Fact checking the Democratic candidates for President debate with PolitiFact

Fact checks in this article:

  • Sen. Bernie Sanders said, "Americans are working longer hours for low wages . . . and yet almost all new income and wealth is going to the top 1 percent." We rate this claim as Half True.
  • Sen. Bernie Sanders said a campaign ad "never said ... a newspaper endorsed us that did not." We rate this claim as False.
  • Hillary Clinton says Bernie Sanders advocated putting "Iranian troops into Syria to try and resolve the conflict there. Putting them right on the doorstep of Israel." We rate this claim as Mostly True.
  • Hillary Clinton said, "I waited until (the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement) had actually been negotiated" before deciding whether to endorse it. We rate this claim as Half True.

FACT CHECK #1:  Sen. Bernie Sanders said, "Americans are working longer hours for low wages . . . and yet almost all new income and wealth is going to the top 1 percent."

Sen. Bernie Sanders repeated his ongoing theme that the rich have gotten richer and the United States needs to reverse income inequality during the Democratic president debate on Feb. 4 at the University of New Hampshire.

"Millions of Americans are giving up on the political process. And they're giving up on the political process because they understand the economy is rigged," Sanders said. "They are working longer hours for low wages. They are worried about the future of their kids. And yet almost all new income and wealth is going to the top 1 percent," he said. "(That's) not what America is supposed to be about."

PolitiFact has looked a couple of variations on his claims about wages, hours and income distribution.

In the past, Sanders has said wages have gone down. He didn't make that claim Thursday night, perhaps because when we looked at data, we found that most reports concluded that wages have been flat since the 1970s. Instead, he characterized wages as low, a value judgement we won't quibble with.

On the question of hours, we found mixed evidence that Americans are working longer during the week.

The best data, from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, show average weekly hours for production and nonsupervisory employees in the private sector have actually declined a bit since the 1960s. The trend flattened out at the beginning of this century and took a temporary dip during the Great Recession, but broadly speaking the numbers don't support the longer hours claim.

Gallup surveys have found that workers report working longer hours than what the BLS numbers show. However, historical data from those Gallup surveys reveal that there hasn't really been a change in the number of hours that full-time employees report working between 2001 to 2014.

On the other hand, when the Brookings Institution looked at a small slice of the middle class -- the middle 10 percent of families -- they found an increase in hours worked among mothers who were toiling longer to maintain their family's standard of living.

Finally, there are plenty of data showing that new income is becoming concentrated in the richest Americans, which is Sanders' overarching theme. The question is to what degree.

Sanders said Thursday night and during recent interviews that it's "almost all" new income. A year ago, he was saying it was 99 percent.

There's no handy-dandy, universally agreed-upon formula to calculate an exact amount, but the economist that Sanders has been relying on concluded in 2015 that the top 1 percent had accumulated 91 percent of the income gains made from 2009 to 2012. That would be "almost all."

But when the analysis was updated in 2015, the estimate dropped to 58 percent, a ratio Sanders has publicly acknowledged. That may be just over most of the new income, but it’s far from "almost all."

One important caveat: One economist we consulted told us that the calculation Sanders relies on, which looks at pre-tax income minus all government payments, uses a method that tends to make the rich look richer.

Our ruling

Sanders said Americans "are working longer hours for low wages ... and yet almost all new income and wealth is going to the top 1 percent."

The issues are whether Americans are working longer hours -- on average, they're not -- and whether "almost all" new income and wealth is going to the top 1 percent. A lot of it as, but not "almost all."

If Sanders were to argue that a disproportionate amount of income and wealth is going to the very richest Americans, he'd be right on the money. But he's over-exaggerating.

We rate this claim Half True.

 

 
Data curated by InsideGov

 

FACT CHECK #2: Sen. Bernie Sanders said a campaign ad "never said ... a newspaper endorsed us that did not."

One of Rachel Maddow's questions during the debate concerned an ad Sanders’ campaign had run in advance of the New Hampshire primary.
 
Maddow asked Sanders about the Nashua Telegraph complaining recently "that you falsely implied in an advertisement that they had endorsed you when they did not."
 
Sanders responded, "We did not suggest that we had the endorsement of a newspaper. Newspapers who make endorsements also say positive things about other candidates, and to the best of my knowledge, that is what we did. So we never said, never said that somebody, a newspaper endorsed us that did not. What we did say is blah blah blah blah was said by the newspaper."
 
