Democratic Convention Opening Night
A quiet first night for fact-checkers. Only a few quibbles, including on the minimum wage, mail-in voting and Social Security payments.
By Brooks Jackson, Eugene Kiely, Robert Farley, Jessica McDonald and D'Angelo Gore
Posted on August 18, 2020
Our major finding from the first night of the four-day 2020 Democratic National Convention is that it wasn’t accurate to call it a “convention” at all. That word means “coming together,” and Democratic delegates stayed apart because of the still-spreading coronavirus disease.
It would have been more accurate to call the two-hour show the Democratic National Diaspora.
The two-hour infomercial on Aug. 17 was long on pre-recorded speeches, testimonials and musical interludes, but short on facts. Nevertheless, we found a few claims that merit a mention.
$15 Minimum Wage Impact
Sen. Bernie Sanders claimed that raising the federally required minimum wage to $15 an hour would “give 40 million workers a pay raise and push the wage scale up for everyone else.” That’s debatable, and ignores the likelihood that many low-wage workers would find themselves priced out of the job market.
Sanders is once again citing a statistic generated by the Economic Policy Institute, which has backing from labor unions and advocates the $15 wage proposal. But the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office projects a much less dramatic impact, and some probable costs.
CBO estimated most recently, in a report released in July 2019, that raising the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2025 would “increase the wages of 17 million workers whose wages would otherwise be below $15 per hour.” That’s 17 million, not 40 million.
CBO added, “Another 10 million workers otherwise earning slightly more than $15 per hour might see their wages rise as well.” That’s perhaps 10 million, not “everyone else” who would see a ripple effect.
And CBO also projected the probability that 1.3 million low-wage jobs would simply be lost, something Sanders ignores. (Here CBO admitted to a wide range of uncertainty among economists, putting the odds at 2 out of 3 that the actual number of jobs lost would fall somewhere between zero and 3.7 million.)
Pandemic Response Team
Actor Eva Longoria Baston, who served as a master of ceremonies for the night, left out some context when she said the Trump administration “disbanded the pandemic response team that was given to them.”
In May 2018, the Trump administration eliminated the National Security Council’s Office of Global Health Security and Biodefense, which had been set up by the Obama administration in 2016 following an Ebola outbreak in West Africa. But as we have written, the dissolution of the office does not necessarily mean that the entire team was let go or that all of its functions ceased.
At the time, the Washington Post reported that Rear Adm. Timothy Ziemer, who had led the unit, abruptly departed under a reorganization effort orchestrated by former National Security Adviser John Bolton. An NSC spokesman told the Post that the administration “remains committed to global health, global health security and biodefense, and will continue to address these issues with the same resolve under the new structure.”
Writing in the Post earlier this year, Tim Morrison, former senior director for counterproliferation and biodefense for the NSC, argued that the office had not been “dissolved.” Instead, it was one of three units consolidated into the counterproliferation and biodefense directorate, “given the obvious overlap between arms control and nonproliferation, weapons of mass destruction terrorism, and global health and biodefense.”
Other ex-officials and experts believe the lack of a point person for a pandemic-specific response hinders the ability of the government to respond to such events. In a competing op-ed, Beth Cameron, the former senior director for the global health security and biodefense office, wrote in the Post that disbanding that directorate “left an unclear structure and strategy for coordinating pandemic preparedness and response.”
And the Center for Strategic & International Studies recommended restoring the global health security position on the NSC in a November 2019 report. “It remains unclear who would be in charge at the White House in the case of a grave pandemic threat or cross-border biological crisis,” the report reads, noting that such leadership is “critical in navigating challenging political issues like quarantines and travel bans and in communicating to and reassuring the American public.”
We take no position on whether it was an error to eliminate the post or restructure the team. But Longoria Baston’s summary lacks the full context of what happened.
No Election Delay
In describing President Donald Trump as authoritarian, Sanders claimed that Trump “threatened to delay the election.” If it was a threat, it was a hollow one because the president has no legal or constitutional authority to delay the election, experts told us at the time.
Sanders is referring to a July 30 Trump tweet that suggested the 2020 election should be postponed. The president claimed that an avalanche of mail-in voting in 2020 would result in “the most INACCURATE & FRAUDULENT Election in history.” Trump added, “It will be a great embarrassment to the USA. Delay the Election until people can properly, securely and safely vote???”
But Jerry H. Goldfeder, a lawyer who teaches election law at Fordham University School of Law, told us at the time that only Congress can delay the election. “It is beyond remote that a divided Congress would postpone the election,” Goldfeder said.
