A Closer Look at Some of the More Hotly Disputed Assertions
At the second presidential debate, everyone played fact checker.
President Obama said, “Not true, Governor Romney” to dismiss his rival’s charge that oil and gas production permits and licenses on federal lands and waters had been cut in half over the past four years. (They have declined, but not by half).
Mitt Romney said at one point, “Let me go back and speak to the points that the president made, and let’s get them correct” after Mr. Obama falsely charged that he had called the strict Arizona immigration law “a model for the nation.” (Mr. Romney has spoken favorably of the state’s immigration law, but the “model” Arizona law he talked about was the mandatory use of a federal electronic verification system to check the immigration status of new hires.)
And the moderator, Candy Crowley of CNN, got into the act, too, when Mr. Romney challenged Mr. Obama’s assertion that he had gone into the Rose Garden the day after the attack on the American diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, and called it an act of terror.
“You said in the Rose Garden the day after the attack it was an act of terror?” Mr. Romney said disbelievingly. He later added: “I want to make sure we get that for the record, because it took the president 14 days before he called the attack in Benghazi an act of terror.”
“Get the transcript,” Mr. Obama replied.
Ms. Crowley interjected: “He did in fact, sir.”
To which the president added, “Can you say that a little louder, Candy?”
The Obama administration has been criticized for shifting assessments of what really happened in Benghazi, which continued to change over the course of two weeks. But the day after the attacks, Mr. Obama did say, “No acts of terror will ever shake the resolve of this great nation, alter that character or eclipse the light of the values that we stand for.”
There were plenty of questionable assertions at the second presidential debate. Here is a look at some of them:
Mr. Obama and Mr. Romney carried out an extended dispute over energy policy that wandered into a thicket of half-truths, started by a question about gasoline prices that was never fully addressed.
Mr. Romney, describing Mr. Obama as hostile to traditional energy sources, repeated his assertion that all of the increase in domestic oil and gas production in the past three years had come on private, not public, lands and that the Obama administration had cut the number of oil and gas drilling permits on public lands in half. Neither assertion is quite true.
Oil and gas production on public lands has fluctuated during the Obama administration, but it has increased modestly (about 13 percent for oil and about 6 percent for gas) in the first three years of the Obama presidency, compared with the last three years of the administration of President George W. Bush, according to an analysis from the Energy Information Administration.
The Interior Department produced a report this year showing that drilling permits received and issued by the agency had indeed declined from the last years of the Bush administration to the first years of the Obama administration — but not by half. (In the 2007 fiscal year, the government issued 8,964 permits to drill on public lands; in 2008 the figure was 7,846. The numbers for 2009 and 2010 were 5,306 and 5,237.)
Mr. Obama said that 7,000 drilling permits had been granted but were not being used by oil companies, an accurate figure, according to the Interior Department.
Mr. Obama stated that renewable energy production had doubled during his presidency, which is true, and that oil imports were at their lowest level in 16 years, also accurate. He also said that the boom in natural gas production could produce 600,000 new jobs, a highly optimistic estimate, but he qualified it with the word “potentially.”
But Mr. Obama mischaracterized Mr. Romney’s energy plan, saying it was written by oil companies and favored only traditional sources of energy: oil, gas and coal. But Mr. Romney’s energy plan does include a place for renewables, although he would sharply cut back on federal subsidies for wind, solar and other alternative energy sources.
Tariff on Chinese Tires
Mr. Obama said, “We had to make sure that China was not flooding our market with cheap tires,” and therefore took action to save 1,000 jobs. It is true that in 2009, the Obama administration imposed a duty on Chinese tires, but last month the administration let the tariff expire.
The United Steelworkers Union, an Obama political supporter, sought the action, and many economists criticized it as politically motivated.
A study by the Peterson Institute for International Economics found that the tariff protected at most 1,200 American jobs. But last year alone, the institute found, it cost American consumers $1.1 billion in higher-priced tires.
Moreover, China responded by imposing tariffs on imports of American chicken parts that cost American poultry producers an estimated $1 billion. Last month, the Obama administration quietly let the tire tariff expire. Critics say it recognized that the economic costs of the sanction were too great. SHARON LaFRANIERE
Relations With Israel
Mr. Romney said that “the president said that he was going to put daylight between us and Israel.” Is he correct?
