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A reader’s guide to misinformation about the coronavirus

Don’t expect a fast recovery from hoaxes and conspiracy theories about the coronavirus.

As of Jan. 30, the virus has spread to at least 18 other countries and infected more than 7,800 people. The World Health Organization declared it an international public health emergency.

As the situation develops, PolitiFact compiled what we do and don’t know about the 2019 coronavirus. If you have a question about the virus, or if you see a questionable post on social media, send it to [email protected].

What’s true

It’s important to know that officials are still investigating the 2019 coronavirus, so you should be skeptical of sources that claim to have the full story.

Formally known as 2019-nCoV acute respiratory disease, the current coronavirus was first detected in the city of Wuhan, China, in December. It is one of seven kinds of coronaviruses that can infect humans. 

Coronaviruses are named for the “crown-like spikes on their surface” and are found in animals like camels, cattle, cats and bats. Rarely do they spread from animals to people. Human coronaviruses were first identified in the mid 1960s, according to the CDC.

The 2019 coronavirus is a “betacoronavirus,” like Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), which come from bats. All of them cause symptoms like fever, cough and shortness of breath. 

The vast majority of cases are in China, where the WHO says there are 12,167 more suspected cases and 170 deaths. The country has imposed strict travel restrictions in and around Wuhan to try and slow the spread of the virus.

There are also confirmed cases in several European and Asian countries, as well as Australia, Canada and the United States (where there were five reported cases as of Jan. 30).

(Source: WHO)

But the likelihood of people in the United States catching the virus is minimal, at least for now. “For the general American public, who are unlikely to be exposed to this virus, the immediate health risk from 2019-nCoV is considered low,” the CDC says in its risk assessment

The WHO lists several recommendations for reducing the risk of new coronavirus infections:

• Avoid close contact with people suffering from acute respiratory infections.

• Wash hands frequently, especially after direct contact with ill people or their environment.

• Avoid unprotected contact with farm or wild animals.

• People with symptoms of acute respiratory infection should practice cough etiquette (maintain distance, cover coughs and sneezes with disposable tissues or clothing, and wash hands).

• Emphasize standard infection prevention and control practices in health care facilities and hospitals, especially in emergency departments.

What’s false

Misinformation about the 2019 coronavirus falls into a few different buckets: hoaxes about the virus’s source, conspiracies about its connection to biological warfare, fabricated information about its spread, and misconceptions about how to treat it.

Several early posts on Facebook and Twitter, as well as YouTube videos and articles, speculated about the source. They claimed there were already patents for potential vaccines or disinfectants to slow the virus’s spread — proof that the illness was created by companies or foundations looking for financial gain.

Those allegations are inaccurate. 

Some organizations, including the CDC and the United Kingdom-based Pirbright Institute, do have patents for potential coronavirus vaccines, but not for the strain spreading from China. There is no vaccine available for the 2019 coronavirus.

Other Facebook posts, YouTube videos and articles have concocted more nefarious theories. Some go as far as to say that coronavirus was developed in a lab as a “bioweapon for population control” and that Chinese spies stole virus samples from Canada.

RELATED: Fact-checking hoaxes and conspiracies about the coronavirus

There is no evidence to support those claims. 

While its investigation is still ongoing, the CDC has said the 2019 coronavirus appears to have originated at a seafood and animal market in Wuhan, China. Some conspiracies conflated the latest virus with MERS, while others fabricated claims about the Chinese government.

As the virus spread around the world, other social media posts started to speculate about its impact. Some conspiratorial websites claimed the 2019 coronavirus had killed 10,000 people in Wuhan, while others alleged that the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency had called on President Donald Trump to impose martial law.

Those claims are bunk. 

FEMA never called on the president to declare martial law, and 170 people have died in China due to the coronavirus, according to the WHO

Finally, some social media users have proposed a concerning way to prevent coronavirus infections: drinking bleach. Several tweets and now-deleted YouTube videos claim a bleaching agent, which has been touted by anti-vaxxers and conspiracy theorists as a “miracle cure,” will instantly “kill the deadly virus.” 

Those claims are false.

There is no scientific evidence that drinking bleach will help cure or prevent any disease. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has released multiple warnings about the “dangerous and potentially life threatening side effects” of bleaching agents and urge people not to drink them.

What’s unknown

Misinformation thrives when verified information is scant. Such is the case with the 2019 coronavirus.

Among the facts that experts are still ironing out: the original source of the outbreak, precisely how it spreads and how severe it is.

The source of the outbreak is particularly contested. Early reports focused on the fact that many patients were linked to a large seafood and live animal market in Wuhan. That suggested animal-to-person spread, according to the CDC.

Later, a growing number of patients reported not having any connection to the market. That suggested the coronavirus was spreading person-to-person.

Both Chinese authorities and the CDC have isolated the genome of the 2019 coronavirus. Their findings suggest “a likely single, recent emergence of this virus from an animal reservoir.”

Some have speculated that a lab near Wuhan could be the source of the virus. The Wuhan National Biosafety Laboratory is a maximum-security biolab that deals with some of the world’s most dangerous pathogens, including Ebola and SARS. As of now, however, there is no evidence that the lab is the source of the outbreak.

It’s also not clear how it spreads.

The CDC says the spread of MERS and SARS is thought to be caused by “respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes.” That’s similar to how other pathogens spread, including influenza.

However, experts aren’t sure if the 2019 coronavirus can be transferred through other means, such as fecal-oral contact. They also aren’t sure at what point the virus becomes contagious. The head of China’s National Health Commission has said it could be possible to spread the illness before showing symptoms.

Then there’s the question of how many cases there actually are. 

Officially, there are more than 7,800 people confirmed cases of the 2019 coronavirus worldwide. But experts estimate that the actual number of infected people is probably much higher. Complicating matters is the fact that China has a history of concealing disease outbreaks; in 2002, it downplayed an outbreak of SARS in the province of Guangdong.

“Newspapers were forbidden from reporting the disease, except for occasional statements from government officials assuring the public that there was nothing to worry,” the Guardian wrote Jan. 23. “Such was the obsession with suppressing ‘negative news’ that when a sick traveller from Guangdong arrived in Beijing, doctors there had no idea of what the illness was, and allowed it to spread in the city.”

One final unknown detail about the 2019 coronavirus is its severity. Many people recover within a few days, but some, such as young, elderly or immunocompromised people, may develop more serious infections, like bronchitis or pneumonia.

