Vivek Ramaswamy, an entrepreneur and author, commanded considerable attention during the first Republican primary debate as his standing was rising in national polls.
Railing against “wokeism” and the “climate cult,” Mr. Ramaswamy has staked out unorthodox positions on a number of issues and characterized himself as the candidate most likely to appeal to young and new conservative voters.
Here’s a fact check of his recent remarks on the campaign trail and during the debate.
Climate change denial
What Mr. Ramaswamy Said
“There was this Obama appointee, climate change activist, who also believes as part of this Gaia-centric worldview of the earth that water rights need to be protected, which led to a five- to six-hour delay in the critical window of getting waters to put out those fires. We will never know, although certain science points out to the fact that we very well could have avoided those catastrophic deaths, many of them, if water had made it to the site of the fires on time.”
— at a conservative conference in Atlanta in August
This lacks evidence. Mr. Ramaswamy was referring to M. Kaleo Manuel, the deputy director for Hawaii’s Commission on Water Resource Management, and overstating his ties to President Barack Obama as well as the potential effect of the requested water diversion.
First, Mr. Manuel is not an “Obama appointee” but rather participated in a leadership development program run by the Obama Foundation in 2019. Mr. Ramaswamy and other conservative personalities have derided comments Mr. Manuel made last year when he said that native Hawaiians like himself used to consider water something to “revere” and something that “gives us life.”
On Aug. 8, the day wildfire engulfed a historic town in Hawaii, Mr. Manuel was contacted by the West Maui Land Company, a real estate developer that supplies water to areas southeast of the town of Lahaina on Maui island, The New York Times has reported. Noting high winds and drought, the company requested permission to fill a private reservoir for fire control, though the reservoir was not connected to fire hydrants. No fire was blazing in the area at the time.
The water agency asked the company whether the fire department had made the request, received no answer and said that it needed the approval of a farmer who relied on the water for his crops. The company said that it could not reach the farmer, but that the agency approved the request hours later.
Asked for evidence of Mr. Ramaswamy’s claim that filling the reservoir when initially requested would have prevented deaths from the fire, a spokeswoman said it was “common sense — if you can put out a fire faster using water, you can save lives.”
But state officials have said it is unlikely that the delay would have changed the course of the fire that swallowed Lahaina, as high winds would have prevented firefighters from gaining access to the reservoir. In an Aug. 10 letter to the water agency, an executive at the West Maui Land Company acknowledged that there was no way to know whether “filling our reservoirs” when initially requested would have changed the outcome, but asked the agency to temporarily suspend existing water regulations. The executive, in another letter, also wrote that “we would never imply responsibility” on Mr. Manuel’s part.
What Mr. Ramaswamy Said
“The reality is more people are dying of bad climate change policies than they are of actual climate change.”
— in the first Republican debate on Wednesday
False. There is no evidence to support this assertion. A spokeswoman for Mr. Ramaswamy cited a 2022 column in the libertarian publication “Reason” that argued that limiting the use of fossil fuels would hamper the ability to deliver power, heat homes and pump water during extreme weather events. But the campaign did not provide examples of climate change policies actually causing deaths.
The World Meteorological Organization, a United Nations agency, estimated in May that extreme weather events, compounded by climate change, caused nearly 12,000 disasters and a death toll of 2 million between 1970 and 2021. Extreme heat causes about 600 deaths in the United States a year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A 2021 study found that a third of heat-related deaths could be attributed to climate change.
In campaign appearances and social media posts, Mr. Ramaswamy has also pointed to a decline in the number of disaster-related deaths in the past century, even as emissions have risen
That, experts have said, is largely because of technological advances in weather forecasting and communication, mitigation tools and building codes. The May study by the World Meteorological Organization, for example, noted that 90 percent of extreme weather deaths occur in developing countries — precisely because of the gap in technological advances. Disasters are occurring at increasing frequencies, the organization has said, even as fatalities decrease.
Jan. 6 and the 2020 election
What Mr. Ramaswamy Said
“What percentage of the people who were armed were federal law-enforcement officers? I think it was probably high, actually. Right? There’s very little evidence of people being arrested for being armed that day. Most of the people who were armed, I assume the federal officers who were out there were armed.”
— in an interview with The Atlantic in July
False. Mr. Ramaswamy has echoed the right-wing talking point that the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol did not involve weapons and was largely peaceful. His spokeswoman argued that he was merely asking questions.
But as early this month, 104 out of about 1,100 total defendants have been charged with entering a restricted area with a dangerous or deadly weapon, according to the Justice Department. At least 13 face gun charges.
It is impossible to know just how many people in the crowd of 28,000 were armed, as some may have concealed their weapons or chosen to remain outside of magnetometers set up at the Ellipse, a sprawling park near the White House, where Mr. Trump held his rally. Still, through those magnetometers, Secret Service confiscated 242 canisters of pepper spray, 269 knives or blades, 18 brass knuckles, 18 stun guns, 30 batons or blunt instruments, and 17 miscellaneous items like scissors, needles or screwdrivers, according to the final report from the Jan. 6 committee.
