FactChecking Trump’s Weekend Claims

FAN Moderator

On Sept. 26 and 27, President Donald Trump spoke for about two hours and 15 minutes in five appearances — including one campaign rally in Middletown, Pennsylvania. We’ve compiled many of the president’s false and misleading claims from those remarks.

By contrast, Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden spoke for less than 45 minutes in a few appearances. We wrote about Biden’s claims in “FactChecking Biden’s SCOTUS Speech and Repeats.”

We examined the two candidates’ weekend remarks in the run-up to the first presidential debate on Sept. 29.

On Saturday, Sept. 26, Trump made remarks in announcing Judge Amy Coney Barrett as his nominee for the Supreme Court, before departing the White House on Marine One and at a campaign rally in Pennsylvania. On Sunday, Sept. 27, the president did an interview with Fox News and held a press confererence.

We’ve written about most of these claims before.

Distorting the Facts on Biden’s Positions

Biden’s health plan. Trump inaccurately suggested Biden supported a Medicare for All health plan. Biden has been clear in his opposition to the idea, pushed by Sen. Bernie Sanders, as the Democratic debates showed.

“The Biden plan would … destroy protections for preexisting conditions. You know that. They want to go socialized medicine,” Trump said. “Get rid of 180 million private plans that people love.”

Biden’s health plan calls for keeping and building on the Affordable Care Act, creating “a public health insurance option like Medicare” that people could choose to buy, expanding the tax credits under the ACA and offering a premium-free plan for those in non-Medicaid-expansion states who otherwise would have qualified for the program under the ACA.

Killing Osama bin Laden. Trump misleadingly claimed Biden “opposed the mission to take out Osama bin Laden.” As we have written, Biden said only that he wanted further confirmation that bin Laden was actually present at the compound in Pakistan.

School choice/charter schools. Trump wrongly claimed that Biden “wants to ban school choice and ban charter schools.” 

As we have written, Biden opposes federal funding going to “for-profit charter schools,” but schools managed by for-profit companies make up only a fraction of charter schools — about 10%, according to a researcher for the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. And while Biden opposes vouchers for private school tuition — the ultimate in school choice for some — he does not oppose students choosing between public schools, magnet schools and high-performing charter schools.

Biden and guns. Trump said, “Biden wants to confiscate your guns and indoctrinate your children with poisonous anti-American lies in schools, right?” As we have written, it is not true that Biden favors confiscating weapons, and there is no evidence Biden wants to indoctrinate children with “poisonous anti-American lies.”

After Democratic presidential hopeful Beto O’Rourke — a proponent of mandatory buybacks of assault weapons — endorsed Biden in March, misinformation about Biden’s position on guns began to circulate. Videos and articles suggested Biden would be confiscating weapons should he make it to the White House. But that was unfounded, as we have written. While Biden did say O’Rourke would help him with gun policy, he never adopted the mandatory buyback approach.

Biden’s gun safety proposals include banning the manufacture and sale of assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, and a voluntary program to buy back assault weapons and high-capacity magazines from those who now possess them. Under Biden’s plan, assault weapons owners could either sell the weapons to the government or register them under the National Firearms Act.

Fracking. In Pennsylvania, the nation’s second-largest natural gas producer, Trump claimed that “Joe Biden has vowed to ban fracking,” which Biden recently said emphatically he would not do. In the past, Biden has incorrectly explained his climate change plan, which calls for only “banning new oil and gas permitting on public lands and waters.” 

In a July 2019 Democratic primary debate, for example, Biden said, “we would make sure it’s eliminated,” when he was asked if there would be a place for “fossil fuels, including coal and fracking” in a Biden administration. But Biden’s campaign later clarified that he meant that he supports ending federal subsidies for the fossil fuel industry, and transitioning, by 2050, to a clean energy economy with net-zero emissions. 

His plan allows for existing fracking permits to continue on federal lands and does nothing to prohibit fracking in non-federal areas — where most crude oil and natural gas is produced.

“I am not banning fracking,” Biden said last month, at an Aug. 31 campaign rally in Pittsburgh. “Let me say that again. I am not banning fracking — no matter how many times Donald Trump lies about me.”

Health care access. Trump falsely claimed, “Biden is pledging to give federal health care to illegal aliens, which is decimating Medicare.” Biden has made no such promise. 

Biden has said that, unlike current law, his plan would allow those individuals living in the U.S. illegally to “buy into the system,” referring to the Affordable Care Act’s health insurance exchanges. 

A unity task force made up of supporters of Biden and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders also “recommends extending Affordable Care Act coverage to DACA recipients, [and] allowing undocumented immigrants to purchase unsubsidized coverage in the ACA marketplaces.”

