The Fact Checker started during the 2008 campaign and then went on hiatus for the first two years of President Obama’s presidency before becoming a permanent Washington Post feature in 2011. All told, we’ve fact-checked more than 250 statements by Obama.
With his presidency coming to a close, here’s a look at 10 of Obama’s biggest whoppers, listed in chronological order. All of these earned Four Pinocchios, of course, but they also landed on our annual list of the biggest Pinocchios of the year.
“More young black men languish in prison than attend colleges and universities across America”
This was a 2007 campaign claim by Obama, then a senator, that was wildly off the mark. In reality, there are five times more black men enrolled in colleges and universities than young black men in federal and state prisons — and two and half times the total number incarcerated (including local jails). Even if you expanded the age group to include African American males up to 30 or 35, the college attendees would still outnumber the prisoners.
“We signed into law the biggest middle-class tax cut in history”
This 2011 claim was not based on a dollar figure but on dubious math — that supposedly 95 percent of working families received some kind of tax cut under the Making Work Pay provision in Obama’s stimulus bill. John F. Kennedy actually wins the prize for biggest tax cut, at least in the last half-century. By the same measure, the income tax provisions of George W. Bush tax cuts were more than twice as large as Obama’s tax cut over the same three-year time span. (While a large portion of Bush’s tax cut went to the wealthy, it also benefited the working poor.)
“90 percent of the budget deficit is due to George W. Bush’s policies”
During the 2012 campaign, Obama repeatedly reminded voters that he became president during a grim economic crisis. But he went too far when he claimed that only 10 percent of the federal deficit was due to his own policies. About half of the deficit stemmed from the recession and forecasting errors, but a large chunk (44 percent in 2011) were the result of Obama’s actions. At another point, Obama also falsely suggested that the Bush tax cuts led to the Great Recession.
“If you like your health-care plan, you can keep it”
This memorable promise by Obama backfired on him in 2013 when the Affordable Care Act went into effect and at least 2 million Americans started receiving cancellation notices. As we explained, part of the reason for so many cancellations is because of an unusually early (March 23, 2010) cutoff date for grandfathering plans — and because of tight regulations written by the administration. So the uproar could be pinned directly on the administration’s own actions.
“The Capitol Hill janitors just got a pay cut”
President Obama offered an evocative image at a 2013 news conference when the sequester spending cuts struck the federal budget — janitors sweeping the empty halls of the Capitol, laboring for less pay. But it turned out that he was completely wrong. Janitorial staff did not face a pay cut — and Capitol Hill administrative officials even issued a statement saying the president’s remarks were “not true.” Then the White House tried to argue that janitors at least faced a loss of overtime. That was not correct either. The episode was emblematic of the administration’s overheated rhetoric during the sequester debate.
“The day after Benghazi happened, I acknowledged that this was an act of terrorism”
Obama did refer to an “act of terror” in the immediate aftermath of the 2012 Benghazi attacks, but in vague terms, wrapped in a patriotic fervor. He never affirmatively stated that the American ambassador died because of an “act of terror.” Then, over a period of two weeks, given three opportunities in interviews to affirmatively agree that the Benghazi attack was a terrorist attack, the president obfuscated or ducked the question. So this was a case of taking revisionist history too far for political reasons.
“I didn’t call the Islamic State a ‘JV’ team”
In 2014, Obama repeated a claim, crafted by the White House communications team, that he was not “specifically” referring to the Islamic State terror group when he dismissed the militants who had taken over Fallujah as a “JV squad.” But The Fact Checker obtained the previously unreleased transcript of the president’s interview with the New Yorker, and it’s clear that’s who the president was referencing.
“Republicans have filibustered 500 pieces of legislation”
Obama, a former senator, got quite a few things wrong in this 2014 claim. He spoke of legislation that would help the middle class, but he was counting cloture votes that mostly involved judicial and executive branch nominations. Moreover, he counted all the way back to 2007, meaning he even included votes in which he, as senator, voted against ending debate — the very thing he decried in his remarks. At best, he could claim the Republicans had blocked about 50 bills, meaning he was off by a factor of 10.
“The Keystone pipeline is for oil that bypasses the United States”
Long before Obama killed the Keystone pipeline project in 2015, he made a number of dubious claims about it, including that the pipeline would have no benefit for American producers at all. But the crude oil would have traveled to the Gulf Coast, where it would be refined into products such as motor gasoline and diesel fuel; the State Department said odds were low that all would be exported. Also, about 12 percent of the pipeline’s capacity had been set aside for crude from North Dakota and Montana.
“We have fired a whole bunch of people who are in charge of these [VA] facilities”
Obama in 2016 misled the public about the number of people held accountable for the 2014 scandal over manipulated wait-time data at the Department of Veterans Affairs, which contributed to patient deaths. Congress responded by passing a law that sped up disciplinary actions for senior executive service employees. But when Obama made his statement in September, only one senior executive had been removed for a case involving wait time (though the actual firing was for an ethics violation).