In an April 28 article in the New York Law Journal, Goldfeder explained: “The U.S. Constitution explicitly provides that a president’s term is four years, and the new or re-elected president is sworn in at noon on January 20th. There is no provision or precedent for a sitting president to extend his term beyond then. … Congress alone has the authority to adjust this election timeline — provided there is sufficient time for either Biden or Trump to take the oath of office at noon on Jan. 20th.”
Nevada Mail-in Ballots
Defending Nevada’s decision to pass a new state law sending mail-in ballots to all active voters amid the coronavirus pandemic, Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada tried to put some bipartisan sheen on that decision by noting that the state’s Republican secretary of state has sought to dismiss the Trump campaign’s lawsuit challenging it.
Trump “has challenged us in court with a meritless lawsuit,” Cortez Masto said, “one that our Republican secretary of state has asked the judge to dismiss.”
It’s true that Nevada Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske asked a judge to dismiss the Trump campaign’s lawsuit, but Cegavske opposed the law. At the time of the vote, Cegavske raised concerns about the cost of the changes, and she criticized Democrats for leaving her out of discussions and only allowing her to see a draft of the bill the day before the vote.
Despite her opposition to the new law, the Trump campaign named Cegavske as a defendant in the lawsuit, as she is the state’s top elections official. The lawsuit claims the new election law, which passed along partisan lines, would “undermine the November election’s integrity.” The law was passed by the Democratic-controlled state Senate and Assembly, and the law was signed by Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak.
Now, however, Cegavske — who is being legally represented by the office of Attorney General Aaron Ford, a Democrat — is asking a judge to dismiss the Trump campaign’s lawsuit, arguing that the elections changes are the state’s decision to make and that the Trump campaign and Republicans who filed the suit don’t have the legal standing to bring the lawsuit.
Social Security Payments
Longoria Baston also claimed that “Social Security beneficiaries count on the post office to get their checks.”
While some beneficiaries do still get paper checks in the mail, the vast majority of beneficiaries receive payments via direct deposit to a bank account or a prepaid debit card.
As of August, the Social Security Administration sent paper checks to 848,003 people who get either Social Security or Supplemental Security Income payments. That’s about 1.2% of the 72,193,592 people who received payments that month, according to official data.
Most beneficiaries have been required to receive their payments electronically since 2013.
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Cooper, David. “Raising the federal minimum wage to $15 by 2024 would lift pay for nearly 40 million workers.” Economic Policy Institute. 5 Feb 2019.
U.S. Congressional Budget Office. “The Effects on Employment and Family Income of Increasing the Federal Minimum Wage.” Jul 2019.
CDC. “2014-2016 Ebola Outbreak in West Africa.” Accessed 18 Aug 2020.
Robertson, Lori. “Dems Misconstrue Trump Budget Remarks.” FactCheck.org. 20 Mar 2020.
Robertson, Lori, et. al. “Democrats’ Misleading Coronavirus Claims.” FactCheck.org. 3 Mar 2020.
Center for Strategic & International Studies. “Ending the Cycle of Crisis and Complacency in U.S. Global Health Security.” Nov 2019.
Sun, Lena H. “Top White House official in charge of pandemic response exits abruptly.” Washington Post. 10 May 2018.
Morrison, Tim. “No, the White House didn’t ‘dissolve’ its pandemic response office. I was there.” Washington Post. 16 Mar 2018.
Cameron, Beth. “I ran the White House pandemic office. Trump closed it.” Washington Post. 13 Mar 2020.
Goldfeder, Jerry H. “2020 Election Sidebar: Can the Election Be Postponed?” New York Law Journal. 28 Apr 2020.
Goldfeder, Jerry H. Professor, Fordham University School of Law. Interview with FactCheck.org. 30 Jul 2020.
Trump, Donald. @realDonaldTrump. “With Universal Mail-In Voting (not Absentee Voting, which is good), 2020 will be the most INACCURATE & FRAUDULENT Election in history. It will be a great embarrassment to the USA. Delay the Election until people can properly, securely and safely vote???” Twitter. 30 Jul 2020.
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Metz, Sam. “Trump slams passage of Nevada bill to mail voters ballots.” Associated Press. 3 Aug 2020.
Bowden, John. “Nevada governor signs bill to allow mail-in voting after Trump promises legal challenge.” The Hill. 3 Aug 2020.
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U.S. Social Security Administration. “Social Security Administration Beneficiaries, Supplemental Security Income Direct Deposit and Check Statistics.” Aug 2020, accessed 18 Aug 2020.
U.S. Social Security Administration. “Social Security Administration Beneficiaries, Social Security Direct Deposit and Check Statistics.” Aug 2020, accessed 18 Aug 2020.
U.S. Social Security Administration. “Statement of Theresa Gruber, Assistant Deputy Commissioner for Operations, Social Security Administration, before the Senate Special Committee on Aging.” 19 Jun 2013.