House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy gave the longest House floor speech in US history on Thursday night and Friday morning — an 8-hour, 32-minute address that delayed the passage of a $1.9 trillion Democratic bill to expand the social safety net and fight the climate crisis.
The House passed the bill on Friday morning. It now awaits consideration in the Senate.
McCarthy’s speech contained far too many claims for us to try to check all of them; he talked about everything from the war in Afghanistan to the menu at McDonald’s. But here is a look at some of the claims that were inaccurate or lacking key context.
Democrats and Iron Dome funding
McCarthy mentioned Israel’s Iron Dome aerial defense system, then told a Democrat that “your party actually defunded that.”
Facts First: This is false. Democrats did not defund Iron Dome; in September, the Democratic-controlled House approved $1 billion in funding for Iron Dome in an overwhelming and bipartisan 420-9 vote. (Among Democrats, the vote was 210 in favor, 8 opposed, 2 voting “present.”) The Democratic-controlled Senate is also planning to approve the Iron Dome funding. In October, a Democratic effort to get the Senate to rapidly approve the funding was derailed by a Republican senator, Rand Paul of Kentucky, who objected to how the US government planned to pay for this spending.
Because of opposition from some lawmakers on the left of the Democratic caucus, House Democrats took the Iron Dome funding package out of a September bill that needed to pass to prevent a government shutdown. But Democrats then passed the Iron Dome funding in a separate bill the same week. That just does not qualify as “defunding.”
“I understand that we are in a particularly partisan season but that’s not an accurate or fair characterization” by McCarthy, said Bradley Bowman, a former adviser to Republican senators who is now senior director of the Center on Military and Political Power at the pro-Israel Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Bowman criticized the stances of the left-wing Democrats who opposed the funding, but he emphasized that “their views are nowhere near a controlling majority in the House of Representatives or the Democratic party.”
McCarthy’s office didn’t respond to our request for comment for this article.
Democrats and energy
Blaming Democrats for high gas prices, McCarthy claimed that they “banned oil and gas.” Moments later, he narrowed his claim to make it, “They banned drilling for oil and gas.”
Facts First: Neither of these claims is true. It’s obviously not true that Democrats completely banned oil and gas. And the narrower claim, that Democrats “banned drilling for oil and gas,” would have been a major exaggeration even in the weeks after Biden signed a January executive order to put a pause on new oil and gas leases (not to ban all oil and gas activity) on public lands and offshore waters (not on all land in the country). The claim is even less correct now:
Biden’s January executive order directed the Secretary of the Interior to pause new oil and natural gas leases on public lands and offshore waters, “to the extent consistent with applicable law,” until the completion of a review of federal leasing policy. As the Interior Department emphasized at the time, this order did not affect existing oil and gas leases; US oil and gas drilling was never banned and never stopped. (The Energy Information Administration has predicted that US production of natural gas for 2021 will set a new record.)
Then, in June, a federal court issued a preliminary injunction blocking the Biden moratorium on new leases. While the administration has appealed the decision, it has said its hands are tied for now — and on Wednesday, it opened 80.9 million acres in the Gulf of Mexico to auction for drilling, proceeding with a move initially planned by the Trump administration. (The auction resulted in 1.7 million of the 80.9 million acres actually being leased.)
We won’t go deep here on McCarthy’s effort to blame Biden for high gas prices. As we’ve written before, prices at the pumps are driven by a complex array of global economic factors, not by the policies of any single president.
Pipelines and jobs
McCarthy repeatedly attacked Biden for his January decision to revoke the permit for the Keystone XL pipeline that would have carried oil from Canada into the US. (The company behind the pipeline then announced in June that it was terminating the project.)
At one point, McCarthy said that Biden’s Keystone decision resulted in “thousands” of blue-collar workers losing their jobs. But at another point, he claimed that there are “more than one million people who lost their job after President Biden was sworn in because he shut down a pipeline” — here McCarthy didn’t name the pipeline — while “allowing” Russia to increase production.
Facts First: McCarthy’s “more than one million people” claim is false. There is simply no Biden pipeline decision that resulted in a million job losses; construction of the Keystone XL pipeline was expected to involve thousands of people in 2021, not even close to one million. (Also, overall job growth under Biden has averaged more than 600,000 jobs per month.)
It’s not clear what McCarthy was even talking about here, and McCarthy’s office didn’t respond to a request for an explanation, but we can still safely say the claim is inaccurate.
It’s possible that McCarthy was referring to a 2020 analysis that was done for the American Petroleum Institute, which represents the interests of oil and gas companies. The analysis projected about a million job losses by 2022 if the government halted not only new oil and gas leases on federal lands and offshore waters but also new oil and gas development on lands and waters that had already been leased.
