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A progressive super PAC slammed the congressional record of Democrat Gwen Graham as too conservative for Florida’s next governor.
The Collective super PAC paid for the 30-second spot. The group supports black, progressive candidates and is backing Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum in the Florida Democratic primary.
The ad portrays Graham, who served one term in the House representing North Florida’s District 2, as a contrarian to former President Barack Obama.
"Gwen Graham says she is the progressive candidate for governor," the voiceover says, "but while in Congress she voted against President Obama 52 percent of the time."
We wanted to know if about half of Graham’s votes really went against what the Obama White House wanted.
We found the claim slightly overstates Graham’s votes against Obama by focusing only on part of her time in Congress, rather than both years of her term.
Graham’s breaks with the White House were on issues of national security, foreign policy and energy. Sometimes, she was one of just a handful of Democrats to do so.
Graham voted more reliably liberal on health care and abortion. Still, according to VoteView.com’s analysis of every roll call vote, Graham was "more conservative than 91 percent of Democrats in the House at the time."
The breakdown comes from an analysis by Congressional Quarterly, which tracked how members of Congress voted when the president took a clear position. That includes statements of administration policy provided in advance of the vote, as well as statements by the president or his designated spokespersons.
CQ offered a percentage for votes in both 2015 and 2016.
In 2015, CQ counted 89 House votes where the White House had a stated preference. According to CQ, Graham supported the president on 49 percent of those votes in 2015. In other words, she voted against Obama 51 percent of the time.
One of the most controversial pieces of legislation that Graham voted for in 2015 was a Republican bill that authorized the construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline (HR 3). Twenty-eight Democrats including Graham voted in favor of authorizing the pipeline’s construction, which also passed the Senate. But Obama vetoed the bill.
• Graham voted for the Republican-backed North American Energy Security and Infrastructure Act (HR 8), which supporters said would have helped modernize infrastructure and federal policies. But the Obama White House threatened to veto the bill because "it would undermine already successful initiatives designed to modernize the nation's energy infrastructure and increase our energy efficiency." It did not make it to a vote in the Senate, however.
• Graham voted in favor of legislation (HR 37) that would have amended the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act. Obama had signed Dodd-Frank into law in 2010. The bill did not pass the Senate.
In 2016, however, the percentage of Graham’s votes with Obama increased. Of 54 votes, CQ found Graham voted in line with the White House 65 percent of the time. Or, she broke with Obama on 35 percent of those votes.
• Graham was one of only three Democrats to vote for the Iran Terror Finance Transparency Act, which would have increased congressional oversight of sanctions against Iran. It passed the House but did not come to a vote in the Senate, but Obama had threatened to veto the bill.
• Graham joined 11 Democrats in voting for a GOP-backed bill that would have prohibited the transfer of a Guantanamo Bay detainee to a facility in the United States.
• Graham also voted for the American Security Against Foreign Enemies Act, which would have placed significant hurdles on the processing of some refugees, likely resulting in at least a pause in admissions. The Obama White House said the bill would in effect prevent Syrian immigrants from coming to the United States by adding significant new certification requirements.
Graham spokesman Matt Harringer said the claim doesn’t tell the whole story.
"Gwen disagreed from time to time with President Obama, like on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, but she is proud of her progressive record and overwhelmingly voting to support President Obama's agenda — including voting eight times to save the Affordable Care Act, to defend the Clean Power Plan and to protect the Consumer Protection Financial Bureau," he said.
Graham voted multiple times against Republican attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act while in Congress. The White House only weighed in on half of those votes, despite the fact that Obama would have likely opposed the measures.
Harringer pointed to CQ’s party-unity scores, which are included on the same study as the presidential positions. Graham’s average party-unity score was 84 percent after two years in Congress.
He also pushed back on VoteView.com’s characterization of her as a "conservative" Democrat. "You could just as easily say she was the most bipartisan Democrat in the Florida delegation at the time," Harringer said.
The Collective super PAC said Graham "voted against President Obama 52 percent of the time."
In her two years in the House, Graham stood out as a Democrat who did not always vote the party line, siding with conservatives on some significant measures about foreign policy and defense. But the group’s ad overstates the percentage in which Graham voted against what Obama wanted by only looking at part of her time in Congress.
Graham voted against Obama’s stated policy preference around half the time in 2015, but only 35 percent of the time in 2016. On average for those 143 votes, she broke with Obama 45 percent over two years.
Because the claim is partially accurate but missing some details, we rate this claim Half True.
Email and phone interview, Quentin James, the founder and executive director of the Collective, May 11-14, 2018
Email exchanges, Nina Smith, media spokesperson for the Collective, May 11-14, 2018
Email and phone interview, Matt Harringer, spokesman for Gwen Graham, May 11-14, 2018
Email exchanges, Shawn Zellner, Deputy Editor of CQ Magazine, May 14, 2018
Email exchange, Brad Gomez, associate professor in the Department of Political Science at Florida State University, May 14, 2018
Congressional Quarterly, 2015 Vote Study Scores
Congressional Quarterly, 2016 Vote Study Scores
Congressional Quarterly, 2015 Presidential Positions
Congressional Quarterly, 2016 Presidential Positions
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