Maddow then said, "Just to follow up on that, the title of the ad in question was ‘Endorsement.’ "
 
Sanders responded, "But that was only for -- that was not to be on television. That's an important point. That was just something -- as the secretary knows, you put titles on ads and you send them out, but there was no word in that ad, none, that said that those newspapers had endorsed us."
 
As it happens, Maddow had referred specifically to one of two newspapers cited in the ad, and her choice might have allowed Sanders an out -- the ad in question did not explicitly say the Telegraph had endorsed him.
 
But in his answer, Sanders broadened his response to include "those newspapers," which is a problem because the initial version of the ad did explicitly include text that said the Valley News had endorsed him when it had not. This version was later tweaked for subsequent use.
 
The ad was first posted online Wednesday, Feb. 3 and touts endorsements from unions, an environmental group and The Nation magazine.
 
"From postal workers to nurses, he’s been endorsed for real change," a narrator says in the ad.
 
The narrator goes on to quote editorials from two New Hampshire newspapers, The Telegraph, of Nashua, and the Valley News, which covers both Vermont and New Hampshire from West Lebanon, N.H.
 
Up to that point in the 30-second ad, every logo for an organization or publication has been accompanied by the words "endorsed by." Those words disappear when the Telegraph’s logo appears, along with the quote: "He’s not beholden to Wall Street Money."
 
The words "endorsed by" then reappear next to the logo of the Valley News, which appears along with the quote: "Sanders has been genuinely outraged about the treatment of ordinary Americans for as long as we can remember."
 
Neither the Valley News  nor the Telegraph endorsed Sanders.
 
Telegraph executive editor Roger Carroll posted on Twitter the afternoon of Feb. 3:
 
 
More problematic for Sanders’ claim in the debate  is how the original ad handled the Valley News.
 
Valley News editor Martin Frank said Feb. 4 that his newspaper had likewise not endorsed a Democrat in the primary, PolitiFact New Hampshire reported.
 
As news of the spot’s issues spread, the Sanders campaign ended up revising the ad. It removed the word "endorsed" by the Valley News logo, although it left the quotes from both New Hampshire newspapers untouched. That’s the version of the ad that was on the campaign’s official YouTube channel immediately before the debate, and the ad is still titled "Endorsed."
 
After the debate, Sanders spokesman Warren Gunnels told PolitiFact that the incorrect version of the ad never aired on television.
 
"A YouTube version of this ad mistakenly used this word, but it was never aired on television. As soon as we discovered this mistake it was taken down," Gunnels said.
 
However, during the debate Sanders didn't draw a distinction between the campaign buying air time on TV and posting a publicly viewable ad on the Internet. 
 
The Valley News editorial quoted in the ad – from Dec. 31, 2014 -- encouraged Sanders to enter the presidential race. "A presidential candidate who vigorously espoused populism from a progressive point of view could help restore much-needed balance to American political life, which has tilted sharply to the right in recent decades," the paper wrote.
 
However, it was published far too early in the campaign cycle to be considered an endorsement.
 
Our ruling
 
In the debate, Sanders said one of his campaign ads "never said ... a newspaper endorsed us that did not."
 
Sanders is glossing over the initial version of his campaign ad. It originally included text that said Sanders had been "endorsed" by the Valley News, a word that was later removed after it became clear that the newspaper had made no such endorsement.
 
We rate Sanders’ claim in the debate False.
 
Data curated by InsideGov

 

FACT CHECK #3: Hillary Clinton says Bernie Sanders advocated putting "Iranian troops into Syria to try and resolve the conflict there. Putting them right on the doorstep of Israel."

In a heated debate ahead of the New Hampshire primary, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders sharpened the contrasts between them. Appearing on a stage at the University of New Hampshire in Durham, Clinton targeted Sanders’ relative lack of national security experience.
 
"A group of national security experts issued a very concerning statement about Sen. Sanders views on foreign policy and national security, pointing out some of the comments he has made on these issues," Clinton said. "Such as inviting Iranian troops into Syria to try and resolve the conflict there. Putting them right on the doorstep of Israel."
 
Last month, the Clinton campaign posted a critique of Sanders on precisely this point. The campaign said Sanders "has put forth proposals that indicate a lack of engagement and fundamental misunderstandings about the challenges before us."
 
It cited Sanders’ own words. We found them on his Senate website and in the transcript of a November 2015 Democratic debate.
 
In September 2014, Sanders issued a news release. It rejected any thought of sending American ground troops into Syria to fight ISIS. That level of fighting in Syria, he said, should be left to the Muslim nations.
 
