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Donald Trump
stated on February 2, 2020 in an interview on Fox News:
“Cory Booker and all these people couldn't get any of the things that (Michael) Bloomberg's getting now" with respect to DNC debate rules.
true half-true
Then-Newark Mayor Cory Booker, right, laughs as then-New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg makes a joke during an announcement on Sept. 29, 2010, in Newark, N.J. (AP/Evans) Then-Newark Mayor Cory Booker, right, laughs as then-New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg makes a joke during an announcement on Sept. 29, 2010, in Newark, N.J. (AP/Evans)

Then-Newark Mayor Cory Booker, right, laughs as then-New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg makes a joke during an announcement on Sept. 29, 2010, in Newark, N.J. (AP/Evans)

Bill McCarthy
By Bill McCarthy February 3, 2020

Fact-checking Trump’s claim on Bloomberg and the DNC debate rules change

If Your Time is short

  • The Democratic National Committee adjusted its debate qualification requirements, opening the door for Michael Bloomberg to qualify for the first time. Bloomberg hasn’t yet met the new requirements, so his spot on stage isn’t guaranteed.

  • In December, Booker petitioned for a rule change to help him make the debate stage. The new rules are different from what Booker asked for.

Fox News host Sean Hannity invited President Donald Trump to bash the Democrats running for president during an interview before the Super Bowl on Feb. 2.

"This is called our lightning round," Hannity said. "I’m just going to throw out a name, whatever comes to your mind."

When Hannity asked about former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Trump said the Democratic National Committee, which recently announced changes to its debate qualification requirements, was bending over backward to benefit him.

"Cory Booker and all these people couldn’t get any of the things that Bloomberg’s getting now," he said. "I think it’s very unfair for the Democrats."

The DNC did make significant changes to its qualification criteria, raising the polling threshold while scrapping the individual donor requirement that candidates previously had to meet.

The DNC’s recent shift does open the door for Bloomberg, who is self-funding his campaign and not taking donations, to participate in a debate for the first time. 

But Trump’s claim glosses over important details. The new rules are different from what Booker asked for, and they don’t guarantee that Bloomberg will earn a spot on stage.

Debate qualification requirements have gradually changed 

For the DNC’s first two debates, candidates qualified by meeting one of two requirements: Polling at 1% in three national or early-state polls approved by the DNC, or getting donations from 65,000 unique donors, with at least 200 donors per state in 20 different states. 

Over time, the requirements became more difficult to satisfy. At the September debate in Houston, the thresholds for polling and donors increased, and candidates were required to meet both benchmarks, not one or the other.

By the time of the January debate in Des Moines, Iowa — the seventh on the DNC’s schedule — the polling threshold had risen to 5% in four national polls or 7% in two early-state polls, and the donor threshold bumped up to 225,000 donors, with 1,000 per state in 20 different states.

Then came the February debates, the first contests scheduled to take place after voters and caucus-goers started making their picks for a nominee.

For the Feb. 7 debate in New Hampshire, the DNC announced that while candidates could still qualify by meeting both the polling and donor thresholds set for the January debate, they could also qualify by earning one delegate to the national convention in the Iowa caucuses. (Bloomberg hasn’t campaigned in Iowa.)

For the Feb. 19 debate in Las Vegas, the DNC has eliminated the donor requirement entirely. Candidates can either qualify by polling at 10% in four national polls or 12% in two early-state polls, or by getting one delegate in either the Iowa caucuses or the New Hampshire primary. (Bloomberg’s name won’t appear on the New Hampshire ballot.)


Adrienne Watson, a DNC spokeswoman, told Politico that the early primary results will give a greater window into a candidate’s support than the donor tally.

"The donor threshold was appropriate for the opening stages of the race, when candidates were building their organizations, and there were no metrics available outside of polling to distinguish those making progress from those who weren’t," she said, according to Politico.

The DNC’s recent change makes room for Bloomberg

Bloomberg’s refusal to take donations precluded him from participating in the DNC’s first seven debates, and because he is skipping the early states, he is unlikely to win the delegates in Iowa or New Hampshire that could put him in the ring for the Feb. 7 debate.

But since candidates can qualify for the Feb. 19 debate simply by hitting the 10% polling mark, Bloomberg, who had called for the DNC to get rid of the donor requirement, now has a shot.

That doesn’t mean he’ll make the stage. Currently, Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders have met the 10% polling threshold, according to Politico, which tracks public polling and has identified just one poll that has Bloomberg at 10%. 

Watson told us Trump’s suggestion that the change was meant to help Bloomberg was "false."

"With the primary underway, we are assessing a candidate’s support through a significantly higher polling threshold and through actual election results," she said. "We were always planning to do this, we signaled it many times, it is not designed to benefit any one candidate, and every candidate has an equal opportunity to qualify."

DNC Chairman Tom Perez did signal in November and December that he was considering doing away with the donor threshold for the early 2020 debates, according to reports.

