Top 10 fact-checks of 2019

In 2019, we fact-checked many statements about the impeachment of President Donald Trump and claims by and about the Democrats running for president.

Two of our most clicked-on fact-checks of the year were related to impeachment – one about Joe Biden and his son Hunter and a debunked claim that the sons of other prominent politicians serve on boards of energy companies doing business in Ukraine.

Many of the posts we debunked this year about politics were surfaced through our partnership with Facebook, which began three years ago. That partnership lets our staff see posts that have been flagged as potentially false or misleading. After we rate something as false, Facebook decreases its future reach in the News Feed, and users who shared it receive a notification. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.)

PolitiFact tallied our 10 most clicked-on fact-checks of the year:

Claim: Undocumented immigrants get Medicare for free.

Rating: False

There have been some reported cases of undocumented immigrants improperly receiving benefits, but they’re not eligible for Medicare. While undocumented immigrants can get limited emergency Medicaid covering, there is no available Medicare program. 

Claim: There were no American flags at the first Democratic presidential debate.

Rating: False

Photos of the debate show no physical American flag. But the stage had a set that featured images of the flag and many of the candidates wore flag pins.

Claim: Quotes Trump as saying in 2013, “A shutdown falls on the President’s lack of leadership. He can’t even control his own party and get people together in a room. A shutdown means the president is weak.”  

Rating: Half True

We could not find Trump saying these exact words, but he did repeat similar statements on social media and in interviews saying “the pressure is on the president” during a shutdown and that the president “has to get everybody in a room and be a leader.”

Claim: The nuclear deal gave Iran “$150 billion, giving $1.8 billion in cash — in actual cash carried out in barrels and in boxes from airplanes.”

Rating: Half True

The $150 billion was inflated. The high-end estimate from the U.S. Treasury Department in 2015 was $56 billion, and outside analysts believe the number could be lower. The $1.8 billion is reasonably accurate. The official amount is $1.7 billion. Also, there’s no evidence that barrels and boxes were involved.

Claim: Says the sons of Nancy Pelosi, Mitt Romney and John Kerry are all on the boards of “energy companies doing business in Ukraine.”

Rating: False

Pelosi’s son briefly served on the board of an American energy company, but there’s no evidence the company had dealings with Ukraine while he held that seat. There is no evidence that any of Kerry’s stepsons or Romney’s sons have worked for energy companies with ties to Ukraine.

Claim: Members of Congress can “retire with the same pay after only one term” in office.

Rating: Pants on Fire!

Versions of this viral falsehood have been circulating since at least 2011. It’s never full pay. And the only one-term members who would be eligible for any pension would be senators.

Claim: When Joe Biden’s son Hunter was serving as “a director to Ukraine’s largest private gas producer,” the elder Biden “threatened to withhold $1 BILLION in U.S. aid to Ukraine if they didn’t fire a prosecutor looking into” the gas company.

Rating: Half True

The statement gets individual pieces of this assertion right – Hunter Biden was a director of the company, and Joe Biden did leverage U.S. aid to fire a prosecutor. But it overreaches by assuming that Joe Biden acted to protect the company his son was affiliated with. In reality, there was widespread agreement in the West that the existing prosecutor had to go, and it’s not clear that the company would have benefited from his ouster anyway, given evidence that its cases had long been dormant.

Claim: “I’ve had tremendous Republican support. I have a 90% — 94% approval rating, as of this morning, in the Republican Party. That’s an all-time record.”    

Rating: Half True

When we fact-checked Trump’s statement in June, we found that while his numbers held steady in the mid-to-high 80s, but no poll put him at 94%. Nor did the White House point to a poll with that level of support. Still, 87% or 89% approval is a strong showing. Where Trump went overboard was in saying he had set some kind of all-time record. That didn’t happen.

Claim: A New York law makes it “now perfectly legal to murder” a baby a minute before it would be born.  

Rating: False

The Reproductive Health Act permits abortion after 24 weeks of pregnancy — if the mother’s health is threatened or if the fetus isn’t viable. The post doesn’t highlight those clear restrictions.

Claim: “October 2013, Obama shut down the government for 16 days to force Obamacare.”  

Rating: Half True

In 2013, leading Republicans, including House Speaker Paul Ryan, noted that Obamacare largely would move forward even if some elements were defunded. In that sense, Obama was not fighting to “force” Obamacare, because he didn’t need to.

Second, in 2013, two issues, Obamacare and the debt ceiling, were on the table. In 2018, funding for the wall stood alone as the driving force behind the shutdown. In 2013, a compromise on the debt ceiling cleared the way to reopen the government.

The situation in 2013 was more complicated than in 2018. Obama, like Trump, aimed to protect a favored policy. But he also wanted to raise the debt limit, an issue of at least equal importance. 

See a claim that you think we should fact-check? Send it to [email protected]

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