Fact-checking the Democratic debate in Miami

Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders at a debate Wednesday night in Miami.
Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders at a debate Wednesday night in Miami. pfarrell@miamiherald.com

About a week ahead of the Florida primary, Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders sought to distinguish themselves from one another on issues important to the region, like immigration and climate change.

Here are our fact-checks from their Florida debate hosted March 9 by the Washington Post and Univision at Miami Dade College.

Did Clinton’s predecessors follow the same email practices?

Clinton’s decision to exclusively use private email as secretary of state was not unprecedented, she said.

“My predecessors did the same thing,” she said.

This is a misleading claim chiefly because only one prior secretary of state regularly used email, Colin Powell. Powell did use a personal email address for government business. However, he did not use a private server kept at his home, as Clinton did.

The unorthodox approach has opened up questions about her system’s level of security and the motivations behind her approach.

We rated Clinton’s claim Mostly False.

Clinton: Did she lie to Benghazi family members?

Univision’s Jorge Ramos asked Clinton whether she lied to the family members of Benghazi victims about what the root causes of the attacks in Libya were.

The lack of hard evidence makes it impossible to know what Clinton said to these families, so we haven’t put this claim on the Truth-O-Meter. But you can read our account of their encounter here.

The gist is that some of Clinton’s critics claim she told the families a story about what sparked the attacks that she knew at the time to be false. The key question was whether she suggested the attacks were spontaneous or planned. No one recorded these brief meetings that happened behind closed doors only three days after the Benghazi attacks. Family members and Clinton disagree on what was said. It’s very possible that she told the families one of many conflicting pieces of intelligence that the administration was working with at the time.

There simply is not enough concrete information in the public domain for anyone to claim as fact that Clinton did or did not lie to the Benghazi families.

Clinton and driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants

Sanders and Clinton attacked each other’s records on immigration.

“Secretary Clinton prevailed upon the governor of New York, Eliot Spitzer, who wanted to do the right thing and provide driver's licenses to those who are undocumented,” Sanders said. “She said ‘Don’t do it’, and New York state still does not do it.”

In October 2007 — during Clinton’s first presidential race — she gave muddled answers on driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants. Spitzer dropped his proposal later that fall and Clinton supported his decision to ax the plan. But Clinton has since changed her position.

We rated Sanders’ claim Mostly True.

Sanders: Clinton wanted to send back Honduran children

In another immigration battle, Sanders recalled the period in 2014 when tens of thousands of unaccompanied minors surged across the border.

“One of the great human tragedies of recent years is children came from Honduras where there's more violence than in any place in this country, and they came into this country,” Sanders said. “And I said welcome these children into this country. Secretary Clinton said, send them back.”

Clinton didn't literally use those words. But she did set the condition that the government should first identify responsible adults to care for them. However, she expressed a preference that as many as possible be sent back. That message was part of the administration’s policy to discourage more young people from attempting the trip.

Sanders’ claim rates Mostly True.

Sanders: Minority youth face higher unemployment

Sanders highlighted the bleak economic prospects of minority youths.

“One of the points that I've been making, and media does not seem to pick up on it, is that we have a real crisis not only with real unemployment in America being close to 10 percent, but youth unemployment in this country,” Sanders said. “If you look at Latino kids between 17 and 20 who graduated high school, 36 percent of them are unemployed or underemployed. … African-American kids are unemployed or underemployed to the tune of 51 percent.”

We checked a nearly identical statement by Sanders back in July 2015, when Sanders mentioned it at a campaign event in Portland, Maine. We rated it Mostly True.

As was the case when we first reviewed this claim last July, Sanders’ general point is correct — that in an apples-to-apples comparison, African-American and Hispanic youth have significantly worse prospects in the job market than whites do.

But while Sanders had support for this data when he first began using these numbers eight months ago, there’s reason to believe that the improving job market has lowered these rates, at least somewhat.

The statement is accurate but needs clarification or additional information, so we rate it Mostly True.

Clinton: Sanders wants to set back the Clean Power Plan

Debating in a city where rising sea levels are a concern, Clinton said that Sanders “has said he would delay implementing” the Clean Power Plan.

This is False. Sanders wants more ambitious action on climate change, which some experts argue could delay the plan.

But Sanders himself has never said those words and has supported the plan in words and action. He called the plan “a step forward in ending our dependence on fossil fuel” when it was announced in August 2015. He voted twice against efforts to repeal it in November.

PolitiFact staff writers Louis Jacobson, Linda Qiu and editor Angie Drobnic Holan contributed to this article.

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