AZ Republic, FactCheck.org lobbed misleading claims in attempt to debunk Vote Vets ad criticizing Allen

››› ››› JOSH KALVEN

In defending Sen. George Allen against a new television advertisement criticizing his 2003 vote on a Democratic amendment that would have increased National Guard funding for body armor, The Arizona Republic falsely suggested -- and the website FactCheck.org falsely asserted -- that Allen and his Republican colleagues have never voted against supplemental funding for body armor.

In recent days, both The Arizona Republic editorial page and the website FactCheck.org have attacked as "deceitful" and "just plain wrong" a television advertisement by the newly formed group Vote Vets criticizing Sen. George F. Allen (R-VA) for his April 2003 opposition to a Democratic amendment that would have increased U.S. National Guard funding for body armor. While the Republic and FactCheck have conceded that Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA), the amendment's sponsor, made clear in a press release that the $1 billion measure included funding for helmets and bulletproof vests, both outlets have nonetheless argued that, because Landrieu did not specify "body armor" as a "priority" when discussing the legislation on the Senate floor, the assertion that Allen voted against body armor is "false" and "scandalous." But regardless of whether Landrieu specifically cited "body armor," she repeatedly stated on the floor that the bill would ensure that National Guard soldiers had "helmets" and other "force protection" equipment intended to "minimize causalities." More important, in their defense of Allen, the Republic falsely suggested -- and FactCheck falsely asserted -- that Allen and his Republican colleagues have never voted against supplemental funding for body armor. In fact, six months later, they opposed an amendment offered by Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-CT), which would have provided additional funding explicitly for body armor.

The television ad in question depicts Army reservist Pete Granato firing a gun at two mannequins -- one outfitted with a "vest left over from the Vietnam War" and the other wearing "modern body armor." Granato explains that the "difference is life or death" and demonstrates that while the new body armor stopped the bullets, the outdated equipment did not. He then holds up the modern vest and states, "Senator George Allen voted against giving our troops this. Now it's time for us to vote against him."

While the ad has not yet aired in Arizona, where incumbent Republican Sen. Jon Kyl is being challenged by Democrat Jim Pederson, the Republic wrote the editorial in apparent anticipation of its appearance, describing it as "a certifiable 'hit piece' campaign ad that is believed to target at least four Republican lawmakers up for re-election, including Arizona Sen. Jon Kyl."

Near the end of the ad, a citation appears onscreen: "Vote #116, 108th Congress, 1st Session." This is the April 2, 2003, Senate roll call in which Republicans unanimously voted, 52-47, to table Landrieu's amendment to the fiscal year 2003 supplemental appropriations bill for the Iraq war. Her amendment would have added a little more than $1 billion to the bill for the procurement of "National Guard and Reserve Equipment." In her March 20, 2003, floor statement introducing the measure, Landrieu repeatedly emphasized that the U.S. government was "underfunding our Guard and Reserve" and expressed shock at "the lack of equipment, the lack of money in this budget to fund their current operations." She added, "For too long, the Guard and Reserve have received hand-me-downs from the Active component. ... Let's give them their rifles, their helmets, and their tactical equipment so we can, as we know we will, win this war."

In a March 26, 2003, press release, Landrieu further explained that the bill "targets shortfalls identified by the National Guard and Reserve in their Unfunded Requirement lists," including the "shortage of helmets, tents, bullet-proof inserts, and tactical vests":

Calling official reports of serious equipment shortfalls by National Guard and Reserve troops "a grave concern to our nation," Senator Mary Landrieu today offered an amendment to fill any equipment needs of Reservists and Guardsmen currently training for service in the second wave of Operation Iraqi Freedom. While all troops in the field today are properly equipped, reports indicate that subsequent call ups may be hindered by a lack of equipment. The Marine Corps Reserve reports that before they could deploy a second wave of troops a shortage of helmets, tents, bullet-proof inserts, and tactical vests must be fulfilled. Likewise, the Army Reserve reports a shortage of rifles -- both the M4 and M16 -- would have to be replenished before deploying a second wave of troops. Landrieu's amendment would increase funding for the Reserves and Guard by $1 billion.

[...]

Landrieu's amendment targets shortfalls identified by the National Guard and Reserve in their Unfunded Requirement lists, which are attached. These shortfalls equal approximately $1 billion, the amount asked for by the Landrieu amendment. To offset the cost, the amendment would remove $1 billion from the President's proposed tax cut.

The Senate took up the amendment on April 2, 2003, and Landrieu again took to the floor to push for its passage. She stressed the "need to do everything we can possibly do to send our Guard and Reserve on the battlefield with the equipment they need to win the war and to protect themselves." She said, "When we talk about force protection and minimizing casualties, you don't have to be an expert in warfare to understand one of the ways you can minimize casualties is to give your Guard and Reserve the best training and the best equipment, so when they ship out, they have a chance to ship back."

In a September 19 editorial, the Republic described the Vote Vets ad as "a certifiable 'hit piece' " and decried its "scandalous assertion" that Allen voted against providing modern body armor for U.S. troops. From the editorial:

The ad, which has yet to air in Arizona, accuses Sen. George Allen, R-Va., of voting to deny U.S. soldiers the most protective armor.

"Senator George Allen voted against giving our troops this," says the narrator as one of the newest versions of body armor is held up before the camera. "Now it's time for us to vote against him."

