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

Fact check: Sanders gets his numbers right on job losses due to trade deals

Bernie Sanders, in attacking Joe Biden, said the former vice president was responsible for helping to put into effect "trade agreements like NAFTA and PNTR with China," which, Sanders said, "cost us 4 million jobs.”

Sanders made this claim during the September debate. It was true then, and it's true now— according to several reputable analyses. 

As NBC News’ Carrie Dann reported in February during President Donald Trump’s State of the Union address, job losses resulting from NAFTA tend to be overstated — but one major study found that more than 850,000 jobs were displaced by the pact. 

Robert E. Scott of the pro-labor Economic Policy Institute found that about 851,700 U.S. jobs were displaced by the U.S. trade deficit with Mexico between 1993 (shortly before NAFTA was implemented) and 2014. That’s a data point that was cited by Sanders during his 2016 campaign, when he frequently decried job losses due to NAFTA. (Other studies, however, have found the job losses to be far less.)

When it comes to granting PNTR (“permanent normal trade relations” status) to China, which President George W. Bush formally did in 2001 after China entered the World Trade Organization, U.S. job losses have been larger, according to studies.

The nonpartisan Congressional Research Service wrote in 2018, citing a 2014 study by the Economic Policy Institute, that “growth in the U.S. goods trade deficit with China between 2001 and 2013 eliminated or displaced 3.2 million U.S. jobs (three-fourths of which were in manufacturing).”

If you add the 851,700 figure with the 3.2 million figure, you would see a figure that approximates the 4 million figure that Sanders referred to.

Baseball and donut shops: What the other candidates are doing on debate night

The half dozen candidates who didn’t qualify for tonight’s debate instead spent the evening watching baseball and livestreaming their messages to supporters on social media. 

Former Maryland Rep. John Delaney got to watch the Washington Nationals play the St. Louis Cardinals in Game 4 of the National League Championship Series, while keeping an eye on the debate on his phone.

“These questions about age are inappropriate in my judgement,” he tweeted.

Montana Gov. Steve Bullock was watching the debate with his family, according to a spokesperson. 

Rep. Tim Ryan of Ohio had a similar plan, saying in a text message that he was watching “some” of the debate while also “reading to my five-year-old.”

Meanwhile, in New Hampshire, retired Adm. Joe Sestak was livestreaming his answers to the debate questions over on Facebook, “live from a Donut shop in New Hampshire,” he announced on Twitter. 

And self-help author Marianne Williamson was speaking in Encinitas, California, which she too livestreamed online, where she said America needs to “know who we are and claim the power of knowing who we are.” 

The final question is about friendship

Buttigieg says his Supreme Court plan is more than 'packing' courts

Buttigieg referred to his plan to change the Supreme Court, which he said could be done without a Constitutional amendment. 

He said it wasn’t just “packing” the court, however, since his plan would involve restructuring the court to include justices backed by both parties rather than just expanding it.

Under his proposal, the court would have 15 justices, five supported by Republicans, five by Democrats, and five chosen by the 10 partisan justices. He talked to NBC News about his plan earlier. 

Who wants to tell Cory Booker about Robert Bork?

“We need regulation and reform. And anti-trust? I mean, Robert Bork right now is laughing in his sleep,” Sen. Cory Booker said Tuesday night, referencing the prominent conservative judge and antitrust scholar.

Bork is not sleeping. Bork has been dead since 2012. 

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.