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By Anthony Cave June 4, 2016

Arizona sheriff says Obama called global warming America’s ‘top’ national security threat

Paul Babeu, the Republican Sheriff of Pinal County, Ariz., near the U.S.-Mexico border, has repeatedly criticized President Barack Obama’s administration for its lack of border security.

Babeu, who’s running for Congress this November against a Republican field that includes David Gowan, Ken Bennett and Wendy Rogers, warned of Mexican drug cartels in his county ahead of Memorial Day weekend on Fox News’ Hannity on May 26.

But he also used the interview to make a political jab, questioning Obama’s priorities.

"The president has said the national security threat facing America, the top one, is global warming," Babeu said. "It’s not an unsecured border, it’s not the terrorists we should be fighting and defeating."

This is not the first time we have heard a statement like this:

In June 2015, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker claimed Obama said global warming is the "No. 1 threat to the military and world today." The president has said global warming is a serious threat, but it is not No. 1. We rated it Mostly False.

We wondered whether Babeu’s claim holds any weight a year later.

Contrary to Babeu’s claim, the president’s top national security threat appears to be terrorism.

Out of context

In March, after the terrorist attacks in Brussels, Obama said, "I’ve got a lot of things of my plate, but my top priority is to defeat ISIL."

When we asked for evidence on climate change being the top priority, Tim Gaffney, a spokesman with the Pinal County Sheriff’s Office, noted that Obama has made this claim during speaking engagements.

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Obama has said global warming is a serious threat and has linked it to national security. But, looking back at news reports over the last year, Obama has never explicitly said it was the top national security threat.

Rather, he has said global warming is a threat to the whole world.

In an April 2015 weekly address, he said "there’s no greater threat to our planet than climate change."  

In May 2015, Obama also said during a U.S. Coast Guard Academy commencement address that climate change "is one of those most severe threats."

"So I’m here today to say that climate change constitutes a serious threat to global security, an immediate risk to our national security," Obama said. "And make no mistake, it will impact how our military defends our country."

We should also point out that the U.S. military has focused on the potential threat of climate change going back to President George W. Bush’s administration.

In a December 2015 interview, Obama defended his remarks on climate change, noting at the same time that while terrorists will be "defeated," climate change is the "kind of crisis that we can’t deal with through the deployment of Marines."

Our ruling

Babeu said, "The president has said the national security threat facing America, the top one, is global warming."

Obama continues to cite climate change as a great threat to the world, but framing the issue as the country’s top national security threat is an exaggeration. Obama has said fighting terrorism is his most urgent priority.

The Arizona sheriff ignores important context, so we rate his claim as Mostly False.

Our Sources

Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu, "Remarks during Fox News’ ‘Hannity,"" May 26, 2016

ABC15, "Sheriff Paul Babeu to run for Congress," Oct. 5, 2015

ABC15, "Hikers, campers warned about assassins in parts of Pinal County," May 23, 2016

PolitiFact Wisconsin, "Scott Walker says Barack Obama told Coast Guard global warming is top threat to military and world," June 25, 2015

CNN, "Obama: No greater threat to future than climate change," Jan. 21, 2015

Bloomberg, "Obama: ‘No greater threat’ to planet than climate change," April 19, 2015

The White House, "Remarks by the president at the United States Coast Guard Commencement," May 20, 2015

The White House, "President Obama: ‘My top priority is to defeat ISIL," March 23, 2016

The Washington Post, "Making terrorism link, Obama says climate instability can lead to ‘dangerous’ ideology," Dec. 4, 2015

The Washington Post, "Military sharpens focus on climate change," April 15, 2007

Interview with Pinal County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Tim Gaffney, May 27, 2016

Interview with White House spokesman Eric Schultz, May 31, 2016

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More by Anthony Cave

Arizona sheriff says Obama called global warming America’s ‘top’ national security threat

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