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A new ad by the Emergency Committee for Israel -- a pro-Israel group whose board members include high-profile conservatives Bill Kristol and Gary Bauer -- pummels U.S. Rep. Lois Capps, D-Calif., over Middle East policy.
With a series of dark, conflict-heavy images and ominous music as a backdrop, the ad says, among other things, "When Congress voted to condemn Iran for sentencing a Christian pastor to death, Capps was the only member who voted no."
We wondered if it was true that Capps was really the only lawmaker to vote no on that measure.
It turns out that Capps was indeed the only "no" vote recorded in the 417-to-1 roll call on March 1, 2012. But Capps says she voted that way by mistake, and she sought to correct the record immediately after the vote.
Here’s what happened, based on the Congressional Record and interviews with Capps’ staff.
The bill, H. Res. 556, condemned the government of Iran for "its continued persecution, imprisonment, and sentencing of Youcef Nadarkhani on the charge of apostasy." Nadarkhani, an Iranian Christian, was sentenced to death in 2010 for refusing to reject Christianity. He has since been freed, but at the time of the vote, his fate was uncertain, and his case had become something of a cause celebre.
Capps cast a "no" vote, but within minutes of the floor vote, she or an aide realized that she had pressed the wrong button on the voting console. Within minutes, Capps addressed the House to explain her mistake.
"Mr. Speaker, I rise to correct the record," Capps said in remarks available on YouTube. "I mistakenly voted ‘no’ just a few minutes ago on roll call (vote) 94 when I intended to vote ‘yes,’ and I ask unanimous consent that the Congressional Record reflect that correction. I do support H. Res. 556 (and condemn) the government of Iran for its state-sponsored persecution of religious minorities. I concur with the resolution in calling for the exoneration and immediate release of Youcef Nadarkhani and all other individuals held or charged on account of their religion."
That request was published in the Congressional Record, as was a longer statement that said in part, "It is deplorable, and this House should denounce it in the harshest of terms. Pastor Youcef deserves to be free. He deserves to practice his faith and be home with his wife and young children. He deserves to have his rights as a human being upheld and respected. I urge a yes vote on H. Res. 556."
Capps’ office was also aggressive about correcting the record in the media. When the Christian Post published a story that cited Capps’ "no" vote, an aide to Capps contacted the publication, which proceeded to run a correction.
Noah Pollak, executive director of the Emergency Committee for Israel, didn’t back down in an interview with PolitiFact. He said that Capps’ vote "is entirely consistent with the rest of her foreign policy record. Whatever excuses she came up with afterward -- obviously she is entitled to argue that case, but going with the way she voted, it’s not inconsistent."
The problem for Capps is that once a vote is over, it’s untouchable -- votes cannot be changed retroactively. So the official tally will always reflect Capps’ mistaken vote rather than the one she intended.
That said, at least one expert in congressional procedure said that Capps handled a difficult situation as best as she could.
"Since we cannot read minds as to whether they made a mistake or were subsequently told by their office staff that they would be in deep political trouble if they do not make amends somehow, we have to take members at their word," said Donald Wolfensberger, a former Republican staff director of the House Rules Committee who currently directs the Congress Project at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. "The sooner they correct things, the more believable they are; the later, the less so."
Wolfensberger added that today, so many votes are taken in clusters that an honest mistake in voting is plausible.
The official record does show that Capps was the only lawmaker to vote "no" on the resolution in question, but that’s not the whole story. Quickly realizing her mistake, Capps took several steps to correct the record, including taking to the floor to clarify her position within minutes of the erroneous vote. The speed of her correction suggests that she is not simply changing her mind after the fact. The ad’s claim contains an element of truth, but it ignores critical facts that would give a different impression. We rate the ad’s claim Mostly False.
Emergency Committee for Israel, "What’s Wrong with Lois Capps?" (ad), Oct. 9, 2012
Congressional Record, vote on H. Res 556, March 1, 2012
Congressional Record, remarks by Lois Capps, March 1, 2012
Lois Capps, YouTube video of floor comments, March 1, 2012
Text of H. Res. 556
Christian Post, "House of Representatives Approves Youcef Nadarkhani Resolution," March 1, 2012
Huffington Post, "Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani Freed: Iranian Pastor Sentenced To Death For Apostasy Reportedly Released," Sept. 8, 2012
Email interview with Donald Wolfensberger, director of the Congress Project at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars , Oct. 10, 2012
Interview with Jeffrey Millman, spokesman for Lois Capps, Oct. 10, 2012
Interview with Noah Pollak, executive director of the Emergency Committee for Israel, Oct. 10, 2012
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