“The complete clinical picture with regard to 2019-nCoV is still not fully clear,” the CDC says in its illness severity assessment. “Reported illnesses have ranged from infected people with mild illness to people being severely ill and dying.”

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Sports betting in the US: Where do states stand?

Sports betting is big business in the United States, and the Super Bowl is, well, the Super Bowl of sports gambling.

Ahead of the big game between the San Francisco 49ers and the Kansas City Chiefs, we wanted to check in on the state of play: How does each state regulate the sports betting industry? And how much revenue does it really bring in?

The state of U.S. sports wagering took a sharp turn in May 2018, when the Supreme Court struck down a federal law that banned sports betting in most states. 

Since the ruling, legal sports wagering has increased by billions of dollars.

The expansion of the legal sports betting market doesn’t necessarily mean the end of illegal sports gambling, though. 

Industry analysts say the legal market will likely create a new class of sports betting customers who want to engage more intensely with their teams. While a migration from the illegal market is still expected, it may be hard to pull some established bettors away from offshore and illegal betting websites.

The state of sports betting, per state

A burst of sports betting-related bills in state legislatures followed the 2018 court ruling. 

In May 2018, sports betting was only legal in Nevada. Twenty months later, it’s legal in 20 states and Washington, D.C., said Casey Clark, senior vice president of strategic communications for the American Gaming Association, which lobbies in support of the industry.

“We’ve seen a really remarkable growth that I don’t think is comparable in any other industry,” Clark said. “That growth is exceptional.” 

The states that haven’t attempted to legalize sports betting are the exception. As many as 40 states have introduced bills to legalize sports betting in the aftermath of the Supreme Court decision, said Daniel Wallach, a lawyer and co-founder of the Sports Wagering and Integrity Program at the University of New Hampshire.

“A number of states have passed laws, but haven’t formally implemented or launched everything yet,” Wallach said. “But just about every state has it on their radar.”

As sports betting legislation is debated across the country, multiple media and sports betting organizations are tracking developments.

How and where people can place bets varies by state, with some states allowing people to bet both in-person and online, while others restrict it to just one method.

Source: ESPN, Action Network, Daniel Wallach

For instance, Idaho and Wisconsin currently have no sports betting legislation on the table, while Indiana and Pennsylvania already allow both in-person and online betting.

Wallach said the traditional betting locations of casinos and racetracks may eventually become a thing of the past, as some states consider expanding sports wagering to other kinds of sites.

In addition to state-licensed facilities, for example, Washington, D.C., has opened up the opportunity for betting in bars, restaurants and sports venues. Other states like Illinois and Montana also have bar-betting in their sights.

How is legalization affecting the illegal sports betting market?

The American Gaming Association estimates that Americans wager approximately $150 billion in illegal sports bets every year. While this number and others have been challenged, some of the lowest approximations still tout figures upwards of $60 billion. And all of these are just best guesses, anyway, as offshore bookkeepers aren’t reporting any taxes. 

“As more states begin to legalize, particularly ones with a mobile-online component, that will lure customers away from offshore sites and illegal betting sites,” Wallach said, “but it won’t eliminate the illegal market for a number of reasons.”

Long-established offshore accounts, the lack of tax reporting and overall happiness with the experience is going to make it difficult to pull some people away, Wallach said. But there should be a fair migration from the illegal market, he said. 

Clark agreed that new bettors will flood the legal market, but he also expects plenty of established bettors to join in, too.

“Sports betting isn’t new, of course; people have been doing it forever,” Clark said. “I think the best we will be able to do is be anecdotal in our observations, but we are already seeing a drastic decline in offshore illegal books in states that legalize.”

How much revenue are states pulling in?

Only a handful of states are reporting sports wagering revenue. (More will come as new laws are implemented.)

According to sports betting website Legal Sports Report, numbers from June 2018 to Dec. 31, 2019, show that, of those states, New Jersey and Nevada brought in in $47.7 million and $32.8 million in revenues, respectively.

Experts estimate that 26 million Americans — 3 million more than 2019 — will wager a total of about $6.8 billion on this year’s Super Bowl match-up.

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PolitiFact answers the Senate’s impeachment questions

Chief Justice John Roberts presides over the Senate impeachment trial of President Donald Trump. (C-SPAN)

Senators took control of their chamber’s impeachment trial this week, submitting questions to the Democratic House managers and President Donald Trump’s legal team.

The questions, provided to Chief Justice John Roberts in writing, gave a window into the senators’ thinking as they consider whether to remove a president from office for the first time. 

But House managers and the Trump team spun their answers to serve their perspective. So we decided to take on the questions ourselves, with the facts in mind.

On whether impeachment and removal requires a crime

The question (from Democratic senators): “Does the phrase ‘‘or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors’ in Article II, Section 4 of the Constitution require a violation of the U.S. criminal code or is a breach of public trust sufficient?”

Our answer: A criminal violation is not necessary. Federalist Paper 65, written by Alexander Hamilton, refers to impeachment as stemming from “offenses which proceed from the misconduct of public men, or, in other words, from the abuse or violation of some public trust.”

“There is little doubt that this argument has been accepted in the past as a statement of the framers’ intent,” said Stephen M. Griffin, a Tulane University law professor.

The actual phrase in the Constitution’s impeachment language, “high crimes and misdemeanors,” means “an affront to the state, to the people, the body politic,” said Jeffrey A. Engel, director of the Southern Methodist University Center for Presidential History and a contributor to the 2018 book “Impeachment: An American History.”

“A president, or any leader really, need not break any statute in order to break the public’s trust.”

The answer (from a House impeachment manager): “You could have activities that are so dangerous to our Constitution, that are not a crime, that would be charged as an impeachable offense because they are an abuse of power. That is what the framers worried about.”

Quid pro quos and foreign policy

The question (from Republican senators): “As a matter of law, does it matter if there was a quid pro quo? Is it true that quid pro quos are often used in foreign policy?”

Our answer: Quid pro quos are not unusual in foreign policy. They are a common way for countries to try to leverage desired actions by other countries. What’s at issue here is whether the exchange benefits the country’s broad policy goals, or whether it benefits the president’s personal interests.

Hamilton’s language in Federalist 65 means that violations of public trust are defined as things that hurt the body politic. Griffin said, “it can’t be true that the president gets to define that, especially when an election is on line.”

It’s not surprising that the incumbent will feel that way, he said, but “so does the competitor.”

The answer (from Trump’s defense team): “If a president does something which he believes will help him get elected — in the public interest — that cannot be the kind of quid pro quo that results in impeachment.”

