FactChecking the Las Vegas Democratic Debate

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By  and Factcheck.org

Summary

Many of the factual disputes centered on disagreements among the candidates:

  • Former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg said the stop-and-frisk policy that was “in place” when he became mayor “got out of control” and so “we cut 95% of it.” That’s true if comparing the number of stops in the first quarter of 2012 with the last quarter of 2013, but the stops rose 600% in his first 10 years in office. They were twice as high in the year he left office than when he began.
  • Former Vice President Joe Biden, meanwhile, wrongly said: “The reason that stop and frisk changed is because Barack Obama sent moderators to see what was going on.” Actually, the decline started well before the Obama administration’s intervention.
  • Sen. Elizabeth Warren falsely accused Bloomberg of “blaming African Americans and Latinos” for the 2008 housing crash. Not true. Bloomberg’s 2008 remarks blamed Wall Street and Congress among others. Rivals have criticized his mention of “redlining,” but he described banks lending to borrowers who weren’t creditworthy, not any racial group.
  • Sen. Bernie Sanders said CEOs in the health care and pharmaceutical industries “are contributing to Pete’s campaign,” referring to former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg. True, but some also contributed to Sanders. Neither candidate got much.
  • Biden said that Bloomberg called the Affordable Care Act a “disgrace,” to which Bloomberg said, “I was in favor of it. I thought it didn’t go far enough.” After the ACA became law in 2010, Bloomberg did call it a “disgrace” that did not “fix the big health care problems in this country.” But in 2009, he said he supported Obama’s “push to enact comprehensive health care reform,” and urged Congress to include a public option.
  • Buttigieg and Sen. Amy Klobuchar argued over the senator’s voting record. Klobuchar has disavowed a 2007 vote to declare English as the national language. Her voting support of President Donald Trump’s judicial nominees has declined over the past year, though it’s still higher than Sanders’ or Warren’s.
  • Buttigieg referred to Amazon and Chevron as “paying literally zero” in federal taxes “on billions of dollars in profits.” That’s based on an analysis from last year, though the companies’ actual tax returns aren’t public and reports suggest it may not be “literally zero.”
  • Bloomberg said China’s carbon emissions had “slowed down” and that India “is an even bigger problem.” China’s emissions may be increasing less rapidly than India’s, but the country’s total emissions still dwarf those of its southwestern neighbor.
  • Sanders and Biden also repeated claims about the homeless, health care and gun manufacturers.

NBC News, MSNBC and the Nevada Independent hosted the debate, which was held in Las Vegas on Feb. 19.

Analysis
Stop-And-Frisk

Bloomberg and Biden sparred over the controversial stop-and-frisk policy administered during Bloomberg’s term as mayor of New York City from 2002 through 2013.

Bloomberg has apologized for the policy, but he continues to frame the policy’s turnaround in a misleading way.

Bloomberg: Well, if I go back and look at my time in office, the one thing that I’m really worried about, embarrassed about, was how it turned out with stop-and-frisk. When I got into office, there were 650 murders a year in New York City. And I thought that my first responsibility was to give people the right to live. That’s the basic right of everything. And we started it. We adopted a policy which had been in place. The policy that all big police departments use of stop-and-frisk. What happened, however, was it got out of control. And when we discovered, I discovered, that we were doing many, many, too many stop-and-frisks, we cut 95% of it out.

As we wrote recently in a deeper dive into Bloomberg’s history with stop-and-frisk, Bloomberg gets to his figure of a 95% cut by comparing the quarterly high point of 203,500 stops in the first quarter of 2012 with the 12,485 stops in the last quarter of 2013 — a decline that would not have been possible without the numbers ballooning earlier in Bloomberg’s tenure.

As Bloomberg says, stop-and frisk was put in place by his predecessor, Rudy Giuliani, but the practice multiplied exponentially under Bloomberg. In Bloomberg’s first 10 years in office, the number of stop-and-frisk actions increased nearly 600%, reaching a peak of nearly 686,000 stops in 2011. There were about 192,000 documented stops in 2013, nearly twice as many as there were the year before Bloomberg took office.

Biden wrongly claimed that it was pressure from the Obama administration that prompted the decline in stops. “Let’s get the order straight,” Biden said.

