RNC Fact Check: Fact-Twisting on Jobs, the Debt, Taxes and Oil

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CLEVELAND — On the third night of the Republican convention, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence accepted his party’s nomination for vice president, and Sen. Ted Cruz rejected calls to endorse the GOP ticket. But Pence and Cruz had one thing in common: They and other speakers distorted the facts.

  • Vice presidential nominee Mike Pence said that Hillary Clinton’s “only answer” to the debt “is to keep borrowing and spending.” But the nonpartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget found that Trump’s tax and spending plan would cause a “massive increase” in the debt, while Clinton’s plan would result in a “relatively small”  increase.
  • Pence said “we cannot have four more years of apologizing to our enemies,” an old claim from 2012 that Obama apologized to other countries. But we read through all the speeches in question and found none rose to the level of an apology.
  • Pence said that “nearly 150,000 new jobs” were created in Indiana during his governorship. True, but 20 states and the District of Columbia had higher rates of job growth during the same time period.
  • Eric Trump claimed that the U.S. is “one of the highest-taxed nations in the world,” but U.S. personal taxes aren’t even in the top ten among industrialized nations. The U.S. has one of the highest business tax rates.
  • Florida Gov. Rick Scott claimed the U.S. has “world-record high debt” — it actually ranks 39th out of 178 nations in terms of debt as a percentage of GDP. And he said the U.S. economy is “not growing,” when it is.
  • Continental Resources CEO Harold Hamm wrongly said that “America now has more oil than Saudi Arabia or Russia.” The U.S. is now producing more petroleum, but the other two countries have much larger proved crude oil reserves.
  • Texas Sen. Ted Cruz claimed Iran had “Death to America” and “Death to Israel” holidays. It doesn’t have such named holidays, but demonstrators are known to chant those messages on certain occasions.
  • Both Cruz and Pence took a Hillary Clinton quote on the Benghazi terrorist attacks out of context, leaving the false impression that she didn’t care about the deaths of four Americans.
  • Pastor Darrell Scott falsely claimed that there was “higher minority unemployment” under President Obama, when, in fact, the unemployment rates for African Americans, Hispanics and Asians were all down.

Note to Readers

Our managing editor, Lori Robertson, is on the scene in Cleveland. This story was written with the help of the entire staff, based in Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. Next week, we will dispatch our staffers in Philadelphia for the Democratic convention. We intend to vet the major speeches at both conventions for factual accuracy, applying the same standards to both.



Pence on Clinton ‘Borrowing and Spending’

In accepting the nomination, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence said that as the “national debt has nearly doubled in these eight years” under Obama, Hillary Clinton’s “only answer is to keep borrowing and spending.” An analysis by the nonpartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget concluded that Clinton’s tax and spending plans would result in a “relatively small”  increase to the nation’s debt, while Trump’s plan would result in a “massive increase” to the debt.

Pence is correct about the debt nearly doubling under Obama; in fact the debt held by the public has more than doubled. And Clinton has proposed $1.45 trillion in new spending — mostly on infrastructure, paid leave and education proposals — according to a June 27 report by the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget called “Promises and Price Tags.” But that new spending is largely offset by $1.2 trillion in new revenue from proposed tax increases for the wealthiest Americans. So, the report concludes, Clinton would increase the debt by $250 million by 2026.

However, the report concluded that Trump’s plan would have far more dire consequences for the debt. The group found that Trump’s tax plan would result in $10.5 trillion less in tax revenues, which would be partially offset by $650 billion less in primary spending. Together with $1.7 trillion in higher interest costs, the report concludes that the sum of Trump’s policies would increase the debt by $11.5 trillion over 10 years.

“Our national debt is at post-war record-high levels and projected to grow unsustainably,” wrote Marc Goldwein, senior policy director of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget. “And neither former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton nor businessman Donald Trump would reverse course — Trump, in fact, would make our debt dramatically worse.”

“The result is that under Clinton’s plans, debt would grow from 75 percent of GDP today — it was half that before the great recession! — to 87 percent of GDP by 2026,” Goldwein wrote. “Under Trump’s plans, debt would grow to a whopping 127 percent of GDP by 2026.”

Goldwein noted that the estimates are “subject to uncertainty.” But, he said, “there does not seem to be a plausible path for either candidate to put the debt on a sustainable path without modifying or adding to their plans.” And, he said, neither can get there “simply by growing the economy.”

No Apologies

Pence revived an old chestnut from the 2012 presidential campaign, saying that “we cannot have four more years of apologizing to our enemies.” The claim hearkens back to Mitt Romney’s frequent jab that Obama began his presidency on an “apology tour” in foreign countries. But as we wrote then, and again when Trump made a similar claim in June, we read through all of the speeches in question and concluded that “we didn’t see that any of them rise to the level of an actual apology.”

In a speech in Cairo, in June 2009, for example, Obama spoke about tensions between the U.S. and the Muslim world, and placed blame on both sides. And then he called for a “new beginning.” That’s not the same as “apologizing to our enemies.” Our fact-checking colleagues at PolitiFact and the Washington Post Fact Checker reached the same conclusion: Obama never apologized.

