Democratic debate night 2: Fact-checking the candidates on the issues originally appeared on abcnews.go.com
Here's ABC News' fact check of the second of two Democratic presidential debates in Detroit between Sen. Michael Bennet, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro, Sen. Cory Booker, former Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Kamala Harris, Andrew Yang, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, Gov. Jay Inslee and Mayor Bill de Blasio.
FACT CHECK | Biden: When Sen. Harris was the attorney general for eight years in the state of California, there were two of the most segregated school districts in the country, in Los Angeles and in San Francisco. And she did not -- I didn't see a single time she brought a case against them to desegregate them. She's also in a situation where she had a police department when she was there that in fact was abusing people's rights and the fact was that she, in fact, was told by her own people that her own staff, that she should do something about and disclose to defense attorneys like me that you in fact have been -- the police officer did something that did not give you information that would help your client. She didn't do that. She never did it. What happened, along came a federal judge and said enough and he freed 1,000 of these people. If you doubt me, Google: 1,000 prisoners freed, Kamala Harris.
Harris: That is simply not true. And as attorney general of California where I ran the second largest department of justice in the United States, I am proud of the work we did. Work that has received national recognition for what has been the important work of reforming a criminal justice system and cleaning up the consequences of the bills that you passed when you were in the United States Senate for decades.
Gabbard: I'm concerned about this record of Sen. Harris. She put over 1,500 people in jail for marijuana violations and laughed about it when she was asked if she ever smoked marijuana. She blocked evidence that would have freed an innocent man from death row. She kept people in prison beyond their sentences to use them as cheap labor for the state of California, and she fought to keep cash bail system in place that impacts poor people in the worst kind of way.
Biden appears to be alluding in part to a crime lab scandal reported to have involved Sen. Harris' office during her time as San Francisco's district attorney.
A technician in a drug lab in her office's jurisdiction was accused of purposely mishandling drug samples that had been collected from multiple suspects. A court later ruled that the DA's office, under Sen. Harris, didn't disclose its knowledge of the matter in criminal trials and in doing so violated several defendants' constitutional rights.
Harris denied awareness of the issues with the crime lab, after the judge alleged that prosecutors "at the highest levels" of the DA's office had known about the labs' problems.
Gabbard's claim that over 1,500 people were put in jail for marijuana violations is likely based on data from the California Department of Corrections and Rehab, that shows "at least 1,560 people were sent to state prisons for marijuana-related offenses between 2011 and 2016," the same years that Harris served as attorney general of California.
Harris has acknowledging her own shifting stance on legalizing drugs. When she became California Attorney General in 2010, Harris supported the legal use of medicinal marijuana but nothing beyond that. She continued to hold that opinion when she ran for re-election in 2014 but later called for the "end of the federal ban on medical marijuana" in 2015 at the Democratic State Convention but did not support full legalization.
After she successfully ran for Senate in 2016, Harris said that "we need to do the smart thing, the right thing, and finally decriminalize marijuana" and in 2018 signed into Booker's Marijuana Justice Act to make marijuana legal at the federal level.
-Alexander Mallin, Justin Gomez and Zohreen Shah
FACT CHECK | Gillibrand: I think we have to have a broader conversation about whether we value women and whether we want to make sure women have every opportunity in the workplace and I want to address Vice President Biden directly. When the Senate was debating middle class affordability for child care, he wrote an op-ed. He voted against it, the only vote. But what he wrote (in) an op-ed was that he believed that women working outside the home would quote: 'create the deterioration of family.' He also said that women who were working outside the home were quote: 'avoiding responsibility.' And I just need to understand as a woman who's worked my entire career as the primary wage earner, as the primary care giver. In fact, my second son, Henry, is here, and I had him when I was a member of Congress. So under Vice President Biden's analysis, am I serving in Congress, resulting in the deterioration of the family because I had access to quality affordable day care. I want to know what he meant when he said that."
Biden: "That was a long time ago and here's what it was about. It would have given people making -- today -- $100,000 a year (for) a tax break for child care. I did not want that. I wanted the child care to go to people making less than $100,000. And that's what it was about. As a single father who, in fact, raised three children for five years by myself, I have some idea what it cost."
