Debate Fact Check: The Presidential Debate

ABC News' fact checking team takes on the candidates' assertions.

ByABC News
October 16, 2012, 11:58 PM

October 17, 2012 -- intro: ABC News' political team revisit the claims made by President Obama and Mitt Romney in last night's debate at Hofstra University. (Read the Full Transcript of the Second Presidential Debate and ABC News' Debate Analysis)

quicklist: 1Title: Romney and Arizona's Immigration LawText: OBAMA: He called the Arizona law a model for the nation. ...

ROMNEY: I did not say that the Arizona law was a model for the nation in that aspect. I said that the E-Verify portion of the Arizona law, which is -- which is the portion of the law which says that employers could be able to determine whether someone is here illegally or not illegally, that that was a model for the nation.

ABC's Chris Good reports: As Romney said, he did not call Arizona's controversial SB-1070 law a "model."

In CNN's Feb. 22 Republican primary debate in Mesa, Ariz., moderator John King asked Romney about immigration. "What about arresting? Should there be aggressive, seek them out, find them and arrest them as the Sheriff Arpaio advocates?" King asked.

Romney's response: "I think you see a model in Arizona. They passed a law here that says -- that says that people who come here and try and find work, that the employer is required to look them up on E-Verify. This e-verify system allows employers in Arizona to know who's here legally and who's not here legally."

Although media outlets and fact checkers have pointed out that Romney was talking about E-Verify, that hasn't stopped Democrats from repeating this talking point against him.

Obama made another claim that Romney's top adviser on immigration designed the SB1070 law. "His top adviser on immigration is the guy who designed the Arizona law, the entirety of it; not E-Verify, the whole thing," the president said.

An informal Romney adviser, Kris Kobach, helped draft the SB-1070 law and filed a suit to stop Obama's administrative action. In September, Romney told Univision he had not met with Kobach. "He may well be part of a policy team," Romney said. "I have not met with him yet. And don't know whether he is or he is not."

In April, the campaign described Kobach as a "supporter" rather than an advisor to Politico's Glenn Thrush, but Kobach then told ThinkProgress he was communicating regularly with senior Romney advisers. Kobach was still "providing advice on immigration policy," he told ThinkProgress. "I don't want to go into great detail, but I communicate regularly with senior members of Romney's team."

quicklist: 2Title: Does Obama's Pension Have Money in the Cayman Islands? Text: During one exchange tonight Romney stated that President Obama's pension had investments in China and the Cayman Islands.

ROMNEY: Just going to make a point. Any investments I have over the last eight years have been managed by a blind trust. And I understand they do include investments outside the United States, including in -- in Chinese companies. Mr. President, have you looked at your pension? Have you looked at your pension? OBAMA: I've got to say... ROMNEY: Mr. President, have you looked at your pension? OBAMA: You know, I -- I don't look at my pension. It's not as big as yours so it doesn't take as long. ROMNEY: Well, let me give you some advice. OBAMA: I don't check it that often. ROMNEY: Let me give you some advice. Look at your pension. You also have investments in Chinese companies. You also have investments outside the United States. You also have investments through a Cayman's trust.

ABC News' Luis Martinez and Jason Ryan have the facts:

Gov. Romney is referring to President Obama's pension with the state of Illinois during his time served as a State Senator.

Under Agreements or Arrangements President Obama's Dec. 2011 Public Financial Disclosure Report for the Office of Government Ethics lists the General Assembly Defined Benefit Pension Plan as the only holding under this category. It says "no further contributions by former employer," funding began in 1997.

The pension is managed by the General Assembly Retirement System, State of Illinois.

The main site for the fund's reports is HERE

The FY 2013 First Quarter Purchase and Sales Report mentions holdings in Chinese companies among the pension fund's numerous investments.

The Romney campaign says the Obama Illinois Pension fund has numerous private equity investments, including one domiciled in the Cayman Islands, the Advent International Group VI-A.

An independent search for this fund turned up this filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission for an investment opportunity by this fund. It lists the Advent International GPE VI Limited Partnershipas being organized in the Cayman Islands. Other filings only list this particular fund's Executive offices as being listed in Boston, Mass.

quicklist: 3Title: Both Candidates Say They'll Grow Pell GrantsText: ROMNEY: "I want to keep our Pell grant program growing and our loan program so that people are able to afford school."

