In the second night of the second Democratic debate, the candidates often made complex claims and counterclaims about each other’s records, some of which are not easily fact-checked. (Stay tuned for future fact checks.) Here is a selection of 13 of the more policy-oriented claims that caught our attention. As is our practice, we do not award Pinocchios in debate roundups.
“The [Harris] plan … it will require middle class taxes to go up, not down.”
— Former vice president Joe Biden
Biden’s claim that middle-class taxes would go up under Sen. Kamala D. Harris’s (Calif.) plan is better aimed at the Bernie Sanders version. Harris tried to inoculate against this type of attack by making a significant change earlier this week.
Sen. Sanders (I-Vt.) would propose a 4 percent income-based premium paid by households. Sanders estimated that this would raise $3.5 trillion over 10 years, but the “typical middle-class family” would save more than $4,400 a year. But it would kick in on income of more than $29,000 for a family of four.
(We should note that these numbers are based on pre-2017 tax rates. President Trump signed into law a tax plan that raised the standard deduction but eliminated personal exemptions, so the premium probably would kick in sooner than $29,000 under the new tax system.)
Harris claims this proposal “hits the middle class too hard.” Instead, she would keep the first $100,000 in income from taxation and instead levy a new tax on stock, bond and derivative transactions. A stock trade worth $1,000 would be subject to a $2 tax, for instance. She claims that “these proposals would raise well over $2 trillion over 10 years, more than enough to make up the difference from raising the middle-class income threshold.”
Indeed, if enacted, Harris’s $100,000 level would protect most American households from additional tax. The Census Bureau says about 30 percent of U.S. households had income above $100,000 in 2017, but adjusted gross income for tax filing purposes could mean all but 20 percent of tax filers would be subject to the premium tax.
“I was asked by the president in the first meeting we had on Iraq; he turned and said, ‘Joe, get our combat troops out,’ in front of the entire national security team. One of the proudest moments of my life was to stand there in [Iraq] . . . and tell everyone that we’re — that all our combat troops are coming home. I opposed the surge in Afghanistan.”
In his first term, President Barack Obama gave Biden oversight of the U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraq. Biden chaired a committee that made sensitive decisions about the pace and scope of the withdrawal of nearly 150,000 troops.
But before withdrawing forces in 2011, Obama’s administration tried to persuade Iraqi political leaders to allow a residual force of about 3,500 U.S. troops to remain. Some high-level officials in the Obama administration argued that a total withdrawal would open up a power vacuum in Iraq and erase the gains secured by U.S. forces and international allies. One of them was Defense Secretary Leon Panetta. Biden argued to keep a residual force in Iraq, rather than pull all troops, according to the U.S. ambassador to the country at the time.
We gave the former vice president Two Pinocchios for a similar claim last week.
By 2014, with no U.S. forces in the picture, the Islamic State terrorist group began to take control of parts of Iraq. Obama, by 2016, had sent 5,000 U.S. troops back into the country to reverse the Islamic State tide. Biden was still the vice president, but he does not mention this inconvenient history in debates or public remarks.
At tonight’s debate, he added that he “opposed the surge in Afghanistan.” Obama increased troop levels from nearly 30,000 to more than 100,000 before ordering the withdrawal in 2011.
“We need to be honest about what’s in this plan. It bans employer-based insurance and costs $30 trillion over the next 10 years.”
— Sen. Michael F. Bennet (Colo.)
“The plan, no matter how you cut it, costs $3 trillion [per year].”
A variety of estimates for Medicare-for-all have concluded that it would increase federal expenditures by more than $30 trillion over 10 years. A 2016 estimate by the Urban Institute of an earlier version of Sen. Bernie Sanders’s Medicare-for-all plan said it would cause federal expenditures to increase by $32 trillion.
The Mercatus Center at George Mason University in 2018 released a working paper on the 10-year fiscal impact of the Medicare-for-all plan, and concluded it would raise government expenditures by $32.6 trillion even if proposed provider cuts were enacted. Without squeezing hospitals and other providers as planned, the report estimated the additional federal budget cost at nearly $40 trillion over 10 years. (The 10-year budget windows for the two estimates are slightly different.)
Sanders (I-Vt.) has proposed a variety of ways to help pay for the plan, but many analysts say revenue would still fall short.
“I went to a place in Florida called Homestead, and there is a private detention facility being paid for by your taxpayer dollars — a private detention facility — that currently houses 2,700 children.”
Harris is speaking about the capacity of the facility. But the number of children is far lower. As of July 22, there were 990 unaccompanied children at Homestead, according to the Department of Health and Human Services. HHS said the average length of stay for unaccompanied children currently at Homestead is 36 days. (Update: HHS says the number was about 650 children as of July 29, and that the agency stopping placing children there as of July 3.)