Gillibrand is inaccurate that Biden's 1981 op-ed titled "Congress is Subsidizing Deterioration of Family" specifically said women working outside the home would "create the deterioration of the family."
In fact, in his op-ed he said "too many Americans -- especially members of my generation -- go out of their way to avoid individual responsibility for themselves and for their families," adding, "a recent act of Congress put the federal government in the position, through the tax codes, of subsidizing the deterioration of the family."
The op-ed referred to Biden's vote against a 1981 child care tax credit expansion. Biden was the only person to vote against the measure, and argued that wealthier families should not be allowed to take advantage of the tax credit. Citing what he called "the cancer of materialism" he did not want tax credits to be used to pay for luxury items like "a larger home, patio or swimming pool." He also maintained that it's better for families to have a parent taking care of children.
"What I do not accept as legitimate is social policy that encourages a couple making $30,000, $40,000, $50,000 or more a year to evade the full responsibility for their children by granting them a tax credit for day care expenses. I don't not believe it fair to ask a family of marginal income, choosing to provide the primary care for their children to subsidize an upper income family's day care," Biden wrote in the op-ed, which would be an income of nearly $90,000 in 2019.
While women were more likely than men to stay home for child care in the 1980s, an Associated Press article on the same topic from July 1981 quotes Biden as saying that it's up to families to decide who should take on the childcare responsibility.
"I do not care whether in a modern marriage you want the man or the woman to take that (child care) responsibility," Biden said. "But every single study that we look at, everything we hear tells us that kids are looking for the love and the companionship of their parents."
FACT CHECK | Harris: "My entire career, I have been opposed -- personally opposed -- to the death penalty and that has never changed and I dare anybody who's in a position to make that decision to face the people I have faced to say I will not seek the death penalty. That is my background, that is my work. I am proud of it. I think you can judge people by when they are under fire and it's not about some fancy opinion on a stage but when they're in the position to actually make a decision, what do they do, when I was in the position of having to decide whether or not to seek a death penalty on cases I prosecuted, I made a very difficult decision that was not popular to not seek the death penalty. History shows that and I am proud of those decisions."
While Harris has maintained her personal opposition to the capital punishment, her record on the matter as a prosecutor is more complicated -- the former California attorney general has gone back and forth between promising to not pursue the death penalty and then promising to enforce death penalty.
Back in 2003 when Harris was running for San Francisco's district attorney's office, she ran on a popular campaign promise to not pursue the death penalty. She kept to her promise the following year by refusing to seek the death sentence of a man who had killed a police officer, and again in 2008 opposed to the death penalty of a notorious gang member accused of murder.
But in 2010 when she ran for California attorney general, Harris took a different stance and promised to uphold the law and defend death sentences imposed by the state. That year, she gained more support than she had previously from law enforcement.
She kept to her new campaign promise again in 2014, when she appealed a federal judge's ruling that the death penalty is unconstitutional, winning much-wanted endorsements from law enforcement groups. During that re-election campaign, Harris said the court's decision is "flawed" and "not supported by the law," and "undermines important protections that our courts provide to defendants," in a statement from the AG's office at that time.
Harris has since defended her past decision to appeal the court ruling against capital punishment, saying she was bound to do so from a legal perspective, adding that, "It was one of the most difficult things I had to do."
-Zohreen Shah and Soorin Kim
FACT CHECK | Gabbard: "We were all lied to. This is the betrayal. The betrayal to the American people. To me to my fellow service members. We were lied to. Told Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and working with al-Qaeda and posed a threat to the American people. I enlisted after 9/11 to protect our country. To go after those who attacked on us and took the lives of thousands of Americans. The problem is that this current president is continuing to betray us. We were supposed to be going after al-Qaeda. Over years now not only have we not gone after al-Qaeda who is stronger today than 9/11. Our president is supporting al-Qaeda."