Refugees. Trump repeated his criticism of Biden for proposing to “increase refugee admission 700%.” That is close to correct — largely because Trump, in a break from past administrations, sharply lowered the cap on refugees to just 18,000 in fiscal year 2020, which began on Oct. 1, 2019. 

Biden says on his campaign website that he will “set the annual global refugee admissions cap to 125,000,” which is a 600% increase from 18,000. It is also 56% higher than President George W. Bush’s last fiscal year, and 14% higher than what President Barack Obama had authorized in his final fiscal year.

Election Ballots, Polls and Interference

Ballots found in “river.” As part of his campaign against mail-in ballots, Trump misleadingly claimed “many ballots” were found “in a riverbed.”

According to the Outagamie County Sheriff’s Office in Wisconsin, three trays of mail were found Sept. 21 along the side of a road and in a ditch next to a highway in Greenville. Officials there said the batch of mail included “several” absentee ballots, though a Postal Service spokesman would not comment on whether those were completed ballots, or blank ones being sent to voters, according to the Post Crescent. The paper quoted the county clerking saying election officials started to mail out ballots to voters on Sept. 17.

Double ballots. Trump also wrongly said before departing the White House on Sept. 26 that there was “another case where a thousand ballots were sent, but not single — they were sent double, so you get to vote twice.” He said that “thousands of ballots sent to people and they’re double ballots, where you get two votes.”

As NBC4 in Washington reported, election officials in Fairfax County, Virginia, believe up to 1,000 people who requested mail-in ballots may have gotten two by mistake. But those people won’t be able to vote twice. Fairfax County Registrar Gary Scott said that when every ballot is returned, “we make an entry into their voter record that they have returned a ballot. So if something else shows up, the ballot has already been returned. We can’t count that ballot.”

General election polls. Prior to leaving for a campaign rally in Pennsylvania, the president said, “We’re leading in Pennsylvania. We’re leading in Florida. I think we’re leading everywhere.” He is trailing by nearly five points in Pennsylvania, according to polling averages by Real Clear Politics and Five Thirty Eight. It is a virtual tie in Florida, with Biden holding a slight advantage in the averages computed by both websites. It’s safe to say both states are very much in play for either candidate.

On soliciting Russian interference. Trump said that he was only joking when he said, “Russia, if you’re listening, find her [Hillary Clinton’s] emails.” According to Trump, when he delivered the line, “we all laughed together” and “the whole place cracks up along with me.” He blamed the media for creating the controversy, saying they “cut off my last word.”

We’ll let readers decide for themselves Trump’s intent, but Trump did not laugh when he delivered the line at a press conference at his resort in Doral, Florida, in July 2016, nor did the assembled media. Watch for yourself.

On or about that same day, Russian military intelligence officers attempted “to spearphish for the first time email accounts at a domain hosted by a third-party provider and used by Clinton’s personal office,” according to the July 13, 2018, indictment filed against 12 Russian military intelligence officers for waging cyberattacks on the computer networks of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the Democratic National Committee and the Clinton campaign. 

COVID-19

Fatality rate decline. Repeating a line he’s now delivered more than a dozen times, Trump said at his Pennsylvania rally, “We pioneered life saving therapies, reducing the fatality rate 85% since April.” 

As we’ve written, he’s right that the U.S.’s reported case fatality rate, or percentage of deaths from the coronavirus among diagnosed cases, has fallen dramatically since April. But Trump’s suggestion that that’s entirely due to treatment improvements — and advances Americans or the American government developed — is misleading.

To date, only one drug — the steroid dexamethasone — has demonstrated a mortality benefit for COVID-19 patients. That finding came from a randomized controlled trial conducted in the U.K. 

Because the case fatality rate is highly dependent on the number of identified cases, experts say part, if not most, of the decline can be explained by increased testing, along with a shift in the types of people who are infected with the coronavirus. In the pandemic’s early months, testing was often limited to people with symptoms and older, higher-risk patients made up more of the cases. Over the summer, testing became more widely available and diagnoses became more common in younger people.

Excess mortality. The president said that “Europe has had almost a 50% greater excess mortality rate than the United States,” echoing earlier claims about excess mortality, but using an even higher percentage. Available data show that it’s the U.S., not Europe, that has a higher excess mortality rate. Excess mortality is an alternative metric that avoids issues of miscounting or underreporting COVID-19 deaths, and instead uses the actual number of deaths, regardless of cause, relative to a “normal” or expected number of deaths during a given time period.

Our previous analyses, which have used data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and EuroMOMO, a group monitoring mortality trends in Europe, along with the Human Mortality Database, have not borne out any of Trump’s past percentages.

