Fact Check: Where Were Democrats During NC House Veto Override Vote?

Sep 18, 2019

A lot has been said about last week’s move in the North Carolina House to override Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto of the state budget. Only 12 Democrats were there. One of the narratives that arose was that Republicans used 9/11 memorials to trick Democrats into missing the vote.

To sort this out, Paul Specht with the Raleigh News & Observer joins WFAE "Moring Edition" host Lisa Worf for this week’s fact check of North Carolina politics.

Worf: So, where did this claim start?

Specht: It's hard to tell where it started. You know, in some cases the news and reporters and other observers were victims of circumstance. The vote happened the morning of Sept. 11. And that morning, as we all know, there's a national moment of silence. Roy Cooper was at a 9/11 event. And you, know, I think people just took all that information — they heard keywords, they heard, you know, "Republicans vote," "Democrats absent," "9/11," morning of.

And then people jumped to assumptions about where the Democrats were. There were a few outlets both locally here in Raleigh, WTVD, and then national outlets, too, they got it wrong. Whether it was Now This, which posts viral videos, the Washington Post, also, its headline was inaccurate. It took it a little while to correct so misinformation was all over the place.

Worf: Now, Gov. Cooper, when he called out Republicans later that day did say, "Well, the state was memorializing 9/11. Republicans took this vote."

Credit Paul Specht

Specht: He's conflating things a little bit there, but it would be accurate to say that the morning of 9/11 is when it happened, yes. But to our knowledge, there is only one Democrat in the House of Representatives for North Carolina that was attending an event and that was Garland Pierce from Scotland County. But he was at an event in Raeford, North Carolina, and he is the only person that we could track down that was attending a 9/11 event — the only eligible Democratic voter in this case that was at an event rather than voting.

At his press conference, reporters asked Gov. Cooper, "Did you see Democrats at your own event?" And he said no, no. He pushed back on that. So his statement can be misconstrued. He definitely left his statement open for that.

Worf: So, where were Democrats?

Specht: That much is unclear. There's dozens of them that were not in attendance. And it's hard for PolitiFact to track down where every person was. But we reached out to minority leader Darren Jackson, who was also not there, and asked, "Were there any members of your caucus at 9/11 meetings besides Rep. Pierce, who was in Raeford? And he said no.

He says that Republicans told him there would be no vote on the budget that morning. Republicans dispute that, saying that the budget was on the calendar and so you should have assumed there would be a vote despite what you think you might have heard. So, Democrats were in meetings. A handful of them were preparing to meet to talk about redistricting, and some that I spoke with said they were driving to Raleigh. They were eating breakfast. They were parking their car. They were getting ready to go. So, they're kind of all over the place.

Worf: So how did you rate this claim as far as the 9/11 memorials?

Specht: We rated it false, because we could only find one Democrat who was at a 9/11 event. But you wouldn't get that impression from many of the tweets from politicians or the headlines from national and local media. And we felt it was important to sort of clear that air.

Worf: How have politicians — I know Elizabeth Warren retweeted something to that extent, Rep. Chaz Beasley of Mecklenburg County, and as you said, a number of media outlets conflating some of this — how did they respond to the fact checks once that came out?

Specht: Some have changed their articles and some have not. Now This, which is a viral news aggregator on social media — that's who Elizabeth Warren retweeted — their tweet said that Democrats were "tricked" into going to a memorial service. That is patently false.

I've seen no correction from the Now This service. Elizabeth Warren, running for president, probably hasn't noticed that this fact check is out there.

The Washington Post changed its story, changed its headline. They've clarified it. Chaz Beasley, to his credit as soon as he caught wind on 9/11 that the reports were wrong, he tweeted a clarification the same morning. But across the internet you can look at various national media sources and attempts to aggregate the news got it wrong. And there's still a lot of misinformation out there.

Paul Specht joins WFAE’s "Morning Edition" most Wednesdays to Fact Check North Carolina news. If you have any claims you want the PolitiFact team to check out, you can email them at factcheck@newsobserver.com.