Here’s ABC News’ fact check of the first of two Democratic presidential debates in Detroit between Marianne Williamson, Rep. Tim Ryan, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Sen. Bernie Sanders, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, former Rep. Beto O’Rourke, former Gov. John Hickenlooper, former Rep. John Delaney and Gov. Steve Bullock.
FACT CHECK | Williamson: “The issue of gun safety is the NRA has us in a choke hold, but so do the pharmaceutical companies, so do the health insurance companies, so do the fossil fuel companies and so do the defense contractors and none of this will change until we either pass a constitutional amendment or pass legislation that establishes public funding for federal campaigns. But for politicians, including my fellow candidates who themselves have taken tens of thousands — and in some cases — hundreds of thousands of dollars from these same corporate donors to think that they now have the moral authority to say we’re going to take them on.”
Williamson may have been speaking generally about corporate donors, but when it comes to the specific industries she mentioned, some of the top-tier candidates have continued to accept contributions from industry executives and high-level officers. Despite a growing number of 2020 Democrats rejecting or returning money from the pharmaceutical and health insurance industries, a few — including Buttigieg and former Vice President Joe Biden have accepted the most amount of big and small donations from individuals in the pharmaceutical industry, each receiving more than $80,000 so far this year. Much of this was from small-dollar donations from lower-level employees of the companies but includes maxed out donations from executives of top pharma companies such as Eli Lilly, Merck & Co, and AmerisourceBergen.
Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., has also received several big donations from high-level officers of top pharmaceutical companies like Johnson & Johnson and Abbvie. Biden, Harris and Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., have also received donations from executives from top health insurance company Blue Cross and its subsidiaries.
Earlier this month, Booker and Sanders returned donations from pharma executives following ABC News’ reporting.
Despite a majority of the candidates pledging to reject fossil fuel money, several of the candidates have also accepted contributions from oil and gas industry executives. Buttigieg and Harris accepted several donations from executives and high-level employees of energy companies such as Atlas Energy, a subsidiary company under energy giant Chevron, CenterPoint Energy, EIG GlobalEnergy Partners. Biden, who had set a narrower definition of fossil fuel executive he would reject money from to only include those named under the Securities and Exchange Commission, has also received maxed out donations from a host of oil and gas executives, including a SEC-named executive.
Buttigieg and Biden have also accepted high-dollar donations from executives of top defense contractor Raytheon. Public funding, though capped, is available for qualifying presidential candidates for primary and general election campaigns. Candidates have increasingly rejected public financing because it limits the amount they can spend.
FACT CHECK | Delaney: “Sen. Warren just issued a trade plan that would prevent the United States from trading with its allies.”
Warren released a trade policy on Monday that would represent a dramatic shift from previous Democratic administrations and raises new forms of economic protectionism by placing strict requirements on other countries in order to be eligible to trade with the United States.
The plan spells out nine stringent demands for potential trade partners regarding human rights, religious freedom and labor and environmental practices; some of which the United States itself does not currently meet, such as eliminating fossil fuel subsidies. One “precondition” for trade agreements is that the country must not appear on the Department of Treasury monitoring list of countries that merit attention for their currency practices.
That list includes Germany, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Singapore, Vietnam and China.
FACT CHECK | Warren: “Call it out for what it is: domestic terrorism. We live in a country where the president is advancing environmental racism, criminal justice racism, economic racism, health care racism, the way we do better is to fight back and show something better.”
CNN host Don Lemon questioned Warren on how she would combat the rise of white supremacy as recent stats show a rise in attacks across the U.S. motivated by white supremacy.
Senior law enforcement officials have similarly been pressed in recent months over their response to a rise in terror cases inspired by white supremacy, and why perpetrators of such violence aren’t prosecuted as domestic terrorists.
While then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions initially described the August 2017 Charlottesville, Virginia, car attack that killed Heather Heyer as “the definition of domestic terrorism,” the attacker James Fields Jr. was instead prosecuted on 29 counts of violating federal hate crime law.
Though they may sound the same, “domestic terrorism” is not the same as “homegrown terrorism.”
“Domestic terrorists” are defined by the FBI as those moved to violence by such “domestic” influences as racism, abortion, and anti-government sentiment.” Meanwhile, “homegrown terrorists” are extremists inspired by international terrorist groups such as the Islamic State or al-Qaeda.
In a hearing before the House Homeland Security Committee last June, FBI Assistant Director for Counterterrorism Michael McGarrity testified that prosecutors have been forced to rely either on hate crime laws or state charges in order to disrupt potential domestic terror attacks, while indicating he would personally welcome Congress passing a law that makes domestic terrorism a federal crime.