Biden: The reason that stop and frisk changed is because Barack Obama sent moderators to see what was going on. When we sent them there to say this practice has to stop, the mayor thought it was a terrible idea we send them there — a terrible idea. Let’s get the facts straight, let’s get the order straight.

As Biden suggests, let’s look at the order. In June 2013, the Obama administration announced that if a federal judge in a class-action case challenging the policy ruled that New York’s application of the stop-and-frisk policy was unconstitutional, then an independent monitor should be appointed to oversee the program. By then, however, the number of stops was already plummeting, from 203,500 in the first quarter of 2012 to 58,088 in the second quarter of 2013. That’s a 71% decline in the year-and-a-half before the Obama administration made its first official intervention in the case.

Bloomberg said he “discovered” that the policy “got out of control” after conversations with “African-American clergy and businesspeople,” and so he set about to cut the number of stops. The police department in May 2012 announced new training and supervision designed to address concerns about racial profiling in the application of stop-and-frisk. But there were other forces driving the decline: a day before the policy was announced, a federal judge granted class-action status to a lawsuit brought by people who had been stopped. And there was mounting public opposition to the stop-and-frisk program.

On Aug. 12, 2013, U.S. District Court Judge Shira A. Scheindlin ruled that the city police department violated the U.S. Constitution in the way that it carried out its stop-and-frisk program, calling it “a form of racial profiling” of young black and Hispanic men. In her opinion, Scheindlin wrote that she was “not ordering an end to the practice of stop and frisk” and that the practice could continue if the city complied with court-ordered remedies — including an independent monitor to oversee the program to make sure that it did not violate the Constitution.

Bloomberg did oppose an independent monitor of the police department, and he fought the lawsuit. He also tried to rebuff efforts by New York’s City Council to create an independent inspector general to monitor the police department. Bloomberg vetoed the bill, but the council overrode the veto.

Bloomberg continued to defend the stop-and-frisk practice throughout his term as mayor — and after — maintaining that the policy led to a decrease in crime. During the debate, Bloomberg made similar justifications, saying that there were 650 murders a year in New York City before he took office, and that the number declined to 300 under his watch. It’s true there were 649 murders in 2001, the year before Bloomberg took office. And the number dropped to 335 in 2013, Bloomberg’s last year as mayor. What Bloomberg did not mention in the debate is that the number of murders continued to decline in his last two years in office even as the number of stop-and-frisk actions dramatically declined. And the number of murders continued to generally decline as Bloomberg’s successor, Bill de Blasio, phased out stop-and-frisk.

Days before announcing his candidacy for president in November, Bloomberg said that he “should have acted sooner, and acted faster to cut the stops,” and he apologized for not doing that. He acknowledged that “crime continued to come down as we reduced stops.”

Warren’s False Hit on Bloomberg

Warren falsely accused Bloomberg of “blaming African Americans and Latinos for the housing crash of 2008.” He didn’t. He did blame politicians and Wall Street, among others.

Warren was referring to remarks Bloomberg made at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 17, 2008 — at the height of the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression.

He was asked about the “root causes” and gave a rambling, six-minute answer that never once mentioned blacks, Latinos or any race or ethnic group. Contrary to the impression left by some recent news accounts, Bloomberg spread the blame widely among politicians, bankers, the Federal Reserve, home builders and Wall Street firms that he said failed to grasp the risks they were taking in pursuit of profits.

“It probably all started back when there was a lot of pressure on banks to make loans to everyone,” he began.

He said Congress and local government officials pushed to end the practice of “redlining,” which Bloomberg described as banks avoiding making loans in “whole neighborhoods [where] people in these neighborhoods are poor, they are not going to be able to pay off their mortgages.”

“And once you started pushing in that direction, banks started making more and more loans where the credit of the person buying the house wasn’t as good as you would like,” Bloomberg said.

To be sure, denying credit to “poor” neighborhoods was often the same thing as denying credit to blacks or other minority groups. But all Bloomberg said in 2008 was that the dominoes started falling when Congress pressed banks to lend to “everyone.”

