Examining Shutdown Claims from Democrats

The weekslong partial government shutdown has led to around 800,000 federal employees not working or working without pay. It also has led to some false or questionable claims from Democrats about the shutdown’s impact on a host of federal services.

  • House Speaker Nancy Pelosi raised “security concerns” due to the shutdown as a reason to suggest postponing the State of the Union address. But 83 percent of Secret Service employees are exempt from the shutdown.
  • Some Democrats, including Sen. Jeff Merkley, have falsely claimed that the government shutdown affects Social Security and Medicare recipients and workers.
  • House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said it’s possible that people who file tax returns “won’t get their refund checks.” But the IRS said it will recall its furloughed staff back to work in order to process tax returns and “provide refunds to taxpayers as scheduled.”
  • Hoyer also wrongly claimed that “flood insurance is at risk.” More than a week before he said that, the Federal Emergency Management Agency had already announced it would “resume the sale of new insurance policies and the renewal of expiring policies.”

The partial shutdown began on Dec. 22 amid a budget standoff between Democratic congressional leaders and President Donald Trump over funding for his proposed border wall along the U.S. border with Mexico. Congress has yet to pass seven appropriations bills to fund a number of federal departments and agencies, resulting in the staff shortages.

State of the Union Security

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi suggested that Trump delay his State of the Union address, scheduled for Jan. 29, due to “security concerns” during the government shutdown. But the Secret Service — which is in charge of security for the SOTU — is still operating, with 83 percent of its employees exempt from the shutdown. 

Pelosi wrote in a Jan. 16 letter to Trump that he might consider waiting to give the annual address to Congress until the government was open or submitting the address in writing. She wrote: “In September 2018, Secretary Nielsen designated State of the Union Addresses as National Special Security Events (NSSEs), recognizing the need for ‘the full resources of the Federal Government to be brought to bear’ to ensure the security of these events.”

She said the Secret Service, which falls under the Department of Homeland Security, was designated “the lead federal agency” responsible for the security for the speech. “However, both the U.S. Secret Service and the Department of Homeland Security have not been funded for 26 days now – with critical departments hamstrung by furloughs,” she said, adding that these “security concerns” were the reason she was suggesting a delay. 

DHS is affected by the shutdown. Employees who are not considered essential aren’t working, and those who are working aren’t getting a paycheck. But the vast majority of Secret Service employees are essential workers.

In a Dec. 17, 2018, report titled “Procedures Relating to a Lapse in Appropriations,” DHS said that an estimated 5,978 Secret Service employees, out of a total workforce of 7,222, were “exempt/excepted and estimated to be retained during a lapse in appropriations.”

In a Jan. 16 tweet, DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said: “The Department of Homeland Security and the US Secret Service are fully prepared to support and secure the State of the Union.”

In fact, most of DHS’ employees are exempt from a government shutdown. The agency said in its December report that 212,699 of the total 245,405 DHS employees were exempt/excepted from a lapse in government funding.

Juliette Kayyem, a security analyst for CNN and an assistant secretary for DHS during the Obama administration, told CNN that there could be “performance” issues due to “personal challenges” associated with law enforcement employees not being paid.

We leave it to readers to judge whether the lack of pay, and slightly smaller workforce, amount to “security concerns.” But the vast majority of Secret Service employees are still on the job.

Pelosi addressed the lack of pay in her Jan. 17 press conference. “I have no doubt that our men and women in the federal workforce have the capability to protect,” she said. “They’re professionals. They are trained for this. They should be paid for this. And that’s why I said to the president: If you don’t open up government, if that doesn’t happen, let’s discuss a mutually agreeable date. ”

Social Security and Medicare

Some Democrats also falsely claimed that the government shutdown was causing problems for Social Security and Medicare recipients and workers.

Sen. Jeff Merkley of Oregon, during a Jan. 7 interview on CNN, claimed seniors were encountering problems filing applications for Medicare and Social Security.

“It’s an incompetent strategy,” he said of the shutdown. “It does damage to all kinds of people who are making applications, whether it’s benefits for Social Security or for Medicare or so on and so forth.”

Rep. Debbie Dingell of Michigan, during a Jan. 11 interview on MSNBC, expressed concern about the Social Security Administration’s ability to handle complaints.

