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Fact-checking the first night of the Democratic convention in Philadelphia
Florida delegates cheer during the first day of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia. (AP) Florida delegates cheer during the first day of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia. (AP)

Florida delegates cheer during the first day of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia. (AP)

Allison Graves
By Allison Graves July 25, 2016
By Neelesh Moorthy July 25, 2016

The Democratic National Convention kicked off Monday in Philadelphia, Pa., with boos and shouts from Bernie Sanders supporters disappointed in Hillary Clinton as the presumptive party nominee.

Saying "no one else is more disappointed than myself" in his second-place finish, Sanders used his primetime DNC address to emphasize unity behind the Democratic ticket and Clinton.

"By these measures, any objective observer will conclude – that based on her ideas and her leadership – Hillary Clinton must become the next president of the United States," Sanders said.

The convention opened after a contentious weekend following the release of nearly 20,000 emails showing party officials appearing to favor Clinton over Sanders, leading chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz to announce she would resign after the convention.

Republican nominee Donald Trump got into the action from afar, tweeting that Sanders would have won the nomination had it not been for superdelegates (a False claim).

The night also heard speeches from Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and First Lady Michelle Obama.

We took a look at what was said, and how it fared on the Truth-O-Meter.

Trump and the minimum wage

Sanders attacked Trump’s position on the minimum wage, saying he would allow states to establish a minimum wage lower than $7.25.

"While Donald Trump believes in huge tax breaks — huuuuge tax breaks  — for billionaires, he believes that states should actually have the right to lower the minimum wage below $7 and a quarter," Sanders said.

Trump has been inconsistent with his position on the minimum wage, but we tracked down where Sanders likely got his information. In a May 2016 interview, Trump said states should make the wage decision and that the federal government should not set a wage floor. But he also expressed sympathy for people struggling to live on $7.25.

On other occasions, he has said a lower minimum wage could be a good thing.

Trump’s policy position is ambiguous, but he has never directly contradicted Sanders’ statement or set a lower limit for states’ minimum wages. We rate the claim Mostly True.

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Rich get richer

Sanders stuck to a talking point about income inequality that he’s said time and time again.

"It is not moral, it is not acceptable, and it is not sustainable that the top one-tenth of 1 percent now owns almost as much wealth as the bottom 90 percent," he said.

A 2014 wealth inequality study produced by the nonpartisan National Bureau of Economic Research found the top 0.1 percent and the bottom 90 percent of U.S. households own virtually the same share of all the nation's wealth.

But economists have noted some issues with the study, saying it leaves out Social Security and doesn’t account for specific features of the tax code.

For these reasons we again rated Sanders’ claim Mostly True.  

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Was Trump ‘excited’ for the housing crisis?

Warren attacked Trump for being an enemy of the middle class, saying he welcomed the 2008 housing crisis because it would make him a richer man.

"Look at his history," Warren said. "Donald Trump said he was excited for the 2008 housing crash that devastated millions of American families, because he thought it would help him scoop up more real estate on the cheap."

Warren’s statement suggests Trump could have been "excited" either during or after the crash, but there’s no evidence of the latter. He did talk about it beforehand, saying in a 2006 interview for an audiobook that he sort of hoped for the real estate bubble to burst "because then people like me would go in and buy." Trump also expressed doubt that the bubble would burst, which turned out to be very wrong.

A year later, Trump told the Toronto Globe and Mail that he was ready to invest in real estate because the market was starting to head down. "People have been talking about the end of the cycle for 12 years, and I'm excited if it is," he told the paper. "I've always made more money in bad markets than in good markets."

Because Warren doesn’t specify the time period in her claim, we rate it Half True.

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Did slaves build the White House?

In one of the most striking lines of the night, Michelle Obama reflected on what it was like to live in the White House given its slavery-era roots.

"I wake up every morning in a house that was built by slaves, and I watch my daughters, two beautiful intelligent black young women, playing with their dogs on the White House lawn," she said.

Nancy Pelosi made a similar and True statement about the Capitol. Obama’s statement about the White House is also accurate.

The White House Historical Association — a private preservation and educational group for the presidential residence complex — found that construction of the White House began in 1792 and initially planned to use workers from Europe, but that recruitment effort wasn’t enough.

"Response to recruitment was dismal and soon they turned to African American(s) — enslaved and free — to provide the bulk of labor that built the White House, the United States Capitol, and other early government buildings," says on the web page by the White House Historical Association.