Pence’s Economic Boasts

Pence boasted that Indiana has “the highest credit rating in the nation,” and that “businesses large and small have created nearly 150,000 new jobs” on his watch. He’s right, but both statements could use some context.

Indiana added 147,800 jobs from January 2013, when he became governor, to May. But as we wrote before, the state’s private job growth rate during that time was 5.9 percent. There were 20 states and the District of Columbia that experienced faster job growth, including nine that had percentage increases in the double digits. Florida (12.7 percent increase) and Utah (12.4 percent) were the top two states with the fastest-growing rates.

As for the state’s bond rating, Indiana has held a AAA rating with all three ratings agencies since 2010 — nearly three years before Pence took office, as the governor’s office said in a press release last month.

Not Among Highest Personal Taxes

Eric Trump wrongly claimed that the U.S. is “one of the highest-taxed nations in the world.” Though the U.S. has one of the highest business tax rates, U.S. personal taxes don’t even break the top ten among industrialized nations.

Eric Trump: Who better to implement commonsense tax reductions for one of the highest-taxed nations in the world, allowing our citizens a chance to keep more of what they earn, as opposed to having it squandered away by our inefficient government.

Eric Trump may have borrowed the claim from his father, whom we have twice flagged for this incorrect assertion.

The younger Trump may have been on firm ground had he been talking about business taxes. The U.S. has the highest business statutory tax rate among industrialized nations, but it was second to France when considering the marginal effective tax rate, according to an analysis by the Tax Foundation.

But Trump did not specify that he was talking about business taxes, and he said if his father is elected president, he would “[allow] our citizens a chance to keep more of what they earn,” suggesting he was talking about personal taxes. On that count, he is wrong. The U.S. ranked 27th out of 30 countries among industrialized nations when it comes to tax revenues as a percentage of GDP in 2014, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. And it ranked 17th out of 29 industrialized countries when it comes to tax revenue per capita.

Debt Not a ‘World Record’

Florida Gov. Rick Scott claimed the U.S. has “world-record high debt,” when, in fact, it doesn’t, at least by the measure economists prefer. And he said the U.S. economy is “not growing,” when it is.

Scott: Today America is in terrible, world-record high debt. Our economy is not growing.

Debt: According to the CIA World Factbook, the U.S. ranks 39th in public debt, measured as a percentage of each country’s economic output, out of 178 nations listed.

The CIA estimated that U.S. debt stood at 73.6 percent of its gross domestic product in 2015, while the most indebted country was Japan, with public debt equal to 227.9 percent of its GDP.

Greece stood at third, with debt equal to 171.3 percent of its GDP.

It may well be true that the simple dollar value of U.S. debt is larger than that of any other country, but it’s also true that the U.S. has by far the world’s largest economy. So economists use debt as a percentage of GDP to make comparisons of how large a nation’s debt is in relation to its ability to repay it.

Growth: The most recent figures from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis show the U.S. economy was growing at a yearly rate of 1.1 percent in the first three months of 2016, after growing at a rate of 1.4 percent in the final three months of 2015. These are “real” growth figures, adjusted for inflation.

Furthermore, the U.S. economy has shown positive growth each year since the end of the 2007-2009 recession. GDP rose by 2.5 percent in 2010, 1.6 percent in 2011, 2.2 percent in 2012, 1.5 percent in 2013, 2.4 percent in 2014 and 2.4 percent for all of 2015.

U.S. Oil

Continental Resources CEO Harold Hamm said that “America now has more oil than Saudi Arabia or Russia.” Not so.

The U.S. has passed Saudi Arabia and Russia in production of petroleum, but estimates put Saudi Arabia’s and Russia’s proved reserves of crude oil way ahead of the U.S.

In 2014, the U.S. had 37 billion barrels of proved crude oil reserves, according to the most recent figures from the Energy Information Administration.

Proved energy reserves, as defined by the EIA, are “estimated quantities of energy sources that analysis of geologic and engineering data demonstrates with reasonable certainty are recoverable under existing economic and operating conditions.”

In that sense, the U.S. is far behind Saudi Arabia and Russia, which, in 2014, had proved reserves totaling 238 billion barrels of crude oil and 80 billion barrels of crude oil, respectively. Those estimates were the same in 2015, according to the EIA, which does not yet have a 2015 estimate for U.S. crude oil reserves.

On the other hand, the U.S. is currently the largest producer of petroleum. But that’s different from having more oil than Saudi Arabia and Russia, as Hamm said.

The U.S. produced 15.04 million barrels of petroleum per day in 2015, according to EIA figures. Saudi Arabia, with 11.95 million barrels per day, and Russia, with 11.03 million barrels per day, were second and third.

However, figures for petroleum production include crude oil, natural gas plant liquids, condensates and other refined liquids. So based on just production of crude oil, including lease condensate, the U.S., with 8.65 million barrels per day, still trailed Russia, with 10.1 million barrels per day, and Saudi Arabia, with 9.7 million barrels per day, in 2014, which is the most recent year for EIA data.