“I will say as a former prosecutor and as a former investigator, I want every tool in the tool box,” McGarrity said.
Warren’s message is one that is likely to be welcomed by a broad base of current law enforcement — the FBI Agents Association also supports making domestic terrorism a chargeable offense — but they have stated it is in the hands of Congress, and not just the president, to make that happen.
-Alexander Mallin and Mike Levine
FACT CHECK | Sanders: “Let’s be clear what this debate is about. Nobody can defend the dysfunctionty of the current system. What we are taking on is the fact that over the last 20 years the drug companies and insurance companies have spent $4.5 billion of your health insurance money by lobbying and campaigning contributions.”
According to the Center for Responsive Politics analysis of lobbying and campaign contribution records, pharmaceutical and insurance companies have spent more than $7.6 billion on lobbying and campaign contributions since 1999, with more than $4.4 billion from pharmaceutical companies and $3.2 billion insurance companies. One caveat here is that the $3.2 billion from the insurance industry includes lobbying money from non-healthcare companies such as life insurance and property insurance companies. But top companies in the industry are health insurance companies including Blue Cross/Blue Shield, America’s Health Insurance Plans and Cigna Corp. Just those three companies spent nearly $514 million on lobbying in the last two decades.
Several of the 2020 Democrats have also accepted contributions from the executives and high-level officers from the pharmaceutical industry, including Buttigieg, former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., who has returned at least one of the donations but has kept some others, according to ABC News’ analysis of campaign finance data. Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., and Sanders earlier this month also returned donations from pharma executives following ABC News’ reporting.
FACT CHECK | Sanders: “87 million uninsured or under insured, 500,000 Americans every year going bankrupt because of medical bills. 30,000 people dying while the health care industry makes tens of billions of dollars in profit.”
Sanders rose to prominence during the 2016 campaign — bringing his health care agenda and plans for Medicare for all with him. On Tuesday, he said that 87 million people are uninsured or underinsured. A 2018 study by the health care group The Commonwealth Fund showed that, “Of the 194 million U.S. adults ages 19 to 64 in 2018, an estimated 87 million, or 45%, were inadequately insured.”
Sanders’ case for Medicare for all largely revolves around cost. Sanders said during the debate that 500,000 Americans are going bankrupt each year over medical bills. A 2019 report in the American Journal of Public Health estimated 530,000 families go bankrupt every year over medical-related costs. He also said that 30,000 people are “dying” because of the health care system in the United States. This is a statistic Sanders has raised in the past, however, according to a report by Kaiser Health News and PolitiFact, that number is nearly impossible to confirm.
FACT CHECK | Warren: “So the problem is that right now the criminalization statute is what gives Donald Trump the ability to take children away from their parents. It’s what gives him the ability to lock up people at our borders. We need to continue to have border security and we can do that, but what we can’t do is not live our values. I’ve been down to the border. I have seen the mothers. I have seen the cages of babies.”
U.S. border facilities have relied on chain-link fencing when housing migrants for processing, including in 2014 when the U.S. faced an influx of undocumented migrants during the Obama administration. In recent months, border crossings have reached unprecedented levels and immigration advocates and government investigators have sounded the alarms on massive overcrowding and unsanitary conditions.
On July 12, when Vice President Mike Pence toured facilities in Texas with news cameras, parents were seen cradling their children while others were lying on mats in a fenced-in pen that resembled a cage at the U.S.-Mexico border.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren was not there with Pence earlier this month. Her last visit to a border facility was in June 2018 in McAllen, Texas. At the time, she described cages where “children have little mats to lie on” on a concrete floor and “mamas are now held with the babies.” An Associated Press report from the same month described hundreds of children being held in cages at a warehouse in South Texas. Democratic lawmakers, including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, toured a facility in Clint, Texas, earlier this month where they described similar conditions.
In June, ABC News was allowed inside a facility outside El Paso, Texas, where reporters saw children held in concrete cells who appeared to be toddlers, mingling with older female children in a crowded cell. The children appeared to have been issued thin foam mattresses and thin cotton blankets. The CBP prohibited ABC News and other news organizations from filming inside or speaking with any of the children at that time because of what the agency said were legal and privacy concerns.
FACT CHECK | Klobuchar: “Everyone wants to get elected but my point is this, I think when we have a guy in the white house who has now told over 10,000 lies that we better be very straightforward with the American people, and no, do I think that we are going to end up voting for a plan that kicks half of America off of their current insurance in four years, no, I don’t think we’re going to do that.”