Strictly speaking, the White House was built by a combination of slaves and freed people, but Obama is still right, so we rated this True.

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Made in America?

A Funny-Or-Die video at the convention, starring actor Ken Jeong and former White House economist Austan Goolsbee, ran through a list of Trump-brand items made overseas.

We went through them one by one to see if the video made any missteps. Searching the web, we were able to find several examples of items made overseas — including Trump shirts made in Bangladesh, ties and cufflinks from China, and vodka from the Netherlands.

To put that in context, however, 97 percent of all clothes sold in the United States are made overseas, according to the American Apparel and Footwear Association.

However, not all Trump merchandise is foreign-sourced. We found Trump suits made in the United States, and were unable to find suits from Mexico, as the video claimed — although other Trump clothing items have been made there.

Other merchandise, like bedding, cologne and wine, were made domestically as well.

We rated the Funny or Die video’s claims Mostly True

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Paid family leave

New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand said America’s family leave policies are stuck in the past.

"Our policies are stuck in the Mad Men era," she said. "We are the only industrialized nation that does not guarantee workers paid family leave. Many women can't even get a paid day off to give birth."

This idea has been a common talking point for Democratic President Barack Obama and Sanders, and it is largely accurate. In the United States, under the Family and Medical Leave Act, employers with more than 50 employees must allow parents 12-week leave, which is typically unpaid.

In contrast, mothers from 34 Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development countries and seven European Union countries average 17 weeks of paid maternity leave.

On paid family leave, the United States is an outlier among industrialized nations.

One report from the International Labor Organization found that out of 170 nations, only the U.S. and  New Guinea don’t provide cash benefits of any kind to women during maternity leave. Some states — such as California, New Jersey and Rhode Island — offer paid family leave through employee-paid payroll taxes.

However, some countries limit who is eligible, for example excluding migrant or home workers. With that caveat, we rate Gillibrand’s statement Mostly True

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What about ISIS?

Soon after the first night ended, the Republican National Committee criticized the Democrats for not addressing ISIS or global terrorism in a single speech.

"61: Number Of Speeches At The DNC Tonight," the Republican National Committee wrote in an email to supporters. "0: Mentions Of The Global Terrorist Threat Posed By ISIS."

Literally, the statement is correct. It is worth noting, however, that Clinton addressed the issue in a rally elsewhere and that there are three days left in the convention.

We rate the RNC’s statement True.

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Crossing borders

In a Fox News interview that aired during the convention, convention speaker and U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., said the amount of immigrants crossing the border is at a 30-year low.

"There are fewer people crossing that border than in the last 30 years," Gutierrez told Fox News host Bill O’Reilly.

There is no measure of the amount of immigrants who successfully cross the border, so many scholars rely on border patrol apprehension data.

A Pew Research Center study found that the number of immigrants apprehended in 2015 was one of the the lowest in almost 50 years. U.S. border patrol data supports this idea too, but with one caveat. The number of southwest border apprehensions actually dipped to its lowest point in 2011.

We rated this statement Mostly True.

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The American flag at the DNC

Trump had a piece of constructive criticism after watching the first night of the Democratic National Convention.

"Not one American flag on the massive stage at the Democratic National Convention until people started complaining-then a small one. Pathetic," Trump tweeted a couple of days later.

Looking into it, we found that there indeed did not seem to be any physical flags on stage during the first night of the convention. There were, however, flags practically everywhere else.

There were flags off-stage. There were flags on stage the day before, and the day after. There were flags on stage during the Pledge of Allegiance and the National Anthem, and on large screens on stage earlier in the convention's first day.

Because there were so many caveats to Trump’s complaint, we rated it Half True.


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How big is California’s economy?

California State Senate Leader Kevin de León cited the size of California’s economy as proof of the strength of its progressive government.

"These are the progressive policies that have made California the sixth largest economy on planet Earth," de León said.

California’s gross domestic product places it behind the United Kingdom and in front of France. Since the United Kingdom has the fifth largest gdp, that would put California in sixth place.

Things are more expensive in California, however, and if California’s gdp is adjusted to take this into account, it drops down to eleventh, just ahead of Mexico.

With this context in mind, we rated this Mostly True.


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Fact-checking the first night of the Democratic convention in Philadelphia