Bachmann's latest gaffe adds to a long string of them
October 5th, 2011
06:00 AM ET
11 years ago

Bachmann's latest gaffe adds to a long string of them

Sioux City, Iowa (CNN) – After a string of high-profile gaffes, Michele Bachmann has made another that could provide one more piece of ammunition to critics who claim she doesn't always get her facts straight.

Some three weeks after saying she'd heard that a human papillomavirus vaccine caused mental retardation, the Republican presidential candidate again repeated something she was "told" that turns out to be inaccurate.

In this case, the Minnesota congresswoman - who has staked much of her campaign on having a solid understanding of taxes, spending and budgets - flubbed an important fact about which states are faring well in the troubled economy.

At issue: Bachmann's comments at a Monday town hall meeting in Sioux City, Iowa, which at first went unnoticed by the attending audience and assembled press.

After laying out reasons for her candidacy, and for making President Obama a "one-term president," Bachmann took questions from the audience. One of them was South Dakota State Sen. Dan Lederman.

"My question, actually, is about the Obama administration's delay of the Keystone Pipeline. I just want to know what your thoughts were about that delay?" Lederman asked. He was referring to a controversial proposal for a 1,700-mile oil pipeline between Alberta, Canada, and Texas.

Bachmann began her answer by saying, "Well we need it. It's tremendously beneficial. And it's part of the answer for the United States. It's jobs, it's dealing with energy, it's a positive solution."

"So the federal government should get out of the way and allow it to come through," Bachmann added.

Seconds later, Bachmann did what she's done before: repeat something she'd heard as fact.

"I was talking with a businessman this morning up in Minneapolis," she said. "And he was up in Williston, North Dakota, where the Bakken oil field is producing."

"Someone told me that last year that North Dakota was the only nation that actually was running a surplus. And it's because they're utilizing their natural energy resources," Bachmann added.

The congresswoman calling North Dakota a "nation" was clearly misspeaking. But more glaring: North Dakota was one of four states to run a surplus last year.

Bachmann campaign spokeswoman Alice Stewart responded to CNN's questions about the statement, saying, "The point Michele was making is that the country and states would benefit by legalizing all energy production and not picking winners and losers, as President Obama did with Solyndra. She disagrees with the president on energy - while he views it in terms of environmental policy, she views it in terms of economic policy."

The non-partisan research group, The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, tracks the financial health of states.

Liz McNichol, a senior fellow with the group, told CNN that for fiscal year 2011, Montana, Alaska and Arkansas also saw a surplus.

McNichol said it's understandable why Bachmann might mention North Dakota.

"North Dakota's been the subject of discussion all the way through because they've fared better than almost any other state," McNichol said. But "it's not completely accurate to say that North Dakota was the only state that was not running a shortfall, last year."

Brandon Sharp, Arkansas state budget administrator, also spoke with CNN.

"The state of Arkansas had a $94 million surplus at the end of fiscal year 2011," Sharp said.

Sarah Elliott, Communications Director for Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer told CNN, "For fiscal year 2011, Montana ended the year with a $340 million surplus, money in the bank."

Bachmann frequently uses precise figures to make scathing political points against opponents. So her latest comments beg the question: Should voters expect her to verify what she's "heard" before repeating it as fact?

Bachmann is certainly not alone in getting her facts wrong. In 2008, then-Sen. Barack Obama mistakenly said he'd traveled to 57 U.S. states. Later, Obama admitted he misspoke. Also, critics deride Vice President Joe Biden as a gaffe machine. Among them: just after the 2009 inauguration, Biden mistakenly referred to Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens – who swore Biden into office – as Justice Stewart. And in 2008, Biden talked about the crash of the stock market under President Franklin D. Roosevelt – although the crash happened in 1929 under President Herbert Hoover.

But Bachmann's gaffes are unique in that they frequently involve the congresswoman repeating items to make a political point – information that seemingly could be easily verified.

Earlier this month, at the CNN tea party debate, Bachmann slammed Texas Gov. Rick Perry's 2007 decision to require vaccinations for Texas school girls against the HPV virus which may cause cervical cancer. The next day, Bachmann appeared on network television and said she'd heard that from a woman, just after the debate, who said her daughter took the vaccine and suffered mental retardation.

Health experts roundly rejected any link between the HPV virus and mental retardation and Bachmann was forced to clarify.

