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Fact-check: Did Joe Manchin vote to fund the border wall?

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Immigration policy has been one of the most contentious issues in Congress in recent years. And a big part of that debate has revolved around President Donald Trump’s proposed border wall.

Generally, Democrats have been skeptical that a wall is needed or would work as an immigration-control measure. But Democratic senators who are up for election this year in Republican-leaning states have had to walk a political tightrope, balancing their party loyalty with their constituents’ support for the president.

In an ad in his reelection campaign, Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., said, “I wanted Mexico to pay for the wall, but they’re not. So we need to do it ourselves.”

Despite attacks by Republicans accusing him of being soft on illegal immigration, Manchin said in the ad, “I voted to fund President Trump’s wall. Check the vote.”

So we did.

The clearest example — and the one Manchin visually highlighted in his ad — was a bill sponsored by Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa. Among other things, it would have funded a border wall.

Specifically, the legislation said that “the Secretary of Homeland Security shall take such actions as may be necessary (including the removal of obstacles to detection of illegal entrants) to construct, install, deploy, operate, and permanently maintain physical barriers, tactical infrastructure and technology in the vicinity of the United States border to achieve situational awareness and operational control of the border and deter, impede, and detect illegal activity in high traffic areas.”

The measure also would have struck the language in an existing bill that said “fencing and road Improvements” and instead inserted “physical barriers” — a stronger phrase, closer to the vision of a “wall.”

“Not later than September 30, 2022, the Secretary of Homeland Security, in carrying out this section, shall deploy along the United States border the most practical and effective physical barriers and tactical infrastructure available for achieving situational awareness and operational control of the border,” the legislation said.

The legislation included other elements of Trump’s immigration agenda, including tighter curbs on legal immigration, that made it unpalatable to most Democrats.

Trump backed this measure, and three Democrats ended up voting for it when it came up on Feb. 15, 2018, along with 36 Republicans. That was well short of a majority and much less the 60 votes required to advance the measure to a final vote.

But Manchin was one of those three Democrats to vote for it.

In two other instances, Manchin voted for measures that would have increased border security infrastructure such as fencing, but not precisely the wall as envisioned by Trump.

One was a bipartisan measure, informally called the Common Sense Plan, that would have implemented a path to citizenship for “dreamers” who were brought illegally to the United States as minors, along with funding for border security. Despite the border-security language, Trump opposed it.

The measure would have provided $25 billion for “the construction of physical barriers, border security technologies, and tactical infrastructure.” It said that within six months after passage, the executive branch would have to submit to Congress “a risk-based plan for improving security along the borders of the United States, including the use of personnel, fencing, other forms of tactical infrastructure, and technology.”

It won the backing of eight Republicans and 46 Democrats and Democratic-caucusing independents. Manchin voted to advance the measure to a final vote. However, it fell short of the 60 votes required for final passage.

third measure — and the only one to pass — was a $1.3 trillion annual federal government spending bill, of which funding for replacement border fencing was a small part.

Trump has sometimes touted this bill as making progress on building his border wall, but we have found these claims inaccurate, because the law was actually explicit about providing funding for items outside the scope of the Trump wall. The bill included $1.6 billion for some projects at the border, but none of that can be used toward the border wall promised during the presidential campaign.

The final vote for this bill was 65-32 in favor. All told, 39 Democrats voted for it, including Manchin.

It can be tricky to pin down what pieces of legislation supported Trump’s specific vision for the wall, and which supported more generic elements of border security.

However, the bill Manchin highlighted in his ad — the Grassley legislation — received Trump’s support, so Manchin’s vote for it was effectively a vote for Trump’s border-security vision, however it might play out on the ground. This supports Manchin’s notion that he “voted to fund President Trump’s wall.”

Manchin’s overall message is a shift from Trump’s first year in office.

Morrisey’s office forwarded us a link to an article that listed a number of instances in which Manchin spoke out against, or expressed skepticism about, the idea of a border wall. For instance, the article noted that in an interview on “The Young Turks” on July 11, 2017, Manchin said, “I’m not for building a wall. I’m not for building a wall at all.” He also told Politico that month that he had “not been supportive of funding for a wall.”

Our ruling

Manchin said, “I voted to fund President Trump’s wall.”

Manchin has offered various opinions about the merits of a border wall over time. However, when it came to votes, we found a clear instance in which Manchin supported a Trump-backed, hard-line immigration bill with border wall provisions that was too conservative even for a sizable portion of the Republican caucus.

We rate the statement Mostly 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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