Mr. Romney’s campaign cites a newspaper account of a meeting with Jewish leaders at the White House in 2009 as evidence for Mr. Romney’s statement. In that account, published in The Washington Post, people at the meeting said Mr. Obama had said that “there was no space between us and Israel” during the Bush administration, which he said had hurt the ability of the United States to influence Israeli actions or cajole Arab nations. “When there is no daylight, Israel just sits on the sidelines, and that erodes our credibility with the Arab states,” the newspaper quoted Mr. Obama as saying.
An Obama administration official said they did not know whether Mr. Obama made that statement during a private meeting.
The newspaper account did not quote Mr. Obama as explicitly stating that his “goal” was to put distance between the United States and Israel, as Mr. Romney characterized Mr. Obama’s intentions during a recent speech.
Instead, the account indicates that Mr. Obama was complaining that what he suggested was the Bush administration’s unwillingness to challenge the Israelis had reduced the American government’s leverage over Israel and hurt its reputation with Muslim countries. At the same time, a plain reading of the account would also suggest that Mr. Obama wanted for his administration to be seen as less of a rubber stamp for Israel than the Bush administration was.
Obama administration officials have said that there is no daylight whatsoever between the United States and Israel on the issue of preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. RICHARD A. OPPEL Jr.
Pell Grants for College
Mr. Romney said he wanted to keep the Pell Grant program growing. This is a new position for him.
The governor and his campaign have repeatedly criticized Mr. Obama’s expansion of the Pell Grant program, which they have said is unsustainable. Mr. Romney’s position paper on education says he would “refocus Pell Grants dollars on the students who need them most.”
For months, this was widely interpreted as meaning that fewer people would qualify for Pell Grants — an issue the Romney campaign declined to clarify.
Mr. Romney would also restore banks to their role in making student loans. Mr. Obama eliminated that role and used some of the savings to pay for the Pell Grant expansion. RICHARD PÉREZ-PEÑA
Mr. Obama said Mr. Romney’s “main strategy” to curb illegal immigration would be to “encourage self-deportation.”
Mr. Romney has never clarified precisely what he would do about the more than 11 million illegal immigrants in the United States. During the Republican primaries he called for tough enforcement to pressure them to leave the country. Since June he has moderated that position, saying he could support some measures that would allow a limited group to remain here legally.
Mr. Romney says he opposes any amnesty. During a primary debate in January, he said he would seek a mandatory nationwide program to verify the legal status of all new hires, expanding an existing federal program known as E-Verify, which is now voluntary. With that program in place, he said, illegal immigrants would soon discover that they could not get jobs and that “they’re going to self-deport.”
Mr. Romney was pressed for more details on the self-deportation strategy during a town hall-style meeting last month with Univision, the Spanish language network. But he did not provide them. “I believe people make their own choices as to whether they want to go home,” he said.
But he said he would not favor “a mass deportation effort, rounding people up, 12 million people.” Mr. Romney said, “Our system is not to deport people.”
He has said he would support giving permanent resident green cards to illegal immigrants who serve in the military, a group probably numbering in the tens of thousands.
Mr. Romney has said he will “put in place a permanent solution” for illegal immigration, but he has not described what it would look like or how he would get around the roadblocks in Congress that stalled Mr. Obama’s efforts to pass legislation. Most Republican lawmakers in Washington have rejected any legal status for illegal immigrants, calling it amnesty.
Full transcript of the second presidential debate below.
CANDY CROWLEY: Good evening from Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York. I’m Candy Crowley from CNN’s State of the Union. We are here for the second presidential debate, a town hall sponsored by the Commission on Presidential Debates.
The Gallup Organization chose 82 uncommitted voters from the New York area. Their questions will drive the night. My goal is to give the conversation direction and to ensure questions get answered.
The questions are known to me and my team only. Neither the commission nor the candidates have seen them. I hope to get to as many questions as possible. And because I am the optimistic sort, I’m sure the candidates will oblige by keeping their answers concise and on point. Each candidate has as much as two minutes to respond to a common question, and there will be a two-minute follow-up.
The audience here in the hall has agreed to be polite and attentive; no cheering or booing or outbursts of any sort. We will set aside that agreement just this once to welcome President Barack Obama and Governor Mitt Romney. (Cheers, sustained applause.)
