The second round of Democratic debates, split up over Tuesday and Wednesday nights, prompted weighty policy discussions among the 2020 presidential candidates about health care, inequality and climate change––and the candidates were armed with a slew of statistics and figures to support their arguments.
Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, one of the frontrunners in the race, is a particular fan of throwing out shocking statistics on inequality in the United States. But he has not always aligned with the fact-checkers.
The candidates also referred to their own records, another area ripe for fact-checking.
Here is a selection of claims made by candidates during both nights of Detroit’s 2020 Democratic primary debate, plus the facts.
Biden: “One of the proudest moments of my life was to stand there in [Iraq] . . . and tell everyone that we’re — that all our combat troops are coming home. I opposed the surge in Afghanistan”
Former Vice President Joe Biden apologized for his support for the Iraq War on Wednesday and tried to re-direct criticism by saying he worked to bring troops home during the Obama Administration.
Although the number of troops in Iraq and Afghanistan was ultimately reduced during the Obama years, Biden supported keeping residual forces in both countries. Obama also sent additional forces back to Iraq partly to address the growing presence of the Islamic State, and surged the number of troops in Afghanistan earlier in his administration.
Biden chaired a committee that worked to withdraw roughly 150,000 troops from Iraq. However, Biden supported keeping a residual force in the country to stop a power vacuum from emerging there.
Obama also sent about 5,000 troops back to Iraq after the Islamic State assumed control of parts of the country.
In Afghanistan, Obama increased the number of troops in the country from 30,000 to 100,000 in 2011, “the surge.”
Castro: “The only way that we’re going to guarantee that we don’t have family separations in this country is to repeal section 1325 of the immigration nationality act”
Former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro argued during the debate that repealing Section 1325 in the U.S. immigration law would be the only way to ensure family separations don’t continue at the border. While he’s right that the Trump Administration has used the law to justify family separations, repealing Section 1325 is not the only means to ending family separation—any administration could end separations without changing the law.
“The only way that we’re going to guarantee that we don’t have family separations in this country is to repeal section 1325 of the immigration nationality act,” said Castro, who has made decriminalizing immigration a central policy in his campaign. “That is the law that this president, this administration is using to incarcerate migrant parents and then physically separate them from their children.
Under federal immigration law, Section 1325 stipulates that entering the U.S. illegally is a criminal offense and being caught while trying to enter the U.S. illegally is a civil offense. In 2018, the Trump Administration’s “zero tolerance” policy enforced the law in a way that referred all illegal border crossings for criminal prosecution, leading to parents being separated from their children when they were sent to jail. While Trump issued an executive order in June 2018 to effectively end the “zero tolerance” policy, family separations have continued well into 2019, according to the American Civil Liberties Union.
Per Castro’s proposal, repealing Section 1325 would mean that entering the United States without papers would not be a federal crime, thereby removing any need for parents to be separated from their children at all. But though his point stands that the law allows for family separation, Section 1325 has existed for decades without thousands of children being separated from their parents. It’s Trump who introduced the family separation policy, and he, or any other president can put an end to it.
De Blasio: “There’s finally going to be justice … because for the first time, we are not waiting on the federal Justice Department”
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio was under scrutiny Wednesday night over New York City Police Officer Daniel Pantaleo, the cop involved in the 2014 chokehold death of Eric Garner after he was caught selling loose cigarettes. Two weeks ago, federal prosecutors decided against bringing civil rights charges against Pantaleo, which angered many in the African American community. Hecklers in the debate audience briefly disrupted Wednesday’s proceedings with chants that Pantaleo should be fired, and moderators later asked De Blasio why the officer remains on the force.
“[Eric Garner’s family] are going to get justice. There’s finally going to be justice,” he replied. “I have confidence in that — in the next 30 days, in New York. You know why? Because for the first time, we are not waiting on the federal Justice Department, which told the city of New York that we could not proceed because the Justice Department was pursuing their prosecution, and years went by, and a lot of pain accrued.”
While de Blasio has reportedly said that the Justice Department “asked” him not to pursue charges against Pantaleo, it appears there was nothing legally holding the city back from taking action.
Several New York City journalists immediately took to Twitter to call out the mayor for his comment. Harry Siegel, a New York Daily News columnist, noted in a tweet that de Blasio had previously indicated that the city had chosen to wait to file charges.
Gillibrand: “[Biden] wrote an op-ed, was that he believed that women working outside the home would quote ‘create the deterioration of family'”
Gillibrand is referring to a 1981 op-ed from Biden opposing the expansion of a childcare tax credit, which was reported by the Huffington Post earlier this week.
The op-ed, written when Biden was a senator, begins:
The HuffPost notes that Biden did support the expansion of the tax credit for households making less than $30,000 (equivalent to roughly $88,000 today, when adjusted for inflation.)
In his response to Gillibrand, Biden pointed out that he understood the challenges of child care from his personal experience as a single father, after the death of his first wife and daughter in a tragic car accident.
Inslee: “We have to get off coal in 10 years”
On Wednesday, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, who has based his whole campaign on making the climate crisis the “top priority of the United States,” told former Vice President Joe Biden that his climate platform was insufficient: “the science tells us we have to get off coal in 10 years,” Inslee said.
