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Fact-check: Does Joe Manchin have a $700,000 Luxury Yacht?

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A screenshot from a National Republican Senatorial Committee ad against Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va. Credit: NRSC

The National Republican Senatorial Committee — the Senate Republicans’ campaign arm — didn’t hold back in a campaign ad aimed at Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va.

The ad, released in early August, charged that “West Virginia Joe” had transformed himself into “Washington Joe.” And a key exhibit for this argument was a pricey boat he owned.

Manchin owns a “$700,000 D.C. luxury yacht,” the ad said, illustrating the claim with a photograph showing a docked vessel.

 

Is this accurate? We took a closer look.

Does Manchin own a boat?

Manchin’s campaign does not dispute that he owns a boat, “Almost Heaven,” saying it is where Manchin has typically lived when in Washington and not back home in West Virginia.

In fact, the boat is hardly a secret. It has been written about periodically before; articles often mention sessions he’s held on the boat with other lawmakers to negotiate legislation and strategy.

In 2014, for instance, Time magazine wrote that both “Almost Heaven” and Manchin’s previous vessel, the “Black Tie,” serve as “a kind of floating incubator of that tenderest of Washington flowers in the first decades of the 21st century: bipartisanship.”

Is the vessel worth $700,000?

To back up its assertion, the NRSC provided PolitiFact with a document labeled “general index or abstract of title continuation sheet No. 1,” the cost of the vessel was listed $700,000.

Manchin’s campaign instead offered a different document with a lower dollar figure.

That document, a memorandum of sale from 2014, said the purchase price for the vessel was $220,000. The document says that Manchin purchased the boat from M&T Bank, with National Liquidators as the broker of the sale.

Independent experts we contacted were unable to explain the difference in the two dollar figures, beyond speculating that the vessel was purchased from a seller eager to get rid of it and later insured at the boat’s market value.

Is it a “luxury yacht”?

According to Boats.com, any vessel “over 40 feet long almost always qualifies” as a yacht. By the length standard alone, that would qualify “Almost Heaven” as a yacht: The vessel, built in 2001, is 65 feet long, according to Coast Guard documents provided to PolitiFact by the NRSC.

Whether it’s a “luxury” vessel, however, is in the eye of the beholder.

According to the Westlawn Institute of Marine Technology, the word “yacht … connotes elegance and expense.” Boats.com adds, “Just as a cocky walk would never be mistaken for a limping shuffle, yacht attitude is the net result of a combination of factors that are easy to spot as a group but hard to quantify individually.”

The vessel is listed as “recreational” on documents. However, a less confrontational — but similarly accurate — description could be “houseboat,” since it is Manchin’s residence in Washington.

Our ruling

The NRSC said that Manchin has a “$700,000 D.C. luxury yacht.”

There’s no dispute that Manchin has a boat docked in Washington, D.C. Its 40-foot length would generally qualify it as a yacht, but since Manchin lives there when he is in town, it could be just as easily described as a houseboat. The vessel was purchased for much less, but it appears to be insured for $700,000. Whether it qualifies as a “luxury” vessel is a matter of opinion.

The information we’ve found backs up elements of both the NRSC’s original assertion and Manchin’s counterargument, so we rate it Half True.

This story was originally published by PolitiFact.

Fact Check

Fact-check: Is Joe Manchin the Only Senator to Consistently Vote Against the Nuclear Option?

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In this Jan. 22, 2018, file photo, Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., talks with a staffer on Capitol Hill in Washington. Photo: AP Photo/File

For decades, majority leaders in the U.S. Senate have threatened to use the “nuclear option” to change senators’ ability to filibuster, a maneuver that blocks bills from coming to a vote unless a supermajority of the chamber votes to proceed.

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., is one member of the body who has fought to protect the status quo.

In a recent tweet, Manchin said, “I was the only member of the Senate – Republican or Democrat – who has consistently voted against efforts to use the so called ‘nuclear option’ to change the rules of the Senate. This move is a betrayal of the people we represent.”

We wondered whether Manchin was right that he had a uniquely consistent record on such votes. So we reached out to two experts in Senate procedure to see whether Manchin’s statement was accurate. (Manchin’s office did not respond to an inquiry.)

What is the nuclear option?

First, some background on the nuclear option.

As we’ve previously noted, there is a legend of uncertain veracity that says George Washington and Thomas Jefferson came to agree that the Senate should serve as a “saucer” to the House’s “tea cup” — a vessel for cooling the passions emanating from the House.

Whether the specifics of the tale hold up, the idea that the Senate is the slower, more cautious half of Congress has been the chamber’s reputation throughout its history. The Constitution delegates internal rule-setting to the Senate itself, and for much of its history, the chamber — unlike the House — did not implement any mechanism to maneuver around a member who was determined enough to block action through a filibuster.

In 1917, the Senate voted to empower a supermajority of two-thirds to cut off a filibuster and move on to other business by invoking a motion known as “cloture.” (Since the Senate had 96 members then, that meant 64 were needed to invoke cloture if all members were voting.) Then, in 1975, the Senate voted to lower the supermajority to its current number, 60 out of 100 members.

Still, 60 votes is a significant hurdle for a chamber that has not often had one party win that many seats. In recent years, the two parties have become more polarized, and more willing to filibuster, even on matters that had previously been treated as routine. That has put pressure on Senate leaders to get rid of the longstanding supermajority hurdle or else face gridlock — especially for such high-stakes topics as nominations.

Detractors have warned that such important matters were better dealt with using the higher degree of consensus conveyed through a 60-vote supermajority. But there is one tool available to a Senate leader willing to buck the chamber’s long standing tradition: the nuclear option.