“I care about every one of those government workers who aren’t getting paid, who are scared to death about how they’re going to live and by the way, we should care about the services that aren’t getting performed. From keeping us safe in the skies, to food being inspected, to Social Security complaints, to people having housing issues, to food stamps, the list is endless,” Dingell said.

Social Security and Medicare are not affected by the shutdown, according to both agencies.

In a statement to us, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services said its operations are fully under an appropriations bill signed into law last year.

“On September 28, 2018, the President signed the 2019 Department of Defense and Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Appropriations Act (PL 115-245), which fully funds the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) for Fiscal Year 2019. CMS is continuing to accept Medicare enrollments from the Social Security Administration, and provider claims are being processed as normal,” the CMS statement said. “By statute, Social Security processes Medicare Part A and Part B enrollments, and we refer you to the Social Security Administration on that aspect.”

We did contact the Social Security Administration, and a spokeswoman also said the administration is fully funded for the fiscal year by the same legislation that funds CMS.

“Social Security services and offices will remain fully operational, and Social Security benefits will be paid on time,” SSA spokeswoman Nicole Tiggemann said.

We also checked with the AARP, the nation’s largest advocacy group for older Americans. “We’re not aware of any complaints on our end,” Greg Phillips, an AARP spokesman, told us. He too said both Social Security and Medicare are fully funded for the year “per the passing of the Labor-HHS bill.”

Tax Refunds

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer questioned if the IRS will issue tax refunds.

“There is the possibility that people won’t get their refund checks [from their tax return], which is about $140 billion, the average refund $2,500 that people are relying on and that spur our economy,” Hoyer said in a Jan. 9 press conference.

But in a Jan. 7 statement, the IRS “confirmed that it will process tax returns beginning January 28, 2019 and provide refunds to taxpayers as scheduled.”

“Congress directed the payment of all tax refunds through a permanent, indefinite appropriation (31 U.S.C. 1324), and the IRS has consistently been of the view that it has authority to pay refunds despite a lapse in annual appropriations,” the statement said.

In 2011, under President Barack Obama, the Office of Management and Budget argued that the IRS should not issue refunds during a lapse in funding. However, the IRS’ recent statement said the OMB had “reviewed the relevant law at [the Department of] Treasury’s request and concluded that IRS may pay tax refunds during a lapse.”

To make sure refunds go out as planned, the IRS said it was “recalling a significant portion of its workforce, currently furloughed as part of the government shutdown, to work.”

Still, some aren’t as confident the IRS will be able to disburse refunds without issue, especially if the agency can’t get enough employees to work without pay. Kiplinger advised its readers: “File as early as possible. If the IRS falls behind schedule due to the shutdown, you don’t want your return at the back of a potentially massive backlog.”

Flood Insurance

In his remarks, Hoyer also warned that “flood insurance is at risk.” It’s not.

On Dec. 28, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which oversees the National Flood Insurance Program, said that it was reversing earlier instructions for private insurance companies not to sell or renew flood insurance policies.

“Today, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) announced that it will resume the sale of new insurance policies and the renewal of expiring policies. This rescinds initial guidance issued on December 26, 2018, to industry partners to suspend sales operations as a result of the current lapse in annual appropriations,” a FEMA statement said.

FEMA previously had said any flood insurance claims would be paid during the shutdown.

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Trump Wrong About Wall Effect in El Paso

President Donald Trump falsely claimed that El Paso went from “one of the most dangerous cities in the country to one of the safest cities in the country overnight” after “a wall was put up” along the Mexico border.

Here are the facts:

  • El Paso has never been “one of the most dangerous cities in the country.” The city had the third lowest violent crime rate among 35 U.S. cities with a population over 500,000 in 2005, 2006 and 2007 – before construction of a 57-mile-long fence started in mid-2008.
  • There was no “overnight” drop in violent crimes in El Paso after “a wall was put up.” In fact, the city’s violent crime rate increased 5.5 percent from 2007 to 2010 — the years before and after construction of the fence, which was completed in mid-2009.
  • Along with the rest of the country, El Paso’s violent crime rate spiked in the early 1990s and has been trending downward ever since. The city’s violent crime rate dropped 62 percent from its peak in 1993 to 2007, a year before construction on the fence began.

