Debunking Charlie Kirk on the 2020 Democratic Presidential Candidates

Politico / Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images/ 2019

In February 2019 Charlie Kirk, president and founder of Turning Point USA, made claims about some of the 2020 presidential candidates for the Democratic Party. I want to fact-check those tweets.

The Crowded Field on the “Born Alive” Bill

As The Washington Post reported: “The Senate voted Monday [2/25] to block consideration of a measure that would punish any doctor who fails to provide medical care to a child born alive after an attempted abortion. All but three Democrats voted against a procedural motion on the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act, denying it the necessary 60 votes to proceed.”

The bill calls for prison time and fines for any doctor who does not “exercise the same degree of professional skill, care, and diligence to preserve the life and health of the child as a reasonably diligent and conscientious health care practitioner would render to any other child born alive at the same gestational age” and who does not also ensure that the “born alive” child is transported to a hospital.

Democrat opponents of the bill pointed out that this form of action — or non-action, implied in this case — is already illegal, codified in the 2002 Born-Alive Infants Protection Act, “which guaranteed to infants born at any stage of development full legal rights.” But “that bill, which passed with bipartisan support, did not include criminal penalties for doctors and did not impose specific requirements on medical care,” according to Vox.com. The 2019 bill references that 2002 law for its definition of “born alive.”

Allowances and “Born Alive” Infants

First, yes, according to the Post, “all of the announced 2020 Democratic presidential candidates…voted ‘no.’” But beyond the easy fact-check of the “no” vote, does the bill protect against what Kirk claims? He said the Democrats voted to “allow a live baby to be left to die if it survives a botched abortion.”

In terms of Kirk’s claim that a “no” vote is an allowance, the question becomes then: are there requirements on doctors through other means than this proposed national law to perform medical treatment in such circumstances? In other words, what is “allowing” or not allowing this?

As one can imagine with abortion, it is a complicated mess. What both sides agree on is that an infant was born after an attempted abortion. And at some point later, some of those infants die. What happens or should happen between those two events is the debate of the bill.

As supporters of the bill point out, this bill is not about abortion per se. Yet as Democrats note, such a bill could influence the decision.

Other States Have Spoken

The National Review, a conservative publication, pointed out “as of 2014, only 26 states had laws creating a specific affirmative duty for physicians to provide medical care to infants born in botched abortions…”

According Americans United for Life, as of 2013, three more states have laws “creating a specific affirmative duty to provide medical care and treatment to born-alive infants only after viability: Iowa, Minnesota, and North Dakota.”

The sponsor of the bill, Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Nebraska, told anti-abortion/pro-life news site LifeNews.com that “this bill … is about a baby that has survived an abortion, and is born alive, and is on that table, cold, fighting for life, and crying out. And it’s about the practice that’s known as ‘backing away,’ where the abortion provider simply backs away from the table and leaves the baby to die from exposure and the elements.”

“Backing away” was part of the debate over a new law in New York that was signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo in January. An anti-abortion activist in that state claimed that under the new law “a woman could give birth to a baby, and then, they have a discussion with the doctor, if the baby was born alive, they would just let the baby expire,” according to Politifact.

Medical Standards Already in Place

Politifact went through its own fact-check on that claim in New York and concluded this: “The state law repealed some protections for babies in these circumstances [born alive after abortion], but that part of the law was redundant, and under federal and state law, infants born alive are due the same medical care and protections as anyone else.”

Supporters of Sasse’s bill say those protections don’t go far enough.

A spokesperson for Gov. Cuomo said to Politifact a similar thing: “A provider that inappropriately abandons or neglects a patient would violate professional misconduct laws and be subject to significant sanctions which include losing his/her medical license, fines, as well as potential civil and criminal liability. The Reproductive Health Act does nothing to change that.”

Ironically, in cases cited by anti-abortion activists as proof of infanticide after birth of an infant whose mother wanted abortion, doctors have been punished as the governor’s spokesperson said.

According to Americans United for Life, in “February 2009, Dr. Pierre Renelique had his Florida medical license revoked” after he lied about performing an attempted abortion in 2006. “The Florida Department of Health determined that he had inappropriately delegated tasks to non-licensed personnel, falsified medical records in the case, and committed malpractice.”

