January 13, 2016

Fact-checking Obama's 2016 State of the Union

President Barack Obama went after his doubters in his final State of the Union address, dismissing their warnings about the country’s economy and military preparedness under his watch as "political hot air."

"Let me tell you something: The United States of America is the most powerful nation on earth. Period. It's not even close. It's not even close," Obama said.

Yet even as he defended his seven years as commander in chief, Obama acknowledged he didn’t deliver on his campaign promise to bring a more civil tone to a sharply divided Capitol Hill.

"It’s one of the few regrets of my presidency  —  that the rancor and suspicion between the parties has gotten worse instead of better," Obama said. "There’s no doubt a president with the gifts of Lincoln or Roosevelt might have better bridged the divide, and I guarantee I’ll keep trying to be better so long as I hold this office."

PolitiFact is fact-checking several statements from Obama’s speech, as well as the Republican response from South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley. Keep reading here.

January 12, 2016

In GOP State of the Union responses, different messages in English and Spanish on immigration

@PatriciaMazzei

The Republican Party's immigration split was reflected Tuesday in the two responses hand-picked party members gave -- one in English, one in Spanish -- to President Obama's final State of the Union address. The Spanish version, offered by a Cuban-American congressman from Miami, was decidedly softer.

Here's what South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley said in English:

No one who is willing to work hard, abide by our laws, and love our traditions should ever feel unwelcome in this country.

At the same time, that does not mean we just flat out open our borders. We can’t do that. We cannot continue to allow immigrants to come here illegally. And in this age of terrorism, we must not let in refugees whose intentions cannot be determined.

We must fix our broken immigration system. That means stopping illegal immigration. And it means welcoming properly vetted legal immigrants, regardless of their race or religion. Just like we have for centuries.

I have no doubt that if we act with proper focus, we can protect our borders, our sovereignty and our citizens, all while remaining true to America’s noblest legacies.

Here's what Miami Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart said in Spanish (translation is ours):

No one who is willing to work hard, abide by our laws, and love the United States should ever feel unwelcome in this country. It's not who we are.

At the same time, it's obvious that our immigration system needs to be reformed. The current system puts our national security at risk and is an obstacle for our economy.

It's essential that we find a legislative solution to protect our nation, defend our borders, offer a permanent and human solution to those who live in the shadows, respect the rule of law, modernize the visa system and push the economy forward.

I have no doubt that if we work together, we can achieve this and continue to be faithful to the noblest legacies of the United States.

There were other differences in the speeches as well. Haley and Diaz-Balart each briefly mentioned their personal backgrounds, which are obviously not the same. Haley spoke about the Charleston shooting and removal of the Confederate flag (which she referred to only as a "symbol that was being used to divide us") while Diaz-Balart spoke more generally about "tragedies" in South Carolina and California. Diaz-Balart didn't make veiled references to presidential front-runner Donald Trump, while Haley warned against the "noise" in politics.

And Diaz-Balart mentioned Cuba and Venezuela:

Unfortunately, there are still countries where basic liberties are not respected and were governments don't represent their people. Mullahs in Iran, devoted to radical Islam and with nuclear ambitions, prohibit dissidence and jail independent journalists as 'spies.' In North Korea, the people remain isolated from the rest of the world without Internet access or mass media. And here, in our own hemisphere, the Cuban people have not had a free election in more than 57 years, and political detentions and oppression keep increasing. And the Venezuelan people suffers the existence of political prisoners and corruption in the most important democratic institutions.

Florida reaction to Obama's final State of the Union

@PatriciaMazzei

Here's what Florida politicians had to say about President Obama's final State of the Union address Tuesday:

Former Gov. Jeb Bush, a Republican running for president:

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, a Republican running for president:

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, a Democrat:

It’s frustrating when partisanship prevents the Congress from getting things done. And it’s pretty clear that Americans are fed up with our inability to enact common-sense reforms. While we were able to get a few things passed back in December, there’s still a lot that we need to accomplish. And I will continue to do everything that I can to try to bring people together in a bipartisan way to get things done.

