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Fact checking the first Democratic debate, Night One: What's true and false

While the first 10 Democratic candidates hit the debate stage, here are the claims that hold up and the ones that don't.
Image: The first Democratic debate -- a two-night event -- is hosted by NBC News, MSNBC and Telemundo and will air live across all three networks starting at 9 p.m. ET.
The first Democratic debate -- a two-night event -- is hosted by NBC News, MSNBC and Telemundo and will air live across all three networks starting at 9 p.m. ET.Chelsea Stahl / NBC News; Getty Images; AP; Reuters

The first 10 Democratic presidential candidates took the stage at Miami's Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts on Wednesday night. As they jostled to make their views heard amid a historically crowded field of candidates, NBC News fact checked their various claims on everything from the number of daily gun deaths to Americans' support for Roe v. Wade.

See the results below and check our live blog here for all the latest.

Claim: Julián Castro says Trump's border policies prompted a father and child to cross border illegally.

The former housing secretary pointed to the Trump administration's metering policy as what “prompted” the father and daughter who were found dead Monday to cross the Rio Grande illegally.

This is true, according to reports. The Associated Press reported that the man and 23-month-old daughter from El Salvador who drowned in the Rio Grande attempted to cross illegally after being told they would have to wait weeks to claim asylum — part of a Trump administration policy called "metering." They had waited in Mexico for two months without being able to request asylum from U.S. authorities, according to the photographer for Mexican newspaper La Jornada.

Claim: Beto O'Rourke says the maker of Oxycontin has 'been able to act with complete impunity.'

"Despite what Purdue Pharma has done, their connection to the opioid crisis and the overdose deaths that we're seeing throughout this country, they've been able to act with complete impunity and pay no consequences, not a single night in jail," O’Rourke said at one point of the makers of the drug Oxycontin.

This is mostly false. While it's true that no executives from the company have gone to prison, the corporation behind the narcotic has paid hundreds of millions of dollars in fines and settlements over the years.

This year, for instance, Purdue Pharma paid $270 million in a settlement with the state of Oklahoma.

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Claim: Most people support Roe v. Wade, Elizabeth Warren says.

The senator is right.

In a recent NPR/Marist poll, 77 percent of Americans said Roe v. Wade, the landmark decision affirming the right to abortion nationwide, shouldn’t be overturned.

In the same survey, 60 percent of Americans said they were more likely to support state laws that decriminalize abortion and make abortion laws less strict. Other polls have shown fewer Americans supporting Roe v. Wade, though a majority of Americans do support it remaining the law of the land.

Claim: Are seven children and teens killed by guns a day?

Warren made the statement, and it's almost dead on, according to data published in the New England Journal of Medicine. The study found that as many as eight children are killed by guns each day.

Claim: Are Guantánamo detainees getting better health care than detained child migrants?

Tim Ryan said, "If you go to Guantánamo Bay, there are terrorists that are held that get better health care than those kids that tried to cross the border in the United States.”

While it would be a stretch to say that detainees at Guantánamo Bay overwhelmingly receive great health care (there have been myriad reports of neglect and abuse), many detainees do receive regular access to health care, including routine procedures and critical surgeries. In contrast, recent reports have said that detained children are living in squalid conditions with lice and other ailments and don’t even have access to soap or toothbrushes.

Claim: Is climate change the greatest threat to the U.S.?

Several candidates said this. While it's difficult to quantify how much of a threat it is relative to adversarial countries or global concerns, there's no denying that climate change is a significant threat to the U.S.

Even President DonaldTrump's Pentagon says so: In a January 2019 report, the agency said weather events stemming from a “changing climate” create substantial problems for U.S. military mission effectiveness. Other top U.S. officials have warned in recent months that climate change creates long-term threats to U.S. national security thanks to its impact on things like “trade routes, food and energy supplies, the global economy, and domestic stability abroad.”

Claim: What is Section 1325, and why do Castro and O'Rourke disagree about it?

Castro made the claim earlier this evening that the reason the Trump administration is separating families is because "they are using section 1325 of that act which criminalizes coming across the border to incarcerate the parents and then separate them."

This is true. Section 1325 within the U.S. Code, “sets forth criminal offenses relating to (1) improper entry into the United States by an alien." The Trump administration has used this statute to prosecute, and detain, people for illegally crossing the U.S. border.

Castro, referring to himself, also said that, “some of us on this stage have called to end that section, to terminate it."

"Some like Congressman O’Rourke have not," Castro said.

O’Rourke, in fact, told CNN earlier this month that he did “not think it should be repealed,” citing attempts by some crossing the border to smuggle people or drugs into the U.S.

Claim: Amy Klobuchar says she's won in the 'reddest of districts'

"I’m someone that can win and beat Donald Trump. ... I have won in the reddest of districts," Klobuchar claimed in her closing statement. And it's true — Klobuchar carried a bulk of Minnesota counties during her 2018 re-election that Trump won in 2016.

Trump only lost Minnesota to Hillary Clinton in 2016 by 1.5 percentage points, yet Klobuchar won 60 percent of the vote in the state in 2018. Of the approximately 3,000 precincts (of 4,120 total) that voted for Trump in 2016, Klobuchar won about 1,250 of them, according to The Minneapolis Star Tribune.

Claim: Background checks lower the homicide rate, Cory Booker says. Is he right?

