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Fact-checking the 2nd night of the Democratic debate in Miami

By PolitiFact Staff June 28, 2019

This story will be updated with more fact-checks.

Democrats let loose their anti-Trump passions while attempting to showcase their diverse vantage points on gun control, race relations, immigration, healthcare, tax reform and more during the second night of debates at Miami’s Adrienne Arsht Center.

Former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders were the two most recognizable men positioned center-stage. But eight lesser-known candidates in the race to be the next president of the United States sparred with them. 

Sen. Kamala Harris of California and South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg delivered passionate remarks that especially sought to challenge Biden as the face of an old-guard lacking the progressive vision the party needs to move America forward.

But when passions flare, sometimes facts fizzle.  Here’s a look at some of the statements that got our attention as we monitored the second night of the 2020 Democratic debates.

Joe Biden: "I did not oppose busing in America. What I opposed is busing ordered by the Department of Education. That’s what I opposed."

We found that Biden tried to oversimplify his complicated record on busing. We rated his statement Mostly False

Biden won his Senate seat in 1972 on a platform of integration, but once in office, he faced white constituents who hated the idea of busing. A federal court order in 1974 to integrate Wilmington schools brought the issue home for Biden. In the Senate, Biden began supporting much of the anti-busing legislation.

University of New Hampshire historian Jason Sokol, who tracked Biden’s response to local opposition, has told us the amendments that Biden supported "paint a somewhat muddled picture." Biden proposed some amendments that would have hamstrung desegregation while at other times he backed off.

Sokol told us after the debate that Biden’s position on busing evolved but by the late 1970s he was decidedly against busing. 

Biden’s claim that he was for integration but against busing doesn’t make a lot of sense, he told PolitiFact. "By that point in history, there were very few school districts voluntarily integrating by other means, which is why judges were ordering busing. He is using disingenuous logic," he said.

— Amy Sherman

Bernie Sanders: "Today the worker in the middle of our economy is making no more money than he or she made 45 years ago."

This is exaggerated

For instance, according to data analyzed by the left-of-center Economic Policy Institute, the median hourly wage in 1973 was $16.96. Adjusted for inflation, the median wage rose to $18.80 by 2018. 

While that’s not a dramatic rise — especially over 45 years — it amounts to an 11% increase beyond inflation.

Another study, by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, found that the cumulative growth in inflation-adjusted income for those in the middle 60% of the income distribution rose by 46% between 1979 and 2015. That was much slower than it was for the top 1% (which was a whopping 242%), but it was still an increase beyond inflation.

— Louis Jacobson

John Hickenlooper: "I share the sense of urgency. I’m a scientist, so I recognize that we’re within 10 or 12 years of actually suffering irreversible damage (of climate change)."

While over 90% of publishing climate scientists say humans are causing global warming, the idea that scientists agree on a hard deadline lacks nuance. (Sanders also made reference to a 12-year deadline) 

A 2018 United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report notes 2030 as a benchmark to deal with climate change "because signatories to the Paris agreement have pledged emission cuts by then," according to the Associated Press.

The panel’s report predicts that, if warming continues at its current rate, global temperatures are likely to reach 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels between 2030 and 2052. 

James Skea, a co-chairman of the report and sustainable energy professor at Imperial College London, told the Associated Press that the panel "did not say we have 12 years left to save the world."

And scientists have not agreed that humans have until 2030 to address climate change.

Kristie L. Ebi, director of the Center for Health and the Global Environment at the University of Washington in Seattle, told the Associated Press that, while adding greenhouse gases into the atmosphere will result in a continued rise in temperatures, "the earth does not reach a cliff at 2030 or 2052."

— Sophie Austin

Bernie Sanders: "President Trump, you're not standing up for working families when you try to throw 32 million people off the health care that they have."

This is one of Sanders’ favorite lines, but it falls short of giving the full story of the Republican effort to repeal and replace Obamacare. We rated a similar claim Half True.

Scrapping the Affordable Care Act was a key campaign promise for President Donald Trump. In 2017, as the Republican-led Congress struggled to deliver, Trump tweeted, "Republicans should just REPEAL failing Obamacare now and work on a new health care plan that will start from a clean slate."

The Congressional Budget Office estimated that would lead to 32 million more people without insurance by 2026. But some portion of that 32 million would have chosen not to buy insurance due to the end of the individual mandate, which would happen under repeal. (It happened anyway, but that was part of the 2017 tax law.)

In the end, full repeal didn’t happen. Instead, Trump was only able to zero out the fines for people who didn’t have insurance. Insurance coverage has eroded. The latest survey shows about 1.3 million people have lost insurance since Trump took office.

— Jon Greenberg

Michael Bennet: "Bernie mentioned that the taxes that we would have to pay — because of those taxes, Vermont rejected Medicare for All."

This is true, though it could use some context. 

Vermont’s effort to pass a state-based single-payer health plan — which the state legislature approved in 2011 — officially fell flat in December 2014. Financing the plan ultimately required an 11.5% payroll tax on all employers, plus raising the income tax by as much as 9.5%. The governor at the time, Democrat Peter Shumlin, declared this politically untenable.