The mechanics of the nuclear option (which has nothing to do with anything literally nuclear) are complex even by the standards of parliamentary maneuvers, requiring a precise series of carefully choreographed steps. Readers brave enough to tackle the details can refer to multi-page explanations in these two reports by the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service.

The gist, though, is that the majority party would move to change the supermajority rule through a series of votes that require only a simple majority.

Recent nuclear votes

Gregory Koger, a University of Miami political scientist, cited four key votes for the nuclear option. One came in 2013, when the Democrats were in control, one came in 2017, when Republicans were in control, and the final one came in 2019, when the Republicans were still in control.

In 2013, the Democratic leadership used the nuclear option to get rid of the filibuster for all nominations except Supreme Court appointments. Manchin voted against his own party, to keep the status quo.

In 2017, Republicans leaders called a vote to eliminate the filibuster for Supreme Court nominations. Here, Manchin cast a vote to maintain the status quo, siding with Democrats against the Republican majority seeking to go nuclear.

Then, in 2019, Republican leaders offered two relevant votes. While they weren’t specifically about filibusters, they addressed delaying tactics that can advantage the minority.

One vote would shorten the debate time after cloture from 30 hours to 2 hours for district judges. The second would do the same for non-Cabinet executive appointments.

In both cases, Manchin voted to maintain the status quo.

In 2013, two fellow Democratic senators voted with Manchin and against their party’s leadership — then-Sens. Carl Levin of Michigan and Mark Pryor of Arkansas. Neither remains in the chamber.

And two Republicans who voted with Democrats in the 2019 votes had stuck with their own party in the 2017 vote, meaning that their voting record wasn’t “consistent” with the status quo in all cases.

Our ruling

Manchin said, “I was the only member of the Senate – Republican or Democrat – who has consistently voted against efforts to use the so called ‘nuclear option’ to change the rules of the Senate.”

Experts in Senate procedure tell PolitiFact that Manchin is correct, having voted in favor of the status quo — and against “nuclear option” efforts — in each of the four relevant votes between 2013 and 2019.

We rate this statement True.

This article was originally published by PolitiFact.

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Fact Check

Fact-check: Have Exports from West Virginia Risen Faster than the U.S. as a Whole?

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Heavy equipment and trucks move coal in the Sun Coal Co. coal yard along the Kanawha River in Dickenson, W.Va., on Jan. 19, 2018. Photo: AP

Have West Virginia exports been on fire recently? A tweet by the West Virginia Republican Party suggests so.

In an April 2 tweet, the state party said, “West Virginia’s exports increased for the second year in a row in 2018, reaching $8.1 billion. Additionally, West Virginia’s export growth rate was 14.2%, nearly double the national average of 7.6%.”

Did West Virginia really outpace the national average of export growth rates?

The tweet linked to a March 17 article in WVNews. In turn, the article cites a March 15 news release by the West Virginia Department of Commerce that reported data from the U.S. Census Bureau.

Caitlin Ashley-Lizarraga, an international trade specialist at the West Virginia Department of Commerce, pointed us to detailed Census Bureau data collected by a private-sector subscription database, the Global Trade Atlas.

The table shows that West Virginia did indeed export $8.1 billion to the rest of the world in 2018, and that represented a 14.2% increase over the export total for 2017.

The increase for the nation as a whole was a little over half that — 7.6%.

We were able to replicate this data using the Census Bureau’s own USA Trade Onlinedata portal.

While the export growth in West Virginia was strong between 2017 and 2018, it’s worth noting that this expansion came from a small base.

In fact, West Virginia ranks thirteenth from the bottom in total exports for 2018. The states ranking below West Virginia are Arkansas, Delaware, Idaho, Maine, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Vermont, and Wyoming.

Our ruling

The West Virginia Republican Party tweeted, “West Virginia’s exports increased for the second year in a row in 2018, reaching $8.1 billion. Additionally, West Virginia’s export growth rate was 14.2%, nearly double the national average of 7.6%.”

The data, which we verified with a U.S. Census Bureau database, supports what the tweet said. We rate the statement True.

This article was originally published by PolitiFact.

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Fact Check

Fact-check: Does West Virginia Trail its Neighbors in STEM Graduates?

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Is West Virginia trailing its neighbors in science, technology, engineering and math in higher education? West Virginia University President E. Gordon Gee said so during his State of the University address on March 19.

“Our state has fewer science, technology, engineering and math graduates than any neighboring state,” Gee said.

We decided to see if Gee was correct. We defined a “neighboring state” as one that shares a border with West Virginia: Maryland, Kentucky, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Virginia.

To support his assertion, Gee’s office referred us to a website run by a corporate-location consulting firm called the Site Selection Group. The site provides statistics for STEM degrees conferred in 2016.

Using raw numbers of graduates, Gee is correct: West Virginia conferred 4,912 STEM degrees, which is smaller than the neighboring five states. The second-smallest was Kentucky, with 8,252 degrees.

However, looking just at raw numbers of graduates is misleading because West Virginia has a smaller population than any of the other states. To cancel out the effect of population, we also looked at the percentage of all degrees conferred in the state that were for STEM fields.

On this measure, West Virginia ranks last among nearby states, too, though the comparison is closer. (We used data from the federal Department of Education that combines associate, bachelor’s, master’s and doctorates conferred in each state for 2015-2016.)

We found that 16 percent of West Virginia’s degrees came in STEM fields, close to — but behind — Virginia at 17 percent and Kentucky, Ohio, and Pennsylvania at 18 percent. Maryland was the clear leader with 23 percent.

Courtesy: PolitiFact

Our ruling

Gee said, “Our state has fewer science, technology, engineering, and math graduates than any neighboring state.” He’s right both on the raw numbers and as a percentage of all degrees granted, though measuring by percentage, it’s a pretty close competition.

We rate the statement True.

This article was originally published by PolitiFact.

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