In an interview with CNN's Wolf Blitzer, Bachmann said: "I wasn't speaking as a doctor. I wasn't speaking as a scientist."

"I was merely passing on...what I had heard," she said.

In November 2010, Bachmann told CNN's Anderson Cooper that Obama's trip to Asia would cost $200 million per day. When pressed to explain, Bachmann said, "Well these are the numbers that have been coming out in the press."

CNN later showed that number to be unfounded and traced the figure to an unnamed Indian official quoted in a foreign news service.  After Bachmann's HPV comments, her former chief of staff told Cooper his former boss is "impulsive."

"To her credit, she reads an awful lot of information," Ron Carey said. "But sometimes I'm afraid that she reads maybe 80 or 90% and leaves out or forgets the 10 or 20% that can change the outcome."

"So her impulsive nature – coupled with the fact that she sometimes doesn't digest information as carefully as she should – leads to these kinds of impulsive statements that sometimes are just off the mark enough that it makes her into more of a provocative, controversial figure," Carey added.

Follow Shannon Travis on Twitter @ShanTravisCNN

Also see:

State of the Race without Christie

Longtime Illinois Rep. to step down in 2012

Romney picks up new backers

Perry brings in $17 million in third fundraising quarter

Filed under: 2012 • Iowa • Michele Bachmann
soundoff (549 Responses)
  1. BobZemko

    She's great to look at. Then she opens her mouth . . . .

    October 5, 2011 12:49 pm at 12:49 pm |
  2. Not Fat

    If there is a God, this woman will be the GOP nominee.

    October 5, 2011 12:51 pm at 12:51 pm |
  3. Dave in Marietta

    You cannot call her statement about HPV as a mere gaffe. Gaffes are forgivable and can be overlooked. What cannot be forgiven is the deliberate, willful dissemination of extremely inaccurate information and trying to pass if off as the truth. This was not a slip of the tongue. It was Michelle being her stupid self and saying whatever sounds good to that pathetic base of hers who don't bother to think for themselves.

    October 5, 2011 12:54 pm at 12:54 pm |
  4. Enjay in E MT

    Michele –
    Please disclose the following before any interview, speech or response to questions:

    "Facts are not my friends, therefore anything I say may or may not be factually correct,
    until it can be confirmed by reliable sources."

    October 5, 2011 12:55 pm at 12:55 pm |
  5. BinVA

    Please, please, please find us a rational conservative so we can have substantive discussions about the choices that lie ahead. And liberals, please stifle your inflammatory and automatic response that there is no such thing as a rational conservative as such responses are no more helpful than the garbage that stupid "conservatives" like Bachmann et al. spew out.

    October 5, 2011 12:57 pm at 12:57 pm |
  6. Inrealityhere

    @Peter- nope, same rules... Just saying Obama made more serious gaffes ... Like bowing to other national leaders and promoting policies that will ruin this nation.

    October 5, 2011 12:59 pm at 12:59 pm |
  7. tom

    I'd take Bachmann over Pelosi any day.

    October 5, 2011 12:59 pm at 12:59 pm |
  8. Grace

    “"Someone told me that last year that North Dakota was the only nation that actually was running a surplus. And it's because they're utilizing their natural energy resources,­" Bachmann added."

    When the hell did North Dakota secede?

    The " Someone told me they have a son/daught­er/mother/­father/aun­t/uncle/fr­iend who woke up in a bathtub full of ice missing a kidney because of Obabacare" is coming. I can feel it.

    Can we get someone to whisper it in her? Call in to a radio show? Come on kids, if we pool our talents/re­sources I'm sure we can get her to say on live tv.”

    October 5, 2011 01:02 pm at 1:02 pm |
  9. Rick 7809

    Point 1: She mis-spoke when she called ND a nation when she oviously meant one of the staes in the nation (every 4th grader can understand that mistake).
    Point 2: She repeated something "somebody told" her, obviously not a great idea, but when the nation gets all their information from the internet where everybody knows if they see it it has to be correct. It can be expected she would say something like that.
    But CNN making a big fuss about it is pretty lame, and I don't even like her.

    October 5, 2011 01:05 pm at 1:05 pm |
  10. Dave

    As an Obama supporter I am begging the Republicans to nominate this woman.