This is likely a reference a 2018 report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which focuses on a 1.5°C global temperature rise from preindustrial levels. The report says the Earth could hit the 1.5°C mark as early as 2030.
Coal remains one of the primary sources of electricity generation around the world and is thought to be one of the biggest contributors to climate change.
On Tuesday, South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg referenced the IPCC report, saying, “Science tells us we have 12 years before we reach the horizon of our catastrophe when it comes to our climate.”
Former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke also seemingly referenced the report when he responded to a question on climate change, saying, “We don’t have more than 10 years to get this right.”
However, one of the report’s authors, Myles Allen, cautioned in April that the timeline “doesn’t mean we have 12 years to act: it means we have to act now, and even if we do, success is not guaranteed.”
According to the scientists behind the report, the 1.5°C temperature increase is a threshold the planet cannot cross without seeing the worst effects of climate change. Allen adds: “My biggest concern is with the much-touted line that ‘the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) says we have 12 years’ before triggering an irreversible slide into climate chaos. Slogan writers are vague on whether they mean climate chaos will happen after 12 years, or if we have 12 years to avert it. But both are misleading.”
The Associated Press also reported that the scientific community is not unanimous in its view that humanity has only until 2030 to fix the problem of global warming.
Yang: “Amazon is closing 30% of America’s stores and malls and paying zero in taxes while doing it.”
Yang appears to be referring to a financial services firm’s estimate that approximately 30% of shopping malls will likely close or be repurposed in the next ten years. The rise of e-commerce has been blamed for a drop in sales at brick-and-mortar stores, and Amazon is credited with being at the forefront of the trend.
However, Amazon is only one part of the e-commerce market, comprising about 49% of sales––although Amazon’s projections anticipate that the share may drop. The company also takes in less than 10% of all retail sales.
As for the assertion about Amazon paying zero tax? That’s true.
On Tuesday night, Sanders made a similar assertion that “companies like Amazon that made billions in profits did not pay one nickel in federal income tax.”
Amazon paid $0 in federal income tax in the U.S. in 2018 after making over $11 billion in profits, according to an analysis by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy. What’s more, the analysis found that Amazon reported a federal income tax rebate of $129 million. Amazon has paid federal taxes in previous years, the Wall Street Journal reported in June. According to the Journal, Amazon’s overall tax rate from 2012 to 2018 was 8%.
Amazon has commented on this, in the past, tweeting after the June debates: “We’ve paid $2.6B in corporate taxes since 2016. We pay every penny we owe. Congress designed tax laws to encourage companies to reinvest in the American economy. We have. $200B in investments since 2011 & 300K US jobs.”
Delaney: ‘If all the bills were paid at Medicare rate… then many hospitals in this country would close’
This is a toned-down version of a claim that former Maryland Rep. John Delaney was criticized for making in the June debates. Previously, Delaney said that “every hospital administrator” said they would close if every bill were paid at a Medicare rate.
Several outlets, including Kaiser Health News and the Washington Post, spoke to experts who noted that while some hospitals could suffer under Medicare-for-All––in which all healthcare payments would presumably be at the Medicare rate––the policy would not close hospitals across the country.
Delaney’s claim appears to be based on a New York Times report that Medicare pays hospitals 87 cents for every dollar of costs, while private insurance companies pay $1.45. But experts told the Post and other outlets that the detrimental effects were unlikely to produce closures, although the quality of care could decrease and staff could be cut because of smaller budgets.
Hickenlooper: “As governor of Colorado, we created the number one economy in the country”
Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper is running on his record leading a purple state that has experienced big growth on many fronts in recent years. But he may have exaggerated with this claim.
Colorado’s economy was arguably strong while Hickenlooper was the governor from 2011 to January 2019, but was it the strongest economy in the country? It depends who you ask.
U.S. News and World Report ranked Colorado the number one state economically over the last few years, using a scale that weighs each state’s business environment, employment and economic growth.
However, Colorado ranked behind several states on other lists.
Sanders: “You’ve got three people who own more wealth than the bottom 90%”
This is one of Sanders’ favorite statistics. It comes from a left-leaning policy institute’s study. But Sanders didn’t get the numbers right on Tuesday.
A 2017 report from the Institute for Policy Studies found that the three wealthiest Americans on the Forbes 400 list had accumulated a collective wealth of $248.5 billion. At the time those figures were Microsoft founder Bill Gates, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos and investor Warren Buffett. Bezos has since become the richest person in the world. The combined net worth of the three men, according to Forbes, is $310 billion––$131 billion for Bezos, $96.5 billion for Gates and $82.5 billion for Buffett.
By contrast, a former Sanders aide who now works for the Institute for Policy Studies told Politifact that the wealth of the bottom half of America was $245 billion distributed across 160 million people (or 63 million households.)
Sanders: “Tonight, half of the American people are living paycheck to paycheck”
While the data on exactly how many Americans live paycheck-to-paycheck isn’t exact, a 2018 Federal Reserve report found that four in 10 adults said would not be able to cover a surprise expense of $400 without going into debt or selling something. And a 2017 poll of more than 5,800 workers, hiring managers and human resources professionals from Career Builder found that 78% of Americans live paycheck-to-paycheck. This included 9% of people who reported making more than $100,000 a year and 28% of those who make $50,000 to $100,000.