“He [Biden] voted against it. He wrote an op-ed ... he believed that women working outside the home would, quote, ‘create the deterioration of family.’ He also said that women who were working outside the home were, quote, ‘avoiding responsibility.’”
— Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.)
Gillibrand attacked Biden as being anti-woman because he voted against expanding child-care tax credits in 1981 as a senator. Biden wrote an op-ed in 1981 explaining his opposition. It was headlined, “Congress is subsidizing deterioration of family."
But Gillibrand's attack only works by twisting Biden's words. Her campaign staff posted the op-ed on Twitter during the debate; it shows Gillibrand's accusation to be grossly misleading. Biden was opposed to extending child-care tax credits to wealthy families. The op-ed at no point suggested that women should stay home.
In fact, Biden wrote, “I consider it legitimate and necessary for the government to encourage single parents on limited incomes to get off of welfare and into the job market, or to help families of modest means to adequately provide the material necessities of child-rearing.” Biden added: “But what I do not accept as legitimate is social policy that encourages a couple making $30,000, $40,000, $50,000 or more a year to evade full responsibility for their children by granting them a tax credit for day-care expenses.” (In today’s dollars, $30,000 would be nearly $84,000.)
At another point in 1981, Biden said: “I think it is a sad commentary on this society when we say, as a matter of social policy, that we should make it easier for people who have neither the financial necessity nor the personal need to forget their responsibility to take care of a child all day from the time the child is an infant until the time he or she gets in school. I do not care whether in a modern marriage you want the man or the woman to take that responsibility. That has to be resolved by each couple individually.” (He also has voted for other kinds of child-care tax credits, though not for the wealthy.)
“[The Eric Garner family] are going to get justice. There’s finally going to be justice. I have confidence in that — in the next 30 days, in New York. You know why? Because for the first time, we are not waiting on the federal Justice Department, which told the city of New York that we could not proceed because the Justice Department was pursuing their prosecution, and years went by, and a lot of pain accrued.”
— New York Mayor Bill de Blasio
De Blasio has been criticized for inaction on the Eric Garner case, and this defense he gave at the debate was false.
New York City police officer Daniel Pantaleo was accused of killing Garner, an African American man, in 2014, after encountering him selling loose cigarettes. Pantaleo used a chokehold prohibited by the police department.
Five years later, Pantaleo remains a New York police officer. The state of New York did not charge him. The Department of Justice investigated the case and declined to bring charges.
De Blasio said he held off on taking action on the case because the Justice Department “told the city of New York that we could not proceed.” That’s false. The Justice Department requested that the city hold off but did not block de Blasio from taking action, as New York City journalists were quick to point out.
“An unlawful crossing is an unlawful crossing if you do it [through] the civil courts or if you do it through the criminal courts. But it’s the criminal courts is what is giving Donald Trump the ability to truly violate the human rights of the people coming to our country, who — no one surrenders their human rights. And so, doing it through the civil courts means you won’t need these awful detention facilities.”
— Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.)
Booker, who supports decriminalizing the act of crossing the border, claimed that migrant detention facilities would not be needed if unauthorized entry to the United States was treated as a civil violation. He did not elaborate, and his website says only that he would be “ending private detention facilities,” without giving details.
Booker mischaracterized how the immigration system works. Those who are apprehended for the crime of crossing the border without authorization are held at jails, not migrant detention facilities. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement contracts with many local jails to hold border-crossers while their cases are pending. The Essex County jail in Newark, for example, where Booker was mayor before being a senator, provides significant jail space to ICE under contract.
The migrants who are placed in detention facilities are all facing civil cases, whether they are in facilities run by U.S. Customs and Border Protection or migrant detention centers overseen by the Office of Refugee Resettlement in the Department of Health and Human Services.
“The bill he talks about is a bill that in my — our administration, we passed. We passed that bill that you added onto. That’s the bill, in fact, you passed.”
— Biden to Booker
Biden appeared to claim that the First Step Act, signed into law by Donald Trump in 2018, was merely an add-on to a bill passed during the Obama administration. The First Step Act was a bipartisan project, led by senators such as Booker, which overhauled federal mandatory minimum sentencing laws as well as some aspects of the federal prison system. It was intended to address problems identified in the 1994 crime bill signed by President Bill Clinton and long championed by then-Sen. Biden as the “Biden Crime bill.”
