In the contentious first presidential debate between President Trump and former vice president Joe Biden, Trump repeatedly relied on troublesome and false facts that have been debunked throughout his presidency. Biden, by contrast, stretched the truth on occasion.
Here’s a roundup of 21 of the most noteworthy claims that were made. As is our practice, we do not award Pinocchios when we do a roundup of facts in debates.
“The mayor of Moscow, his wife, gave your son three and a half-million dollars.”
Trump is referring to an allegation in a recent report released by the GOP majority of the Senate Homeland Security Committee: “Rosemont Seneca Thornton, an investment firm co-founded by Hunter Biden, received $3.5 million in a wire transfer from Elena Baturina, who allegedly received illegal construction contracts from her husband, the former mayor of Moscow.” The report said the wire transfer was part of a “consultancy agreement” but does not allege any illegality in the transaction.
Allegedly, at the time of the transfer, Baturina was living in the United Kingdom with her husband, Yuri Luzhkov, who died in 2019. But Hunter Biden’s lawyer said the claim that his client received $3.5 million from Baturina is false.
“The Senate report falsely alleges that Hunter Biden had a financial relationship with Russian business executive Yelena Baturina and that he received $3.5 million from Baturina,” said Biden’s lawyer George Mesires in an email. “Hunter Biden had no interest in and was not a ‘co-founder’ of Rosemont Seneca Thornton, so the claim that he was paid $3.5 million is false.”
The Senate report claimed that “Luzhkov used his position as mayor to approve over 20 real estate projects that were built by a Baturina-owned construction company and ultimately generated multibillion-ruble profits for his family.”
Trump himself at one point hoped to be part of Moscow real estate projects overseen by Luzhkov when he was mayor between 1992 and 2010. Luzhkov, in an interview before his death, told Russia’s Interfax news agency that Trump planned to build an underground mall in Moscow during the mid-1990s. “Trump was in Moscow,” Luzhkov said. “He had contacts on matters related to the construction of the Okhotny Ryad underground mall on Manezh Square.” But the deal did not come to fruition.
“You said you went to Delaware State, but you forgot the name of your college. You didn’t go to Delaware State. You graduated either the lowest or almost the lowest in your class.”
Trump is repeating a falsehood promoted by his campaign, even though it’s being denied by the university itself.
“Watched in full context, it is clear that Biden was discussing his long association with historically Black colleges and universities, not making a claim that he had attended Delaware State University,” Carlos Holmes, a spokesman for the university, said in a statement to the Delaware News Journal. “In the video, the former vice president was not implying that he attended the university, but rather referring to the support he received from the school when he announced his bid for U.S. Senate on the DSU campus in 1972,” Holmes said.
Biden has admitted he was not the most hard-working student at University of Delaware. He graduated 76th out of 85 at Syracuse Law School.
“I’m the one that brought back football, by the way. I brought back Big Ten football. It was me and I’m very happy to do it.”
Trump opposed the game suspensions, but that’s about it. He and other White House officials indicated federal resources were made available to the Big Ten, but one person familiar with the process told The Washington Post that the conference hasn’t been given, nor has it requested, federal assistance.
“President Trump had nothing to do with our decision and did not impact the deliberations,” an unidentified Big Ten university president told NBC. “In fact, when his name came up it was a negative because no one wanted this to be political.”
“Seattle, they heard we were coming in the following day and they put up their hands and we got back Seattle, Minneapolis. We got it back, Joe, because we believe in law and order.”
This is a constant refrain of Trump on the campaign trail, but it’s not true.
Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan (D) flatly denied to The Washington Post’s PlumLine that any conversation like this with Trump — or anyone around him — ever took place. “He never contacted me or my office to warn us,” Durkan said, adding that no one from the White House nor anyone connected to Trump had told them any such thing. “We had no conversations whatsoever with the White House about anything related to the protests, Capitol Hill or anything along these lines,” the mayor said, though conversations related to the coronavirus had taken place at various junctures. “It just never happened,” she said. “I don’t know what world he’s living in.” The mayor had signed an executive order on June 30 to formally close the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone and on July 1 police moved in to clear it.
As for Minneapolis, state officials say Trump had nothing to do with the decision to send the National Guard into Minneapolis amid violence and protests of the killing of George Floyd in police custody. Gov. Tim Walz, a Democrat, had already directed hundreds of Guard members to assemble. Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey officially requested troops on May 28. Then the governor — not Trump — activated the entire 15,000-member Minnesota National Guard. Trump just watched the scene unfold on television, and called Walz, offering to send in military.
