Democratic Debate: Fact Check

Setting the record straight on claims made during Thursday night's debate.

Feb. 1, 2008 — -- Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama were gracious during Thursday night's debate, but the facts they ran up against were stubborn.

Clinton for years has attempted to rewrite history about her Iraq War vote. Thursday night was no different. She said of her October 2002 vote to authorize use of force against Iraq that she "warned at the time it was not authority for a preemptive war."

A review of her speech on the Senate floor, however, shows that she said that her vote was not one in favor of a broad change in U.S. policy.

"My vote is not, however, a vote for any new doctrine of preemption, or for unilateralism, or for the arrogance of American power or purpose," she said, "all of which carry grave dangers for our nation, for the rule of international law and for the peace and security of people throughout the world."

Moreover, regardless of whatever she warned, the legislation was called Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq. And the other comments she made in her floor speech indicated she knew full well what her vote meant. "It is a vote that puts awesome responsibility in the hands of our president," she said then. "And we say to him, 'Use these powers wisely and as a last resort.'"

The Clinton campaign maintains that there is nothing inconsistent with the senator's statement, or her vote, and that she had been given assurances by the White House that the vote was merely one to give the president the proper tools to force Saddam Hussein to let in U.N. weapons inspectors.

Thursday night Clinton also claimed that there are "20,000 National Guard and Reserve members in California who have access to health care because I teamed up with Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina to get that done."

That's a misleading figure, one Clinton often overstates, applying it to every National Guardsman and not just those who benefit from her law. As has pointed out, all National Guardsmen and women, and reservists have health insurance while on duty and for a short time afterward. According to a Pentagon survey, four out of five of the soldiers have health insurance when they're off duty as well, because of their job or spouse. Clinton's legislation gives these soldiers the opportunity to purchase health insurance called TriCare when not on active duty.

In practice that legislation benefits the remaining 20 percent because 80 percent already have health insurance. A more accurate number would not be to cite every one of the 20,000 members of the California National Guard and Reserves, but the 20 percent who actually benefit from the program, more like 4,000.

Clinton's campaign underlines that she literally claimed that her legislation gave the 20,000 National Guard and Reserve members "access to health care" — not health insurance — and that since the law could in theory apply to any of them, what she said was factual.

Overstating Support

Obama inflated figures as well. Speaking of how both he and Clinton were bringing new voters into the process, he said, "In Iowa, about 60 percent of those new voters voted for me."

That's inaccurate. About 60 percent of those voting in Iowa were first-time caucus goers and around 40 percent of them voted for Obama.

On the subject of illegal immigration, Obama also said Thursday night that he believes "we do have to crack down on those employers that are taking advantage of the situation."

That seems to contradict his previous position. Asked in a 2004 questionnaire, "Should the government crack down on businesses that hire illegal immigrants as major part of overhaul?" Obama answered "Oppose."

Obama campaign spokesman Bill Burton explained that his boss' position has evolved because of the advent of "tamper-proof electronic employment verification systems" that would make cracking down on businesses that hire illegal immigrants a more realistic option.

"Those employers have never been given the necessary tools to distinguish which workers are legally here and which are not," Burton said, explaining that Obama has tried to take the lead on the new technology during congressional debates over illegal immigration.

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