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VERIFY: Fact-checking night 1 of the second Democratic debate

Our VERIFY team fact-checked what the candidates said during the first night of Democratic debates in Detroit.

Ten Democrats seeking the party’s nomination faced off in Detroit Tuesday night to kick off the second round of debates in the 2020 campaign. 

Our VERIFY researchers fact-checked what all the candidates had to say during their prime time moment. 

CLAIM: Gov. Steve Bullock said that Americans pay more for prescription drugs than anywhere else in the world. 

This claim is VERIFIED as true. 

The United States Department of Health and Human Services found in 2018 that prices charged by drug manufacturers to wholesalers and distributors in the United States are 1.8 times higher prices than in other countries.

The report found that “Drug prices are generally higher in the U.S. based on price comparisons in the literature. In their recent systematic literature review, Kesselheim and Avorn (2016) estimate that U.S. prices were more than twice as high as those in other, similar countries.” 

Additionally, numbers from the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development show that the United States spends the most money in the entire world on Pharmaceutical drugs.

Sources: DHHS Data and OECD Data 

- Jason Puckett 

CLAIM: Beto O’Rourke claimed that the United States loses nearly 40,000 people each year due to gun violence. 

This claim is true, if you include suicides in the number. 

Data from the Centers for Disease Control show that in 2017, the most recent year with available data, there were 39,773 firearm-related deaths.

Of those deaths, the CDC found that 25,854 of those were suicides. 

That means that 15,919 of the firearm deaths in the United States in 2017 were not suicides. If you don’t include suicides, the number of gun deaths goes down by nearly two-thirds. 

Source: CDC Data

- Jason Puckett  

CLAIM: Pete Buttigieg claimed that more than 90% of Americans, including more than 80% of Republicans, support universal background checks.

This claim is true, based on several polls, although most a lot of time these polls have focused on whether the person is a gun owner or NRA member and not their party affiliation.   

Overall, national polls have consistently shown Americans favor universal background checks. 

A May 2019 Quinnipiac University poll indicated 94% of Americans supported universal background checks, including 92% of Republicans. 

A December 2017 CBS News poll found 94% of people supported universal background checks, including 88% of Republican respondents. 

Additionally, a Fox News poll from March 2018 also found 91% favored proposals to require background checks. 

SOURCES: May 2019 Quinnipiac University National Poll, December 2017 CBS News poll, Fox News poll 

- TJ Spry 

RELATED: VERIFY: Fact-checking night 2 of the first Democratic debate

RELATED: VERIFY: Fact-checking the first Democratic debate

CLAIM: Beto O’Rourke stated that the Centers for Disease Control is actually prevented from studying gun violence in the United States.

This claim is misleading. The CDC has never been prevented from researching gun violence, but it did previously have limitations on using funding for such research. 

The Dickey Amendment reads that “none of the funds made available for injury prevention and control at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention may be used to advocate or promote gun control.” 

For nearly 20 years, that amendment was interpreted to mean that the CDC couldn’t put money or time into research on gun violence. Effectively, the CDC was viewed as being unable to research gun violence. 

In 2018, U.S. lawmakers added clarity to the situation by stating in a report that “the Secretary of Health and Human Services has stated the CDC has the authority to conduct research on the causes of gun violence.” Put simply, the CDC can research gun violence and had that option backed up by lawmakers last year.

Sources: Dickey Amendment, Text from U.S. lawmakers in 2018

- Jason Puckett 

CLAIM: Elizabeth Warren said that the central feature of NAFTA 2.0 is “to help pharmaceutical companies get longer periods of exclusivity."

The extension of exclusivity is a controversial portion of the trade agreement, but there's no evidence to back up the claims that it’s the central feature of the agreement. 

The NAFTA 2.0 agreement does have a provision that would extend exclusivity periods for pharmaceutical companies to ten years. That would extend the current eight-year exclusivity laws in Canada and add 10 years of exclusivity in Mexico where there currently aren’t any protections for pharmaceutical companies. The rules in the U.S. would be unchanged as there are currently 12-year exclusivity periods already in place.

The provision was a small portion of the large trade agreement that many Democrats cited as their reason to reject it. But there’s no evidence or explanation to indicate or prove that it was the central feature of the trade agreement.