Still, other Democratic candidates have denounced the change, saying the DNC is catering to the billionaire.


A Sanders adviser said the change was evidence of a "rigged system." Warren tweeted that the DNC was letting Bloomberg "play by different rules." Entrepreneur Andrew Yang said the change was "clearly tailor made to deliver (Bloomberg) to the debate stage."

Booker, Yang asked for different changes

In December, Booker led a push to lower qualification standards so that he, Julian Castro and others would stand a better chance of making the January and February debates.

The New Jersey senator sent a letter, signed by several candidates, requesting that the DNC go back to requiring candidates to meet the polling threshold or the donor threshold, but not both.

The DNC rejected Booker’s petition. "Our qualification criteria is extremely low and reflects where we are in the race," the committee said in a statement, per Politico. "Once voting starts in February, our criteria will reflect those contests, which is more than appropriate."

Similarly, Yang asked the DNC to commission more polls so candidates would have a higher likelihood of meeting the polling requirement. 

Both of these changes would have made the path to the debates easier. 

While the DNC has now scrapped the donor requirement and given candidates the option of qualifying through delegates or the polls, it has also doubled the polling threshold, a change that could potentially cut the number of candidates who qualify for the Nevada debate.

For what it’s worth, the donor threshold was not usually the requirement keeping candidates from the debates. Bloomberg is the only candidate who failed to qualify for a debate specifically because of the donor requirement, according to Politico

But it wasn’t nothing. Booker campaign staffers, for example, have described having to divert resources in order to satisfy the committee’s donor thresholds. 

Our ruling

Trump said, "Cory Booker and all these people couldn’t get any of the things that Bloomberg’s getting now."

The DNC did adjust its qualification criteria, doubling the polling threshold and eliminating the donor requirement that had previously kept Bloomberg from debating.

But the new rules are slightly different than what Booker asked for, and while they pave a path for Bloomberg to make his first debate, they don’t guarantee that he’ll earn a spot on stage.

We rate Trump’s statement Half True.

Our Sources

Fox News on YouTube, "Trump talks impeachment, 2020 Dems in exclusive Super Bowl interview," Feb. 2, 2020

Brian Stelter on Twitter, Feb. 2, 2020

ABC News, "'This Week' Transcript 2-2-20: Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Andrew Yang," Feb. 2, 2020

Vox, "2020 Democratic candidates aren’t happy about new debate rules that seem to benefit Bloomberg," Feb. 1, 2020

ABC News, "DNC scraps donor threshold for Nevada debate, opening door for Bloomberg to qualify," Feb. 1, 2020

CBS News, "Mike Bloomberg could qualify for Democratic debates after DNC rule change," Jan. 31, 2020

Slate, "DNC changes debate requirements to favor all candidates named Michael Bloomberg," Jan. 31, 2020

Politico, "DNC overhauls debate requirements, opening door for Bloomberg," Jan. 31, 2020

Politico, "Public polling tracker," Jan. 31, 2020

The New York Times, "D.N.C. rules change for Nevada debate could open door for Bloomberg," Jan. 31, 2020

The Hill, "Democrats come out swinging against new debate criteria," Jan. 31, 2020

CNN, "Democrats drop donor threshold for Nevada debate, opening door to Bloomberg," Jan. 31, 2020

NPR, "New Democratic Party rules could pt Bloomberg on debate stage," Jan. 31, 2020

S.Y. Lee on Twitter, Jan. 31, 2020

Elizabeth Warren on Twitter, Jan. 31, 2020

Addisu Demissie on Twitter, Jan. 31, 2020

Jenna Lowenstein on Twitter, Jan. 31, 2020

Mike Bloomberg on Twitter, Jan. 17, 2020

Politico, "New criteria announced for New Hampshire debate," Jan. 17, 2020

The Washington Post, "Here’s a key moment from the Iowa debate — and what I would have said," Jan. 15, 2020

Politico, "DNC raises thresholds again for January debate," Dec. 20, 2019

The New York Times, "The D.N.C. chairman knows no one is happy. Neither is he," Dec. 15, 2019

The New York Times, "Cory Booker leads the charge to change debate rules that excluded him," Dec. 14, 2019

Politico, "DNC balks at effort to alter debate qualifications," Dec. 14, 2019

Dave Weigel on Twitter, Nov. 20, 2019

Politico, "DNC raises thresholds for December debate," Oct. 25, 2019

Politico, "DNC raises threshold to make November debate stage," Sept. 23, 2019

Politico, "DNC rules could expand, not shrink, future debate stage," Aug. 6, 2019

Politico, "Who’s in — and out — of the first Democratic debates," June 6, 2019

Democratic National Committee, "DNC Announces details for third presidential primary debate," May 29, 2019

Email interview with Adrienne Watson, deputy communications director for the Democratic National Committee, Feb. 2, 2020

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