Fact-checking the New York Democratic debate

Moments from the April 14, 2016, debate between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders.

Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders battled in Brooklyn in the ninth Democratic primary debate, leaving no feelings spared and no attacks unused.

The candidates shirked their usual congeniality and tussled over their approaches to foreign policy, Wall Street regulation, raising the minimum wage and gun control during their last debate before the state’s April 19 primary election.

Right off the bat, the two continued their ongoing brawl over who’s qualified to be president, with Sanders doubling down that Clinton lacks the judgment necessary to hold the office and Clinton knocking Sanders for his lack of judgment.

The attacks got more heated from there.

Bernie + NRA = BFFs?

Reeling from Sanders’ charge that she’s tied to Wall Street, Clinton attacked Sanders for his own connections to the gun lobby, saying, "He’s been largely a very reliable supporter of the NRA."

That’s Mostly False.

mostlyfalse_TOM.jpeg

The claim contains an element of truth: The NRA did indirectly help elect Sanders to the House of Representatives in 1990, and Sanders has voted against gun control legislation during the past 25 years.

However, the statement misses the whole picture. Sanders has also voted for gun control legislation and has a mixed record on firearms. The NRA doesn’t tout Sanders as a reliable supporter to its members, giving him several failing marks since 1992. (His highest grade was a C- in 2006. He does not have a score for 2016.).

The NRA doesn’t consider Sanders an "anti-gunner," and gun control advocates say he’s no "gun lobby lap dog."

Bernie’s bank account

Pressed to explain why he hasn’t been transparent about his tax returns, Sanders told Blitzer he plans to release his 2014 figures "tomorrow," April 15 (not tax day this year!), with more to follow.

"Yeah, look, I don't want to get anybody very excited. They are very boring tax returns," Sanders said. "No big money from speeches, no major investments. Unfortunately -- unfortunately, I remain one of the poorer members of the United States Senate. And that's what that will show."

We didn’t get an early, hot-off-the-fax-machine copy of his returns, but we were able to find an analysis of his wealth compared to Senate colleagues.

His claim about being "one of the poorer members" rates Mostly True.

mostlytrue_TOM.jpeg

His net worth was estimated in 2014 around $160,000, which puts him in the bottom one-fifth of 100 senators.

Two things to keep in mind: One, the financial disclosure forms are too imprecise to pin each senator’s worth with certainty.

Also, the word "poor" doesn’t exactly come to mind when anyone’s take-home pay exceeds six figures. But in the Senate, where members’ median income was about $1.1 million, Sanders is not in the elite earners’ club.

Toy gun control legislation?

Looking to hit Sanders from the left, Clinton went after his vote on a 2005 law that puts restrictions on people’s ability to sue the gun industry for crimes committed using their products.

Sanders voted for it, while Clinton voted against it. The law passed and, as a result, "we have tougher standards holding toy gun manufacturers and sellers to account than we do for real guns," Clinton said.

This claim needs a lot more explanation, and experts questioned whether the comparison is valid. So we rated the statement Half True.

halftrue_TOM.jpeg

Clinton points to a 2005 law granting the gun industry certain immunity from lawsuits. In her camp are scholars who believe the law made the gun industry less susceptible to liability than other industries, including the toy gun industry. But other scholars think the law made the gun industry’s liability about the same as that of a toy gun manufacturer. And because real guns carry so much more risk for injury than toy guns, it’s hard to compare them effectively.  

Social Security scare tactic

During the brawl, Clinton reminded Sanders and debate watchers that there’s another side out there.

The Republicans, Clinton said, "still want to privatize (Social Security). In fact, their whole idea is to turn over the Social Security trust fund to Wall Street."

This is a favorite Democratic talking point (and sometimes used by fellow Republicans), and it’s exaggerated. Clinton’s statement rates Mostly False.

mostlyfalse_TOM.jpeg

Some Republicans have long pushed for adding "personal accounts" to Social Security, where workers invest a portion of their money for retirement. Two major efforts — one in 2005 by President George W. Bush and one in 2012 by Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan — failed.

Critics call the idea "privatization."

On the GOP candidate side, at least one candidate, Ted Cruz, has proposed a form of privatization. However, Cruz wouldn’t simply hand over money to Wall Street but rather let individuals choose how to invest it.

$15 or $12 minimum wage

Building up to one of their more heated exchanges, Clinton declared her support for the Fight for $15 advocacy campaign — a new position that surely surprised a lot of people, Sanders said.

Here, the two began talking over each other and Blitzer chastised them for "screaming at each other."

"When this campaign began," Sanders continued. "I said that we’ve got to end the starvation minimum wage of $7.25, raise it to $15. Secretary Clinton said let's raise it to $12."

We rated Sanders’ claim Mostly True.

mostlytrue_TOM.jpeg

Sanders has advocated for a $15 minimum wage since his announcement speech in May 2015. Before his campaign began, he also put forward an amendment to eventually raise the minimum wage to that level.

As for Clinton, he’s right that her official position is to raise the national minimum wage to $12 as a floor, which appears to have emerged around July 2015 when she praised legislation proposed by Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash. However, Clinton has also shown support for the Fight for $15 campaign in individual states and cities through tweets and to Fight for $15 members.

No abortion questions

Clinton said she would only appoint a Supreme Court justice who believed that Roe vs. Wade is settled law.

"And I want to say something about this since we're talking about the Supreme Court and what's at stake. We've had eight debates before, this is our ninth," Clinton said. "We've not had one question about a woman's right to make her own decisions about reproductive health care, not one question."

The line got a big applause from the audience. And it rates True.

true_TOM.jpeg

We found no questions directly about abortion in nine debate transcripts, although at times the candidates brought up the topic themselves.