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PunditFact: Fact-checking the June 29 news shows

Bill Clinton still wanted to talk about his family's wealth in a taped interview Sunday on NBC's Meet the Press, defending Hillary Rodham Clinton for saying the two were "dead broke" after leaving the White House.

Speaking with NBC host David Gregory from Denver, Clinton said it is "factually true" that his family was several million dollars in debt when the Clintons left the White House. (The public record doesn't prove that conclusively, we previously found.)

The former president also said that the Clintons, who are now worth tens of millions of dollars, came into the White House without significant wealth.

"I had the lowest net worth of any American president in the 20th century when I took office," Clinton told Gregory.

PunditFact wanted to see whether Clinton had this particular aspect of presidential history correct.

Clinton never earned much money as a career politician in Arkansas. As governor, he made $35,000 a year. Hillary Clinton was, in many ways, the family's breadwinner as a lawyer and senior partner in the Rose Law Firm of Little Rock. By 1992, the Clintons listed their net worth as nearly $700,000, with their biggest assets being a $387,000 investment portfolio and $180,000 in retirement plans.

Determining how the Clintons' wealth compared with those of the other presidents of the 20th century is a nearly impossible feat, experts told us. Problems include a lack of uniform candidate financial disclosure requirements, inflation and changing national circumstances.

"It's one of those Clintonesque statements that can be true, but who knows?" said Lewis Gould, a visiting distinguished professor at Monmouth College and a scholar of William McKinley.

Often, people discussing the least-monied presidents turn to Harry S. Truman.

Truman's money problems and bankruptcy-dodging as a result of his failed haberdashery business in the 1920s are no secret. Despite big debts, he continued to climb political ladders, first as a county judge and then as a U.S. senator, vice president and finally president upon Franklin D. Roosevelt's death in 1945.

Truman continued to live modestly as a senator and as vice president, residing in a modest two-bedroom apartment in Washington, D.C., shared with his wife, Bess, daughter, Margaret, and ailing mother-in-law, said Alonzo Hamby, a Truman biographer and distinguished professor of history emeritus at Ohio University.

"I find it very hard to believe that Bill Clinton was in a tighter financial situation," he said.

Other contenders include William McKinley, who lost much of his wealth in the economic collapse of 1893, and Gerald Ford, who reported a net worth of $257,000 in 1973 ($810,000 in 1992 dollars).

In this case, there's not enough evidence to prove Clinton correct, but he is at least right in his larger point: He did not enter the White House with the wealth of many of his contemporaries.

So we rate his claim Half True.

Another hot topic Sunday: the unanimous Supreme Court ruling striking down three of President Barack Obama's appointments to the National Labor Relations Board. The ruling was significant because the court ruled that Obama overstepped his constitutional powers by making the appointments without Senate confirmation.

It's a familiar script with Obama, Republicans such as Rep. Bob Goodlatte of Virginia claimed.

Speaking on Fox News Sunday, Goodlatte said Obama has a track record of going too far, only to be slapped back by the Supreme Court.

The "9-0 decision last week was the 13th time the Supreme Court voted 9-0 that the president had exceeded his constitutional authority," Goodlatte said.

Goodlatte's assertion rates False.

Susan Bloch, a constitutional law professor at Georgetown University, said the NLRB case is very different from the rest of the cases on the list Goodlatte provided, in that the court actually was ruling on a separation of power issue and presidential overreach.

"That's a fair case of the president's use of executive authority getting rejected," she said.

But the rest of the claim? "It's a total overstatement," Bloch said.

Why?

For starters, in eight of the cases, the alleged overreach occurred under President George W. Bush, as did the court cases that challenged the administration.

Another case on Goodlatte's list and decided last week, McCullen vs. Coakley, dealt with state laws, in particular whether a Massachusetts law that put no-protest zones around abortion clinics was constitutional. While the Obama administration filed a brief supporting the law, the issue decided had little to do with executive authority.

"This is a concocted statistic," said Tom Goldstein, publisher of the Supreme Court blog SCOTUSblog.com. "It's just saying that the government lost cases unanimously. The government participates in roughly 60 cases a term. Every administration loses cases unanimously."

Katie Sanders and Steve Contorno contributed to this report. Aaron Sharockman is editor of PunditFact.com.

The statement

"I had the lowest net worth of any American president in the 20th century when I took office."

Bill Clinton, on Meet the Press

The ruling

PunditFact ruling: Half True

Without a doubt, Clinton's net worth was one of the lowest of those of 20th century presidents, experts told us. Whether it was the lowest is hard to say, and we could not find information to support that. There's a good case to be made that Truman entered the White House with a smaller (albeit unknown) net worth. We rate Clinton's claim Half True.

The statement

The "9-0 decision last week was the 13th time the Supreme Court voted 9-0 that the president had exceeded his constitutional authority."

Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., on Fox News Sunday

The ruling

PunditFact ruling: False

A review of the 13 cases found many instances where presidential authority was not at issue. Further, most of the cases originated under and were first litigated by the Bush administration. We rate Goodlatte's statement False.

PunditFact: Fact-checking the June 29 news shows 06/29/14 [Last modified: Sunday, June 29, 2014 11:15pm]
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