October 5, 2022

After Hurricane Ian made landfall in both southwest Florida and  South Carolina, an interview with Vice President Kamala Harris stirred up its own storm.

Harris was speaking with actress Priyanka Chopra Jonas on Sept. 30 before the Democratic National Committee’s Women’s Leadership Forum in Washington, D.C. She paused to listen as Chopra Jonas spent a minute and 12 seconds asking a winding series of questions about Hurricane Ian relief efforts, the Biden administration’s climate efforts in the U.S. and the global implications of climate change.

“I’m gonna unpack that question,” Harris responded with a laugh, before giving a more-than-five-minute answer that touched on a number of topics, including Hurricane Ian, the Biden administration’s climate policies and disparities among those harmed by climate change.

But conservatives, including Florida Sen. Rick Scott, seized on a shortened, out-of-context clip of Harris’ answer to make it seem as if Harris said federal storm relief would be based solely on race and equity.

Scott, a Republican, claimed on CBS’ “Face the Nation” on Sunday that Harris said relief would be “faster” if you “have a different skin color.”

Host Margaret Brennan said “disasters are a time when people can come together” and asked Scott about what she described as “disturbing rhetoric” from former President Donald Trump and Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga.

Brennan asked Scott whether he rebuked those comments, but he focused on Harris instead.

“I think what we got to do is we got to bring everybody together,” Scott said. “I’d also say that what Vice President Harris said yesterday or the day before yesterday, that, you know if you have a different skin color, you’re going to get relief faster, that’s not helpful either.”

When Brennan said that wasn’t what Harris had said, Scott shot back, “That’s exactly what she meant.”

We reached out to Scott’s office for evidence to back his claim but have not heard back.

Harris’ comments made the rounds on social media and conservative news outlets such as Fox News and The Daily Caller before Scott’s TV appearance.

Conservative activist Ryan Fournier said in a tweet that Harris “said the administration will be giving hurricane resources ‘based on equity’ by directing funds to ‘communities of color.’” Fournier’s post received more than a million video views and responses from high-profile people like Elon Musk and Christina Pushaw with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ re-election campaign.

So what did Harris say?

The full exchange between Chopra Jonas and Harris shows that neither the question nor the answer was solely about Hurricane Ian relief money, but touched on several topics.

Watch the full exchange below.

Chopra Jonas, in a lengthy preamble to her question, spoke about how extreme weather like Hurricane Ian is becoming more frequent and severe. She credited the Biden administration for passing the Inflation Reduction Act, which included $369 billion for initiatives such as manufacturing clean energy products, cutting emissions and environmental justice. She also said the U.S. sets an example for other nations to follow on climate policy.

“Can you talk just a little bit about the relief efforts, obviously, of Hurricane Ian and what the administration has been doing to address the climate crisis in the states?” Chopra Jonas asked Harris.

Before Harris could answer, Chopra Jonas added a follow-up question: “We consider the global implications of emissions. The poorest countries are affected the most, they contribute the least and are affected the most. So how should voters in the U.S. feel about the administration’s long-term goals when it comes to being an international influencer on this topic?”

Harris responded first by touting the $369 billion in funding in the Inflation Reduction Act “dedicated to addressing the climate crisis,” which she said is a crisis “evidenced by Ian, by the wildfires happening in California, the floods, the hurricanes.”

Harris said she thought about climate policy “in terms of the human toll.”

“I know we are all thinking about the families in Florida, in Puerto Rico with (Hurricane) Fiona, and what we need to do to help them in terms of an immediate response and aid, but also what we need to do to help restore communities, and build communities back up in a way that they can be resilient, not to mention adapt to these extreme weather conditions, which are part of the future.”

Harris then addressed Chopra Jones’ “point about disparities.” She described an environmental justice unit she started when she was San Francisco district attorney that focused on “the disparities issue you have described, rightly.” She said “it is our lowest-income communities and communities of color that are most impacted by these extreme conditions, and impacted by issues that are not of their own making.”

