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Fact check: McCarthy’s false, misleading and evidence-free claims since becoming House speaker


By Daniel Dale, CNN

Since winning a difficult battle to become speaker of the House of Representatives, Republican Kevin McCarthy has made public claims that are misleading, lacking any evidence or plain wrong.

Here is a fact check of recent McCarthy comments about the debt ceiling, funding for the Internal Revenue Service, the FBI search of former President Donald Trump’s resort and residence in Florida, President Joe Biden’s stance on stoves and Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff.

McCarthy’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

Pelosi and the debt ceiling

McCarthy has cited the example of Rep. Nancy Pelosi, his Democratic predecessor as House speaker, while defending conservative Republicans’ insistence that any agreement to lift the federal debt ceiling must be paired with cuts to government spending — a trade-off McCarthy agreed to when he was trying to persuade conservatives to support his bid for speaker. Specifically, McCarthy has claimed that even Pelosi agreed to a spending cap as part of a deal to lift the debt ceiling under Trump.

“When Nancy Pelosi was speaker, that’s what transpired. To get a debt ceiling, they also got a cap on spending for the next two years,” McCarthy told reporters at a press conference on January 12. When Fox host Maria Bartiromo told McCarthy in a January 15 interview that “they” would not agree to a spending cap, he responded, “Well Maria, I don’t believe that’s the case, because when Donald Trump was president and when Nancy Pelosi was speaker, that’s exactly what happened for them to get a debt ceiling lifted last time. They agreed to a spending cap.”

Facts First: McCarthy’s claims are highly misleading. The deal Pelosi agreed to with the Trump administration in 2019 actually loosened spending caps that were already in place at the time because of a 2011 law. In other words, while congressional conservatives today want to use a debt ceiling deal to reduce government spending, the Pelosi deal allowed for billions in additional government spending above the pre-existing maximum. The two situations are nothing alike.

Shai Akabas, director of economic policy at the Bipartisan Policy Center think tank, said when asked about the accuracy of McCarthy’s claims: “I’m going to steer clear of characterizing the Speaker’s remarks, but as an objective matter, the deal reached in 2019 increased the spending caps set by the Budget Control Act of 2011.”

The 2019 deal, which was criticized by many congressional conservatives, also ensured that Budget Control Act’s caps on discretionary spending — which were created as a result of a 2011 debt ceiling deal between a Democratic president and a Republican speaker of the House — would not be extended past 2021. Spending caps vanishing is the opposite of McCarthy’s suggestion that the deal “got” a spending cap.

Pelosi spokesperson Aaron Bennett said in an email that McCarthy is “trying to rewrite history.” Bennett said, “As Republicans in Congress and in the Administration noted at the time, in 2019, Speaker Pelosi and Democrats were eager to reach bipartisan agreement to raise the debt limit and, as part of the agreement, avert damaging funding cuts for defense and domestic programs.”

Funding for the IRS

In various statements since becoming speaker, McCarthy has boasted of how the first bill passed by the new Republican majority in the House “repealed 87,000 IRS agents” or “repealed funding for 87,000 new IRS agents.”

Facts First: McCarthy’s claims are false. House Republicans did pass a bill that seeks to eliminate about $71 billion of the approximately $80 billion in additional Internal Revenue Service funding that Biden signed into law in last year’s Inflation Reduction Act — but that funding is not going to hire 87,000 “agents.” In addition, Biden has already made clear he would veto this new Republican bill even if the bill somehow made it through the Democratic-controlled Senate, so no funding has actually been “repealed.” It would be accurate for McCarthy to say House Republicans “voted to repeal” the funding, but the boast that they actually “repealed” something is inaccurate.

CNN’s Katie Lobosco explains in detail here why the claim about “87,000 new IRS agents” is an exaggeration. The claim, which has become a common Republican talking point, has been fact-checked by numerous media outlets over more than five months, including The Washington Post in response to McCarthy remarks earlier this January.

Here’s a summary. While Inflation Reduction Act funding may well allow for the hiring of tens of thousands of IRS employees, far from all of these employees will be IRS agents conducting audits and investigations. Many other employees will be hired for the non-agent roles, from customer service to information technology, that make up the vast majority of the IRS workforce. And a significant number of the hires are expected to fill the vacant posts left by retirements and other attrition, not take newly created positions.

The IRS has not yet released a detailed breakdown of how it plans to use the funding provided by the Inflation Reduction Act, so it’s impossible to say precisely how many new “agents” will be hired. But it is already clear that the total won’t approach 87,000.

The need for the Mar-a-Lago search

In his interview with Fox’s Bartiromo on January 15, McCarthy criticized federal law enforcement for executing a search warrant at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort and residence in Florida, which the FBI says resulted in the recovery of more than 100 government documents marked as classified and hundreds of other government documents. Echoing a claim Trump has made, McCarthy said of the documents: “They knew it was there. They could have come and taken it any time they wanted.”

