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Fact-checking the second presidential debate

Linda Qiu
By Linda Qiu October 10, 2016

Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton showed no mercy in attacking each other during their second debate, on the heels of a leaked tape of Trump’s lewd remarks in 2005 about hitting on women.

The debate, the only one in which undecided voters ask the candidates questions directly, began with Trump defending his explicit comments as "locker room talk." Trump said he was "embarrassed" by the comments before pivoting to how he will deal with ISIS.

The two candidates were harsh in critiquing each other’s personal and professional records, with Clinton focusing on Trump’s comments on women and minorities and Trump threatening to jail Clinton over her email practices if elected president.

Here are 29 claims (so far) Clinton and Trump made, fact-checked.

Trump: "I watch what's happening with some horrible things like Obamacare, where your health insurance and health care is going up by numbers that are astronomical, 68 percent, 59 percent, 71 percent."

Trump previously floated rates of 35 to 55 percent. We rated that Half True. Some insurance plans in the federal exchange will see price hikes at the levels that Trump had previously suggested. But he was cherry-picking the high end of premium changes to come. Estimates for the national average are far below Trump’s figures, ranging from 4.4 percent to 13 percent.

Trump: "Last year, we had almost $800 billion trade deficit. In other words, trading with other countries. We had an $800 billion deficit."

This is True for goods. In 2015, the goods trade deficit was $763 billion. The country’s overall trade deficit, which includes goods and services, was about $500 billion in 2015.

Clinton: "We’ve seen him insult women … immigrants, African-Americans, Latinos, people with disabilities, POWs, Muslims and so many others."

Here are some of the things Trump has said about women, Mexican immigrants, a reporter with a disability, former POW Sen. John McCain and a Muslim-American Gold Star family.

Trump: "Hillary was going to bring back jobs to upstate New York and she failed."

In her 2000 Senate campaign, Clinton promised to bring 200,000 jobs to upstate New York. The region did not add those jobs by the end of her tenure. We rated Trump’s claim Mostly True.

Trump: Clinton represented a man who was accused of raping a 12-year-old girl and "she's seen laughing on two separate occasions, laughing at the girl who was raped."

Clinton was appointed by a judge to the 1975 case when she first began at the University of Arkansas legal aid clinic, and she pursued it aggressively. She has claimed she tried to get out of it, and her claim is backed by the prosecutor in the case. Read the backstory here.

Trump is referring to an audio tape in which she laughs at recollections of the oddities of the case (for example, at the prosecutor and the judge being unwilling to show her a piece of evidence, and at the fact that her client passed a polygraph test which, she says, "forever destroyed my faith in polygraphs"). At no point did Clinton laugh at the victim. We rated Trump’s claim False.

Trump: "You owe the president an apology, because as you know very well, your campaign, Sidney Blumenthal -- he's another real winner that you have -- and he's the one that got this started, along with your campaign manager, and they were on television just two weeks ago, she was, saying exactly that. So you really owe him an apology."

As PolitiFact and multiple fact-checkers have reported, this is False. A former Washington bureau chief for McClatchy has claimed that Blumenthal, a Clinton adviser, told him to look into President Barack Obama’s birthplace. But Blumenthal denies this and the reporter has said he has no evidence. There’s still no smoking gun tying birtherism to the Clinton campaign.

Clinton: "There is no evidence that any classified information ended up in the wrong hands."

There’s no evidence that anyone successfully hacked Clinton’s email servers, but they certainly were not impervious to attack. It’s possible that a sophisticated hacker gained access but left no trace. Read our fact-sheet on the Clinton email controversy.

Trump: ""You (Hillary Clinton) get a subpoena, and after getting the subpoena you delete 33,000 emails."

Clinton’s staff received a subpoena for Benghazi-related emails March 3. An employee managing her server deleted 33,000 of Clinton’s emails three weeks later. The FBI found no evidence that the emails were deleted deliberately to avoid the subpoena or other requests.