The president, who is locked in a budget standoff with Congress over funding for his border wall, made his remarks about El Paso during a Jan. 14 speech at the American Farm Bureau Federation’s annual convention in Louisiana. Trump pointed to the border city as an example of the impact that a wall can have on crime.

Trump, Jan. 14: In El Paso … it was one of the most dangerous cities in the country. A wall was put up. It went from being one of the most dangerous cities in the country to one of the safest cities in the country overnight. Overnight. Does that tell you something?

No, it doesn’t tell us something.

There have been two pivotal changes in El Paso border enforcement over the last few decades, and neither lends itself to the president’s narrative. The first, in 1993, did not involve the erection of border wall, but rather a flood of border patrol agents along the immediate border.

The second was a border fence constructed as a result of the Secure Fence Act of 2006. But claiming that the construction of that fence transformed the city from one of the most dangerous in the country to one of the safest, as the president said, doesn’t hold up.

El Paso has long been a relatively safe city, even though it sits just across the Rio Grande River from sister city Ciudad Juarez, one of the most dangerous cities not only in Mexico, but in all of the world.

According to the Uniform Crime Reports from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the violent crime rate in El Paso historically has been well below the rate in other big cities in Texas, such as Houston, Dallas and Forth Worth, and has consistently been well below the national average for cities with 500,000 or more residents.

El Paso has had the lowest murder rate among the state’s six largest cities nearly every single year going back to 1985 (the earliest available year in the UCR’s online data tool, which goes through 2014). Its murder rate during that span was regularly four and five times lower than the rates in Houston, Dallas and Fort Worth. And for decades, it has had a murder rate far below the average among other large U.S. cities.

Crime did spike in El Paso in the early 1990s — as it did throughout the U.S. — peaking in 1993. That year, the violent crime rate for El Paso was 1,101.7 per 100,000 population. In the ensuing years, the violent crime rate began trending downward in keeping with the national trend, as our chart below shows.

Let’s take a look at the history of the federal government’s border control efforts in El Paso, the city’s crime statistics and border apprehension rates in the El Paso sector.

Operation Hold the Line

As we said, the spike and subsequent downturn in violent crime in El Paso mirrored a national trend. But there was also a border enforcement initiative in El Paso that began in 1993 and that researchers believe may have reduced petty crimes a bit.

In September of that year, U.S. Border Patrol implemented Operation Hold the Line. It marked a major change in border strategy, shifting agents from interior apprehension and removal, and instead flooding the border with agents to prevent entry in the first place. Agents were fanned out 24/7 across the El Paso border “close enough together to have visual contact with other agents on either side of them” to act as a blockade of sorts. Although no new fence was constructed, agents also repaired dozens of holes in the mostly chain-link fence that separated downtown areas of El Paso from Juarez.

The impact on apprehensions was dramatic. According to data from U.S. Customs and Border Patrol, apprehensions declined more than 70 percent in one year, from 285,000 in 1993 to 79,000 in 1994, as the chart in the next section illustrates.

Research on the effects of the initiative conducted by professors at the University of Texas at Austin at the behest of the bipartisan U.S. Commission on Immigration Reform concluded that Operation Hold the Line was a substantial deterrent and dramatically reduced illegal border crossings in El Paso, particularly among local Juarez residents accustomed to easily crossing back and forth across the border. Long-distance labor migrants, however, simply traveled to crossing points in more remote areas along the Southwest border, the researchers found, and as a result, more people died attempting illegal border crossings in more dangerous terrain. Another consequence was that those who continued to cross illegally in El Paso stayed in the U.S. longer.

As for its effect on crime, the researchers found the operation “seems to have caused a reduction in petty crime (small-scale, low-level nuisance and property crimes), especially in downtown El Paso.” There was also a small reduction in other property and violent crime, the researchers said, though they cautioned that may have been the result of targeted police enforcement undertaken in the months after the operation began.

“The claim [Trump] is making is not justified by the available data,” one of the co-authors of the research paper, David Spener, now a professor at Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas, told us. While there was a drop in “annoyance crimes” directly across the border from Juarez, he said, there was no discernible effect on violent crime in El Paso, which “never had particularly high crime rates.”