He didn’t stop there. Bloomberg also said “there was very cheap money” due to Federal Reserve policies. He said that, combined with loosened lending practices, led to overbuilding by developers.

“The second problem was that Wall Street … had looked for a long time for new ways to make money,” he said. “Wall Street got into the position where they created so many sophisticated products, my theory is that most people couldn’t understand them — people who worked in these firms. I don’t know that the management of these companies understood the risks and the volatility.”

Later in the debate, NBC’s Chuck Todd said Bloomberg’s 2008 remarks “seemed to imply … that stopping redlining has somehow contributed to the financial crisis.” Bloomberg said “that’s exactly wrong.”

Bloomberg: I was against it. [The financial crisis] came about because the people who took the mortgages, packaged them and others bought them. That’s where the disaster was. Redlining is still a practice some places and we have to cut it out.

We can’t say at this point whether Bloomberg ever publicly opposed redlining in 2008 or before. But his 2008 remarks didn’t endorse the practice. He said the crisis grew out of political pressure to make loans to “everyone,” including those who were poor credit risks.

Sanders on Buttigieg’s Campaign Contributions

While discussing Medicare for All, his plan for a government-run health insurance system, Sanders said high profits reaped by the health care and pharmaceutical industries are driving up U.S. health care costs. The Vermont senator also suggested that campaign contributions have prevented the U.S. from switching to a public system.

He then added, “And those CEOs are contributing to Pete’s campaign and other campaigns up here,” referring to Buttigieg.

That’s true, but Sanders also has received such contributions.

We asked the Sanders campaign recently about a similar claim, and it referred us to an Oct. 18 story by Sludge, a website that writes about money in politics. The site reviewed Buttigieg’s third-quarter campaign finance report for contributions from health care executives, and listed 103 such donors — including five CEOs and four presidents of health care and pharmaceutical companies.

Combined, the nine top executives gave $14,300 in the third quarter. In all, they have given Buttigieg’s campaign $18,050 during the course of the campaign, according to Federal Election Commission data.

The list included one donation from a top pharmaceutical executive, Mohammad Azab, president and chief medical officer of Astex Pharmaceuticals. Azab has donated a total of $3,800, FEC records show.

The two largest donations that the Buttigieg campaign received from health care CEOs came from Robert Grossman, CEO and dean of NYU Langone Health, an academic medical center based in New York City, and Richard Stillwell, CEO of Sound Health Care Association, a Nashville-based company that provides health insurance plans to musicians and other entertainers. Each has donated $2,800, as the Sludge list shows.

But Sanders has received money from health care CEOs, too. The senator’s campaign received $3,184.60 from seven health care CEOs, according to FEC records. The largest donation came from Muhammad Tahir Javed, CEO of Riceland Healthcare in Texas, who so far has donated $1,250 to the Sanders campaign.

When contributions from all health care industry employees are included, not just CEOs, the top two recipients among presidential candidates are Sanders ($3 million) and Buttigieg ($2.8 million), according to the nonprofit Center for Responsive Politics.

Even then, the amounts are relatively small compared with the totals that both candidates have raised. As of Dec. 31, the Sanders campaign had raised $109 million and Buttigieg’s campaign about $77 million, according to FEC data.

Bloomberg’s Obamacare Comments

Biden said that when Bloomberg was still mayor of New York, he called the Affordable Care Act, which then-President Obama signed into law in March 2010, a “disgrace.”

When Bloomberg responded that he had supported Obamacare, Biden again said, “The mayor said, when we passed it, the signature piece of this administration, ‘It’s a disgrace.’ They’re the exact words. ‘It was a disgrace.’ Look it up, check it out. ‘It was a disgrace.’”

Biden is right. Bloomberg did call it a “disgrace” at an event at Dartmouth College in July 2010, a few months after Obama signed the legislation.

“We passed a health care bill that does absolutely nothing to fix the big health care problems in this country. It is just a disgrace,” Bloomberg said at the time. He said Obama “started out by pointing out what the big problems were” but “then turned it over to Congress, which didn’t pay any attention to any of those big problems, and just created another program that’s going to cost a lot of money.”

