WASHINGTON — Ten Democrats seeking the presidency sparred Thursday night in a sprawling debate that put all qualifying contenders on the same stage for the first time.
Here’s a look at how some of their claims from Houston stack up with the facts:
Joe Biden: ‘‘We didn’t lock people up in cages, we didn’t separate families.’’
THE FACTS: His comment about cages is wrong.
The ‘‘cages’’ — chain-link enclosures inside border facilities where migrants have been temporarily housed, separated by sex and age — were built and used by the Obama administration. The Trump administration has been using the same facilities as the Obama administration.
Democrats routinely accuse Trump of using cages for children without acknowledging the same enclosures were employed when Biden was vice president.
The Obama administration also separated migrant children from families under certain limited circumstances, like when the child’s safety appeared at risk or when the parent had a serious criminal history.
But family separations as a matter of routine came about because of President Donald Trump’s ‘‘zero tolerance’’ enforcement policy last year. More than 2,500 children were separated from their parents at the border and a government watchdog has said it’s possible thousands more were separated. Obama had no such policy.
Bernie Sanders: ‘‘Every study done shows that Medicare for All is the most cost-effective approach to providing health care to every man, woman and child in this country.’’
THE FACTS: Not exactly.
The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said in a report earlier this year that total spending under a single-payer system, such as the one proposed by Sanders, ‘‘might be higher or lower than under the current system depending on the key features of the new system.’’
Those features involve details about payment rates for hospitals and doctors, which are not fully spelled out by Sanders, as well as the estimated cost of generous benefits that include long-term care services and no copays and deductibles for comprehensive medical care.
A report this year by the nonprofit Rand think tank estimated that ‘‘Medicare for All’’ would modestly raise national health spending, the opposite of what Sanders intends.
Rand modeled a hypothetical scenario in which a plan similar to legislation by the Vermont senator had taken effect this year. It found that total U.S. health care spending would be about $3.9 trillion under ‘‘Medicare for All’’ in 2019, compared with about $3.8 trillion under the status quo.
Part of the reason is that ‘‘Medicare for All’’ would offer generous benefits with no copays and deductibles, except limited cost-sharing for certain medications. Virtually free comprehensive medical care would lead to big increases in the demand for services.
Sanders: “You got to defend the fact that 500,000 Americans are going bankrupt. You know why they’re going bankrupt? Because they suffered a terrible disease, cancer, or heart disease.”
THE FACTS: This is exaggerated. The number comes from a study based on surveys of people who declared bankruptcy between 2013 and 2016. In that research, more than half of families with bankruptcies said that medical bills or a health crisis contributed to their financial crisis, the latest in a series of such surveys. (Fun fact: Warren was a co-author on earlier installments.) But that research method has been criticized by many scholars, who say asking people whether health problems caused their bankruptcy is not the best way to answer that question.
Another recent study, which followed every Californian who was admitted to a hospital over several years, produced a substantially lower estimate of the number of Americans whose bankruptcies were caused by health problems that involved a hospital stay. But in both studies, it was not just medical bills but the income losses associated with illness that caused financial distress. The 500,000 estimate includes people who cited only health-related income loss as a contributor to their bankruptcy. That is a problem that even universal health insurance would do little to address.
Sanders: ‘‘We have the highest child poverty rate of almost any country on Earth.’’
THE FACTS: This oft-repeated line by the Vermont senator is an exaggeration.
There are nearly 200 countries in the world, many with people mired in extreme poverty that most Americans would struggle to fathom. Poverty is also a relative measure in which someone who is poor in one nation might look rather prosperous in another.
But the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development updated its child poverty report in 2018. The United States had an above average level of child poverty, but it was not at the bottom of the 42 nations listed in the report. The United States still fared better than Russia, Chile, Spain, India, Turkey, Israel, Costa Rica, Brazil, South Africa and China.
Sanders: “I helped lead the opposition to NAFTA and PNTR, which cost this country over 4 million good paying jobs.”
THE FACTS: This is mostly true. While NAFTA often receives much of the blame from Democrats for the loss of American manufacturing jobs it is PNTR — Permanent Normal Trade Relations with China — that economists tend to point to as the cause of more job losses.
