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Fact-checking the New Hampshire Democratic debate

C. Eugene Emery Jr.
By C. Eugene Emery Jr. February 4, 2016
Jon Greenberg
By Jon Greenberg February 4, 2016
Louis Jacobson
By Louis Jacobson February 4, 2016

DURHAM, N.H. -- Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders traded jabs over the other’s political identity and sharp policy differences Thursday in their first head-to-head debate ahead of the Feb. 9 New Hampshire primary.

They squabbled over what is practical in Sanders’ presidential wish-list and what Clinton has said, or hasn’t said, about being a moderate or a progressive. Clinton again pointed out Sanders’ votes against the Brady bill for gun background checks (five times), and Sanders stressed Clinton’s vote in favor of the Iraq War in 2002 and campaign donations from Goldman Sachs.

They still ended the debate on good terms. "In our worst days, I think it is fair to say, we are 100 times better than any Republican candidate," Sanders said to close the debate.

That’s not for us to fact-check. But we did hear a number of statements by both candidates that needed clarification or were misleading.

False endorsement

Bernie Sanders: Says his campaign ad "never said ... a newspaper endorsed us that did not."


MSNBC moderator Rachel Maddow asked Sanders about the Nashua Telegraph complaining recently "that you falsely implied in an advertisement that they had endorsed you when they did not."

Sanders responded, "We did not suggest that we had the endorsement of a newspaper. Newspapers who make endorsements also say positive things about other candidates, and to the best of my knowledge, that is what we did. So we never said, never said that somebody, a newspaper endorsed us that did not. What we did say is blah blah blah blah was said by the newspaper."

In this case, the screenshot doesn’t lie.

The Sanders campaign says this ad never made it to television, but that doesn’t change the fact that their original campaign video left a misleading impression on on-screen text that the Valley News endorsed Sanders. The newspaper has not endorsed Sanders, and so that word was later taken out.

We rate Sanders’ claim in the debate False.

Iranian troops in Syria?

Hillary Clinton: Says Bernie Sanders advocated putting "Iranian troops into Syria to try and resolve the conflict there. Putting them right on the doorstep of Israel."  


Clinton targeted Sanders’ relative lack of national security experience.

"A group of national security experts issued a very concerning statement about Sen. Sanders views on foreign policy and national security, pointing out some of the comments he has made on these issues," Clinton said. "Such as inviting Iranian troops into Syria to try and resolve the conflict there. Putting them right on the doorstep of Israel."

Last month, the Clinton campaign posted a critique of Sanders on precisely this point. The campaign said Sanders "has put forth proposals that indicate a lack of engagement and fundamental misunderstandings about the challenges before us."

It cited Sanders’ own words. We found them on his Senate website and in the transcript of a November 2015 Democratic debate.

In September 2014, Sanders issued a news release. It rejected any thought of sending American ground troops into Syria to fight ISIS. That level of fighting in Syria, he said, should be left to the Muslim nations.

"The war against ISIS, a brutal and dangerous organization, cannot be won unless the Muslim nations which are most threatened -- Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Turkey, Iran and Jordan -- become fully engaged, including the use of ground troops," Sanders said. "The U.S. and the international community should be fully supportive, but the leadership in this war must come from the Muslim world."

During the Democratic debate in Des Moines, Iowa, Nov. 11, 2015, Sanders echoed that point.

"Here's something that I believe we have to do as we put together an international coalition, and that is we have to understand that the Muslim nations in the region -- Saudi Arabia, Iran, Turkey, Jordan -- all of these nations, they're going to have to get their hands dirty, their boots on the ground. They are going to have to take on ISIS."

Warren Gunnels, policy adviser for the Sanders campaign, told us Sanders was promoting the idea of a broad Muslim coalition.

"He has never advocated specifically for Iranian troops in Syria, but that there must be a coalition of nations with U.S. troops providing support," Gunnels said. "He certainly never advocated for Iranian troops on the Israeli border."

Clinton’s claim rates Mostly True.

‘All new income’

Bernie Sanders: Americans "are working longer hours for low wages . . . and yet almost all new income and wealth is going to the top 1 percent."


Sanders largely summed up the biggest theme of his campaign right from the outset of the debate. But his talking point needs a tune-up.

"Millions of Americans are giving up on the political process. And they're giving up on the political process because they understand the economy is rigged," Sanders said. "They are working longer hours for low wages. They are worried about the future of their kids. And yet almost all new income and wealth is going to the top 1 percent," he said. "(That's) not what America is supposed to be about."

The issues are whether Americans are working longer hours -- on average, they're not -- and whether "almost all" new income and wealth is going to the top 1 percent. A lot of it has, but not "almost all."

There's no handy-dandy, universally agreed-upon formula to calculate an exact amount, but the economist that Sanders has been relying on concluded in 2015 that the top 1 percent had accumulated 91 percent of the income gains made from 2009 to 2012. That would be "almost all."

But when the analysis was updated in 2015, the estimate dropped to 58 percent, a ratio Sanders has publicly acknowledged. That may be just over most of the new income, but it’s far from "almost all."

If Sanders were to argue that a disproportionate amount of income and wealth is going to the very richest Americans, he'd be right on the money. But he's over-exaggerating. This rates Half True.

TPP talkback

Hillary Clinton: "I waited until (the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement) had actually been negotiated" before deciding whether to endorse it.


Todd pointed out that Clinton supported the Trans Pacific Partnership trade deal while secretary of state even though she now opposes it. He then asked her whether she might support such agreements again if she were elected.

"I said that I was holding out the hope that (TPP) would be the kind of trade agreement that I was looking for," Clinton said. "I waited until it had actually been negotiated because I did want to give the benefit of the doubt to the (Obama) administration. Once I saw what the outcome was, I opposed it."

Did Clinton really withhold her support until the terms of the proposal had been finalized?

PolitiFact has looked at the issue before. We found Clinton made plenty of strongly supportive comments about the deal while negotiations were still ongoing. Speaking in Australia in 2012, Clinton hailed the deal as "setting the gold standard."

"This TPP sets the gold standard in trade agreements to open free, transparent, fair trade, the kind of environment that has the rule of law and a level playing field," Clinton said. "And when negotiated, this agreement will cover 40 percent of the world's total trade and build in strong protections for workers and the environment."

Strong words for a deal that hadn't been completed yet. But it wasn’t just on that one occasion that Clinton was more than just hopeful about the deal’s impact. She also used words such as  "exciting," "innovative," "ambitious," "groundbreaking," "cutting-edge," "high-quality" and "high-standard" in describing the partnership before she left the State Department in 2013.

It becomes disingenuous to argue, as she's doing now, that she didn't endorse the deal before it was finalized.

We rate her statement Half True.

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Fact-checking the New Hampshire Democratic debate