Fact-checking the vice-presidential debate between Kaine and Pence

Here’s a closer look at six of the more suspicious claims vice-presidential candidates Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) and Gov. Mike Pence (R-Ind.) made during their first and only debate on Oct. 4. (Jenny Starrs/The Washington Post)

Democratic vice-presidential nominee Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia and his challenger, Republican and Indiana Gov. Mike Pence debated Oct. 4 at Longwood University in Farmville, Va. Here is a roundup of 25 suspicious or interesting claims that were made. As is our practice, we do not award Pinocchios when we do a roundup of facts in debates.

“She worked a deal with the Russians to reduce their chemical weapons stockpile”
—Tim Kaine

Kaine surely meant to say nuclear weapons but it came out as chemical weapons. (Later in the debate, he said “(Clinton) went toe-to-toe with Russia as secretary of state to do the New START Agreement to reduce Russia’s nuclear stockpile.”)

Even so, Kaine overstates the impact of the 2011 New START (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty agreement, which Clinton helped negotiate as secretary of state.

New START placed tighter limits on deployed strategic weapons but Russia was actually already meeting the treaty’s limits, for the most part, when the treaty’s implementation began. Indeed, Russia has increased deployed nuclear weapons from 1,537 in February 2011 to 1,796 in September of this year. Also, the treaty does not restrict either country from stockpiling weapons, nor does it require them to destroy any existing weapons.

Russia’s total nuclear warhead arsenal has been on a steady decline from 40,000 since 1986. The total has hovered around 4,500 since 2012, during Obama’s presidency.

“She worked a tough negotiation with nations around the world to eliminate the Iranian nuclear weapons program without firing a shot.”


Kaine leans way over on his skis here. The Iranian nuclear agreement was actually negotiated by Clinton’s successor, John Kerry, though Clinton helped tee up the negotiations by increasing sanctions on the Islamic Republic. The deal, which has been sharply criticized by Republicans, did increase the amount of time that Iran would need to build a nuclear weapon by reducing its centrifuges for uranium enrichment and its stockpile of enriched uranium. But the deal expires in 15 years and Iran’s nuclear infrastructure remains in place.

While Iran has insisted it has no interest in building nuclear weapons, the deal does not eliminate the risk that it will obtain nuclear bombs.

Clinton and Kaine are “actually advocating $1 trillion in tax increases.”

—Mike Pence

Indeed, Clinton’s economic plan would raise an estimated $1.46 trillion in tax revenues over the next decade, according to an analysis by economist Mark Zandi. But the tax hike “falls almost exclusively on the most highly paid,” the analysis says.

This figure does not take into account the impact of her other proposals on the economy. For example, his report also said that if Clinton were able to fully implement her economic plans, the economy would add an additional 3.2 million jobs during the first four years of her presidency. Combined with anticipated job creation under current law, that adds up to 10.4 million jobs. But the report also said that Clinton would face significant roadblocks to getting her economic plan through Congress, resulting in far fewer job gains.

“Donald Trump during his campaign has called Mexicans rapists and criminals. He’s called women slobs, pigs, dogs, disgusting. I don’t like saying that in front of my wife and my mother. He attacked an Indiana-born federal judge and said he was unqualified to hear a federal lawsuit because his parents were Mexican. He went after John McCain, a POW, and said he wasn’t hero because he’d been captured. He said African-Americans are living in hell. And he perpetrated this outrageous and bigoted lie that President Obama is not a U.S. citizen. … And we don’t think that women should be punished, as Donald Trump said they should, for making the decision to have an abortion.”

Trump has, indeed, said all of those things.

During his campaign announcement, Trump said: “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.“ We awarded Trump’s claim connecting illegal immigrants from Mexico and crime Four Pinocchios. (During the debate, Pence correctly noted that Kaine was leaving out a part where Trump said: “And some, I assume, are good people.”)

In 2007, Trump called Rosie O’Donnell “a slob,” “a pig” and a “degenerate” in a single speech. He has called Arianna Huffington “a dog” and said New York Times columnist Gail Collins had “the face of a dog.”

Trump did say that the Indiana-born U.S. District Court Judge Gonzalo Curiel had an “inherent conflict of interest” because of his Mexican heritage and Trump’s plan to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. Trump has said McCain was “not a war hero,” and that McCain is “a war hero because he was captured. I like people that weren’t captured.”  Trump has, indeed, said: “We have a situation where we have our inner cities, African-Americans, Hispanics, are living in hell, because it’s so dangerous.” And Trump was one of the most high-profile “birthers” who questioned whether Obama was a U.S. citizen.

