Durham, N.C. — Democratic U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan and Republican state House Speaker Thom Tillis squared off in the second of three scheduled debates in the U.S. Senate race Tuesday night, and just as with their first encounter the pair kept fact checkers busy.
Few of the charges and counter-claims they threw at each other were brand spanking new. Many of those barbs have been featured in news releases and television ads, but a few were newly framed or fully "owned" by the candidates Tuesday night.
Here are some of the claims made by Hagan and Tillis during their second debate that stood out to us and where they rate on our fact-checking scale if we can make a call on the spot.
Hagan: "The Common Core was not put together by the Department of Education in Washington. It was put together by governors and by states." Green light on that one. Developed by a national group of education officials and the National Governors Association, Common Core is also backed by business and military leaders, who said the common set of standards will help prepare students for work life. The standards got little attention until President Barack Obama's Education Department embraced them as an exemplar of what states needed to do in order to win grant funding. In the intervening years, a coalition of political conservatives and parents who say they require students to tackle inappropriate topics have urged states to replace Common Core.
Hagan: "Your (Tillis') idea of being effective is tax cuts for the wealthy, gutting public education by $500 million. And yes, that is a fact." When we originally fact-checked the $500 million cut claim, we gave it a yellow light. The $500 million talked about the total education budget – not just K-12. And the $500 million number comes from a calculation based on projected spending, not actual budget numbers. The fact that Hagan repeated this claim was such gusto Tuesday night after it has been knocked down by just about every independent fact-checker that has looked at its merits a red light for recidivism.
However, Hagan did get a couple things right on the education front. The 7 percent teacher pay raise claim has been questioned on several fronts, and some teachers did see sub-1 percent raises. And there is evidence to support that per-pupil spending, particularly when you look at things like textbook funding, hasn't kept up with student population growth.
Tillis: "For the last year, you've sat on the (Armed Services) Committee, and you've missed half the meetings." This gets a green light, although a qualified one. This question came up during time reserved for the candidates to ask each other questions. Tillis mistakenly said that Hagan sat on the Foreign Affairs Committee, which isn't right. However, given that his campaign and others have been hammering Hagan on her attendance at Armed Services Committee meetings, that's what we'll assume he meant. The Politifact website rated that claim as "mostly true" based on the publicly available record. It gets a qualified green light based on the math, although it's worth noting that senators frequently have scheduling conflicts and we don't know what goes on in closed-door, classified briefings. Hagan points to her work behind closed doors to defend her record.
Hagan: "Once again, Speaker Tillis has waffled. He has told the News & Record he had no idea what he would do. He has not articulated one thing, whether he would arm and train the moderate Syrian rebels, what his plan would be." Politifact has also rated this claim as "mostly true" and that holds up through our own reporting. Tillis has been very critical of the administration's approach to ISIS but has said he needs more information before putting out his own ideas. When WRAL News asked what should be done regarding the extremist group, Tillis replied, "Our one and only goal should be the complete elimination of the Islamic State. Anything short of that would be unacceptable. I’ve made it very clear that we cannot take any options off the table to address this threat. When President Obama signals that we’re not considering all options, we’re basically telling the Islamic State we’re not fully committed to doing what it takes to destroy them."
Tillis: "Sen. Hagan's vote on sequestration – indiscriminate cuts to the military – are going to result in 20,000 to 30,000 jobs being cut Down East." For those who don't remember, sequestration was part of a budget deal forged in the run-up to the 2012 presidential election. The idea was that the automatic spending cuts, which were tied to a short-term spending deal, would be so horrible that they would force lawmakers to work together. That idea didn't work, and at least some of the sequester has gone into effect over the past two years.
Tillis is right that Hagan voted for the budget deal, and he appears to be at least in the ballpark on the numbers. We're fact-checking this late on Tuesday night, so this is subject to revision when we talk to economists later on, however here's what we can say: An oft-cited George Mason University study estimated the state could lose 21,555 in combined civilian and military jobs. A 2013 White House report, as summarized by Pew, said in North Carolina "22,000 civilian defense workers would be furloughed at a loss of $117 million in gross pay." An Army report estimated that Fort Bragg alone could see 12,159 jobs affected. Green light.
Tillis: "Sen. Hagan, when she cast the deciding vote for Obamacare, voted to kill the equivalent of 2.5 million jobs." This claim appears to be based on a Congressional Budget Office report that said people will choose to work fewer hours, which when tallied up would be the equivalent of 2 million to 2.5 million jobs. However, that report did not say that employers would eliminate that many jobs. Fact-checkers have, in various ways, called the idea that the Affordable Care Act would kill 2.5 million jobs incorrect. The claim is still just as incorrect as when the CBO rolled out that report in February. Red light.
Tillis: "Sen. Hagan says one thing, but she does another. She says she's directed the president not to act alone on this issue (immigration), but she voted against and amendment that was trying to be offered by the Senate to do just that." Tillis' rebuttal on the immigration questions stalled our fact-checking staff for a bit because we were having problems finding such an amendment. His campaign helpfully pointed to a July 31 vote when they say, "Hagan voted to block a vote on an amendment that would have effectively prevented President Obama from issuing an executive order granting amnesty."
Date in hand, this vote was easier to run down but hard to explain. We'll lean on Politifact, which has evaluated this claim when leveled at another incumbent Democrat, to explain:
"On Sept. 18, Congress passed a bill that funds the government through mid December, including allocations to equip and train Syrian rebels. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., wanted to attach an amendment to the bill that would have stripped down the Deferred Action for Child Arrivals program (more on the specifics of the amendment later).
"However, they couldn’t propose their amendment. Majority Leader Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., had filled the bill up with his own amendments – effectively blocking any others from consideration.
"Cruz and Sessions asked for a vote to table (kill) one of Reid’s amendments to make room for their proposal. The Senate voted exactly 50-50, with Begich voting "no." The measure needed 51 votes to pass, so it failed, and the Cruz-Sessions proposal never made it to the floor.
"Both conservative and liberal media outlets have played this as a vote either for or against Obama’s immigration authority."
Yes, that is a long way to go. Politifact rated this claim as "false" in the Alaska Senate race. Since we haven't had a chance to ask Hagan why she voted against the amendment or do additional reporting on it, we're going to give it a qualified yellow light. It's obvious this amendment was offered for the purpose of making political hay. That said, a vote is a vote, and Hagan's vote did help block consideration of the Cruz amendment.
Tillis: Sen. Hagan "cast the deciding vote" for Obamacare. Yes, you're getting two fact-checks on the same statement. One of the most common questions we get in our viewer mail goes something like, "What does Tillis mean when he says Hagan cast to deciding vote for Obamacare? How can you tell which was the deciding vote?"
Welp, you can't. To understand this claim, it's helpful to know that, while it takes 51 votes to pass a bill in the U.S. Senate, to surmount certain procedural hurdles requires 60 votes. When Republicans make this "deciding vote" claim, they are pointing to such a procedural "cloture" vote for which 60 senators were needed in order to move forward pass a filibuster and onto debate.
As for whether Hagan was the "deciding" vote, you would find in other states where Republicans call other Democratic senators the "deciding" vote. This claim has been used in Virginia, Louisiana and Florida, to name a few. The GOP explains this by saying every vote to move forward with debate was crucial, therefore every vote in favor was the deciding vote. Given that 59 other people cast the same vote, it's a bit misleading to say any one person cast THE deciding vote. If forced to put a rating on it, we'd give it a yellow light, if only because there's some truth to the notion that Hagan could have blocked the law by voting against cloture.