CBS aired the second Democratic presidential debate Saturday featuring three candidates: former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley.
Not every candidate uttered facts that are easily fact checked, but following is a list of 13 suspicious or interesting claims. As is our practice, we do not award Pinocchios when we do a roundup of facts in debates.
“What happened when we abided by the agreement that George W. Bush made with the Iraqis to leave by 2011, is that an Iraqi army was left that had been trained and that was prepared to defend Iraq. Unfortunately, Nouri al-Maliki, the prime minister, set about decimating it.”
In defending herself against a suggestion her Senate vote to authorize the invasion of Iraq led to the creation of the Islamic State, former Secretary of State Clinton suggested the the administration was following Bush’s wishes to leave Iraq at the end of 2011. This is a bit misleading.
The Bush administration signed a Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) with Iraq in 2008 that established a deadline for the withdrawal of all U.S. forces from Iraq by Dec. 31, 2011. But there was some expectation that the SOFA could be renewed after that, with at least a small U.S. force remaining. But there are unanswered questions about whether approval of SOFA, which would have allowed some U.S. troops to remain in Iraq, could have been reached with the Iraqi government—and how hard the Obama administration fought for it.
In the end, only the Kurdish parties, about 20 percent of the parliament at best, supported parliament-granted legal immunities for U.S. military personnel. But critics have said that the administration’s final offer to Iraq—of between 3,500 and 5,000 troops—was too small to make it worth it for Iraqi politicians to take the political risk of a parliamentary vote. So it becomes a chicken-or-egg question.
Moreover, who concluded that Maliki was the right man to lead Iraq at this critical moment? The Obama administration, when Clinton was Secretary of State.
“Climate change is directly related to the growth of terrorism.”
Sanders seems to have taken up this O’Malley talking point about the connection between climate change and the rise of the Islamic State. While the claim is based in a credible theory, Sanders goes too far drawing a direct link–especially when even the researchers acknowledge there are many factors involved.
The claim is based on a major March 2015 study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Researchers found the duration and severity of the extreme drought in Syria from 2007 to 2010 was due to human interference in the climate system. Agricultural policies enacted by the Syrian government increased production despite the region’s growing water scarcity and frequent droughts, the study says. This depleted Syria’s water resources, which made the region more vulnerable to drought.
This drought — the most severe in the greater Fertile Crescent area — preceded the Syrian uprising that began in 2011. As a result of the drought, Syrians in rural areas began migrating to peripheries of Syria’s cities, which already had overwhelming population growth. “The rapidly growing urban peripheries of Syria, marked by illegal settlements, overcrowding, poor infrastructure, unemployment, and crime, were neglected by the Assad government and became the heart of the developing unrest,” the study says.
But researchers also acknowledged that “civil unrest can never be said to have a simple or unique cause. The Syrian conflict, now civil war, is no exception.” The drought may be one of the factors, but it’s a stretch to say climate change is “directly related” to the growth of terrorism.
“When you talk about the long-term consequences of war, let’s talk about the men and women who came home from war. The 500,000 who came home with PTSD, and traumatic brain injury.”
This figure largely is on point, specifically for veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan wars. But the number can change depending on whether non-deployed members are included.
Interestingly, when FactCheck.org looked into this figure in July, Sanders’s campaign could not provide an accurate source. FactCheck.org found that among those who received care through the Department of Veterans Affairs, approximately 500,000 veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan were diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and traumatic brain injury (TB).
But a more recent Congressional Research Service report shows lower figures, based on data from the Defense Medical Surveillance System. The Aug. 7, 2015, analysis looked at diagnoses of PTSD and TBI among servicemembers who were deployed and not deployed in conflicts from 2000 through June 5, 2015 (including new military operations in Iraq and Syria against the Islamic State). The CRS analysis of annual new PTSD diagnoses in all services from 2000 through June 5, 2015, showed 138,197 PTSD cases among those who were deployed to Operation Iraqi Freedom, Operation Enduring Freedom, Operation New Dawn, Operation Inherent Resolve and Operation Freedom’s Sentinel.
There were 327,299 TBI cases from those conflicts. So combining the two figures add up to approximately 500,000. But the TBI cases include deployed and non-deployed servicemembers. The data come from the Department of Defense Office of Responsibility for tracking TBI data in the military. Over 80 percent of TBIs are diagnosed in a non-deployment setting, according to the DoD Web site.
“We have an authorization to use military force against terrorists….I want to be sure what’s called the AUMF, has the authority that is needed going forward.”
What’s AUMF? That’s the Authorization for Use of Military Force, passed by Congress three days after the Sept. 11 attacks. Specifically, it says:
“The President is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons.”
Given the passage of time—and the fact that Islamic State had nothing to do with Sept. 11—many might argue that it’s a stretch to piggyback AUMF into the fight against the Islamic State. Indeed, the al-Qeada terrorist group has separated itself from the Islamic State. But in making this case, Clinton is adopting the arguments put forth by the Obama administration.
“We are spending hundreds of billions of dollars maintaining 5,000 nuclear weapons.”
Sanders must think in decade-long terms. The Congressional Budget Office in 2015 estimated that over the 2015–2024 period, the Obama administration’s plans for nuclear forces would cost $348 billion, an average of about $35 billion a year. Much of this estimate stems from the cost of maintaining delivery systems, not the weapons themselves.
As for the number of weapons, the United States has about 7,100—compared to 7,700 for Russia, according to the Arms Control Association.
