Biden's debate 'facts' prompt White House clarifications
Published October 12, 2012 FoxNews.com
While Vice President Biden stressed the importance of "facts" a total of 26 times on the debate stage, those facts required considerable clarification Friday from the White House.
At one point, the vice president claimed "we weren't told" of requests for more diplomatic security in Libya -- a statement that appeared to clash with testimony by State Department officials just one day earlier.
At another point, Biden appeared to signal a potential shift in policy when he described the president's proposed tax hike as affecting people making $1 million and more.
But White House Press Secretary Jay Carney, while effusively praising Biden's feisty performance, had to use his briefing Friday to clear up those and other statements. On both points, Carney sought -- at length -- to explain why Biden's remarks were being misinterpreted.
It marked a rather messy postscript to a performance that, if nothing else, fired up the base in a way President Obama did not at last week's debate.
"I thought he presented a remarkably strong case for the policies that this president has put in place," Carney said Friday, before launching into a string of explanations about the finer details.
Biden's comment on Libya drew widespread criticism from Republicans. Mitt Romney, at a campaign rally Friday afternoon in Virginia, asserted that Biden had "directly contradicted" State Department testimony.
Biden, during Thursday's debate, made the statement in response to criticism from Paul Ryan about the protection of diplomatic posts in Libya in the run-up to the Sept. 11 terror attack.
"Well, we weren't told they wanted more security there. We did not know they wanted more security again," Biden said.
Yet State Department officials just one day earlier had acknowledged they knew about, and turned down, requests for more security.
Carney explained that Biden "wasn't talking about the administration writ large," just the White House. "He was speaking directly for himself and for the president. He meant the White House," Carney said.
This opened up a new line of questioning on whether Obama and Biden were ever briefed on the security requests - though Carney declined to say. Rather, he made clear that decisions on personnel were handled below them, at the State Department level.
Biden also drew the tsk-tsk of fact-checkers when he claimed that under Obama's tax plan, "The middle class will pay less and people making $1 million or more will begin to contribute slightly more."
However, under the tax plan Obama has been promoting for years, the threshold for a tax hike would be considerably lower - individuals making $200,000 and households making $250,000, or about 2 percent of taxpayers.
Asked whether Biden had just indicated a shift in policy, Carney said, "absolutely not."
"Our position on the Bush tax cuts has not changed," Carney said.
He said Biden was just using the $1 million threshold "as an example." Carney defended Biden's "extreme command" of the facts, though, pointing out that he also referred to other numbers that accurately reflected the president's plan -- at another point in the debate, Biden did refer to "97 percent of the small businesses in America" that make less than $250,000.
"Why is that statistic important? Because, as you know, that's the $250,000 threshold, as he made clear, that 97 percent of American businesses do not have taxable income above $250,000 -- which goes right to the threshold the president has set since he ran for office back in 2007," Carney said.
Libya wasn't the only foreign policy area where Biden left a few open questions. On Afghanistan he said, "We are leaving in 2014. Period."
However, that seemed to indicate there would be no flexibility to leave some kind of U.S. presence in the country after that point. Asked once again to clarify, Carney said, "It's our policy to withdraw our forces by 2014," but appeared to leave more wiggle room than Biden did.
"I think, as was the case with Iraq ... there are always conversations ... about future relations between our country and a country like Iraq or with Afghanistan, but in terms of the forces that are there now and the policy of this president, as was the case with Iraq, we are ending that war in 2014," he said.
Biden made several other statements that raised eyebrows with the Romney campaign, though the White House did not necessarily address them Friday.
In addition to his comment on the Libya security issue, the vice president went a step further Thursday and placed the blame squarely on the shoulder of the intelligence community for the faulty narrative, pushed for more than a week by the administration, that the attack was a protest spun out of control.
"That was exactly what we were told by the intelligence community," Biden said.
In response, former CIA chief Michael Hayden and former Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff -- now Romney advisers -- chided Biden.
"We were disappointed to see Vice President Biden blame the intelligence community for the inconsistent and shifting response of the Obama administration to the terrorist attacks in Benghazi," they said in a written statement. "It is clear that any failure was not on the part of the intelligence community, but on the part of White House decision-makers who should have listened to, and acted on, available intelligence. Blaming those who put their lives on the line is not the kind of leadership this country needs."
Paul Ryan wasn't without his own fact-stretching.
At one point, Ryan said Iran has enough fissile material for five nuclear bombs.
However, Iran isn't believed to have produced any of the highly enriched uranium needed to produce even one nuclear weapon, let alone five. Iran would have to enrich uranium at much higher levels to produce a weapon.
And he appeared to be on his heels when Biden noted during the debate that, while Ryan criticized the stimulus, he also sought stimulus aid on behalf of Wisconsin constituents.
Biden appeared to stretch, too, when he hammered Republicans over the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and other budget busters dating back to the George W. Bush administration.
"They talk about this Great Recession if it fell out of the sky, like, 'Oh, my goodness, where did it come from?' It came from this man voting to put two wars on a credit card, to at the same time put a prescription drug benefit on the credit card, a trillion-dollar tax cut for the very wealthy. I was there. I voted against them. I said, no, we can't afford that," Biden said.
In fact, Biden as senator voted to authorize the use of force in both Afghanistan and Iraq -- though he would later speak out against the Iraq war, and advocate a pared-down presence in Afghanistan.
It's unclear if he was specifically referring to the wars -- or to the Bush tax rates -- in his debate comment.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.