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Fact Squad | Misleading GOP ad smears Gary Peters’ record on coronavirus

Gary Peters

LANSING — A new TV attack ad from a Republican group accuses Michigan Democratic Sen. Gary Peters of blocking emergency aid for small businesses in the United States while praising China’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.

But the commercial is misleading in several ways, slamming Peters for a vote that effectively extended negotiations on the $2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief, & Economic Security Act that was signed into law days later. And it mischaracterizes his position on China to suggest he supports the communist regime. 

The ad is paid for by One Nation, a nonprofit that does not disclose donors but plans to spend $4.5 million in the Senate race that pits Peters against Republican businessman John James. One Nation reportedly has ties to the Senate Leadership Fund established by allies of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. 

The Claims

“As coronavirus spread, Senator Gary Peters praised China's response, but when American small businesses needed help, Senator Peters turned his back,” a narrator says as the ad cuts to a split screen with the Bloomfield Hills Democrat and Chinese leader Xi Jinping.

“Peters stood with far-left senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, blocking emergency relief for American businesses. He put party politics before Michigan jobs.”

The ad ends by urging Peters to support a Senate bill that proposes to ensure businesses won’t face tax liability for forgivable federal loans provided through the CARES Act.

The Facts

Senate Democrats, including Peters, did twice block floor votes on a massive coronavirus relief package in the Republican-led Senate on March 22 and 23. But that’s because they were trying to secure extra emergency funding for hospitals, local governments and oversight of business bailouts. It wasn’t just “far-left senators” seeking changes to the bills.

The negotiations delayed approval for a few days but soon yielded bipartisan compromise that included $377 billion in small business relief spending, about $27 billion more than previously proposed. The Senate approved the revised legislation on March 26, and President Donald Trump signed the CARES Act into law the following day.

Peters later supported a second wave of small business relief in April, voting for a $484 billion deal that included additional funding for the Paycheck Protection Program, which has provided forgivable loans to more than 121,000 Michigan companies. 

As for China, it’s true Peters suggested the United States could learn some lessons from the country where the virus originated, particularly in regards to keeping businesses open amid the pandemic. But he also voiced concerns about transparency from the Chinese government. 

In a Feb. 12 interview on Fox News, Peters said China “has instituted some very aggressive actions [to contain the virus] and they need to continue to do that.” He said it was “frustrating” that China was not allowing U.S. health officials to assess the outbreak on the ground “to get a better sense of what we’re dealing with so we can contain it more effectively.”

In a March 20 interview on MSNBC, Peters noted that outside of Hubei province, Chinese factories had continued to operate, using partitions to separate their employees to keep the economy running in parts of the country less impacted by the virus. "We've gotta be doing that same kind of thing here — thinking strategically,” Peters said. “Dealing with the disease but also maintaining our economy so when we do get through it, it can come back up fairly quickly.”

The Conclusion

Commercials like these are why it seems so many people hate political ads.

The spot twists a few facts — Peters’ votes are a matter of record, as are his comments about China — to reach the false conclusion that he “turned his back on small businesses.”

In fact, Peters voted for legislation that provided billions of dollars more for small businesses, context that the misleading ad wholly ignores.

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