Fact-checking Mike Pence on CNN’s State of the Union

Posted at 1:42 PM, Jun 23, 2019
and last updated 2019-06-24 15:24:25-04

In an interview Sunday with CNN’s Jake Tapper, Vice President Mike Pence made a few incorrect statements over US air and water quality, job growth, and the President’s claims about going to the FBI should a foreign government offer dirt on a political opponent.

Here’s a look at the facts.

Clean air and water

“America has the cleanest air and water in the world,” Pence said when discussing the administration’s environmental policies. “That’s not true,” Tapper replied.

Facts First: Pence would be correct if he was talking about drinking water specifically. In that particular area, the US is tied for first among nine other countries. But it’s incorrect to categorically assert the US has the cleanest air and water in the world.

According to the 2018 Environmental Performance Index produced by Yale and Columbia University and the World Economic Forum, the US ranks number 10 for air quality behind other developed countries such as Australia, Canada, Denmark, and Finland to name a few.

When looking at water and sanitation quality in the EPI’s list, the US ranks 29th. (As stated, our drinking water is tied for first among nine other countries.)

Going to the FBI

When pressed on whether he would call the FBI if foreign governments offered dirt on political opponents, Pence claimed that Trump “said he would call the FBI.”

“I think we’re very clear that we’ll call the FBI,” Pence said, later stating that Trump “made it clear in subsequent comments that he would call the FBI.”

Facts First: Trump has said both that he would or would not call the FBI in two different interviews days apart.

During Trump’s interview with ABC earlier this month, he said he might call the FBI, but followed up by saying that if a foreign government is offering opposition research on a candidate “(y)ou don’t call the FBI. You throw somebody out of your office, you do whatever you do.”

“If I thought there was something wrong, I’d go maybe to the FBI — if I thought there was something wrong,” Trump said. “But when somebody comes up with oppo research, right, they come up with oppo research, ‘oh let’s call the FBI.’ The FBI doesn’t have enough agents to take care of it.”

But, as Pence alluded to, Trump said in a Fox and Friends interview days after his statements to ABC News that “of course you give it to the FBI or report it to the attorney general or somebody like that.” The vice president’s characterization of this as mere clarification from Trump is wrong. Trump said two different things during the ABC News interview and the conversation on Fox and Friends.

Job growth

Presented with recent comments Trump made about whether he would endorse Pence for president should he run in 2024, Pence said he was focused on 2020 and touted the administration’s record of economic accomplishments, including claiming that 6 million new jobs have been created during their time in office.

Facts First: Pence is close, but the number of jobs created since President Trump took office is 5.4 million. If you count January 2017 (Trump was inaugurated Jan. 20, 2017), that number rises to 5.65 million.

Pence may be claiming credit for the total number of jobs created since Trump was elected, which if you begin counting in November 2016, the number does reach 6 million, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Trump has made the strong US economy a core part of his reelection campaign. The President routinely talks about how low the unemployment rate is and has worked to build a narrative that under his administration, the economy has improved significantly. Job growth has certainly been robust under Trump but it still lags behind the pace set during the final two years of the Obama administration.

From January 2017 through May 2019, the US economy has added an average of 195,000 new jobs every month, compared to 210,000 a month during 2015 and 2016.

Asylum seekers

While discussing what the administration sees as loopholes in the US immigration system, Pence claimed that the vast majority of those seeking asylum in the United States do not show up for their court hearing.

“90% of the people never show up for their hearing in the months ahead,” Pence said in reference to asylum seekers. Tapper pushed back on this, telling Pence that number was not accurate.

Facts First: Pence is incorrect. Government data shows that a majority of asylum seekers show up for their court hearings.

According to data from the Department of Justice, the rate of asylum seekers who did not appear for their court hearings rose from 9% in 2016 to 11% in 2017, meaning that roughly 90% of those actually do show up for their court hearings.

The only place Facts First found mention of a 90% rate is in a June 11 testimony from Acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan to the Senate Judiciary Committee. Referring to increased efforts to streamline the court process for families seeking asylum, McAleenan claimed that 90% of 7,000 families did not show up for their hearings.

Extrapolating from a specific sample of 7,000 family units over an unspecified time period and applying that rate to all asylum seekers is problematic at best; especially when independent and government studies of the data find the opposite to be true.

The Trump administration has been tracking the cases of undocumented families since September of 2018. The nonpartisan Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University — which tracks federal data — found that as of May, 80.9% of the 46,743 asylum-seeking families tracked by the administration showed up for all of their court hearings. (On the other hand, 99% of these families with legal representation appeared at all of their court hearings.)

In a review of 10 immigration courts and their decisions regarding family units seeking asylum, the Executive Office for Immigration Review found that between September 24, 2018 and June 14, 2019, 19% of these undocumented immigrants were ordered to be removed from the US for failing to attend their court hearings.

None of this data supports Pence’s assertion that 90% of asylum seekers “never show up for their hearing.”

This story has been updated.