Democratic debate live updates: Candidates spar in October debate in Ohio

Image: Twelve candidates will take the stage in a Democratic presidential primary debate in Columbus, Ohio, on Oct. 15, 2019.
Twelve candidates will take the stage in a Democratic presidential primary debate in Columbus, Ohio, on Oct. 15, 2019.Adrian Lam / NBC News

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NBC News' live blog tracked the ups, downs and confrontations of the fourth Democratic primary debate of the 2020 presidential election cycle, co-hosted by CNN and The New York Times.

The largest group of candidates took the stage Tuesday night at Otterbein University in Westerville, Ohio. They included front-runners Joe Biden and Sen. Elizabeth Warren; Sen. Bernie Sanders, who returned to the campaign after having a heart attack two weeks ago; billionaire activist Tom Steyer, who appeared in his first debate of the cycle; and Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, who missed the September go-round after failing to qualify.

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Live Blog

The three major candidates go at it

Biden said that presidential candidates can’t be “vague” about their proposals and then hit Sanders and Warren for Medicare for All. He said he’s the only one on stage to get big things done. Sanders hit back, saying some of those big things, such as the Iraq War, were actually not good.

Warren jumped in to defend her record and talked about the founding of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau — something Biden said he played a large role in getting passed. Warren then thanked Obama for helping create the agency.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), former Vice President Joe Biden, and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) on stage during the Democratic Presidential Debate on Oct. 15, 2019 in Westerville, Ohio.Win McNamee / Getty Images

Fact check: Yang says there were more opioid prescriptions than people in Ohio

Yang, making a point about the devastating effect of the opioid epidemic, said that at one point, "there were more opioid prescriptions in the state of Ohio than human beings in the state of Ohio."

This is true, according to government data about opioid prescription rates in 2010, when there were 102.4 opioid prescriptions per 100 persons in the state in 2010. The prescription rate has since gone down.

Good question here

Candidates spar over Big Tech

When asked about breaking up big tech companies, most candidates offer tepid support that generally centers around, yes, tech companies are big, and yes, something should be done.

O’Rourke offered some of the most specific assessments, touching on data privacy as well as antitrust. Harris also pushed for Twitter to ban Trump, but Warren declines to back Harris up — instead saying she wants to push him out of the White House.

Democratic presidential candidate former Rep. Beto O''Rourke speaks during the fourth Democratic presidential candidates 2020 election debate in Westerville, Ohio on Oct. 15, 2019.Shannon Stapleton / Reuters

Warren’s war on big tech has gotten personal lately. She deliberately took out a false ad on Facebook to pressure CEO Mark Zuckerberg to crack down on misleading political advertising. She previously put up a billboard that said “BREAK UP BIG TECH” in the Bay Area. 

O’Rourke raised some of the same issues as well in the debate, but said he would not “specifically call out which companies” should be broken up as Warren has done, arguing it was not the role of a president to prejudge independent government agencies and investigations.

Anti-monopoly issues have been gaining a lot of steam among Democrats this cycle, in general. 

Fact check: Biden takes credit for beating the NRA. Is he right?

Biden, during a discussion on firearms, made a pair of claims about his efforts to take on the NRA — and gun violence. 

“I'm the only one on this stage who has taken on the NRA and beat them, and beat them twice,” Biden said. He added, “We were able to get assault weapons off the streets and not be able to be sold for 10 years. Recent studies show that mass violence went down when that occurred.” 

Biden’s claim that he’s beaten the NRA twice — he has also made this claim in a TV ad — refers to the 1994 assault weapons ban and the Brady background check bill. It’s true that Biden played a leading role in the Senate in getting both measures passed and signed into law. 

However, Biden has also come under scrutiny for failing to usher any bills through a divided Congress after being tasked by President Barack Obama with gun control efforts following the 2012 Sandy Hook massacre. Biden has also been criticized for his vote in favor of a 1986 bill that the NRA has called "the law that saved gun rights" in America.

As for Biden's second claim that the 1994 assault weapons ban reduced violence — there’s some evidence to support this. A 2019 study out of the Department of Surgery at New York University School of Medicine found that “mass-shooting fatalities were 70 percent less likely to occur during the federal ban period,” from 1994 to 2004, when it automatically expired. 

Cause and effect, however, is impossible to prove, and it’s possible that other factors contributed to this decline. But the numbers themselves were low — there were 15 less deaths during the assault ban period — and other studies said the evidence was inconclusive.

Fact check: How many assault rifles are in circulation?

"Five million assault weapons are on the streets of America today — during the course of this debate eight people will die from gun violence," Harris said.

It’s hard to know exactly how many assault-type rifles are in circulation, but there's some evidence there are far more than 5 million of those weapons on the street. Some estimates go as high as 10 million to 16 million. 

Meanwhile, 100 people are killed with guns each day, according to gun control advocates, a number that includes suicides. That’s roughly four an hour, and the debate is scheduled to be three, not two, hours. 

Police shootings are a leading cause of death for young black men

When asked about mandatory gun buybacks tonight, Harris said gun violence was the leading cause of death of young black men.

According to research published in July in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, police shootings claim the lives of an average of about 1,000 people each year in the United States, and have become a leading cause of death for young men.

The study did not differentiate between killings later determined to be justified and those that were not. The study did find that the risk is particularly acute for young black men and those between the ages of 20 and 35. However, over the course of a lifetime, about one in 1,000 black men “can expect to be killed by police,” according to the study.

Police shootings account for nearly 2 percent of all deaths of black men between the ages of 20 and 24, compared to just 0.5 percent of deaths among young white men in the same age range. And a 40-year-old black man lives with about the same risk of being shot and killed by police as a 20-year-old white man in the United States. 

These figures together help to make homicide the seventh leading cause of death for all black Americans in 2017, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Alta Vista for life

Yang when asked about breaking up the big tech companies drops a bit of a burn on Bing, Microsoft’s search engine.

"There’s a reason why no one is using Bing today," he said. "I’m sorry Microsoft, it’s true."

Warren’s got a (fitness) plan

Biden flips the script on age: 'With it comes wisdom'

Biden would be the oldest person elected president, but when pressed about his age, instead of being defensive, he said it would be an asset.

“Because I’ve watched it, I know what the job is and I’ve been engaged,” the former vice president said. “I’m running because of my age.”

He said that his age comes with decades of legislative experience and the ability to command respect on the international stage. Biden said he would release his health records before the first primary vote, but questions regarding age are not likely to die down, especially as health concerns are on voters’ minds. 

Democratic presidential hopefuls Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, from left, and former Vice President Joe Biden chat during a break in the fourth Democratic primary debate of the 2020 presidential campaign season co-hosted by The New York Times and CNN at Otterbein University in Westerville, Ohio on Oct. 15, 2019.Saul Loeb / AFP - Getty Images