Elections

Fact-checking the Democratic debate

Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders argue a point during the Democratic presidential primary debate at the University of Michigan-Flint on Sunday.
Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders argue a point during the Democratic presidential primary debate at the University of Michigan-Flint on Sunday. AP

The Democratic debate in Flint, Michigan, on Sunday unearthed sharp differences between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders on the auto bailout, international trade agreements and Wall Street campaign donations.

One thing they did have in common: Decrying the multi-agency breakdowns that created the host city's poisoned-water crisis. Clinton and Sanders called for Gov. Rick Snyder's resignation and said more must be done to improve the country's infrastructure.

Here are our fact-checks from the March 6 match-up. (The next debate is at Miami Dade College on Wednesday.)

LEAD POISONING LARGER THAN FLINT

Clinton said Flint isn’t the only place where serious action is needed.

“We have a lot of communities right now in our country where the level of toxins in the water, including lead, are way above what anybody should tolerate,” Clinton said. “We have a higher rate of tested lead in people in Cleveland than in Flint.”

Really? Her statement rates Mostly True.

Residents of Flint have been consuming tap water with lead since 2014, when the city switched its water source to the polluted Flint River to save money. In 2015, 4 percent of all kids and 6.3 percent of kids in high-risk areas had elevated blood lead levels, according to an analysis by Monica Hanna-Attisha, a researcher at Flint’s Hurley Children’s Hospital.

Clinton has a point that many other American cities are dealing with the toxin. Lead-contaminated tap water has run through faucets in Washington, D.C.; Durham, North Carolina; Lakehurst Acres, Maine; Jackson, Mississippi; and other places throughout the years.

But in most places — including Cleveland — lead poisoning is mainly due to lead-based paint in older houses. In Cleveland, a whopping 14.2 percent of kids tested at the reference level in 2014, according to the Cuyahoga County Board of Health. In the county, 10.3 percent of kids had elevated blood levels.

Later in the debate, Clinton clarified that lead poisoning around the country doesn’t just come from water.

SANDERS AND THE AUTO BAILOUT

In one of the more heated exchanges of the night, Clinton said Sanders didn’t support the bailout that saved the auto industry, which has a substantial presence in Michigan.

She said he “was against the auto bailout” and “voted against the money that ended up saving the auto industry.”

Basically, Sanders had two opportunities to show his support for auto bailout funds through Senate votes. He supported the bailout in one instance but not the other.

He voted in favor of providing auto companies with $14 billion, but that standalone measure failed. He then voted against a set of funds that financed most of the auto bailout — though the funds’ primary purpose was bailing out Wall Street firms, which Sanders strongly opposed.

The claim, though, leaves listeners with the impression that Sanders opposed the general idea of bailing out the auto industry, so we rated the claim Half True.

The next Democratic debate is on Wednesday at Miami Dade College. Follow our coverage live on twitter @politifact and suggest claims to fact-check by using #PolitiFactThis or email truthometer@politifact.com.

Politifact Florida is a partnership between The Tampa Bay Times and the Miami Herald to check out truth in politics.

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