Tuesday, October 21st, 2014

Fact-checking the State of the Union address

President Barack Obama delivers the State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress.
President Barack Obama delivers the State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress.

PolitiFact is fact-checking President Barack Obama's State of the Union address, as well as the rebuttal and reaction to the speech. We'll be collecting our fact-checks here as we finish them.

Manufacturing jobs

At several points in his State of the Union Address, President Barack Obama noted the importance of manufacturing to the nation’s economy.

"Our first priority is making America a magnet for new jobs and manufacturing," Obama said. "After shedding jobs for more than 10 years, our manufacturers have added about 500,000 jobs over the past three."

The rise in manufacturing jobs that Obama is referring to is modest compared to the prior decade’s decline, but he has described the numbers carefully. We rate his statement True.

Border security

Obama also touted his administration’s record on curbing illegal immigration.

"We can build on the progress my administration has already made – putting more boots on the southern border than at any time in our history and reducing illegal crossings to their lowest levels in 40 years," Obama said.

Obama is right about the numbers, but it’s a stretch for him to suggest that his administration is the primary reason. The growth in agents began under President George W. Bush. And economic conditions in both the United States and Mexico tend to influence the number of crossings, as does crime. On balance, we rate Obama’s claim Half True.

Public support for gun legislation

Obama said victims of gun violence deserve an up or down vote on new legislation concerning guns.

"Overwhelming majorities of Americans – Americans who believe in the 2nd Amendment – have come together around common-sense reform – like background checks that will make it harder for criminals to get their hands on a gun," he told lawmakers.

Obama is right that "overwhelming majorities" support universal background checks. But background checks have the strongest support; polling shows fewer people support other measures, such as an assault weapons ban. We rated Obama's statement Mostly True.

Economic growth

Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio delivered the Republican response to President Obama’s address. He criticized Obama’s handling of the economy.

"Economic growth is the best way to help the middle class," Rubio said. "Unfortunately, our economy actually shrank during the last three months of 2012."

That decline was documented by the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Economic Analysis, the federal agency that calculates gross domestic product, or GDP -- the benchmark statistic for measuring the size of the economy. It’s too early to say whether the fourth-quarter decline in GDP represents a reversal of economic fortune or just a blip. We rated Rubio's statement True.

Defense budget cuts, a.k.a 'the sequester'

Rubio criticized Obama not only on substance, but on style, too.

"Any time anyone opposes the president’s agenda, he and his allies usually respond by falsely attacking their motives," Rubio said.

"Tonight, he even criticized us for refusing to raise taxes to delay military cuts – cuts that were his idea in the first place," he added.

That doesn’t tell the whole story -- particularly the fact that Obama does not favor these cuts. The White House proposed them as a means of driving the two sides to a compromise over the deficit, not as a real-world spending plan. Still, the idea did originate with Obama’s team. We rated Rubio’s statement Half True.

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We'll be adding more fact-checks to this story as we complete them this week; check back for new reports.