Editor’s Note:This Fact Check has been updated and the grade changed for clarity and fairness. The facts remain the same and we’ve double-checked former Congressman Djou’s voting record, which is added in here. But we decided to change the grade to reflect the context of the entire interview and his effort to go back and clarify his earlier statements.
In a May 1 interview on Rick Hamada’s radio show, former U.S. Rep. Charles Djou simultaneously played up his stint in Congress and his tour in Afghanistan.
“I am the first and only former member of Congress to have forward-deployed into combat and to do a tour of duty,” he said.
A bit later in the interview, he also said: “I’m the only person to have ever voted myself into war.”
At a later point, Djou briefly acknowledged that there had been a few members of Congress who voted in favor of World War II and then deployed.
Those are interesting claims, given the number of congressional representatives who have served in the military.
We tried to contact Djou to ask him more specifically what he meant. He never got back to us. After the story was published his campaign staff directed us to a conservative blogger’s post criticizing our Fact Check. But Djou never responded, and still hasn’t despite further efforts to contact him for this updated post.
So we have taken his statements to mean that he was suggesting first that there were no other congressmen who had gone off to combat, and that he was the only one who had actually voted on some sort of measure that authorized his own combat duty. Later in the program he apparently realized perhaps he should point out that WWII-era politicians had taken up arms for their country.
But since Djou still hasn’t responded, we’re still not sure what piece of legislation he was referring to when he says he voted himself into war. The war in Afghanistan — where he recently returned from a tour of duty — was already going on when he entered Congress after a special election in May 2010.
Civil Beat checked the congressional record and found that he voted for the National Defense Authorization Act for 2011, which continued funding already in place for defense operations and military spending, including in Afghanistan. He also voted against a bill that set a timetable for withdrawal from Afghanistan.
Meanwhile, congressional historians did return calls. They knew quite a few representatives and senators who had gone off to war.
Paul McHale Jr., a former member of the House from Pennsylvania (1993-1999), was deployed to Afghanistan just a few years ago, according to the House Office of the Historian.
McHale’s deployment was covered heavily by local and national media before he left in 2006 and when he returned in 2007.
McHale’s record shows he voted on similar defense spending measures in his time in Congress.
Decades ago, the battlefield saw the likes of Albert Vreeland of New Jersey and Charles Faddis of Pennsylvania. Both served in Congress before heading off to fight in World War II.
On the Senate side, there was Henry Cabot Lodge Jr., who gave up his seat to serve in WWII and then was re-elected after the war, according to Senate historian Don Ritchie.
Indeed, members of Congress have been doing this for more than 150 years. Oregon Sen. Edward Baker was killed at the battle of Balls Bluff in 1861 after voting for the war, Ritchie said.
Djou is right that congressmen from the WWII era did go off to war. But after that time, he’s wrong that he’s the only former congressman to have gone into combat because that’s the situation with Paul McHale.
Whether Djou is the only person to vote himself into war is unclear since he hasn’t told us what specifically he voted on and the war he served in was already going on when he entered Congress.
BOTTOM LINE: Djou is not the only former congressman to go to war. Did he vote himself there? It appears he voted only for an annual appropriations bill. But there is at least an element of truth that he voted for a bill that paid to support combat in Afghanistan. And he did clarify his comments on the WWII vets. We’ve upgraded his rating from False to Half True.
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