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VERIFY: Fact checking the fifth Democratic debate

Our VERIFY team fact-checked what the candidates said during the Democratic debate in Atlanta.

Ten Democrats hoping to become the party's nominee met on the debate stage Wednesday night in Atlanta. 

It was the fifth round of debates for Democrats as each of them tries to make the case for why they should be the one to face off against President Donald Trump next year. 

Our VERIFY researchers fact-checked what all the candidates had to say during Wednesday's debate. 

CLAIM: Senator Bernie Sanders said that 500,000 Americans are “sleeping on the streets.” 

When referring to the total homeless population of the United States, this claim is VERIFIED. The numbers are smaller for homeless people without shelter.

There were over 553,000 homeless Americans on a single night in January of 2018, which was when the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development made their most recent estimates. The HUD estimates homeless populations based on an average of single night snapshots in January of each year. Among those 552,000 individuals, 358,000 of them spent the night in sheltered locations and 194,000 were unsheltered.

Source: U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development 

- TJ Spry 

CLAIM: Representative Tulsi Gabbard claimed that Pete Buttigieg would be “willing to send” U.S. troops to Mexico to fight drug cartels.

“I think the most recent example of your inexperience in National Security in foreign policy came from your recent careless statement about how you as president would be willing to send our troops to Mexico to fight the cartels,” she said.

This claim is misleading. Buttigieg did speak about being open to sending U.S. troops to Mexico, but only in specific circumstances.

In an interview earlier this week, Buttigieg was asked if he would consider military assistance in Mexico, if the country requested it.

“If it is in the context of a security partnership,” Buttigieg replied, “then I would welcome ways to make sure that America is doing what we can to ensure our neighbor to the South is secure."

He added that he’d only send troops if American lives were on the line, if there were no other choice, and if it was obligated by treaties between the U.S. and Mexico. Gabbard's claim during the debate led to a heated exchange with Buttigieg

Sources: Nov. 17 interview with Buttigieg

- Jason Puckett 

CLAIM: Andrew Yang claimed that the U.S. showed they didn’t prioritize technology when the country got rid of the Office of Technology Assessment in 1995.

Yang’s claim that the OTA was dissolved in 1995 is true, though claiming that it’s proof the U.S. doesn’t focus on technology is Yang’s opinion.

From its founding in 1972 through its removal in 1995, the OTA was tasked with providing unbiased analysis of emerging technologies and scientific developments. An archive of the OTA’s publications can still be found on Princeton’s website.

Source: Archived publications from the Office of Technology Assessment 

- Jason Puckett 

RELATED: VERIFY: Fact-checking the fourth Democratic debate

RELATED: VERIFY: Fact-checking the third Democratic debate

CLAIM: Mayor Pete Buttigieg has the lowest net worth of the Democratic candidates at the debate 

While talking about campaign funding, Mayor Pete Buttigieg claimed that he had the lowest net worth of all the candidates on stage in Atlanta. 

That claim is TRUE.

An August 2019 analysis by Forbes found that Buttigieg did indeed have the lowest net worth of all Democratic candidates.

Their analysis showed Tom Steyer at the top with $1.6 billion. On the other end was Buttigieg with an estimated net worth of $100,000. Buttigieg has also spoke openly on the campaign trail about how he and his husband, Chasten, still owe around $130,000 in student debt. 

Source: Forbes analysis of every 2020 presidential candidate's net worth, Forbes story on Buttigieg student loans 

- Jason Puckett 

Credit: AP
Democratic presidential candidates from left, Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., former Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., former technology executive Andrew Yang and investor Tom Steyer wave to the audience before a Democratic presidential primary debate, Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2019, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Amis)

CLAIM: Andrew Yang said that the United States and Papua New Guinea are the only two countries in the world not to have paid family leave.


A March 2019 news release from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development stated, “All but two countries – Papua New Guinea and the United States – now guarantee paid maternity leave.” The OECD has previously noted that the U.S. was “the only OECD country to offer no statutory entitlement to paid leave on a national basis.” 

Additionally, the OECD noted that it does not have data on whether Papua New Guinea guarantees paid paternal leave.  

Source: Organisation for Economic report on maternal leave and paternal leave, data from OECD on parental leave systems 

- TJ Spry 

CLAIM: Senator Bernie Sanders claims the UN has forecast there will be “hundreds of millions of climate refugees” because of climate change. 

The claim that there is a forecast that hundreds of millions will be displaced by climate change is VERIFIED. However, the forecast was made by a UN partner organization.

The World Bank predicts there will be 143 million “internal climate migrants” in Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia and Latin America by 2050 if no action is taken. While the World Bank is an organization independent from the UN, it has a formal relationship agreement with the UN and is part of the United Nations system. The United Nations has specifically stated it does not endorse the term “climate refugees.”

Sources: World Bank, UN Refugee Agency

- TJ Spry 

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