On the Chief Justice’s role in evaluating witnesses

The question (from Democratic senators): “Isn’t it true that the chief justice, as presiding officer in this trial, has the authority to resolve any claims of privilege or other witness issues, without any delay?”

Our answer: The reach of Roberts’ authority remains an open question, with only two chief justices having ever assumed the role Roberts now fills. 

The current Senate rules for impeachment say the chief justice “shall direct all forms of proceedings” in the Senate trial. But Roberts is not all-powerful. A simple majority of senators can vote to overrule him, and Republicans hold 53 seats in their Senate majority.

On evidence, the rules say the chief justice “may rule on all questions of evidence including, but not limited to, questions of relevancy, materiality, and redundancy,” and that a single senator can ask the Senate to vote on any ruling Roberts makes, leaving the outcome up to the majority.

Some in support of a more active role for Roberts on the question of calling witnesses have pointed to a separate line in the rules giving the chief justice the “power to make and issue, by himself or by the Secretary of the Senate, all orders, mandates, writs, and precepts.”

But there’s not much precedent guiding Roberts’ role, experts told us. The chief justices in the trials of Johnson and Clinton tended to yield to senators. Chief Justice Salmon Chase did break two tied votes during Johnson’s trial, under different rules.

The answer (from a House impeachment manager): “The answer is yes.”

The answer (from Trump’s defense team): “The idea that the presiding officer of this proceeding could determine a waiver or an applicability of executive privilege would be quite a step,” without historical precedent.

The threshold for conviction in the Senate

The question (from Republican senators): “Is the standard for impeachment in the House a lower threshold to meet than the standard for conviction in the Senate, and have the House managers met their evidentiary burden to support a vote of removal?”

Our answer: The Senate trial is not a criminal trial, so, it doesn’t require the same, high standard for conviction as a criminal trial.

The Constitution in Article I, Section 3 decoupled impeachment from ordinary criminal law. 

“Impeachment can remove a federal office holder and perhaps ban him or her from holding federal office in the future, but that is all,” said Frank O. Bowman III, a University of Missouri law professor and author of the book High Crimes and Misdemeanors: A History of Impeachment for the Age of Trump. “Any punishment of the criminal kind can only be imposed by a court in an entirely separate proceeding.”

The answer (from Trump’s defense team): The standards of criminal law apply in the Senate, “which means proof beyond a reasonable doubt.”

On the timing of Trump’s pursuit of the Bidens

The question (from Republican senators): “Before Vice President Biden formally entered the 2020 presidential race in April 2019, did President Trump ever mention Joe or Hunter Biden in connection with corruption in Ukraine to former Ukrainian President Poroshenko or other Ukrainian officials, President Trump’s cabinet members or top aides, or others?”

Our answer: There’s no proof that Trump expressed concerns about the Bidens before Joe Biden announced he was running for president April 25, 2019. 

The minority report of the House Intelligence Committee, written by Republicans, noted testimony from senior State Department official George Kent that he raised concerns about Hunter Biden’s position with Burisma Holdings to Biden’s office in 2015. It said nothing about concerns Trump expressed in advance of Biden’s candidacy. 

Trump never tweeted about the Bidens and Ukraine between the day he was elected and the day Biden jumped in the 2020 race, either.  Searching Factba.se’s database, we also found no Ukraine-related references to the Bidens in Trump’s public speeches and interviews during that same timeframe.

The answer (from Trump’s defense team): “It wasn’t thoroughly pursued in the record, so I can’t point to something in the record that shows President Trump, at an earlier time, mentioning specifically something related to Joe or Hunter Biden.”

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The Stump Speech Analyzer: Donald Trump

Editor’s note: PolitiFact is analyzing the presidential candidates’ stump speeches. Following our summary of the speech’s main themes, we present fact-checks of specific talking points. Read other stump speech analyzers for Joe Biden, Pete Buttigieg, Amy Klobuchar, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.

The stump speech: Trump’s 62-minute speech in Wildwood, N.J., Jan. 28, 2019

Even while under impeachment, President Donald Trump used a recent campaign rally  to take a victory lap, celebrating a strong economy and the triumph of conservative social and political values.

“We’re achieving historic victories for New Jersey families,” Trump said. “You see it every single day. The New Jersey unemployment rate has reached the lowest of all time. More people are working today in the state of New Jersey than ever before.”

And as goes New Jersey, Trump said, so goes the rest of the country, with record low unemployment across the board, for African-Americans, Hispanics and Asian-Americans. His low-tax, anti-regulation policies, he said, revived American manufacturing and churned out jobs for everyone.

Trump trumpeted GOP zero-tolerance positions on immigration and gun control as standing in sharp contrast to what the other party offers.

“Democrats stand for crime, corruption and chaos. Republicans stand for law, order and justice,” he said.

Trump made a firm claim to standing on the side of blue-collar workers and the middle class. He promised in the coming months to unveil a middle-class tax cut, and he warned that all the gains of his presidency hung on a Republican victory next November. His win in 2016, he said, was “the greatest election in the history of our country, and now we have to do it again to keep it going.”

Trump ended with a classic appeal to core conservative values.

“We believe that faith and family, not government bureaucracy, are the true American ways, and we believe that children should be taught to love our country, honor our history and to always respect our great American flag.”

Biggest applause line: “We have fully rebuilt the United States military.” 22 seconds with a “USA” chant.

Music: “You can’t always get what you want,” by the Rolling Stones backed up by the London Bach Choir.

Anything else: He said the word “great” or “greatest” 43 times. 

Fact-checking Trump’s statements

“We are protecting people with pre-existing conditions, and we always will, the Republican Party, pre-existing conditions. We saved it.”

Pants on Fire! Trump has repeatedly misrepresented his administration’s efforts to repeal the Obama-era health care law, which guarantees coverage for patients with pre-existing conditions. Neither Trump nor congressional Republicans who want the courts to strike down the Affordable Care Act have offered a replacement that might maintain its core protections. 

“We are lowering drug prices.”

When Trump said in May 2019 that “drug prices are coming down,” we rated that Mostly False. The White House pointed to the Consumer Price Index for drugs, and using one particular time period, there was a small decline.

But that index leaves out the actual prices people pay, and it only covers retail drugs, about three-fourths of all prescriptions.

Beyond those limitations, the latest numbers for that index show drug prices rising by about 3.9% in December 2019.