Romney's own education proposal, known as a "Chance for Every Child," would "[refocus] Pell Grant dollars on the students that need them most and place the program on a responsible long-term path that avoids future funding cliffs and last-minute funding patches."

During a "Meet the Candidates" forum on Univision, Romney elaborated that he does not fully support all of Ryan's proposals for changes to Pell Grants, especially freezing the current rate. "The Republican budget called for a Pell Grants being capped out at their current high level. My inclination would be to have them go with the rate of inflation," Romney said Sept. 19. "It's important in higher education that we get serious about the fact that the inflation of tuition has been much faster than inflation generally. And my view is we have to hold down the rate of tuition increases and fee increases in higher education."

If you buy Romney's claim that he has his own ideas for Pell Grants other than Ryan's proposals, it seems hard to disprove that he wants to keep it growing.

OBAMA: "We've expanded Pell Grants for millions of people, including millions of young women, all across the country. We did it by taking $60 billion that was going to banks and lenders as middlemen for the student loan program, and we said, let's just cut out the middleman. Let's give the money directly to students. And as a consequence, we've seen millions of young people be able to afford college, and that's going to make sure that young women are going to be able to compete in that marketplace."

Current law signed by President Obama sets the maximum grant at $5,645 in 2013 and $6,030 by 2017, enjoying increases based on inflation. About 9 million students receive Pell Grants, the biggest chunk of financial aid from the federal government. It has already grown about $900 since Obama took office.

Republicans point to a government study that suggests the increase of Pell Grants has artificially driven up the price of tuition. Tuitions and fees for four-year public colleges increased 72 percent above inflation over the past decade, averaging $8,244 last year, according to the College Board, which represents more than 6,000 schools. Student loan debt in the U.S. is above $914 billion while the average borrower owes more than $24,000, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York says, according to the Associated Press.

Most criticism of Romney's education proposals are tied to his presumed support of the Ryan Budget, which would reduce Pell Grants by increasing eligibility requirements and freezing the maximum grant at its current value of $5,550 according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. It also rescinds mandatory spending for Pell Grants and shifts the costs to annual appropriations bills. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities found in a study that the Ryan budget's reforms were applied across the board, it would result in a $161 billion budget deficit, while the president's budget proposal would fall only $52 billion short.

quicklist: 5Title: Did Obama Call Libya Attack 'Terror' in the Rose Garden on Sept. 12?Text: OBAMA: The day after the (Benghazi) attack I stood in the Rose Garden and I told the American people and the world that we are going to find out exactly what happened. That this was an act of terror and I also said we are going to hunt down those who committed this crime.

ROMNEY: I think it's interesting that the President just said something which is that one the day after the attack, he went in the Rose garden and said this was an act of terror. (Obama nods) OBAMA (off-mike): That's what I said. ROMNEY: You said in the Rose Garden the day after the attack it was "an act of terror?" It was not a spontaneous demonstration. Obama: Please proceed. ROMNEY: Is that what you're saying? 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. OBAMA: Get the transcript. CROWLEY: He did in fact, sir

ABC's Dana Hughes has the facts:

Moderator Candy Crowley is right that Obama called the attack "act of terror" on Sept. 12th, the day after the attack.

"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. Today we mourn four more Americans who represent the very best of the United States of America. We will not waver in our commitment to see that justice is done for this terrible act. And make no mistake, justice will be done," said the President that day.

BUT - and there's a big but.

Romney is right in that administration officials continued to say the attack was spontaneous, and came from a protest and it was White House Press Secretary Jay Carney who said the president considered it a terror attack on Sept. 26, 14 days later.

A reporter asked Carney about the president's assessment between Sept. 12 and Sept. 26.

"Is there any reason why the president did not - he was asked point-blank in 'The View' interview, is this a terrorist attack, yes or no? Is there any reason he didn't say 'yes'?"

"He answered the question that was asked, and there's no reason that he chose the words he did beyond trying to provide a full explanation of his views and his assessment that we need to await further information that the investigation will uncover," said Carney. "But it is certainly the case that it is our view as an administration, the president's view, that is was a terrorist attack."