Booker looked at Biden with disbelief, and it’s easy to see why. A Biden aide said the former vice president was referring to a 2010 law passed under President Barack Obama that addressed the “100-1” rule, so named because it required a five-year mandatory minimum sentence for trafficking in 500 grams of powder cocaine or five grams of crack. The 2010 law narrowed it to 18-1, and the First Step Act made it retroactive.
But the First Step Act was a much broader piece of legislation — far more than an add-on to the 2010 law.
“We’re looking at someone who passed a tax bill benefiting the top 1 percent and the biggest corporations in this country when he said he would help working families.”
Democrats regularly claim that 83 percent of the Trump tax cuts went to the rich, but that’s based on the impact in 2027 because of the quirk in the tax law. Harris avoided such specifics, but she still left the impression that few people other than the top 1 percent of big business benefited from the law. At the moment, that’s not correct.
The $1.5 trillion tax cut was estimated by the Joint Tax Committee to provide $654 billion in business tax cuts and $1.1 trillion to individuals over 10 years.
In 2018, most U.S. taxpayers can expect some kind of tax cut, according to just about every analysis. The nonpartisan Tax Policy Center found that initially more than 80 percent of taxpayers would get a tax cut, with less than 5 percent getting a tax increase.
Since the wealthy pay most of the income taxes, they end up with most of the tax cuts. The TPC report shows that in 2018, the top 1 percent would get 20.5 percent of the tax cuts; the top quintile would get 65.3 percent. In other words, that’s not nearly as lopsided as Harris suggested.
But that changes by 2027. The TPC study shows 82.8 percent of the tax cuts will flow to the top 1 percent. The top quintile actually receives 107.3 percent of the tax changes — because taxes actually increase for the folks in the lowest, second-lowest and middle quintiles.
What happened? The individual tax cuts expire over the course of the decade. Republicans structured the tax cut this way to keep the whole package — especially the corporate tax cut — in a budget box that allowed only for a $1.5 trillion increase in the federal deficit over 10 years.
“We are on our way in just a handful of years of literally spending 20 percent of our economy — one out of every five dollars spent — on health care. And we spend more than every other nation.”
Booker is correct. As a share of the nation’s gross domestic product, health spending accounted for 17.9 percent in 2017, according to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. CMS Office of the Actuary projects it will be 19.4 percent in 2027, though that is slightly lower than the 19.7 percent projected a year earlier.
The United States, on a per capita basis, spends much more on health care than other developed countries do, according to a study from a team led by a Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health researcher. Per capita health-care spending for the United States in 2016 was $9,892, 25 percent higher than second-place Switzerland’s $7,919.
“The problem is that so many people feel like the economy has left them behind. What we have to do is we have to say, ‘look, there’s record high GDP and stock market prices, you know what else there are record highs? Suicides, drug overdoses, depression, anxiety.’ It’s gotten so bad that American life expectancy has declined for the last three years.”
— Businessman Andrew Yang
Life expectancy for Americans has steadily declined over two of the last three years, from 78.9 years in 2014 to 78.6 years in 2017, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (Data for 2018 are not publicly available) That’s the first decline over a three-year stretch in a century.
Suicides and fatal drug overdoses have contributed to the decline of life expectancy, as Yang claims, but CDC also cites chronic liver disease as a contributing factor.
“I was part of the Gang of Eight that wrote — I wrote the immigration bill in 2013 with John McCain — that passed the Senate with 68 votes. That gave a pathway to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented people that are here. That passed the most progressive Dream Act that had ever been conceived, much less passed on the floor of the Senate and had $46 billion of border security.”
In 2013, Bennett was a member of the “Gang of Eight” in the Senate that crafted a comprehensive immigration reform bill. The package included provisions giving a path to citizenship to “dreamers,” a term for undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children.
The 2013 bill passed the Senate but died in the House. The Dream Act provisions would have required dreamers to have a “high-school diploma or GED, have completed at least two years of college or four years of military service, and have passed an English test and background checks, among other requirements,” according to the American Immigration Council.
At the first debate, Bennet called the 2013 bill the most progressive “that’s ever been conceived, much less passed.” But this time, he added a qualifier: “passed on the floor of the Senate.”
That adjustment makes his claim accurate, because the Democratic-controlled House passed the Dream and Promise Act earlier this year. According to the Migration Policy Institute, it “is an expansive proposal, going beyond Dream Act bills that have been pending in Congress in one form or another since 2001.”
It would expand the legal definition of a dreamer to “unauthorized immigrants, regardless of age, who entered the United States before age 18 and at least four years before enactment of the legislation, and who have a high school diploma or GED, or are enrolled in a high school, GED program, or an apprenticeship program,” according to MPI.
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