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Fact checking candidates’ claims from last night’s Democratic debate

January 15, 2020, 1:15 PM UTC

Democrats vying to replace President Donald Trump cut some corners on the facts in their latest presidential debate. Here’s a look at some statements from the stage in Des Moines, Iowa.

JOE BIDEN: “I was a single parent too. When my wife and daughter were killed, my two boys I had to raise. I was a senator — a young senator — I just hadn’t been sworn in yet. I was making $42,000 a year. I commuted every single solitary day to Wilmington, Delaware — over 500 miles a day, excuse me, 250 miles a day — because I could not afford … child care. It was beyond my reach.”

THE FACTS: Child care costs are burdensome for most working U.S. parents, but the former vice president wasn’t quite as broke as claimed when suggesting he took the train back to Delaware because child care costs were too high.

A $42,000 salary might not sound like much today. In fact, Senate records show it was actually $42,500. But Biden joined the Senate after winning his seat in 1972. Adjusted for inflation, he was earning more than $256,000 in today’s dollars. That is more than four times the median household income.


BERNIE SANDERS: “Medicare for all … will cost substantially less than the status quo.”

THE FACTS: There’s no guarantee that “Medicare for All” will cost less.

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said in a report last year that total spending under a single-payer system like Sanders is calling for “might be higher or lower than under the current system depending on the key features of the new system.”

Those features have to do with the design of the system, questions like payment rates for hospitals and doctors, and whether patients are required to pay part of the cost of their care. The Vermont senator says his plan would require no cost-sharing from patients, no copays and no deductibles. But completely free care could trigger a surge in demand for medical services, raising costs. Other countries that provide coverage for all do use cost-sharing to help keep spending in check.

research report last year by the nonprofit Rand think tank estimated that Medicare for All would modestly raise total U.S. health spending.

The study modeled a hypothetical scenario with a plan similar to Sanders’ legislation. 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.


BIDEN: “I was asked to bring 156,000 troops home from that war, which I did. I led that effort.”

THE FACTS: Biden is roughly right about bringing troops home, but he didn’t mention that the U.S. had to send some back.

President Barack Obama did designate Biden to take the lead in pulling U.S. forces out of Iraq and coordinating efforts to maintain stability in Baghdad. His results were mixed. Biden and Obama failed to win agreement from the Iraqi government to keep a limited number of U.S. troops there after December 2011. That was the deadline for a complete U.S. pullout under a deal negotiated by the Bush administration in late 2008. Biden was still vice president when Obama was compelled to return American troops to Iraq in 2014 after the rise of the Islamic State extremist group.


ELIZABETH WARREN: “The only person on this stage who has beaten an incumbent Republican any time in the past 30 years is me.”

SANDERS: “Just to set the record straight, I defeated a Republican incumbent running for Congress.”

WARREN: “I said, I was the only one who’s beaten an incumbent Republican in 30 years.”

THE FACTS: Sanders wins this argument — one of the stranger disputes of the night — by a matter of months. In November 1990, Sanders beat Republican incumbent Peter Smith to take Vermont’s only House seat. That was 29 years and two months ago. Sanders’ win, technically, slips in the 30-year window.

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