Iranian Holidays

Sen. Ted Cruz claimed that Iran “celebrates as holidays” a “Death to America Day and Death to Israel Day.” These aren’t official names of Iranian holidays, but rather chants used by demonstrators, often on certain days.

Our fact-checking colleagues at PolitiFact.com looked into part of that claim and found there wasn’t an official “Death to America Day.” Cruz was referring to anti-American demonstrations on Nov. 4, the anniversary of Iranian students’ takeover of the U.S. embassy in 1979 and the Iran hostage crisis.

Cruz’s office had referred PolitiFact to a 1987 Associated Press story that said Tehran Radio had called the occasion “Death to America Day.” Other news reports indicated that commemoration of the day sparked anti-American demonstrations, but those reports didn’t use the name “Death to America Day.”

One scholar, Gary Sick, who was also on President Carter’s National Security Council at the time of the hostage crisis, told Politifact that the phrase is shouted “at most events related to the revolution.”

In short, the anti-American sentiment is expressed on the anniversary of the hostage-taking, but Politifact found there wasn’t a designated “Death to America Day.”

As for a “Death to Israel Day,” we found a similar situation. News stories reported that demonstrators in Iran chanted “death to Israel” on “Al-Quds Day,” which is held the last Friday of Ramadan. Al Jazeera and CNN described the day as one to show solidarity with Palestinians, but CNN said in a 2015 story that the day often becomes a “bashing” of Israel and the United States.

Al Jazeera reported on July 1 of this year: “Hundreds of thousands of Iranians have staged anti-Israel rallies across the Islamic Republic to mark al-Quds day, the country’s annual Palestinian solidarity day, which falls on the last Friday of Ramadan. Footage from Iranian state television showed massive crowds demonstrating in the capital Tehran, chanting ‘Death to Israel.’”

While demonstrators have chanted the phrase on that day, the actual holiday is Al-Quds Day.

Context Makes a Difference, Again

Both Cruz and Pence took a Hillary Clinton quote on the Benghazi terrorist attacks out of context, leaving the false impression that she didn’t care about the deaths of four Americans.

Cruz: Theirs is the party … that responds to the death of Americans in Benghazi by asking, “What difference does it make?”

Pence: And it was Hillary Clinton who left Americans in harm’s way in Benghazi and after four Americans fell said, “What difference, at this point, does it make?”

We wrote about this claim on Day 2 of the convention, when Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin and former U.S. Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey made similar claims.

At a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Jan. 23, 2013, Clinton did say, “What difference at this point does it make?” But she did so when Johnson asked if the attack on the diplomatic facilities in Benghazi was a “spontaneous” response to an anti-Muslim internet video, as initially claimed by the Obama administration, or, as the administration later admitted, a terrorist attack. (See our latest Benghazi timeline.)

Johnson asked, “But, Madame Secretary, do you disagree with me that a simple phone call to those evacuees to determine what happened wouldn’t have ascertained immediately that there was no protest?”

Clinton said she didn’t want to “interfere” with the FBI or State Department investigations. After some back-and-forth, she made the “what difference does it make” comment, which was a reference to his line of questioning — not the deaths of Americans.

Clinton, Jan. 23, 2013: With all due respect, the fact is we had four dead Americans. Was it because of a protest or was it because of guys out for a walk one night who decided that they’d they go kill some Americans? What difference at this point does it make? It is our job to figure out what happened and do everything we can to prevent it from ever happening again, Senator.

Cruz and Pence have every right to take issue with her answer, but they twist her words by claiming she said something that she did not.

Minority Unemployment

Pastor Darrell Scott was incorrect when he said that minority unemployment had increased under President Obama. In fact, unemployment for African Americans, Hispanics and Asians, the nation’s three largest minority groups, has declined significantly since Obama took office in January 2009.

Darrell Scott: … our government, which over the last eight years, has brought the rhetoric of hope, but the reality of higher minority unemployment.


Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis chart, based on data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

As the chart above shows, African American unemployment has fallen from 12.7 percent in January 2009 to 8.6 percent in June 2016, the most recent data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Over that same time period, the unemployment rate for Hispanic Americans has dropped from 10.1 percent to 5.8 percent, and the rate for Asian Americans has declined from 6.2 percent to 3.7 percent.

Minority unemployment has fallen in absolute terms as well. The total number of unemployed African Americans was 1.68 million in June, down from 2.26 million in January 2009. And unemployment among Hispanics is also down from 2.22 million in January 2009 to 1.54 million in June.

Asian unemployment is down too, from 435,000 in January 2009 to 358,000 in June, based on non-seasonally adjusted figures.

It is true that Hispanics and African Americans continue to be unemployed at higher rates than all Americans. As of June, the unemployment rates for African Americans and Hispanics, 8.6 percent and 5.8 percent, respectively, were above the national unemployment rate of 4.9 percent.

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