Fact checking claims from the Democratic debate

Top moments from the Democratic debate
Ten candidates took the stage in Atlanta for the fifth Democratic debate hosted Wednesday by MSNBC and The Washington Post. (The Boston Globe)

WASHINGTON — Ten Democrats seeking the presidency vied for advantage Wednesday night in a debate just over two months before the primary voting begins.

Here’s a look at how some of their claims from Atlanta stack up with the facts:

Senator Bernie Sanders: “What the scientists are telling us is if we don’t get our act together within the next eight or nine years, we’re talking about cities all over the world, major cities going underwater, we’re talking about increased drought, we’re talking about increased extreme weather disturbances.”

THE FACTS: To be clear, the world’s big cities aren’t going to go underwater for good in as soon as eight to nine years. The Vermont senator’s reference to eight to nine years seems to refer to standard warnings of the expected temperature increases kicking in by roughly 2030, and the progressively worse weather extremes that will keep following.


Former vice president Joe Biden: “The fact is the vast majority of Democrats do not support Medicare for All.”

THE FACTS: That statement is at odds with a Kaiser Family Foundation poll out this week. It found that 77 percent of Democrats support Medicare for All.

Even more — 88 percent — support a “public option” proposal such as the one Biden advocates. It would allow people to buy into a new government insurance plan modeled on Medicare, but it would not completely replace private insurance. Overall, 53 percent of Americans support Medicare for All, while 43 percent oppose it, according to the Kaiser poll.

It’s also true, though, that public support for Medicare for All declines when costs and other, similar details are introduced in the polling.

Senator Elizabeth Warren: “Today in America — a new study came out — 20 years out, (of) whites who borrowed money, 94 percent have paid off their student loan debt, 5 percent of African Americans have paid it off.”


THE FACTS: That’s not right. Warren appears to be citing a September report from Brandeis University’s Institute on Assets and Social Policy. The study found that, 20 years after starting college, 49 percent of white borrowers had paid off their loans entirely (not 94 percent of them) compared with 26 percent of black borrowers (not 5 percent).

The study also found that the typical white student had paid off 94 percent of his or her debt, while the typical black borrower had only paid off 5 percent. Warren cited those statistics, but in the wrong way.

She’s correct that there are disparities by race when it comes to paying back student loans. Other studies have similarly found that black borrowers are at greater risk of default than their white counterparts.

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

THE FACTS: 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 percent of adults said that they support continued funding for Planned Parenthood, not 90 percent.


In that same survey, 65 percent 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 percent of respondents in support of Roe, but that group included people who said they want to “keep Roe v. Wade but add more restrictions.”

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

THE FACTS: This is misleading. In early November, President 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 disperse those funds. Trump admitted that this was a campaign event, though 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.


Representative Tulsi Gabbard: “The most recent example of 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: “That is outlandish, even by the standards of today’s politics. ... I was talking about US-Mexico cooperation. We’ve been doing security cooperation with Mexico for years, with law enforcement cooperation and a military relationship that could continue to be developed with training relationships, for example. Do you seriously think anybody on this stage is proposing invading Mexico?”

Gabbard: “You were asked directly whether you would send our troops to Mexico to fight cartels and your answer was yes. The fact checkers can check this out.”

THE FACTS: Neither offered a fully accurate account in their exchange.

Gabbard did not accuse Buttigieg of being open to “invading” Mexico, as he suggested she did. But she did not explain the context of his remarks at a Latino-issues forum in Los Angeles on Sunday.

At the forum, he heavily conditioned the idea of sending troops to help Mexico fight the drug and gang war, saying he would only do so if Mexico wanted the assistance as part of a security partnership.

‘‘There is a scenario where we could have security cooperation as we do with countries around the world,” he said in Los Angeles. “I would only order American troops into conflict if there were no other choice, if American lives were on the line and if this were necessary in order for us to uphold our treaty obligations.


“But we could absolutely be in some kind of partnership role if and only if it is welcome by our partner south of the border.’’

Entrepreneur Andrew Yang: “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.”

THE FACTS: 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.

Material from the New York Times was used in this report. Associated Press writers Ellen Knickmeyer, Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar and Cal Woodward contributed to this report.