It is a scandalous assertion, apparently built on the votes of [Sen. Jon] Kyl [R-AZ], Allen and others against a proposal by Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., in March 2003 to hike spending for equipment for Iraq-bound GIs by $1 billion.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., also opposed Landrieu's amendment, which failed on a 52-47 vote.

From the record of the time, it does not appear that Landrieu clearly specified body armor as a priority of her spending proposal. While she did mention "helmets, tents (and) bullet-proof inserts" in a March 26 press release, she did not cite funding for body armor as a priority in her speech on the legislation.

But the Republic's criticism -- that Landrieu did not use the words "body armor" in her speech on the legislation -- does not undermine the ad's assertion that Allen voted against legislation that would have increased funding for "helmets" and "bullet-proof inserts," as the press release made clear. Further, it ignores the fact that Landrieu did refer in her floor statements to the need for "helmets" and other "force protection" equipment intended to "minimize causalities."

In a September 21 post, FactCheck went further than the Republic editorial's criticism, claiming that the Vote Vets ad "falsely accuses Republicans of voting against body armor for troops." In the first paragraph of the purported rebuttal, FactCheck unequivocally asserted that Landrieu's amendment "had nothing whatever to do with body armor":

A new ad claims Republican Sen. George Allen of Virginia "voted against giving our troops" modern body armor. He did no such thing. The ad cites a vote on an appropriations amendment that had nothing whatever to do with body armor.

FactCheck later argued that because Landrieu did not specifically cite "body armor" in her floor statements (though, again, she did cite the need for helmets) , the bill did not include funding for such equipment:

Allen did not vote against giving troops modern body armor. What the ad cites is a vote on an amendment April 2, 2003, just days before the fall of Baghdad, that would have appropriated just over $1 billion for unspecified "National Guard and Reserve Equipment." It made no mention of body armor. And when the admendment's [sic] sponsor, Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, took the Senate floor to give examples of the kinds of equipment that might be purchased with this money, she cited "skin reduction exposure paste," "mobile chemical agent detectors," and "collective shelters" for chemical attacks -- but didn't once mention buying body armor. Neither did any other senator. Her amendment was killed by a mostly party-line vote.

FactCheck went on to concede that Landrieu referred to body armor in her March 26 press release, but nonetheless suggested that, because she did not bring up these specific pieces of equipment on the Senate floor, they were not included in the bill Allen voted against:

It is true that in a press release Landrieu quoted the Marine Corps Reserve as saying it needed more "bullet-proof inserts, and tactical vests" before another wave of reservists went to Iraq, among many other items. But neither Landrieu nor any other senator mentioned that during debate.

Beyond its claims about the Landrieu amendment, FactCheck's broad assertion that "Allen did not vote against giving troops modern body armor" is simply false. Indeed, on October 2, 2003, Allen voted against a Democratic amendment to the $87 billion emergency supplemental bill to increase the amount of funding devoted to body armor and battlefield clearance to ensure that both needs were met. The Dodd amendment would have added $322 million to the $300 million the Senate Appropriations Committee had already attached to the underlying bill for small arms protection inserts (SAPI) body armor and battlefield cleanup. Dodd repeatedly made clear in his October 2, 2003, floor statement that his intent in offering the amendment was to make certain that U.S. forces in Iraq were provided adequate body armor, which he described as a "top priorit[y]." In his statement, he cited a September 26, 2003, report by the assistant Secretary of the Army for Financial Management and Comptroller that requested an additional $420 million for the battlefield cleanup alone. From Dodd's statement:

DODD: According to the U.S. Army, the President's supplemental bill falls short of over $200 million for critical gear for our soldiers slated to rotate in Iraq and Afghanistan in the months ahead. This amendment was designed specifically to see to it that those U.S. troops coming into Iraq, into a theater of war, would receive important equipment they need to perform their missions effectively. This equipment includes important high-tech body armor, bullet-proof helmets, special water packs to keep soldiers hydrated, and other survival gear.

[...]

DODD: Now, in response to the Army's request, the committee added $300 million to the present supplemental request which could be used for either this additional equipment or the clearance of weapons and mines still lingering on Iraqi battlefields. It says it right here, in the Congressional Record, dated October 1, 2003, when the Supplemental Appropriations bill's accompanying report was printed. On page S12222, there is a chart detailing expenditures in the Army Operations and Maintenance account. $300 million is to be allocated for ``SAPI body armor/Rapid Fielding Initiative or battlefield cleanup.''

But the Army says it needs an additional $420 million just to handle the Iraqi battlefield clearance. As the pending legislation stands now, there is still not enough money in the bill to do both, and both items--more safety equipment and Iraqi battlefield clearance--are top Army priorities.

[...]

DODD: I think we need to address both of these issues. For those reasons, I have asked my colleagues to support this amendment to allocate an additional $322 million for the critical equipment of our troops and adequate resources for battlefield clearance to fully meet the Army's current requirements.

[...]

DODD: I don't want a soldier out there getting hurt because they don't have the right equipment. I didn't make this up. The Army didn't come to me specifically. They made this case on September 26, the source was a briefing provided to Congress' defense committees by the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Financial Management and Comptroller, entitled, ``FY04 Supplemental Request for the Global War on Terrorism: The Army At War.'' That is where it comes from. I appreciate what the committee did with $300 million. But the committee report says you have to make a choice: Clearing up the battlefield or provide funding for soldiers' equipment. And I don't think the Army ought to be put in that position. I don't think you ought to ask them to have to make that choice. That is the reason for the amendment.

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