This analysis doesn’t tell us what happened in 2021 — Biden never actually put forward a ban on development — and, again, it was not an analysis about the impact of a pipeline shutdown.
Before Biden revoked the permit for Keystone XL, the company behind the project announced in late 2020 that it anticipated that the pipeline would employ “more than 11,000 Americans in 2021,” mostly in construction. It’s not clear how many of these 11,000 hypothetical people actually lost a job because of Biden’s 2021 cancellation of the permit rather than simply losing the opportunity to work on that particular project. In addition, this was not long-term employment. Before its cancellation, Keystone XL was expected to create just dozens of permanent positions.
Biden and the FBI
McCarthy said “Biden used the FBI to target parents as domestic terrorists. Can you imagine that? To use your own FBI. To go after parents, calling them domestic terrorists. Without any evidence. Simply in aiming to silence their First Amendment rights. A whistleblower just confirmed it.”
Facts First: At very least, this claim is missing key context. McCarthy was likely referring to the news that the FBI’s counterterrorism division had been involved in creating an internal “threat tag,” the phrase “EDUOFFICIALS,” to help FBI employees keep track of investigations and assessments related to threats of violence against school board officials, teachers and staff. But McCarthy didn’t provide even minimal specifics, much less mention that the internal tag is intended as an organizing method for cases related to people who have issued threats. And it was the National School Boards Association, not the Biden administration, that invoked “domestic terrorism” in the context of threats against education officials.
House Republicans have publicized an October joint memo from the FBI’s counterterrorism division and criminal investigative division — Republicans said it was received from a “whistleblower” — that explained the creation of the new threat tag. But nothing in the memo is evidence that any parent is being treated as a domestic terrorist simply for, say, criticizing school policy. (It’s certainly possible that the FBI will target some parent without good evidence; the “whistleblower” just did not provide evidence that this is currently happening.)
In a statement emailed to CNN, the FBI said that “a tag is merely a statistical tool to track information for review and reporting,” that tags are used to group various kinds of related cases, that the counterterrorism division is involved in this issue because it shares responsibility with the criminal investigative division for handling violent threats, and that “the FBI has never been in the business of investigating parents who speak out or policing speech at school board meetings, and we are not going to start now.”
“We are fully committed to preserving and protecting First Amendment rights, including freedom of speech,” the FBI said. “The FBI’s focus is on violence and threats of violence that potentially violate federal law.”
This controversy erupted in September, when the National School Boards Associations sent a letter to Biden in which it said that “acts of malice, violence, and threats against public school officials” could be classified as “the equivalent to a form of domestic terrorism and hate crimes” and asked for a federal review that would include a look at whether there were “appropriate enforceable actions against these crimes” under various laws, including “the PATRIOT Act in regards to domestic terrorism.” (The NSBA board has since apologized for language in the letter.)
A subsequent public statement from the Department of Justice vowing to take action on threats against educators was also criticized by many Republicans as evidence of federal overreach. But that statement, unlike the NSBA letter, did not mention domestic terrorism. Republicans have also noted that the NSBA was in communication with White House officials before sending the letter to Biden, but they haven’t shown any indication to date that the White House was responsible for the NSBA’s inclusion of the phrase “domestic terrorism” or the reference to the Patriot Act.
Biden and separated families
McCarthy criticized the Biden administration for “considering paying illegal immigrants $450,000 per family.” He said, “You’re gonna reward people that came here illegally with $450,000 from hardworking taxpayer Americans.”
Facts First: The Biden administration is not considering $450,000 payments to every undocumented family or a large percentage of undocumented families, as McCarthy’s broad wording would likely lead some listeners to believe. Rather, in response to a series of lawsuits against the government — not as part of the bill the House passed — the Biden administration is considering compensation payments, of a size that is not publicly known, to families who were separated at the US-Mexico border under the Trump administration’s controversial and ultimately abandoned “zero tolerance” policy.
It is not clear how many people might be eligible for compensation, but the number is certainly a small fraction of the total US undocumented population that has been estimated at around 11 million. More than 3,000 children were separated from their families under the Trump policy.
McCarthy didn’t invent the $450,000 figure; the Wall Street Journal reported in late October that the Biden administration was considering payments of around $450,000 per person to families that were separated. However, the Biden administration has publicly contested the figure, saying it is indeed considering a financial settlement but that the $450,000 figure is too high.
Biden said in early November: “If in fact, because of the outrageous behavior of the last administration, you were coming across the border, whether it was legal or illegal, and you lost your child — you lost your child — it’s gone — you deserve some kind of compensation, no matter what the circumstance. What that will be, I have no idea. I have no idea.”
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