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Fact-checking Patrick Morrisey on Positions Held by Joe Manchin

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President Donald Trump, left, shakes hands with Republican Senatorial candidate Patrick Morrisey, right, on stage during a campaign rally at WesBanco Arena, Saturday, Sept. 29, 2018, in Wheeling, WV. Photo: AP

In his battle to unseat U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., Republican state Attorney General Patrick Morrisey is working hard to paint Manchin as a captive of his party even though West Virginia voters strongly back President Donald Trump.

In a tweet on Aug. 31, Morrisey said, “On life, guns, tax cuts, and coal, I stand with President @realDonaldTrump and West Virginia. Meanwhile, lying liberal Joe Manchin stands with Hillary Clinton and DC Dems on gun control, higher taxes, amnesty and Planned Parenthood. The choice could not be more clear. #WVsen.”


In this fact-check, we’ll look at whether Morrisey had a point about Manchin’s stances on guns, taxes, immigration and Planned Parenthood.

Guns

Manchin once received strong support from the National Rifle Association. But that’s not the case any more.

In 2004, when Manchin was running for governor, he received an A-plus ratingfrom the NRA and received the group’s endorsement when running for governor.

And in 2010 and 2012, when Manchin was running for a U.S. Senate seat, he was endorsed by the NRA and received an A rating. “Joe Manchin is committed to protecting the Right to Keep and Bear Arms guaranteed to all Americans,” Chris Cox, chairman of the NRA Political Victory Fund, wrote in 2012.

But Manchin’s relations with the NRA soured in 2013 after he and Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., proposed legislation that would have enacted tighter background checks for certain gun purchases. Manchin and Toomey framed the bill as a compromise, but the NRA saw it as the first step down a slippery slope and opposed it. (It never became law.)

This year, the NRA gave Manchin a D and said it was airing ads on behalf of Morrisey in the Charleston and Bluefield markets.

“Contrary to what Joe Manchin says in West Virginia, he has supported the agenda of Barack Obama and Chuck Schumer by voting in favor of gun control in Washington, D.C.,” Cox wrote this year.

In an interview on CBS news in March 2018 — in the wake of the school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. — Manchin defended his position as “not gun control. It’s gun sense. … This bill of ours, the Manchin-Toomey bill, should be the base bill they work off of.” He also has signaled support for banning bump stocks and raising the legal age of purchasing assault rifles.

Manchin added that he would not support a ban on AR-15s. When he was asked about the possibility of the ban, he said, “I don’t have any friends that own the gun right now, I don’t know anyone who’s committed a crime with it, so I wouldn’t take their gun away.”

“Joe Manchin supports protecting West Virginians’ Second Amendment rights,” said Manchin spokesman Grant Herring. “Manchin is a lifetime NRA member. Manchin opposed banning assault weapons and sponsored and voted for legislation allowing concealed-carry reciprocity.”

Taxes

The biggest tax vote in recent years came in December 2017, when the Senate considered a bill backed by President Trump and the GOP-controlled House that made major tax cuts and enacted other changes to the tax code.

Manchin, like the chamber’s other Democrats, voted against passage, but the bill received enough Republican support to become law.

Manchin’s vote against the bill isn’t exactly a vote for “higher taxes” — it was a vote to keep the status quo on taxes — but he did pass up the opportunity to lower taxes for many Americans, so this charge has some validity.

Previously, we’ve reported that in 2012, Manchin voted for the “Buffett Rule,” which would have imposed a minimum effective tax rate for high-income taxpayers. He also supported legislation offered by the Bowles-Simpson commission, which was an attempt to balance the budget in a way that included tax increases as well as spending cuts.

Immigration policy

In 2013, Manchin voted in favor of the “Gang of Eight” bill that, among other things, would have set up a path to legal status and an eventual opportunity for citizenship.

The “Gang of Eight” refers to a bipartisan group of eight senators — four Democrats and four Republicans — Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., Marco Rubio, R-Fla., Lindsey Graham, R- S.C., and John McCain R-Ariz. It was endorsed by former President Barack Obama.

The bill passed the Senate, 68-32, with 14 Republicans joining 54 Democrats and Democratic-caucusing independent senators in voting for it. (The bill did not get a hearing in the House and never became law.)

Manchin was one of the Democrats who voted for it. But did it amount to amnesty?

As we’ve concluded in the past, defining “amnesty” is tricky.

Some view it as blanket permission for undocumented immigrants to remain in the United States, while others view amnesty as any measure that is favorable to any undocumented immigrants, even if it includes a list of tough measures they have to meet. Republicans who supported the legislation, along with most Democrats, argued that the bill did not offer amnesty.

