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Fact-checking Tim Kaine, Mike Pence at the VP debate (running blog)

Linda Qiu
By Linda Qiu October 5, 2016

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence and Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine faced off in the only vice-presidential debate of the 2016 election, defending their running mates and attacking each other’s.

Kaine repeatedly pointed out that Pence didn’t go out of the way to defend "the insult-driven, selfish ‘me first’ style of Donald Trump." Pence turned the tables on Hillary Clinton, going after her foreign policy record and Clinton Foundation controversies.

Here are 32 claims  the vice presidential candidates made, fact-checked:

Kaine: Trump "has pursued the discredited and really outrageous lie that President Obama wasn't born in the United States."

Trump repeatedly questioned Obama’s birthplace from 2011 to 2014.  

Pence: "We've seen an economy stifled by more taxes, more regulation, a war on coal, and a failing health care reform come to be known as Obamacare, and the American people know that we need to make a change."

Pence’s point about more taxes under President Barack Obama rates Half True. Obama certainly raised some levies, including income taxes on people earning more than $400,000 a year.

Although most folks don’t fall into that category, Obama’s health care reforms come with a series of new taxes that do affect lower earners. But Pence’s statement leaves a lot out of the story. Obama also has extended permanently tax cuts that were set to expire. He also enacted a series of temporary tax cuts aimed at jumpstarting the economy.

Kaine: "These guys have praised Vladimir Putin as a great leader."

This is accurate. As we’ve previously written, Trump has said Putin is "getting an A" for leadership while Pence said it’s "inarguable that Vladimir Putin has been a stronger leader in his country than Barack Obama has been in this country."

Pence: "Hillary Clinton failed to renegotiate a status of forces agreement."

We rated this claim Mostly False. In 2011, the Obama administration was negotiating with the Iraqi government to give American troops immunity prosecution by Iraqis — a touchy political issue.

There’s debate on whether the Americans could have worked out a deal, but Pence is wrong to suggest Clinton is to blame. The key decisions and discussions took place between the White House itself and Iraqi leaders.

Pence: "She had a Clinton Foundation accepting contributions from foreign governments."

The Clinton Foundation has taken millions of dollars from the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Israel, Jamaica, Bahrain, Brunei and Germany to name a few. We rated this claim True.

Pence: "We’ve almost doubled the national debt."

This is Mostly True. The national debt was $10.63 trillion when Obama took office. It is now over $19.5 trillion. But it is important to note that the debt cannot all be blamed on Obama. Congress has a role in approving spending. And, experts told us that money needed to be spent in a free-falling economy.

Pence: Kaine "actually tried to raise taxes by about $4 billion."

Pence was referring to three unsuccessful tax hikes proposed by Kaine that adds up to about $4 billion in proposed tax hikes and fees. But Pence is double counting one effort and leaving out a $650 million cut that offsets one of the other tax hikes. PolitiFact Virginia rated this claim Mostly True.

Pence: "They want to expand (Obamacare) into a single-payer program."

Clinton and Kaine have proposed a public option — a government-sponsored insurance plan — but they have not proposed single-payer. Clinton has consistently resisted going in that direction and instead proposes to work to prevent the repeal of Obamacare and try to improve on it.

Pence’s claim is Mostly False.

Kaine: "First, Donald Trump said wages are too high, and both Donald Trump and Mike Pence think we ought to eliminate the federal minimum wage."

This is Half True. Trump did say "wages are too high" in 2015, but Kaine is exaggerating when he says Trump and Pence want to eliminate the federal minimum wage. Trump has been inconsistent on the issue. Pence has been critical of the idea of a minimum wage, but we didn’t find evidence of him calling  for eliminating it.

Kaine: "Fifteen million new jobs" have been created during the Obama years.

Kaine is cherry-picking this figure. The actual number of jobs starting with their inauguration is only about two-thirds as big -- 10.6 million jobs. The 15 million number uses a different, more limited timeframe to count job creation. We rated this claim Half True.

Kaine: "Richard Nixon released tax returns when he was under audit."

This is True. Though Nixon didn’t release his tax returns while running for president, he did when he was already president and under an IRS audit.

Kaine: "Donald Trump wrote a book and he said Social Security is a Ponzi scheme and privatization would be good for all of us."

In 2000, Trump supported privatization and called Social Security a Ponzi scheme. But now, 16 years later, Trump has offered relatively vague -- but relatively consistent -- statements that support keeping the structure of the program as is, without enacting changes as significant as private accounts. We rated Kaine’s claim Mostly False.

Kaine: Philando Castile "had been stopped by police 40 or 50 times before that fatal incident."

This is True. According to multiple independent press reports, that is accurate. Police had stopped Castile at least 46 times. A study commissioned by the state legislature found that local police were more likely to stop and search minority drivers.

Kaine: "And if you look at sentencing in this country, African-Americans and Latinos get sentenced for the same crimes at very different rates."

Yes, African Americans are more likely to be arrested and get longer sentences than whites for the same crimes.

Pence: "Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine want to continue the policies of open borders, amnesty, catch and release, sanctuary cities."

This is a mixed bag of accuracy. Clinton does not want open borders and she has not advocated for amnesty.  But she does believe sanctuary cities can help further public safety.

Kaine: "When Donald Trump spoke in Phoenix, he looked the audience in the eye and he said, no, we're building a wall, and we're deporting everybody. He said, quote, ‘they will all be gone. They will all be gone.’ This is one of the ones where you can go to the tape on it and see what Donald Trump has said."

We rated this claim Half True. Trump’s comments were more tamped-down than Kaine presented.