Gentlemen, thank you both for joining us here tonight. We have a lot of folks who’ve been waiting all day to talk to you, so I want to get right to it. Governor Romney, as you know, you won the coin toss, so the first question will go to you. And I want to turn to a first- time voter, Jeremy Epstein, who has a question for you.
Q: Mr. President, Governor Romney, as a 20-year-old college student, all I hear from professors, neighbors and others is that when I graduate, I will have little chance to get employment. Can — what can you say to reassure me, but more importantly my parents, that I will be able to sufficiently support myself after I graduate?
MITT ROMNEY: Thank you, Jeremy. I appreciate your — your question, and — and thank you for being here this evening. And to all of those from Nassau County here that have come, thank you for your time. Thank you to Hofstra University and to Candy Crowley for organizing and leading this — this event. Thank you, Mr. President, also for being part of this — this debate.
Yours question — your question is one that’s being asked by college kids all over this country.
I was in Pennsylvania with someone who’d just graduated. This was in Philadelphia, and she said, I — I — I got my degree. I can’t find a job. I’ve got three part-time jobs. They’re just barely enough to pay for my food and pay for an apartment. I can’t begin to pay back my student loans.
So what we have to do is two things: we have to make sure that we make it easier for kids to afford college and also make sure that when they get out of college, there’s a job. When I was governor of Massachusetts, to get a high school degree, you had to pass an exam. If you graduated in the top quarter of your class, we gave you a John and Abigail Adams Scholarship, four years tuition-free to the college of your choice in Massachusetts. It’s a public institution. I want to make sure we keep our Pell — Pell Grant program growing. We’re also going to have our loan program so that people are able to afford school.
But the key thing is to make sure you can get a job when you get out of school. And what’s happened over the last four years has been very, very hard for America’s young people. I want you to be able to get a job. I know what it takes to get this economy going. With half of college kids graduating this year without a college — or excuse me, without a job and without a college-level job, that’s just unacceptable. And likewise, you got more and more debt on your back. So more debt and less jobs.
I’m going to change that. I know what it takes to create good jobs again. I know what it takes to make sure that you have the kind of opportunity you deserve. And kids across this country are going to recognize we’re bringing back an economy. It’s not going to be like the last four years. The middle class has been crushed over the last four years, and jobs have been too scarce. I know what it takes to bring them back, and I’m going to do that and make sure when you graduate — when do you graduate?
Q: (Off mic.)
MR. ROMNEY: 2014. When you come out in 2014 — I presume I’m going to be president — I’m going to make sure you get a job. (Chuckles.) Thanks, Jeremy. Yeah, you bet.
MS. CROWLEY: Mr. President.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Jeremy, first of all, your future is bright, and the fact that you’re making investment in higher education is critical, not just to you but to the entire nation.
Now, the most important thing we can do is to make sure that we are creating jobs in this country, but not just jobs, good-paying jobs, ones that can support a family. And what I want to do is build on the 5 million jobs that we’ve created over the last 30 months in the private sector alone. And there are a bunch of things that we can do to make sure your future is bright.
Number one, I want to build manufacturing jobs in this country again. You know, when Governor Romney said we should let Detroit go bankrupt, I said, we’re going to bet on American workers and the American auto industry, and it’s come surging back. I want to do that in industries, not just in Detroit but all across the country. And that means we change our tax code so we’re giving incentives to companies that are investing here in the United States and creating jobs here. It also means we’re helping them and small businesses to export all around the world in new markets.
Number two, we’ve got to make sure that we have the best education system in the world. And the fact that you’re going to college is great, but I want everybody to get a great education. And we worked hard to make sure that student loans are available for folks like you, but I also want to make sure that community colleges are offering slots for workers to get retrained for the jobs that are out there right now and the jobs of the future.
Number three, we’ve got to control our own energy, you know, not only oil and natural gas, which we’ve been investing in, but also we’ve got to make sure we’re building the energy sources of the future, not just thinking about next year, but 10 years from now, 20 years from now. That’s why we’ve invested in solar and wind and biofuels, energy-efficient cars.
