Fact check: GOP Senate candidates make some questionable claims

Posted April 23, 2014 8:57 p.m. EDT
Updated July 13, 2018 2:44 p.m. EDT

— WRAL News hosted a debate among the four leading Republican candidates for U.S. Senate: Cary doctor Greg Brannon, Wilkesboro nurse Heather Grant, Charlotte pastor Mark Harris and state House Speaker Thom Tillis Wednesday night. 

During the 30-minute debate, WRAL anchor David Crabtree pushed each of the candidates for specific answers. And in some of their specific replies, the candidates made some questionable claims. Here are quick fact checks: 

CLIMATE CHANGE: During a debate earlier this week, all four candidates were asked whether climate change caused by humans was a fact. All four said no. Crabtree followed up in the WRAL News debate by asking what was causing climate change and does the federal government have a role in reacting to it. Candidates continued to express skepticism about the topic.

"The point is the liberal agenda – the Obama agenda, the Kay Hagan agenda – trying to use it as a Trojan horse for their energy policy," Tillis said. "They're trying to use it as a tool to put fear in people." He went on to say Democrats were using "false science" to promote their policy agenda.

Grant said that the federal government should not play a role, and the state governments should respond to any effects of climate change. Harris echoed that position, saying the federal government needs to "stay away from this" issue. 

"Climate changes every day," Brannon said. "Does a human being affect it? The answer is no." 

Red light!

Fact check: We could go with news outlets such as The Guardian or The Washington Post, but we'll let NASA carry our water here: "Ninety-seven percent of climate scientists agree that climate-warming trends over the past century are very likely due to human activities, and most of the leading scientific organizations worldwide have issued public statements endorsing this position."

Tillis' claim is that climate change is "false science" created to drive a political agenda. Brannon clearly says humans aren't driving climate change. The preponderance of scientific opinion disagrees. 

This claim gets a red light on our fact-checking scale.

FAITH: Crabtree asked what role faith should play in a political campaign, given that the United States is a country that professes to believe in the separation of church and state. Each candidate said individual faith informs his actions, but Brannon went further. 

"This whole fallacy of a separation between church and state is nowhere found in our founding documents," Brannon said. "It was a letter written by (Thomas) Jefferson back to the Danbury convention back in Connecticut saying that the federal government can never make a wall that they can go over. The individual is free to be how they want to be." 

Fact check: The letter Brannon referenced was addressed to the Danbury Baptist association in the state of Connecticut and read, in part, "I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should 'make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,' thus building a wall of separation between Church & State."

Red light!

It's worth noting that the text of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution reads, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

And as the folks over at Cornell Law School explain, "Two clauses in the First Amendment guarantee freedom of religion. The establishment clause prohibits the government from passing legislation to establish an official religion or preferring one religion over another. It enforces the 'separation of church and state.' " 

While you might not find the words "separation of church and state" in the Constitution, the U.S. Supreme Court has found that government ought to stay out of religion, and vice versa, over the years. This claim gets a red light.

IMMIGRATION: Crabtree pushed the candidates on the issue of immigration. Specifically, he wanted to know if they thought the federal government ought to undertake the cost of deporting some 12 million people estimated to be in the United States illegally.

"Who’s paying for them now?" Grant asked. "We’re paying for their health care. We’re paying for their HUD housing." She continued, "There’s SNAP, the advertising for SNAP in Mexico is a huge cost to us. Their HUD housing is a huge cost to us. Their Medicaid is a huge cost to us."

Red light!

Fact check: According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban development, "Eligibility for a housing voucher is … limited to US citizens and specified categories of non-citizens who have eligible immigration status." That doesn't apply to people here illegally. 

This claim gets a red light.

SNAP benefits are food benefits under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, eligibility is limited to "most legal immigrants" who have lived in the U.S. for five years, are under 18 or are disabled. "Certain non-citizens such as those admitted for humanitarian reasons and those admitted for permanent residence may also eligible for the program."

Yellow light

As for the claim about advertising SNAP benefits in Mexico, according to the SNAP program the USDA signed an agreement with Mexico in 2004, under then-President George W. Bush, to "help educate eligible Mexican nationals living in the United States about available nutrition assistance." Mexico used its embassy and consular offices to disseminate the information. The outreach program targets "Mexican Americans, Mexican nationals working in America and migrant communities in America. The information is specifically focused on eligibility criteria and access."

This claim gets a yellow light.