Trump has been not entirely consistent about his deportation plans, but he did not literally say the entire undocumented population "will all be gone" in Phoenix. He was referring to immigrants who had committed crimes. He did say, however, undocumented immigrants "have one route and one route only, to return home and apply for re-entry like everybody else."

Kaine: Trump "trash talks the military. The military is a disaster, John McCain's no hero, the generals need all to be fired, and I know more than them."

Trump did call the military a "disaster" during a debate in January. More recently, he has called it "depleted" and focused more on what he suggests is a lack of resources. He also called McCain "not a war hero" in 2015. Recently, Trump said "they’d probably be different generals" under a Trump presidency.

Pence: Donald Trump "never said that" more nations should get nuclear weapons.

Mostly False. Trump has said some countries, namely Japan and South Korea, might be "better off" if they were to develop nuclear weapons, given their proximity to North Korea. However, he has also said — often in the same interview — that he opposes nuclear proliferation in general.

Pence: "You didn't stop the nuclear weapons program."

Kaine: "Yes, we did."

The two candidates were arguing over the efficacy of the Iran nuclear deal, which Clinton helped negotiate. When we looked into this in the past, most independent experts agreed with Kaine’s stance that the Iran nuclear deal did put a lid on Iran’s nuclear ambitions. They say the deal is both effective on paper and close to the best outcome the United States could have achieved through diplomatic means.

Pence: "Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine want to increase the Syrian refugee program by 500" percent.

This is True. Clinton supported allowing in 65,000 refugees when Obama supported a 10,000 figure. (The refugees would be screened.) That’s a 550 percent increase.

Pence: "Elaine, the director of the FBI, our homeland security, said we can't know for certain who these people are coming from Syria."

This is a much more tempered and more accurate version of Trump’s False claim that there’s "no system to vet" refugees.

It takes up to two years on average to screen refugees, who undergo multiple rounds of security checks and interviews. Pence has a point, however, that FBI Director James Comey has said there are gaps in the data and information on refugees from conflict zones.

Pence: "We have the smallest Navy since 1916."

The "smallest navy" line has become a popular talking point, but it is misleading. While the number of active ships is the lowest since 1916, the ships of the World War I era are definitely not the ships of today.

Kaine: "The Trump campaign management team had to be fired a month or so ago because of those shadowy connections with pro-Putin forces."

Kaine is likely referring to former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort. In May, we detailed Manafort’s long and deep ties to pro-Russian politicians in Ukraine. Manafort quit the Trump campaign in mid August.

Kaine: Vladimir Putin "persecutes" journalists.

When we examined this question before, we found that there is no evidence that ties Putin directly to assassinations of journalists, but experts told us Putin is certainly responsible for a political climate that fosters a high volume of journalist murders.

Kaine: "The New York Times suggested that he probably didn't pay taxes for about 18 years starting in 1995."

In 1995, Trump reported a $916 million loss, according to the three pages of returns obtained and verified by the New York Times in September. These losses stemmed from significant financial problems across many of Trump’s businesses in the 1990s, including at least four major bankruptcies.

As we explain in a PolitiFact Sheet on Trump’s taxes, the 1995 returns show it’s possible Trump was able to avoid paying federal income taxes for as much as 18 years legally. (A tax provision allows people to report losses from their businesses as a deduction.)

Kaine: "Donald Trump, on the other hand, didn't know that Russia had invaded the Crimea."

Pence: "Oh, that’s nonsense."

It’s not entirely clear if Trump was ignorant of Russia’s intervention in Crimea in 2014, a major geopolitical development of recent years. Trump said Putin is "not going into Ukraine, okay?" in an interview with ABC, but then said "he’s there in a certain way, but I’m not there yet." (Read more here.)

Pence: "We delivered $400 million in cash as a ransom payment for Americans held by the radical mullahs in Tehran.

This "ransom" line, which we’ve previously heard from Trump, is Mostly False. Iran received the payment on the same day that American prisoners were released, but experts said this was not ransom. The United States owed Iran the money as part of a decades-long financial dispute.

Kaine: The Clinton Foundation "provides AIDS drugs to about 11.5 million people."

We rated a similar claim True. The Clinton Health Access Initiative, one of the Clinton Foundation’s first big projects, focused on using market mechanisms to reduce treatment costs. The program helped lower prices dramatically and it remains a key player in maintaining a steady supply of affordable HIV/AIDS drugs.   

Pence: "Less than 10 cents on the dollar in the Clinton Foundation has gone to charitable causes."

This is a repeated Republican talking point and it’s inaccurate. While it’s true that the foundation gives away in grants a small fraction of its resources, about 87 percent of its expenses go toward services it provides directly.

Kaine: Trump Foundation money was spent on "a $20,000 portrait of Donald Trump."

Based on reporting by the Washington Post’s David Fahrenthold, Kaine’s claim is True.

Kaine: "A Trump-Pence ticket that wants to punish women who make that choice" on abortion.  

We rated a similar claim from California Sen. Barbara Boxer Half True. Trump did say "there has to be some form of punishment" for women who choose abortion, but he retracted that statement within hours. There’s no evidence this was a long-held position.

Kaine: Clinton "worked across the aisle when she was first lady to get the CHIP program passed so that 8 million low-income kids have health insurance in this country, including 150,000 in Indiana."

This is largely accurate. Clinton was key to creating the Children’s Health Insurance Program, which provides coverage for 8 million children. Kaine’s claim leaves out the contributions of others.

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Fact-checking Tim Kaine, Mike Pence at the VP debate (running blog)