A communications staffer for Gabbard clarified to ABC News that the congresswoman believes the president is supporting al-Qaeda "by giving money and weapons directly to Saudi Arabia" which "fuels the civil war in Syria and which often goes to al-Nusra Front which is also described [as] al-Qaeda in Syria." There have been reports that Gulf countries, including Saudi Arabia, have funded insurgent groups inside of Syria to include al-Nusra, al-Qaeda's affiliate group in Syria. The U.S. has sold billions of dollars of American-made weapons to Saudi Arabia.
However, it's not true that the U.S. has not targeted al-Qaeda "over years now." The U.S. is currently supporting Somali forces in the fight against al-Qaeda's affiliate there and other African nations combating al-Qaeda affiliates in the Sahel region. The U.S. has also conducted drone strikes against al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) militants in Yemen.
It is true that the U.S. military no longer prioritizes the fight against al-Qaeda in Afghanistan in the same way it did after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, since other groups such as the Taliban and the Islamic State have commanded a larger presence. One American general said last year that the U.S. had "decimated al-Qaeda" in Afghanistan. Though it's hard to say just how large the group is when accounting for its affiliates around the world.
FACT CHECK | Harris: "On the Hyde Amendment, you made a decision for years to withhold resources to poor women to reproductive health care and including women who were the victims of rape and incest. Do you now say that you have evolved and you regret that?"
Biden responded that every person who has been in Congress has had a vote on the Hyde Amendment. He added that "in the past," it existed "because there was other access for those kinds of services -- provided privately. Once I wrote the legislation making sure that every single woman would have the opportunity to have health care paid for by the federal government."
Harris followed up asking, "Why did it take you so long to change your position on the Hyde Amendment?"
Biden responded, "There was not full federal funding for all reproductive services. Prior to this point."
The Hyde Amendment was first passed in 1976, three years after the landmark Supreme Court case Roe v. Wade that encoded abortion as a protected right, and stipulates that federal funding cannot be used to pay for abortions. This primarily means Medicaid, for low-income patients, can't be used to cover abortion services.
Harris' reference that resources were withheld from women who were victims of rape and incest was true for the first approximately decade and a half of the Hyde Amendment's existence. An exemption for cases of rape or incest was added in the early 1990s.
As a member of the Senate from 1973 to 2009, Biden did vote for the Hyde Amendment as it is included in votes on the budget. So every time Biden voted to pass the budget, he implicitly also voted for the Hyde Amendment. However, that also makes true Biden's response to Harris that "everybody on this stage has been in Congress" and has thus had to make the same decision.
At least for some portion of time, however, Biden's support for the Hyde Amendment went beyond obliging it, and as Harris referenced, he has recently caused confusion with his stance on the Hyde Amendment. Biden wrote in his 2007 book, "Promises to Keep," that he still votes "against partial birth abortion and federal funding" as part of his "middle-of-the-road position on abortion."
Biden appeared to say he changed his mind when asked by an activist this spring. In a later statement, though, he said he still supports the Hyde Amendment. But, after facing significant criticism from advocates and those within his own party, Biden reversed his stance.
Biden's claim that there was access to "those kinds of services -- provided privately" is true, but does not, as he seems to imply, mean that all women had access to abortion. The intention and result of Hyde was to take access to abortion away from women who, by the definition of Medicaid, could not afford private insurance or paying out of pocket for a procedure.
The amendment was introduced by Republican Rep. Henry Hyde, who said at the time, "I certainly would like to prevent, if I could legally, anybody having an abortion, a rich woman, a middle-class woman, or a poor woman. Unfortunately, the only vehicle available is the ... Medicaid bill."
His reference to writing legislation and "full federal funding for all reproductive services" likely refers to his role in the Affordable Care Act, which does require coverage for contraceptives, but abortion is not a contraceptive as it does not prevent a pregnancy from happening but, rather, ends one. Meanwhile, the Hyde Amendment still exists, so there is no federal funding for abortion, which is a reproductive service.
FACT CHECK | Yang: "Even if we were to curb or emissions dramatically, the Earth is going to get warmer. The last four years have been the four warmest years in history."