Source: NAFTA 2.0

- Jason Puckett 

CLAIM: John Hickenlooper claimed that Democrats flipped 40 Republican seats in the House of Representatives and that none of those Democrats who won support the policies of the “front-runners at center stage.”

This claim is an exaggeration of the real numbers. At least two of the Democratic Representatives who won seats from Republicans in 2018 support Medicare for All.

Hickenlooper was talking about Medicare for All, a plan that Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren both support. In the 2018 election, many of the Democrats who took seats from Republican representatives did not support the plan, but at least two did.

Representative Katie Porter and Representative Katie Hill, both from California, have expressed their support for Medicare for All legislation. They both also signed onto the Medicare for All Act of 2019.

So while many of the new Democrats don’t offer support to Medicare for All,  Hickenlooper’s claim that none of them support it is false.

Sources: Medicare for All Act of 2019, Rep. Porter’s Twitter post, Rep. Hill’s post on Facebook

- Jason Puckett 

CLAIM: Bernie Sanders claimed that 87 million Americans are uninsured or under-insured and that it's happening while the healthcare industry made $100 billion in profits last year. 

The first part about this claim is VERIFIED as true.  

A biennial survey by the Commonwealth Fund found in 2019 that while the number of uninsured Americans had declined since the passage of the Affordable Care Act in 2010, more people were becoming "underinsured." The report stated 45% of U.S. adults between the ages of 18 to 64, an estimated 87 million Americans, are inadequately insured.  

As for the part of his claim about health care profits, The Washington Post reported the Sanders campaign provided a list of profits for drug companies in 2018 that totaled $101 billion. However, the National Association of Insurance Commissioners said that the health insurance industry experienced $23.4 billion of net earnings in 2018. Additionally, a report by AM Best found that through the third-quarter of 2018, health insurers' net income was $25.8 billion. 

Sources: Commonwealth Fund's Biennial Health Insurance Survey, National Association of Insurance Commissioners, AM Best

CLAIM: Marianne Williamson claimed that the “40 Acres and a Mule” promised to African Americans after slavery ended would be equal to trillions of dollars today.

There's been a lot of speculation surrounding what reparations would look like today, but there's been no concrete numbers to back it all up yet. 

In 1865, General William Sherman of the U.S. Army ordered that abandoned plantations near the recently captured Savannah, Georgia, be turned over to freed blacks.

Despite the plan being signed off on by President Abraham Lincoln, Sherman’s order did not become permanent government policy. While some freed slaves were indeed granted land under Sherman’s orders, the land that had been turned over was later given back to the original landowners under President Andrew Johnson.

While the term “40 acres and a mule” has become common language in the discussion about reparations, the reality is that the field orders didn’t explicitly guarantee that. The recorded order guarantees a plot of land “not more than (40) forty acres of tillable ground.”

Since the guaranteed land was never explicitly stated as 40 acres and wasn’t officially put into U.S. law, it’s impossible to know exactly how much value that order would have represented if it had been carried out.

There has been a lot of speculation about the possible value it could represent when adjusted for inflation in 2019, ranging from a couple trillion to $17 trillion to $51 or $64 trillion. But right now the numbers are just that – speculation.

Sources: Sherman’s orders, Yahoo Finance reparations estimate, MarketWatch estimate, The New York Times estimate, Yes Magazine estimate   

- Jason Puckett 

CLAIM: Tim Ryan said that the "economic system that used to create 30, 40, 50 dollar-an-hour jobs that you could have a good solid middle class living now forces us to have two or three jobs just to get by."

While some Americans do work multiple jobs, federal data shows the vast majority don't. Bureau of Labor Statistics data show just around 5% work multiple jobs. Those statistics also show the rates have declined since the mid-1990s when closer to 6% of Americans worked multiple jobs. 

It's a claim that Kamala Harris also made during the first Democratic debate

- Andrew Weil 

Credit: AP
From left, Marianne Williamson, Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., former Texas Rep. Beto O'Rourke, former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, former Maryland Rep. John Delaney and Montana Gov. Steve Bullock take the stage for the first of two Democratic presidential primary debates hosted by CNN Tuesday, July 30, 2019, in the Fox Theatre in Detroit. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

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