Other ways to measure drug prices show that thousands of drugs have seen prices go up, while only about 100 have seen prices fall.

“For 48 years they’ve been trying to get Veterans Choice … One day I say to my people: I have the greatest idea. I am so smart … We’re going to send them down the road to private doctors and we’re going to pay the bill and they’re going to get fixed.”

This ignores that the Veterans Choice program started in 2014. Trump has claimed credit since passage of the Veterans Mission Act in 2018, but the first version of the program was approved four years earlier. 

After a scandal of long waits for veterans and the efforts of administrators at some facilities to cover that up, Congress and the Obama administration passed the Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act of 2014.

For veterans who couldn’t be given appointments quickly enough, or who lived more than 40 miles from a Veterans Health Administration hospital, the government would pay for private care. 

While the initial program was riddled with problems –– including paying huge overhead fees to the firms managing it –– it did exactly what Trump described as his own idea. The 2018 Mission Act consolidated several related VA programs and anchored the use of private doctors within the VA system, but the concept was already in place when Trump took office.

“And today, I had the best polls that I’ve ever had since being elected, the best we’ve ever had.”

Trump’s polling remains stable amid the impeachment trial. A Real Clear Politics average of recent polling shows Trump at a 45.3% approval rating. He last hit that level on Sept. 24, 2019, the day House Democrats launched the impeachment inquiry. Put into context, Trump’s Real Clear Politics average approval has remained between 37% and 45.3% since he was inaugurated.

“The money is won. And we are now building that beautiful wall. This powerful border wall is going up at record speed, and we just reached over 100 miles of wall. And next year we’ll be over 400 miles. And shortly thereafter it will be complete.”

Trump is referring to a court victory allowing him to use $3.6 billion for military construction projects toward the wall instead. (Congress was not giving Trump the money he wanted for the wall, so he declared a national emergency in order to tap the military funds.) Most of the border wall projects replace or bolster existing fencing. As for 400 more miles coming next year, it’s not immediately clear what he’s referring to. He said the same thing in May about 2020. In short, the wall still has a long way to go before it matches Trump’s vision from 2016.

“But Mexico is in fact, you will soon find out, paying for the wall, okay? … The wall is ultimately and very nicely being paid for by Mexico.”

There’s no evidence of this. We asked the Trump team for more details and haven’t heard back. Trump previously claimed that Mexico would pay for the wall through the U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade agreement, which he signed Jan. 29. We rated that False because there is no provision for the wall in the free trade agreement.

“Our Second Amendment is under siege in Virginia. They want to take their guns away.”

Lawmakers have not advanced an assault weapon ban, but there is a “red flag” measure that could take guns from the mentally unstable. With Democrats controlling the Virginia legislature and the governor’s office, gun control measures are advancing quickly. They include universal background checks, a limit on buying handguns to one per month and a “red flag” bill to allow law enforcement to temporarily take weapons from someone judged to be a threat to themselves or others.

“We are stopping surprise medical billing.”

This effort is stalled in Congress. The Trump campaign pointed to a May 9 statement of principles from Trump that included “Patients should not receive surprise bills from out-of-network providers they did not choose,” and other steps to bar unexpected costs. But the campaign also noted that legislation has stalled. Dec. 9, the White House issued a statement that said, “we are hopeful Congress will focus on this important issue and act this year.

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When PolitiFact hit the road to cover the Iowa caucuses

People cheer as democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., speaks at a campaign rally Sunday, Jan. 26, 2020, in Sioux City, Iowa. (AP)

IOWA CITY, Iowa — Our job, most days, is to fact-check what candidates say about themselves and their opponents. That usually happens from our desks in Washington and Florida. But in January, it was time to get up close and personal — in Iowa.

Three PolitiFact staffers spent five days following the Democratic presidential contenders in their closing sprint before the Feb. 3 caucuses. The Iowa crew included D.C.-based senior correspondent Louis Jacobson, south Florida-based staff writer Amy Sherman, and our audience engagement editor, Josie Hollingsworth, who is based at the Poynter Institute in St. Petersburg. 

All told, we drove roughly 1,100 miles to cover the candidates as they stumped across the state. Stops included town halls for Andrew Yang and Elizabeth Warren in communities along the Mississippi River, a rally for Joe Biden in suburban Des Moines, Bernie Sanders in the college town of Ames, and Amy Klobuchar in Waterloo. Our final stop was a Fox News town hall with Pete Buttigieg. 

Iowans respond to criticism of the state’s prominent role

The fact that African-American candidates Kamala Harris and Cory Booker, and Julián Castro, who is Latino, dropped out before the caucuses have left some questioning why Iowa — an overwhelmingly white state — should play such a large role in winnowing the field. 

After dropping out, Castro said that Iowa is “not reflective of the United States” and “not reflective of the Democratic Party,” and he urged that it lose its crucial spot at the head of the line. Biden didn’t say Iowa should lose its status, but he did acknowledge, “Are they representative historically and practically — based on race and creed and color — of the nation? No, they’re not.”

Iowa voters we interviewed vigorously defended their special place in the political calendar. 

“We are the crossroads of the United States. We are dead-center of the United States,” said Jim Auxier, a retired tool and die maker at a Biden event in Ankeny. “Where can you get a better perspective on the U.S.?” 

Others said Iowa shares many of the same challenges as other parts of the country, such as grappling with climate change. Connor Shannon, a 19-year-old who works at a sandwich shop, told us after the Sanders rally that he was concerned about flooding in Iowa, which was severe in some locations in 2019.

“More than ever this election cycle, Iowa is a very relevant place,” Shannon said.

Connor Shannon and Lauren Bey were among the Bernie Sanders supporters who packed a municipal auditorium in Ames, Iowa, for a rally. (Louis Jacobson/PolitiFact)

 

Iowa voters take their job seriously

Political scientists agree that Iowa has something special to lend the process: A citizenry that is not only used to scrutinizing candidates first-hand, but one that demands it.

According to a recent Iowa Poll, one-third of likely Democratic caucus-goers said it is “extremely important” how a candidate has engaged with voters at events.

“Iowa caucus-goers take the process seriously, and are serious about trying to learn about the candidates and put them on the spot with questions,” said David Redlawsk, a University of Delaware political scientist and Iowa caucus expert who has attended more than 100 caucus-related events in Iowa this campaign cycle. “Candidates have to be responsive, which is a learning experience for many of them.”

The Democratic caucus process allows voters to switch their allegiance on caucus night if the candidate they support fails to reach 15% in the initial round of voting at a caucus site. 

