Fact Checking The Democratic Debate

NATIONWIDE  —The six Democratic presidential hopefuls gave it their all during Tuesday’s debate, as they touched on a variety of topics from health care to climate change. Let’s see how true their claims were.

Vermont U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders: “Joe and I have a fundamental disagreement, in case you haven’t noticed, and that is NAFTA, PNTR with China, other trade agreements, were written for one reason alone, and that is to increase the profits of large multi-national corporations, and the end result of those two, just PNTR with China, Joe, and NAFTA, cost us some four million jobs.”

Fact: It is true that the United States has lost nearly four million factory jobs since NAFTA went into effect in January 1994, but most economists point out that those losses can be attributed to other factors, such as low-cost competition with China, recessions in the U.S. in 2001 and 2007 through 2009, and the growing automation trend, where machines are replacing workers.

Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren: “We need to start with what’s happening in America. People are suffering. I’ll just pick one: 36 million people last year went to the doctor, got a prescription, this is what they needed to get well, and they couldn’t afford to have the prescription filled.  They looked at it and said, ‘It’s either groceries or this prescription.'”

Fact: This is a familiar talking point with Warren, and PolitiFact took a look at it after the last debate and found that the Massachusetts senator’s claim is true. PolitiFact cites a study by the Commonwealth Fund from 2018, who estimated that it is even a bit higher than what Warren stated, at 37 million adults who did not fill a prescription because of cost concerns.

Former Vice President Joe Biden: “Back in 1986, I introduced the first climate change bill, and check PolitiFact. They said it was a game-changer.”

Fact: This claim from Biden is a half and half. The accurate part is that he did file one of the first climate change bills back in 1986. It died in the Senate, but the following year, a version of Biden’s bill did become law. As far as PolitiFact calling it a game-changer?The publication says it made no such claim regarding Biden and climate change legislation.

U.S. Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar: “I would also note, practically, that the Affordable Care Act right now is 10 points more popular than the president of the United States.”

Fact: This is one of those claims that makes your ears perk up and take notice, but we searched for a poll that asked respondents both about their feelings toward the ACA, also known as Obamacare, and the approval rating of President Donald Trump and we could not find one. 

We did find separate polls that fit Klobuchar’s claim: the Kaiser Family Foundation had ACA support at 52 percent, while a FiveThirtyEight poll had Trump’s approval rating at 42 percent, but because they are separate polls asking separate people separate questions, we are not making that leap of faith.

Sanders: “What Joe forgets to say is if you leave the current system as it is, what you are talking about are workers paying, on average, 20 percent of their incomes for health care. That is insane. You’ve got 500,000 people going bankrupt because they cannot pay their medical bills. We’re spending twice as much, per capita, on health care as to the people of any other country.”

Fact: We looked at a study by the Commonwealth Fund, and while Sanders is somewhat in the ballpark, he may have rounded the numbers to make it an easier-to-remember talking point. 

The 2016 study shows that the United States pays just under 18 percent of its Gross Domestic Product on health care. In other high-income countries, that number is 11.5 percent, not quite the twice as much as Sanders says. 

Meanwhile, the bankrupt number is good only if you count all the bankruptcies where health issues are cited as a cause, not necessarily the cause of the bankruptcy.

Warren: “So, can a woman beat Donald Trump?  Look at the men on this stage. Collectively, they have lost 10 elections. The only people on this stage who have won every single election that they’ve been in are the women, Amy and me.”

Fact: Warren is pretty much on track with this one. The men on the stage who have previously run for office, Pete Buttigieg, Biden, and Sanders, have lost at least 10 elections. 

We say “at least” because Warren did not define what elections she meant. Sanders was on the ballot in the 2016 Democratic Primary and lost many states to Hillary Clinton, so if you include those, it is a lot more than 10. 

The same argument could be made for Biden when he was previously running for the Democratic nomination for president.  

As for Warren? She has won all of her elections, and U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar has won all of the races she’s stayed in. There was one County Attorney race in 1994 where she dropped out after another candidate she supported got into the race. She did not lose, but she did not win, either.

Klobuchar: “The issue here is that there are two pharma lobbyists for every member of Congress. They think they own Washington. They don’t own me.”

Fact: PolitiFact took a look at this and found it to be mostly true. While there were 1,451 health care lobbyists in Washington in 2018, only 828 were specifically lobbyists for drug manufacturers, so it really depends on how you define “pharma lobbyists.” 

By the way, pharmaceutical lobbyists outnumber lobbyists in all 89 other categories, according to the website OpenSecrets.

Klobuchar: “Where are our job openings, and what do we need? We’re going to have over a million openings for home health care workers that we don’t know how to fill in the next 10 years. We are going to have open 100,000 jobs for nursing assistants. We, as my union friends know, we’re going to have 70,000 openings for electricians. We’re not going to have a shortage of MBA’s, we’re going to have a shortage of plumbers.”

Fact: The Bureau of Labor Statistics has the data, and Klobuchar is pretty much on track. She talks about the next 10 years, while BLS projects through 2028, only eight years from now. The job openings she cites are projected to be there in the coming years.

Biden: “I have overwhelming support from the African-American community. Overwhelming. More than everybody else in this operation.”

Fact: Biden has this one. A Washington Post poll released a week and a half ago has African-American support for the former vice president at 48 percent. 

Sanders a distant second place with 20 percent support, and Warren in third place with just nine percent.