FACT CHECK: Here's who fibbed in Dem debate

Posted at 7:53 AM, Oct 14, 2015
and last updated 2015-10-14 07:53:27-04
Scripps has partnered with PolitiFact in providing coverage of the presidential race in 2015. 
PolitiFact is nationally recognized for fact-checking statements made by politicians.
Using the Truth-O-Meter, reporters and editors at PolitiFact  listened closely Tuesday night as five candidates stated their positions in the first Democratic presidential debate of the 2016 election.
We looked at three specific statements tonight:
  1. Bernie Sanders says 'real unemployment' rate for African American youth is 51 percent
  2. Hillary Clinton says as Secretary of State she was reserving judgment about the Trans-Pacific Partnership and “hoped it would be the gold standard.”
  3. "Sen. Sanders did vote five times against the Brady bill."
Here is what the fact-checkers had to say about some of the claims made during the debate in Las Vegas:
Bernie Sanders says 'real unemployment' rate for African American youth is 51 percent During his opening statement at the first Democratic presidential debate, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders turned to some statistics he’s used before on the stump, decrying high rates of joblessness among young African-Americans.
“African-American youth unemployment is 51 percent,” Sanders said at the Oct. 13, 2015, debate in Las Vegas. “Hispanic youth unemployment is 36 percent.”
That’s similar -- but not identical -- to a claim we checked in July. Back then, he said that for African-Americans between the ages of 17 and 20, "the real unemployment rate … is 51 percent." We rated that Mostly True. However, since the claim was phrased somewhat differently, we’ll take a fresh look at it here.

At the debate, Sanders didn’t define the age range in question, but the most readily available “youth” data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics covers ages 16 to 19.

For individuals age 16 to 19 in September 2015, the official unemployment rate for whites was 13.9 percent, for Hispanics it was 18.6 percent, and for African-Americans it was 31.5 percent. For individuals in that age range of all races and ethnicities, the unemployment rate was 16.3 percent.

While the rates for both minority groups are lower than the rate for whites, they are still well below the figures Sanders offered at the debate.

So what’s going on?

When we checked this claim in July, we noted that Sanders, by using the term “the real unemployment rate,” had telegraphed that he was not using the most commonly used unemployment-rate statistic.

Indeed, when we asked Sanders’ camp for supporting evidence, they pointed us to research by the Economic Policy Institute, a left-of-center think tank. This data was different from the more familiar measurements for a few reasons.

One, the institute didn’t just look at employment status for people between the ages of 17 and 20; it limited its reach to high school graduates who were not enrolled in further schooling.

And two, EPI counted not only unemployed workers but also those who were working part-time due to the weakness of the economy and those who were "marginally attached to the labor force." The latter category includes people who did not meet the strict definition of being in the job market, but weren’t entirely out of the market, either.

The statistic EPI used, known by the wonky shorthand U-6, is officially called a measure of "labor underutilization" rather than "unemployment." EPI itself used the term "underemployment" in its research.

It’s a real statistic, but in July Sanders didn’t really describe it the correct way. He twice used the term "unemployment rate" and once used the variation "real unemployment rate," a vague term that doesn’t have any official definition at BLS and wasn’t mentioned in the EPI research he was quoting.

His phrasing during the debate was even more problematic. He simply said, “unemployment rate,” without indicating that he was using a non-standard measurement.

Also, the EPI data only went through March 2015. But since March, the overall unemployment rate for all African-Americans has fallen by almost 1 percentage point, though the rate for the subset of 16-to-19-year-olds has zigzagged since then. (This youth subset is based on a small sample and has a higher margin of error.)

All this said, Sanders does have a point that young African-Americans and Hispanics have higher rates of unemployment than young whites do.

“What's odd about Sanders' choice is that he could have used the official unemployment statistics and still made his point that African American and Hispanic youth have higher rates of unemployment than other groups,” said Tara Sinclair, a George Washington University economist and chief economist at the jobs site Indeed.

Our ruling

During the debate, Sanders said that “African-American youth unemployment is 51 percent. Hispanic youth unemployment is 36 percent.”