As a result, “voters pay attention to multiple candidates rather than locking into one early, and thus spend more time actually comparing and judging between them than primary voters in other states would,” Redlawsk said.

Historically, half or more of Iowa voters are late deciders about who they are going to support. 

“There’s an old saying here that you need to shake hands with a candidate seven times before you caucus for them,” said Christopher Larimer, a political scientist at the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls. “That seems to hold.”

It held for Nadene and Gary Davidson of Cedar Falls, a couple who attended an Amy Klobuchar event in Waterloo. The Davidsons were “95% behind Amy,” but they had attended a half dozen events featuring various candidates and were still seeking out more.

Iowans “really want to do their homework and understand what each candidate is really about and make the best decision,” Nadene Davidson said.

Nadene and Gary Davidson of Cedar Falls, Iowa, who attended an Amy Klobuchar event in Waterloo, Iowa, on Jan. 26. (Louis Jacobson/PolitiFact)

 

The campaign can be an emotional journey

The events in Iowa offer a more intimate setting where caucusgoers can ask questions or take selfies (and, in the case of Warren, meet her dog, Bailey, too). In the student center at Muscatine Community College, Yang’s speech was more like a conversation than a formal address, with a few dozen voters huddled around tables. He asked the group why Donald Trump won in 2016.

“Because the electoral college sucks!” one voter called out.

“He appealed to people that didn’t feel they had a voice,” another voter said.

Iowa voters made clear how complex issues of Medicare for All, trade policy and Social Security affect their everyday lives.

A mother of an 8-year-old with learning disabilities shared with Warren her struggles to get services at school. She fought back tears, and Warren got emotional too. Eventually, they hugged.

At the televised town hall with Buttigieg, a woman who described herself as an anti-abortion Democrat asked Buttigieg whether he would state that voters like her belong in the party, and that the party’s platform should embrace diverse opinions on abortion. Buttigieg said he understood her position but wouldn’t follow her request. The woman was frustrated. Buttigieg said it was up to women to decide what is best.

The personal sharing went both ways. Biden talked about his late son Beau, who died of cancer. Klobuchar spoke of her father’s struggles with alcoholism and her grandfather’s hard work as a miner. Warren tried to appeal to the everywoman in the audience by sharing how her path in life included some unexpected twists and turns, including getting married at age 19 and later getting divorced. 

The Iowa state capitol in Des Moines. (Josie Hollingsworth/PolitiFact)

 

Trump remains the ultimate Democratic rival, even in the primary

Democratic candidates, we found, generally focused more on their differences with Trump than on each other. Still, there were differences in style.

Biden’s speech at a community college near Des Moines was held in front of a calm crowd where voters told us their top priority was to defeat Trump. Biden campaigned as if he was already facing Trump. “The character of the country is on the ballot,” he said.

By contrast, Sanders’ event in an auditorium in Ames was boisterous and drew enough voters, many of them college students or recent graduates, to fill up the aisles. The crowd seemed to identify themselves as part of a movement.

With several candidates bunched close together at the top of recent polls, political observers said the outcome on Feb. 3 is hard to predict. While every caucus seems to pack a surprise at the end, said Larimer of the University of Northern Iowa, “I think people are a little more undecided this year” due to the closeness of the race.

PolitiFact is also sending a team to New Hampshire before the Feb. 11 primary. Follow along with all of our coverage @PolitiFact.

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Fact-checking Donald Trump’s campaign rally in Wildwood, New Jersey

Hours after his attorneys closed their case for him to remain in office, President Donald Trump jetted up to New Jersey to be with his fans, largely avoiding the impeachment trial to describe many reasons for his re-election.

“America is winning again and America is thriving again like never before,” Trump said Jan. 28 in Wildwood.

At the same time, they are disgusted with Washington, Trump said. “Which is worse, the impeachment hoax or the witch hunts from Russia?” 

As he made his case to thousands of people, many of whom waited the entire day to see him, Trump repeated several familiar claims on the economy, health care and the border wall that needed a fact-check.

“We are protecting people with pre-existing conditions, and we always will, the Republican Party, pre-existing conditions. We saved it.”

Pants on Fire! Trump has repeatedly misrepresented his administration’s efforts to repeal the Obama-era health care law, which guarantees coverage for patients with pre-existing conditions. Neither Trump nor congressional Republicans who want the courts to strike down the Affordable Care Act have offered a replacement that might maintain its core protections. 

“We are lowering drug prices.”

When Trump said in May 2019 that “drug prices are coming down,” we rated that Mostly False. The White House pointed to the Consumer Price Index for drugs, and using one particular time period, there was a small decline.

But that index leaves out the actual prices people pay, and it only covers retail drugs, about three-fourths of all prescriptions.

Beyond those limitations, the latest numbers for that index show drug prices rising by about 3.9% in December 2019.

Other ways to measure drug prices show that thousands of drugs have seen prices go up, while only about 100 have seen prices fall.

“For 48 years they’ve been trying to get Veterans Choice … One day I say to my people: I have the greatest idea. I am so smart … We’re going to send them down the road to private doctors and we’re going to pay the bill and they’re going to get fixed.”

This ignores that the Veterans Choice program started in 2014. Trump has claimed credit since passage of the Veterans Mission Act in 2018, but the first version of the program was approved four years earlier. 

After a scandal of long waits for veterans and the efforts of administrators at some facilities to cover that up, Congress and the Obama administration passed the Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act of 2014.

For veterans who couldn’t be given appointments quickly enough, or who lived more than 40 miles from a Veterans Health Administration hospital, the government would pay for private care. 

While the initial program was riddled with problems –– including paying huge overhead fees to the firms managing it –– it did exactly what Trump described as his own idea. The 2018 Mission Act consolidated several related VA programs and anchored the use of private doctors within the VA system, but the concept was already in place when Trump took office.

“And today, I had the best polls that I’ve ever had since being elected, the best we’ve ever had.”

Trump’s polling remains stable amid the impeachment trial. A Real Clear Politics average of recent polling shows Trump at a 45.3% approval rating. He last hit that level on Sept. 24, 2019, the day House Democrats launched the impeachment inquiry. Put into context, Trump’s Real Clear Politics average approval has remained between 37% and 45.3% since he was inaugurated.

“Earnings for the bottom 10% are rising faster than earnings for the top 10%.”

