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Obama did not say ‘rooms full of people’ are unsafe during John Lewis eulogy

July 31, 2020 GMT

CLAIM: During a eulogy for the late U.S. Rep. John Lewis, as part of an argument for mail-in voting, former President Barack Obama told a room full of people that “rooms full of people” are unsafe.

AP’S ASSESSMENT: False. Obama never referenced “rooms full of people” in his eulogy. He argued that the 2020 election would depend on mail-in ballots “so people don’t get sick,” but he did not argue that in-person polling places should not be open.

THE FACTS: On Thursday, July 30, a few hours after Obama delivered a 40-minute eulogy for Lewis at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, social media posts began to emerge claiming the former president made a hypocritical statement.

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“Obama just told a room full of people that ‘rooms full of people’ are unsafe, and that’s why we need mail-in voting,” one conservative radio host wrote on Twitter with two laughing emoji.

“Mind you, he’s speaking to a room full of people, who appear to be perfectly ‘safe,’” read an article published with the post. “Nobody had to ‘mail-in’ their grief for John Lewis’s funeral, so why do we have to mail-in our vote?”

Shortly after these posts, several other social media users used the same language to make similar claims in posts viewed more than 200,000 times in 24 hours.

It’s true that more than 100 family members and friends of Lewis, and three former presidents, gathered inside the church to pay respects to Lewis on Thursday, even though the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended that funeral services held outdoors or in well-ventilated spaces are safer than indoor gatherings.

Several audience members sat at a distance from each other, and many at the service wore masks. Obama donned his own mask on camera after his eulogy.

However, a look at Obama’s speech reveals he never used the words “rooms full of people,” nor did he argue solely for mail-in options when he talked about voting rights.

According to a full transcript, Obama addressed mail-in voting only briefly during his remarks, in the following section:

“We may no longer have to guess the number of jelly beans in a jar in order to cast a ballot. But even as we sit here, there are those in power who are doing their darnedest to discourage people from voting — by closing polling locations, and targeting minorities and students with restrictive ID laws, and attacking our voting rights with surgical precision, even undermining the Postal Service in the run-up to an election that is going to be dependent on mailed-in ballots so people don’t get sick.”

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Obama went on to argue that Americans should fight for expanded voting rights, including “by adding polling places.”

Concerns about the spread of COVID-19 have led several states to introduce new hygiene measures at polling locations and expand options for voting by mail.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has guidance available on its website for polling places and voters to help mitigate the spread of the coronavirus during an election.

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This is part of The Associated Press’ ongoing effort to fact-check misinformation that is shared widely online, including work with Facebook to identify and reduce the circulation of false stories on the platform.

Here’s more information on Facebook’s fact-checking program: https://www.facebook.com/help/1952307158131536