The debate was hosted by CNN and the Des Moines Register at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa. It included six candidates who met the party’s qualification criteria, the smallest number to date.
The candidates were former Vice President Joe Biden; Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders; Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren; former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg; Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar; and businessman Tom Steyer.
Sanders repeated a previous claim about the amount of money the US spends on health care.
“We are now spending twice as much per person on health care as do the people of any other country. That is insane,” Sanders said.
Facts First: This is an exaggeration. The US does not spend twice as much per capita as “any” other country on health care, though it does spend more than twice the average for the members of the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development, a group of 36 countries with large market economies.
Switzerland, at $7,317 per capita, and Norway, at $6,187 per capita, were well above half the US level, $10,586 per capita, in 2018, the last year for which international data is available. Germany ($5,986), Sweden ($5,447), Austria ($5,395) and Denmark ($5,299) were also above half though more narrowly.
It is possible that the health spending numbers were different in 2019 than they were in 2018 and in years prior, but that data is not yet available.
– Daniel Dale
Klobuchar on Obamacare’s affordability
In defending her plan to build on the Affordable Care Act instead of pushing for the more sweeping Medicare for All plans proposed by her rivals, Klobuchar pointed out that more people support Obamacare than approve of President Donald Trump.
“I would also note practically, that the Affordable Care Act right now is 10 points more popular than the president of the United States,” the Minnesota Democrat said at CNN’s debate on Tuesday night.
Facts First: While no poll directly compares the two, it’s true that Obamacare is better liked. Polls done in November show Obamacare with a 10-point advantage over Trump. Subsequent polls also show former President Barack Obama’s health reform law being more popular than the current president.
By contrast, a CNN poll conducted by SSRS in November found that 42% approve of Trump’s job as president. That figure stayed essentially the same in a December CNN poll, which found Trump’s favorability rating was 43%, but it was within the margin of error.
– Tami Luhby
Sanders on wages of US childcare workers
Sanders said America’s childcare system “is an embarrassment, it is unaffordable,” claiming that childcare workers take home lower paychecks than people working at McDonald’s.
“Childcare workers are making wages lower than McDonald’s workers,” Sanders said.
Facts First: While some childcare workers undoubtedly make less than some McDonald’s workers, US government data from 2018 shows that childcare workers took home a higher mean hourly salary than fast food workers.
– Anneken Tappe
Biden on Trump weakening sanctions on North Korea
Biden claimed President Donald Trump “weakened” sanctions against Pyongyang in his pursuit of meetings with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un.
“The President showed up, met with him, gave him legitimacy, weakened the sanctions we have against him,” Biden said.
Biden’s claim that Trump offered Kim Jong Un the “legitimacy” North Korea has long craved echoes a widespread criticism of the President’s approach to dealing with the Hermit Kingdom.
So although some lawmakers have criticized Trump’s decision to embrace diplomacy with the brutal North Korean leader while extracting no concessions, loosening sanctions has not been part of this administration’s policy toward Pyongyang.
– Sarah Westwood and Zachary Cohen
Warren on female electability
During an exchange about electability and whether a woman can win the presidency, Warren compared the political careers of the men on the debate stage with the women.
“Can a woman beat Donald Trump?” Warren said. “Look at the men on this stage. Collectively, they have lost ten elections. The only people on this stage who have won every single election that they’ve been in are the women. Amy and me.”
Facts First: Warren has the facts right. She and Klobuchar are undefeated, and their male opponents have lost a total of 10 elections during their political careers. But Warren’s talking point ignores the fact that Sanders, Biden and Buttigieg have also prevailed in more than two dozen elections since 1970.
It’s true that Warren and Klobuchar have won all their races. The statistics are more impressive for Klobuchar — she’s been in politics since 1998, while Warren has only competed in two races since 2012.
During the 1970s and 1980s, Sanders waged several third-party and independent campaigns for governor and for US Senate. He also lost the Democratic presidential primary to Hillary Clinton in 2016. But in addition to these losses, Sanders has won more than a dozen political campaigns, including successful campaign for mayor of Burlington, Vermont, and representing the state in the US House and Senate.
Biden waged two unsuccessful presidential campaigns in 1988 and 2008. But he also had a successful career in the Senate — winning elections 7 times starting in 1972 — and two victorious national campaigns alongside Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012.
Some of these campaigns were waged before Buttigieg was born. During his political career, he won two campaigns for mayor of South Bend, Indiana, and lost a statewide race for treasurer of Indiana in 2010.