That’s correct. The people at the bottom end of the wage scale make a lot less than those at the top, but the gains Trump cited are real.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics breaks wage earners down into the poorest 10% and the highest 10%. Government numbers on usual weekly earnings show that in 2019, earnings for the bottom 10% went from $442 to $467 –– a 5.6% rise. Earnings for the top 10% went from $2,265 to $2,280 –– a 0.6% increase. The gap wasn’t as large in the previous two years, but the pattern was the same.

“The money is won. And we are now building that beautiful wall. This powerful border wall is going up at record speed, and we just reached over 100 miles of wall. And next year we’ll be over 400 miles. And shortly thereafter it will be complete.”

Trump is referring to a court victory allowing him to use $3.6 billion for military construction projects toward the wall instead. (Congress was not giving Trump the money he wanted for the wall, so he declared a national emergency in order to tap the military funds.) Most of the border wall projects replace or bolster existing fencing. As for 400 more miles coming next year, it’s not immediately clear what he’s referring to. He said the same thing in May about 2020. In short, the wall still has a long way to go before it matches Trump’s vision from 2016.

“But Mexico is in fact, you will soon find out, paying for the wall, okay? … The wall is ultimately and very nicely being paid for by Mexico.”

There’s no evidence of this. We asked the Trump team for more details and haven’t heard back. Trump previously claimed that Mexico would pay for the wall through the U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade agreement, which he will soon sign. There is no provision for the wall in the free trade agreement.

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Fact-checking the impeachment defense of Donald Trump

Lawyers for President Donald Trump closed their arguments in the Senate’s impeachment trial Tuesday, paving the way for senators to ask questions as they consider whether to remove a president from office for the first time in U.S. history.

The presentation wrapped up six days of arguments in which the House managers and the Trump legal defense team clashed over the president’s actions on Ukraine.

The president’s team largely sidestepped a report that former National Security Adviser John Bolton wrote in his upcoming book that Trump told him the aid for Ukraine was tied to the country’s announcement of an investigation into former Vice President Joe Biden. 

Instead, Trump’s attorneys directed attention to Biden and his son Hunter, defended Trump’s conduct with respect to Ukraine, and made the case that the articles of impeachment approved by the House are not sufficient to justify Trump’s removal.

Some of their main arguments were rooted in claims that needed a fact-check, omitted context, or have been disputed by witness testimony and documentary evidence. 

“President Zelensky and high-ranking Ukrainian officials did not even know the security assistance was paused until the end of August.”

— Mike Purpura, deputy White House counsel, Jan. 27, 2020

This is disputed by witness testimony.

Pentagon official Laura Cooper testified that the State Department circulated two emails on July 25 indicating that Ukrainian officials were aware that U.S. aid to Ukraine had been frozen.

That revelation aligned with testimony that State Department official Catherine Croft provided behind closed doors. Croft told Congress that two Ukrainian officials reached out to her to ask about the hold on military aid before news of it became public in late August

Croft said these Ukrainian officials “found out very early on or much earlier than I expected them to,” adding that she believed they did not want word of the freeze to get out for fear of the signal it would send as the country was at war with Russia.

In an interview with the New York Times, Olena Zerkal, the former deputy foreign minister of Ukraine, said she knew the aid was held up by July 30, when she read a diplomatic cable from Ukrainian officials in Washington that mentioned the issue.

“Security assistance flowed on Sept. 11 and a presidential meeting took place on Sept. 25 without the Ukrainian government announcing any investigations.”

— Purpura, Jan. 27, 2020

Crucial context is omitted from that timeline: The aid “flowed” to Ukraine after the freeze became public and word of a whistleblower’s complaint got out.

The New York Times reported that White House lawyers briefed Trump about the whistleblower complaint against him in late August.

The hold was lifted on Sept. 11, two days after the intelligence community inspector general notified House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., of the whistleblower complaint and after three House committees launched an investigation into the delay.

Multiple witnesses testified that Zelensky planned to use an interview on CNN to announce the investigations Trump wanted. CNN’s Fareed Zakaria later said Zelensky was scheduled to appear on his show before news of the whistleblower broke.

Trump and Zelensky did get together on Sept. 25, the same day the White House released a summary of their July 25 phone call. They held a joint press conference at the United Nations General Assembly in New York, during which Zelensky said his call with Trump was “normal” and “nobody pushed me.”

“The articles do not charge a crime or violation of established law.” 

— Ken Starr, Jan. 27, 2020

The articles of impeachment, which charge Trump with abuse of power and obstruction of Congress, do not accuse Trump of violating any specific statutory crimes, although the accompanying House Judiciary Committee report does. But a statutory crime is not a requirement for impeachment or removal. 

The Constitution says the president can be impeached and removed from office for “treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.” Legal experts told us the phrase “high crimes and misdemeanors” refers more aptly to violations of public trust than to statutory crimes.

“The House managers, over a 23-hour period, kept pushing this false dichotomy that it was either Russia or Ukraine, but not both.”

— Jay Sekulow, Trump’s private attorney, Jan. 25, 2020

The evidence of Russian interference is overwhelming. 

The U.S. intelligence community reached that conclusion long ago, and the Mueller investigation spelled out the details in its indictment of 12 Russian agents. 

The indictments charged those Russian agents with hacking into the Democratic National Committee and the email accounts of top staff on Hillary Clinton’s campaign, and then feeding the material to WikiLeaks, which then published them.

In contrast, Trump-appointed FBI director Christopher Wray said in a televised interview, “We have no information that indicates that Ukraine interfered with the 2016 presidential election.”

When Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, said Ukraine “blatantly interfered” in the 2016 election, we rated his claim False

House Democrats designed “a mechanism here where the president was locked out and denied the ability to cross-examine witnesses.”

— Patrick Philbin, deputy White House counsel, Jan. 25, 2020

The House Judiciary Committee invited the president and his legal team to participate in its hearings. 

In the rules House Democrats laid out, the White House could “attend all hearings, including any held in executive session,” and “may question any witness called before the Committee,” as well as submit evidence.

On Jan. 27, Philbin modified this a bit to say the president was kept out of 71 of the 78 days of impeachment hearings.

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Fact-checking Pete Buttigieg’s Fox News town hall in Des Moines, Iowa

Members of the public watch Pete Buttigieg’s closing statement at a Fox News town hall in Des Moines, Iowa, on Jan. 26, 2020. (Tina Dyakon/PolitiFact)

DES MOINES, Iowa — Former Mayor Pete Buttigieg said he’s not too young to be the president and actually is the Democrat best positioned to reach out to a broad swath of Americans.

