Politics & Government

Benghazi, guns and trade: Fact-checking the 2016 Democrats

Here's what happened at the first Democratic debate

The first Democratic presidential primary debate was held on October 13, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Five candidates: Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, Martin O'Malley, Lincoln Chafee and Jim Webb - took to the stage in hopes of propelling their can
Up Next
The first Democratic presidential primary debate was held on October 13, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Five candidates: Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, Martin O'Malley, Lincoln Chafee and Jim Webb - took to the stage in hopes of propelling their can

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Sen. Bernie Sanders and three other 2016 Democratic White House hopefuls squared off Tuesday in the party’s first presidential debate.

Sometimes facts didn’t square with their rhetoric. Here’s a look at some of what was said.

Bernie Sanders’ top 1 percent claim

Sanders said the top 0.1 percent of Americans have nearly as much wealth as the bottom 90 percent. PolitiFact, an independent journalistic fact-checker, said Sander’s claim is mostly accurate, based on a study on wealth inequality commissioned by the National Bureau of Economic Research.

The authors of the study used tax records, made estimates on 2012 wealth based on home ownership, savings and retirement accounts and subtracted all debts like mortgages and credit card balances.

However, some economic experts contend that the study doesn’t fully calculate middle-class wealth because it excludes Social Security benefits and doesn’t factoring in certain tax laws.

The Pacific trade pact

Clinton misspoke when she said the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade deal with 11 other nations, was negotiated last week. Negotiations concluded on the trade pact last week, which will lower tariffs in many Asian countries for American goods, especially farm goods.

Clinton was right to note that she repeatedly has said she hoped the trade deal would be the “gold standard,” as she noted in 2012, but she said Tuesday night that she didn’t feel “it met my standards.” It’s not clear she read the entire pact since the text was not immediately released and she has offered only a few specifics, such as currency manipulation, on what she opposes.

Democrats traditionally have opposed trade deals, most negotiated by Republican administrations, because they have lacked enforceable provisions on labor standards and the environment. This deal has those, and it is the first large deal fully negotiated by a Democratic administration. It’s a deal that breaks new ground by upgrading the non-enforceable provisions in the North American Free Trade Agreement, signed by her husband, President Bill Clinton.​

Sanders on gun control

Sanders defended his record on gun control, calling for stricter background checks, improving mental health services and closing loopholes that exempt gun shows from background checks.

However, Sanders opposed the 1993 Brady bill, which established federal background checks and a waiting period for potential gun owners. He’s explained that he represents a largely rural state where guns “mean different things to people” than in urban states. As a result, he’s argued that he could play a role in bringing opposing sides together. He notes he later voted for the ban on semiautomatic weapons, closing the gun show loophole and tightening background checks.

Clinton seeks to repeal a 2005 law known as the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, which prevents gun manufacturers and dealers, in some cases, from being sued. Sanders voted for the law in 2005; Clinton voted against it.

Sanders on Sunday started to walk that back, telling “Meet the Press” that he’d be open to revisiting the law.

“If you are a gun shop owner in Vermont and you sell somebody a gun and that person flips out and then kills somebody, I don’t think it’s really fair to hold that person responsible, the gun shop owner,” he said, explaining his reasoning.

“On the other hand, where there is a problem is there is evidence that manufacturers, gun manufacturers, do know that they’re selling a whole lot of guns in an area that really should not be buying that many guns. That many of those guns are going to other areas, probably for criminal purposes. So can we take another look at that liability issue? Yes.”

Crime in Baltimore

The death of Freddie Gray, an African-American man who suffered trauma while in Baltimore police custody in April, ignited riots in the city and highlighted tensions between residents and the city’s law enforcement.

Asked about the riots, former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, another of the five Democratic 2016 hopefuls on stage, said, “Arrests had actually fallen to a 38-year low in the years before Freddie Gray’s death.”

Baltimore County has seen a drop in Part 1 crime arrests for violent offenses like rape and murder. In 2014, the county had 26,989 arrests, down from 27,982 arrests in 2013 and 29,439 in 2012.

Violent crimes like rape and murder dropped 6.1 percent in 2014 compared with the previous five-year average, according to county data. However, from 2012 to 2013, homicide rates rose 4 percent.

Maryland had a rate of 446.1 violent crimes per 100,000 people in 2014, according to FBI data.

Democrats and the economy

Hillary Clinton claimed “the economy does better when we have a Democrat in the White House.” This is, in fact, true, although other factors, such as world events and shifting economic conditions, come into play as well.

More jobs are created when there is a Democratic president; a total of 42.3 million were created over the course of the last five Democratic presidents, compared with a total of 23.9 million over the course of the last five Republican presidents. In addition, the stock market does better when there is a Democratic president; between 1901 and July 2015, the stock market gained 8.7 percent under Democratic presidents compared with 5.3 percent under Republican presidents.

These aren’t the only economic indicators that prove a difference between parties, either. According to a paper published in July 2014 by economists Alan Blinder and Mark Watson:

“The U.S. economy not only grows faster, according to real gross domestic product and other measures, during Democratic versus Republican presidencies, it also produces more jobs, lowers the unemployment rate, generates higher corporate profits and investment, and turns in higher stock returns. Indeed, it outperforms under almost all standard macroeconomic measures.”

NSA surveillance

Sanders said that the National Security Agency collects Americans’ phone calls and “keeps them in a file.” The NSA isn’t allowed to record and retain the contents of private citizens’ telephone calls without a warrant from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.

The NSA says it can under Section 215 of the USA Patriot Act collect metadata, or information such as the locations from where telephone calls are made, the recipients and their locations, the times at which they are placed and their durations.

Experts say that communications metadata can be more revealing than the contents of communications because it can be used to reveal people’s social networks, habits and other personal information.

Congress closed down the bulk telephony metadata program in June with the passage of new legislation. The legislation, however, allowed a grace period of six months in which the government could establish a less-sweeping alternative. That period is due to end on Nov. 29.

Sanders on immigration

Sanders was asked, “Why should Latino voters trust you now when you left them at the altar at the moment when reform was very close,” referring to his opposition to a 2007 immigration overhaul bill.

The Vermont senator responded: “I didn’t leave anybody at the altar. I voted against that piece of legislation because it had guest-worker provisions in it which the Southern Poverty Law Center talked about being semi-slavery. Guest workers are coming in, they’re working under terrible conditions, but if they stand up for their rights, they’re thrown out of the country.”

“My view right now – and always has been – is that when you have 11 million undocumented people in this country, we need comprehensive immigration reform, we need a path toward citizenship, we need to take people out of the shadows.”

Since launching his presidential bid, Sanders has often pointed out that he voted for the Dream Act in 2010 and backed the 2013 immigration overhaul bill.

However, he was part of the charge from the left in 2007 to kill an immigration overhaul bill and voted against it, citing concerns that it would drive down wages for lower-income workers.

“My concern about the bill that I voted against was that there was too much emphasis on bringing low-wage workers into this country,” he said when questioned about this vote at a Hispanic Chamber of Commerce event this summer.

Sanders also partnered with Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, in 2009 on a restrictive immigration amendment to prohibit businesses that have received taxpayer bailout funds from hiring H-1B visa holders.

Jonathan S. Landay, Kevin G. Hall, Vera Bergengruen, Grace Toohey, Tori Whitley, Eleanor Mueller, Ali Montag and Franco Ordoñez contributed.

William Douglas: 202-383-6026, @williamgdouglas

Related stories from Sacramento Bee