Fact-Checking the November Democratic Debate

Fact-Checking the November Democratic Debate

Ten candidates vying for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination took the debate stage Wednesday night in Atlanta for the fifth round of debates.

Here is how the candidates’ remarks stacked up against the truth.


Rep. Tulsi Gabbard was misleading about statements by Mayor Pete Buttigieg on sending troops to Mexico.


Gabbard: “I think the most recent example of your inexperience in national security and foreign policy came from your recent careless statement about how you as president would be willing to send our troops to Mexico to fight the cartels.”

Buttigieg: “I was talking about U.S.-Mexico cooperation.”

Buttigieg was right.

At a Democratic forum this week in Los Angeles, Buttigieg was asked about President Donald Trump’s recent suggestions that the United States help Mexico wage “war” on the cartels and whether he envisioned a situation in which U.S. troops would be stationed in Mexico “if Mexico welcomed it.”

In his response, Buttigieg emphasized that Trump’s approach violated Mexican sovereignty and the need for Mexican cooperation and approval in any military response.

“There is a scenario where we could have security cooperation as we do with countries around the world,” Buttigieg said. “Now, I would only order American troops into conflict if there were no other choice, if American lives were on the line and if this was necessary to meet treaty obligations. But we could absolutely be in some kind of partnership role, if and only if it welcomed by our partner south of the border.”


Sen. Elizabeth Warren claimed that her 2% wealth tax on households worth more than $50 million would pay for a sweeping expansion of the nation’s social safety net, providing free child care and college tuition.


“We can put $800 billion new federal dollars into all of our public schools. We can make college tuition-free for every kid. We can put $50 billion into historically black colleges and universities. And we can cancel student loan debt for 95% of the folks who have got it.”

It’s not clear.

The revenue that Warren would raise from her tax proposal is a subject of intense debate, and it is not clear that her wealth tax could pay for the plans she listed. According to a New York Times analysis, the total cost of Warren’s plans for universal child care, increased spending on public schools, student debt cancellation and free college would be about $2.9 trillion over a decade. The two Berkeley economists advising her campaign, Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman, estimate that her wealth tax would generate $2.75 trillion over that period. If that is correct, then Warren would be close to being able to pay for those proposals. (Warren has recently revised her wealth tax proposal and Saez and Zucman have refined their calculations but the general conclusions are the same.)

But other economists disagree, arguing that a wealth tax would spur waves of new loopholes and tax evasion efforts. Lawrence Summers, a Treasury secretary under President Bill Clinton, and Natasha Sarin, a law and finance professor at the University of Pennsylvania, estimated that Warren’s wealth tax would raise just 40% of what her campaign claims.

If Warren’s tax proposals raise less revenue than she projects, it will be difficult to pay for her grand plans without adding to the deficit.


Former Vice President Joe Biden exaggerated in saying that “Medicare for All” was a policy without sufficiently broad support among Democrats.


“The fact is that right now, the vast majority of Democrats do not support Medicare for All. It couldn’t pass the United States Senate right now with Democrats. It couldn’t pass the House.”

This is exaggerated.

Depending on how you measure, a majority of Democratic voters do support Medicare for All. Support among Democrats in Congress is weaker than that, but it is hard to find any measure that shows a vast majority who oppose the policy.

Public polling shows that a majority of Americans favor Medicare for All when they are asked about it. A Kaiser Family Foundation survey published Wednesday found that 53% of adults approve of the idea — including more than 75% of Democrats.

Among elected officials, support is softer. Biden is correct that a Medicare for All bill would be unlikely to pass in the current House of Representatives, despite Democratic control. A Medicare for All bill sponsored by Rep. Pramila Jayapal of Washington has more than 116 co-sponsors out of 233 Democrats serving in the House, almost half the party but far short of the votes necessary to pass the legislation. In the Senate, support is a bit weaker: Fifteen of 45 senators who caucus with the party support Sanders’ Medicare for All bill.


Andrew Yang noted that the United States was one of only two countries that do not provide universal paid maternal leave. There are a few more, but none among peer nations.


“There are only two countries in the world that don’t have paid family leave for new moms. The United States of America and Papua New Guinea. That is the entire list, and we need to get off this list as soon as possible.”

Mostly true.

Yang likely got this line from a report of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, which has examined parental leave policies in 120 countries. Of that group, the United States and Papua New Guinea are the only countries without paid leave policies. But worldwide, there are a few other small countries on the list, including Tonga and Suriname, according to the World Policy Center, which tracks leave policies in more nations.

If the details aren’t quite right, Yang’s larger point stands. The United States is unique among large advanced nations in not requiring any paid leave to new mothers.


Buttigieg was misleading about a case involving the president and nonprofit groups.


“The president had to confess in writing, in court, to illegally diverting charitable contributions that were supposed to go to veterans.”

This is misleading.

In early November, President Donald Trump was ordered by a New York state judge to pay $2 million in damages to nonprofit groups after he was found to have violated a law by using the now-defunct Donald J. Trump Foundation as an extension of his campaign. Buttigieg’s suggestion that the funds did not reach veterans groups, however, is wrong.

The foundation raised $2.8 million for veterans groups during an event in Iowa in January 2016 but allowed the Trump campaign to disburse those funds. Trump admitted that this was a campaign event, although the foundation, as a charity, was prohibited from supporting candidates for political office.

Justice Saliann Scarpulla, of the state Supreme Court in Manhattan, noted in the ruling that “the funds did ultimately reach their intended destinations, i.e., charitable organizations supporting veterans” but ruled that the foundation’s officers, including Trump, breached their fiduciary responsibilities to the charity.


Sen. Amy Klobuchar exaggerated the level of public support for Planned Parenthood, although it is pretty high.


“Over 70% of the people support Roe v. Wade. Over 90% of the people support funding for Planned Parenthood and making sure that women can get the health care they need.”

This is exaggerated.

When asked in surveys, a majority of Americans say they support some abortion rights. And many Americans support continuing funding for Planned Parenthood, the national network of women’s health providers that includes many abortion clinics.

But Klobuchar’s numbers are a bit higher than those in most polls that ask such questions. A Kaiser Family Foundation survey in May asked about a Trump administration policy that prevents Planned Parenthood from receiving funding for family planning services. In that survey, 69% of adults said that they support continued funding for Planned Parenthood, not 90%.

In that same survey, 65% said they would oppose a Supreme Court ruling overturning Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision that establishes a constitutional right to abortion. It is possible to find a survey in line with Klobuchar’s number, but with some caveats. A survey in June from NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist Poll found more than 70% of respondents in support of Roe, but that group included people who said they want to “keep Roe v. Wade but add more restrictions.”

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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