“I don’t think you have to be Democrat to see what is wrong with this president and this presidency,” Buttigieg said, speaking to a Fox News town hall audience of about 430 on Jan. 26. “I am meeting a lot of what I like to call ‘future former Republicans’ who are coming to my events.”

The live one-hour town hall was broadcast from the Iowa River Center, a 1915 brick building that was used as a brewery before Prohibition.

Buttigieg criticized Trump over possible traumatic brain injuries suffered by service members in a retaliatory strike by Iran on U.S. forces in Iraq earlier this month. Initially Trump had said the United States experienced no injuries, but it was later reported that 34 U.S. troops were taken to the hospital for consultations on possible traumatic brain injuries.

“It’s so disturbing to hear the president brush away traumatic brain injuries,” Buttgieg charged.

Buttigieg was referring to Trump’s answer when a reporter in Davos asked him to explain the discrepancy between his initial comment that no Americans were injured and the fact that some service men were airlifted to Iraq.

Trump replied: “No, I heard that they had headaches, and a couple of other things.  But I would say, and I can report it is not very serious. Not very serious.”

Trump also said “I don’t consider them very serious injuries, relative to other injuries that I’ve seen.”

When a member of the audience asked Buttigieg about the place in the Democratic Party for opponents of abortion, he said, “I respect where you are coming from,” but added that he is solidly behind abortion rights. “I believe a woman ought to be able to make that decision,” he said, drawing substantial applause from the audience.

PolitiFact has been traveling through Iowa in the run-up to the Feb. 3 caucuses fact-checking statements made by the Democratic caucus candidates. (See links to our fact-checks of speeches by six presidential candidates in Iowa here.) Here are our fact-checks of Buttigieg, a former South Bend, Indiana, mayor.

“I think I am the exact median age” of people in the United States. 

He’s not exact, but he’s very close.

Buttigieg was born on Jan. 19, 1982, making him a few days older than 38 years at the time of the town hall.

For comparison, the most recent figures from the U.S. Census Bureau show that the median age of all Americans is 37.8 years.

Buttigieg is actually a bit older than the median male in the United States — 36.5 years, according to Census figures. Women have a higher median age, 39.1 years.

RELATED: We analyzed the stump speeches of Pete Buttigieg, Amy Klobuchar, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Joe Biden.

“Right now there is not a single county in the whole United States of America where somebody working full time at minimum wage can afford even a two-bedroom apartment.” 

We rated a similar claim by Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., Mostly True. It’s generally accurate, but it’s important to understand how the Democrats are defining affordability.

Harris tweeted, “In 99% of counties in America, someone making the minimum wage working full time can’t afford a 1-bedroom apartment.” 

A 2018 study by the National Low Income Housing Coalition called “Out of Reach” found that “in only 22 counties out of more than 3,000 counties nationwide can a full-time minimum wage worker afford a one-bedroom rental home at fair market rent.” 

In the Fox News town hall, Buttigieg suggested a more stringent threshold — zero, rather than 1% — but he also offered the more expensive benchmark of a two-bedroom apartment rather than a one-bedroom apartment.

It’s worth noting that the coalition defines “affordability” as “consistent with the federal standard that no more than 30 percent of a household’s gross income should be spent on rent and utilities.” That’s the same guideline used by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and we found it’s a standard threshold within the field.

Meanwhile, the definition of “fair market rent” is slightly different. It also has its origins from HUD. The National Low Income Housing Coalition defines it as “typically the 40th percentile of gross rents for standard rental units.”

So that means that within any given metropolitan area, 40%of all rental properties are priced equal to or below the fair market rent threshold. That means not all units would be unaffordable for full-time minimum-wage workers, but it does mean that a majority — 60% — would find themselves in that box.

Of the remaining 40% of one-bedroom housing, some units may be affordable for those workers, but that doesn’t mean they’ll be quality apartments — they might be in a high-crime area or low-performing school district, for example. 

“Every time my party’s won in the last 50 years — won the White House — one of the things about our nominee is that it’s somebody that is new on the scene, not a creature of Washington.”

We rated this Mostly True in November when Buttgieg used the talking point.

Democratic nominees in the last 50 years who spent years in Washington and failed to win the presidency included Sen. George McGovern (lost in 1972); former vice president Walter Mondale (lost in 1984); outgoing vice president Al Gore (lost in 2000); Sen. John Kerry (lost in 2004); and former Sen. and former secretary of state Hillary Clinton (lost in 2016).

By contrast, since 1972, three Democratic presidential nominees have won elections: Jimmy Carter in 1976; Bill Clinton in 1992 (re-elected in 1996); and Barack Obama in 2008 (re-elected in 2012). Before their election, Carter and Clinton served as governors but not in Congress. Obama was a relatively new U.S. senator who wasn’t widely known nationally before his presidential election.

The arguable exception to the rule is Michael Dukakis, a governor of Massachusetts who had never held elected federal office before winning the Democratic party’s nomination in 1988. He lost the general presidential election to the Republican nominee, George H. W. Bush.

“Setting aside instances where an incumbent president is running for re-election, Democrats in the modern era have fared better when nominating new faces rather than Washington insiders,” said Barry Burden, a political science professor and director of the Elections Research Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

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We fact-checked the Democrats’ closing push in Iowa before the caucuses

We’re in Iowa! PolitiFact sent a team of reporters to the Hawkeye State to fact-check campaign events of Democratic presidential candidates ahead of the Feb. 3 caucuses. 

We’ll add stories and fact-checks to this page. Follow our Twitter, Facebook and Instagram accounts (@politifact) as our engagement editor takes you behind the scenes.

Want more? Get a sense of their campaign messaging in our stump speech analyzers for Pete ButtigiegAmy KlobucharBernie SandersElizabeth Warren and Joe Biden.

Joe Biden 

The former vice president appeared in Ankeny, a suburb of Des Moines, Jan. 25. Read our fact-checks of what he said about the State Department under Trump and American soldiers suffering from concussions.

Amy Klobuchar

Despite polling below the top tier of Iowa caucus hopefuls, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., drew a near-capacity crowd to a ballroom in Waterloo, Iowa, where she described her vision for a post-Donald Trump presidency. Read our fact check of her speech here.

Bernie Sanders

Sen. Sanders, I-Vt., called for a systematic change in the economy, health care, criminal justice, and the environment during 45 minutes of remarks to an overflow crowd near the campus of Iowa State University on Jan. 25. Our fact-check story brings you the highlights.

