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These fact checks of North Carolina politics are a collaboration between PolitiFact and WRAL. You can hear them Wednesdays on WFAE's Morning Edition.

Fact Check: Cunningham 'Twisted McConnell's Words' In Tillis Tweet

Cal Cunningham and Thom Tillis campaigns; Gage Skidmore

Responding to the coronavirus has been rough on state budgets. U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he'd be in favor of changing the law to allow states to declare bankruptcy. In response, Democrat Cal Cunningham, who's challenging incumbent Republican Thom Tillis in North Carolina's U.S. Senate race, tweeted, "McConnell said he wanted states to go bankrupt instead of the federal government providing relief. Today, Thom Tillis agreed."


WRAL's Paul Specht joins us to assess Cunningham's claim.

Lisa Worf: So, first of all, what did Mitch McConnell have to say about allowing states to declare bankruptcy?

Paul Specht: Well, it was presented to him as an option. They asked him, Would he be in favor of allowing states to declare bankruptcy? And it was posed that way because states currently cannot declare bankruptcy.

Worf: And that was on the syndicated Hugh Hewitt radio show?

Specht: That's right. And so he said he did not see a reason that it shouldn't be an option, but he didn't go as far as to say he wanted them to do it.

Worf: And what was his reasoning behind that?

Specht: His reasoning was a lot of people obviously are going to need help coming out of this economic shutdown, and some states had financial problems before the shutdown. And he said he did not want those states to ask for federal government bailouts when some of their financial problems were due to other what he would call wasteful spending and not necessarily the effects of coronavirus.

Worf: Is it true that Tillis agreed with McConnell?

Specht: He said that he agreed with McConnell "more or less." And one thing that stood out to us was that in Tillis's town hall, he never used the word bankruptcy at all. He said that he does not want to bail out states that had financial problems predating the coronavirus pandemic.

That's what he agrees with leader McConnell on. He didn't go as far as to say that he wants anyone to declare bankruptcy, but he did suggest that states having those financial issues should be able to seek other options aside from asking the federal government for bailout money.

Worf: And North Carolina is not one of those states that was having budget problems predating the pandemic.

Specht: That's right, and if you listen to Thom Tillis and any of his town halls that he's doing, man, you will hear him say that North Carolina is in good financial shape. And he's right. North Carolina is not one of the states that is facing a deficit.

Worf: So how did you rate Cunningham's claim?

Specht: We rated this mostly false, and that's because there is a kernel of truth that Thom Tillis agreed with Mitch McConnell, but Cunningham's campaign twisted McConnell's words to distort the reality so much that his tweet no longer represented what McConnell and what Tillis believe.

Worf: Now let's move on to a tweet from Republican state Sen. Warren Daniel. He tweeted last month that the state health department threatened to withhold personal protective equipment from hospitals if they resumed elective procedures: "The heavy hand of government. I hope Secretary Cohen will reverse course now." Those procedures have resumed, but is he right? Did the state threaten that?

Specht: Well, we could not prove that there was ever a threat to take PPE away from these hospitals that resume elective surgeries. We reached out to hospitals — Novant, Wake, Baptist, UNC and Duke here in the Triangle — and no one could corroborate Warren Daniel's claim.

Worf: So where was he getting that information, then?

Specht: So, here's where things get interesting. Sen. Daniel said he received that information from a lobbyist who lobbies on behalf of North Carolina hospitals. Her name is Leah Burns, and we were in touch with her, and she said that she was told that this withholding of equipment might happen from a DHHS staffer — that's the state health department. From what we can tell, this alleged plan was never put into action.

Worf: And what did DHHS say about this?

Specht: Right. And, you know, there's something to be said about conversations that are held in hallways, so to speak. And another thing to consider is that Mandy Cohen, the health secretary for Gov. Cooper, claims that she never made this threat, that it was never considered.

And that's something that we kept in mind when giving a rating because Sen. Daniel mentioned Secretary Cohen in his tweet. And so, we felt it was unfair for Sen. Daniel to tie Secretary Cohen to this when even the hospital lobbyists did not do that. That's why we landed at false.

These fact checks are a collaboration between WRAL and PolitiFact. You can hear them Wednesdays on WFAE's. Morning Edition.

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