Klobuchar was asked who she was referring to in her opening remarks when she said that viewers would hear “a lot of promises” from the debate stage. She said that it’s important that the Democrats be “straightforward” given the current occupant of the White House.
Her claim that President Donald Trump has told more than 10,000 lies — while difficult to know for certain if this is true — is likely referring to the count by The Washington Post’s Fact Check Database, which continually looks at statements from the president to determine their truthfulness. By the Post’s count, President Donald Trump has made 10,796 false or misleading claims as of June 7th, 2019 — the last time their count was updated.
FACT CHECK | Delaney: “His math is wrong. That’s all I’m saying. His math is wrong. It’s been well documented if all the bills were paid at Medicare rate, then many hospitals in this country would close. I’ve been going around rural America and ask rural hospital administrators one question, if all your bills were paid at the Medicare rate last year, what would happen? They all look at me and say we would close.”
One recent study by the free-market oriented Mercatus Center found that health care providers operating under Medicare for all would be reimbursed at rates more than 40% lower than those currently paid by private health insurance. Another from the Department of Health and Human Services estimated that “more than two-thirds of hospitals are losing money on Medicare inpatient services.”
However, proponents of Medicare for all argue that hospitals could see more patients under the bill, which would raise revenue, and that they could change the way they charge patients by, for example, lowering drug prices and reducing administrative costs — lowering prices — without sacrificing care.
“Under Medicare for all, the hospitals will save substantial sums of money because they not going to be spending a fortune doing billing and the other bureaucratic things they have to do today,” Sanders said in response to Delaney during the debate.
But because establishing a single-payer system would change health care for just about everyone, experts say the exact results are hard to predict. According to a Congressional Budget Office report, “Medicare for All” would effect “individuals, providers, insurers, employers, and manufacturers of drugs and medical devices — because a single-payer system would differ from the current system in many ways, including sources and extent of coverage, provider payment rates, and methods of financing,” the CBO report says.
According to Larry Levitt of the health policy research Kaiser Family Foundation, “hospitals would be affected very differently depending on who they serve.”
“Hospitals with many uninsured patients could end up doing better with universal coverage under Medicare for All. Hospitals with many privately insured patients would likely do worse as prices fall. Overall hospitals would have to lower their costs in order to stay financially sound,” Levitt said.
-Cheyenne Haslett and Ben Siegel
FACT CHECK | Sanders: 87 million Americans “are uninsured or under-insured” and 500,000 Americans “are sleeping on the street, and yet companies like Amazon that made billions in profits did not pay one nickel in federal income tax.”
Both comments and his condemnation of corporations like Amazon have become a staple of Sanders’ stump speech. For the uninsured rate of Americans, the senator may be citing a Commonwealth Fund study which revealed that compared to 2010, when the Affordable Care Act became law, “fewer people today are uninsured, but more people are underinsured. Of the 194 million U.S. adults ages 19 to 61 in 2018, an estimated 87 million, or 45%, were inadequately insured.”
In regards to the rates of homeless people, he is likely citing a 2015 study from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development which reported that 500,000 people were homeless during the year 2015.
FACT CHECK | Hickenlooper: “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. Now I share their progressive values, but I’m a little more pragmatic.”
Hickenlooper was making an effort to raise questions about the policies pushed by the progressives at the center of the stage, but that’s not entirely accurate. At least four freshman House Democrats representing formerly Republican-held districts support Rep. Pramila Jayapal’s Medicare-for-all legislation as cosponsors: Reps. Katie Hill, Katie Porter, Mike Levin and Josh Harder, all from California.
FACT CHECK | Buttegieg: “Science tells us we have 12 years before we reach the horizon of catastrophe when it comes to our climate.”
A U.N. report released late last year found that rising temperatures could reach a “tipping point” where the effects, such as melting polar ice, can’t be reversed by 2030 if carbon dioxide emissions aren’t dramatically reduced. That deadline has been cited frequently as a reason for the country to take urgent and transformative action like the ambitious goals laid out in the Green New Deal.
But climate scientists like Michael Mann, a professor at Penn State University, have said benchmarks like that portray climate change as a cliff where Americans could start seeing impacts all of a sudden rather than a minefield where new consequences happen at various times. Climate models can’t give precise information about exactly what rising temperatures will trigger and when.
But the vast majority of climate experts agree that the consequences of rising temperatures will continue to get more severe if the U.S. and other countries don’t make drastic changes to reduce the use of fossil fuels and other sources of greenhouse gases. A recent climate report from the U.S. government found that many impacts of climate change are already affecting various parts of the country, including more severe rain events that contributed to recent flooding in the central U.S. and the East Coast, and heat waves that contribute to droughts in western states.