Fact-Checking The Las Vegas Democratic Debate

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(CNN) Welcome to CNN's fact check coverage of the Democratic presidential debate hosted by NBC News and MSNBC and held in Las Vegas ahead of Saturday's Nevada caucuses.

Tonight was the ninth presidential debate, and the first that presidential candidate Mike Bloomberg qualified for. Many of the other candidates on stage attacked the former New York mayor and billionaire on his previous policies, like "stop and frisk" and his campaign's significant ad spending.

For candidates Sen. Elizabeth Warren and former Vice President Joe Biden, the debate offered a chance to turn around their poor showings in New Hampshire and Iowa, while Sen. Bernie Sanders looke to keep his lead in national polling and overtake former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg's delegate lead.

CNN fact checked candidate's claims raging from policy projections, their work history and alleged accolades and attacks on those sharing the stage.

Warren's claim about Bloomberg calling women 'horse-faced lesbians'

Warren accused Bloomberg of saying derogatory things about women.

"I'd like to talk about who we're running against," Warren said, "a billionaire who calls women fat broads and horse-faced lesbians. And no, I'm not talking about Donald Trump, I'm talking about Mayor Bloomberg."

Facts First: It's not clear whether Bloomberg ever said these specific words, but they have been attributed to him. The quote Warren is referencing is from a booklet of alleged Bloomberg quotes given to him by an employee as a gift for his birthday in 1990. While the introduction of the book says "these are all actual quotes," Bloomberg has denied that he actually said any of them.

The Washington Post recently uploaded a copy of the booklet of alleged Bloomberg quotes, which includes a criticism of the British Royal family, calling them "a bunch of misfits -- a gay, an architect, that horsey faced lesbian, and a kid who gave up Koo Stark for some fat broad."

Bloomberg's presidential campaign spokesman Stu Loeser told the Post that "Mike simply did not say the things somebody wrote in this gag gift, which has been circulating for 30 years and has been quoted in every previous election Mike has been in."

The Post also reported that a Bloomberg spokesman said in 2001 that "'some of the things he might have said' and Bloomberg apologized to 'anyone that was offended by' the comments."

However, as CNN has reported, Bloomberg has been accused of sexist and misogynistic behavior in the past. His campaign chairwoman responded to new questions about those accusations to CNN, saying in part, "In any large organization, there are going to be complaints -- but Mike has never tolerated any kind of discrimination or harassment, and he's created cultures that are all about equality and inclusion."

-- Holmes Lybrand

Biden's claim about Bloomberg calling Obamacare a "disgrace"

Biden said Bloomberg called Obamacare "a disgrace" after it passed.

"The mayor said, when we passed it, the signature piece of this administration, it's a disgrace," Biden said. "They're the exact words. It was a disgrace. Look it up, check it out, it was a disgrace."

Facts First: This is true. 

Bloomberg did call the final Obamacare bill "a disgrace" during a July 2010 event at Dartmouth College, just months after the law's passage. Bloomberg added that the law did "absolutely nothing to fix the big health care problems" calling it just "another program that's going to cost a lot more money."

Bloomberg defended himself at the debate, saying, "I was in favor of it. I thought it didn't go as far as we should," comments his campaign also made to CNN's KFile on Sunday. His campaign pointed to comments he made in 2013 on a radio program after the bill's passage as a sign of his support. "Congress passed this, so let's try it at least," Bloomberg said.

"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," Bloomberg also said.

-- Andrew Kaczynski

Biden on Bloomberg's use of "stop and frisk" 

Biden said that Bloomberg, as mayor of New York City, had "stop and frisk -- throwing close to five million young black men up against a wall."

Facts First: There were approximately 5 million total "stop and frisk" stops during Bloomberg's tenure as mayor between 2002 and 2013, but Biden was inaccurate when he said that this was the number of young black men stopped. Of about 5.08 million total stops under Bloomberg, about half, approximately 2.6 million stops, were of black people -- men and women of all ages, according to police data compiled by the New York Civil Liberties Union

Biden spokesman Michael Gwin said Biden meant to refer to the total number of stops. Gwin correctly noted that the stops disproportionately targeted young African-American and Hispanic men.

Bloomberg advocated stop and frisk even after a federal judge ruled in 2013 that the way New York was using stop and frisk was unconstitutional. He began apologizing for stop and frisk in November 2019, the month he launched his presidential campaign, saying he only belatedly realized that too many innocent people were being harmed. However, his account of what happened has left out important information.

You can click here for a detailed fact check.

