Fact checking the first Ron Johnson-Russ Feingold U.S. Senate debate

Democratic challenger Russ Feingold (left) and Republican U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson prepare for a debate in Green Bay, Wis., on Oct. 14, 2016. (Sarah Kloepping photo)
Democratic challenger Russ Feingold (left) and Republican U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson prepare for a debate in Green Bay, Wis., on Oct. 14, 2016. (Sarah Kloepping photo)

Here are six statements made in the Oct. 14, 2016 Wisconsin U.S. Senate debate that are the same as, or similar to, statements that have been previously fact checked by PolitiFact.

Republican incumbent Ron Johnson repeated claims that we have checked.

His Democratic challenger, former U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold, tended to make claims that were similar to those that we have checked.

Claims by Johnson

Johnson said Feingold voted to give Social Security benefits to illegal immigrants. We rated that False.  Johnson made the same claim during the 2010 campaign with Feingold, citing one particular vote that Feingold cast. But that vote would not have OK’d the Social Security benefits.

Twice in the debate, Johnson said Feingold voted 11 times against authorizing the military. We rated that Half True. Feingold voted 11 times against an annual bill that authorizes defense spending levels and covers policy issues such as gays in the military. But those were not votes to defund the military and conclusions can’t be drawn about why a lawmaker votes no on the wide-ranging annual bill, given that lawmakers may oppose it for a variety of policy reasons.

Johnson said the United States is energy independent -- the same claim made several days ago by Hillary Clinton. PolitiFact National rated that False. The United States is reducing its reliance on foreign energy sources, but it’s not there yet.

Claims by Feingold  

Feingold made a reference to Johnson backing trade deals that Feingold said ship jobs overseas. That was more vague than when Feingold said Johnson "helped companies ship jobs overseas." Our rating on that variation of the claim was False, given that there wasn’t evidence free-trade deals backed by Johnson sent U.S. jobs overseas.

Feingold said in the debate that Johnson says federal student loans shouldn't have been created. That’s similar to when Feingold said Johnson "is opposed to all government-assisted student loans." Our rating on that version of the Feingold statement was Mostly True. Johnson had said the government never should have gotten involved in student loans, but one of his votes helped student borrowers in the short term.

Feingold said in the debate that Johnson calls Social Security a Ponzi scheme. We haven’t rated that claim exactly. But when Johnson said in 2010 that Washington politicians "run Social Security like a Ponzi scheme," our rating was Mostly False. Unlike a Ponzi, Social Security is obligated to pay benefits, a commitment the shysters who run Ponzi schemes do not share. As for those IOUs, the government is required to make good on the money borrowed from the fund -- and to pay it back with interest.

Go here to see all fact checks on statements by or about Johnson.

And here to see all fact checks on statements by or about Feingold.