By Daniel Dale
House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy made at least five false claims during a seven-minute Sunday interview on Fox News.
McCarthy uttered inaccurate statements to host Maria Bartiromo about a wide variety of topics — oil prices, inflation, prisoners released in Afghanistan, the behavior of Democratic state legislators, and the content of an elections bill supported by congressional Democrats.
Here is a fact check.
Trying to liken President Joe Biden’s tenure to the 1970s era of former President Jimmy Carter, which was beset by inflation and oil-related challenges, McCarthy claimed that oil prices are now “the highest that we have seen.”
Facts First: McCarthy was wrong. Oil prices under Biden are not even close to the highest we have ever seen. Crude prices peaked in 2008 under Republican President George W. Bush — more than double their level at the time McCarthy’s interview aired Sunday. Crude prices were also higher at various points under Republican President Donald Trump than they were on Sunday.
On the Friday before McCarthy made this claim, the price of benchmark Brent crude fell below $66 a barrel. That is less than half of the all-time high of more than $147 a barrel in 2008. Further, Brent crude was well above $66 a barrel at various points in 2018 and 2019 under Trump, briefly exceeding $84.
At under $63, West Texas Intermediate crude, a US benchmark, was also going Friday for less than half of its 2008 peak and for less than it did on various days under Trump; it briefly topped $75 under Trump. (The prices of both Brent and West Texas Intermediate increased early this week, after McCarthy’s comments, but remained below their Trump-era highs, let alone their all-time highs.)
McCarthy could have correctly said that oil prices have spiked this year as global demand has rebounded from the pandemic lows of 2020. But he was plain incorrect to suggest that this year’s prices are unprecedented. And, regardless, it’s important to note that US presidents have a limited role in oil prices, which are governed by a complex global dance of supply and demand factors.
Tom Kloza, a longtime energy analyst with Oil Price Information Service, said that “nothing that President Biden has done has had much impact” on the current prices of either crude oil or gasoline. Kloza said this year’s prices have been affected by a combination of supply “discipline” from the OPEC+ group of producer countries and “the unprecedented recovery in world oil demand.”
McCarthy claimed that there is now “inflation at a number we have not seen.” He then described the Biden era as “Jimmy Carter on steroids.”
Facts First: McCarthy was wrong again. While inflation was at a 13-year high in June and July, at a seasonally adjusted 5.3% on a year-over-year basis, it is not even close to the highest we have ever seen and not even close to the level of the late Carter era. Inflation was more than twice as high in every month of 1980 than it was in June and July of this year; its 1980 peak was 14.6%.
You don’t have to go as far back as the Carter presidency to find inflation as high as that of June and July of this year. Inflation hit a slightly higher level, 5.5%, in July 2008, under Bush.
Inflation has also exceeded the current level at other points outside the Carter era. For example, it was above 7% for the entirety of 1974 and 1975, under Carter’s Republican predecessors Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford, peaking at 12.2% during that period.
It’s important to note that current inflation is being caused at least in part by pandemic-related factors that might not last. Businesses that cut prices or kept them flat during the crisis of 2020 are raising them to conventional levels; consumers helped by federal relief funds have money to spend and have strong demand for many products; businesses are facing supply pressures from production shortages and shipping problems.
Whether or not inflation is temporary, though, it definitely isn’t the highest we have seen.
Speaking about congressional Democrats, McCarthy asked, “Why aren’t they protecting the border from those 5,000 prisoners who have just left Afghanistan and — have the hope of coming across our borders?”
Facts First: There is no basis for McCarthy’s claim that 5,000 former prisoners have “just left Afghanistan” with the hope of coming to the US. And McCarthy neglected to mention that it was President Donald Trump’s own 2020 deal with the Taliban — a deal McCarthy had positive words about at the time — in which the US agreed to let up to 5,000 Afghan prisoners go free.
Colin Clarke, senior research fellow at the Soufan Center, a nonprofit that studies global security issues, said that “US officials at the airport who are screening and vetting those leaving Afghanistan are obviously not allowing prisoners released through the US-Taliban deal and through various prison breaks to board planes coming to the United States.” Clarke said that he hasn’t heard “anyone” credibly suggest Taliban members are seeking to infiltrate the US through the Mexican border.
Anthony Cordesman, an Afghanistan expert and the Arleigh A. Burke Chair in Strategy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank, called McCarthy’s claim “nonsense.” Cordesman added: “If they left Afghanistan: to where? Pakistan? Because I doubt very much that they’re in Canada, the Bahamas or Mexico.”
Because we can’t predict the future, we’ll add a caveat. It’s certainly possible that some former prisoners from Afghanistan will try to cross the US border at some point. But there’s still no basis for McCarthy’s suggestion of a current problem involving 5,000 former prisoners who “just left” the country and are presently trying to figure out how to get into the US.
McCarthy’s office did not respond to a request for an explanation of this claim or any of the others we address in this article.
Democratic state legislators
After Bartiromo pressed McCarthy about making sure future elections are free and fair, and mentioned states that are changing their voting laws, McCarthy said, “We have watched state after state where Democrats have left the state. That is where the real difficulty lies. But now we have got them back into Texas.”
Facts First: It’s not true that Democrats have left “state after state” to prevent Republicans from passing changes to voting laws. Texas is the only state whose Democratic legislators left the state under Biden or Trump to deny Republicans the minimum attendance needed to pass elections legislation.
It’s possible that McCarthy was thinking of how dozens of Democratic lawmakers from other states came to Washington, DC this month to join the quorum-breaking Texas lawmakers. But those lawmakers, unlike the Texas group, didn’t cause Republicans “real difficulty” in passing voting laws. In fact, many of the lawmakers were from states were Republicans had already passed new voting laws.
There have been a small number of Democratic walkouts over Republican elections proposals in years past, though not all of them involved legislators leaving the state. Texas Democrats fled to Oklahoma in 2003 over a Republican redistricting proposal. In 2001, Oregon Democrats went into hiding to deny quorum over a Republican redistricting effort there.
Democrats and voter ID laws
McCarthy said Democrats’ new elections bill “would ban ID voting.” (McCarthy was more explicit on Twitter on Tuesday, tweeting that the Democratic agenda is to “ban voter ID in every state.”)
Facts First: It’s not true that Democrats’ elections bill would ban voter ID. Specifically, the Democratic bill would not prohibit states from having voter identification laws and would not prohibit states from checking the IDs of in-person voters. Rather, it would require states to give voters an alternative to showing the ID the states normally demand — specifically, to allow voters who do not show that ID to instead submit signed statements under penalty of perjury attesting to their identity and eligibility to vote.
Critics are entitled to argue that this provision of the Democratic bill would weaken or undermine the voter ID laws of states with strict current requirements. Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell has said, for example, that the bill would mean a “neutering” of voter ID laws.
But it’s just not accurate to claim the bill is a total “ban” on voter ID laws. The staunchly Republican state of Idaho allows voters who aren’t able to present one of its required forms ID to cast a ballot after signing an affidavit attesting to their identity. Nobody could credibly argue that voter ID is banned in Idaho.
For absentee ballot applications in particular, the Democratic bill says that states can’t require any form of identification except for a signature or “similar affirmation.” It says, though, that this policy has “no effect” on ID requirements for first-time voters registering by mail. And as the National Conference of State Legislatures notes on its website, state voter ID requirements generally don’t apply to mail-in or absentee ballots anyway.
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CNN’s Anneken Tappe and Dianne Gallagher contributed to this article.