“We have a higher deficit with China now than we did before.”
This is wrong.The trade deficit in goods and services with China climbed to $380 billion from 2017 to 2018, but then, because of Trump’s tariff war, fell to $308 billion in 2019, according to the Commerce Department. The trade deficit has continued to fall below 2019 levels in the first half of 2020.
“This is going to be a fraud like you’ve never seen. … It’s a rigged election.”
As usual, Trump offered a baseless conspiracy theory that widespread use of mail ballots during an infectious disease pandemic would lead to massive voter fraud. There is simply no evidence for these claims. The Department of Homeland Security says Russia is spreading the same kind of disinformation to sow doubts about mail balloting and the integrity of the U.S. election.
“There is, of course, evidence of some absentee ballot fraud, just as there is for in-person fraud, although in both cases it is quite minimal — a handful out of hundreds of millions of votes cast over the last two decades,” said Richard Briffault, a professor and elections expert at Columbia Law School.Five states — Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Utah and Washington — use mail ballots as the primary method of voting. In 2018, more than 31 million Americans voted by mail, representing one-quarter of election participants, according to the National Vote at Home Institute.“
Despite this dramatic increase in mail voting over time, fraud rates remain infinitesimally small,” according to the Brennan Center for Justice. “None of the five states that hold their elections primarily by mail has had any voter fraud scandals since making that change.”
A Washington Post analysis of data collected by three vote-by-mail states with help from the nonprofit Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC) found that officials identified 372 possible cases of double voting or voting on behalf of deceased people out of about 14.6 million votes cast by mail in the 2016 and 2018 general elections, or 0.0025 percent.
Experts say it would be almost impossible to successfully counterfeit the ballots being prepared for November’s general election.State election officials use multiple safeguards to verify that mail ballots are authentic. Most states have bar codes printed on their mail ballots. When a completed ballot arrives, election officials scan the bar code to link it with the corresponding voter in the system. Duplicate ballots from the same voter wouldn’t be recognized by the system.In addition, voters must follow specific instructions to return a ballot received in the mail, such as signing an affidavit. Officials typically compare the signature on the ballot with the one in the registration and may discard ballots with mismatched signatures.
Dozens of graphical details, candidate names, official seals, check boxes and bar codes would have to be copied perfectly, on dozens of different ballot designs — and that’s for each jurisdiction in the United States. On top of that, the hypothetical foreign nation would have to identify registered voters (who had not already voted by mail) and somehow forge their signatures.
“What would be the point of a counterfeit ballot if it will be counted only if it comes from a real voter?” Briffault said. “I don’t see how a counterfeit ballot gets around the voter verification process.”
“About the Green New Deal. And it’s not two billion or 20 billion, as you said, it’s 100 trillion dollars I’m talking about. They want to write down buildings and rebuild the building instead down the street. That is not where airplanes are out of business, where two car systems are out, where they want to take out the cows. Not you know, that’s not true either.”
Biden has never supported the Green New Deal, and the rest is also false. The Green New Deal is a nonbinding resolution from Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (N.Y.) and other Democrats that calls for cutting carbon emissions to net-zero over 10 years while making steep investments in green infrastructure.
As we found last year, a fact sheet from Ocasio-Cortez’s office said the plan called for a 10-year timeline “because we aren’t sure that we’ll be able to fully get rid of farting cows and airplanes that fast.” Banning cows and airplanes was never in the resolution itself, and Ocasio-Cortez retracted the fact sheet and disowned the remarks within days.
In fact, the resolution calls for the government to work collaboratively with ranchers to reduce pollution and greenhouse gas emissions “as much as is technologically feasible.”Which is all beside the point, because Biden is not a supporter and his own climate plan is more limited, calling for net-zero emissions “no later than 2050.”
“If you look at what we’ve done, I closed it, and you said, ‘He’s xenophobic. He’s a racist, and he’s xenophobic.’ ”
The president frequently claims he took bold action to stem the spread of the coronavirus that was criticized. News reports say he was reluctant to impose the ban on travel by non-U.S. citizens from China, citing his relationship with Chinese leader Xi Jinping, but the action was urged by his top health advisers.
Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar told reporters on Feb. 7: “The travel restrictions that we put in place in consultation with the president were very measured and incremental. These were the uniform recommendations of the career public health officials here at HHS.”