That said, some analysts suggest other political factors may have played a role, too — for instance, fallout after the state launched its Affordable Care Act health insurance website, which faced technical difficulties.

Nationally, when voters are told Medicare for All could result in higher taxes, support declines.

— Shefali Luthra, Kaiser Health News

Eric Swalwell: "This president, though, for immigrants, there is nothing he will not do to separate a family, cage a child, or erase their existence by weaponizing the census."

This frequent Democratic attack against Trump needs context, as people use different words to describe the enclosed facilities that hold immigrant children arriving at the southwest border and are waiting to be processed. The physical structures separate children based on age or gender.

Trump’s critics using the harshest terms: "cages" or "dog kennels." The federal government calls them "barriers." 

It’s important to note that the Obama administration was also criticized for using "cages," when record numbers of unaccompanied minors from Central America were apprehended at the southwest border.

The Arizona Republic in 2014 showed a photo of child migrants sleeping on mats behind a fence in Nogales, Az. The story referred to the migrants as "children in cages."

But immigration experts have told us that family separations were relatively rare under Obama and other past administrations. They did not happen at nearly the scale that they are happening under the Trump administration.

It’s unclear exactly how many children were separated from their parents during Trump’s administration, which has acknowledged problems in its logistics and record-keeping. Under a court order, around 2,800 children have been reunited with their parents or otherwise discharged from federal custody.

The controversial family separations under Trump’s watch happened as a result of a new policy introduced in April 2018 by Trump’s then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

— Amy Sherman and Miriam Valverde

Andrew Yang: "We automated away 4 million manufacturing jobs in Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, and we're about to do the same thing to millions of retail jobs, call center jobs, fast food jobs, truck driving jobs and on and on through the economy."

That is mostly accurate on the number. But not all of the jobs were eliminated due to automation. 

From 2000 to 2017, about 5.5 million American manufacturing jobs were lost, according to a 2018 report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The report lists as some of the reasons competition with China, the gap between the skills workers have and the skills employers need; and cross-regional migration.

Another study by Ball State University Center for Business and Economic Research attributed around 88 percent of job losses in manufacturing in recent years to productivity growth due to automation.

That number is also expected to rise. According to a 2017 report by the McKinsey Global Institute, between 39 to 73 million jobs may be eliminated in the United States by 2030, with fast food workers (as Yang said) and machinery operators projected to being hit the hardest. 

— Samantha Putterman

Marianne Williamson: "So many Americans have unnecessary chronic illnesses — so many more compared to other countries."

There is evidence for this, at least for older Americans.

A November 2014 study by the Commonwealth Fund found that 68% of Americans 65 and older had two or more chronic conditions, and an additional 20% had one chronic condition.

No other country studied — the United Kingdom, New Zealand, Sweden, Norway, France, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Germany, Austria, or Canada — had a higher rate of older residents with at least two chronic conditions. The percentages ranged from 33 percent in the United Kingdom to 56 percent in Canada.

An earlier study published in the journal Health Affairs in 2007 found that "for many of the most costly chronic conditions, diagnosed disease prevalence and treatment rates were higher in the United States than in a sample of European countries in 2004."

— Louis Jacobson

Pete Buttigieg: (Addressing his response to a police shooting of a black man in his city) "Look, we've taken so many steps toward police accountability that, you know, the (Fraternal Order of Police) just denounced me for too much accountability."

This needs context. Buttigieg, mayor of South Bend, Ind., is under criticism over the handling of a fatal police shooting in his city, involving a white police officer and a black man. The Executive Board of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 36 was upset with Buttigieg for how he talked about police work in a campaign message about the shooting.

In a June 24 Facebook post, the board said Buttigieg was making "disparaging" remarks and focusing on one incident and not on other major shootings in the city.

Buttigieg had addressed the police involved shooting in a campaign email, saying an investigation was underway and that Eric Logan’s death cast a "bright light" on a subject impacting Americans from all walks of life.

"All police work and all of American life takes place in the shadow of racism, which hurts everyone and everything it touches," Buttigieg’s email said. "Historic racism, present-day racism, and generational racism — they all secrete a kind of poison into the bloodstream of this country. And we must join together to make things right, no matter how demanding that process may be."

The FOP executive board said Buttigieg’s comments and actions were "driving a wedge" between law enforcement and South Bend. Buttigieg’s focus on the incident was "solely for his political gain and not the health of the city," the board said.

"For Mayor and Presidential Candidate Pete Buttigieg to make disparaging remarks such as 'all police work and all of American life takes place in the shadow of racism' is divisive," the FOP executive board said in the Facebook post.

The FOP executive board said it stood in support of the officer involved, Sgt. Ryan O'Neill, and that until a thorough and complete investigation was done, it would not waver. Buttigieg said during the debate that he could not take the side of the victim or the police pending the investigation.

— Miriam Valverde

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Fact-checking the 2nd night of the Democratic debate in Miami