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Bill Adair
By Bill Adair October 7, 2014
By Shaker Samman October 7, 2014

Sen. Kay Hagan says Thom Tillis refuses to say what he would do to combat ISIS

One of the most pressing foreign policy issues -- stopping the terrorist group known as Islamic State or ISIS -- has become a point of contention in the race for U.S. Senate in North Carolina.

It started when Republican challenger Thom Tillis released a TV ad accusing incumbent Sen. Kay Hagan of missing key meetings of the Senate Armed Services Committee about terrorism. Hagan then responded that Tillis has been too vague about how to respond to ISIS.

One Hagan statement issued Oct. 3 said that Tillis "has ducked and dodged" when asked how he would respond and that he "refuses to say what we should do to combat ISIS."

We already looked at whether Hagan missed committee meetings; we rated Tillis’ statement Mostly True. Here, we wanted to take a deeper look at Tillis’s statements on his position on how to eliminate ISIS.

We found Tillis, the speaker of the North Carolina House, has offered few specifics about how he would respond.

Sept. 3, no specifics: In his first debate with Hagan, when asked if the United States should "strike ISIS in Syria," Tillis said, "I think that the U.S. needs to take all actions to protect American citizens, and to protect freedom-loving people all over the country." The Fayetteville Observer noted that, "When asked if the U.S. should launch air strikes against the Islamic State in Syria following the beheadings of two captured American journalists, neither Hagan nor Tillis directly answered the question with a ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ "

Sept. 10, continued air strikes: In a press release, Tillis said, "We need a strategy to destroy ISIS, and now is not the time to mince words. ISIS is an evil and dangerous terrorist organization that has proven they will murder innocent Americans … We need to continue air strikes until the president can be assured that ISIS’s own enemies in the region will eliminate them on the ground. No option should be left off the table. "

Sept. 16, open to options, but concerned about arming rebels: Tillis spokesman Daniel Keylin told the Charlotte Observer  that Tillis believes "no options should be left off the table to protect our national security." Keylin added that, "Even the president was against arming them (the Syrian rebels) a year ago, in part because of the risk that American weapons could end up in the hands of terrorists. Thom still has that concern today, he doesn’t want American weapons ending up in the hands of ISIS terrorists."

Sept. 18, vague on arming Syrian rebels: At a campaign event in Fayetteville, N.C., Tillis declined to say whether he supports arming Syrian rebels. "We've got to know who these people are and if they go anywhere that they don't get into unfriendly hands," Tillis said. "I am not convinced those are the so-called unfriendly rebels. There's a civil war going on there, and a lot of things need to be thought out."

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Sept. 25, still unsure about arming Syrian rebels: In a phone interview with the Raleigh News & Observer, Tillis said he was unsure what he thought was the best course of action in regard to arming the Syrian rebels. "I actually don’t know if we should or shouldn’t," Tillis said. "I would have to know that these arms would not get in the hands of people who would want to take over the Middle East."

Sept. 29, all options on the table: In a statement about a new TV ad, Tillis said, "While I support keeping all options on the table to completely destroy ISIS, the president and Kay Hagan still have no strategy and continue to lead from behind," Tillis said.

Sept. 30, still vague: In an interview with on Sept. 30, Tillis again repeated that the destruction of ISIS was the end goal, but gave no indication of how he would go about achieving that. "Anything short of a strategy that calls for and achieves the complete elimination of ISIS and any emerging threats is unacceptable," Tillis said.

The Fox News article added that Tillis "was unclear when asked what he would do in Hagan's position. He said only that his decision would be based on what military officials told him and that as a ‘private citizen’ he could not comment on what he’d do or how he’d vote."

Our ruling

Hagan said Tillis "refuses to say what we should do to combat ISIS."

We reviewed Tillis’ public statements on the issue and found that he has provided few specifics.

The majority of his remarks do not indicate what action he would take to respond to the ISIS threat. The most specific thing he’s said is that he supported continued air strikes in Syria on ISIS, but he later broadened that to say he supported  all options. And while he once said arming the Syrian rebels was reckless, he later said all options were on the table.

We rate Hagan’s statement Mostly True.

Our Sources

Fayetteville Observer, Hagan, Tillis clash on teacher pay, health care at first Senate race debate, September 3, 2014

Tillis Campaign Press Release, Thom Tillis Statement On Eliminating ISIS, September 10, 2014

Associated Press, Hagan, Tillis support US airstrikes, September 11, 2014

Raleigh News & Observer, Crises push foreign policy into Hagan-Tillis race, September 15, 2014

Fox46Carolinas, As Congress Approves Syrian Rebel Aid, Tillis Doesn’t Comment, September 18, 2014

Fayetteville Observer, Hagan, Tillis both support Syria strikes, differ on arming Syrian rebels, September 24, 2014, Tillis slams Hagan for absence on the ISIS threat, September 29, 2014

Raleigh News & Observer, Sen. Kay Hagan says US should not bear brunt of conflict in Syria, September 29, 2014

Fox News, Rise of ISIS takes center stage in NC Senate race, as Republican Tillis eyes game change, September 30, 2014

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Sen. Kay Hagan says Thom Tillis refuses to say what he would do to combat ISIS

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