We’ve got to reduce our deficit, but we’ve got to do it in a balanced way — asking the wealthy to pay a little bit more, along with cuts, so that we can invest in education like yours. And let’s take the money that we’ve been spending on war over the last decade to rebuild America — roads, bridges, schools. If we do those things, not only is your future going to be bright, but America’s future’s going to be bright as well.
MS. CROWLEY: Let me ask you for a more immediate answer, beginning with Mr. Romley (sic).
Just quickly, what can you do — we’re looking at a situation where 40 percent of the unemployed have been unemployed for six months or more. They don’t have the two years that Jeremy has. What about those long- term unemployed who need a job right now?
MR. ROMNEY: Well, what you’re seeing in this country is 23 million people struggling to find a job, and a lot of them, as you say, Candy, have been out of work for a long, long, long, long time.
The president’s policies have been exercised over the last four years, and they haven’t put Americans back to work. We have fewer people working today than we had when the president took office. If the — the unemployment rate was 7.8 percent when he took office. It’s 7.8 percent now. But if you calculated that unemployment rate taking back the people who dropped out of the workforce, it would be 10.7 percent. We have not made the progress we need to make to put people back to work.
That’s why I put out a five-point plan that gets America 12 million new jobs in four years and rising take-home pay. It’s going to help Jeremy get a job when he comes a out of school. It’s going to help people across the country that are unemployed right now.
And one thing that the — the president said which I want to make sure that we understand — he — he said that I said we should take Detroit bankrupt, and — and that’s right. My plan was to have the company go through bankruptcy like 7-Eleven did and Macy’s and — and — and Continental Airlines and come out stronger. And — and I know he keeps saying, you wanted to take Detroit bankrupt. Well, the president took Detroit bankrupt. You took General Motors bankrupt. You took Chrysler bankrupt. So when you say that I wanted to take the auto industry bankrupt, you actually did. And — and I think it’s important to know that that was a process that was necessary to get those companies back on their feet, so they could start hiring more people. That was precisely what I recommend and ultimately what happened.
MS. CROWLEY: Let me — let me give the president a chance. Go ahead.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Candy, what Governor Romney said just isn’t true. He wanted to take them into bankruptcy without providing them any way to stay open, and we would have lost a million jobs.
And that — don’t take my word for it; take the executives at GM and Chrysler, some of whom are Republicans, may even support Governor Romney. But they’ll tell you his prescription wasn’t going to work.
And Governor Romney says he’s got a five-point plan. Governor Romney doesn’t have a five-point plan; he has a one-point plan. And that plan is to make sure that folks at the top play by a different set of rules. That’s been his philosophy in the private sector; that’s been his philosophy as governor; that’s been his philosophy as a presidential candidate. You can make a lot of money and pay lower tax rates than somebody who makes a lot less. You can ship jobs overseas and get tax breaks for it. You can invest in a company, bankrupt it, lay off the workers, strip away their pensions, and you still make money.
That’s exactly the philosophy that we’ve seen in place for the last decade. That’s what’s been squeezing middle-class families. And we have fought back for four years to get out of that mess, and the last thing we need to do is to go back to the very same policies that got us there.
MS. CROWLEY: Mr. President, the next question is going to be for you here.
And Mr. Romney — Governor Romney, there’ll be plenty of chances to go on, but I want to — we have all these folks —
MR. ROMNEY: That — that Detroit — that Detroit answer — that Detroit answer and the rest of the answer — way off the mark.
MS. CROWLEY: I — OK. We’ll — you certainly will have lots of time here coming up. I — because I want to move you on to something that — sort of connected to cars here, and go over — and we want to get a question from Philip Tricolla.
Q: Your energy secretary, Steven Chu, has now been on record three times stating it’s not policy of his department to help lower gas prices. Do you agree with Secretary Chu that this is not the job of the Energy Department?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: The most important thing we can do is to make sure we control our own energy.
So here’s what I’ve done since I’ve been president. We have increased oil production to the highest levels in 16 years. Natural gas production is the highest it’s been in decades. We have seen increases in coal production and coal employment.
But what I’ve also said is we can’t just produce traditional sources of energy; we’ve also got to look to the future. That’s why we doubled fuel efficiency standards on cars. That means that in the middle of the next decade, any car you buy, you’re going to end up going twice as far on a gallon of gas. That’s why we’ve doubled clean energy production like wind and solar and biofuels. And all these things have contributed to us lowering our oil imports to the lowest levels in 16 years.