Earlier in the campaign, Trump said women who receive illegal abortions should be subject to “some sort of punishment.” But he reversed that statement several hours later, after widespread criticism from those on both sides of the abortion rights issue. He amended his statement to say that the doctors, not women, should be punished.

“Richard Nixon released tax returns when he was under audit.”


This is correct. A key difference here is that Nixon did not release his taxes while he was a presidential candidate; he did so in 1973, a year after he was re-elected.

Presidential candidates have no legal obligation to release their returns, but there has long been a tradition to do so for the sake of transparency. Trump has cited a pending Internal Revenue Service audit, even though the first president to release his taxes, Nixon, did so in the middle of an audit. Moreover, Trump has not released his tax returns from before 2009, which are no longer under audit, according to his attorney.

“The state of Indiana has balanced budget … we’ve made record investments in education and infrastructure.”


Pence is correct on raw numbers regarding education spending, but is incorrect when the figures are adjusted for inflation.

In fiscal year 2017, state spending on higher education and K-12 education is the largest in Indiana’s history. But adjusted for inflation, the 2017 appropriations are not quite as high as they were in 2010 and 2011, said Lawrence DeBoer, Purdue University economist and an expert on Indiana state budget. By 2017, Indiana state spending on education will be almost back to 2011 levels, DeBoer said.

On infrastructure, Pence began improving the state’s roads only after an emergency repair of the Interstate 65 bridge led to a month-long traffic problem and caused a political liability, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported. Political ads attacked Pence for saving money in the state’s reserves at the expense of underfunding the state’s infrastructure.

Pence then proposed a plan to improve roads “that relied on borrowing, drawing down state reserves and accounting gimmicks to reach an advertised $1 billion sticker price,” the Star Tribune reported. “In the end, he got just a fraction of that after Indiana’s Republican-controlled Legislature balked. And much of the money set aside for local governments came from local taxes held in state reserves that were already supposed to be returned.”

Clinton and Kaine “have a plan for open borders.”


Pence exaggerates Clinton’s stance on border security and immigration enforcement.

Clinton has said she would expand Obama’s executive actions on immigration and has advocated for comprehensive immigration reform, including a pathway to citizenship. But she also has supported enhanced border security. And her immigration proposal includes “humane, targeted and effective” enforcement and focusing immigration resources on detaining and deporting those “who pose a threat to public safety.”

“Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine want to increase the Syrian refugee program by 550 percent.”


This is correct. Clinton has said she supports President Obama’s decision to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees in fiscal year 2016 — and that she would support an increase up to 65,000. That is a 550 percent increase from 10,000. But Clinton has not yet disclosed her plan for the new fiscal year or beyond.

This map below shows where Syrian refugees have ended up in the United States.

Kaine: “You’ve got to be tough on Russia. Let’s start by not praising Vladimir Putin as a great leader. Donald Trump and Mike Pence have said he’s a great leader.”
Pence: “No, we haven’t.”

Kaine: “Governor Pence said, inarguably, Vladimir Putin is a better leader than President Obama.”
Pence: That is absolutely inaccurate…. He (Trump) said he’s been stronger on the world stage.”

Maybe the GOP ticket did not precisely use the word “great” or “better” but Kaine pretty much hits the target here.

Pence told CNN just a few weeks ago: “I think it’s inarguable that Vladimir Putin has been a stronger leader in his country than Barack Obama has been.” Pence made these remarks just after Trump asserted that Putin has “been a leader far more than our president has been a leader.”

“The second component of the [Trump] plan is massive tax breaks for the very top, trillions of dollars of tax breaks for people just like Donald Trump. The problem with this, Elaine, is that’s exactly what we did 10 years ago and it put the economy into the deepest recession — the deepest recession since the 1930s.”

Kaine repeats a line that recently earned Hillary Clinton Three Pinocchios. But no credible analyst would cite the Bush tax cuts as playing a key role in spurring the economic crash.

Kaine puts it even more starkly than Clinton. The Clinton campaign tried to suggest income inequality, exacerbated by tax cuts, led to the stagnation of the middle class and spurred excess borrowing and leverage — key components of the crash along with lax regulation. But that’s a real stretch, given that a housing bubble was the key trigger. The causes of the Great Recession are complex and debatable but there’s no debate that it is wrong to put the Bush tax cuts at the top of the list.

