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Whether it was arguing on the Senate floor for federal aid to help those devastated by Hurricane Sandy or looking to close loopholes in the nation’s gun control laws, U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg was rarely dispassionate about topics that concerned him.
New Jersey’s senior senator, a Democrat, took up for those and other issues during his 30 years of service in the U.S. Senate. The last World War II veteran in the Senate, Lautenberg died today from complications of viral pneumonia. He was 89.
It was Lautenberg’s claims about topics of frequent concern to him -- Sandy, Amtrak, guns and healthcare -- that earned him eight fact-checks on the Truth-O-Meter. We recap those claims here.
When Hurricane Sandy came roaring ashore the Jersey coastline on Oct. 29, its wrath extended well beyond damaged boardwalks, homes and extensive power outages. Sandy’s ferocity also took a major chunk out of a major New Jersey industry: tourism.
Lautenberg described that impact during a Nov. 13 speech on the Senate floor, according to the Congressional Record. "In 2008, tourism brought in $38 billion dollars and supported more than 300,000 jobs in the state of New Jersey," the senator said. This claim was True. Economic impact studies reviewed by PolitiFact New Jersey showed that the tourism industry in this state has hovered in the mid-$30 billion range for the past five years, except in 2009 and 2010, when the state was still emerging from the recession.
Several boardwalks along the Jersey Shore crumbled in the wake of Hurricane Sandy last October, and Lautenberg also cited that devastation in a Nov. 13, 2012 speech to the Senate, imploring members for funding to help New Jersey recover. But Lautenberg erred somewhat when he mentioned the Atlantic City boardwalk. The stretch of boardwalk in front of the casinos that most tourists associate with Atlantic City fared well. The part of the Atlantic City boardwalk that washed away was a dilapidated section that runs along the Absecon Inlet. Much of that boardwalk had been scheduled for demolition. His claim was rated Mostly False.
Money train matter
In October 2011, Lautenberg described funding for Amtrak in an article on NOLA.com, the online home of the New Orleans’ Times-Picayune, saying that federal highway spending in 2010 exceeded all funding for Amtrak in its 40-year history. The Federal Highway Administration confirmed the highway spending figure, as did Amtrak in a letter requesting $2.2 billion in federal assistance for its Fiscal Year 2012 budget. The claim was on track and was rated True.
After the Jan. 8, 2011 shooting of 20 people in Tucson, Ariz., including then-Rep. Gabby Giffords (D-Ariz.), Lautenberg pointed to the stark differences in shootings in the United States versus other countries. In making his case to tighten gun laws, Lautenberg said, "When we look at the number of murders in the United States, 2009, we had 9,500 people murdered. When we look around the world, we see large companies -- large countries, the U.K., Germany, Japan had 200 or less killed in a year." Our colleagues at PolitiFact.com fact-checked this statement and found that a couple of Lautenberg’s numbers were off slightly, but the overall point of his claim was solid. He received a Mostly True.
Gun control concerns
In July 2012, Lautenberg claimed in an op-ed piece on NorthJersey.com that "Guns have murdered more Americans here at home in recent years than have died on the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan. In support of the two wars, more than 6,500 American soldiers have lost their lives. During the same period, however, guns have been used to murder about 100,000 people on American soil."
Although his numbers were on target, three experts told PolitiFact New Jersey that the senator’s premise was flawed because he used raw numbers to compare two different populations. Experts also noted that Lautenberg referred to American troops killed in Iraq and Afghanistan when many more have died in both wars. His claim was rated Half True.
Earlier, in April 2012, Lautenberg said on the Senate floor that a loophole in federal gun laws "allows a convicted abuser to walk into a gun show and walk out with a gun, no questions asked."
That statement was True. Gun laws can vary from state to state, and some states have closed that loophole. Lautenberg, however, was speaking in the context of federal law, which does not require individuals who are not federally licensed to perform background checks before a gun transaction.
Lautenberg took up the national health care banner when he visited the Rutgers-Camden campus in May 2012 to talk about possible benefits of the reform. "Just remember this: the president's health care bill put 30 million people on health care rolls that weren't there before," the senator said. Projections at the time showed that the health care reform might lead to insurance coverage for about 30 million additional Americans, but that wouldn’t happen until 2016. He received a Half True for the claim.
The topic of rail safety in the United States came up in June 2011, not long after the death of Osama bin Laden, when Lautenberg claimed after a hearing on rail safety that there had been about 1,300 terror attacks on rails since 2004, resulting in 4,000 deaths and thousands of injuries. We determined that Lautenberg erred in presenting some of his statistics on this topic, earning him a Mostly False. What Lautenberg should have said, according to a spokesman, was that the numbers referred to attacks on buses and trains worldwide since 2004.
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