Fact-checking South Carolina’s U.S. Senate candidates after first debate

Fact-checking South Carolina's first U.S. Senate debate

MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. (WMBF) - Much can be said while taking to the podium on a debate stage - and sometimes claims asserted can be lost in the mix.

WMBF Investigates took a look into some of these statements made during the U.S. Senate debate between incumbent Republican Lindsey Graham and challenging Democrat Jaime Harrison on the evening of Oct. 3.

The latest polls show a close matchup between the two candidates as we quickly approach the election.

During that Saturday evening, panelists posed more than a dozen questions to the two candidates.

THE SUPREME COURT

Something sitting chiefly in many minds is the vacant Supreme Court Justice seat, left empty after the passing of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

A panelist asked what the new rules should be for filling the Supreme Court seat. The question comes at the helm of Senator Graham’s push to confirm President Trump’s nominee, Amy Coney Barrett, while so close to a presidential election.

Graham immediately answered this question with, “I think the new rule should be, following the Constitution. When a vacancy is available, the sitting president can fill it, you get a four-year term, not three and a half.”

Harrison retorted with the claim, “He changes the rules every time he gets. Senator, you said, “Use my words against me,” and you said it after the Kavanaugh meetings, not before the Kavanaugh hearings, after the Kavanaugh hearings. And your words, your promise was, that no judicial nominee should be considered or approved or what have you, in the last year of an election, and you even named President Trump when you said it.”

This claim is in reference to back in March of 2016. During the final year of Obama’s presidency, while the Senate considered and ultimately denied his pick, Graham said, “I want you to use my words against me. If there’s a Republican president in 2016 and a vacancy occurs in the last year of the first term, you can say Lindsey Graham said let’s let the next president, whoever it might be, make that nomination.” He said that this would be the new rule and precedent that Republicans were setting.

To the present day assertion, Graham responded with, “I said in August, if an opening comes about, we’ll see what the market will bear. Ms. Barrett is going to get confirmed because the president has the Constitutional authority to do it.”

This too is true. While the Supreme Court seat was still filled at the time, Graham had told reporters in regards to the idea of any open seats in 2020, that “Yeah. We’ll cross that bridge. After [Brett] Kavanaugh, the rules have changed as far as I’m concerned.” He continued on to say, “We’ll see what the market will bear if that ever happens.”

To touch on Harrison’s claim of Graham calling on people to continue to hold him accountable even after Justice Kavanaugh’s confirmation - this too is true.

Graham reiterated the established precedent in 2018, during an interview with the Atlantic. He was quoted as saying, “If an opening comes in the last year of President Trump’s term and the primary process has started, we’ll wait till the next election.”

Graham’s team did not respond to our email request for clarification on this change in position.

“When President Obama was president, I honored the fact that he won the election, and I voted for two people I wouldn’t have chosen,” Graham said during the debate. “And I’ve watched the Democratic party try to destroy one conservative judge after another. Mr. Harrison encouraged the filibuster of Judge Gorsuch, the first partisan filibuster in the United States Senate. He cheered on the destruction of Brett Kavanaugh.”

Graham did vote in favor of confirming Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.

SCHOOLS IN THE MIDST OF COVID-19

A question on many minds is how South Carolina can go about fully implementing face-to-face instruction in schools without the presence of widespread rapid testing. This question was posed to the candidates, who touched on the decisions and difficulties associated with this school year, then branched out into separate topics.

“I think we should allow our parents to make a decision about what’s best for their children," Graham responded in part. "And if a teacher doesn’t want to go back to the classroom, I won’t make them. I’ve supported legislation that increased unemployment benefits because people lost their job at no fault of their own.”

This is true - Graham voted in support of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, which garnered close to widespread support from the Senate, followed by the CARES Act, whose Senate support was unanimous. The CARES Act was an even more robust package with several sets of unemployment benefits included to help those who wouldn’t otherwise qualify for benefits.

“As a father of two boys and one that is in first grade for the first time, it’s hard,” Harrison said during the debate. “Teaching your kids from home is very, very difficult. If nobody has an appreciation of teachers or didn’t before the coronavirus, they’d better have an appreciation right now. We need a strategy, a 50-state strategy. And the failure of leadership, again, we’re not blaming anybody for the inception of this, but the failure of leadership of addressing this.”

Typically, a 50-state strategy is in reference to the Democratic Party’s effort to provide resources across the country to help increase the overall ability of the party to compete, which is something Harrison has favored in the past.

We reached out to the Harrison campaign to clarify what he meant by this phrase, when it doesn’t appear to be something he has included in his platform in connection to the coronavirus response.

The Harrison campaign said in an email, “Jaime was referring to the need for action by elected officials in Washington to address the need for COVID relief in all 50 states nationwide.”

UNEMPLOYMENT

Harrison continued on to discuss unemployment due to the pandemic.

“750,000 people unemployed. And Senator Graham said over our dead bodies will we allow a federal extension of the unemployment benefit. Folks need that money," he said.

South Carolina’s Department of Employment and Workforce does report that almost 750,000 people have filed initial claims for unemployment insurance. During an Accelerate SC meeting in late April, Graham discussed unemployment benefits in the multi-trillion-dollar CARES Act. He said when it expires July 31, he promised it wouldn’t be reauthorized. The $600 extra unemployment benefits did end that day. Graham has maintained that the goal is to help people and to pay no more in unemployment than what people were making at work.

The candidates will be taking the stage for a second debate on Oct. 12 in Spartanburg.

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