What was Said
Chris Christie, former governor of New Jersey: “In your book, you had much different things to say about Donald Trump than you’re saying here tonight.”
Mr. Ramaswamy: “That’s not true.”
— in the Republican debate
Mr. Ramaswamy was wrong. During the debate, Mr. Ramaswamy vigorously defended Mr. Trump, calling him “ the best president of the 21st century.” Mr. Christie was correct that Mr. Ramaswamy was much more critical of Mr. Trump in his books.
In his 2022 book, “Nation of Victims,” Mr. Ramaswamy wrote that despite voting for Mr. Trump in 2020, “what he delivered in the end was another tale of grievance, a persecution complex that swallowed much of the Republican Party whole.”
Mr. Ramaswamy added that he was “especially disappointed when I saw President Trump take a page from the Stacey Abrams playbook,” referring to the Democratic candidate for Georgia governor who, after her 2018 defeat, sued the state over accusations of voter suppression. Moreover, he wrote, Mr. Trump’s claims of electoral fraud were “weak” and “weren’t grounded in fact.”
In his 2021 book, “Woke Inc.,” Mr. Ramaswamy described the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol as a “a disgrace, and it was a stain on our history” that made him “ashamed of our nation.”
And after the Jan. 6 attack, Mr. Ramaswamy wrote on Twitter, “What Trump did last week was wrong. Downright abhorrent. Plain and simple.”
What Mr. RAMASWAMY said
“Much of our military defense spending in the last several decades has not actually gone to national defense.”
— in an interview on the Fox Business Network in August
False. A spokeswoman for Mr. Ramaswamy said he was comparing military aid to foreign countries and “homeland defense.” But the amount the United States has spent on security assistance pales in comparison to general military spending and homeland security spending.
According to the federal government’s foreign assistance portal, military aid to other countries ranged from $6 billion to $23 billion annually from the fiscal years 2000 to 2022, peaking in the fiscal years 2011 and 2012 when aid to Afghanistan alone topped $10 billion a year.
In the past two decades, the Pentagon’s annual budget ranged from over $400 billion to over $800 billion. Operation and maintenance is the largest category of spending (36 percent) and includes money spent on fuel, supplies, facilities, recruiting and training, followed by compensation for military personnel (23 percent), procurement of new equipment and weapons (19 percent), and research and development (16 percent).
The Department of Homeland Security itself has an annual budget that has increased from $40 billion in the 2004 fiscal year, when the agency was created, to over $100 billion in the 2023 fiscal year.
Mr. Ramaswamy’s claim reflects a common misconception among American voters, who tend to overestimate the amount spent on foreign aid. Foreign aid of all categories — including military aid as well as assistance for health initiatives, economic development or democratic governance — makes up less than 1 percent of the total federal budget. In comparison, about one-sixth of federal spending goes to national defense, according to the Congressional Budget Office.
Outside of official government figures, researchers at Brown University have estimated that since Sept. 11, military spending in the United States has exceeded $8 trillion. By that breakdown, the United States has spent $2.3 trillion in funding for overseas fighting versus $1.1 trillion in homeland security defenses. But that figure also includes spending that cannot be neatly categorized as overseas versus domestic defense spending: $1.3 trillion in general military spending increases and medical care, $1.1 trillion in interest payments and $2.2 trillion for future veterans care.
What Was Said
Nikki Haley, former United Nations ambassador: “You want to go and defund Israel, you want to give Taiwan to China. You want to go and give Ukraine to Russia.”
Mr. Ramaswamy: “Let me address that. I’m glad you brought that up. I’m going to address each of those right now. This is the false lies of a professional politician.”
— in the Republican debate
Both exaggerated. Ms. Haley omitted nuance in describing Mr. Ramaswamy’s foreign policy positions, but her characterizations are far from “lies.”
In interviews and campaign appearances, Mr. Ramaswamy has said that he views the deal to provide Israel with $38 billion over 10 years for its security as “sacrosanct.” But he has said that by 2028, when the deal expires, he hopes that Israel “will not require and be dependent on that same level of historical aid or commitment from the U.S.”
In a nearly hourlong speech at the Nixon Library this month, Mr. Ramaswamy said his administration would “defend Taiwan if China invades Taiwan before we have semiconductor independence in this country,” which he estimated he could achieve by 2028. But, he continued, “thereafter, we will be very clear that after the U.S. achieves semiconductor independence, our commitments to send our sons and daughters to put them in harm’s way will change.”
On Russia’s war in Ukraine, Mr. Ramaswamy has said he would “freeze the current lines of control” — which includes several southeastern regions of Ukraine — and pledge to prohibit Ukraine from being admitted to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization if Russia ended its “alliance” with China. (The two countries do not have a formal alliance.)
Lisa Friedman contributed reporting.
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