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Fact-checking Pete Buttigieg’s Fox News town hall in Des Moines, Iowa
Pete Buttigieg participates in a Fox News town hall in Des Moines, Iowa. (Tina Dyakon/PolitiFact) Pete Buttigieg participates in a Fox News town hall in Des Moines, Iowa. (Tina Dyakon/PolitiFact)

Pete Buttigieg participates in a Fox News town hall in Des Moines, Iowa. (Tina Dyakon/PolitiFact)

Louis Jacobson
By Louis Jacobson January 27, 2020
Amy Sherman
By Amy Sherman January 27, 2020

DES MOINES, Iowa — Former Mayor Pete Buttigieg said he’s not too young to be the president and actually is the Democrat best positioned to reach out to a broad swath of Americans.

"I don’t think you have to be Democrat to see what is wrong with this president and this presidency," Buttigieg said, speaking to a Fox News town hall audience of about 430 on Jan. 26. "I am meeting a lot of what I like to call ‘future former Republicans’ who are coming to my events."

The live one-hour town hall was broadcast from the Iowa River Center, a 1915 brick building that was used as a brewery before Prohibition.

Buttigieg criticized Trump over possible traumatic brain injuries suffered by service members in a retaliatory strike by Iran on U.S. forces in Iraq earlier this month. Initially Trump had said the United States experienced no injuries, but it was later reported that 34 U.S. troops were taken to the hospital for consultations on possible traumatic brain injuries.

"It’s so disturbing to hear the president brush away traumatic brain injuries," Buttgieg charged.

Buttigieg was referring to Trump’s answer when a reporter in Davos asked him to explain the discrepancy between his initial comment that no Americans were injured and the fact that some service men were airlifted to Iraq.

Trump replied: "No, I heard that they had headaches, and a couple of other things.  But I would say, and I can report it is not very serious. Not very serious."

Trump also said "I don’t consider them very serious injuries, relative to other injuries that I’ve seen."

When a member of the audience asked Buttigieg about the place in the Democratic Party for opponents of abortion, he said, "I respect where you are coming from," but added that he is solidly behind abortion rights. "I believe a woman ought to be able to make that decision," he said, drawing substantial applause from the audience.

PolitiFact has been traveling through Iowa in the run-up to the Feb. 3 caucuses fact-checking statements made by the Democratic caucus candidates. (See links to our fact-checks of speeches by six presidential candidates in Iowa here.) Here are our fact-checks of Buttigieg, a former South Bend, Indiana, mayor.

"I think I am the exact median age" of people in the United States. 

He’s not exact, but he’s very close.

Buttigieg was born on Jan. 19, 1982, making him a few days older than 38 years at the time of the town hall.

For comparison, the most recent figures from the U.S. Census Bureau show that the median age of all Americans is 37.8 years.

Buttigieg is actually a bit older than the median male in the United States — 36.5 years, according to Census figures. Women have a higher median age, 39.1 years.

RELATED: We analyzed the stump speeches of Pete Buttigieg, Amy Klobuchar, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Joe Biden.

"Right now there is not a single county in the whole United States of America where somebody working full time at minimum wage can afford even a two-bedroom apartment." 

We rated a similar claim by Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., Mostly True. It’s generally accurate, but it’s important to understand how the Democrats are defining affordability.

Harris tweeted, "In 99% of counties in America, someone making the minimum wage working full time can’t afford a 1-bedroom apartment." 

A 2018 study by the National Low Income Housing Coalition called "Out of Reach" found that "in only 22 counties out of more than 3,000 counties nationwide can a full-time minimum wage worker afford a one-bedroom rental home at fair market rent." 

In the Fox News town hall, Buttigieg suggested a more stringent threshold — zero, rather than 1% — but he also offered the more expensive benchmark of a two-bedroom apartment rather than a one-bedroom apartment.

It’s worth noting that the coalition defines "affordability" as "consistent with the federal standard that no more than 30 percent of a household’s gross income should be spent on rent and utilities." That’s the same guideline used by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and we found it’s a standard threshold within the field.

Meanwhile, the definition of "fair market rent" is slightly different. It also has its origins from HUD. The National Low Income Housing Coalition defines it as "typically the 40th percentile of gross rents for standard rental units."

So that means that within any given metropolitan area, 40%of all rental properties are priced equal to or below the fair market rent threshold. That means not all units would be unaffordable for full-time minimum-wage workers, but it does mean that a majority — 60% — would find themselves in that box.

Of the remaining 40% of one-bedroom housing, some units may be affordable for those workers, but that doesn’t mean they’ll be quality apartments — they might be in a high-crime area or low-performing school district, for example. 

"Every time my party’s won in the last 50 years — won the White House — one of the things about our nominee is that it’s somebody that is new on the scene, not a creature of Washington."

We rated this Mostly True in November when Buttgieg used the talking point.

Democratic nominees in the last 50 years who spent years in Washington and failed to win the presidency included Sen. George McGovern (lost in 1972); former vice president Walter Mondale (lost in 1984); outgoing vice president Al Gore (lost in 2000); Sen. John Kerry (lost in 2004); and former Sen. and former secretary of state Hillary Clinton (lost in 2016).

By contrast, since 1972, three Democratic presidential nominees have won elections: Jimmy Carter in 1976; Bill Clinton in 1992 (re-elected in 1996); and Barack Obama in 2008 (re-elected in 2012). Before their election, Carter and Clinton served as governors but not in Congress. Obama was a relatively new U.S. senator who wasn’t widely known nationally before his presidential election.

The arguable exception to the rule is Michael Dukakis, a governor of Massachusetts who had never held elected federal office before winning the Democratic party’s nomination in 1988. He lost the general presidential election to the Republican nominee, George H. W. Bush.

"Setting aside instances where an incumbent president is running for re-election, Democrats in the modern era have fared better when nominating new faces rather than Washington insiders," said Barry Burden, a political science professor and director of the Elections Research Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

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Fact-checking Pete Buttigieg’s Fox News town hall in Des Moines, Iowa