The only other man on the race, Steyer, has never been a candidate for public office.
The bottom line is that Warren’s talking point was accurate. But the men on the stage actually won more elections than they’ve lost over the years, undercutting Warren’s electability argument. And some of their losses at the polls were decades ago, so it’s not clear how relevant they are to the 2020 race.
Later in the debate, Sanders followed up another comment from Warren, where she said she was the only candidate who defeated a Republican incumbent in the past three decades. Sanders touted his 1990 campaign for US House, exactly 30 years ago, when he unseated Republican Rep. Peter Smith.
– Marshall Cohen
Buttigieg on Trump administration admitting Iran deal worked
Former Mayor Pete Buttigieg asserted during the debate on Tuesday that the Trump administration admitted that the Iran nuclear deal was working before pulling out of it.
Buttigieg said, “By gutting the Iran nuclear deal, one that, by the way, the Trump administration itself admitted was working, certified that it was preventing progress toward a nuclear Iran, by gutting that, they have made the region more dangerous and set off the chain of events that we are now dealing with as it escalates even closer to the brink of outright war.”
Facts First: This is basically true. By repeatedly recertifying the nuclear deal and waiving sanctions against Tehran as a result, the Trump administration effectively acknowledged that Iran was abiding by the terms of the deal even as the President publicly criticized it.
– Caroline Kelly and Zachary Cohen
Sanders on cost of NAFTA and permanent normal trade relations with China
Sanders repeated his claim that NAFTA and permanent normal trade relations with China have cost the US “some 4 million jobs.”
“I am sick and tired,” said Sanders as he drew a contrast with former Vice President Joe Biden, pointing to large multinational corporations that he says have reaped the benefits.
Facts First: This is likely an overestimate of the impact trade agreements can have on the country’s employment.
Most estimates find that NAFTA had little if any impact on national employment levels, though the effect was uneven across regions and industries.
– Donna Borak
Biden on Iraq War stance
Biden repeated his false claim that he opposed the war in Iraq from the moment the war began.
It’s true that Biden criticized Bush’s approach to diplomacy in the lead-up to the war, warned in the lead-up to the war that Bush was not being honest about how hard the war would be, and he criticized Bush’s handling of the war from its first weeks on. But Biden made clear that he supported the war despite that criticism.
During the debate on Tuesday, Biden also offered a confusing timeline of his positions on the war, saying, “I said 13 years ago it was a mistake to give the president the authority to go to war if, in fact, he couldn’t get inspectors into Iraq to stop — what thought to be — the attempt to get a nuclear weapon. It was a mistake. And I acknowledged that.”
When Biden said “13 years ago,” he appeared to be referring to how, in 2006 and 2007, he was calling his 2002 vote a mistake. The vote itself was more than 17 years ago.
– Daniel Dale and Nate McDermott
Biden on threat to US embassies
“Quite frankly, I think he’s flat-out lied about saying that the reason he went after — the reason he made the strike was because our embassies were about to be bombed,” Biden said.
Facts First: Trump has yet to provide evidence backing up his claim that Iranian Gen. Qasem Soleimani was actively planning new attacks against four US embassies and top administration officials have struggled to defend the President’s comments. But there is no way to know if Trump “flat-out lied” without seeing the underlying intelligence, which remains classified.
Trump claimed at an Ohio rally last week that Soleimani “was actively planning new attacks.” He later told Fox News, “I believe it probably would’ve been four embassies,” naming Baghdad as one.
Senior administration officials have repeatedly pointed to danger facing US embassies in the Middle East.
Defense Secretary Mark Esper said this past weekend he “didn’t see” a specific threat against four embassies in the intelligence.
“What the President said with regard to the four embassies is what I believe as well. He said that he believed that they probably, that they could have been targeting the embassies in the region,” Esper added.
Similarly, Trump’s national security adviser Robert O’Brien said in an interview on Sunday with ABC’s “This Week” that it was unclear whether embassies or US military bases would be targeted, but insisted Trump’s claim about four embassies being threatened was “consistent with the intelligence.”
Citing two State Department officials, CNN reported on Monday that State Department officials involved in US embassy security were not made aware of imminent threats to four specific US embassies and didn’t issue warnings about specific dangers to any US embassy before the administration targeted Soleimani.
The State Department sent a global warning to all US embassies before the strike occurred, a senior State Department official said and the department spokesperson confirmed, but it was not directed at specific embassies and did not warn of an imminent attack.
– Zachary Cohen
This is a breaking story and will be updated.