Moreover, Operation Hold the Line was not a wall-building initiative.

“Operation Hold the Line redirected personnel from apprehension to deterrence. It certainly did not include a wall,” Susan Martin, who was the executive director of the U.S. Commission on Immigration Reform, told us via email. “The idea was that if the chance of apprehension rose to close to 100% through more strategic deployment of Border Patrol officers, people would be deterred from even attempting illegal entry. Beyond increasing the presence of BP officers, the strategy did include resources to repair holes in the existing fencing.”

As for a new fence, that came later.

Secure Fence Act of 2006

The president’s talking point may have been informed by recent comments from Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton. At a border security roundtable in McAllen, Texas, on Jan. 10, Paxton told Trump a border fence constructed under President George W. Bush transformed El Paso from one of the highest crime cities in the U.S. to one of the lowest. He’s wrong about that.

Paxton, Jan. 10: If you go to El Paso, we’ve put up a barrier there, I think it was under the Bush administration, it’s over one hundred miles long. El Paso used to have one of the highest crime rates in America. After that fence went up, and separated Juarez, which still has an extremely high crime rate, the crime rates in El Paso now are some of the lowest in the country. So we know it works. So the narrative is incorrect, and we’ve tested it in Texas.

About 57 miles of metal fence 15 to 18 feet high was constructed in and around El Paso as a result of the Secure Fence Act of 2006. Wall construction started in mid-2008 and finished in mid-2009, according to press accounts at the time.

Apprehensions of those attempting illegal border crossings did drop after the fence was constructed, but they also had been dropping pre-construction, data from CBP shows. Apprehensions dropped before construction of the fence from 122,679 in fiscal year 2005 to 75,464 in fiscal year 2007. Construction started in late FY2008, a fiscal year that saw apprehensions drop to 30,312; apprehensions dropped further to 14,999 in FY2009. Although border apprehensions were dropping nationwide during those years, the drop in El Paso’s apprehensions far outpaced the national average.

But FBI crime data belie the claim that a border wall transformed El Paso from one of the most crime-ridden cities in the country to one of the safest. Indeed, the violent crime rate increased 5.5 percent from 2007 to 2010 — the years before and after construction of the fence. Those years were not anomalies. Violent crime increased about 9.6 percent between 2006 and 2011 — two years before the fence construction began and two years after it was finished.

Last January, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders, echoed the president’s bogus talking point in a tweet: “Ask El Paso, Texas (now one of America’s safest cities) across the border from Juarez, Mexico (one of the world’s most dangerous) if a wall works.”

Ask El Paso, Texas (now one of America's safest cities) across the border from Juarez, Mexico (one of the world's most dangerous) if a wall works https://t.co/UJCLNeuz4Y

— Sarah Sanders (@PressSec) January 16, 2018

Sanders’ tweet linked to a Jan. 13, 2018, opinion piece in the New York Post from a conservative author under the headline, “This town is proof that Trump’s wall can work.” That article includes a series of cherry-picked crime statistics to prop up its flawed conclusion that construction of the border fence starting in 2008 has “dramatically curtailed … crime in Texas’ sixth-largest city … helping El Paso become one of the safest large cities in America.”

According to the author, Paul Sperry, “Before 2010, federal data show the border city was mired in violent crime. … Once the fence went up, however, things changed almost overnight. El Paso since then has consistently topped rankings for cities of 500,000 residents or more with low crime rates, based on FBI-collected statistics.”

In fact, El Paso was not “mired in crime” prior to 2010. It was already one of the safest large cities in America even before the fence. Among 35 U.S. cities with a population over 500,000 in the years 2005, 2006 and 2007 — before construction of the fence — El Paso had the third lowest violent crime rate (behind only San Jose and Honolulu). In 2010 — post-fence-construction — it slipped one spot to the fourth lowest violent crime rate, and stayed in that spot in 2011 and 2012.

Sperry, a former Hoover Institution media fellow, further cherry-picked FBI crime data to “[illustrate] just how remarkable the turnaround in crime has been since the fence was built.” Writes Sperry, “According to FBI tables, property crimes in El Paso have plunged more than 37 percent to 12,357 from their pre-fence peak of 19,702 a year, while violent crimes have dropped more than 6 percent to 2,682 from a peak of 2,861 a year.”

