FACT CHECK: Did It Take 16 Minutes For 2020 Democrats To Mention Trump At The First Night Of Debates?

David Sivak | Fact Check Editor

PBS NewsHour claimed Wednesday that 2020 candidates did not say President Donald Trump’s name until 16 minutes into the first Democratic debate.

Verdict: False

While there were long stretches where Trump was not mentioned by name, the first reference to the president occurred about two minutes after moderators asked the first question.

Fact Check:

Millions of viewers tuned in Wednesday to watch night one of the first 2020 Democratic debate, hosted in downtown Miami. Split into two nights to accommodate the 20 candidates who qualified for the debate stage, the first 10 candidates fielded questions on topics ranging from climate change to health care.

PBS covered the event, at one point sharing this surprising stat on Facebook: “It was 16 minutes into the debate before President Donald Trump’s name was uttered.”

The post links to a PBS article titled “Trump mentions are scarce in Democratic presidential debate,” which includes the same stat.

Other outlets offered similar analysis: The Hill said the president was “almost entirely unmentioned” during the debate, while The Atlantic jested that “the Resistance was dozing off on a couch.” But PBS’s specific claim – that 16 minutes passed before someone mentioned Trump by name – doesn’t hold up.

From the time moderators Savannah Guthrie and Lester Holt welcomed viewers to the Democratic debate to when Trump’s name was first invoked, a little more than 4 minutes elapsed. Skipping over some introductory remarks from the moderators, as well as the on-air graphics that kicked off the program, about two minutes passed.

It was Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, the second candidate to speak that night, who first mentioned Trump.

“Well, first, the economy. We know that not everyone is sharing in this prosperity,” she said. “And Donald Trump just sits in the White House and gloats about what’s going on, when you have so many people that are having trouble affording college and having trouble affording their premiums.”

Klobuchar mentioned Trump nine times during the debate, the most of any candidate, according to an analysis by NBC News. In total, NBC recorded 35 instances where Trump came up. (CNN tallied slightly different numbers.)

A transcript from that night, published by The Washington Post, returned more than a dozen instances of candidates mentioning Trump by name. At other points, rather than uttering his name, candidates either alluded to or referred to Trump as the president.

“Let’s recognize the situation we’re in, that the American people deserve a president who will put your interests ahead of the rich and powerful. That’s not what we have right now,” argued Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard.

The Associated Press also claimed that 16 minutes elapsed before the first mention of Trump, although the AP promptly corrected its reporting. “This item has been corrected to show that Klobuchar uttered Trump’s name a few minutes into the debate, not 16 minutes into the debate,” reads a correction from the wire service.

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David Sivak

Fact Check Editor
Follow David on Twitter Have a fact check suggestion? Send ideas to [email protected].