Fact Checking the Third Democratic Debate: Medicare for All, Cages, Child Poverty
Ten Democrats seeking the presidency tripped over some details as they sparred in a debate thick with policy and personal stories. Several made provocative accusations that President Donald Trump inspired the deadly shooting in El Paso, Texas, last month.
On the policy front, Bernie Sanders claimed his approach to health care has a stamp of approval from everyone who studies such matters, which is not the case. Joe Biden misrepresented recent history when he said the administration he served as vice president didn’t put migrant kids in “cages.”
Here’s a look at some of the assertions in the third round of Democratic primary debates, the first to have all qualifying contenders square off in one night:
BETO O’ROURKE, former U.S. representative from Texas, on last month’s mass shooting in El Paso: “Everything that I’ve learned about resilience, I’ve learned from my hometown of El Paso, Texas, in the face of this act of terror, that was directed at our community, in large part by the president of the United States. It killed 22 people, and injured many more, we were not defeated by that. Nor were we defined by that.”
JULIAN CASTRO, former U.S. housing secretary: “Look, a few weeks ago a shooter drove 10 hours inspired by this president to kill people who look like me and people who look like my family.”
THE FACTS: Nobody has claimed that Trump “directed” the shooting, as O’Rourke suggested.
Earlier in the debate, O’Rourke had said the shooter was “inspired to kill by our president,” an accusation also made by Castro.
It is difficult to know for sure what led the gunman to open fire inside a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, killing 22 people. The suspect posted a manifesto online before the shooting that echoed Trump’s comments on immigration. Yet he said his own views “predate Trump and his campaign for president.”
The screed spoke of what the suspect called a “Hispanic invasion of Texas,” railed against immigrants and warned of an imminent attack. Nearly all of the victims had Latino last names.
BERNIE SANDERS: “We have the highest child poverty rate of almost any country on Earth.”
THE FACTS: This oft-repeated line by the Vermont senator is an exaggeration.
There are nearly 200 countries in the world, many with people mired in extreme poverty that most Americans would struggle to fathom. Poverty is also a relative measure in which someone who is poor in one nation might look rather prosperous in another.
But the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development updated its child poverty report in 2018. The United States had an above average level of child poverty, but it was not at the bottom of the 42 nations listed in the report. The United States still fared better than Russia, Chile, Spain, India, Turkey, Israel, Costa Rica, Brazil, South Africa and China.
JOE BIDEN: “We didn’t lock people up in cages, we didn’t separate families.”
THE FACTS: His comment about cages is wrong.
The “cages” — chain-link enclosures inside border facilities where migrants have been temporarily housed, separated by sex and age — were built and used by the Obama administration. The Trump administration has been using the same facilities as the Obama administration.
Democrats routinely accuse Trump of using cages for children without acknowledging the same enclosures were employed when Biden was vice president.
The Obama administration also separated migrant children from families under certain limited circumstances, like when the child’s safety appeared at risk or when the parent had a serious criminal history.
But family separations as a matter of routine came about because of President Donald Trump’s “zero tolerance” enforcement policy last year. More than 2,500 children were separated from their parents at the border and a government watchdog has said it’s possible thousands more were separated. Obama had no such policy.
SANDERS: “Every study done shows that ‘Medicare for All’ is the most cost-effective approach to providing health care to every man, woman and child in this country.”
THE FACTS: Not exactly.
The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said in a report earlier this year that total spending under a single-payer system, such as the one proposed by Sanders, “might be higher or lower than under the current system depending on the key features of the new system.”
Those features involve details about payment rates for hospitals and doctors, which are not fully spelled out by Sanders, as well as the estimated cost of generous benefits that include long-term care services and no copays and deductibles for comprehensive medical care.
A report this year by the nonprofit Rand think tank estimated that “Medicare for All” would modestly raise national health spending, the opposite of what Sanders intends.
Rand modeled a hypothetical scenario in which a plan similar to legislation by the Vermont senator had taken effect this year. It found that total U.S. health care spending would be about $3.9 trillion under “Medicare for All” in 2019, compared with about $3.8 trillion under the status quo.
Part of the reason is that “Medicare for All” would offer generous benefits with no copays and deductibles, except limited cost-sharing for certain medications. Virtually free comprehensive medical care would lead to big increases in the demand for services.
KAMALA HARRIS, on Trump: “The only reason he has not been indicted is because there was a memo in the Department of Justice that says a sitting president cannot be charged with a crime.”
THE FACTS: We don’t know that it’s the only reason. Former special counsel Robert Mueller didn’t go that far in his report on Russian intervention in the 2016 election and obstruction of justice.
Harris, a California senator, is referring to a Justice Department legal opinion that says sitting presidents are immune from indictment. Mueller has said his investigators were restrained by that rule, but he also said that they never reached a determination as to whether the president committed a crime.
In Mueller’s congressional testimony in July, he said his team never started the process of evaluating whether to charge Trump.
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