Any criticism was scattered and relatively muted. Trump points to a comment by Biden: “This is no time for Donald Trump’s record of hysteria and xenophobia … and fearmongering to lead the way instead of science.”
But whether Biden was specifically speaking about Trump’s travel restrictions is open to debate. He did not specifically mention the travel restrictions on China during the remarks, and his campaign has since said he supported the effort as a way to buy time.
In any case, the virus was already spreading through the United States by the time the travel restrictions were enforced, and there is little evidence they saved lives, especially because the Trump administration did not rapidly set up an effective testing regimen, as many other countries did.
“Drug prices will be coming down 80 or 90 percent.”
There is just no evidence for this pie-in-the-sky prediction. In fact, prescription drug prices are up 3 percent since Trump’s first full month in office through August, according to the consumer price index.
In 2019, we found that generic prescription drug prices had fallen slightly under Trump, while branded drugs were becoming costlier, according to numerous studies.
Trump issued a brief executive order Sept. 13 telling the government to experiment with how Medicare pays drug companies. He has been promising several iterations of this idea for nearly two years, and the Department of Health and Human Services has never actually proposed rules for how such a policy would work.
“Nobody’s done it. … I’ll give you an example. Insulin, it’s going to — it was destroying families, destroying people. … I’m getting it for so cheap, it’s like water. You want to know the truth? So cheap.”
In fact, insulin prices remain relatively high for patients despite Trump’s frequent claims that he’s lowering drug prices, at about $300 a vial. As Stat News explained, most patients require multiple vials a month.
“His idea to require drug makers include their drug prices in TV ads was struck down in court, and his administration has repeatedly flip-flopped on his idea to eliminate the discounts negotiated between drug prices and middlemen,” Stat News said. “Trump has, however, cut insulin costs for a small subset of seniors. In March, his administration announced a plan to cap what seniors pay at the pharmacy counter at $35 a month. That perk is only available to a fraction of seniors enrolled in certain pricey private insurance plans.”
“As far as the fires are concerned, you need forest management in addition to everything else, the forest floors are loaded up with trees, dead trees that are years old and they’re like tinder and leaves and everything else. You drop a cigarette and the whole forest burns down. … But I also think we have to do better management of our forests. Every year I get the call. California is burning. California is burning. If that is cleaned, if that were if you had forest management, good forest management, you wouldn’t be getting those calls. You know, in Europe, they live their forest cities. They call forest cities. They maintain their forests. They manage their fires. I was with the head of a major country. It’s a forest city. He said, sir, we have trees that are far more they ignite much easier than California. They shouldn’t be that problem.”
Trump repeated a false claim that pileups of leaves and fallen tree trunks are a root cause of the massive wildfires besetting northern and central California, where officials say hundreds of thousands of acres have burned due to recent wildfires.
Academic researchers, firefighters, California state officials and the prime minister of Finland have all been befuddled by Trump’s claim. (Trump once claimed the Finnish leader told him that assiduous raking was the secret to unburnt forests, but then word came back from Helsinki that the prime minister never said that.)
A 2016 study of western U.S. forests published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that “human-caused climate change caused over half of the documented increases in fuel aridity since the 1970s and doubled the cumulative forest fire area since 1984.”
“We estimate that human-caused climate change contributed to an additional 4.2 million [hectares] of forest fire area during 1984-2015, nearly doubling the forest fire area expected in its absence,” authors John T. Abatzoglou and A. Park Williams wrote. “Natural climate variability will continue to alternate between modulating and compounding anthropogenic increases in fuel aridity, but anthropogenic climate change has emerged as a driver of increased forest fire activity and should continue to do so while fuels are not limiting.”
“There aren’t 100 million people with preexisting conditions.”
Trump is wrong.
There are an estimated 102 million people with preexisting health conditions, according to a 2018 report by the consulting group Avalere. But depending on where people get their insurance — such as the half of Americans who get it from their employer — premiums would not necessarily go up for all 102 million if Trump succeeded in nullifying the Affordable Care Act.
“I’ll have approximately 300 federal judges and court of appeals judges, 300, and hopefully three great Supreme Court judges, justices. That is a record the likes of which very few people. And you know, one of the reasons I’ll have so many judges, because President Obama and him left me 128 judges to fill. When you leave office, you don’t leave any judges.”
As of this week, Trump had nominated and the Senate had confirmed 218 federal judges. Obama did not leave behind 128 vacancies; the number was 105, plus one vacant seat on the Supreme Court.