“When Donald Trump spoke in Phoenix, he looked the audience in the eye and said … quote, ‘They will all be gone. They will all be gone.’”

This isn’t a direct quote about deporting all undocumented immigrants, but Trump did say that all “criminal illegal immigrants” (likely referring to undocumented immigrants convicted of a crime) “are going to be gone. It will be over.”

Among other claims Trump made at the Aug. 31 Phoenix rally about removing those here illegally:

“Anyone who has entered the United States illegally is subject to deportation.”

“Under my administration, anyone who illegally crosses the border will be detained until they are removed out of our country and back to the country from which they came.”

But Trump also laid out his deportation priorities during the speech. Among them: Targeting at least 5 million and as many as 6.5 million undocumented immigrants who would be subject to swift removal. That is about half of the 11 million undocumented people estimated to be living in the United States.

“More than half of the private meetings when she [Clinton] was secretary of state were given to major donors of the Clinton Foundation.”


Pence misconstrued an Associated Press report here, similar to the way Donald Trump did earlier in the campaign.

The AP analyzed State Department records and looked specifically at Clinton’s meetings on the phone or in person with 154 people who were not federal employees or foreign government representatives. This narrowed down the denominator to a small subcategory of people Clinton met with as secretary of state, since the majority of her diplomatic work would involve representatives of foreign governments. In addition, the AP report is based on partial records released by the State Department so far and does not reflect the full scope of people with whom Clinton met as secretary of state.

The AP found that 85 of those 154 people, or “more than half,” had donated to the Clinton Foundation or “pledged commitments to its international programs.” The 85 donors collectively contributed as much as $156 million, the AP reported. There were representatives from at least 16 foreign governments, who donated as much as $170 million to the charity, but those representatives were not included in the 154 number, the AP reported.

“15 million new jobs? 15 million new jobs?”


This is wrong. Counting from January 2009, there have been nearly 11 million private-sector jobs created in the United States, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. If you count all jobs, including government jobs, the figure is 10.5 million.

So how does Kaine come up with 15 million? He’s counting from the low point for jobs in Obama’s presidency, February 2010. When you start the clock from then, the tally is 15 million private-sector jobs and 14.8 million overall jobs.

The last time we checked, February 2010 was 6 1/2 years ago. So with this claim, Kaine is trying to wipe off a year of Obama’s presidency.

Moreover, as a general matter, regular readers know that we tend to discount job-creation records by a president, as so much of the record is due to economic forces beyond a president’s control.

“Independent analysts say the Clinton plan would grow the economy by 10.5 million jobs. The Trump plan would cost 3.5 million jobs.”


Mark Zandi, a respected economist at Moody’s Analytics, did issue a report saying that if Trump’s economic plans were fully implemented, 3.5 million jobs would disappear, incomes would stagnate, debt would explode, and stock prices would plummet. (This compares to an anticipated increase of 6 million jobs under current Obama administration policies.) In another report, Zandi also said that if Clinton were able to fully implement her economic plans, the economy would add an additional 3.2 million jobs during the first four years of her presidency. Combined with anticipated job creation under current law, that adds up to 10.4 million jobs.

But both reports were highly skeptical that either candidate would be able to get their plans through Congress — even a Republican-controlled one during a Trump presidency —because so many of Trump’s positions are such a departure from GOP principles. Even so, the report said the U.S. economy would likely suffer under a Trump presidency. (The report was issued in June and Moody’s has not issued an updated report that would reflect additional policies announced by Trump, including a revised tax plan. But the report said Trump’s trade policies would be especially damaging.)

“A reference to the Iranian deal, the Iranian deal that Hillary Clinton initiated, $150 billion to the radical mullahs in Iran.”


Pence makes it sound like this is U.S. taxpayer money — and he uses a too-high estimate. Because of international sanctions over its nuclear program, Iran had billions of dollars in assets that were frozen in foreign banks around the globe. With sanctions lifted, in theory, those funds would be unlocked.

But the Treasury Department has estimated that once Iran fulfills other obligations, it would have about $55 billion left. (Much of the other money was obligated to illiquid projects in China.) For its part, the Central Bank of Iran said the number was actually $32 billion, not $55 billion.

“That’s why Donald Trump’s claim that he wants to — that NATO is obsolete and that we need to get rid of NATO is so dangerous.”


