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VERIFY: Fact-checking the 7th Democratic presidential debate

Our VERIFY team fact-checked what the candidates said during the final Democratic debate before the Iowa caucuses.

Six Democrats seeking the party’s nomination faced off in Iowa on Tuesday night as part of the last debate before primary voting gets underway. 

It was the seventh presidential primary debate for Democrats and the smallest debate stage so far as each of them tries to make the case for why they should be the one to face off against President Donald Trump in November. 

Our VERIFY researchers fact-checked what all the candidates had to say during the first debate of 2020.

CLAIM: Senator Elizabeth Warren claimed that Senator Lindsey Graham “talks about leaving troops [in the Middle East] for 100 years.”

This claim is false. Graham has not said he wants to leave troops for hundreds of years.

Sen. Warren is not alone in making claims like this against Graham. When Graham spoke out against President Trump’s removal of troops from Syria, Trump also accused Graham of wanting to keep troops in the middle east for hundreds or even thousands of years.

Despite these claims, we could not find an instance of Graham saying anything similar. Instead, there are instances like a Dec. 20 press conference where Graham said he supports “the idea of withdrawing from Syria and everywhere else when you can do it safely.”

Sources: Trump’s claim that Graham would leave troops for thousands of years, Trump comment on hundreds of years, Graham Dec. 20th comments

- Jason Puckett 

CLAIM: Senator Bernie Sanders said environmental groups opposed the USMCA trade deal.

This claim is VERIFIED. Environmental groups began voicing opposition to the renegotiated North American trade deal as early as May 2018, because they felt it didn’t make sufficient environmental protections or address climate change. 

A total of 16 environmental groups later stated they would not support the USMCA, if it did not meet minimum standards for environmental protections. At least three of those groups sent a letter to Congress members Dec. 9 urging them to oppose USMCA. 

The Hill reported as many as 10 of those groups sent a letter to Congress members Dec. 13 to convince them to oppose it.

Sources: Sierra Club’s release with 16 total organizations, December 9 letter 

- TJ Spry 

CLAIM: Senator Amy Klobuchar claimed that the Affordable Care Act is 10 points more popular than the President of the United States.

This claim accurately represents some poll numbers, but not all. 

FiveThirtyEight has a tool that averages dozens of approval polls. When it comes to President Donald Trump, the data shows that he has an average approval rate of 42.3%.

The most recent numbers for the public’s view on the Affordable Care Act, come from the Kaiser Family Foundation. In November, 2019 the ACA had an approval rating of 52 percent.

If you compare the approval ratings for President Trump and the Affordable Care Act, Sen. Klobuchar is correct that the ACA’s rating is about 10 points higher.

Source: FiveThirtyEight Presidential Approval, Kaiser Foundation numbers on ACA 

- Jason Puckett 

CLAIM: Former Vice President Joe Biden said he was “asked to bring 156,000 troops home from that war, which I did. I led that effort.” 

Biden is roughly right about bringing troops home, but he didn't mention that the U.S. had to send some back.

President Barack Obama did designate Biden, his vice president, to take the lead in pulling U.S. forces out of Iraq and coordinating efforts to maintain stability in Baghdad. His results were mixed. 

Biden and Obama failed to win agreement from the Iraqi government to keep a limited number of U.S. troops there after December 2011. That was the deadline for a complete U.S. pullout under a deal negotiated by the Bush administration in late 2008. 

Biden was still vice president when Obama was compelled to return American troops to Iraq in 2014 after the rise of the Islamic State extremist group.

- Associated Press

CLAIM: Senator Elizabeth Warren said that the women on the stage are undefeated in their elections.

It’s VERIFIED that neither Elizabeth Warren nor Amy Klobuchar, the only two women who qualified for Tuesday’s debate, have lost elections. 

Klobuchar first ran for the US Senate in 2006 and won that election and every election she has been on the ballot for since. Warren first for the US Senate in 2012 and beat Republican incumbent Scott Brown. She won her next election, the 2018 race for her Massachusetts Senate seat.

Sources: Elizabeth Warren’s Ballotpedia page, Amy Klobuchar’s Ballotpedia page

- TJ Spry 

RELATED: VERIFY: Fact-checking the sixth Democratic debate

RELATED: 7 candidates make their cases at year's last Democratic debate

Credit: AP
Democratic presidential candidates, Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2020, during a primary debate in Des Moines, Iowa. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

CLAIM: Senator Bernie Sanders claimed that “Medicare for all ... will cost substantially less than the status quo.”

There’s no guarantee that “Medicare for All” will cost less.

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said in a report last year that total spending under a single-payer system like Sanders is calling for “might be higher or lower than under the current system depending on the key features of the new system.”

Those features have to do with the design of the system, questions like payment rates for hospitals and doctors, and whether patients are required to pay part of the cost of their care. The Vermont senator says his plan would require no cost-sharing from patients, no copays and no deductibles. But completely free care could trigger a surge in demand for medical services, raising costs. Other countries that provide coverage for all do use cost-sharing to help keep spending in check.

A research report last year by the nonprofit Rand think tank estimated that Medicare for All would modestly raise total U.S. health spending.

The study modeled a hypothetical scenario with a plan similar to Sanders’ legislation. It found that total U.S. health care spending would be about $3.9 trillion under Medicare for All in 2019, compared with about $3.8 trillion under the status quo.

Sources: Congressional Budget Office report, research report from nonprofit Rand think tank

- Associated Press

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