Booker is correct to say that after Connecticut passed a law requiring universal background checks, it saw a 40 percent decrease in the gun homicide rate and a 15 percent decrease in the gun suicide rate.

But this data is cherry picked, because other states haven’t seen these same successes. For example, a 2019 analysis found that states with these kind of laws saw a 10 percent decrease in homicide rates, according to Everytown for Gun Safety.

Claim: Klobuchar said she was the 'lead Democrat' on 34 bills Trump signed into law.

Klobuchar made a puzzling claim about how many bills she sponsored as the lead Democrat that Trump has signed into law as president.

"In fact, Donald Trump, one of the first bills that he signed of the 34 of he signed where I was lead Democrat — OK, that’s a first up here — was one that was about that, making sure minority community members could share in those jobs," she said in response to a question about appealing to African American voters.

That 34 number does not appear to be true, though it could depend on what she means by "lead" Democrat. According to GovTrack, a legislation and vote tracking website for members of Congress and the Senate, there have been 33 bills enacted since Klobuchar was originally sworn in 2007 for which she was the sponsor. Only six of those were enacted after Trump was inaugurated on Jan. 20, 2017.

Claim: Has crime fallen in New York City on Bill de Blasio's watch?

The mayor, speaking about the issue of gun violence, said crime in his city has gone down during his administration. This is mostly true.

According to statistics kept by the city, citywide total crimes that fall into the seven major felony offenses (murder and manslaughter, rape, robbery, felony assault, burglary, grand larceny and motor vehicle grand larceny) have consistently fallen since 2014, when de Blasio was sworn in. Also, the overall crime rate for the month of March fell in 2019 to its lowest level for any March since 1994.

On the other hand, in reviewing the individual crime categories, rapes have ticked upward since 2014 by nearly 33 percent — although experts say that could be related to increased rates of reporting, not the rapes themselves.

Claim: Would the 2013 immigration bill have lowered the debt?

The last Senate immigration bill “brings the debt down by 158 billion," Klobuchar said on Wednesday night, referring to the “Gang of Eight” immigration bill that passed the Senate in 2013.

This is mostly true, according to a contemporaneous analysis by the Congressional Budget Office.

To be sure, this number is about the change in deficit, not the overall debt. The debt would have simply risen at a slower pace should the bill have become law.

Claim: Is Warren's free college plan akin to 'paying for college for rich kids'?

Klobuchar was asked about plans some of her rivals have proposed to provide free college. She said, "I do get concerned about paying for college for rich kids."

She did not mention any of her rivals by name, but she could have been referring to Sen. Elizabeth Warren.

Warren has released a comprehensive college debt plan that proposes providing free public college for all Americans and cancelling up to $50,000 in student debt for more than 40 million Americans. Some critics have said that because the free public college proposal is not tied to income, it benefits families who can afford to pay for public college.

Claim: The top 1 percent control 90 percent of the wealth

This is false. The top 1 percent actually controls about 40 percent of the nation's wealth, according to a 2017 paper by economist Edward N. Wolff who used data from the federal Survey of Consumer Finances.

Ryan may have been to be trying to reference a surprising stat from that same paper: the fact that the top 1 percent of American households own more wealth than bottom 90 percent.

Claim: Is Jay Inslee the first to create a public health care option in the U.S.?

This is true — earlier this year Inslee, the governor of Washington, became the first in the U.S. to sign into law a measure that would make a so-called public option for health insurance available for sale on the state’s health insurance exchange. But some experts have said it's not a pure public option.

Under Washington's model, called Cascade Care, the state will still contract with private health insurers for plans, but will control the terms to manage costs, experts explained to NPR earlier this year. That has left many to wonder whether the plan is really a “public option,” defined by many as an insurance option created by the government to compete with private insurers.

Claim: De Blasio touts progressive achievements in New York. Can he take the credit?

Yes and no. De Blasio has certainly talked about getting a lot of progressive things done. And while he definitely has — many other key progressive policy accomplishments have come as a result of action by Albany, not City Hall.

For example, implementing a $15 minimum wage in New York City for most businesses — while championed by de Blasio — was the product of a statewide roll-out of increased minimum wages.

In 2014, de Blasio signed into law a bill that required employers with at least five workers to offer five paid sick days a year. And in January, de Blasio released a plan that would guarantee 10 days of paid vacation for nearly all workers in New York City and another plan that would help workers save for retirement.

Claim: Does Amazon pays nothing in taxes, as Booker said?

Asked about corporate mega-mergers, and whether he would call out those companies, Sen. Cory Booker said he had no problem naming companies like Amazon that pay "nothing" in taxes.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren has made this claim previously, as well, and it's true for federal taxes, according to an analysis of corporate filings put out by the progressive think tank Institute for Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP.)

The analysis did not review state and local taxes, however.

CORRECTION (JUNE 27, 12:34 a.m. ET): An earlier version of this article misquoted Rep. Tim Ryan in one reference to wealth, which changes the assessment of his statement from true to false. He said that the top 1 percent of American households controls 90 percent of the nation's wealth; he did not say that the top 1 percent of American households owns more wealth than the bottom 90 percent. (His statement is false, according to a 2017 paper by economist Edward N. Wolff that found that the top 1 percent controls about 40 percent of the nation's wealth.)