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Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders, R-Ark., waits to deliver the Republican response to President Biden's State of the Union address, Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2023, in Little Rock, Ark. (AP) Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders, R-Ark., waits to deliver the Republican response to President Biden's State of the Union address, Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2023, in Little Rock, Ark. (AP)

Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders, R-Ark., waits to deliver the Republican response to President Biden's State of the Union address, Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2023, in Little Rock, Ark. (AP)

By PolitiFact Staff February 8, 2023

If Your Time is short

In her response to President Joe Biden’s State of the Union address, Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders called for a new generation of Republican leadership and criticized Biden’s record on the economy and the border.

The "dividing line in America is no longer between right or left," said Sanders, who previously served as spokesperson for former President Donald Trump.  "The choice is between normal or crazy."

Sanders, a Republican who was sworn in as governor in January and whose father previously served as Arkansas’ governor, highlighted executive orders she has signed about culture issues that have become hot topics, including prohibiting critical race theory in schools

Critical race theory is a collection of ideas, not a single doctrine, that explains why racial inequality and disparities persist long after civil rights laws and court rulings barred discrimination. Its opponents use it as a blanket term for any discussion of white privilege, and they have encouraged local school districts to forbid the teaching of anything that addresses systemic racism. Generally, the officials who say they want to ban critical race theory can’t point to examples where it is being taught in K-12 schools.

Sanders also said she signed an executive order to "eliminate the use of the derogatory term Latinx in our government." 

Though not widely used, Latinx is a gender-neutral term used by some journalists, businesses, local governments and universities. More broadly used terms include Latino, Latinas and Latinos. Latinas refers to females, and Latinos can refer to males or a group of both males and females.

Pew Research Center in 2020 found that the majority of Latino adults have not heard of the term Latinx and only 3% use it. Other pollsters in 2021 also found similarly small numbers of people who preferred the term Latinx. 

A national poll by Bendixen & Amandi International found 40% of Hispanic voters said they were bothered or offended by the Latinx term, while 57% said it didn’t bother them.

Sanders made a veiled reference to the surveillance balloon from China that recently floated across the U.S. She said that Biden’s "refusal to stand up to China" is dangerous and that he was "unwilling to defend our border, defend our skies and defend our people." U.S. fighter jets shot down the balloon off the coast of South Carolina on Feb. 4.

We fact-checked a few of Sanders’ statements about the economy and the border.

"President Biden inherited the fastest economic recovery on record."

This is accurate, and it owes to the unusual nature of the recession caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

The two-month pandemic recession ranks as the shortest in U.S. history, at least since recessions were first tracked in the 1850s. The pandemic recession was also atypical because it was caused by a public health crisis rather than a financial or economic crisis.

So the economic swings, both down and up, were unprecedented in their size and speed.

The unemployment rate soared from 4.4% in March to 14.7% in April 2020, easily a modern record, because large portions of the economy shut down. But as Americans adapted to the new normal, the unemployment rate began to fall, and quickly by historical standards. 

During the remainder of Trump’s tenure, the unemployment rate fell by 8.4 percentage points. By comparison, no prior recession ever saw a decline of 8.4 percentage points, over any period of time. 

The unemployment rate continued to fall during Biden’s presidency, by roughly four additional percentage points in the first nine months of his tenure, to 4.5%. It’s now more than a point lower than that.

Gross domestic product followed much the same pattern.

In the first quarter of 2020, which was partially affected by the pandemic, GDP fell by 4.6%. In the second quarter, GDP fell by an unprecedented 29.9%. But in the third quarter, GDP shot up by 35.3%, essentially erasing the decline. The subsequent quarters, one under Trump and four under Biden, ranged between 2.7% and 7%, all of which were high by recent historical standards.

It’s worth noting that the first few rounds of pandemic relief funding, including expanded unemployment insurance and the Paycheck Protection Program that enabled businesses to keep paying workers, were signed by Trump but passed by overwhelmingly bipartisan majorities in Congress.

"100,000 Americans a year are now killed from drug overdoses, largely from fentanyl pouring across our southern border."

This needs additional context on how fentanyl is getting into the U.S. 

Preliminary data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found more than 107,000 Americans died from drug overdoses from July 2021 to August 2022, most from fentanyl overdoses.

Mexico is the United States’ primary source of illegally sourced fentanyl, per a report from the Rand Corp., a global policy think tank. It’s worth noting that the vast quantity of  the drug is  smuggled through official ports of entry in large trucks or cars, according to the Congressional Research Service. And most fentanyl is smuggled in by U.S. citizens, the libertarian Cato Institute said.

"The Biden administration refuses to secure the border."

This ignores enforcement by border authorities, including surveillance technology.

Border security funding under Biden is comparable to funding under Trump’s administration. Border Patrol staffing has remained fairly consistent despite long-term hiring and retention challenges. And immigration border laws and policies continue to be enforced under Biden’s presidency. 

Despite halting the building of additional miles of barriers, Biden’s administration has used previously appropriated funds to repair barriers and close gaps that have become popular areas for immigrants to cross into the U.S.

Biden inherited "the most secure border in history."

There is no simple metric to determine if Biden inherited the "most secure" border. We’ve rated a similar Trump claim Mostly False.

Sanders did not explain what she meant by a secure border. Trump, for example, has cited the addition of barriers at the border and apprehension figures as metrics of a secure border.

But experts have said that miles of the border fence don’t tell us much about the status of border security, because many migrants voluntarily turn themselves in to border officials. 

Immigrant apprehensions at the southern border fluctuated during Trump’s administration and were rising when Biden took office.

One of the largest drops in immigration numbers under Trump happened in March and April 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Immigration drastically dropped worldwide during this time, as governments enacted policies limiting people’s movement.

Louis Jacobson, Amy Sherman and Maria Ramirez Uribe contributed reporting.

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