A 2014 report from the Economic Policy Institute estimated that 851,000 jobs were lost because of the trade deficit with Canada and Mexico. The same group found that the trade deficit in goods with China cost 3.4 million jobs from 2001 to 2017.
Still, most economists say that it is difficult to pinpoint blame on specific trade relationships for jobs losses, as trade creates winners and losers across the workforce and generally boosts economic growth.
Kamala Harris, on President Donald Trump: ‘‘The only reason he has not been indicted is because there was a memo in the Department of Justice that says a sitting president cannot be charged with a crime.’’
THE FACTS: We don’t know that it’s the only reason. Former special counsel Robert Mueller didn’t go that far in his report on Russian intervention in the 2016 election and obstruction of justice.
Harris, a California senator, is referring to a Justice Department legal opinion that says sitting presidents are immune from indictment. Mueller has said his investigators were restrained by that rule, but he also said that they never reached a determination as to whether the president committed a crime.
In Mueller’s congressional testimony in July, he said his team never started the process of evaluating whether to charge Trump.
Harris: “And so, I took on the position that allowed me, without asking permission, to create one of the first-in-the-nation initiatives that was a model and became a national model around people who were arrested for drugs and getting them jobs. I created one of the first-in-the-nation requirements that a state law enforcement agency would have to wear cameras and keep them on full time. I created one of the first-in-the-nation trainings for police officers on the issue of racial bias and the need to reform the system.”
THE FACTS: This is mostly true. As San Francisco’s district attorney, Harris created the “Back on Track” program in 2005 that gave some young, first-time drug offenders the chance to enroll in a pilot program involving job training, community service and counseling in lieu of jail. As California’s attorney general, Harris instituted an implicit bias training program in her office. Her record on the use of body-worn cameras is more mixed.
In 2015, Harris did put in place a policy requiring law enforcement officers working for her office to wear body cameras. But that same year, Harris opposed statewide regulations mandating local police to do the same and stated she did not believe in a “one-size-fits-all approach.”
Harris also omitted parts of her record that have generated criticism among criminal justice reform activists, for instance, for her lack of support over a police shooting bill.
Julian Castro: “I also worked for President Obama, Vice President Biden, and I know that the problem with your plan is that it leaves 10 million people uncovered.” Later he added, “The difference between what I support and what you support, Vice President Biden, is that you require them to opt in and I would not require them to opt in, they would automatically be enrolled.”
THE FACTS: This is mostly true.
Biden is not backing the “Medicare For All” plan being promoted by Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, which would replace all private insurance coverage with a government-run plan.
Biden wants to expand Obamacare by offering a public option. He says his plan would cover 97 percent of Americans — a figure that Castro appeared to seize on to justify his statement that the Biden plan would leave 10 million people uncovered. Among them would be unauthorized immigrants who would not qualify for the federal subsidies that could help make coverage affordable.
Most people would have to enroll themselves in the public option under Biden’s plan — leaving the possibility that some will fall through the cracks — but it would automatically enroll millions of low-income people in states that have rejected the option of expanding Medicaid under Obamacare.
Beto O’Rourke: ‘‘Everything that I've learned about resilience, I've learned from my hometown of El Paso, Texas, in the face of this act of terror, that was directed at our community, in large part by the president of the United States. It killed 22 people, and injured many more, we were not defeated by that. Nor were we defined by that.’’
THE FACTS: Nobody has claimed that Trump ‘‘directed’’ the shooting. Earlier in the debate, O'Rourke had said the shooter was ‘‘inspired to kill by our president.’’ It is hard to know for sure what led the gunman to open fire inside a Walmart in El Paso , Texas, killing 22 people. The suspect posted a manifesto online before the shooting that echoed Trump’s comments on immigration. Yet he said his own views ‘‘predate Trump and his campaign for president.’’
The screed spoke of what the suspect called a ‘‘Hispanic invasion of Texas,’’ railed against immigrants and warned of an imminent attack. Nearly all of the victims had Latino last names.
The suspect purchased the gun legally, according to El Paso’s police chief.
Material from the New York Times was used in this report. Associated Press writers Michael Balsamo, Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar, Mary Clare Jalonick, Calvin Woodward and Amanda Seitz contributed to this report.