Trump has called the North Atlantic Treaty Organization obsolete but he has not said he wants to get rid of it. Asked specifically by The Washington Post in March if he wanted to pull out of NATO, he said, “I don’t want to pull it out. NATO was set up at a different time. NATO was set up when we were a richer country. We’re not a rich country anymore. … I think NATO as a concept is good, but it is not as good as it was when it first evolved.” Trump has argued that “distribution of costs” has to be changed, but as we have noted, Trump frequently overstates the burden on the United States.

“We will never, ever engage in a risky scheme to privatize Social Security. Donald Trump wrote a book and he said Social Security is a Ponzi scheme and privatization would be good for all of us.”

Kaine is referring to Trump’s 2000 book, “The America We Deserve,” where he made such a comparison about Social Security and said he wanted to privatize the program: “The workers of America have been forced to invest a sixth of our wages into a huge Ponzi scheme. The pyramids are made of paper-mache.”

Trump added in the book: “Privatization would be good for all of us. As it stands today, 13.6 percent of women on Social Security live in poverty.”

But that book was published 16 years ago. On the campaign trail, Trump has said he wants to “keep Social Security intact … I’m not going to cut it.” His specific plans for the program, however, are vague. His campaign has said “the key to preserving Social Security and other programs that benefit AARP members is to have an economy that is robust and growing.”

For more on Social Security and allegations it is a Ponzi scheme, see The Fact Checker’s guide to critical questions about the program.

“We have the smallest Navy since 1916”


This is a zombie claim that just won’t go away. We have awarded it Three Pinocchios, and fact checkers repeatedly debunked this during the 2012 presidential election.

Indeed, the number of ships (272) as of Oct. 4 is the lowest count since 1916 (245 ships). But a lot has changed in 100 years, including the need and capacity of ships. After all, it’s now a matter of modern nuclear-powered fleet carriers versus the gunboats and small warships of 100 years ago. The push for ships under the Reagan era (to build the Navy up to 600-ship levels) no longer exists, and ships from that era are now retiring.

This talking point is a poor way to depict the country’s naval fleet needs. Gunboats of 1915 and aircraft carriers of 2015 are not the same. And military budget, fleet needs and historical circumstances are much different in 2015 than they were in 1916.

“We ought to deploy a missile defense shield to the Czech Republic and Poland which Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama pulled back on out of not wanting to offend the Russians back in 2009.”


Pence reprises a GOP talking point from the 2012 campaign, but it’s not correct. Obama substituted a different system, but it was on the recommendation of then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates, a Republican. Gates, in fact, had recommended the original plan to President George W. Bush and then decided the new system implemented by Obama was more effective, less costly and timelier than the Bush plan.

Gates, in his 2013 memoir, noted that while the Obama administration had stumbled in failing to lay the diplomatic groundwork for the shift, looking “like a bunch of bumbling fools,” the Bush plan was already running into trouble in both Prague and Warsaw and likely would have been rejected by parliaments in both countries. “The Polish and Czech governments were relieved,” he wrote.

“I sincerely believed the new program was better — more in accord with the political realities in Europe and more effective against the emerging Iranian threat,” Gates added. “While there certainly were some in the State Department and the White House who believed the third site in Europe was incompatible with the Russian ‘reset,’ we in Defense did not. Making the Russians happy wasn’t exactly on my to-do list.”

In fact, Gates says, the Russians quickly concluded that the Obama plan was even worse from their perspective, as it eventually might have capabilities that could be used against Russian intercontinental missiles.

“How ironic that U.S. critics of the new approach had portrayed it as a big concession to the Russians,” Gates added sardonically. “It would have been nice to hear a critic in Washington — just once in my career — say, Well I got that wrong.”

“Donald Trump said wages are too high. And both Donald Trump and Mike Pence think we ought to eliminate the federal minimum wage. Mike Pence, when he was in Congress, voted against raising the minimum wage above $5.15.”


Trump has walked back the particular claim that Kaine cites, that “wages are too high.” Of course, Trump has flip-flopped on the minimum wage at least five times since August 2015 and has consistently contradicted his own statements, making it hard to track exactly where he stands on the issue at a given time. Trump’s stance on this matter, as of August 2016, was that he supports “raising it to $10 at the federal level, but believes states should set the minimum wage as appropriate for their state.”