At the time, we concluded that the bill did not offer blanket legal residency to unauthorized immigrants. It mandated fines, background checks and waiting periods and was tougher than a 1986 law that was more in line with a traditional definition of “amnesty.”

“This bill includes numerous punishments for unauthorized immigrants who broke the laws, including paying fines and other legal sanctions,” Alex Nowrasteh with the libertarian Cato Institute told PolitiFact in 2013. “If it was amnesty they would be legalized immediately with no punishment, no process. They would just be forgiven and handed a green card.”

Since then, Manchin has sought to find a middle ground in the Senate. However, facing a tough reelection campaign in a solidly pro-Trump state, he has often emphasized his stance on toughening border security.

In a press release from February 2018 — after the Senate failed to reach agreement on legislation protecting undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as children, along with new investments in border security — Manchin said, “I share the president’s commitment to border security. That’s why I voted for his plan.”

Herring, his spokesman, added that Manchin “also supports Kate’s Law, which would increase penalties for criminals who re-enter the country illegally.”

Planned Parenthood

The national health and family-planning clinic network has been a longtime target of anti-abortion groups because it provides abortion services. By law, federal money cannot be used to pay for abortion services, but federal dollars do flow to Planned Parenthood for other purposes — something that rankles opponents of abortion, who say that money is fungible.

We have previously looked at what Manchin has said and done about Planned Parenthood.

Critics pointed to photos Manchin took with constituents carrying pro-Planned Parenthood signs, although he has also taken photos with supporters carrying anti-Planned Parenthood signs.

Manchin has said that he’s personally anti-abortion but supports federal funding for Planned Parenthood as long as the funding comports with existing federal law.

In a statement to PolitiFact, Herring said that Manchin “has always been pro-life. Planned Parenthood doesn’t receive taxpayer money for abortions. The only Planned Parenthood in WV provides basic health care services and screenings, and Sen. Manchin doesn’t want to take away health care from women.”

Our ruling

Morrisey said Manchin “stands with Hillary Clinton and DC Dems on gun control, higher taxes, amnesty, and Planned Parenthood.”

We’re not entirely sure what Hillary Clinton has to do with this, but Morrisey can point to some evidence to support Manchin’s loyalty to Democratic orthodoxy in each of these four areas. That said, Morrisey glosses over important nuances. On guns and immigration, for instance, Manchin has often worked with Republicans to find common ground, rather than taking a strong Democratic line.

On taxes, Manchin did vote against the Trump-backed tax bill, but his position would have left the tax code the same, rather than imposing “higher taxes.” And Morrisey ignores Manchin’s personal anti-abortion position in focusing on Manchin’s support for Planned Parenthood; Manchin supports the status quo on federal funding, which is to provide it only for non-abortion services.

We rate the statement Half True.

This article was originally published by PolitiFact

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A High-Speed Internet Boondoggle is Now a Campaign Issue in Kentucky

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Gov. Matt Bevin is pictured in 2015. Photo: Jacob Ryan

Candidates for governor of both parties are using Kentucky’s long-delayed and over-budget statewide internet project to bash Gov. Matt Bevin, following a jointly published report by the Courier Journal and ProPublica.

KentuckyWired — a bipartisan plan pushed by former Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear and Republican Rep. Hal Rogers — promised to bring improved broadband internet connectivity to the state’s farthest corners. But it is years behind schedule and more than $100 million over budget.

Bevin’s Democratic opponents in the governor’s race laid blame with the current administration.

“The governor has damaged the project with his lack of commitment to keep it on schedule,” House Minority Leader Rocky Adkins, D-Sandy Hook, said in an emailed statement. “In fact, it will cost the state more to get out of the contract than if we continue. In order to go the last mile and complete this project, we need to look at successful models in other states and bring new partners to the table.”

Representatives for Bevin and his technology chief, Chuck Grindle, did not respond to multiple requests for comment on the report, which highlighted dissent in the Republican administration’s approach to salvaging the troubled KentuckyWired project.

Democratic candidate and former state Auditor Adam Edelen, who has made improved broadband connectivity part of his platform in the governor’s race, said in an emailed statement that Bevin “doesn’t care” enough to fix the project.

“As governor, I will prioritize building a real system to provide broadband to the hundreds of thousands of Kentuckians who still lack access, whether in the hills of eastern Kentucky or Southern and Western Jefferson County,” Edelen said. “It must be done through partnership between the public and private sector, but that doesn’t mean pushing a half-baked plan that leaves taxpayers holding the bag.”

The campaign manager for Attorney General Andy Beshear, the son of the former governor, called for “working together across party lines.”

