Fact-Checking VP Debate Points On Iran Nuclear Deal, Bill Clinton, Putin Statements made by Democrat Tim Kaine and Republican Mike Pence in last night's vice presidential debate undergo some scrutiny.

Fact-Checking VP Debate Points On Iran Nuclear Deal, Bill Clinton, Putin

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And I'm David Greene in Phoenix, Ariz. We are here as part of our Divided States project. We're visiting different battleground states during each of the four debates. Last night during the vice presidential debate, students gathered for a debate-watching party at the Student Union at the University of Arizona in Tucson. They were sitting around small cafe tables. They were ordering beer. They were watching the debate on a big flat-screen TV. That's not to say they thought the event was super important, though. This is Spencer Bateman, who's 21 years old.

SPENCER BATEMAN: I mean, realistically, I don't think anybody was going to change their vote based on this. I think that some people maybe wanted to see these two, I guess, more vanilla candidates have more of a serious, calm discussion. So far, we haven't really seen that. It's actually been a little bit more rowdy than the presidential debate was. But - I think it's important for people to watch, but I don't think it's going to affect the election, necessarily.

GREENE: And here is Allison Childress, who's also 21.

ALLISON CHILDRESS: So I think the role of the vice president - as far as, like, the campaign season goes - is to be a bit of an attack dog, to say the things that the presidential candidates can't really say. It doesn't seem like that's the case with this election just because it doesn't seem like there's a limit on what the presidential candidates can say at this point. But I think they are so far doing a pretty good job of really landing the attacks that they need to to make their case.

GREENE: All right, we're hearing a lot about that debate throughout the program this morning. It was a debate that was at least a little rowdier than many expected. And let's fact-check the debate right now. NPR's Scott Horsley is here to help us do that. Scott, good morning.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Good morning, David.

GREENE: So let's get right into it. I want to start with an issue that kept coming up over and over again. That was the nuclear deal with Iran. Democrat Tim Kaine, Hillary Clinton's running mate, held this up really as a major achievement for Hillary Clinton. Let's listen.


TIM KAINE: She worked a tough negotiation with nations around the world to eliminate the Iranian nuclear weapons program without firing a shot.

MIKE PENCE: Eliminate the Iranian nuclear weapons program?

KAINE: Absolutely, without firing a shot.

GREENE: OK, Republican Mike Pence is saying eliminate in a way that suggests he doesn't think the nuclear program was eliminated. Scott, what do you make of that?

HORSLEY: Well, Tim Kaine stretched the facts in a couple of ways here - first, on Hillary Clinton's role in the Iran nuclear deal. Certainly, she did help put in place the very tough international sanctions that helped bring Iran to the bargaining table. But the deal itself was hammered out not by Clinton, but by her successor at the State Department, John Kerry.

Secondly - and this is behind that skepticism you hear from Mike Pence - on the effect of the Iran nuclear deal, it does not eliminate Iran's nuclear program. What it does do is put strict limits on that program and stretches out the time it would take Iran to develop a nuclear bomb. Before the deal, that so-called breakout time was estimated at around two months. It's now at least a year, and it's expected to stay year for at least a decade.

GREENE: OK. So we might not know the true impact of this deal for some time, it sounds like.

HORSLEY: That's right. But not eliminated.

GREENE: Not eliminated. So there was another issue that really had to do with the records of these two men who were on stage. Tim Kaine used to be the governor of Virginia. Mike Pence is the current governor of Indiana. And Pence compared their economic records in that role.


PENCE: I mean, I'm very proud of the fact that I come from a state that works. The state of Indiana has balanced budgets. We cut taxes. We made record investments in education and in infrastructure. And I still finished my term with $2 billion in the bank. That's a little bit different than when Senator Kaine was governor here in Virginia. He actually - he actually tried to raise taxes by about $4 billion. He left his state about $2 billion in the hole. In the state of Indiana, we've cut unemployment in half. Unemployment doubled when he was governor.

GREENE: Scott, does Pence have a point? Is his record a lot stronger than Tim Kaine's?

HORSLEY: Well, it's true that Virginia's unemployment rate doubled during Kaine's time in office, while Indiana's was cut nearly in half. But that's not exactly an apples-to-apples comparison. The orchard that Kaine was toiling in was a little more challenging. He was governor at a time when the nation was slipping into the worst recession since the Great Depression.

Pence, on the other hand, took office in 2013, at a time when the recovery was under way. What is true is that in both states, the economies actually outperform the country as a whole. Unemployment in Virginia when Kaine left office was 2.4 points below the national average. Unemployment in Indiana, at last report, was four-tenths of a point below the national average.

GREENE: OK. So it sounds like they both have some boasting they can do...

HORSLEY: Absolutely.

GREENE: ...During their time as governor. Really strange moment - Mike Pence turned to what seemed like an unlikely ally for a Republican. That's Bill Clinton. He referred to something the former president said while campaigning for his wife this week.


PENCE: Even former President Bill Clinton calls Obamacare a crazy plan. But Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine want to build on Obamacare. They want to expand it into a single-payer program. And for all the world, Hillary Clinton just thinks Obamacare is a good start.

GREENE: Did Bill Clinton call Obamacare a crazy plan?

HORSLEY: Well, you know, former President Clinton did cause some heartburn for Democrats on Monday, when he said Obamacare is, quote, "the craziest thing in the world." It's not entirely clear what he meant by that. He seemed to be saying it's crazy that insurance companies are raising premiums even though they've got millions of new customers, thanks to the Affordable Care Act.

Now, Bill Clinton tried to walk that back yesterday, saying the president's signature health care law had done a world of good. But he did say middle-class people who make too much to qualify for government subsidies on their health insurance are seeing big increases in their premiums. And that is a real issue.

Hillary Clinton has said she wants to patch the Affordable Care Act, not repeal it as Trump and Pence want to do. I might note, Mike Pence is one of the Republican governors who went along with Obamacare and expanded Medicaid in his state, though he did add some conservative wrinkles to the plan.

GREENE: Well, let me ask you about Russia. It feels like we couldn't get through this conversation without bringing that up. Tim Kaine took a shot at Donald Trump's running mate over something we usually hear in reference to Trump. And that is the idea of saying admiring things about Vladimir Putin. Let's hear a little bit of that.


KAINE: Governor Pence made the odd claim - he said, inarguably, Vladimir Putin is a better leader than President Obama. Vladimir Putin's run his economy into the ground. He persecutes LGBT folks and journalists. If you don't know the difference between dictatorship and leadership, then you've got to go back to a fifth-grade civics class.

GREENE: Harsh attack there. Did Governor Pence actually say that Vladimir Putin's a better leader than President Obama?

HORSLEY: Pence did say on CNN last month, I think it's inarguable that Vladimir Putin has been a stronger leader in his country than Barack Obama has been in this country. He said stronger, not better. But this was one of several times when Kaine attacked both Pence and his running mate, Donald Trump, for praising Vladimir Putin.

Certainly, both Pence and his running mate see Russia as playing an outsized role under its strongman leader on the world stage, while they paint the United States as being somewhat in retreat under President Obama - and, by extension, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Now, Obama and Clinton, of course, would argue otherwise. They say, look, Russia has been isolated and its economy imperiled by Putin's adventures, both in Ukraine and in Syria.

GREENE: OK. NPR's Scott Horsley fact-checking last night's vice presidential debate.

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