He has a point that African-American and Hispanic youth have significantly worse prospects in the job market than either Hispanics or whites do. But his numbers are too far off.

Using the standard method for determining the jobless rate, the figure for African-American youths is 31.5 percent and for Hispanic youths it’s 18.6 percent. While those rates are still disproportionately high, they are not nearly as high as Sanders said.

The statement is partially accurate but needs clarification, so we rate it Half True.

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Hillary Clinton says as Secretary of State she was reserving judgment about the Trans-Pacific Partnership and “hoped it would be the gold standard.”

Former Secretary of State Clinton defended her opposition of the Trans-Pacific Partnership in the first Democratic debate of the 2016 race.

Clinton announced last week that she no longer supports the international trade deal, despite supporting it while serving as secretary of state -- once calling it the “gold standard.” CNN anchor and debate moderator Anderson Cooper picked up on those words and asked Clinton about her reversal at the Oct. 13 debate in Las Vegas.

“I did say, when I was secretary of state, three years ago, that I hoped it would be the gold standard,” Clinton said. “It was just finally negotiated last week, and in looking at it, it didn't meet my standards. My standards for more new, good jobs for Americans, for raising wages for Americans. And I want to make sure that I can look into the eyes of any middle-class American and say, ‘this will help raise your wages.’ And I concluded I could not.”

Clinton’s phrasing -- that she said she “hoped it would be the gold standard" -- implies that she was undecided on the TPP. But that doesn’t exactly match up to her prior comments. We found that her previous remarks actually gave the impression that she had confidence in the deal as it stood.

In Australia in 2012, Clinton delivered remarks on the general topic of the U.S.-Australia relationship. Here’s everything she said about the TPP in that address, with the “gold standard” comment in bold.

“So it's fair to say that our economies are entwined, and we need to keep upping our game both bilaterally and with partners across the region through agreements like the Trans-Pacific Partnership or TPP. Australia is a critical partner. 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. 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.”

So it seems Clinton is saying the TPP does, definitively set the gold standard -- as opposed to Clinton hoping it will.

In other addresses around the same time, she expressed similar assuredness that the TPP would meet a high standard.In November 2012 remarks in Singapore, she encouraged all nations “willing to meet 21st century standards as embodied in the TPP” to join the deal.

“The so-called TPP will 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. Canada and Mexico have already joined the original TPP partners. We continue to consult with Japan. And we are offering to assist with capacity building, so that every country in ASEAN can eventually join. We welcome the interest of any nation willing to meet 21st century standards as embodied in the TPP, including China.”

Here are some of the other words Clinton used to describe the TPP before she left the State Department in 2013: "exciting," "innovative," "ambitious," "groundbreaking," "cutting-edge," "high-quality" and "high-standard." (To read more of her comments in full, check out our previous article on this subject.)

As a presidential candidate Clinton has used more hedging language, for example saying she has "some concerns," and now she has said she outright doesn’t support the deal as it stands.

In her 2014 memoir Hard Choices, she wrote:

"Because TPP negotiations are still ongoing, it makes sense to reserve judgment until we can evaluate the final proposed agreement. It’s safe to say the TPP won’t be perfect -- no deal negotiated among a dozen countries ever will be -- but its higher standards, if implemented and enforced, should benefit American businesses and workers."

In fairness to Clinton, the TPP was still under negotiation when Clinton made the “gold standard” comment. The partners only finalized the deal this year. It’s quite possible the deal looks dramatically different than it did at the early stages of negotiations, when Clinton was at the State Department -- something Clinton spokesman Nick Merrill pointed out to us for this fact-check.

The negotiations have been conducted in secret, so it’s hard for us to assess that ourselves. Also, as secretary of state, she spoke as a representative of the Obama administration, which was and remains wholeheartedly in favor of the deal.

Our ruling

Clinton said when she was secretary of state, she was reserving judgment but “hoped (the Trans-Pacific Partnership) would be the gold standard.”

She’s twisting her 2012 remarks a bit. Clinton said, “This TPP sets the gold standard in trade agreements,” which is a more confident claim than if she had said she “hoped” it would meet that standard. This is in contrast to more recent comments where Clinton said she had concerns about the deal and that she ultimately opposes it.