The Republican-held Senate and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) stonewalled Obama’s nominees rather than give them a hearing, which Trump never concedes and instead falsely suggests that Obama dropped the ball.
“Portland, the sheriff just came out today and he said I support President Trump.”
Within minutes of Trump’s statement, the sheriff fact-checked him.
“I had to close the greatest economy in the history of our country. And by the way, now it’s being built again.”
Before the coronavirus pandemic shuttered businesses and sent unemployment soaring, the president could certainly brag about the state of the economy in his first three years as president. But he ran into trouble when he made a play for the history books to say it was the best economy in U.S. history. By just about any important measure, the economy under Trump has not done as well as it did under Presidents Dwight D. Eisenhower, Lyndon B. Johnson and Bill Clinton.
The gross domestic product grew at an annual rate of 2.3 percent in 2019, slipping from 2.9 percent in 2018 and 2.4 percent in 2017. But in 1997, 1998 and 1999, GDP grew 4.5 percent, 4.5 percent and 4.7 percent, respectively. Yet even that period paled in comparison against the 1950s and 1960s. Growth between 1962 and 1966 ranged from 4.4 percent to 6.6 percent. In postwar 1950 and 1951, it was 8.7 percent and 8 percent, respectively. Meanwhile, the unemployment rate reached a low of 3.5 percent under Trump, but it dipped as low as 2.5 percent in 1953. (After the virus tanked the economy, Trump jacked up his claim even more, often falsely saying it had been the greatest economy in the history of the world.)
“You didn’t do very well in swine flu…H1N1, you were a disaster.”
It’s a mystery why Trump continues to target the Obama administration’s handling of the 2009 swine flu outbreak as a “disaster.” Obama’s handling was widely praised at the time as the right mix of action and no overreaction. On April 26, 2009, when only 20 cases of H1N1 — and no deaths — around the country had been confirmed, the Obama administration declared H1N1 a public health emergency. The administration quickly sought funding from Congress, receiving almost $8 billion.
Six weeks later, the World Health Organization declared a pandemic. On Oct. 24, after more than 1,000 Americans had died of H1N1, Obama declared a national emergency. The estimated death toll in the United States during the H1N1 epidemic was 12,469 from April 2009 to April 2010, but that was much less than a forecast of 30,000 to 90,000 deaths made in August of 2009 by the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology.
“That was said sarcastically and you know that.”
Trump interjected this after Biden said Trump has said “maybe you could inject some bleach in your arm and that would take care of it.”
Trump was dead serious when he made his controversial remarks in April, but after an uproar, he started using the “sarcastic” line, usually in conjunction with the idea he was trying to goad the media: “I was asking a question sarcastically to reporters like you just to see what would happen.”
But that is simply an after-the-fact invention. “I see the disinfectant that knocks it out in a minute, one minute,” Trump had said as he looked directly at an uncomfortable Deborah Birx, a medical doctor and the coronavirus response coordinator. “And is there a way we can do something like that by injection inside, or almost a cleaning? Because you see it gets inside the lungs and it does a tremendous number on the lungs, so it would be interesting to check that.”
“They said it would take a miracle to bring back manufacturing. I brought back 700,000 jobs. They brought back nothing. They gave up on manufacturing.”
False. At its high point, about 480,000 manufacturing jobs had been added during the Trump administration – not 700,000. The net figure now, amid the coronavirus pandemic, is a loss of 252,000 manufacturing jobs under TrumpObama took office in the middle of a global recession. The manufacturing sector grew for the last six years of the Obama administration, after steep losses in the first two. In the end, the number of manufacturing jobs was a wash under Obama.
In claiming “they said it would take a miracle,” Trump is also misquoting Obama. At a June 2016 town hall, Obama said more manufacturing jobs had been created during his term than at any time since the 1990s, adding that some manufacturing jobs could be recovered and some have disappeared because of automation and other economic trends.
Obama noted that Trump was not very specific about how he would boost manufacturing jobs except to say he was “going to negotiate a better deal. Obama said: “Well, how exactly are you going to do that? What exactly are you going to do? There’s no answer to it… What magic wand do you have? And usually the answer is, he doesn’t have an answer.”
“The fact of the matter is violent crime went down 17 percent, 15 percent in our administration. It’s gone up on his watch.”
Biden did not nail his usual talking point, so this turns out to be false. In discussing his record, he often mentions violent crime. But when he discusses Trump, he talks about murders. This selective presentation puts Biden in the best possible light and Trump in the worst.
