Politics & Government

Fact check: No, NC House Democrats weren’t at 9/11 ceremony amid contentious GOP vote

North Carolina Republicans held a controversial vote on Sept. 11.

Months earlier, Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper had vetoed a GOP-authored state budget proposal. So, when Republican House Speaker Tim Moore noticed that many Democrats were absent that morning, he shocked political opponents by holding a vote to override Cooper’s veto.

News of the vote spread across the internet like a bad game of telephone. Key details of the vote went missing, or were exaggerated.

“Republicans in North Carolina used a 9/11 memorial to trick Democrats into missing a key vote,” the NowThis news service, which has 2.4 million Twitter followers, tweeted that day.

The tweet was later shared by Elizabeth Warren, a Democratic U.S. senator from Massachusetts who’s running for president. She has 3.2 million followers.

“What happened today is beyond unacceptable. Calling a surprise vote on the budget — at the same time that many members were at 9/11 memorial services —is flat-out wrong,” NC Rep. Chaz Beasley, a Mecklenburg County Democrat, tweeted. Beasley paraphrased reporting by WTVD.

The Washington Post tweeted a misleading headline, too: “North Carolina Republicans overrode a budget veto while Democrats were at a 9/11 ceremony.”

While the News & Observer’s story and headline — NC House overrides budget veto in surprise vote with almost half of lawmakers absent — were accurate, the Raleigh-based newspaper posted a partly erroneous caption on Instagram: “Most Democrats were absent for 9/11 ceremonies and were told there would be no vote during the morning session.”


But these claims about the budget vote on Sept. 11 all get one thing wrong: Most Democrats weren’t at a 9/11 memorial service.

PolitiFact NC, which has had a reporter covering the story since the Sept. 11 vote, found only one House Democrat who said he was at a 9/11 event. That Democrat is Rep. Garland Pierce, who said he attended a 9/11 memorial event in Raeford.

No other Democrat has come forward — not after Speaker Moore called out what he called “fake news,” and not after PolitiFact NC reached out to Rep. Darren Jackson, the House minority leader, to ask if other Democrats attended a 9/11 event.

Schedule confusion

Most Democrats skipped the Sept. 11 morning session because they believed it would be a non-voting session, Jackson said in a press conference last week.

The budget was on the House calendar. But Jackson says Rep. David Lewis of Harnett County, a top Republican, told him there’d be no votes that morning.

Lewis denies Jackson’s claim. He has acknowledged texting a WRAL reporter to tell her he thought there would be no votes during the Wednesday morning session. But Lewis claims he didn’t relay that prediction to legislators.

Some corrections made

Beasley, a Mecklenburg County Democrat who’s running for lieutenant governor, later corrected his claim.

“One correction: at least one member, Garland Pierce, was attending a 9/11 memorial service, as was the Governor. The article originally noted that some members were, but it has since been updated. I hate that this budget fight has distracted from the true focus of 9/11,” he tweeted later, sharing the WTVD story that had been updated.

The N&O corrected its Instagram post. The Washington Post also tweeted a clarification: “An earlier version of this article overly generalized the reason for Democrats’ absence from the General Assembly session. The story has been updated.”

But some tweets and stories remain inaccurate. As of Tuesday morning, the NowThis tweet had been shared more than 700 times and got 1,600 “likes.”

Our ruling

Various media outlets said NC Democratic legislators were at a 9/11 memorial service when Republicans held a controversial budget vote. PolitiFact is aware of only one Democrat besides Gov. Cooper who claimed to be at a 9/11 event. We rate this claim False.

This story was produced by the North Carolina Fact-Checking Project, a partnership of McClatchy Carolinas, the Duke University Reporters’ Lab and PolitiFact. The NC Local News Lab Fund and the International Center for Journalists provide support for the project, which shares fact-checks with newsrooms statewide. To offer ideas for fact checks, email factcheck@newsobserver.com.

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Democrats were at a 9/11 memorial service when NC Republicans held a controversial vote
Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Paul “Andy” Specht reports on North Carolina leaders and state politics for The News & Observer and PolitiFact. Specht previously covered Raleigh City Hall and town governments around the Triangle. He’s a Raleigh native who graduated from Campbell University in Buies Creek, N.C. Contact him at aspecht@newsobserver.com or (919) 829-4870.
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