“As governor, Andy’s first step will be evaluating the KentuckyWired program in a nonpartisan way focused on both its costs and potential benefits for our families,” campaign manager Eric Hyers said in an emailed statement. “From there, he can keep what’s working and change what isn’t.”

A spokeswoman for Rogers, however, issued an emailed statement last week defending Bevin’s stewardship.

“With any public-private project of this magnitude, delays and challenges are to be expected,” the statement said. “Since Gov. Bevin inherited this project, he has worked diligently to comb through the unexpected problems and carefully balanced rising expenses with future benefits.”

Wednesday’s Courier Journal-ProPublica report underscored warnings that Beshear administration officials received about likely roadblocks.

Despite these, KentuckyWired moved ahead with what experts have said is an unrealistic three-year construction schedule for the project that saw the state accept most of the risk for the public-private partnership.

In his statement, Rogers described KentuckyWired as the “only path” to affordable, high-speed internet for his constituents in eastern Kentucky.

But state Rep. Robert Goforth, R-East Bernstadt, a challenger to Bevin for the Republican Party’s nomination for governor, disagreed.

In an interview with the Courier Journal, Goforth said Bevin should have killed the project years ago. He said Bevin has much to learn from a broadband project in Jackson County, which Goforth represents.

The Kentucky-based nonprofit Peoples Rural Telephone Cooperative used federal stimulus money to bring high-speed fiber-optic lines within reach of every home and business in Jackson and Owsley counties, the Courier Journal and ProPublica reported.

“If Jackson County can do it, the rest of Kentucky should be able to follow their example and be able to duplicate what they have done to be able to provide the fastest internet service to one of the most rural communities in Kentucky,” Goforth said. “We can do this.”

State Rep. Lynn Bechler, R-Marion, described as “marvelous” the job Peoples Rural and other similar cooperatives and rural providers have done.

He said he wished the Peoples Rural model could be followed in his area of western Kentucky, where residents such as Christy Hardison say they pay upward of $120 a month for unreliable satellite internet service, the only available option.

Bechler, co-chairman of the Program Review and Investigations Committee, which is investigating KentuckyWired, reiterated his call for a halt to the project.

To solve the problem of poor rural broadband access, Bechler proposed the creation of a state incentive program to encourage more projects like the one in Jackson County.

Keith Gabbard, head of Peoples Rural, told the Courier Journal that a state-level program, similar to Tennessee’s new Broadband Accessibility Grants, would encourage rural providers like his to expand service.

“The state doesn’t have to build their own network that way,” Gabbard said. “People that have already been doing that work can do a little more of it and would have an incentive to expand into areas that, it appears, the bigger companies are not going to build fiber to.”

Meanwhile, a longtime KentuckyWired skeptic, state Sen. Chris McDaniel, R-Taylor Mill, said he’s still waiting for the first section of the state-owned network to operate.

The project’s overseers said in December that the first loop, an area that includes Frankfort, Lexington, Louisville and northern Kentucky, was nearly ready to be turned on.

Phillip Brown, then head of the state authority in charge of KentuckyWired, promised “very good news” in the first quarter of 2019.

“I’m still waiting to see the press release on that happening,” McDaniel told the Courier Journal. “This thing is a mess and it’s going to continue to be a mess. I don’t know where it ends.”

This article was produced in partnership with the Louisville Courier Journal, which is a member of the ProPublica Local Reporting Network. It was originally published by ProPublica.

This story is part of an ongoing investigation into what went wrong with KentuckyWired. Sign up for the Miswired newsletter to receive updates in this series as soon as they publish.

Reach reporter Alfred Miller at amiller@gannett.com or 502-582-7142. Follow him on Twitter. Support strong local journalism by subscribing today: courier-journal.com/subscribe.

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DOJ Files Suit Against W.Va. Governor’s Family Companies Over Mine Violation Debts

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West Virginia Governor Jim Justice at a bill signing ceremony in 2019. Photo: Jesse Wright/West Virginia Public Broadcasting

This article was originally published by the Ohio Valley ReSource.

The U.S. Department of Justice has filed a civil lawsuit against 23 coal companies owned by the family of West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice, seeking more than $4.7 million in unpaid fines and fees for mine safety and health violations.

The delinquent fines were brought to light by investigations by NPR and the Ohio Valley ReSource as the Justice companies’ overdue debts ballooned from just under $2 million in 2014 to more than $4 million in 2018.

The lawsuit was announced Tuesday by U.S. Attorney Thomas Cullen of the Western District of Virginia and David Zatezalo, the head of the Mine Safety and Health Administration, or MSHA.