"The war against ISIS, a brutal and dangerous organization, cannot be won unless the Muslim nations which are most threatened -- Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Turkey, Iran and Jordan -- become fully engaged, including the use of ground troops," Sanders said. "The U.S. and the international community should be fully supportive, but the leadership in this war must come from the Muslim world."
 
During the Democratic debate in Des Moines, Iowa, Nov. 11, 2015, Sanders echoed that point.
 
"Here's something that I believe we have to do as we put together an international coalition, and that is we have to understand that the Muslim nations in the region -- Saudi Arabia, Iran, Turkey, Jordan -- all of these nations, they're going to have to get their hands dirty, their boots on the ground. They are going to have to take on ISIS."
 
Warren Gunnels, policy adviser for the Sanders campaign, told us Sanders was promoting the idea of a broad Muslim coalition.
 
"He has never advocated specifically for Iranian troops in Syria, but that there must be a coalition of nations with U.S. troops providing support," Gunnels said. "He certainly never advocated for Iranian troops on the Israeli border."
 
It’s true that Sanders envisioned that the Iranian troops would be part of a much larger Muslim coalition that included Jordan and Turkey. While both nations might have significant disagreements with Israel, neither is an enemy of the Jewish state.
 
Still, we can take it that Sanders did promote the presence of Iranian troops in Syria. Whether those troops themselves would be on the border with Israel is unknowable, but Syria of course shares a border with Israel. And Iran is no friend of Israel.
 
Our ruling
 
Clinton said Sanders suggested that Iranian troops should fight on the ground in Syria. Sanders did advance that idea on two occasions. But Sanders’ comments were in the context of a multi-national Muslim fighting force that included nations largely friendly toward Israel.
 
The statement is accurate but lacks some useful details. We rate it Mostly True.
 
Data curated by InsideGov

FACT CHECK #4: Hillary Clinton said, "I waited until (the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement) had actually been negotiated" before deciding whether to endorse it.

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's position on the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal became an issue during her Feb. 4 debate with Sen. Bernie Sanders at the University of New Hampshire. She says she now opposes it.
 
MSNBC debate moderator Chuck Todd pointed out that Clinton supported the deal while secretary of state, then asked her whether she might support such agreements again if she were elected.
 
Clinton said she had voted against a previous trade deal as a U.S. senator and, regarding the Trans-Pacific Partnership, "I said that I was holding out the hope that (TPP) would be the kind of trade agreement that I was looking for.
 
"I waited until it had actually been negotiated because I did want to give the benefit of the doubt to the (Obama) administration," she said. "Once I saw what the outcome was, I opposed it."
 
Did Clinton really withhold her support until the terms of the proposal had been finalized?
 
PolitiFact has looked at the issue before. We found Clinton made plenty of strongly supportive comments about the deal while negotiations were still ongoing.
 
Speaking in Australia in 2012, Clinton hailed the deal as "setting the gold standard."
 
"This TPP sets the gold standard in trade agreements to open free, transparent, fair trade, the kind of environment that has the rule of law and a level playing field," Clinton said. "And when negotiated, this agreement will cover 40 percent of the world's total trade and build in strong protections for workers and the environment."
 
Strong words for a deal that hadn't been completed yet. But it wasn’t just on that one occasion that Clinton was more than just hopeful about the deal’s impact.
 
She declared in November 2012 remarks in Singapore that it would "lower barriers, raise standards, and drive long-term growth across the region.
 
"It will cover 40 percent of the world's total trade and establish strong protections for workers and the environment. Better jobs with higher wages and safer working conditions, including for women, migrant workers and others too often in the past excluded from the formal economy will help build Asia's middle class and rebalance the global economy."
 
As PolitiFact reported in October, she also used words such as  "exciting," "innovative," "ambitious," "groundbreaking," "cutting-edge," "high-quality" and "high-standard" in describing the partnership before she left the State Department in 2013.
 
The partners finalized the deal in 2015.
 
Why the change of heart? In Thursday’s debate, Clinton said she opposes the trade deal because, "We have failed to provide the basic safety net support that American workers need in order to be able to compete and win in the global economy."
 
Our ruling
 
Clinton said, "I waited until (the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement) had actually been negotiated" before deciding whether to endorse it.
 
As secretary of state and a member of the Obama administration, it was Clinton's job to promote the deal, even if it wasn't finalized.
 
Nonetheless, her comments at the time were so positive and so definitive, it becomes disingenuous to argue, as she's doing now, that she didn't endorse the deal before it was finalized.
 

 

We rate her statement Half True.
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