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Fact-check: Was Joe Manchin Right About the Scale of Shutdown’s Impact in WV?

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Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va.Photo: Jesse Wright, West Virginia Public Broadcasting.

As the partial government shutdown was underway in January, Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., tweeted about his distaste for the closure.

In the tweet sent on Jan. 2, 2019, Manchin wrote, “I have always said we should never shutdown the government and governing this way is embarrassing for both Democrats and Republicans. This partial government shutdown effects every American, including the 18,000 federal employees in West Virginia.”

“I have always said we should never shutdown the government and governing this way is embarrassing for both Democrats and Republicans. This partial government shutdown effects every American, including the 18,000 federal employees in West Virginia.” MORE: https://t.co/BKrpwdWJa9 — Senator Joe Manchin (@Sen_JoeManchin) January 2, 2019

The tweet linked to a more detailed statement by the senator that listed some of the federal agencies that have workers in West Virginia.

We decided to take a closer look at whether Manchin was right that the partial government shutdown affected “18,000 federal employees in West Virginia.”How many federal workers in West Virginia?

How many federal workers are there in West Virginia? It turns out that Manchin’s number is in the ballpark.

Data from the Office of Personnel Management — the federal government’s human resources department — shows that as of September 2017, West Virginia had a total of 18,656 federal workers.What happened during the shutdown?

Determining the accuracy of Manchin’s tweet requires a look at some background on the shutdown.

The shutdown stemmed largely from disagreement between President Donald Trump and the Democratic-controlled House over whether to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border and, if so, how much money should be allocated for it.

It was a partial rather than a full shutdown because only some federal agencies had to close because their funding bills expired.

The departments affected by the partial shutdown due to their funding bills expiring were Agriculture, Commerce, Homeland Security, Justice, parts of Interior (such as the Bureau of Reclamation), State, Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, Treasury and NASA.

A range of independent agencies were also shuttered, including the U.S. Trade Representative, the Consumer Product Safety Commission, the Federal Communications Commission, the Federal Trade Commission, the National Archives and Records Administration, and the Smithsonian Institution.

At the same time, other departments had valid spending bills in place, so they operated as normal. They included Defense, Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, Energy, the Army Corps of Engineers, Veterans Affairs and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

The shuttered federal departments and agencies employed more than 800,000 people, or roughly 40 percent of the federal workforce. These 800,000 employees fell into two categories. About 380,000 were furloughed, meaning they could come to work and were not being paid. Another 420,000 weren’t being paid, but were required to remain on the job.

This distinction is relevant for analyzing the text of Manchin’s tweet, because it means that 60 percent of federal workers whose agencies were running as normal were on the job and were paid on time.

This means that not every West Virginia federal worker was directly affected by the shutdown, either by being furloughed or by being required to work without being paid.

The workers who remained on the job and received their paychecks may have been affected by the shutdown by virtue of being ordinary Americans who lacked access to certain shuttered federal services. But they were not specifically affected because of their own federal job.

And Manchin was correct in his detailed statement when he cited a range of departments and agencies that were left without valid funding bills. They included the Criminal Justice Information Services Division of the FBI, the Treasury Department’s Bureau of Fiscal Service, the Justice Department’s Bureau of Prisons, and the National Science Foundation’s Green Bank Observatory.Our ruling

Manchin tweeted that the partial government shutdown in early 2019 affected “18,000 federal employees in West Virginia.”

Manchin is close on the number of federal workers in the state. However, it’s important to note that not all of those federal workers in West Virginia were either furloughed or required to work without pay; those employed by agencies with valid spending bills were working and getting paid as normal. We rate the statement Mostly True.

This article 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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