In a news release, the DOJ said the 23 companies named in the lawsuit incurred nearly 2,300 mine safety and health violations over the last five years. According to a 2019 financial disclosure filed with the West Virginia Ethics Commission, all 23 companies are owned by the Justice family.

The civil complaint says the companies failed to pay nearly $4 million in penalties associated with those violations.

The DOJ said the Justice-owned companies ignored multiple demands by MSHA, the Department of Treasury, and the U.S. Attorney’s Office to pay the delinquent debts.

“As alleged in the complaint, the defendants racked up over 2,000 safety violations over a five-year period and have, to date, refused to comply with their legal obligations to pay the resulting financial penalties,” Cullen stated in the news release. “This is unacceptable, and, as indicated by this suit, we will hold them accountable.”  

“MSHA stands with the Department of Justice in seeking to hold mine operators responsible for the penalties they owe,” Zatezalo said in the same release. “Failure to pay penalties is unfair to miners who deserve safe workplaces, and to mine operators who play by the rules.”

Representatives for the Justice companies and the governor’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

ReSource Investigation

Last month, an Ohio Valley ReSource analysis of federal mine safety data found that the Justice family companies owed $4.3 million in delinquent debt for mine safety violations. That meant the Justice companies had by far the highest delinquent mine safety debt in the U.S. mining industry. And it was also far more than the companies owed when Justice ran for governor in 2016, when he pledged to make good on such debts.

In 2016, an investigation by NPR, the ReSource and partner station West Virginia Public Broadcasting found that Justice’s mines owed $2.6 million in overdue mines safety fines, as well as millions more in unpaid tax debt.

Then-candidate Justice said those debts would be paid.

“When it all really boils right down to it we’re taking care of them,” Justice said at a rally announcing his gubernatorial bid. “We’ll absolutely y’know, take, make sure that every one of them is taken care of.”

This story was updated on May 8 at 4:30 p.m. to include additional information.

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Kentucky Aluminum Plant Investor Is Russian Company Formerly Under US Sanctions

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Craig Bouchard speaks at a Braidy Industries launch event as KY Gov. Matt Bevin (right) looks on.

This article was originally published by the Ohio Valley ReSource.

Russian aluminum company Rusal announced Monday it plans to invest in a new Kentucky aluminum mill to be built near Ashland in eastern Kentucky. The $200 million investment in Braidy Industries is Rusal’s first U.S. project since the Trump administration lifted U.S. sanctions placed against the company.

Rusal had been sanctioned by the U.S. government because its major controller, Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska, who has close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin, faces accusations of “a range of malign activity around the globe” by Russia, according to the U.S. Treasury Department. Those actions include interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election and meddling in neighboring Ukraine.

Deripaska also has close business ties to former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort, who has been convicted of tax evasion and money laundering. Deripaska is suing the U.S. to have sanctions against him removed.

The Trump administration released Rusal from sanctions in January after the company reduced the ownership stake held by Deripaska. Congressional Democrats attempted to block the White House decision and passed legislation in the House that would keep sanctions in place. However, the bill fell short in the Republican-controlled Senate, where Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky accused Democrats of trying to “politicize” the sanctions.

Braidy Bunch

According to a press release, RUSAL will earn a 40 percent share in the factory’s profits, and Braidy will keep the remaining 60 percent. The plant has also received $15 million in direct investment from the state of Kentucky. Gov. Matt Bevin cut a deal to attract Braidy to the state with that public money and additional tax incentives totaling more than $10 million.

As part of his reelection bid, Bevin has pointed to the Braidy development as evidence of job creation in an economically struggling part of the state.

“This is a seed that has been in the ground, the germination so often seems invisible to people,” Bevin said at an event over the weekend in Martin County, Kentucky. “But good things have been happening.”

The project is expected to cost more than $1 billion and employ over 500 people.

The Ashland project will produce rolled aluminum for the American auto and aircraft markets, and is the type of project President Donald Trump hoped to support with his tariffs on aluminum imports.

Braidy Industries CEO Craig T. Bouchard discussed the partnership at the New York Stock Exchange Monday morning.

“We’re really lucky and honored to have them as our partner in Kentucky,” Bouchard said of Rusal, adding that his company had chosen to partner with Rusal for its record of environmentalism.

We are going to lead the world in highest quality, lowest cost, and the least use of carbon from start to finish in the manufacturing process, and we’re changing the world,” he said.

The Ashland aluminum mill would be the first such plant to be built in the U.S. in 37 years, according to industry sources. Final agreements among the partners are expected to be signed later this year.

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