During a November 2015 Republican primary debate, Trump was asked whether he was “sympathetic to the protesters’ cause since a $15 wage works out to about $31,000 a year.” His full answer, with the part Kaine is quoting in bold:

“I can’t be, Neil. And the reason I can’t be is that we are a country that is being beaten on every front economically, militarily. There is nothing that we do now to win. We don’t win anymore. Our taxes are too high. I’ve come up with a tax plan that many, many people like very much. It’s going to be a tremendous plan. I think it’ll make our country and our economy very dynamic. But, taxes too high, wages too high, we’re not going to be able to compete against the world. I hate to say it, but we have to leave it the way it is. People have to go out, they have to work really hard and have to get into that upper stratum. But we cannot do this if we are going to compete with the rest of the world. We just can’t do it.”

Days later, Trump clarified he was referring to whether he would increase the minimum wage. He would not raise it, because then it would be “too high,” he said.

Kaine correctly notes that Pence, as a congressman, voted in 2007 against raising the minimum wage above $5.15.

“More and more young people today are embracing life.”


Pence made this claim in the context of abortion and choosing whether to be for or against abortion rights. But polling does not support this. In fact, it shows young adults’ views on abortion rights are about the same as their elders — unlike issues like marijuana and gay marriage, where young people are more liberal.

Among adults aged 18 to 29, 58 percent said abortion should be legal in all or most cases, and 39 percent said it should be illegal in all or most cases, according to a 2014 Pew Research Center poll. That was similar to those aged 30 to 49 (59 percent supported abortion, 38 percent opposed) and those aged 50 to 64 (56 percent supported, 37 percent opposed).

Mike Pence and Tim Kaine sparred over the issue of abortion during the vice-presidential debate at Longwood University in Farmville, Va., Oct. 4. (The Washington Post)

“But what I can’t understand is with Hillary Clinton and now Senator Kaine at her side is to support a practice like partial-birth abortion.”

“Partial-birth abortion” is usually used to refer to later-term abortions using a specific fetus-extraction method.

Clinton has said she supports a ban on late-term abortions, including partial-birth abortions, as long as the health and the life of the mother is protected. As senator, Clinton opposed the Partial-Birth Abortion Act of 2003, which did not include a health exception.

Earlier this year, Clinton again said she is “on record in favor of a late pregnancy regulation that would have exceptions for the life and health of the mother.”

Kaine: “More nations should get nuclear weapons. Try to defend that.”
Pence: “Don’t put words in my mouth. Well, he never said that, Senator.”
Kaine: “He absolutely said it. Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Japan.”

Trump has, indeed, said that countries like South Korea, Japan and Saudi Arabia should have nuclear weapons because nuclear proliferation is inevitable. Trump has said that countries like Japan and South Korea would be “better off” if they were armed with nuclear weapons, in order to defend themselves from North Korea. And Trumps said he considers nuclear weapons a last resort, though he would not “rule anything out” regarding their use.

For example, during a CNN town hall in March, Trump was asked: “So if you said, Japan, yes, it’s fine, you get nuclear weapons, South Korea, you as well, and Saudi Arabia says we want them, too?”

Trump answered: “Can I be honest with you? It’s going to happen, anyway. It’s going to happen anyway. It’s only a question of time. They’re going to start having them or we have to get rid of them entirely. But you have so many countries already, China, Pakistan, you have so many countries, Russia, you have so many countries right now that have them.”

“She [Clinton] went toe-to-toe with Russia and lodged protests when they went into Georgia.”


This is an odd, inaccurate comment. The Russia-Georgia war took place in 2008, when Clinton was still a U.S. senator. Bush’s secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, lodged the protests. Whatever diplomatic pressure the Bush team had put on Russia over Georgia was abandoned when President Obama was elected and the administration decided to pursue the ill-fated “reset.”

Pence: “Less than 10 cents on the dollar of the Clinton Foundation has gone to charitable causes.”

Kaine: “Ninety percent.”

Kaine gets this right, as Pence repeated a false claim that is popular on the right. The Clinton Foundation does not dole out grants, like a typical foundation, but instead directs the donations it raises directly for specified charitable activities. So simply only looking at the grants does not tell the whole story about the foundation’s activities.

The American Institute of Philanthropy’s “Charity Watch” gives the Clinton Foundation an “A” rating for its efficiency (the top rating is A+). It says the foundation spends 88 percent of its expenses on programs and 12 percent on overhead. It also says the Clinton Foundation spends just $2 to raise $100.

(About our rating scale)

Send us facts to check by filling out this form

Check out our guide to all Trump and Clinton fact checks

Sign up for The Fact Checker weekly newsletter

Powered by WPeMatico