“So, we have to address this in a way that is about giving resources based on equity, understanding that we fight for equality, but we also need to fight for equity, understanding that not everybody starts out at the same place.”

Andrew Bates, White House deputy press secretary, called the claims Scott and others made “inaccurate.”

“The vice president was addressing a different subject: long-term climate resilience investments passed with strong bipartisan support,” Bates said in a statement to PolitiFact.

Bates said Harris had already responded to the first part of the question that specifically mentioned Hurricane Ian by “emphasizing that we are urgently responding to all Americans hurt by the storm.”

“She had explicitly moved on to answering the second question — on ‘long-term goals’ for how to ‘address the climate crisis in the states’ — by mentioning the long-term investments that Congress, with Republican support, specifically set aside for communities that are vulnerable because of a lack of infrastructure resources,” the statement said.

Nandita Bose, a Reuters White House correspondent covering the Harris event, tweeted a lengthy thread and wrote that the vice president’s words were “being deliberately distorted.”

Federal Emergency Management Association Administrator Deanne Criswell also addressed Harris’ interview on CBS’ “Face the Nation,” after Scott’s appearance.

Criswell said Harris was not speaking about immediate relief efforts, and that FEMA’s aid will go to everyone who needs help.

“I believe some of the things the vice president was talking about are the long-term recovery and rebuilding these communities to be able to withstand disasters, so they can have less impact,” Criswell said. “We’re going to support all communities. I committed that to the governor, I commit to you right here that all Floridians are going to be able to get the help that is available to them through our programs.”

There is nothing on a FEMA webpage for Hurricane Ian victims or the federal Disaster Assistance Improvement Program specific to race or equity, just information about how Floridians affected by the storm can get help. Elsewhere, FEMA’s website does address the agency’s efforts to improve equity in services “so all people, including those from vulnerable and underserved communities, can get help when they need it.”

Our ruling

Scott claimed Harris said, “if you have a different skin color, you’re going to get relief faster” after Hurricane Ian.

Harris said no such thing in a response to a question that touched on several topics, including Hurricane Ian, climate change policy and disparities in who is most harmed by climate change and extreme weather.

We rate this claim False.

Clarification, Oct. 6, 2022: This story has been updated to clarify that the FEMA webpage for Hurricane Ian victims linked to in this story doesn’t mention race or equity. Elsewhere, the agency’s website does discuss its efforts regarding equity. The rating is unchanged.

This fact check was originally published by PolitiFact, which is part of the Poynter Institute. It is republished here with permission. See the sources for this fact check here and more of their fact checks here.

Support high-integrity, independent journalism that serves democracy. Make a gift to Poynter today. The Poynter Institute is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, and your gift helps us make good journalism better.
Jeff Cercone is a contributing writer for PolitiFact. He has previously worked as a content editor for the Chicago Tribune and for the South Florida…
Jeff Cercone

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  • There’s a ton wrong with this “fact check,” starting with the fact that under the Biden administration FEMA has revised its priorities with “equity” right at the top of the list. FEMA “equity” is the same “equity” that the Biden/Harris campaign pushed in an explanatory video emphasizing measuring equity according to outcomes. That’s a recipe for distributing resources according to membership in “underserved communities” (race, gender, etc.).

    The “fact check” absurdly claims “There is nothing on websites for FEMA or the federal Disaster Assistance Improvement Program about race or equity.” The FEMA website has entire pages and .pdf downloads dedicated to explaining its new focus on equity.

    At minimum, the fact check should have acknowledged the role “equity” now plays in FEMA’s disaster response priorities.

    It’s remarkable the degree to which Poynter highlights the very worst fact-checking from the fact-checking entity it owns.

    • PolitiFact has issued a clarification to its fact check. It would be appropriate for Poynter to update its version of the fact check to include the clarification.

      I included in the correction request that the fact check hides from readers a FEMA directive that prioritizes “casework and evaluation for direct housing eligibility for vulnerable populations.”

      FEMA could use such a directive to get assistance more quickly to people based on skin color.

      I asked whether it was appropriate to hide that kind of information from PolitiFact readers.

      Apparently their answer is “yes.”