According to the Associated Press, no criminal charges were filed against the doctor. But in March of 2009, that “non-licensed” person who was the co-owner of the abortion clinic where that event happened was charged with two felonies, according to CNN. It was the clinic owner who “cut the baby’s umbilical cord” and placed the “the live baby, placenta and afterbirth in” a biohazard bag, “which she sealed, and then threw bag and the baby in a trash can” according to statements given to police by the infant’s mother. The doctor said he was not told of the birth before he attempted the abortion, discovering the “fetus” was absent as he performed it.

Determining an Accurate Label

Sasse called a lack of treatment post-birth infanticide. In its fact-check, Politifact talked to Dr. Stephen Chasen, a professor of clinical obstetrics and gynecology at Weill Cornell Medical College, who is also on the board of Planned Parenthood of New York City. The doctor said that what happens after a birth from an attempted abortion is hospice care, not neglect.

Politifact quotes the doctor: “It’s about a model of hospice care that patients and their doctor have determined is the best course of action, using the best medicine available, and not pursuing something that’s futile. It’s not infanticide. It’s not indifference. And, it has nothing to do with abortion. It is hospice care, and hospice care can apply to a range of situations.”

Under the hospice scenario, one might envision making an elderly patient comfortable but not taking active measures to stop the spread of cancer, for example, because it had spread beyond the ability of doctors to stop it.

In the case of an infant, pro-abortion advocates point to the wishes of the mother for not extending “life-saving” treatment. Sasse’s bill would require medical treatment to keep the baby alive under any circumstances of its birth. In his description of “backing away,” it is unclear who or what is motivating that “backing away.” Or in Kirk’s words, who or what is “allowing” it to occur.

Who or What Determines the Action of the Doctor?

The National Review noted Sasse’s bill would “leaves the specifics of medicine to medical doctors but forbids them from changing their medical standards for infants who were meant to be aborted.”

Who or what would change or has changed those standards? It seems to be the mother’s wishes.

Politifact also spoke to a doctor who noted standard medical care is to “resuscitate infants born after 24 weeks, when they are considered viable.”

The concept of viability was a central definition in Roe v. Wade.

It seems from the doctors Politifact asked that they would apply that litmus test to an infant born after an abortion. An infant born after a late-term abortion, past the 24-week window, would be given “life-saving” treatment because the infant would be considered viable. The doctors in the Politifact article also suggest that any medical treatment for babies under 24 weeks would be “futile.”

This matches with the details from the Florida case mentioned above. According to CNN, “another expert certified in neonatal and perinatal medicine” told police he estimated the “born alive” infant, “based on data from her medical records,” had “a gestational age of about 21 and a half weeks — meaning it had not reached viability, the state where it could survive outside the womb… This expert … explained that the standard of care for a premature infant delivered at less than 23 weeks is not to attempt resuscitation, so even if the baby had been born at a hospital, no measures would have been undertaken to save it, according to the affidavit.”

[As an aside, in 2013 Florida enacted a law similar to the Sasse bill.]

Sasse’s bill does not literally address viability. He implies doctors of any infant born after an abortion at any week could and do “back away” but that does not seem congruent with at least some of the doctors in the Politifact article who seem to think about viability before treatment.

The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think-tank, points to evidence of infants 23 weeks and under born after an abortion not given “care as basic as warmth or nutrition.” Such evidence came from committee hearings debating the 2002 law. Heritage argues the 2002 law is insufficient or “does not provide adequate protections for these babies or establish specific requirements of care on practitioners.”

It is unclear whether Sasse’s bill would eliminate the viability standard. The bill’s language on what a “reasonably diligent and conscientious health care practitioner” would do to aid life is unclear. In short, it seems supporters of the bill say the bill forces doctors to do something, perhaps something the doctors consider “futile.”

Mothers Can’t be Prosecuted

Beyond medical judgment, the doctors cited in the Politifact article also imply scenarios where a mother’s wishes would prompt them not to perform treatment. Sasse’s bill would seemingly eliminate those wishes as part of the doctor’s consideration.

And yet, oddly, the bill would ban prosecution of mothers who violated the bill’s language on ending the life of a “born alive” infant. Even more oddly, it would ban prosecution of mothers who participate in a “a conspiracy to violate this” bill. It does not say who might be in that conspiracy, which of course requires at least two people. But it seems if the doctor and mother decide together to not give “life-saving” treatment to the infant due to the mother’s wishes, the mother would not be prosecuted, but the doctor would, if indeed the doctor acted in accordance with those wishes.