Elizabeth Warren

Sen. Warren, D-Mass., called for “big structural change” to help average Americans, rather than the richest and most powerful, in a town hall in the Mississippi River city of Davenport, Iowa. We fact-checked her remarks here.

Andrew Yang

Yang, an entrepreneur, talked about his proposals to give Americans $1,000 a month in “universal basic income” and $100 to spend on each federal election at Muscatine Community College on Jan. 23. Read our story fact-checking his economic claims, chased by this fact-check about how few Americans donate during elections. 

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Fact-checking Elizabeth Warren in Davenport, Iowa

DAVENPORT, Iowa — Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., called for “big structural change” to help average Americans, rather than the richest and most powerful, in a town hall at a middle school in this Mississippi River city.

“If we want a country that doesn’t just work for the rich and the powerful … we aren’t going to be able to fix this with a nibble here and a little change there,” she told the crowd of about 400 in the gym of Sudlow Intermediate School. “It’s going to take big structural change, and I’ve got a plan for that. In fact, I have a lot of plans for that.”

Before Warren spoke, audience members were given raffle tickets to ask questions. When a field organizer called out the winning numbers, the winners were instructed to shout “persist” — a word Warren once famously appropriated from Republicans who were seeking to shut down her comments on the floor. 

One woman fought back tears as she asked a question about how Warren would help her child who has learning disabilities. Warren embraced the mother before answering that she would add a wealth tax that would generate more money for education.

Asked about President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial, Warren said the administration has taken corruption to “new depths.”

“Just remember right in the heart of (Trump’s impeachment) is an ambassador who bought his seat for $1 million contribution to Trump’s inauguration committee,” she told the crowd. That was a reference to Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union and a key House witness during the impeachment inquiry. Although Sondland preferred other candidates to Trump in the 2016 election, he donated about $1 million to Trump’s inaugural committee and was nominated for his post by Trump in 2018.

PolitiFact is traveling through Iowa this week fact-checking statements made by Democratic caucus candidates. We’ve already fact-checked events of former Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Bernie Sanders and Andrew Yang.

RELATED: Stump speech analyzers for Pete Buttigieg, Amy Klobuchar, Bernie Sanders  Elizabeth Warren and Joe Biden.

After Warren’s town hall, we decided to fact-check her statements about marijuana arrests, gun background checks, the size of the 2017 Women’s March and her own college costs.

After Trump was inaugurated, “the next day the biggest protest march in the history of the world occurred.”

It appears to have been the biggest one-day protest in the United States, but not for the entire world.

Professors Erica Chenoweth, then with the University of Denver, and Jeremy Pressman, of the University of Connecticut, concluded the Women’s March of Jan. 21, 2017, was “likely the largest single-day demonstration in recorded U.S. history.” 

Using publicly reported estimates of the scattered march locations and the number of participants involved in each, they determined that between 3.3 million and 5.2 million people participated.

Chenoweth, who now teaches at Harvard, said she can’t confirm that it was the biggest single-day protest in world history. In India, for instance, news reports earlier this month indicated that a quarter billion people went on strike against the government.

“That is surely a record, if true, but strike numbers are often impossible to confirm,” she said.

In 2003, the BBC reported that between 6 million and 10 million people in over 60 countries participated in anti-war protests in Europe during the course of a weekend, with many protests falling on the Saturday. Estimates varied widely.

Warren said that when she lived in Texas, she attended a “commuter college that cost $50 a semester.”

Warren is correct that her costs were low at the University of Houston.

Warren graduated from the University of Houston in 1970, according to a copy of her CV. University records show that tuition for Texas residents taking a full course load while Warren was enrolled was $50, although additional fees brought the total cost of attending the school up to about $100 a semester.

“I took on a popular Republican senator and beat him. I am the only person in this race who has beaten an incumbent Republican any time in the past 30 years.”

This echoes a line from the January Democratic debate when she and Sanders sparred over the meaning of “at any time in the past 30 years.”

Sanders defeated an incumbent Republican in 1990. Warren beat Republican Sen. Scott Brown in 2012. Given the timing of the election, Sanders’ victory was about 10 months shy of Warren’s cutoff for 30 years. 

African Americans are “somewhere between three and four times more likely to be arrested for (marijuana) use.” 

Warren is accurately citing a credible report. The underlying data is at least a decade old, addressing a period before the wide-scale decriminalization of marijuana.

A 2013 report by the American Civil Liberties Union said that “a black person is 3.73 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than a white person, even though blacks and whites use marijuana at similar rates. Such racial disparities in marijuana possession arrests exist in all regions of the country, in counties large and small, urban and rural, wealthy and poor, and with large and small black populations.”

The report found that between 2001 and 2010, there were over 8 million marijuana arrests in the United States, 88% of which were for possession.

“36 million Americans couldn’t afford to have a prescription filled last year.”

We previously rated this statement True.

Researchers for the Commonwealth Fund in 2018 estimated that 37 million non-elderly adults went without filling a prescription because they could not afford it. That’s almost 1 in 5 of the U.S. population. Having insurance coverage, the researchers note, doesn’t guarantee you’ll afford medication.

“We live in an America where more than 90% of Americans want to see us do a couple sensible things around guns. They want us to do sensible background checks, they want us to get weapons of war off our streets, more than 90%.”

Many polls back up Warren’s assertion about public support for background checks, but support is lower for banning assault weapons. 

When we looked at polling on the topic last September, we found a Fox News poll with 90% support for background checks on all gun buyers, including for gun shows and private sales. A Washington Post/ABC News poll found similar results. 

Support is generally lower for banning assault weapons. We looked at five polls following the mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton that showed support for banning assault weapons ranged from 56% to 70%.

“In the early 2000s, mortgages had become so complex they had a one in five chance of costing a family their home.” 

This is correct.

Complex mortgages, mainly subprime and adjustable rate mortgages, grew in the first half of the decade and accounted for a huge share of defaults. 

A 2007 study of home loans in Massachusetts by the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston found that “homeownerships that begin with a subprime purchase mortgage end up in foreclosure almost 20 percent of the time.” That was just for Massachusetts, but Chris Herbert, managing director at the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies, said that was “in line with the rest of the country.”

A separate analysis from the Federal Reserve Board of Chicago found that default rates exceeded 35% for subprime loans made in 2006. And a major federal report on the foreclosure crisis noted that adjustable-rate mortgages accounted for over half of foreclosure starts in 2008.