U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Miami:

President Obama's final State of the Union Address will be remembered not for what he said, but for what he didn’t say.

The President has failed yet again to use this opportunity to lay out a comprehensive plan to Congress and the American people on how best to defeat ISIS, and instead has opted to try to lull us into a false sense of security that is belied by the facts on the ground here in the U.S. and across the globe.

It's much the same situation with Iran: the President touted his nuclear deal with Tehran, yet what the President didn't say is that, since the deal, we have seen an increasingly bellicose regime flouting the international community, daring us to take action against its illicit behavior and then threatening to walk away from the nuclear deal if we do respond.

 

Continue reading "Florida reaction to Obama's final State of the Union" »

President Obama to Congress: Lift Cuban embargo

@PatriciaMazzei

President Barack Obama dedicated a (short) paragraph in his final State of the Union address Tuesday to U.S.-Cuba policy. A year ago, he had only just announced his administration's plans to normalize diplomatic relations with the island.

"Fifty years of isolating Cuba had failed to promote democracy. It set us back in Latin America," Obama said. "That's why we restored diplomatic relations, opened the door to travel and commerce, positioned ourselves to improve the lives of the Cuban people. So if you want to consolidate our leadership and credibility in the hemisphere, recognize that the Cold War is over. Lift the embargo."

Previewing Obama's last State of the Union

On Tuesday night, President Barack Obama will deliver his final State of the Union address. The White House has advertised it as a "big picture" address that skips the usual legislative wish list.

In a video previewing his speech, Obama called himself "optimistic," saying he intends to talk about "what we all need to do together in the years to come, the big things that will guarantee an even stronger, better, more prosperous America for our kids." The White House website devoted to the speech previews the topics of the economy, climate change, foreign policy, health care and "social progress."

We’ll be fact-checking and annotating the speech Tuesday night. Here are some of the topics from our archives that we think Obama might mention.

Closing Guantanamo Bay

We’re tracking Obama’s 2008 campaign promises on our Obameter, a database of more than 500 campaign pledges. We’ve rated his promise to close the Guantanamo Bay detention center as Stalled. Obama clearly wants to close the facility, but Congress continues to block that move. (We rate outcomes, not intentions on our Obameter.) In November, Obama signed an overall bill to fund defense that included limitations on closing Guantanamo.

Keep reading PolitiFact's preview.

January 11, 2016

Obama's broken promise on path to citizenship

President Barack Obama's promise to create a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants has faced a major roadblock due to resistance in Congress.

He took steps on his own to give temporary status to certain illegal immigrants, but he has not gone as far as providing a path to citizenship.

During his 2008 campaign, Obama promised to support support "a system that allows undocumented immigrants who are in good standing to pay a fine, learn English, and go to the back of the line for the opportunity to become citizens."

In 2012, Obama announced Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which gives temporary status for undocumented immigrants who came to the country as children. Almost 700,000 have been approved for DACA and about 443,000 have renewed their two-year deferral. But this program does not provide permanent lawful status to applicants.

Keep reading about Obama's promise from PolitiFact's Obameter.

January 08, 2016

Miami congressman picked to deliver GOP State of the Union response in Spanish

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@PatriciaMazzei

For the third consecutive year, the Republican Party's Spanish-language response to President Barack Obama's State of the Union address Tuesday will come from a Miami member of Congress.

Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart will give the speech, the House Republicans announced Friday. Last year, it was Rep. Carlos Curbelo. The year before, it was Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.

In a statement, Diaz-Balart thanked Speaker Paul Ryan for tapping him.

"The United States and the American people face grave challenges, all of which can be overcome with leadership in Washington D.C. that understands the greatness of our country," Diaz-Balart said. "We need a president who will unify, not divide; a president who will stand with our allies and stand up to enemies of freedom. House Republicans are committed to putting our country back on a path to prosperity, creating solutions that will bolster the economy, cultivate job growth, and provide for a robust national defense. The American people deserve nothing less."

