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Fact checking Mike Pence’s CNN town hall in Iowa

<i>Will Lanzoni/CNN</i><br/>
Will Lanzoni/CNN

By CNN Staff

(CNN) — Former Vice President Mike Pence offered some pointed criticism of the president he served under, Donald Trump, during his campaign launch speech on Wednesday.

But hours later, at a CNN town hall in Iowa, Pence echoed some of Trump’s familiar false claims while adding inaccuracies of his own.

Like Trump repeatedly did during his presidency, Pence falsely claimed that the Trump administration had inherited its family separation policy from the Obama administration. Like Trump has continued to do, Pence exaggerated the current inflation situation, offered an assessment of climate change that is widely rejected by climate scientists, and wrongly described former President Barack Obama’s military aid to Ukraine.

Pence also delivered a significant false claim about his history on abortion policy, wrongly saying he had “always” supported exceptions for rape, incest and the life of the mother.

Here is a fact check of these and some other remarks Pence made at the town hall.


Pence claimed at the town hall that “families are struggling right now with record inflation.” At two other moments, he claimed, in present tense, that inflation is “at a 40-year high.”

Facts First: Pence’s claim that there is “record inflation” is false. His claims that inflation is “at a 40-year high” are, at best, out of date.

The US inflation rate hit a 40-year high in June 2022, 9.1%, but that was not close to the all-time record high of 23.7%, set in 1920. And that 9.1% rate last June was not even close to the record for the modern era, 14.8% in 1980.

In addition, the current inflation rate is nowhere near that 40-year high from mid-2022. After hitting 9.1% in June 2022, the inflation rate has fallen for 10 straight months. The most recent available rate, for April, was 4.9%.

From CNN’s Daniel Dale

Family separation at the border

Pence was asked about the Trump administration’s brief but controversial family separation policy, which triggered a crisis in spring 2018 when immigration officials separated thousands of children from their parents after they illegally crossed the US-Mexico border. Pence criticized the policy and – breaking from Trump – said he wouldn’t bring it back. But he also blamed Obama for its creation.

“The family separation policy actually began under the Obama administration,” Pence said.

Facts First: That’s not true at all. Yes, some families were separated under Obama, but that was the rare exception and not the rule. Trump changed things in 2018 and turned family separation into the blanket policy, and only relented amid a furious public outcry and with intervention looming from federal judges.

CNN previously debunked this claim when Trump repeatedly made similar comments during his tenure.

In short, during the Obama years, children were occasionally separated from their parents in rare situations, like if the adults were caught with drugs or there was a potential human trafficking situation.

But Trump dramatically changed things in spring 2018. He imposed a “zero tolerance” policy, where every adult border-crosser would be criminally prosecuted. With the adults being sent to jail, the children were separated from them and sent to detention centers run by the Department of Health and Human Services.

That systematic family separation absolutely did not begin under Obama, as Pence claimed Wednesday night. More than 3,900 children were ultimately separated under Trump, according to federal data.

From CNN’s Marshall Cohen


Pence also addressed his record on abortion regulations.

“Should any federal abortion ban also include exceptions for rape, incest and the life of the mother?” asked CNN’s Dana Bash.

“Those are exceptions that I’ve always supported, Dana, as you know,” Pence answered, pointing to his strong support of the Hyde Amendment, which blocks the use of federal funding for abortions except in the case of rape, incest or to save the woman’s life.

Facts First: This is false. Pence answered differently on an anti-abortion group’s voter’s guide questionnaire in the early 2010s and also supported legislation to tighten the Hyde Amendment.

In a 2010 Indiana anti-abortion group’s voter’s guide questionnaire that asked “under what circumstances do you believe abortion should be legal?,” Pence selected the option that stated “abortion should never be legal.” Two years later, he answered the same question by selecting the option that said “life of the mother only.”

Pence also co-sponsored legislation in 2011 to tweak the Hyde Amendment to narrow the definition of rape.

As governor, he did sign at least one bill that banned private insurance coverage of abortion in 2014 with exceptions for rape, incest and life of the mother.

From CNN’s Em Steck

Aid to Ukraine

Pence said that he and Trump “ended what was a ban during the Obama-Biden administration on any military resources at all” to Ukraine, whereas the Obama-Biden administration was providing “military meals and blankets.”

“We provided javelin missiles — all they were providing was military meals and blankets. We corrected that and Ukraine was better suited to be able to deal with this Russian invasion,” Pence said.

Facts First: This is not true, and reminiscent of comments frequently made by Trump, who has said that the Obama administration was only providing Ukraine “pillows and sheets.”

While it’s true that the Obama administration declined to provide weapons to Ukraine, it provided more than $600 million in security assistance to Ukraine between 2014 and 2016 that involved far more than meals and blankets (or pillows and sheets). The aid included counter-artillery and counter-mortar radars, armored Humvees, tactical drones, night vision devices and medical supplies.

