Washington: President Donald Trump unleashed a torrent of fabrications and fear-mongering in a belligerent debate with Joe Biden, at one point claiming that the US death toll would have been 10 times higher under the Democrat because he wanted open borders in the pandemic. Biden preached no such thing.
Trump barreled into the debate Tuesday night as unconstrained by the facts as at his rallies, but this time having his campaign opponent and frequently the Fox News moderator, Chris Wallace, calling him out in real time, or trying. Biden stumbled on the record at times as the angry words flew from both men on the Cleveland stage.
A look at how some of their statements from Cleveland stack up with the facts in the first of three scheduled presidential debates for the Nov. 3 election:
VIRUS DEATH TOLL
TRUMP, addressing Biden on US deaths from COVID-19: “If you were here, it wouldn’t be 200,000 people, it would be 2 million people. You didn’t want me to ban China, which was heavily infected.... If we would have listened to you, the country would have been left wide open.”
THE FACTS: The audacious claim that Biden as president would have seen 2 million deaths rests on a false accusation. Biden never came out against Trump’s decision to restrict travel from China. Biden was slow in staking a position on the matter but when he did, he supported the restrictions. Biden never counselled leaving the country “wide open” in the face of the pandemic. Trump repeatedly, and falsely, claims to have banned travel from China. He restricted it. The US restrictions that took effect Feb. 2 continued to allow travel to the US from the Chinese territories of Hong Kong and Macao. The Associated Press reported that more than 8,000 Chinese and foreign nationals based in the two locales entered the US in the first three months after the travel restrictions were imposed.
Additionally, more than 27,000 Americans returned from mainland China in the first month after the restrictions took effect. U.S. officials lost track of more than 1,600 of them who were supposed to be monitored for virus exposure. Dozens of countries took similar steps to control travel from hot spots before or around the same time the US did.
BIDEN: “There was a peaceful protest in front of the White House. What did he do? He came out of his bunker, had the military do tear gas.”
THE FACTS: It was law enforcement, not the military, that used chemical irritants to forcefully remove peaceful protesters from Lafayette Square outside the White House on June 1.
And there is no evidence President Trump was inside a bunker in the White House as that happened. Secret Service agents had rushed Trump to a White House bunker days earlier as hundreds of protesters gathered outside the executive mansion, some of them throwing rocks and tugging at police barricades.
TRUMP: “Drug prices will be coming down 80 or 90%.”
THE FACTS: That’s a promise, not a reality, and it’s a big stretch.
Trump has been unable to get legislation to lower drug prices through Congress. Major regulatory actions from his administration are still in the works, and are likely to be challenged in court. There’s no plan on the horizon that would lower drug prices as dramatically as Trump claims. Prescription drug price inflation has been low and slow during the Trump years, but it hasn’t made a U-turn and sped off in the other direction. Prices have seesawed from year to year.
Looking back at the totality of Trump’s term, from Jan. 2017, when he was inaugurated, to the latest data from Aug. 2020, drug prices went up 3.6%, according to an analysis by economist Paul Hughes-Cromwick of Altarum, a nonprofit research and consulting organization. Hughes-Cromwick looked at figures from the government’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, which measures prices for a set of prescription medicines, including generics and branded drugs.
When comparing prices in 2019 with a year earlier, there indeed was a decline. Prices dropped by 0.2% in 2019, a turnabout not seen since the 1970s. But that’s nowhere near close to 80% or 90%. From August of last year to this August, prices rose by 1.4%.
TRUMP: Dr Anthony Fauci “said very strongly, ‘masks are not good.’ Then he changed his mind, he said, ‘masks, good.”’
THE FACTS: He is skirting crucial context. Trump is telling the story in a way that leaves out key lessons learned as the coronavirus pandemic unfolded, raising doubts about the credibility of public health advice.
Early on in the outbreak, a number of public health officials urged everyday people not to use masks, fearing a run on already short supplies of personal protective equipment needed by doctors and nurses in hospitals. But that changed as the highly contagious nature of the coronavirus became clear, as well as the fact that it can be spread by tiny droplets breathed into the air by people who may not display any symptoms. Fauci of the National Institutes of Health, along with Dr. Robert Redfield of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Steven Hahn of the Food and Drug Administration and Dr. Deborah Birx of the White House coronavirus task force, all agree on the importance of wearing masks and practicing social distancing. Redfield has repeatedly said it could be as effective as a vaccine if people took that advice to heart.
TRUMP, on coronavirus and his campaign rallies: “So far we have had no problem whatsoever. It’s outside, that’s a big difference according to the experts. We have tremendous crowds.”
THE FACTS: That’s not correct.
Trump held an indoor rally in Tulsa in late June, drawing both thousands of participants and large protests.
The Tulsa City-County Health Department director said the rally “likely contributed” to a dramatic surge in new coronavirus cases there. By the first week of July, Tulsa County was confirming more than 200 new daily cases, setting record highs. That’s more than twice the number the week before the rally.
BIDEN: Trump will be the “first (president) in American history” to lose jobs during his presidency.
THE FACTS: No, if Trump loses re-election, he would not be the first president in US history to have lost jobs. That happened under Herbert Hoover, the president who lost the 1932 election to Franklin Roosevelt as the Great Depression caused massive job losses.
Official jobs records only go back to 1939 and, in that period, no president has ended his term with fewer jobs than when he began. Trump appears to be on track to have lost jobs during his first term, which would make him the first to do so since Hoover.
TRUMP, on the prospect of mass fraud in the vote-by-mail process, “It’s a rigged election.”
THE FACTS: He is exaggerating threats That’s not the case. Trump’s claim is part of a months-long effort to sow doubt about the integrity of the election before it’s even arrived and to preemptively call into question the results.
Experts have repeatedly said there are no signs of widespread fraud in mail balloting, as have the five states that relied exclusively on that system for voting even before the coronavirus pandemic. Trump’s own FBI director, Chris Wray, said at a congressional hearing just last week that the bureau has not historically seen “any kind of coordinated national voter fraud effort in a major election, whether it’s by mail or otherwise.”
Wray did acknowledge voter fraud at the local level “from time to time,” but even there, Trump appeared to paint an overly dire portrait of the reality and he misstated the facts of one particular case that received substantial attention last week following an unusual Justice Department announcement.
Trump said nine military ballots found discarded in a wastebasket in Luzerne County, Pennsylvania, were all marked for him. Though that’s consistent with an initial statement the Justice Department made, officials later revised it to say seven of the nine ballots had Trump’s name.
BIDEN, on Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett: “She thinks that the Affordable Care Act is not constitutional.”
THE FACTS: That’s not right.
Biden is talking about Trump’s pick to replace the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Barrett has been critical of the Obama-era law and the court decisions that have upheld it, but she has never said it’s not constitutional. The Supreme Court will hear arguments in the case on Nov. 10, and the Trump administration is asking the high court to rule the law unconstitutional.