A Conclusion

Finally, as for Kirk’s claim, the senators voted no on this bill. But was that vote an allowance for doctors in any state to “leave” to die a “born alive” baby of any gestation period? By law this practice is disallowed in many states. By medical standard, it is disallowed by the litmus test of viability. But there are moments where the practice is done, “allowed” by the mother’s wishes, most likely in those states where by law it is not banned.

And there seems to be opportunities for that allowance based on the mother’s wishes implied in the statements from Democrats. Sasse’s bill seems aimed at those implied moments.

As Heritage notes, the bill “ensures that a living newborn infant, regardless of the circumstances of the child’s birth or whether he/she was ‘wanted’ or not, receives proper medical care.”

The Crowded Field on an Anti-BDS measure

The vote happened over a measure concerning the BDS movement, or the “pro-Palestinian “boycott, divestment and sanctions” movement, as Politico called it.

Here is Politico’s summary of the measure: “Of at least seven U.S. senators running or considering vying for the Democratic presidential nomination, six of them — Cory Booker, Sherrod Brown, Kirsten Gillibrand, Kamala Harris, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren — recently voted against a measure from Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio that would allow state and local governments to not do business with companies that support boycotting, sanctioning and divesting from Israel.”

The measure was attached to a bill about Syria. The Times of Israel described the bill this way: “The Strengthening America’s Security in the Middle East Act (S.1)… passed 77–23, earning yeas from every Republican but one, Rand Paul of Kentucky. It codifies $38 billion in defense assistance to Israel and provides legal cover to states that target the boycott Israel movement.”

The Times notes the Democratic party fracture on this vote: “Of 47 senators in the Democratic caucus, 25 voted for the measure to 22 against.”

Politico notes “The anti-BDS piece of the package may not survive the Democratic-controlled U.S. House…”

Kirk asks why these senators voted “no” but misleadingly omits their statements on their vote.

Politico again: “Like many of his potential 2020 Democratic rivals, Booker explained his vote on grounds that the measure could threaten people’s First Amendment rights. ‘There are ways to combat BDS without compromising free speech, and this bill as it currently stands plainly misses the mark,’ Booker said in a statement.”

Sen. Sanders made a similar statement, according to The Hill: “While I do not support the BDS movement, we must defend every American’s constitutional right to engage in political activity. It is clear to me that this bill would violate Americans’ First Amendment rights.”

The Times gives the statements from all the candidates who voted “no” and they all noted their support for Israel or their stance against the BDS movement.

Bernie Sanders

The “private jet” claims stem from a Politico article on Feb. 25, 2019, published after Sanders announced his 2020 run.

It is anonymously sourced by former Clinton 2016 staffers who said Sanders mandated a private jet instead of flying commercial for trips to stump for Clinton during the general election. According to the Clinton camp, they tried to get the senator to fly commercial but eventually ‘gave in’ to keep him happy. A Sanders spokesperson said the only way to get to all the stops for Clinton was to fly as efficiently as possible, in a private jet.

According to Politico: “Sanders’ flights — usually on a Gulfstream plane — cost the Clinton-Kaine campaign at least $100,000 in total, according to three people familiar with the cost of the air travel.”

Sanders also flew non-commercial after the 2016 election for campaign work on behalf of other Democrats: “But last year [2018], when Sanders faced reelection but faced only token opposition, his Senate campaign committee spent $342,000 on Apollo Jets, a private jet service. That money was used primarily to pay for a nine-day, nine-state tour to support Democratic candidates across the country.”

A Sanders spokesperson noted: “the tour was the only time last year when Sanders flew on a private jet and also said the campaign purchased carbon offsets to zero out the emissions produced on the trip” and “Sanders also flew commercial last year to hold more than 45 major rallies and events in 18 different states.”

Kirk again misleads when he doesn’t note who paid for the flights: other people, namely Clinton donors and the Democratic Party. Though Politico noted: “Sanders’ political committee transferred $100,000 to the DNC to share some, but not all, of the costs of” a April 2017 tour for the party.