Monday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton accepted the blame for the Libya attack. Obama contradicted that at the debate Tuesday.

quicklist: 6Title: Candidates Spar on Oil and Natural GasText: ROMNEY: In the last four years, you cut permits and licenses on federal lands and federal waters in half. OBAMA: Not true Gov. Romney

ABC's Jonathan Karl has the facts:

Romney is right that oil and natural gases drilling permits and licenses (leases) are down, but they are not down as much as Romney says. Here are the actual numbers, Bureau of Land Management:

Permits in the FY2009-2011 dropped by 37 percent compared to FY2006-2008Leases in FY2009-2011 dropped by 42 percent compared to FY2006-2008

Romney is basing his claim on the total number of acres leased - and there are 56 percent fewer acres leased

RULING: Not Quite Factual-----

ROMNEY: And production on government land is down by 14 percent and production on gas is down 9 percent.

Oil production on public lands did drop by 14 percent in 2011 and natural gas production did drop by 9 percent (according to the US Energy Information Agency). BUT - overall, oil production is actually up slightly from 2009 to 2011.

RULING: Not Quite Factual

ABC's Matt Larotonda and Zunaira Zaki have more:

Here's the numbers, courtesy of the Department of Energy. In a nutshell: The trends are correct, but can Obama claim credit?


Oil production is at its highest level in 16 years according to the Energy Information Administration. In 1996 the US produced 2.3 billion barrels of crude oil, a number that steadily decreased until reaching a bottom in 2008 at 1.8 billion barrels. Production has been steadily increasing year over year since 2009 and at current trends will eclipse 1996 by year's end.


There is no wiggle room here. The sheer volume of natural gas produced in the US is actually the highest it's ever been. The last downward trend from the industry occurred between 2001 and 2006, when volume decreased from 24.5 million cubic feet to 23.5 million. In 2011 the country produced 28.5 million cubic feet.


Numbers have been on a steady increase, yes. In 2011, the U.S. produced 1.09 billion tons, compared to 1.07 billion 3.6 in 2000 and 1.02 billion 1990 and 800 million in 1980.

But, coal production in the U.S. took a dive between 2008 and 2009, when it fell from 1.17 billion short tons to 1.07 billion and 2011 hadn't reached those 2008 levels.


A very small chunk of the population is employed by the coal industry, an average of 84,000 so far this year, down from 86,000 last year. President Obama is referring to last year's average, which was the highest yearly average since 1997, also according to BLS.

However, Obama cannot take all the credit for the increase oil and natural gas production -- he did not invent fracking. Similarly he cannot be blamed for all the problems the coal industry is having. In addition to fracking's rise, natural gas is so cheap that it has become the energy source of choice rather than coal in many instances.

quicklist: 7Title: Did Obama Double the Deficit?Text: ROMNEY: We have his own record which is we have four consecutive years where he said he was running for office he would cut the deficit in half, instead he has doubled it.

ABC's Sunlen Miller has the facts:

The Romney claim that Obama has "doubled the deficit" has been deemed false by numerous fact checking outlet including and PolitiFact.

PoitiFact points out the only way to get to doubling is to use a different starting point, which is what the Romney campaign does. His campaign compares the current deficit to the final fiscal 2008 deficit of $458.6 billion. But that does not include the Wall Street bailout, first enacted under President Bush, which added more than $700 billion.

One part though that the Romney claim is true. President Obama has not kept his promise to cut the deficit in half.

PolitiFact argues that President Obama has actually cut the deficit by about 8 percent since he made the pledge in February of 2009.

quicklist: 8Title: Did Obama Follow Romney's Advice and 'Take Detroit Bankrupt'?Text: ROMNEY: I know he keeps saying, you want to x. 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 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 recommended and ultimately what happened.

See the video here.

ABC's Jon Karl has the facts:

There are two assertions here: 1) That President Obama "took Detroit bankrupt;" and, 2) That the president did "precisely what I recommended."

On the first, Romney is right. Chrysler and General Motors did go through a pre-packaged Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization. On the second, he is wrong. The president's bailout included some $80 billion in public financing (the bailout in "auto bailout") to help Chrysler and GM to get through bankruptcy. Romney opposed direct public financing. This is a crucial distinction because most industry experts said there was no provide financing available.


