On September 17 2019, the purported young conservative-aligned Facebook page “Turning Point USA” shared the following meme (archived here), invoking an old favorite trope about the supposed ignorance or stupidity of women of color in power. In this case, it claimed that Rep. Maxine Waters (D-California) had said that “over 700 billion people” could lose health coverage under a “Trumpcare bill”:
Waters was shown at the top, and an unidentified individual at the bottom. From top to bottom, their “quotes” read:
Over 700 billion people will lose their coverage! Maxine Waters
Please stop asking “how stupid can she get?” She seems to be taking it as a challenge.
If the quote had been real, it would have been quite a gaffe considering the population of the United States as of September 2019 is measured at roughly 327.2 million (not billion) citizens. The world population is estimated at 7.53 billion as of 2017. (For more on the difference between a million and a billion, click here.)
Oddly, coverage of Waters making such a misstep was fairly thin, and we didn’t initially turn up many references to what would be an easy-to-mock misstep across the web. But a June 2017 post on Facebook disinformation page “Uncle Sam’s Misguided Children” made a similar claim — “MAXINE WATERS THINKS 700 BILLION PEOPLE LOSE INSURANCE UNDER GOP BILL. ONLY ONE PROBLEM.” The commentary went as follows:
Maxine Waters is the congresswoman for California’s 43rd district. She is also continually saying ridiculous things that make you wonder if the people of her district have completely lost their minds by voting her into office. This time she claimed in an interview on MSNBC that 700 billion people would be booted from their insurance under the GOP healthcare bill. Only one problem: there aren’t that many people on the planet, let alone in the United States.
To “prove” the claim, the blog shared video of Rep. Waters speaking with MSNBC host Chris Hayes. Waters refers to reliance on Medicaid in states such as Kentucky in the very brief (55 second) clip. In true disinformation form, the segment is dishonestly edited; in this case, it is trimmed down to almost nothing, providing no preceding context for the discussion Hayes and Waters had. Fellow disinformation site PJMedia.com ran a similar post on June 28 2017, and Twitter users also picked up and spread the claim:
CONFUSION: Maxine Waters says ‘700 BILLION’ people will lose coverage with TrumpCare! pic.twitter.com/xusVffsynF
— Josh Caplan (@joshdcaplan) June 29, 2017
Hayes begins by contrasting bills traversing the House and Senate and discusses their content. Hayes appears to be talking about a bill or legislation in competition with Obamacare, asking Waters about support for decreased coverage in general. After a question from Hayes about the manner in which proponents of bills decreasing the reach of Obamacare discuss such bills, Waters responds:
[Hayes] I wonder if you think it’s interesting — that they seem — the White House and [the bill’s] advocates — don’t seem to be defending the bill on its own terms, but rather in these terms of it doesn’t cut Medicaid and will cover more people …
[Waters] Well um, [that defense is] absolutely not true. Take for example the state of Kentucky … almost one-third of those people in that state are covered by Medicaid. And so they’re talking about eliminating — well $700 billion uh, in a Trumpcare bill. So there’s no way that they can say that they’re gonna do more coverage than Obamacare. So I don’t really know what they’re talking about.
As we noted earlier, the clip was originally shared on a blog in June 2017; TPUSA shared the meme in September 2019. In May 2017, CNN reported:
Donald Trump’s budget that is expected to be unveiled [in May 2017] will include $800 billion in cuts to Medicaid — a move that underscores the President’s resolve to significantly downsize the federal program even as Republican lawmakers are clashing over the issue in Congress.
The $800 billion reduction, confirmed to CNN [in May 2017] evening by a senior administration official, assumes that the GOP health care bill that the House passed earlier this month would become law, that official said.
Waters’ office released a statement on June 28 2017, clearly part of the same national conversation at that time. It said, in part:
“The Senate bill would slash Medicaid by more than $700 billion over the next ten years and impose even greater cuts after 2026. These cuts would endanger the lives of millions of vulnerable children, seniors, people with disabilities, and low-income Americans who depend upon Medicaid for their health care needs.
The clip from which Turning Point USA seemed to source their Maxine Waters quote was trimmed to under a minute, leaving little context for the commentary. Just before it was originally published in June 2017, a proposed $800 billion cut to Medicaid was reported as part of a then-new federal budget. Although Waters didn’t verbally indicate a dollar sign, it was clear by the transcribed with context quotes she indicated $700 billion, speaking in dollars — not 700 billion people. Attempts to manufacture a gaffe by selectively trimming the video were not at all successful in concealing that context.