For property crime, Sperry is comparing the 37 percent drop in the raw number of property crimes from 19,702 in 2008 to 12,357 in 2016 (during a time when property crimes nationally were also in decline). But 2008 was not the “pre-fence peak.” In fact, the number of property crimes had been steadily declining from a high of 52,810 in 1990.

As for violent crimes, Sperry compares the 2,861 violent crimes committed in 2010 — post-fence — to the 2,682 in 2016. That is indeed a 6 percent drop. More notably, however, the number of violent crimes in El Paso was lower in 2005, 2006 and 2007 — all pre-fence years — than the number of violent crimes committed in 2010, 2011 and 2012 — all post-fence years.

According to Congressional Quarterly’s yearly 2008 City Crime Rankings, El Paso ranked 254th (out of 385) with a composite crime score below the national rate. New Orleans ranked first — meaning most dangerous — with a score of 441.40, while El Paso had a composite score of just 11.73. The ranking was based on the FBI’s data for murder, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary and motor vehicle theft in 2007. That was the year before construction of the fence began.

El Paso actually climbed the rankings — translation: not good — in the years immediately after the fence was completed in mid-2009. In CQ’s 2011 ranking (based on 2010 data), El Paso ranked 124th. The city’s ranking was 155th and 148th the two years after that. So much for the fence transforming the city “overnight” from one of the most dangerous to the safest.

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Viral Story Fabricates ‘Muslim Holidays’ Bill

Quick Take

A self-described “parody” website published a made-up story about two Muslim congresswomen introducing a bill recognizing “Muslim holidays as federal holidays.”

Full Story

A search on the federal website that tracks legislation in Congress will show a number of bills sponsored or co-sponsored by Reps. Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar.

But it will not show that they co-sponsored a “bill to recognize Muslim holidays as federal holidays.”

That’s another falsehood about the two freshmen Democrats who this month became the first Muslim women in the U.S. Congress.

A story spreading the erroneous claim about the holiday legislation was published Jan. 12 on sorightithurts.com, a website whose “About Us” page states that “this is parody and nothing but bullshit.”

The story itself includes no such disclaimer, and its text correctly refers to two actual Muslim holidays. It was also republished on a self-described conservative website with no indication that the story was intended as satire.

Comments on social media show that many readers weren’t aware the story wasn’t real. A popular group on Facebook called “Females for Trump,” posted the story with the caption: “This should be unacceptable.”

Thousands of Facebook users reshared the link and posted anti-Muslim comments. Some repeated a false claim that a 1950s-era law prohibited Muslims from seeking office — which we’ve previously debunked.

A list of current federal holidays is published by the U.S. Office of Personnel Management.

Editor’s note: FactCheck.org is one of several organizations working with Facebook to debunk misinformation shared on the social media network.


About Us.” SoRightItHurts.com. Accessed 17 Jan 2019.

Parsons, Mary. “Tlaib and Omar Co-sponsor Bill to Recognize Muslim Holidays as Federal Holidays.” SoRightItHurts.com. 12 Jan 2019.

Representative Ilhan Omar.” Library of Congress. Congress.gov. Accessed 17 Jan 2019.

Representative Rashida Tlaib.” Library of Congress. Congress.gov. Accessed 17 Jan 2019.

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Pence’s Claim that ISIS ‘Has Been Defeated’

On the same day ISIS claimed responsibility for a deadly attack against U.S. service members in Syria, Vice President Mike Pence declared that ISIS “has been defeated.” It is true that the U.S. and its allies have retaken virtually all of the land ISIS controlled in Iraq and Syria, but experts say the group still has tens of thousands of fighters and remains dangerous.

Pence made his remarks at the Global Chiefs of Mission Conference at the U.S. State Department.

Pence, Jan. 16: Thanks to the leadership of this commander in chief and the courage and sacrifice of our armed forces we’re now actually able to begin to hand off the fight against ISIS in Syria to our coalition partners, and we’re bringing our troops home. The caliphate has crumbled and ISIS has been defeated.

