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Fact-checking the Michigan Senate race between James, Peters
John James, left, and U.S. Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich. (Handout photos, USA Today) John James, left, and U.S. Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich. (Handout photos, USA Today)

John James, left, and U.S. Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich. (Handout photos, USA Today)

Clara Hendrickson
By Clara Hendrickson October 30, 2020
Louis Jacobson
By Louis Jacobson October 30, 2020

If Your Time is short

  • The Michigan Senate race will help determine whether the Democrats or Republicans control the Senate.

  • Republican groups have gone after Gary Peters for his committee attendance and record on veterans’ issues. 

  • Democratic groups have gone after John James for calling for repealing of the Affordable Care Act and his support for Betsy DeVos.

Incumbent Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich., is up for re-election in a tight race against Republican challenger John James, a Detroit-area businessman. This is James’ second Senate run. He lost his 2018 race against Sen. Debbie Stabenow.

The Cook Political Report finds that Peters has an advantage in this competitive race, which could determine which party controls the Senate.

We've fact-checked a number of attacks leveled by the campaigns and their allies. Here’s a rundown:

Claims about James

Michigan Democratic Party: "James is the only Senate candidate in a battleground state who has refused to take a position" on filling Supreme Court vacancy.

We rated this claim Mostly True. The Michigan Democratic Party criticized James’ murky statements on filling the vacancy left by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death.

In the competitive Senate races identified by the nonpartisan Cook Political Report, we found that every Republican Senate candidate except James had publicly indicated their position on whether to consider Trump’s nominee before the election.

American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees: James "wants to allow insurance companies to discriminate against people with preexisting conditions."

We rated this claim Mostly False.

In an ad, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, a labor union, targets Michigan Republican Senate candidate John James for his position on health care.

James has called for repealing and replacing the ACA but has not indicated his support for a specific health care reform package. James has said many times that he supports a health insurance system that covers and protects people with preexisting conditions. James’ critics note that he hasn’t provided details on how he’d achieve that goal, but this ad goes too far in stating that James supports allowing insurance companies to deny coverage on the basis of preexisting conditions.

Senate Majority PAC: James "backed Betsy DeVos' agenda to take money away from public schools and give it to wealthy private schools instead."

We rate this claim Mostly False.

A Facebook ad from the Senate Majority PAC — which helps elect Democratic candidates to the Senate — attacked Michigan Republican Senate candidate John James, claiming that he, like DeVos, favors directing federal funding away from public schools to supporting private schools.

During her tenure as education secretary, DeVos has sought funding cuts to public schools while increasing federal funding to help more children enroll in private schools.

James has made comments supportive of DeVos’ school choice efforts broadly, but his campaign declined to offer details on his education policy proposals, and he has no legislative voting record to indicate where he stands.

Claims about Peters

James: "Peters is "known for doing nothing. … (Peters) skipped 84% of small business hearings (and) skipped 89% of hearings on China."

We rate the claim Mostly False.

James has targeted Peters as an ineffective incumbent who doesn’t show up for work, citing Peters’ committee attendance record.

The percentages are accurate, but they are cherry-picked because they ignore multiple other measurements that indicate a high level of engagement by Peters in Washington, including recent influential committee assignments, a perfect record on floor votes, and high scores on effectiveness from independent academic analyses.

National Republican Senatorial Committee: "Peters fought against funding for the VA, veterans housing programs, military pay raises, and health care and research for veterans and their families. He also fought against funding for processing veterans’ disability claims."

We rate this claim False.

The NRSC’s statements rest on a handful of votes that don’t reflect Peters’ positions on the issues. Peters has supported the final passage of every bill funding the VA and its housing, health care and disability compensation programs with the exception of two votes. One vote was because Democrats opposed spending cuts; another was because Peters wanted assistance for the Flint, Mich., water crisis that wasn’t included.

Peters has also voted for every Defense Authorization Act that included a military pay raise with one exception because he was opposed to the direction of the war in Afghanistan.

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Our Sources

Cook Political Report, "2020 Senate Race Ratings," October 29, 2020 

PolitiFact, Louis Jacobson, "Fact-checking John James on Gary Peters’ committee attendance," August 31, 2020  

PolitiFact, Clara Hendrickson, "John James is lone Senate candidate facing tight race who is mum on Supreme Court vote," September 25, 2020 

PolitiFact, Clara Hendrickson, "NRSC distorts Gary Peters’ record on veterans issues," July 8, 2020 

PolitiFact, Clara Hendrickson, "Attack ad exaggerates John James’ health care stance," July 22, 2020 

PolitiFact, Clara Hendrickson, "James backs DeVos and school choice, but does he want to divert funding from public schools?," September 24, 2020

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Fact-checking the Michigan Senate race between James, Peters