The last five years have been the warmest in recorded history, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Average temperatures around the world have increased an average of 1 degree Celsius, about 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit, over the last 115 years, according to a report on climate change written by multiple government agencies and hundreds of experts, and the vast majority of climate researchers say human activities have contributed to that trend. While it may not seem like a drastic change that level of warming has already contributed to more extreme weather events including heat waves, and flooding from more severe rains and rising sea levels on the coasts.
A United Nations report last year found that trend is highly likely to continue on our current track, bringing average temperatures up 1.5 degrees Celsius between 2030 and 2052. The additional half degree of warming on average could mean even more extreme heat, damage to ecosystems and coral reefs, and loss of permafrost in the Arctic, according to an analysis by the World Resources Institute.
All the Democratic candidates for president who have released a platform on climate change say they would take more extensive steps to slow global warming than the government has under President Donald Trump, including ambitious goals to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels that contribute to global warming. But the warming that has already occurred and some of the consequences will remain for decades or even centuries, according to the U.N. report, and will continue even with ambitious action that could limit the extent of the impact.
The independent Climate Action Tracker said in December that even if every country that signed the Paris Climate Agreement meets its own targets, temperatures are on track to warm beyond the goals set in Paris to 3.3 degrees Celsius by the end of the century.
Many climate experts, however, will point out that even with the expected warming it's not "too late," as Yang said, to make changes to limit that warming and prevent the most devastating consequences.
FACT CHECK | Yang: "I believe I'm the candidate best suited to beat Donald Trump. And as for how to win in Michigan and Ohio and Pennsylvania, the problem is that so many people feel like the economy has left them behind. What we have to do is we have to say look there's record high GDP and stock market prices, you know what else are at record highs? Suicide, drug overdoses, depression, anxiety. It's gotten so bad that American life expectancy has declined for the last three years."
The average life expectancy in the U.S. has been on the decline for three consecutive years, according to the most recent available data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In 2017, an American was expected to live 78.6 years, down from 78.7 in 2016 and 78.8 in 2015.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the gradual decline in life expectancy is largely due to increases in mortality from unintentional injuries, suicide, diabetes and influenza and pneumonia, with unintentional injuries making the largest contribution. America's suicide rate is at its highest point since 1942. In 2017, 14 out of every 100,000 Americans died by suicide. The peak was during the Great Depression with a rate of 21.9 out of every 100,000 Americans in 1932, the CDC reported.
More than 70,200 Americans died from drug overdoses in 2017, including illicit drugs and prescription opioids -- a 2-fold increase in a decade and a record high according to the CDC.
- Jeffrey Cook and Quinn Scanlan
FACT CHECK | Harris: "I went to a place in Florida called Homestead, and there's a private detention facility being paid for by your taxpayer dollars that houses 2,700 children … I saw children lined up single file being walked into the barracks. These children have not committed crimes and should not be treated like criminals."
Gillibrand: "I believe we should have a civil violation, no president before President Trump enforced the law in the way he has enforced it because he's using it as the crutch to lock up women and children, to separate mothers and babies, to put them behind bars."
By describing a shelter for undocumented migrant teens as a "detention facility," Harris is using a description that federal officials strongly dispute. A jail-like setting also would be in violation of a 1997 court settlement called the Flores Agreement.
Homestead is a privately run shelter that at one point housed 2,700 teens, although its population in recent weeks has been cut by at least half that. The Department of House and Human Services, which hires contractors to run these types of shelters, insists Homestead is the best option available until the children can be placed with sponsors.
Gillibrand is correct that no president has enforced immigration laws quite like Trump. His "zero tolerance" policy insisted upon criminal prosecutions for anyone entering the country illegally, even if they were traveling as a family -- resulting in some 2,600 children separated from their parents in a matter of weeks. That was a major departure from past practices in which the government viewed first-time undocumented crossings as mostly a civil matter.