“And it’s really sad because they say they’ve insured or provided coverage for another 45 million people, except there’s no doctors for 45 million more people,” he continued. “Unless they fix immigration and let people who come here for medical education stay here, those people are just going to do the same thing.”

In the debate, Bloomberg countered that, prior to those comments, he had expressed support for Obamacare, which is true to an extent. Bloomberg did say that he supported Obama’s goal of universal health care, but he urged members of Congress to include a public health care option, which the legislation that became law did not do.

“In ’09, I testified and gave a speech before the mayors conference in Washington advocating it and trying to get all the mayors to sign on. And I think at that time I wrote an article praising Obamacare, it was either in the New York Post or the Daily News,” Bloomberg said. “I was in favor of it. I thought it didn’t go as far as we should.”

In April 2009, Bloomberg’s office issued a press release about comments he made about health care at the U.S. Conference of Mayors’ meeting the day prior. “President Obama has identified critical nonpartisan principles that should guide any health care reform package and I support his push to enact comprehensive health care reform this year,” the press release quoted Bloomberg saying.

Then, in July 2009, Bloomberg wrote an opinion piece published by the New York Daily News that said, “The principles that President Obama has outlined for national health care reform are driven by a goal that I share: universal access to affordable health care.” He also pushed for Congress to include a “public health insurance option,” which he noted was an idea that Obama was supporting at the time.

“If you like the coverage you have, you keep it. But if you don’t have coverage — or if you lose your coverage — you’d have another option. And virtually everyone agrees that a well-managed public option has real potential to provide – for less money – the same benefits that private insurers provide,” he wrote.

And on Nov. 6, 2009, Bloomberg issued another statement saying that for months he had been asking members of Congress to support a House version of the bill that eventually passed. But, again, he said he was “hopeful the final legislation” from the House and Senate “will include, a meaningful public health insurance option for New Yorkers.” That did not happen.

CNN also points out that in a 2013 radio interview cited by Bloomberg’s campaign, the former mayor said of the health care law: “Some parts of Obamacare I don’t think will work, I don’t think is fair, I don’t think is intelligent, whatever. But I don’t have a better answer other than let’s try this.”

Buttigieg-Klobuchar Spar on Voting Record

Buttigieg and Klobuchar argued over the senator’s voting record on English as the national language and President Donald Trump’s judicial nominations.

Buttigieg: You voted to make English the national language. Do you know the message that sends in as multilingual a state as Nevada to immigrants? You have been unusual among Democrats, I think the Democrat among all of the senators running for president most likely to vote for Donald Trump’s judges. …

Klobuchar: In fact, I have opposed, and not supported, two-thirds of the Trump judges, so get your numbers right. And I am in the top 10 to 15 of opposing them.

In 2007, Klobuchar did vote for an amendment “to declare English as the national language of the Government of the United States.” She was one of 17 Democrats to vote in favor of the amendment to an immigration bill. The amendment passed, but the overall bill didn’t. More recently, Klobuchar has said she wouldn’t support such a policy.

In June at a presidential forum in Miami, she said: “And I would not support an amendment any longer, to make English the official language because I understand now what that would mean to people in the community.” And in Las Vegas this month, she again said she was against such legislation, according to the Associated Press.

As for her vote on Trump’s judicial nominations, her campaign points to a calculation showing she has voted for 33.51% of Trump’s nominees for district and circuit courts, which would put her among the top seven Democratic senators in opposition. An earlier tally, published in April 2019, by Think Progress called Klobuchar an “outlier” among the presidential field for supporting “more than 56% of Trump’s judicial nominees who were eventually confirmed — a higher rate than 32 of the other 46 senators who are members of or caucus with the Democratic Party.”

The campaign says it used the same methodology as Think Progress to compile the updated tally, which shows Klobuchar’s voting percentage for Trump’s judges declining considerably over the last year. Sanders voted for Trump’s judges 25.53% of the time, and Warren did so 25.00% of the time, according to the campaign’s calculations.

Amazon’s and Chevron’s Taxes

In saying that he would not increase taxes on small businesses, Buttigieg said “what we’ve got to do is level the playing field, where a company like Amazon or Chevron, is paying literally zero on billions of dollars in profits.”

