Fact Checker: Clinton use of GOP quotes on equal-pay legislation

Fact Checker: Clinton use of GOP quotes on equal-pay legislation

_ Hillary Clinton, speaking to the Democratic Women’s Council in Columbia, South Carolina, May 27, 2015

This is a pretty interesting collection of damning quotes from Hillary Clinton about her erstwhile GOP rivals for the presidency.

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We often are wary when politicians start to negatively quote other politicians, because all too frequently those quotes are taken out of context.

We’ve written in the past about some of the statistics surrounding the equal-pay debate — such as the assertion that women make 78 cents for every dollar earned by men. But in this case, we are going to focus on whether Clinton is accurately quoting her potential opponents.

“One Republican candidate dismissed equal pay as ‘a bogus issue.’ ”

Here, Clinton is referring to a quote from Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, R, who in 2012 signed a repeal of a 2009 law that allowed equal-pay lawsuits to be filed in state court, in addition to federal courts. He argued that the law — which was crafted and passed when Democrats controlled the state government — was duplicative and “could clog up the legal system,” given there were other administrative and federal options available.

Walker’s quote appeared in a 2012 article in the Green Bay Press-Gazette, titled “Walker faces challenges in winning some female voters.” The article highlighted the repeal of the law and quoted the executive director of the state Democratic Party as saying that Walker approved the repeal “in the dark of night” (a Thursday before Easter) in order not to draw media attention. The article continues:

“Walker said there was no attempt to hide anything, and the bill-signing did nothing harmful to women.”

Clinton claimed that Walker “dismissed equal pay as ‘a bogus issue.’ ” But in context, it appears that Walker is referring to debate over when he signed the repeal, or perhaps that he has a problem with women. It certainly does not appear that he said that concerns about equal pay are bogus.

The Fact Checker contacted Paul Srubas, the reporter of the story. He agreed that “to say he called ‘equal pay’ a bogus issue I think would be misquoting him.” As he put it:

“As best as I can recall and reconstruct, I don’t believe Walker was publicly dismissing the concept of equal pay as ‘a bogus issue.’ I believe he was saying the 2009 equal pay enforcement act was unnecessary and redundant, so he repealed it, and since repealing it created no harm to women, accusing him of hiding his actions by cloak of night is bogus.”

A Clinton spokesman responded: “Walker is very clearly saying he thinks it’s a bogus issue because other laws take care of the problem and we don’t need to legislate more on this.”

(Incidentally, exit polls showed that in 2014 Walker lagged behind the female Democratic challenger by nine percentage points among women, but he coasted to re-election by winning the male vote by 21 percentage points. Walker also narrowly won the votes of white women.)

“Another said Congress was ‘wasting time’ worrying about it.”

In this sentence, Clinton attacks Sen. Marco Rubio, Fla., who, like all Senate Republicans, opposed the Democratic-sponsored Paycheck Fairness Act. Again, the battle lines between the parties were drawn over whether the law would result in more litigation. (We obviously take no position on the legislation but trial lawyers tend to be major financial backers of Democrats, not Republicans.)

In a 2014 interview with Jake Tapper on CNN, Rubio was asked about executive actions that President Barack Obama had taken to address the pay gap between men and women. “I think it is a legitimate issue to focus on because of have millions of women trapped in low-paying jobs for a multiple of reasons,” Rubio said, adding that he wanted to find ways to provide more educational opportunities and better career options for women.

He then turned to criticize the Paycheck Fairness Act. Here is the full context of his comment:

“The proposals before the Senate now are really geared toward making it easier to sue an employer. I understand the political benefit of highlighting that and why they’re doing it, but it isn’t going to solve the core of the problem. And I just think we’re wasting time. Meanwhile, an entire generation of young women is caught in low paying jobs with no way to emerge from that into a better paying job.”

In other words, he was concerned about the pay gap but objected, on substantive grounds, to the proposal before the Senate — which had no chance of getting any Republican votes. So the “wasting time” comment referred to debating a politically oriented bill that had no hope of passage. (In fact, by 2014, the bill had been rejected in the Senate several times.) Rubio did not say that Congress was wasting time worrying about it; in fact, he said it was a “legitimate issue to focus on.”

The Clinton spokesman responded: “Rubio absolutely said Congress was wasting its time; his reasoning for believing that isn’t the point.”

“One even said that efforts to guarantee fair pay reminded him of the Soviet Union.”

Finally, Clinton takes on Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky. This line is based on a 2012 Huffington Post article headlined “Rand Paul Compares Paycheck Fairness To Soviet Politburo.”

Paul also attacked the Paycheck Fairness Act for encouraging litigation, saying the proposed law would hand powers to judges to determine whether women are paid fairly, which he said would violate free-market principles. It was in that context that he made the reference to the Soviet Union:

“Three hundred million people get to vote everyday on what you should be paid or what the price of goods are. In the Soviet Union, the Politburo decided the price of bread, and they either had no bread or too much bread. So setting prices or wages by the government is always a bad idea. . . . The minute you set up a fairness czar to determine what wages are, you give away freedom. When you give that power to someone to make decisions, they may well discriminate in favor of whoever they want to discriminate in favor of. The market just makes decisions on your ability to do your job.”

Again, Clinton is suggesting that opposition to a Democratic-written bill means opposition to equal pay for women. But her statement here is a bit more cleverly worded. Paul certainly suggested that this particular effort to address the issue reminded him of the Soviet Union, so as phrased, Clinton’s statement is relatively accurate.

The Clinton spokesman said she was not “saying that the Paycheck Fairness Act, something she believes is a piece of the solution, would solve the problem on its own. . . . She specifies several areas that contribute to the problem that could be fixed. Unfortunately, Republicans obstruct attempts to fix any of these problem areas, including repealing state legislation or blocking or dismissing federal legislation.”

In at least two of the quotes — Walker’s and Rubio’s — Clinton has ripped the remarks completely out of context. In all three cases, Clinton is suggesting that opposition to bills crafted by Democrats — which Republicans said would encourage litigation — is tantamount to not caring about the gender pay gap.

Taking statements out of context is an old political game played by both parties. We recall that Clinton supporters protested vehemently when they accused Republicans of twisting out of context remarks she made during the hearings on the Benghazi attacks. But that still does not make the practice acceptable for political discourse.