    October 5, 2011 01:05 pm at 1:05 pm |
  11. Mike in SA

    Look, I am certainly no Bachmann fan. I think she is a self-absorbed blow-hard and I'm glad her candidacy is crashing and burning. However, she clearly stated that this was something she heard. She didn't say unequivocally "North Dakota is the only state that ran a surplus." Paraphrasing, she said "Somebody told me that North Dakota is the only state that ran a surplus." There's a difference between the two.

    October 5, 2011 01:06 pm at 1:06 pm |
  12. Laurie in Spokane

    Geez, are Bachman and Palin somehow related? Neither one can open their mouth w/out putting a foot or something in it. How could anyone seriously consider Backmann a suitable POTUS, when under any type of pressure, she apparently can't remember North Dakota is a state not a nation, and, can't get her facts straight?

    October 5, 2011 01:06 pm at 1:06 pm |
  13. Dave

    Mark said: "The best thing I like about Michele Bockman is that she scares liberals to death..."

    Didn't I hear that about Palin during the 2008 campaign? How'd that work out for you? Personally, as a Democrat, I'm praying this woman will be nominated so Obama will be easily reelected.

    October 5, 2011 01:09 pm at 1:09 pm |
  14. Atheist

    This barely registers as a gaffe in my book. So she accidentally called North Dakota a nation and she said it was the only one running a surplus when instead it was one of four. For Michelle, that's hitting it out of the park! I mean, seriously, anyone who speaks as much as most politicians do will make mistakes like this on a regular basis. It's her other mistakes that bother me (the vaccine one was huge), but not this one.

    October 5, 2011 01:11 pm at 1:11 pm |
  15. Naztaja

    "I HEARD" is the new factual statement of the 21st century, spurred by the internet where all opinions are now fact and uttered by uneducated morons too lazy to verify their own comments with simple research. Michelle Bachmann is unfit to run a soup kitchen let alone a nation.

    October 5, 2011 01:12 pm at 1:12 pm |
  16. normalice

    "A gaffe is when a politician accidentally tells the truth."

    I remember one gaffe that no one seem to have caught, during the MSNBC republican debate. She said that we shouldn't be involved in wars that have no American interests. That sounds to me like she thinks our army may be paid for by the blood of our poor and the taxes of our middle class, but it exists entirely to secure the investments of the rich.

    October 5, 2011 01:13 pm at 1:13 pm |
  17. Atheist

    Also, would the author please learn to use the expression "beg the question" correctly? It does not mean what the author evidently thinks it means.

    October 5, 2011 01:13 pm at 1:13 pm |
  18. Andrew

    I think she should re relegated to the Entertainment section. For that matter, why is she even still trying?

    October 5, 2011 01:14 pm at 1:14 pm |
  19. MichaelK

    I find it interesting that one of the four states doing well, Alaska, is the one arguably Socialist state, as they treat their oil resources as the property of the state and that they 'extort' money from corporations to pay for the privilege of recovering that oil.
    I wonder if all states adopted similar socialist policies whether their conditions would improve.

    October 5, 2011 01:15 pm at 1:15 pm |
  20. Delphic Oracle

    Please, please GOP, somehow get her nominated to run in 2012!

    October 5, 2011 01:21 pm at 1:21 pm |
  21. United We Stood

    Rethugs: 57 states blah blah blah. Really, that's a bit played out; a sign that you know you can't go one for one on a Bachmann vs. Obama list. Thanks for trying though.

    October 5, 2011 01:25 pm at 1:25 pm |
  22. Tom

    Her and Palin are the same person, I swear. Regardless, it shouldn't be such a big deal that she says she was "told" something. I could read WebMD to find out what's ailing me, but being told by a doctor is much more legitimate.

    October 5, 2011 01:25 pm at 1:25 pm |
  23. lucy2

    Misspeaking is one thing, it happens to everyone. But taking information and trying to use it in the argument to become POTUS, without bothering to check any of the facts involved, is irresponsible and, frankly, stupid.

    October 5, 2011 01:25 pm at 1:25 pm |
  24. ahetch

    I hope the GOP doesn't dump her, she's always good for comic relief.

    October 5, 2011 01:27 pm at 1:27 pm |
  25. Daveil

    Much ado about nothing. Where are the similar stories on Biden and Obama's gaffes? Bachmann is probably on the verge of dropping out, anyway.

    October 5, 2011 01:33 pm at 1:33 pm |
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