FACT CHECK | Biden: "In 2007 you became mayor and you had a police department that you went out and hired Rudy Giuliani's guy and you engaged in stop and frisk. You had 75% of those stops reviewed as illegal, the justice department came after you for saying you were engaging in behavior that was inappropriate, and then, in fact, nothing happened. The entire time you were mayor."
Booker: "It's no secret I inherited a police department with problems and challenges. But the head of the ACLU has already said that I put forth national accountability. … We have a system right now that's broken. And if you want to compare records -- and I'm shocked that you do -- I am happy to do that."
The Department of Justice initiated an investigation into the Newark Police Department in 2011, during Booker's tenure as mayor, and according to the DOJ, the Newark Police Department was in engaged in law enforcement practices that "had a disparate impact on minorities." Booker did in fact hire Garry McCarthy as director of the Newark Police Department, McCarthy was formerly deputy New York Police Department police commissioner under former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani. Under McCarthy and Booker's tenure, a stricter approach to crime saw an increase in stop-and-frisk practices. In 2014, the DOJ appointed a monitor to oversee the Newark Police Department. Later, in his 2016 book "United," Booker wrote, "Even as I had strived my entire life to be a force for equity, fairness, justice and opportunity, it was obvious that some of our police practices, on my watch, were undermining not only my own values but my life's mission."
-Lissette Rodriguez and Armando Garcia
FACT CHECK | De Blasio: "Did you say those deportations were a good idea or did you go to the president and say this is a mistake, we shouldn't do it?"
Biden: "I was vice president. I'm not the president. I keep my recommendation in private. Unlike you, I expect you would go ahead and say whatever was said privately. That is not what I do. What I do say to you is, he moved to fundamentally change the system. That's what he did."
President Barack Obama called on Congress to pass the Dream Act repeatedly -- with the Senate coming up short on the Dream Act in his first term and the GOP-led House refusing to take up the Senate's "Gang of Eight" bipartisan immigration reform bill in 2013. The bill would have created a path to citizenship for a limited group of young undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as children.
Faced with inaction from a divided Congress, Obama took executive action to shield more than 800,000 of these undocumented immigrants from deportation in 2012 with the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. Two years later he sought to expand that protection to millions more people, including undocumented parents of children born in the United States. That order was challenged in the court and never went into effect.
Since then, the Trump administration has sought to end DACA, which is now hung up in the courts, underscoring the fragility of the actions taken without congressional approval.
At the same time, as Obama sought to win support for broad immigration reform from conservatives, his administration deported millions of undocumented immigrants, a record that Biden has struggled to defend under attacks Wednesday night from de Blasio and others.
FACT CHECK | Booker: "This is a crisis in our country because we have treated issues of race and poverty, mental health and addiction with locking people up and not lifting them up. And, Mr. vice president has said that since the 1970s, every major crime bill, major and minor, has had his name on it. And, sir, those are your words, not mine. And this is one of those instances where the house was set on fire and you claimed responsibility for those laws. And you can't just now come out with a plan to put out that fire."
Looking to go on the attack against Biden, Booker repeatedly cited Biden's role in previous major anti-crime bills in his decades as a U.S. senator and claimed Biden has proudly accepted that "since the 1970s, every major crime bill, major and minor, has had his name on it."
"Mr. vice president has said that since the 1970s, every major crime bill, major and minor, has had his name on it," Booker said. "And, sir, those are your words, not mine. And this is one of those instances where the house was set on fire and you claimed responsibility for those laws."
Booker was actually quoting a remark from Biden on the Senate floor in 1993, prior to the passage of former President Bill Clinton's controversial 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act that many criminal justice experts allege shares responsibility for the United States' record high incarceration rates.
"The truth is, every major crime bill since 1976 that's come out of this Congress, every minor crime bill, has had the name of the Democratic senator from the state of Delaware: Joe Biden," Biden said at the time.
Biden has since mostly explained his votes for such previous crime bills by pointing to their overwhelming popularity at the time, while also arguing that the 1994 crime bill did not generate mass incarceration.