ABC's Greg Krieg has more:

Romney is technically correct; President Obama in March 2009 decided that the best way to revive the auto industry was for it to enter a brief bankruptcy. But it was not a bankruptcy like most other businesses will experience, as it lasted only one month and was backstopped by guarantees of billions of dollars from the federal government.

Experts cite this as the significant difference between what President Obama did and what Romney proposed. Romney suggested that the automobile companies go through a standard bankruptcy, meaning they would have relied on private funds to bring them back to life. Obama, on the other hand, in a plan that began to take shape during the Bush administration - which kept the industry from afloat with more than $17 billion TARP funds diverted to Detroit -- ended up providing GM and Chrysler $80 billion in guaranteed taxpayer funds. In return, the government negotiated more favorable deals with the unions, who took wage hits and saw pension funds cut; creditors, who took a haircut on the money they were owed; and shareholders, who saw their stakes in the companies diminish in value.

The concerned parties accepted these cutbacks as they were the preconditions for getting the government money - money that was not forthcoming from the private sector, as former auto czar Steve Rattner has said repeatedly, in the wake of the housing market and resulting banking industry collapses.

quicklist: 9Title: The Real Unemployment Rate?Text: Romney said the unemployment rate now is 7.8 percent and the rate when Obama took office was 7.8 percent, but he argued the true rate is much higher today. "If you calculate if people dropped out of the work force would be 10 percent."

ABC's Zunaira Zaki has the facts:

He is about half right. If the labor force participation rate was exactly what it was when Obama came into office the unemployment rate would be nearly 11 percent. But economists say that the labor force is shrinking not just because people are too discouraged to look for work, but also because there is a surge in baby boomers retiring and people are staying in school longer. Here are two examples of research on this:

1. According to research by Daniel Sullivan and his team at the Chicago Federal Reserve about half of the decline in the labor force since 2000 is because of an increase in the aging population. They that goes into this.

2. Mark Zandi of Moody's Analytics concurs. Through his research he has established that the labor force participation rate has fallen by approximately 2.5 percentage points since the Great Recession hit. Of this, 1.5 percentage points is due to demographics, including boomers who are retiring, and 1 percentage points is due to poor economy.

quicklist: 10Title: Is Half of America's Youth Unemployed?Text: ROMNEY: With half of college kids graduating this year, without a college - excuse me - without a job and without a college level job, that's just not acceptable."

ABC's Z. Byron Wolf has the facts:

Youth unemployment is far lower than 50 percent.

But the key to the statement is "underemployed." The figure comes from a March analysis conducted for the AP by a Northeastern University professor.

From the AP report:

"About 1.5 million, or 53.6 percent, of bachelor's degree-holders under the age of 25 last year were jobless or underemployed, the highest share in at least 11 years. In 2000, the share was at a low of 41 percent, before the dot-com bust erased job gains for college graduates in the telecommunications and IT fields."Out of the 1.5 million who languished in the job market, about half were underemployed, an increase from the previous year."Broken down by occupation, young college graduates were heavily represented in jobs that require a high school diploma or less."In the last year, they were more likely to be employed as waiters, waitresses, bartenders and food-service helpers than as engineers, physicists, chemists and mathematicians combined (100,000 versus 90,000). There were more working in office-related jobs such as receptionist or payroll clerk than in all computer professional jobs (163,000 versus 100,000). More also were employed as cashiers, retail clerks and customer representatives than engineers (125,000 versus 80,000)."

But things might be on the upswing. ABC News' Alan Farnham reported in May about the improved prospects for college grads from the class of 2012. New grads were facing the best employment prospects since the start of the recession. Eighty-seven percent of employers surveyed by Boston research company Millennial Branding said they planned to hire more new grads than the year before.

The unemployment rate for the young, just like it has more broadly, has fallen in the U.S. Back when the study was conducted, the unemployment rate for those from 20-24 was about 16 percent.In data for September it was 12.4 percent.

Zunaira Zaki adds...

The unemployment rate for college graduates with a bachelor's degree or higher was 6.3 percent in September, down from 8.1 percent at the same time last year. The labor force participation rate for this group was 93.1 percent in September, compared to 93.2 percent at the same time last year - so about the same.

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