As its source for the violent-crime data, the Biden campaign pointed to a 2017 report by our colleagues at FactCheck.org on statistics about the Obama administration. Citing the FBI, FactCheck.org said: “The number of violent crimes per 100,000 population was nearly 16 percent lower in 2016 than in 2008, and the property crime rate dropped nearly 24 percent. But the murder rate didn’t drop at all — it was 5.4 per 100,000 both in 2008 and in 2016.”
So if Biden compared his record on murders, he wouldn’t have much to brag about. There was no improvement under President Barack Obama.
As for the stats so far in 2020, the campaign cited calculations by crime analyst Jeff Asher, who compared the non-population-adjusted data for the 25 biggest cities for the first seven months of the year with the first seven months of 2019. The number of murders went up 26 percent, but the number of violent crimes is essentially flat.
In other words, Biden’s jab at Trump is wrong. There has been little change in violent crime under Trump.
“Hunter [Biden] got thrown out of the military. He was thrown out, dishonorably discharged for cocaine use.”
Hunter Biden was discharged from the Navy Reserve after failing a drug test but he was not dishonorably discharged.
“Ukraine…With a billion dollars if you don’t get rid of the….He’s on tape.”
With the crosstalk with Biden, who started interjecting “not true,” viewers might have missed Trump’s jab. It’s a familiar but false one.
Biden’s role in Ukraine, and his son’s involvement there, make for a complex story. Trump has seized on kernels of truth to build an appearance of scandal that resonated with his supporters and raised questions in some voters’ minds. Trump argued that Biden had demanded a quid pro quo from the Ukrainians, the same charge Democrats lobbed at Trump. But at its core, Trump’s tale was a fiction: There had been no prosecution or investigation of Biden’s son Hunter, and Joe Biden’s actions in Ukraine were fully coordinated with the State Department and America’s European allies.
Here’s what really happened: During Obama’s second term, Biden was in charge of the Ukraine portfolio, keeping in close touch with the country’s president, Petro Poroshenko. Biden’s brief was to sweet-talk and jawbone Poroshenko into making reforms that Ukraine’s Western benefactors wanted to see as part of Ukraine’s escape from Russia’s orbit. But the Americans saw an obstacle to reform in Viktor Shokin, the top Ukrainian prosecutor whom the United States viewed as ineffective and beholden to Poroshenko and Ukraine’s corrupt oligarchs.
The U.S. embassy in Kyiv proposed that Biden, during his 2015 visit there, use a pending delivery of $1 billion in loan guarantees as leverage to force reform. Biden addressed the Ukrainian parliament, decrying the “cancer of corruption” in the country and criticizing the prosecu- tor’s office. During that visit, Biden privately told Poroshenko that the loan guarantees would be withheld unless Shokin was replaced. After repeated calls and meetings between the two men over several months, Shokin was removed and the loan guarantees were provided.
Trump had it completely backward. Biden was thwarting corruption, not abetting it.
But Biden had exaggerated what happened. At a January 2018 Council on Foreign Relations event, he bragged about firing the Ukrainian prosecutor, telescoping the timeline from months of diplomacy into hours. “I’m leaving in six hours,” Biden claimed he had said. “If the prosecutor is not fired, you’re not getting the money. Well, son of a bitch, he got fired.”
As the 2020 presidential campaign heated up, Trump’s allies circulated a video of Biden’s boast, making it appear as if Biden were a shakedown artist.
Meanwhile, in 2014, Hunter Biden had joined the board of Burisma, a Ukrainian natural gas company that was owned by a Ukrainian oligarch, Mykola Zlochevsky. Hunter Biden showed questionable judgment in taking such a position while his father had a high-profile role in U.S.-Ukraine relations, and the possible conflict of interest was well-documented in news reports at the time. Biden had offered U.S. aid to Ukraine to increase its gas production, which could benefit the country’s energy industry.
But contrary to Trump’s theory, there was no probe of Burisma; rather, Ukrainian prosecutors led by Shokin in 2014 opened an investigation of Zlochevsky for illicit enrichment and money laundering. But then Ukrainian prosecutors let the investigations go dormant, angering the U.S. State Department. The American ambassador said in 2015 that mismanagement of the case was an example of Ukraine’s failure to hold corrupt officials to account.
Years after Biden forced the ouster of Shokin, the former prosecutor cried foul, falsely claiming that he was removed because he had had Burisma in his sights—a story he peddled to Trump’s allies.
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