However, Biden did apologize in January of this year for portions of the 1994 bill, arguably mischaracterizing his prominence in his role in helping push it through the Congress despite his role at the time as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
FACT CHECK | Harris: "Yeah, let's talk about math. Let's talk about the fact that the pharmaceutical companies and the insurance companies last year alone profited $72 billion on the backs of American families and understand you are your plan, status quo, you do nothing to hold the insurance companies to task for what they have been doing to American families and America today, a diabetes patient, one in four cannot afford their insulin."
According to an analysis by Protect Our Care, a health care advocacy organization self-described as dedicated to preserving and improving the Affordable Care Act, the top eight drug company made profits in 2018 adding up to $50.3 billion. The eight largest publicly traded health insurers made a combined $21.9 billion in profits over the course of 2018, according to independent industry focused publication Modern Healthcare.
In 2018, Yale researchers reported that one-quarter of patients with type 1 or 2 diabetes reported using less insulin than prescribed due to these types of high costs.
FACT CHECK | Harris: "In America today, far too many people -- in fact 30 million people -- are going without access to health care."
Biden: "The senator had several plans so far and any time someone tells you you're going to get something good in 10 years, you should wonder why it takes 10 years. If you notice, there is no talk that the plan in 10 years will cost $3 trillion."
Harris: "Unfortunately, Vice President Biden, you're just simply inaccurate in what you're describing. The reality is that our plan will bring health care to all Americans under a Medicare-for-all system. Our plan will allow people to start signing up on the first day, babies will be born into our plan and right now, 4 million babies almost are born every day in America -- or every year in America -- under our plan, we will ensure everyone has access to health care. Your plan, by contrast, leaves out almost 10 million Americans."
On Wednesday night, the second Democratic debate kicked off with Harris and Biden sparring over health care. During the back-and-forth, Harris said that 30 million people go without access to health care. According to a National Center for Health Statistics 2018 survey, last year, 30.4 million people were uninsured at the time of the interview.
Biden went on to criticize the cost of Harris' plan, which she has yet to put a price tag on. Biden initially said it would cost $3 trillion, but went back and corrected himself to say $30 trillion. According to a recent study by Charles Blahous -- the former the deputy director for the National Economic Council under the Bush administration -- at the free-market oriented Mercatus Center at George Mason University, a Medicare-for-All plan would cost an estimated $32.6 trillion over the first ten years of its implementation. Although Harris' plan is not the same as Sen. Bernie Sanders' plan, they both seek to establish universal coverage and refer to it as Medicare For all.
But unlike Sanders', Harris' plan still includes private insurers in some capacity – they just "will be held to stricter consumer protection standards than they are today," according to the rollout of her plan.
Harris also pushed back against Biden's health care proposal -- stating that it would leave out almost 10 million Americans.Biden's proposal includes building on the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, which Republicans have vowed to repeal and continues to face ongoing court challenges. His plan would look to insure "more than an estimated 97% of Americans," according to his campaign website. That means that there would still be an estimated 3% of Americans who would not be covered -- which adds up to roughly 9.8 million people.
FACT CHECK | Gillibrand: "President Trump, under his administration, seven children died in his custody."
Gillibrand is correct that seven children have died after having been recently in U.S. custody. It's a point she also raised during the first Democratic debate in Miami. Most of them died after experiencing flu-like symptoms and being held at centers that immigration advocates have said were too crowded. One of those children, however, died from a congenital heart defect and her death was not tied to her care.
Mariee Juárez died last year after having spent time in ICE custody, but had been released. A 10-year-old died last fall after being in HHS custody, but due to a severe congenital heart defect. 16-year-old migrant boy dies after being in US custody for a week. A 2-year-old died in May after being diagnosed with pneumonia. Another 16-year-old died in April after experiencing symptoms resembling the flu. Last December, a 7-year-old girl, Jakelin Caal Maquin, and 8-year-old boy, Felipe Gomez Alonzo, both died of bacterial complications in separate incidents.
Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said in a Dec. 26 statement following the two children's deaths that "it has been more than a decade since CBP has had a child pass away in their custody." U.S. Border Patrol is a part of CBP, which is an agency within DHS.