Kirk is trying to make Sanders out to be hypocritical for being against “wealth inequality” yet able to fly on a “private jet,” own three houses, and be a “millionaire.” I suppose then President Trump can’t “‘fight for the little guy” and also fly a private plane and have more than one house?

On being a millionaire, Sanders reported on his required Senate income disclosure form that he had made over $1 million in 2016 and 2017.

But Kirk is missing a key piece of context: one news site noted Sanders “historically has been among the least wealthy members of Congress. In 2014, for example, he earned little more than his congressional salary and had $330,000 in assets.” Most of the new income came from advances in books he wrote.

On the three homes, they include “a retreat in the Lake Champlain islands” purchased in 2016, paid for with money from a family ancestry home in Maine that had been in his wife’s family for generations. Also, Sanders owns a home in Vermont and a small “row” home in DC, something he recently purchased after years of renting, according to news reports.

I am not sure how honeymooning in the USSR makes someone a Socialist or disqualify them to be president.

Politifact offers the detailed context of that “honeymoon.” Sanders was mayor of Burlington, VT and that city had a “sister city” relationship with a city in Russia and then:

“The bond between Burlington and Yaroslavl solidified when Sanders and his wife, as members of a 12-person delegation from Burlington, paid their Soviet counterparts a visit in 1988. The timing of the trip was unusual. Bernie and Jane were married May 28, 1988. The delegation left Burlington the next day… When reached for comment, Sanders’ campaign said that the dates for the trip had already been set, and the couple “set their wedding date to coincide with that trip because they didn’t want to take more time off.”

Finally, there is the claim by Kirk that Sanders has never held a “real job.” That must mean Kirk refuses to see civic service as mayor and Senator — which both pay a salary — as real jobs. But those jobs certainly qualify Sanders for president.

As an aside, after college Sanders worked as a Head Start teacher, psychiatric aide, and carpenter, according to Politico.

Cory Booker

Kirk seems to imply a reference here to a 2017 viral image that blasted Democratic senators who voted “no” on a drug price bill but took money from the pharmaceutical lobby. That image had Booker at the top with “$385,000” in donations.

Politifact checked the image: 
It lines up with the voting results for an amendment voted on by the Senate on Jan. 11, 2017. The amendment is filled with legislative jargon, but it would basically create a mechanism to promote “lower prescription drug prices for Americans by importing drugs from Canada.” The measure failed, with 46 votes in favor and 52 against. The 13 Democratic senators targeted in the post were among those 52 votes against. As for the dollar figures, they largely align with donations listed on the OpenSecrets.org site run by the Center for Responsive Politics, an independent clearinghouse for campaign finance data. In every case, the dollar amounts listed track almost exactly the amounts given to each senator under the category “pharmaceuticals/health products” for the 2016 campaign cycle, notwithstanding a few small deviances.

Kirk’s claim is that Booker “regularly” votes against lower drug prices. Politifact notes that the Booker vote mentioned in the viral image was on “an amendment to a Senate budget resolution, which is a non-binding measure that doesn’t get signed by the president or become law.”

And the image omits this key fact: “every one of the 13 senators listed in the meme voted in favor of a separate amendment that did urge lower drug prices.”

On Booker’s voting record on drug prices, he voted “no” on a measure to allow Canadian drugs to be imported into the US. Those drugs are normally much cheaper.

While some said this was a vote against lower drug prices — the logic being a cheaper drug on the market would force US companies to lower its prices — according to The Intercept, “the Senate voted down the amendment 52–46, with two senators not voting. Unusually, the vote was not purely along party lines: 13 Republicans joined Sanders and a majority of Democrats in supporting the amendment, while 13 Democrats and a majority of Republicans opposed it.”

Booker said why he voted no: “In a statement to the media after the vote, Booker’s office said he supports the importation of prescription drugs but that ‘any plan to allow the importation of prescription medications should also include consumer protections that ensure foreign drugs meet American safety standards. I opposed an amendment put forward last night that didn’t meet this test.’”

Booker worked with the sponsor of the importation bill, Bernie Sanders, to re-introduce the bill with more safeguards in February 2017.

Now running for president, Booker has stopped taking “pharma” money, of which he took an enormous amount prior to 2016, prompting criticisms within his party that he was “too close” to the industry.