving donations from foreign governments
Pence charged that the Clinton Foundation accepted donations from foreign governments while Clinton was secretary of state from 2009 to 2013.
“The Clinton Foundation accepted foreign donations from foreign governments while she was secretary of state,” Pence said.
The Clinton Foundation did indeed accept millions of dollars from seven foreign governments during Clinton’s tenure as secretary of state, according to foundation officials.
Although Clinton and the foundation agreed to measures and restrictions on such funding, Clinton Foundation officials admitted that millions of dollars found its way to the foundation.
According to The Washington Post, documents provided by the foundation to that newspaper made it “clear that the 2008 agreement did not prohibit foreign countries with interests before the US government from giving money to the charity closely linked to the secretary of state.”
This included a $500,000 donation from the Algerian government.
Reality Check: Pence on Clinton Foundation’s donations to charity
Pence said that the Clinton Foundation gives “less than 10 cents on the dollar” to “charitable causes.”
But a recent analysis by independent watchdog CharityWatch found that the Clinton Foundation actually spent 88% of its budget on its charitable programs in 2014.
So why the large discrepancy? Pence was likely referring only to the charitable grants the Clinton Foundation has awarded to outside groups, as opposed to the charitable work conducted by the Clinton Foundation’s own programs.
According to Clinton Foundation tax forms — in 2013, for example — the foundation reported total revenue of almost $149 million, and awarded external grants worth a total of nearly $9 million — or about 6 cents on the dollar.
But most Clinton Foundation work is implemented by the foundation’s own program staff, and is also considered charitable work. CharityWatch considers any foundation with more than 75% of its expenses in charitable programs to be “highly efficient.” With 88%, the Clinton Foundation meets that standard.
Because Pence’s figure failed to account for the total amount of the Clinton Foundation’s charitable work, we rate his claim false.
Reality Check: Kaine claims Trump called Social Security a ‘Ponzi scheme’
“Donald Trump wrote a book and he said Social Security is a Ponzi scheme and privatization would be good for all of us,” Kaine claimed.
In “The America We Deserve,” published in 2000, Trump wrote about Social Security.
“The truth is undeniable. The workers of America have been forced to invest a sixth of our wages into a huge Ponzi scheme. The pyramids are made of papier-mache.”
In the book, Trump goes on to advocate for the privatization of Social Security, describing it as “letting people keep the money that is rightfully theirs” and crediting the idea to a retired laundry worker named Oseola McCarty.
During his presidential campaign, Trump has repeatedly promised to leave Social Security untouched.
“I’m not going to cut it, and I’m not going to raise ages,” Trump said earlier this year.
This stands in contrast to Pence’s views as he has expressed them in the past. As a congressman, he backed a Republican plan that would have allowed workers to divert some funds into private accounts.
We rate this claim as true both because it accurately reflects Trump’s words in his book and because Kaine is correct in pointing out that Trump’s past statements about Social Security (and Pence’s) contradict the Trump campaign’s present commitment to leave it untouched.
Reality Check: Pence on poverty
Pence slammed the Obama administration’s economic record, noting that poverty has increased during his tenure.
“There are millions more people living in poverty today than the day that Barack Obama, with Hillary Clinton at his side, stepped into the Oval Office,” he said.
It’s true that both the number of people and the rate of poverty increased at the start of the Obama administration, which coincided with the nation’s worst economic downturn since the Great Depression.
In 2008, the year before Obama took office, there were 39.8 million people in poverty and the rate was 13.2%. Two years later, the rate peaked at 15.1% and the number of poor people jumped to 46.3 million.
But the improving economy made a big dent in poverty in 2015. The rate fell to 13.5%, the largest decline in decades. The number of Americans in poverty fell to 43.1 million, down from 46.7 million the year earlier.
Also, experts say it’s more important to look at the poverty rate than the number of people in poverty since the American population is growing.
Therefore, we rate Pence’s comment true, but misleading. It’s true that there are millions more in poverty than when Obama took office, but Pence should refer to the rate rather than the number of people in poverty. And he overlooks that fact that both the share and the population declined greatly in 2015.
Reality Check: Kaine on Trump’s stance on nuclear proliferation
“Most dangerously, Donald Trump believes that the world will be safer if more nations have nuclear weapons. He’s said Saudi Arabia should get them, Japan should get them, Korea 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 said, and I quote, ‘Go ahead, folks, enjoy yourselves.'”
But has Trump said this?
Trump has sent mixed messages on the issue of nuclear proliferation.
When asked if he was prepared to accept Japan and South Korea acquiring nuclear weapons, Trump told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, “I am prepared to … if they’re not going to take care of us properly, we cannot afford to be the military and the police for the world. We are, right now, the police for the entire world. We are policing the entire world.”
Trump also said in a New York Times interview, “Well, I think maybe it’s not so bad to have Japan — if Japan had that nuclear threat, I’m not sure that would be a bad thing for us.”
When talking about tensions with nuclear-armed North Korea with CNN’s Anderson Cooper, he said, “Now, wouldn’t you rather in a certain sense have Japan have nuclear weapons?”
Cooper also asked Trump if he supported Saudi Arabia’s pursuit of nuclear weapons. Trump initially signaled he did.
Cooper asked, “Saudi Arabia, nuclear weapons?” to which Trump responded, “Saudi Arabia, absolutely.”
But when Cooper followed up, Trump said, “No, not nuclear weapons, but they have to protect themselves or they have to pay us.”
“It’s very simple. They’re going to have to defend themselves,” Trump added.
Kaine also said that Trump said, “Go ahead, folks, enjoy yourselves,” in reference to nuclear war between Japan and North Korea.
Trump did indeed tell a rally in Wisconsin, “Good luck … Enjoy yourself, folks.” While not the exact words Kaine referred to, the sentiment and words are very close.
Trump has signaled a willingness to accept a nuclear-armed Japan, a departure from decades of American foreign policy, and has to a lesser extent expressed willingness to accept South Korea acquiring its own nuclear weapons.
While he did tell Cooper that Saudi Arabia should have them, he immediately changed his stance.
Verdict: Mostly true.
Reality Check: Kaine says debt explosion under Trump’s tax plan would be much bigger than under Clinton’s
Kaine said, “The debt explosion on the Trump plan is much much bigger than anything on the Clinton side.”
Trump has proposed slashing taxes, increasing government spending in some areas while cutting it in the smallest parts of the budget. He also vows not to touch Social Security. Trump asserts the economic growth his plan would generate would more than make up for any shortfall in tax collections by the government.
Independent analysts disagree. The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, a bipartisan think tank, estimates Trump’s plan would add $5.3 trillion to the national debt in the first decade.
In contrast, Clinton has proposed increasing government spending, but also hiking taxes on the wealthy. The result, according to the CRFB, would be a much smaller increase in the national debt — $200 billion.