Facts First: It is clearly not true that the authorities could somehow have come to Mar-a-Lago at any time, without conducting a formal search, and taken all of the presidential records they were seeking from Trump. By the time of the search, the federal government — first the National Archives and Records Administration and then the Justice Department — had been asking Trump for more than a year to return government records. Even when the Justice Department went beyond asking in May and served Trump’s team with a subpoena for the return of all documents with classification markings, Trump’s team returned only some of these documents. In June, a Trump lawyer signed a document certifying on behalf of Trump’s office that all of the documents had been returned, though that was not true.

When FBI agents and a Justice Department attorney visited Mar-a-Lago without a search warrant on that June day to accept documents the Trump team was returning in response to the subpoena, a Trump lawyer “explicitly prohibited government personnel from opening or looking inside any of the boxes that remained in the storage room,” the department said in a court filing after the August search. In other words, according to the department, the government was not even allowed to poke around to see if there were government records still at Mar-a-Lago, let alone take those records.

In the August court filing, the department pointedly called into question the extent to which the Trump team had cooperated: “That the FBI, in a matter of hours, recovered twice as many documents with classification markings as the ‘diligent search’ that the former President’s counsel and other representatives had weeks to perform calls into serious question the representations made in the June 3 certification and casts doubt on the extent of cooperation in this matter.”

Biden and stoves

McCarthy wrote in a New York Post article published on January 12: “While President Joe Biden wants to control the kind of stove Americans can cook on, House Republicans are certainly cooking with gas.” He repeated the claim on Twitter the next morning.

Facts First: There is no evidence for this claim; Biden has not expressed a desire to control the kind of stove Americans can cook on. McCarthy was baselessly attributing the comments of a single Biden appointee to Biden himself.

It is true that a Biden appointee on the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission, Richard Trumka Jr., told Bloomberg earlier this month that gas stoves pose a “hidden hazard,” as they emit air pollutants, and said, “Any option is on the table. Products that can’t be made safe can be banned.” But the day before McCarthy’s article was published by the New York Post, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said at a press briefing: “The president does not support banning gas stoves. And the Consumer Product Safety Commission, which is independent, is not banning gas stoves.”

To date, even the commission itself has not shown support for a ban on gas stoves or for any particular new regulations on gas stoves. Commission Chairman Alexander Hoehn-Saric said in a statement the day before McCarthy’s article was published: “I am not looking to ban gas stoves and the CPSC has no proceeding to do so.” Rather, he said, the commission is researching gas emissions in stoves, “exploring new ways to address health risks,” and strengthening voluntary safety standards — and will this spring ask the public “to provide us with information about gas stove emissions and potential solutions for reducing any associated risks.”

Trumka told CNN’s Matt Egan that while every option remains on the table, any ban would apply only to new gas stoves, not the gas stoves already in people’s homes. And he noted that the Inflation Reduction Act makes people eligible for a rebate of up to $840 to voluntarily switch to an electric stove.

Schiff and the Ukraine whistleblower

Defending his plan to bar Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff from sitting on the House Intelligence Committee, a committee Schiff chaired during the Democratic majority from early 2019 to the beginning of this year, McCarthy criticized Schiff on January 12 over his handling of the first impeachment of Trump. Among other things, McCarthy said: “Adam Schiff openly lied to the American public. He told you he had proof. He told you he didn’t know the whistleblower.”

Facts First: There is no evidence for McCarthy’s insinuation that Schiff lied when he said he didn’t know the anonymous whistleblower who came forward in 2019 with allegations — which were subsequently corroborated about how Trump had attempted to use the power of his office to pressure Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate Biden, his looming rival in the 2020 election.

Schiff said last week in a statement to CNN: “Kevin McCarthy continues to falsely assert I know the Ukraine whistleblower. Let me be clear — I have never met the whistleblower and the only thing I know about their identity is what I have read in press. McCarthy’s real objection is we proved the whistleblower’s claim to be true and impeached Donald Trump for withholding millions from Ukraine to extort its help with his campaign.” Schiff also made this comment to The Washington Post, which fact-checked the McCarthy claim last week, and has consistently said the same since late 2019.

The New York Times reported in 2019 that, according to an unnamed official, a House Intelligence Committee aide who had been contacted by the whistleblower before the whistleblower filed a formal complaint did not inform Schiff of the person’s identity when conveying to Schiff “some” information about what the person had said. And Reuters reported in 2019 that a person familiar with the whistleblower’s contacts said the whistleblower hadn’t met or spoken with Schiff.

McCarthy could have fairly repeated Republican criticism of a claim Schiff made in a 2019 television appearance about the committee’s communication with the whistleblower; Schiff said at the time “we have not spoken directly with the whistleblower” even though it soon emerged that the whistleblower had contacted the committee aide before filing the complaint. (A committee spokesperson said at the time that Schiff had been merely trying to say that the committee hadn’t heard actual testimony from the whistleblower, but that Schiff acknowledged his words “should have been more carefully phrased to make that distinction clear.”)

Regardless, McCarthy didn’t argue here that Schiff had been misleading about the committee’s dealings with the whistleblower; he strongly suggested that Schiff lied in saying he didn’t know the whistleblower. That’s baseless. There has never been any indication that Schiff had a relationship with the whistleblower when he said he didn’t, nor that Schiff knew the whistleblower’s identity when he said he didn’t.

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