“The truth of the matter is, net immigration from Mexico last year was zero. Fact-check me. Go ahead. Check it out.”
He insisted, so of course we looked it up. O’Malley must have done his research before challenging us to fact-check him.
The Pew Hispanic Center’s 2012 report on Mexican immigration found a sharp downward trend in net migration from Mexico, since the peak of nearly 7 million in 2007. This study was a comprehensive look at the trend in migrant populations.
Most recent figures from 2014 are less reliable, but they suggest the trend continued through 2014, according to PolitiFact, which awarded Mostly True to former President Bill Clinton’s version of this claim. While the final Census figures are not yet available, researchers that PolitiFact interviewed found a consistent decline through 2-14 for Mexicans living in the United States. This is based on an analysis of raw monthly counts from the Census, which is a preliminary look at the data.
CLINTON: “But I do take what Alan Krueger said seriously. He is the foremost expert in our country on the minimum wage, and what its effects are…”
O’MALLEY: “I think we need to stop taking our advice from economists on Wall Street…”
CLINTON: “He’s not Wall Street.”
—exchange during the debate
Clinton, who cited Krueger to warn against hiking the minimum wage as high as $15, is absolutely right—and it is a bit amazing that O’Malley seems to not know who Alan Kreuger is, even though the Princeton University professor has written reports on the minimum wage that have been highly influential among Democrats. Kreuger’s research was considered groundbreaking because he documented that —contrary to standard economic dogma—that an increase in the minimum wage may not necessarily lead to job losses. (This assertion is still sharply disputed by conservative economists.) His biography shows he has no connection to Wall Street—just years in academia.
“May I point out that under Ronald Reagan’s first term, the highest marginal [tax] rate was 70 percent.”
This is a strange point for O’Malley to make, given that Reagan came into office decrying the high tax rates in place when he became president. Reagan quickly pushed through legislation cutting the rate to 50 percent—and further reduced it to a top rate of 28 percent in his second term.
“Let me hear if there’s any difference between the Secretary and myself. I have voted time and again … for the background check, and I want to see it improved and expanded. I want to see us do away with the gun show loophole. In 1988, I lost an election because I said we should not have assault weapons on the streets of America.”
Sanders did vote for the background check “time and again.” But it’s important to note that his early votes for instant background checks actually would have killed the Brady bill, which established a background check system and wait periods for people buying handguns from licensed dealers.
In opposition to the waiting period mandate in the Brady bill, which Congress passed in 1993, the National Rifle Association instead offered an amendment to require instant criminal background checks. This amendment required gun dealers to call a national telephone hotline at the FBI to check if the buyers had criminal records.
But such a technology for an instant check didn’t exist at the time. Criminal court and prison records were incomplete and not computerized in about half the states, the Miami Herald reported in 1991. So that meant the information could not be incorporated into the FBI’s criminal identification system to be checked with a phone call, as the amendment required. So gun control advocates argued the instant background check amendment would render the Brady bill’s provisions moot.
However, Sanders did vote to expand background checks in the aftermath of the Newtown, Conn., shootings. The background check provision in the post-Newtown legislation was to require a check through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System for all firearm sales and to prohibit straw purchase firearms.
Sanders did lose the 1988 election for Vermont’s House seat. The NRA supported his opponent, Peter Smith, who had promised to oppose new forms of gun control. The NRA’s support for Smith was, indeed, a major reason why he won the election over Sanders.
What Sanders doesn’t say is that the NRA actually supported Sanders against Smith in the 1990 House election. Smith had changed his position on the assault weapons ban, and drew the ire of the NRA. Sanders won that election.
“According to the statistics that I’m familiar with, a black male baby born today stands a one in four chance of ending up in the criminal justice system.”
Kudos to Sanders for changing a talking point in response to a fact check. He used to say one in three, but we pointed out that the data was stale and it now was likely closer to a one in four chance. It’s always gratifying to see a politician willing to adjust his or her rhetoric because of new information.
“Not only do I have hundreds of thousands of donors, most of them small. And I’m very proud that for the first time a majority of my donors are women, 60 percent.”
Clinton is correct that a majority of her donors are women. Her campaign reported in July that 60 percent of all donors were women, and an outside analysis of the donors who gave more than $200 (who are identified by name) said it was 52 percent.
But it’s worth noting that just 17 percent of her donors meet the definition of small—those contributing under $200. More than 80 percent of her donations come from big donors, compared to just 22 percent for Sanders, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
“$10.10 was all I could get the state to do by the time I left in my last year.”
O’Malley did increase Maryland’s minimum wage to $10.10, but that change will be effective not until 2018.
The state’s current minimum wage is $8.25. Under the new Maryland law, the change will take place over three years; the minimum wage will increase to $8.75 in 2016, $9.25 in 2017 and then $10.10. in 2018. O’Malley made increasing the minimum wage a top priority in his final legislative session as governor.
“The blueprint in Maryland that we followed was, yes, we did in fact raise the sales tax by a penny and we made our public schools the best public schools in America for five years in a row with that investment.”
Maryland public schools do rank quite high, but new methodology has dropped the state from No. 1 to third place.
But when Education Week changed its methodology in 2015, Maryland fell to third place for the 2014-15 school year. The Baltimore Sun reported that if that methodology had been applied previously, Maryland would have ranked third in 2012, 2013 and 2014. The campaign told the Baltimore Sun that reduction in ranking does not mean the quality of schools has dropped, as Education Week researchers have said.
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