From CNN’s Haley Britzky

Climate change and temperatures

Asked about climate-fueled wildfires covering US cities in smoke, Pence claimed “there will be modest changes in temperatures” over the next century, but that these temperature changes won’t be as bad as “radical environmentalists” make it seem.

Facts First: Climate scientists widely reject Pence’s prediction about “modest” temperature changes. Scientists have concluded that human-caused climate change from burning fossil fuels is dramatically raising Earth’s temperature, and global temperatures could rise over 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit in just the next five years.

Earlier this year, the World Meteorological Organization warned there’s a significant chance the world could cross the critical threshold of 1.5 degrees Celsius, or around 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit, of warming above pre-industrial levels within the next five years.

That near-term temperature rise will have devastating impacts on heat and rising sea levels from melting glaciers. A recent scientific study published in the journal Nature concluded that at that temperature, more than 200 million people worldwide could be exposed to extraordinary heat. Just this week, people living in the US territory of Puerto Rico have faced a heat index of 125 degrees Fahrenheit and temperatures hovering around 95 degrees, setting records for this time of year. And UN scientists have linked climate change with hotter and more frequent heatwaves.

From CNN’s Ella Nilsen

The FBI search of Mar-a-Lago

Pence said Wednesday he was “very troubled” that the FBI searched Trump’s Mar-a-Lago home and resort last year as part of its criminal probe into Trump’s possible mishandling of classified documents.

He argued that the FBI search demonstrated there wasn’t “equal treatment under the law,” and further claimed “there had to be dozens of ways that could’ve been handled other than that kind of behavior.”

Facts First: Pence’s commentary is missing some essential context. Federal authorities tried for a year and a half to get all the sensitive files back from Trump – to no avail. The FBI only searched Mar-a-Lago after Trump failed to voluntary turn over all the classified documents in his possession and after he failed to fully comply with a subpoena that demanded the return of all remaining classified documents.

During the CNN town hall, Pence made it sound like the FBI rushed to raid Trump’s home. But that’s not what happened. Six months passed between the FBI learning of an issue and the Mar-a-Lago search.

The Justice Department first learned that there were issues with Trump and classified materials in February 2022. That’s roughly when the National Archives realized there were classified documents in the boxes that Trump voluntary returned – so the archivists sent a referral to federal prosecutors.

Three months later, in May 2022, the Justice Department subpoenaed Trump and demanded that he return any classified documents still in his possession. His lawyers later turned over 38 documents.

Investigators came to suspect that there were still classified documents at Mar-a-Lago. And in August 2022, they secured approval from a federal judge to execute a search warrant at the property. The FBI found dozens of additional classified files after conducting the first-of-its-kind search on August 8, 2022.

Furthermore, regarding Pence’s claims of Trump being treated unfairly by law enforcement, many legal scholars have noted that prosecutors showed an unusually high level of deference to Trump, because of his position as an ex-president. They wouldn’t be so patient with the average target of a criminal probe.

From CNN’s Marshall Cohen

Parental consent for gender care vs. aspirin

In response to a question about school choice and education vouchers, Pence emphasized his support for parental choice. He expanded his response to address a parent’s role in gender affirming care, specifically highlighting ongoing legal challenges between a group that he founded and a public school system in Iowa.

“A student would have to bring in a slip from their parents to get an aspirin from the school nurse, but they could get a gender transition plan without telling their parents,” he said.

Facts First: This is mostly true. The Linn-Mar Community School District near Cedar Rapids established a Gender Support Plan in its policies to assist students with their gender identity or transition. It allows students in the seventh grade and up to have “priority of their support plan over their parent/guardian” and decide who should participate in meetings about the plan.

The Linn-Mar policy on medication administration in school says that students in grades five and up will be allowed a “limited number of standard dose acetaminophen or ibuprofen” with signed and dated authorization from a parent or legal guardian.

From CNN’s Deidre McPhillips

Tanks and fighter jets to Ukraine

Pence said that the Biden administration “promised 33 Abrams tanks back in January” to Ukraine that the Ukrainians are still waiting on, and “we’re waiting on F-16s to be transferred from somewhere,” a reference to the possibility that some US allies may transfer jets to Ukraine.

Facts First: This needs context. The US announced it would send 31 Abrams tanks to Ukraine, and accelerated the timeline by sending older models of those battle tanks to Ukrainian troops. Thirty-one Abrams tanks were sent to Germany in April to begin a 10-week training course with the Ukrainians and US troops, as the US attempts to get them on the battlefield by the end of summer.

In regard to F-16s, the US has told its European allies it would not block their transfer of the fighter jets to Ukraine. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said in May that Denmark and the Netherlands are leading a European coalition to provide training on the fighter jets to Ukrainian forces, which will be developed in partnership with the US and other allies.

From CNN’s Haley Britzky

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