Now, I want to build on that. And that means, yes, we still continue to open up new areas for drilling. We continue to make a — it a priority for us to go after natural gas. We’ve got potentially 600,000 jobs and a hundred years’ worth of energy right beneath our feet with natural gas. And we can do it in an environmentally sound way. But we’ve also got to continue to figure out how we have efficient energy, because ultimately that’s how we’re going to reduce demand, and that’s what’s going to keep gas prices lower.
Now, Governor Romney will say he’s got an all-of-the-above plan, but basically his plan is to let the oil companies write the energy policies. So he’s got the oil and gas part, but he doesn’t have the clean energy part. And if we are only thinking about tomorrow or the next day and not thinking about 10 years from now, we’re not going to control our own economic future, because China, Germany — they’re making these investments. And I’m not going to cede those jobs of the future to those countries. I expect those new energy sources to be built right here in the United States.
So that’s going to help Jeremy get a job, it’s also going to make sure that you’re not paying as much for gas.
MS. CROWLEY: Governor, on the subject of gas prices.
MR. ROMNEY: Well, let’s look at the president’s policies, all right, as opposed to the rhetoric, because we’ve had four years of policies being played out. And the president’s right in terms of the additional oil production, but none of it came on federal land. As a matter of fact, oil production is down 14 percent this year on federal land, and gas production is down 9 percent. Why? Because the president cut in half the number of licenses and permits for drilling on federal lands and in federal waters. So where’d the increase come from? Well, a lot of it came from the Bakken Range in North Dakota. What was his participation there? The administration brought a criminal action against the people drilling up there for oil, this massive new resource we have. And what was the cost? Twenty or 25 birds were killed, and they brought out a migratory bird act to go after them on a criminal basis.
Look, I want to make sure we use our oil, our coal, our gas, our nuclear, our renewables. I believe very much in our renewable capabilities — ethanol, wind, solar will be an important part of our energy mix. But what we don’t need is to have the president keeping us from taking advantage of oil, coal and gas. This has not been Mr. Oil or Mr. Gas or Mr. Coal. Talk to the people that are working in those industries. I was in coal country. People grabbed my arms and say, please, save my job. The head of the EPA said, you can’t build a coal plant. You’ll virtually — it’s virtually impossible, given our regulations. When the president ran for office, he said, if you build a coal plant, you can go ahead, but you’ll go bankrupt. That’s not the right course for America. Let’s take advantage of the energy resources we have, as well as the energy sources for the future. And if we do that, if we do what I am planning on doing, which is getting us energy-independent, North American energy independence within eight years, you’re going to see manufacturing come back jobs because our energy is low-cost.
They’re already beginning to come back because of our abundant energy.
I’ll get America and North America energy-independent. I’ll do it by more drilling, more permits and licenses. We’re going to bring that pipeline in from Canada. How in the world the president said no to that pipeline, I will never know. This is about bringing good jobs back for the middle class of America, and that’s what I’m going to do.
MS. CROWLEY: Mr. President, let me just see if I can move you to the gist of this question, which is are we looking at the new normal? I can tell you that tomorrow morning, a lot of people in Hempstead will wake up and fill up, and they will find that the price of gas is over $4 a gallon. Is it within the purview of the government to bring those prices down, or are we looking at the new normal?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Candy, there’s no doubt that world demand’s gone up. But our production is going up, and we’re using oil more efficiently.
And very little of what Governor Romney just said is true. We’ve opened up public lands. We’re actually drilling more on public lands than in the previous administration. And my — the previous president was an oilman. And natural gas isn’t just appearing magically; we’re encouraging it and working with the industry.
And when I hear Governor Romney say he’s a big coal guy — and keep in mind when — Governor, when you were governor of Massachusetts, you stood in front of a coal plant and pointed at it and said, this plant kills, and took great pride in shutting it down. And now suddenly you’re a big champion of coal.
So what I’ve tried to do is be consistent. With respect to something like coal, we made the largest investment in clean coal technology to make sure that even as we’re producing more coal, we’re producing it cleaner and smarter. Same thing with oil; same thing with natural gas.
The New York Times contributed to this report.