In Syria, however, 19 people were reportedly killed in a suicide bombing at a restaurant in the city of Manbij. ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack, which killed four Americans, including two U.S. service members, a Defense Department civilian and a DOD contractor, according to the Pentagon. The announcement of the U.S. deaths came shortly after Pence spoke.

After the attack, Pence released a statement offering his condolences to the “loved ones of the fallen.” He did not repeat that ISIS had been “defeated,” but he said the U.S. has “crushed the ISIS caliphate and devastated its capabilities.”

The vice president was following the lead of President Donald Trump, who on Dec. 19 posted a video on Twitter to announce that U.S. troops would be withdrawing from Syria. “We’ve beaten them and we’ve beaten them badly,” Trump said of ISIS, which is also known as the Islamic State. “We’ve taken back the land and now it’s time for our troops to come back home.”

But military experts — including those in the U.S. military — have cautioned against declaring victory over the terrorist group, even though, as Trump said, “we’ve taken back the land” once controlled by ISIS in Iraq and Syria.

According to analytics and consultancy firm IHS Markit, near its height in January 2015, the ISIS caliphate in Iraq and Syria covered about 35,000 square miles. The U.S-led coalition reported a year ago that 98 percent of that territory had been reclaimed. At the time, Brett McGurk, special presidential envoy for the global coalition to counter ISIS, said the U.S. and its allies had made “a lot of progress,” but warned that “ISIS will be around for a while, so … we have a long way to go.” 

In a September 2018 report, the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service — citing U.S. military estimates — said ISIS had “approximately 30,000 current and former IS personnel” in areas of Syria and Iraq. The United Nations made “similar estimates” of ISIS presence in the region, the report said.

The CRS report quoted a Defense Department spokesman, Cmdr. Sean Robertson, as saying ISIS is probably as dangerous as al-Qaeda in Iraq was at its peak in the mid-2000s.

CRS report, Sept. 25, 2018: Defense Department officials assess that the Islamic State “is well-positioned to rebuild and work on enabling its physical caliphate to re-emerge,” and “probably is still more capable than Al Qaeda in Iraq at its peak in 2006-2007, when the group had declared an Islamic state and operated under the name Islamic State of Iraq. …”

Those partial quotes are from Robertson’s interview with Voice of America in August for a story that carried the headline, “Islamic State ‘Well-Positioned’ to Rebuild Caliphate.”

On Dec. 11, 2018, just eight days before Trump announced a troop withdrawal from Syria, McGurk said at a press briefing, “Nobody is declaring a mission accomplished. Defeating a physical caliphate is one phase of a much longer-term campaign.”

In a Dec. 15 interview, four days before Trump’s announcement, McGurk told CNBC that there was still more work to do in the months ahead to keep control of recaptured land.

“We’re on track now over the coming months to defeat what used to be the physical space that ISIS controlled,” McGurk told CNBC’s Hadley Gamble. “That will not be the end of ISIS.”

After Trump’s decision to withdraw, Defense Secretary James Mattis and McGurk both resigned in protest.

Daniel Byman, a senior fellow in the Brookings Institutions’ Center for Middle East Policy and the senior associate dean for undergraduate affairs at Georgetown University’s Walsh School of Foreign Service, wrote in December, after Trump’s withdrawal announcement, that the Islamic State is “far from ‘defeated,'” as the president had claimed.

“The U.S.-led military campaign has greatly weakened the group, and Trump should rightly be proud of that success,” Byman wrote in an article for Brookings’ website. But the group could reemerge.

“The Islamic State still controls small pockets of territory in Syria. More important, it has a large underground presence, and it is waiting for outside pressure to ease to reassert itself,” Byman said. “The group commits dozens of attacks each month as well as a massive assassination campaign to prevent any local governance from taking hold, and it still has thousands of fighters under arms.”

A month earlier, Byman wrote that ISIS, as other terrorist groups before it, has spread its reach beyond Iraq and Syria to other countries.

“[T]he Islamic State and other groups like al-Qaida have a presence in countries like Mali, Pakistan, Somalia, and other parts of the Muslim world,” he wrote. “Though outflows of foreign fighters from Syria have not been huge, small numbers have made their way to Libya, Afghanistan, and other fields of jihad.”