The statement is distorting her previous comments. We rate it Half True.

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"Sen. Sanders did vote five times against the Brady bill."

Hillary Clinton used the gun debate to try and attack Sen. Bernie Sanders from the left at the first Democratic debate.

Sanders’ record on the issue has been the subject of much liberal ire. After CNN moderator Anderson Cooper grilled Sanders on his vote shielding firearms companies from lawsuits, Clinton brought up another time Sanders didn’t side with gun control advocates.

“The majority of our country supports background, and even the majority of gun owners do,” Clinton said on Oct. 13. “Sen. Sanders did vote five times against the Brady Bill.”

Clinton is correct that most Americans (90 percent) support background checks. But did Sanders vote against the landmark Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act, which mandated a five-day waiting period for background checks for gun purchases?

Five nays from the Vermont congressman

The Clinton campaign pointed to our July fact-check of an attack ad paid for by a pro-Martin O’Malley super PAC. We rated a slightly more expansive claim — "Bernie Sanders voted against the Brady Bill, background checks and waiting periods” — Mostly True. (That statement that referred specifically to background checks, which Sanders had supported.)

Before it became law in 1993, the Brady bill underwent many transformations. Sanders, then Vermont’s sole representative in the U.S. House of Representatives, voted against the bill in its entirety five times:

1. In May 1991, Sanders voted against a version that mandated a seven-day waiting period for background checks, but the bill passed in the House. 

2. The Senate decreased the waiting period to five days and the bill returned to the House. In November 1991, Sanders voted against that version. Though it passed in the House, the Senate didn’t muster enough votes. The Brady bill and its gun control stance remained in limbo during 1992.

3. After some back and forth, a version of the bill resurfaced that reinstated the five-day waiting period. In November 1993, Sanders voted against that version twice in the same day, but for an amendment imposing an instant background check instead (seen by some as pointless, as the technology for instant checks didn’t exist at the time).

4. He also voted against an amendment that would have ended state waiting periods, and for an amendment giving those denied a gun the right to know why.

5. The final compromise version of the Brady bill --  an interim five-day waiting periodwhile installing an instant background check system -- was passed and signed into law on Nov. 30, 1993. Sanders voted against it.

In July, when we first looked into the issue, Sanders’ campaign manager Jeff Weaver told us that Sanders voted against the bill because he believed a national waiting period was a federal overreach and because he was answering to his constituents.

"He wasn't opposed to states having (waiting periods) if they wanted to. The Republicans wanted to repeal waiting periods in states that had them, and Bernie voted that down," Weaver said. "He said he would be against waiting periods, and he kept his word to the people of Vermont."

A mixed record overall

Overall, Sanders is neither a gun nut nor an anti-gunner. He’s received lukewarm marks from the NRA, ranging from a C- to F in the last 15 years.

“Throughout his time in public office, Sen. Sanders has consistently voted to outlaw the most dangerous weapons and keep guns out of the hands of criminals,” Sanders spokesperson Michael Briggs told us.

Briggs noted that Sanders has voted in favor of banning assault weapons, closing the gun show loophole, regulating high capacity magazines, and expanding background checks in the wake of the Newtown massacre.

On the flip side, Sanders has also voted to allow firearms on Amtrak trains and in National Parks, though his most recent pro-gun vote was in 2009.

“(Sanders’) gun control position is a reflection of living in Vermont for 40 years,” Garrison Nelson, a professor of professor of political science at the University of Vermont, told us in July. “Vermonters use guns to shoot deer and moose, not one another.”

Our ruling

Clinton said, “Sen. Sanders did vote five times against the Brady bill.”

Sanders voted against the Brady bill five times from 1991 to 1993. Sanders’ campaign manager told us in July that he did so because he was against a national waiting period and had to answer to the people of Vermont, a rural state with high gun ownership.

Overall, Sanders has a mixed record when it comes to guns. But he did indeed register five nays on the Brady bill.

We rate Clinton’s claim True.