The speech gives a national platform to Diaz-Balart in an election year, though he's in a safe Republican seat. Like his brother, former Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart, Mario Diaz-Balart is known to be a fiery speaker, though his appearance Tuesday will likely call for a more subdued demeanor.

This year's English-language GOP response has been assigned to South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, considered a potential vice-presidential pick for the party's eventual nominee. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, now a presidential candidate himself, gave the English-language response -- in which he famously took a sip of water on live TV -- in 2013.

Curbelo broke from tradition in 2015. Instead of giving a straight translation of the GOP response in English, the freshman made his own edits. No word on which route Diaz-Balart will take.

Photo credit: Jose A. Iglesias, el Nuevo Herald

January 07, 2016

Miami Republicans in Congress again ask White House for Cuban refugees plan

@PatriciaMazzei

Three Miami Republican members of Congress sent their third letter Thursday to President Barack Obama urging the White House to draft a plan to accommodate the influx of Cuban refugees to South Florida.

Reps. Carlos Curbelo, Mario Diaz-Balart and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, all Cuban Americans, blame Obama's rapprochement with Cuba for the increase in migrants from the island arriving in the U.S. -- and want him to help local governments absorb the new arrivals.

The House members have written to Obama twice before. Some 8,000 Cubans stranded in Costa Rica are now enroute to the U.S.-Mexico border. Federal policy stipulates that Cubans who reach American soil can remain in the country. After 366 days, they can apply for U.S. residency.

"Since our previous letters, we have been in contact with Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado, Hialeah Mayor Carlos Hernandez, and Doral Mayor Luigi Boria about their concerns regarding the growing strain on local governments and services in South Florida," the trio wrote Thursday. "Through its Homeless program, the City of Miami has been able to place Cuban migrants into shelters. However, these centers are now at full capacity and can no longer receive any of the 8,000 new refugees expected to arrive in the coming weeks. We have also been informed that Catholic Charities, Church World Services, and the International Rescue Committee do not have the funds necessary to assist these new refugees because they are already overwhelmed by the surge of Cuban nationals that have recently arrived in the United States."

Read the full letter: here.

Three things to know about the 'gun show loophole' following statement by Jeb Bush

Supporters of gun rights say President Barack Obama and others are confusing the issue of gun selling by talking about a "gun show loophole." Some go so far as to say such a loophole doesn’t exist.

When Chris Wallace of Fox News Sunday asked Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush to explain what was wrong with Obama’s ideas, Bush had this to say:

"Well, because you don't know the details of it, but the so-called gun show loophole -- which I think is what he’s talking about -- doesn't exist. People that want to occasionally sell guns ought to have the right to do so without being impaired by the federal government. If states want to create specific rules around that kind of behavior -- fine."

We found Bush’s specific comments on Fox News Sunday a little jumbled and hard to fact-check, though he mimics similar claims by House Speaker Paul Ryan and other pundits. So here we’ll lay out what you need to know about current gun laws and what people mean when they talk about a loophole.

Our findings show that there is, in fact, an exemption in the law. But the exemption pertains to who sells the guns rather than where they sell them.

Keep reading PolitiFact's article.

Obama's mixed record on cracking down on employers who hire illegal immigrants

Years before efforts to overhaul immigration laws stalled in Congress, President Barack Obama made promises of his own to address illegal immigration.

During his 2008 campaign, Obama promised to "remove incentives to enter the country illegally by cracking down on employers who hire undocumented immigrants.

We rated Obama's promise a Compromise in July 2009 after Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said companies seeking government contracts would have to use a government database called E-Verify to ensure that their employees are legal. At the same time, she announced that the administration was getting rid of a Bush administration effort to force all types of companies to fire undocumented workers.

Now that Obama is nearing the end of his term, we're taking another look at the progress of Obama's promise. We found that Obama's progress on this promise has been mixed at best.

See how PolitiFact rated Obama's progress on our Obameter.