Debate fact check: What are they talking about


Senator Bernie Sanders’ record on the issue is more complicated than he let on.

What he said:

“Back in 1988, coming from a state that had no gun control, I called for the ban of the sale and distribution of assault weapons. I lost that election.”

This is misleading. Sanders suggested he had a long history of fighting the National Rifle Association. Sanders noted that he has a “D minus voting record from the NRA and as president I suspect it will be an F record.” He vowed that as president, he would “do everything I can” to take on the NRA.


But Sanders left out parts of his record as a lawmaker defending gun rights in Vermont, a rural hunting state. In 1993, then-Representative Sanders voted against the Brady Bill, which mandated background checks and imposed a five-day waiting period for gun purchasers.

In 2005, while still in the House, Sanders voted in favor of a measure to shield gun manufacturers and dealers from lawsuits arising from the criminal use of their products. In 2012, after a mass shooting in Colorado, he suggested the federal government should steer clear of gun control, saying, “In my view, decisions about gun control should be made as close to home as possible — at the state level.” But Sanders voted in favor of the 1994 assault weapons ban, which passed as part of a broad package of crime legislation.


Governor John Hickenlooper suggested universal health care would not play well with moderate voters.

What he said:

“Last year Democrats flipped 40 Republican seats in the house and not one of those 40 Democrats supported the policies of our front-runners at center stage.”

This is exaggerated. Hickenlooper was referring to “Medicare for All,” the progressive plan for universal health care. Many of the seats Democrats flipped in taking control of the House in 2018 were in swing districts, or districts carried by President Trump; most of the freshmen who won those seats are centrists and do not support Medicare for All.


But at least two of them — Katie Porter and Katie Hill of California — do, and campaigned on it.

In 2017, Porter said on Twitter: “I believe in universal coverage and I support Medicare for All.” Hill’s campaign posted a video on Facebook explaining her reasoning for backing Medicare for All. “We have to do whatever it takes to get us to Medicare For All as soon as possible,” she said.


Sanders blamed trade policy, apparently referring to the North American Free Trade Agreement, for Detroit’s decline.

What he said:

“Detroit was nearly destroyed because of awful trade policy which allowed corporations to throw workers in this community out on the streets as they moved to low-wage countries.”

This is exaggerated. NAFTA, which went in effect 1994, is often blamed for the loss of American manufacturing jobs in the Midwest, but Detroit’s struggles started well before that as global competition increased. Auto jobs started scattering during the energy crisis of the 1970s and the economic downturn of the 1980s. Moreover, jobs in Detroit were also lost to competition the union-averse South, where many carmakers sought cheaper labor.

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Senator Elizabeth Warren said that Trump’s trade deals are not about helping American workers but are actually about helping big companies.


What she said:

“Anyone who thinks that these trade deals are mostly about tariffs just doesn’t understand what’s going on. Look at the NAFTA 2.0. What’s the central feature? It’s to help pharmaceutical companies get longer periods of exclusivity.”

This is mostly true. While the drug provisions are not the core element of the United States-Mexico-Canada-Agreement (NAFTA 2.0), it is a controversial provision that continues to hold up ratification of the trade pact. As The Times reported in March, the agreement gives biologic drugmakers 10 years of protections against other products that would rely on the data they used to win approval.

That 10-year provision would raise the timeline in Canada, where the industry currently has eight years of protection, and in Mexico, where it technically has none. It would not change current policy in the United States, where the standard is already 12 years.


The timelines of the problem are more complex than two candidates described.

What was said:

Beto O’Rourke: “I listen to scientists on this, and they are very clear. We don’t have more than 10 years to get this right.”

Mayor Pete Buttigieg: “Science tells us we have 12 years before we reach the horizon of catastrophe when it comes to our climate.”

Both statements are misleading. Both O’Rourke, a former member of Congress from Texas, and Buttigieg are referring to a recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report that finds countries have about a dozen years to keep the rise in global average temperatures to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.


At that point the planet will face severe effects including worsened droughts, floods, and heat waves. And since most scenarios for curbing warming require halving worldwide emissions by 2030, that means countries must take serious action now. But to claim that there are 12 or just 10 years until the point of no return goes beyond what the panel itself says.

Compiled by reporters of The New York Times.