Similarly, Michael P. Dempsey, the national intelligence fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and the former acting director of National Intelligence, wrote a year ago that the group’s “tactics are evolving.”

“With the end of the physical caliphate, ISIS’ tactics are evolving. It is more and more likely to avoid major battlefield engagements and instead resort to terrorist attacks in the Middle East, other conflict zones, and the West,” Dempsey wrote in Foreign Affairs, a publication of the Council on Foreign Relations.

Dempsey continues: “U.S. policy needs to change quickly to meet the evolving threat, both in terms of its operations in the region and of its counterterrorism priorities at home.”

“In order to remain militarily relevant, ISIS increasingly prefers to conduct isolated suicide attacks and hit-and-run operations,” Dempsey wrote. “In early January, the group’s official media wing published a list celebrating nearly 800 such attacks in 2017, including ones against the Iraqi military (nearly 500), Kurdish forces in Syria (136), and the Assad regime and its allies (120), as well as a few dozen against moderate opposition groups in Syria.”

As far back as December 2017, Benjamin Bahney and Patrick B. Johnston wrote in Foreign Affairs that ISIS was “quietly preparing” to resurrect and reinvent itself.

“ISIS could resurrect its caliphate where it was born, in Iraq and Syria. It has been planning for such a resurrection since at least 2016, and quietly preparing since well before losing Raqqa in October,” they wrote. “Most ominously, ISIS has a tried-and-true playbook for bringing itself back from near death. Just a few years ago, it managed to resurrect itself after apparent defeat. And the history of that resurrection should serve as a warning of what may be coming now.”

It’s unclear how and when the Trump administration will withdraw troops from Syria. John Bolton, the president’s national security adviser, has said the U.S. will impose conditions for withdrawal.

“There are objectives that we want to accomplish that condition the withdrawal,” Bolton told reporters in Jerusalem on Jan. 6. Bolton’s conditions included “defeating what’s left of ISIS in Syria and protecting Kurdish militias who have fought alongside U.S. troops against the extremist group,” according to the Associated Press.

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Football, Fast Food and a Fake Quote

Quick Take

A viral meme attributes a bogus quote to Clemson University’s quarterback about his team’s visit to the White House.

Full Story

President Donald Trump hosted the Clemson University football team at the White House this week to celebrate the Tigers winning the college football national championship.

The Tigers were treated to a smorgasbord of fast food from McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s and Domino’s — a spread that Trump, who personally paid for the dinner amid the government shutdown, called “great American food.” Not everyone agreed.

For his part, though, Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence said on Twitter that the trip to the White House was “awesome!”

But Lawrence also took to social media to make clear that he never said a quote attributed to him in a now viral meme.

“President Trump got all our favorite foods, it was the best meal we ever had. Then we go and see the coastal elite media trashing it for not being organic vegan,” the bogus quote reads. “We’re football players, not bloggers. This was a perfect blue collar party.”

Using his verified Twitter account, Lawrence reshared a now-deleted tweet of the meme and added: “I never said this by the way… I don’t know where it came from.” 

I never said this by the way… I don’t know where it came from.

However the trip to the White House was awesome! https://t.co/dhYzZpSNUD

— Trevor Lawrence (@Trevorlawrencee) January 15, 2019

The university’s assistant athletic director for football communications, Ross Taylor, confirmed in an email to FactCheck.org that “Trevor did not say the quote.”

The Twitter user who shared the meme that Lawrence responded to later conceded the quote was false. “I made a mistake,” the user tweeted. “Someone sent me the meme. I didn’t fact check. That’s on me.”

Editor’s note: FactCheck.org is one of several organizations working with Facebook to debunk misinformation shared on the social media network.


Lawrence, Trevor (@Trevorlawrencee). “I never said this by the way… I don’t know where it came from. However the trip to the White House was awesome!” Twitter. 15 Jan 2019.

Remarks by President Trump Welcoming the 2018 College Football Playoff National Champion Clemson Tigers to the White House.” WhiteHouse.gov. 15 Jan 2019.

Taylor, Ross. Assistant athletic director for football communications, Clemson University. Email sent to FactCheck.org. 16 Jan 2019.

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