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Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley meets voters in a town hall in Exeter, N.H. (Louis Jacobson/PolitiFact) Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley meets voters in a town hall in Exeter, N.H. (Louis Jacobson/PolitiFact)

Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley meets voters in a town hall in Exeter, N.H. (Louis Jacobson/PolitiFact)

Louis Jacobson
By Louis Jacobson October 13, 2023
Samantha Putterman
By Samantha Putterman October 13, 2023

EXETER, N.H. — After gaining ground in Republican presidential primary polling, former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley brought her message of budgetary restraint and heightened immigration control to voters packed inside of an historic town hall.

Haley and other Republican presidential candidates are gathering for campaign events and a state Republican Party summit in New Hampshire, which will host the first-in-the-nation primary slated for Jan. 23. PolitiFact reporters are in the state to cover the candidates in partnership with WMUR in Manchester, New Hampshire, and WCVB in Boston.

During the event, hosted by USA Today, Haley received applause for promoting parental control in the classroom; instituting term limits for Congress; preventing Chinese entities from buying U.S. land; and "defunding" sanctuary cities for immigrants illegally in the United States.

"Instead of catch-and-release," Haley said, "we’ll do catch and deport."

Haley went after Republicans in Congress for approving more pet projects, known as earmarks, than Democrats, and she reminded the audience that Republicans have lost seven out of the past eight presidential election popular votes. When asked by an audience member how she would "represent the middle," Haley described her response to the mass murder of Black parishioners at Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, when she took down the Confederate flag from the state’s Capitol. 

Haley also distanced herself from former President Donald Trump, saying he "was the right president at the right time. I don't think he's the right president now." 

Haley, 51, urged a "competency test" for candidates over 75 years old. "We need people at the top of their game," she said.

New Hampshire voters listen to Nikki Haley at a town hall in Exeter, N.H. (Louis Jacobson/PolitiFact)

Here’s our assessment of some of the claims she made in the stump speech and her responses to audience questions.

On education, Haley promised to increase children’s proficiency levels. She said, "29% of eighth graders in our country are proficient in reading. 29%. 26% of eighth graders are proficient in math. That's it."

This is accurate. The National Assessment of Educational Progress report — known as the nation’s report card — tests fourth and eighth graders on key academic subjects. The 2022  report, the first since the COVID-19 pandemic, found that math scores for eighth graders fell in nearly every state, with 26% rating as proficient, down from 34% in 2019. 

Reading scores also declined among eighth graders in several states and no state showed significant improvement, the report found. This continued a downward trend that predated the pandemic but represented the largest largest average score decline in reading since 1990.

Haley also took aim at federal spending. She said, "Let's claw back the $500 billion of unspent COVID that are out there instead of 87,000 IRS agents going after middle America."

Haley’s claim about the unspent COVID-19 funds is Half True. Government estimates show that more than $400 billion in pandemic relief money remained unspent as of Jan. 31. But a majority of the money has been allocated, meaning it’s earmarked to be spent and wouldn’t be eligible for rescission. Estimates about how much remains unspent and unallocated range from $70 billion to $90.5 billion.

The government injected more money into the IRS as part of the 2022 Inflation Reduction Act, but the 87,000 figure includes new employees across the agency, including information technology experts and customer service representatives, not just enforcement staff. And many of those hires would go toward holding staff numbers steady in the face of budget cuts and  retirements. About 7,000 new hires will focus on enforcing that wealthy taxpayers and big corporations pay their taxes, according to an April 2023 IRS report.

Haley also said there are "hundreds of billions of dollars of COVID fraud that we know exist, one out of every $7" spent.

This is mostly right. A September Government Accountability Office report found that fraudsters may have stolen between $100 billion and $135 billion in federal unemployment aid during the COVID-19 pandemic. This comes out to about one out of every seven dollars set aside for unemployed Americans during the public health emergency.

Haley also took shots at Congress. "They've only put out a budget four times in 40 years on time. Four times."

This is correct. The Pew Research Center, a nonpartisan research group, wrote earlier this year that Congress has passed its required appropriations measures only four times in the modern budgeting era. 

Those were in fiscal years 1977, 1989, 1995 and 1997. 

Asked about her position on a national policy for abortion, Haley told the audience that there aren’t enough votes in the Senate to pass a national ban. "We may have 45 pro-life senators," she said, which is short of the 60 votes needed to pass a national ban, given the Senate’s rules. "We haven't had 60 Republicans in over 100 years," Haley said.

This is correct. The last time the Republicans had 60 Senate votes was from 1909 to 1911.

Haley also touched on the public health danger from fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid. "More people have died of fentanyl than the Iraq, Afghanistan and Vietnam wars combined," she said.

This is accurate. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data shows that about 77,000 Americans died from synthetic opioids overdoses in the 12 months ending in April of this year, according to a provisional estimate. Those three wars killed more than 65,000 Americans.

PolitiFact Copy Chief Matthew Crowley contributed to this report.

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Our Sources

Nikki Haley, remarks at a town hall in Exeter, New Hampshire, Oct. 12, 2023

New York Times, "Math Scores Fell in Nearly Every State, and Reading Dipped on National Exam," Oct. 24, 2022

National Assessment of Educational Progress, "Scores decline in NAEP reading at grades 4 and 8 compared to 2019," accessed Oct. 13, 2023

The Hechinger Report, "America’s reading problem: Scores were dropping even before the pandemic," Nov. 10, 2021

Internal Revenue Service, "Inflation Reduction Act Strategic Operating Plan, FY2023 – 2031," accessed Oct. 13, 2023

Government Accountability Office, "Unemployment Insurance: Estimated Amount of Fraud During Pandemic Likely Between $100 Billion and $135 Billion," Sep. 12, 2023

Pew Research Center, "Congress has long struggled to pass spending bills on time," Sept. 13, 2023

U.S. Senate, historical party divisions, accessed Oct. 13, 2023

New York Times, "Some Key Facts About Fentanyl," Oct. 5, 2023

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "Provisional Drug Overdose Death Counts," accessed Oct. 13, 2023

PolitiFact, "Fact-check: What Republican candidates got right, wrong in first debate on Fox News," Aug. 23, 2023

PolitiFact, "There is "$500 billion of unspent COVID money" that can be rescinded," May 1, 2023

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