There were indeed reports last year, prompted by the findings of the left-leaning Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, indicating that the two companies and others paid no federal income taxes in 2018. The ITEP more recently noted, based on a Securities and Exchange Commission filing for 2019, that Amazon “paid $162 million of federal income taxes, a bit more than 1 percent of the company’s domestic profits.”

Even so, the picture isn’t completely clear, since the companies’ tax returns are private under federal law, and such reports instead rely on information from other financial statements.

The Wall Street Journal noted as much last year and, looking at several years’ worth of Amazon financial statements, reported: “From 2012 through 2018, Amazon reported $25.4 billion in pretax U.S. income and current federal tax provisions totaling $1.9 billion. That is an 8% tax rate—low, but not zero or negative.”

Bloomberg on Asian Carbon Emissions

During a section of the debate focused on climate change, NBC’s Lester Holt asked Bloomberg how he would get China — the world’s top carbon emitter — to reduce its emissions, given that Bloomberg’s business is “heavily invested” in the country.

After saying that he would negotiate with China, and convince the country that action on climate was also in its interest, Bloomberg deflected concern to India.

“In all fairness, the Chinese have slowed down,” he said. “It’s India that is an even bigger problem. But it is an enormous problem. Nobody’s doing anything about it.”

It’s true that China’s carbon dioxide emissions have been increasing less rapidly than India’s. But China’s emissions are still rising — and the nation’s total emissions are much higher than India’s.

According to a March 2019 report from the International Energy Agency, in 2018, China’s CO2 emissions rose by 2.5%, compared with a 4.8% increase in India.

China’s total annual emissions, however, are more than four times larger than India’s — around 9.5 gigatons — so China’s smaller percentage increase actually accounts for twice as much carbon pollution. And as the report notes, despite the growth, “per capita emissions in India remain low at only 40% of the global average.”

While both countries are concerning for climate change, China is by far the larger source of emissions.

The Bloomberg campaign noted in an email to us that China is “taking steps” to reduce coal use, while India’s coal-fired capacity and population are expected to rise. “Therefore, it seems pretty fair to say – in terms of forcing ‘a country to reduce emissions and tackle the climate crisis’ – that the country that is not already doing it would pose the bigger problem,” the spokesperson said.

Repeats

Homeless: Sanders again exaggerated when he said the U.S. has “half a million people sleeping out on the streets.” As we’ve written before, the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s most recent annual assessment of the homeless population, released Jan. 13, estimated that 211,293 people were homeless and without shelter on the night the census was taken in 2019. Sanders was referring to the total population of homeless people, which HUD estimated at 567,715. But HUD told Congress that about “two-thirds (63%) of people experiencing homelessness were staying in sheltered locations.”

Health Care: Sanders also repeated his regular claim that “despite spending twice as much per capita, Chuck, twice as much, as any other major country on Earth, we’ve got 87 million who are uninsured or underinsured.”

The U.S. spends twice as much as every country, except for six, according to the most recent Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development data, which is for 2018. U.S. per capita spending on health care totaled $10,586, but Switzerland ($7,317), Norway ($6,187), Germany ($5,986), Sweden ($5,447), Austria ($5,395) and Denmark ($5,299) all pay a little more than half of what the U.S. does.

And the 87 million uninsured or underinsured number comes from a 2018 Commonwealth Fund survey. The tally includes 19.3 million people who were insured, but had experienced a gap in coverage in the prior year. 

Guns: Biden said that because of Sanders, we “can’t go after” and sue “gun manufacturers.” But, as we pointed out after the Feb. 7 Democratic debate, the 2005 law that Sanders originally supported does allow lawsuits in some cases. According to the Congressional Research Service, the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act of 2005, which generally shields gun makers from civil lawsuits resulting from the misuse of firearms or ammunition, included six exceptions, including cases in which a firearm seller acted with negligence, cases involving the transfer of a firearm with the knowledge that it would be used to commit a crime, and cases in which manufacturers and sellers marketed or sold a firearm in violation of state or federal law. In fact, a Connecticut judge said last year that a lawsuit the families of victims of the 2012 Sandy Hook school shooting filed against Remington Arms Co. for the way it marketed the assault-style rifle the killer used will go to trial in 2021.

Sources

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