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. Drummer

    "Provocative" and "controversial" are not the adjectives I would choose. "Knee-jerk reactive" maybe. "Idiot" comes to mind. "Nut job" is on the list.

    October 5, 2011 08:32 am at 8:32 am |
  2. Bill C

    Dear CNN: Michelle Bachmann does not stand a chance of winning, so you will have to take your anti-conservative women stories off the news. You obviously have a problem with females who don't toe the NOW party line, and who are independent thinkers, but you might want to start looking for other stories. Thanks.

    October 5, 2011 08:32 am at 8:32 am |
  3. Harris Abrams

    So Bachmann says there's one state with a surplus, and it turns out there are (gasp!) four of them - and this merits an entire umpteen-hundred-word article? Setting the bar for "newsworthy" a little low here, aren't we?

    October 5, 2011 08:33 am at 8:33 am |
  4. johnboner

    Woo Hoo! Palin/Bachmann 2012. Unstoppable!!!!! We need bumper stickers!

    October 5, 2011 08:33 am at 8:33 am |
  5. hitobito

    Michele Bachman is not "impulsive" she's simply ignorant and stupid. If she is the best that Minnesota has for a member of Congress, they need serious help! This woman is a walking, talking train wreck!

    October 5, 2011 08:33 am at 8:33 am |
  6. Keeping it Real

    But does she know how many states there are in this country?

    October 5, 2011 08:34 am at 8:34 am |
  7. Minnie's Pearls

    Goodness, Bachmann is a total flake. North Dakota is one of Minnesota's western neighbors. Quit making stuff up! And go NDSU Bison! Four and oh yeah!

    October 5, 2011 08:34 am at 8:34 am |
  8. TM

    Where is Bachmann "hearing" these things? Obviously she is listening to the MANY voices inside her head. She listens to them be cause they tell her pretty things.

    October 5, 2011 08:35 am at 8:35 am |
  9. Joe citizen abroad

    More disturbing than her gaffes (everyone makes them) is her excuse: "I'm just passing along what I heard." We don't need a president who makes policy based on hearsay.She is not fit to lead.

    October 5, 2011 08:36 am at 8:36 am |
  10. josephus tank

    Another glaring example of why the country is so polarized.......... virulant emails that disseminate bogus information. No doubt Bachman, Palin , Tea Party and the 65+ crowd get most of their information from email. Hello, there is no one sitting at EMAIL CENTRAL checking every email for authenticity or truthfullness. I've tried to explain this to my grandparents many times to no avail.

    Do your research people!

    October 5, 2011 08:36 am at 8:36 am |
  11. PhillyGuy

    But hey, there's a bunch of people that would vote for her anyway, simply because her whole purpose is to make Pres. Obama a 1 term president. And there are plenty of people that are shallow enough to cast an election vote solely for that reason. Yeah, keep electing people like Bachmann to represent you. It's people like her right now that are in congress refusing to cooperate with ANYTHING the POTUS puts forward to get americans jobs right now. No, people like Bachmann and her supporters thinking like her get much more enjoyment bashing Obama and disagreeing with anything that has to do with Obama, just for spite.

    While at the same time trying to make it seem like Obama can't get anything done. And why is America where it is right now? Because of stupid americans voting in politicians with ideaolegies like Bachmann, and Perry, and Hank Williams Jr. – Talk and deman people, and when someone calls you out on it, you cry your freedom of speech is being challeneged. Sooner or later america will wake up to the hypocrisy. Even FOX News is actually trying to use some COMMON sense when it comes to the types of rhetoric it transmits over the air waves now.

    But of course, those that have always been die hard Fox News junkies will claim that they are going liberal and politically correct, rather than actually realizing that they're trying to actually transmit the truth now instead of just skewed facts to go against Obama.

    October 5, 2011 08:36 am at 8:36 am |
  12. mike

    "Provocative, controversial figure". C'mon. That is being very, very kind.

    Many people have made incorrect statements in politics, but she has raised the bar on consistency of her misstatements. I don't want someone in the White House, or Congress even, that doesn't care about facts. Uh, i guess that would probably mean most of them. Well, what to do?

    October 5, 2011 08:36 am at 8:36 am |
  13. j. miller

    I heard that she can see Russia from her house too Ditz

    October 5, 2011 08:37 am at 8:37 am |
  14. louis cypher

    Another glaring example of why the country is so polarized.......... virulant emails that disseminate bogus information. No doubt Bachman, Palin , Tea Party and the 65+ crowd get most of their information from email. Hello, there is no one sitting at EMAIL CENTRAL checking every email for authenticity or truthfullness. I've tried to explain this to my grandparents many times to no avail.

    Do your research people!

    October 5, 2011 08:38 am at 8:38 am |
  15. Anonymous

    A product of Harvard U.? Wants to get rid of Dept. of Education.

    October 5, 2011 08:38 am at 8:38 am |
  16. PR

    An interview with Ms. Bachmann after she becomes president.

    Well, someone told me that they heard from a relative of a friend that the "nation" of North Dakota had the bomb, so I decided to nuke them first, sorry North Dakota, I didn't realize you were one of us cause no one told me.

    October 5, 2011 08:39 am at 8:39 am |
  17. Howard

    Michelle Bachmann IS a walking, talking gaffe. The only thing more intellectually lame than her are the voters who sent her to Congress.

    October 5, 2011 08:39 am at 8:39 am |
  18. Purnell Meagre

    this was an itsby-bitsy error – the kind that Bachmann makes before breakfast. Once people understand that since Bush\Cheney modernized the language actual facts aren't really important – it's making the statement that counts (WMD). Think of it as language as a tool to accomplish an ends rather than as a medium for conveying information. Get that straight and it ALL makes sense.

    October 5, 2011 08:39 am at 8:39 am |
  19. dude

    Bachman's latest gaffe could easily be a daily headline...., this isn't news!!! She's an idiot!!!!!!!!!

    October 5, 2011 08:39 am at 8:39 am |
  20. Rick McDaniel

    Not really Presidential material.

    October 5, 2011 08:40 am at 8:40 am |
  21. Douglas

    Let's hope she gets the GOP nomination. She's unelectable in the presidential run.

    October 5, 2011 08:40 am at 8:40 am |
  22. gerr

    Product of Harvard U.? Is she qualified to get rid of Dept of Education?

    October 5, 2011 08:41 am at 8:41 am |
  23. 1crusader

    Bachmann thrives on controversy, and many of her utterances are out and out fiction.She , until recently, was a big proponent of the Birther Movement, which believes that the president wasn't born here.She also believes believed that our government , under President Obama, was/is going to round our kids up, and put them into "Re-education Camps", as she called them , supposedly to indoctrinate them into subversive ideology; so is it any wonder that she constantly gets facts wrong, whether on where the Revolutionary War started,the role of the Founding Fathers in the abolition of slavery, or which states have a budget surplus ?The more amazing thing is how this woman holds a key role on the House INTELLIGENCE committee, and is actually running for president with any supporters , at all.It begs the question: " What have we come to in this country?"

    October 5, 2011 08:41 am at 8:41 am |
  24. Phil

    I am no longer surprised by her blunders. She's an idiot, you should expect things like this from her.

    October 5, 2011 08:41 am at 8:41 am |
  25. sortakinda

    Ms. Bachmann wants the federal government get out of the way and allow her to be the nation's village idiot.

    October 5, 2011 08:41 am at 8:41 am |
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