Clinton’s team requested for the emails to be deleted months before the subpoena came. They also argued that all the emails that would be relevant to the subpoena had already been turned over to the State Department.

Trump’s claim rates Half True.

Clinton: "Right now we are at 90 percent health insurance covered. That's the highest we've ever been in our country."

We rated this claim True. According to Census Bureau data, that’s correct; it was just shy of 91 percent in 2015, the most recent year for which data is available.

Trump: "She wants to go to a single-payer plan."

This is False. Clinton has vowed to defend and build upon the Affordable Care Act, but has consistently resisted a single-payer option for the system as a whole.  

Clinton's website does, indeed, say that she wants a public option. But that would be just one option. Under a single-payer system, the government provides health care for everyone. Clinton's web page makes it clear that there would be other payers as well.

Trump: "We have to be sure that Muslims come in and report when they see something going on. When they see hatred going on, they have to report it. As an example, in San Bernardino, many people saw the bombs all over the apartment of the two people that killed 14 and wounded many, many people."

The suggestion that the neighbors of the San Bernando shooters didn’t report suspicious activity is not accurate. The most that was reported is that a neighbor of a neighbor of one of the shooter’s mother said there was suspicious activity. There was no mention that a neighbor of the shooters themselves was suspicious, much less that a neighbor thought an attack was being planned.

Trump: "She won't even mention the word and nor will President Obama. He won't use the term ‘radical Islamic terrorism.’ "

Trump is right that Clinton and Obama prefer to avoid those words. They say using the term would actually bolster the narrative the terrorist are pitching: a war between Islam and the West led by them.

Trump: "People are coming into our country like we have no idea who they are, where they are from, what their feelings about our country is, and she wants 550 percent more."

It’s True that Clinton has urged an increase in the number of Syrian refugees admitted to the United States. Obama agreed to accept 10,000 refugees for fiscal year 2016. In September 2015, Clinton urged an increase up to 65,000. That’s a 550 percent increase. She has not detailed a plan for how many Syrian refugees she would accept over four years as president.

Trump’s suggestion that "we have no idea who they are" or "where they come from" is not entirely accurate. Refugees are vetted first through the United Nations and then are referred to the United States, where they undergo one to two years worth of security clearances involving multiple federal intelligence agencies. Intelligence officials have expressed concern, however, in the paucity of data from a conflict zone like Syria.

Clinton: "You can look at the propaganda on a lot of the terrorists sites, and what Donald Trump says about Muslims is used to recruit fighters, because they want to create a war between us."

At least two terrorist groups — Al Shabaab, an al-Qaida affiliate, and ISIS — had featured Trump in recruiting videos. We rated Clinton’s claim True.

Trump: "I was against the war in Iraq."

False. There is no evidence that Trump opposed the war prior to the 2003 invasion. In 2002, asked if America should go to war, Trump said, "I guess so."

Trump: "We're also letting drugs pour through our southern border at a record clip."

This is accurate. Mexican heroin accounted for 45 percent of the total weight of heroin the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency seized and analyzed in 2012 (South American heroin accounted for 51 percent). By 2014, the proportion of Mexican heroin had grown to 79 percent (South American heroin made up about 17 percent).

Trump: "I don't know Putin."

Trump has changed what he’s said about whether he’s had a relationship with Putin. From 2013, to 2015, he has touted a relationship with Putin. We rate this a Full Flop.

Trump: "Our taxes are so high, just about the highest in the world."

This is Mostly False. The United States has one of the highest corporate tax rates in the world, but in terms of taxes overall, Trump’s claim is inaccurate. America is slightly behind the middle of the pack when it comes to the taxed revenue portion of gross domestic product.

Clinton: "When I was first lady I worked with Democrats and Republicans to create the Children's Health Insurance Program."

This is largely accurate. Clinton was key to creating the program, which provides coverage for 8 million children, in 1997.

Clinton: As secretary of state, I "negotiated a treaty with Russia to lower nuclear weapons."

