Former Vice President Joe Biden told at least five lies during Sunday night’s one-one-one Democratic presidential debate with his last remaining opponent, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. Networks and outlets from CNN to Politico covered the debate as a win for Biden.
Both candidates took fire on their past positions. Sanders hit Biden on Social Security, the 2005 bankruptcy bill, and abortion rights, while the Vermont socialist had to answer for comments on gun rights, foreign policy, and immigration.
Some commentators were left with the feeling that, while Sanders has spent time on the trail discussing his old positions and explaining his evolution, the former vice president has been able to get away with nonanswers that skirt the truth. Here are a few examples.
Sanders repeatedly pressed Biden on his remarks over the past 40 years advocating for cuts to federal programs, including Social Security. In one instance, Sanders directly asked Biden if he had stood on the floor of Congress and advocated cuts to Social Security and other social-welfare programs. Biden replied, “No, I did not talk about the need to cut any of those programs.”
In 1984, though, Biden co-sponsored an amendment to freeze military and domestic spending for a year, which included some built-in-adjustments for Social Security benefits — tantamount to cutting the program.
In the 1995 speech, Biden was more explicit: He bragged about advocating for cuts to Social Security. “I’m up for reelection this year and I’m gonna remind everybody what I did at home, which is gonna cost me politically,” Biden said, removing his glasses. “When I argued if we should freeze federal spending, I meant Social Security as well. I meant Medicare and Medicaid. I meant veterans’ bene— I meant every single solitary thing in the government. And I not only tried it once, I tried it twice, I tried it a third time, and I tried it a fourth time.”
At the Sunday debate, Biden also said, “I was not a fan of Bowles—,” before being cut off. He was referring to the bipartisan Bowles-Simpson commission, which called for Social Security cuts. As vice president, Biden worked to help negotiate the commission’s balanced budget efforts. After it disbanded, Biden brought on its director, Bruce Reed, as his chief of staff and the next Obama-era push for a balanced budget — including Social Security cuts — was even known as the Biden Committee. Reed is now a senior policy adviser with Biden’s presidential campaign.
Debate moderators asked Biden about his announcement on Saturday that he was endorsing a bankruptcy plan written by his former Democratic primary opponent, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, noting that the plan would undo key parts of the bankruptcy law Biden helped pass in 2005. “What changed?” the moderator asked.
Biden denied that he had been an enthusiastic supporter of the bill. “The bankruptcy bill was passing overwhelmingly, and I improved it,” he said, claiming to insert measures that helped average families. “That’s what I did.”
“I did not like the bill. I did not support the bill,” Biden said. “And I made it clear to the industry I didn’t like the bill.”
In fact, Biden pushed for years to ram the bill through, voting for some version of it at least four times between 1998 and 2005 — often against a majority of Democrats — and even inserting its language into a 2000 foreign relations bill.
And Biden did the opposite of what he claimed on the amendments. “The record makes clear that as a senator, Biden used his clout to push for the law’s passage and to defeat amendments to shield servicemembers, women, and children from its harsh treatment,” Adam Levitin, a bankruptcy law professor at Georgetown Law School, wrote in January. “When votes were taken, ‘Middle-Class Joe’ was no friend to the middle class.”
When Sanders got a chance, he mentioned something the moderators had not: that Biden did more than help pass a bankruptcy bill. “Joe, if my memory is correct, you helped write that bankruptcy bill,” Sanders said. But Biden retorted: “I did not.” Biden had in fact helped draft a 2000 version of the bill that was pocket vetoed by President Bill Clinton.
At one point in the debate, Biden and Sanders had it out about Super PACs, groups that often attract large-dollar donors and act to support particular candidates. Biden alleged that Sanders was backed by nine Super PACs. Sanders is not.
Sanders called Biden out for walking back in October his original campaign pledge to reject money from Super PACs. Biden has gotten millions of dollars in support from Unite the Country PAC, a group organized by longtime Democratic strategists and former Obama advisers, with help from lobbyists in the industries of health care, weapons manufacturing, and finance.
“I think, in the past, Joe, if I’m not mistaken, you condemned Super PACs. Is that correct?” Sanders said.
Biden didn’t answer the question. Instead, he claimed that Sanders was being backed by nine Super PACs. “You get rid of the nine Super PACs you have?” Biden said. Sanders replied, “I don’t have any Super PACs.”
“You have nine,” Biden said. “Do you want me to list them?” Sanders encouraged Biden to name the groups. “OK. Come on. Give me a break. Come on,” Biden said, without listing any PACs.
Biden slammed Sanders for praising countries with histories of dictators and egregious human rights violations, namely Cuba and its former ruler, Fidel Castro.
After moderators asked Sanders about his comments praising Cuba’s revolutionary government, they asked Biden about comments former President Barack Obama made in 2016 lauding some of the country’s achievements under Castro. Sanders pointed out that he started condemning dictatorships in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates before it became popular.
Biden himself has praised and made excuses for dictatorial rulers, including Hosni Mubarak, the former president of Egypt, as well as both Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed, and Dubai’s former ruler, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum. Biden has since condemned Saudi Arabia for human rights abuses and the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. But in 2011, Biden led a U.S. delegation to Saudi Arabia, including former Republican Sen. John McCain and former CIA Director David Petraeus, after the death of former Crown Prince Sultan bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud.
The Obama administration also considered having Biden mentor Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, who ordered Khashoggi’s killing, Business Insider reported this month.
Asked if Biden’s climate plan was ambitious enough to tackle the burgeoning environmental crisis, the former vice president said he would rejoin the Paris Climate Accord and took credit for organizing it.
“I would immediately rejoin the Paris Climate Accord, which I helped put together,” Biden said.
It’s not the first time Biden has claimed an outsized role in the Obama administration’s efforts to support the climate agreement. At least six administration officials contradicted that claim in interviews, E&E News reported: “All of them said Biden did not appear to play an instrumental role in finalizing the Paris Agreement.”