-- Daniel Dale

Klobuchar on her record in red districts 

As she has in prior debates, Klobuchar asserted Wednesday that she's won elections in Republican-held areas.

"I'm the one on this stage that had the highest voter turnout of any state in the country when I led the ticket, as well as bringing in rural and suburban voters. And I've done that as well," she said. "And I'm the only one with the receipts to have done that in Republican congressional districts over and over again."

Facts First: Partly true. Minnesota had the highest voter turnout rate of any state during each of her Senate campaigns, but Klobuchar is not the only candidate who has won Republican-held congressional districts 

Biden, who spent most of his career as the senator for Delaware, won in Republican congressional districts.

Biden first won the 1972 election to be senator from Delaware and was repeatedly re-elected to serve in that position by considerable margins until he became vice president in 2009. During that time, Delaware's sole congressional district was held by Republicans from 1973 to 1983, and from 1993 to 2011.

Turnout was highest in Minnesota in years when Klobuchar ran. In her three election years, Minnesota had the highest state voter turnout nationwide.

-- Caroline Kelly

Warren on Buttigieg and Klobuchar health care proposals

Warren attacked several of her rivals on their health care plans, particularly Buttigieg and Klobuchar.

"Mayor Buttigieg, there are four expenses that families pay, right, premiums, deductibles, co-pays, uncovered medical expenses. Mayor Buttigieg says he will put a cap only on the premiums. And that means families are going to pick up the rest of the costs. Amy, I looked online at your plan. It's two paragraphs," Warren said.

Facts First: Warren is misleading in her description of Buttigieg's plan and wrong on Klobuchar's policy, which Warren also compared to a Post-it note. Buttigieg's plan would help lower deductibles and co-pays, in addition to premiums. And Klobuchar's proposal is more than two paragraphs. 

Buttigieg's proposal, which he calls Medicare for All Who Want It, would create a government-run health insurance plan, known as a public option, that would be sold on the Affordable Care Act exchanges. As Warren noted, he would expand federal premium subsidies for Obamacare policies so that more Americans qualify, and they wouldn't have to pay more than 8.5% of their income for that coverage.

However, while Buttigieg's proposal doesn't set caps on consumers' out-of-pocket spending, it would reduce what they have to pay for medical care in two ways. He would tie those premium subsidies to gold policies, which typically have lower deductibles and co-pays than the silver plans that Obamacare premium subsidies are based on now.

And he calls for increasing cost-sharing assistance, which currently caps what low-income Americans who buy Obamacare policies have to pay for care, though he doesn't provide details.

Klobuchar's website has one page that outlines her health care proposals in five paragraphs that briefly summarize her proposals on health care, prescription drugs, addiction and mental health, reproductive rights and seniors. But each of those paragraphs, except the one on reproductive rights, has a link to other pages with more details on her plans.

Warren supports Medicare for All, which would eliminate premiums, deductibles and co-pays, though she would first implement a public option-type plan that would have premiums and co-pays for some Americans.

-- Tami Luhby

Buttigieg on hostility of Sanders followers

Buttigieg criticized Sanders' handling of bullying by some of his online followers and asked, "Why did this pattern arise? Why is it especially the case among your supporters?" Sanders retorted, "I don't think it is especially the case."

Facts FirstWhile online harassment occurs across the political spectrum and the scope of the issue is hard to quantify, Sanders has battled allegations since 2016 that his supporters engage in harassment. A digital media expert who looked into it told CNN that the hostility from some Sanders' followers outweighs that of his Democratic rivals.

Sanders leads the Democratic field in raw measures of engagement on social media with more than 10 million followers on Twitter and 5 million likes on his campaign's official Facebook page.

Among unofficial Facebook pages created by supporters of Democratic candidates, Sanders also leads with 2.5 million followers and roughly 58,000 posts between November and January, more than that of all other Democratic candidates combined, according to data from the analytics company CrowdTangle.

"Anytime you have far greater numbers, you have far greater potential for harm," said Ben Decker, who runs the digital investigations consultancy Memetica. Decker, who has monitored Facebook groups supporting Democratic candidates and who previously spoke to CNN, said he has observed higher levels of online harassment among Sanders' followers relative to those of his Democratic rivals.

In January, the Washington Post reported that Sanders supporters had "weaponized Facebook to spread angry memes" about other Democratic contenders and cited data showing that since 2019, almost 3,000 active pro-Sanders Facebook pages have generated more than 290 million shares, likes or other actions.

At a CNN town hall Tuesday, Sanders said members of his campaign have also experienced harassment, and he disavowed all such behavior. "I do not believe in online bullying," he said. "End of discussion."

-- Curt Devine

 


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