The treaty, New START, hasn’t cut Russia’s nuclear arms yet. But if it does in the future, after the treaty is fully implemented in 2018, it seems that any reductions would be minimal rather than sweeping.

New START has a limited impact in that it focuses on one portion of Russia’s nuclear program: deployed strategic weapons. The treaty does place tighter limits on these weapons than any past treaty. But Russia was actually already meeting the treaty’s limits, for the most part, when treaty implementation began.

Trump: "We are old. We're tired. We're exhausted in terms of nuclear. A very bad thing."

When he announced his candidacy in 2015, Trump said "our nuclear arsenal doesn’t work" and "they have equipment that is 30 years old." We rated that claim False. The United States has been spending $35 billion a year to upgrade its nuclear stockpile, and officials tasked with certifying the safety and reliability of the current arsenal have consistently given their seal of approval.

Clinton: "I was gone" when there was a red line against Syria.

We rated this claim Mostly False. Clinton was secretary of state in August 2012 when Obama said if the Assad regime were to use chemical weapons, that would cross a "red line" after which Obama would consider using military force in Syria. In the months following that statement, Clinton reiterated Obama’s position, using the phrase.

A year later, August 2013, the White House confirmed Syria had crossed this "red line." By this point, Clinton had left the State Department months earlier. However, in the days following that revelation, Clinton met with Obama and his staff several times and publicly endorsed the White House’s position on how to respond.

Trump: "Look at what she did in Libya with Gaddafi. Gaddafi’s out. It's a mess. And, by the way, ISIS has a good chunk of their oil."

Trump’s point about ISIS and Libyan oil is not entirely accurate. While ISIS has attacked oil fields in Libya this year, they have not sought to keep control over the oil. Experts called it a "hit-and-run strategy" aimed at preventing rivals from seizing the oil in Libya.

Trump: "Iran, who you made very powerful with the dumbest deal perhaps I've ever seen in the history of deal-making, the Iran deal, with the $150 billion."

The $150 billion figure refers to a high estimate of the amount of previously frozen Iranian assets that the Iran nuclear deal release. To be clear, this is money that already belongs to Iran. Most experts also say the real figure is closer to $100 billion, while Iran is probably able to access a fraction of that.

Trump: "She called (the Trans-Pacific Partnership) the gold standard."

This is accurate. In 2012, Clinton said, "This TPP sets the gold standard in trade agreements."

Clinton: "Teachers and parents are calling it the Trump effect. Bullying is up."

The Southern Poverty Law Center surveyed teachers who reported an increase in bullying and harassment, particularly of immigrant and Muslim children. These teachers, unsolicited, cited Trump’s campaign rhetoric. While the "Trump Effect" is a term of the survey’s authors and the survey is based on anecdotal reports, experts say this is consistent. We rated Clinton’s claim Mostly True.

Trump: "We have an increase in murder within our cities, the biggest in 45 years."

The number of murders nationally did rise by the biggest amount in 45 years, and criminologists agree that this is a development worth paying attention to. But they add that it comes after a steep, quarter-century decline, which suggests that it is not yet a cause for panic. This is Mostly True.

Trump: "No, there wasn't ‘check out a sex tape’" in his tweets about Alicia Machado.

Pants on Fire! In the tweet -- sent at 5:30 a.m. ET on Sept. 30 -- Trump wrote, "Did Crooked Hillary help disgusting (check out sex tape and past) Alicia M become a U.S. citizen so she could use her in the debate?"

Trump: "The Second Amendment, which is totally under siege by people like Hillary Clinton."

This is a tempered version of a previous False talking point from Trump (that Clinton wants to "abolish" the second amendment). Clinton has repeatedly said she wants to protect the right to bear arms while enacting measures to prevent gun violence.

Update: This article has been updated to clarify that Trump's claim of an $800 billion trade deficit is accurate for goods. 

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Fact-checking the second presidential debate