Updated figures from these sources again fail to back Trump’s revised claim. The CDC’s latest estimate, which covers deaths between Feb. 1 and Sept. 12, ranges from 208,390 to 274,055 excess deaths, with a middle estimate of 241,222 excess deaths. That’s versus 211,025 excess deaths through week 38, or Sept. 20, for 24 European countries or parts of countries, according to EuroMOMO. When adjusted for population, the U.S. has had 730 excess deaths per million people, which is 6% more than the EuroMOMO region’s 686 excess deaths per million.

The Human Mortality Database figures, which include more of Europe, show that up until June 28 (the most recent data for the largest number of countries), Europe’s excess mortality is 9.9% above normal, versus 13.8% for the U.S. And when limited to countries that have data through week 35, or Aug. 30 — the latest date for the U.S. — America’s excess mortality rate is also higher: 14.5% compared with 12.5% for that subset of Europe.

Strategic National Stockpile “cupboards” weren’t “bare.” As he has before, Trump falsely claimed that the Obama administration left the federal stockpile of emergency medicine and supplies “bare.” “We did a job, including ventilators that nobody had,” the president said during the Pennsylvania rally. “The cupboards were bare when we took over.“ 

While some news reports note that some personal protective equipment, such as N95 respirator masks, were not replenished after 2009’s H1N1 influenza pandemic, the stockpile was not empty. In 2016, a report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine said there were at least six warehouses of items worth approximately $7 billion. The president’s boast about ventilators also rings hollow. As we’ve written, Trump actually inherited more ventilators in the stockpile — nearly 17,000 — than were distributed during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Saving lives. At his rally in Middletown, Pennsylvania, Trump said of lockdowns during the COVID-19 pandemic, “We had to close it down. We saved millions of lives.” As we have written, we don’t know for sure whether Trump is on target when he says that the lockdowns — which were imposed by many states, not by Trump — may have saved “millions” of lives. Also, Trump at times pressured states to open up before their governors wanted to.

An early model from Imperial College London projected in March that the U.S. could lose 2.2 million people to the pandemic, but only if no mitigation measures whatsoever were taken to combat the virus.

An unpublished study released in June by a group of economists estimated “mitigating public health measures” would save between 913,762 and 2,046,322 lives in the U.S. At the same time, they estimated that “the economic downturn from shelter-in-place measures and other restrictions on economic activity could create an indirect collateral loss of 84,000 to 514,800 lives over the following years.”

A study by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley published on June 8 in the journal Nature found that lockdowns had prevented 60 million infections in the United States. The study didn’t say how many lives were saved, but the lead researcher, Solomon Hsiang, did say the benefits of the lockdown are in a sense invisible because they reflect “infections that never occurred and deaths that did not happen.”

A study by researchers at the Imperial College London estimated lockdowns saved about 3.1 million lives in 11 European countries. Columbia University researchers concluded that 36,000 fewer deaths from the coronavirus would have occurred if the U.S. had imposed social distancing one week earlier in March.

Popular Talking Points

Not the “greatest economy.” As he frequently does, Trump falsely said at the rally that the United States had had “the greatest economy in the history of the world” before the novel coronavirus hit. As we have written, that was not the case. The real (inflation-adjusted) gross domestic product grew 2.2% in 2019  — down from 3% in 2018. Over the last 39 years — dating to Ronald Reagan’s presidency — the nation’s real economic growth has reached or exceeded Trump’s peak year of 3% a total of 17 times.

Trump also said, “We’ve added a historic 10.6 million jobs in the last four months.” He failed to mention that is fewer than half of the 22.2 million jobs the country had lost earlier this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Auto plants. Trump repeated false claims about auto plants in Michigan, telling the rally crowd in Pennsylvania: “What I’ve done for Michigan, in particular, also Pennsylvania, but what I’ve done for them with autos, forget it. They’re building 17, or expanding 17, different plants. They hadn’t built one in 42 years and we’re building a lot of them.”

The last vehicle assembly plant built in Michigan before Trump took office was a General Motors plant in Lansing Delta Township, completed in 2006. As for the country at large, Volvo and Mercedes-Benz both announced new plants in 2015 in South Carolina.

Despite Trump’s boasts, the number of motor vehicle and parts manufacturing jobs in Michigan has gone down under Trump, even before the coronavirus pandemic caused economic shutdowns. Fiat Chrysler Automobiles announced in February 2019 it would convert two plants into a new assembly site in Michigan, and Honda and General Motors announced shortly after his inauguration a joint venture to produce hydrogen fuel cell systems in an existing GM facility. But there have been three plant closures announced in the state since Trump took office.

Oil and natural gas. Trump took credit for milestones reached long before his presidency when he claimed: “We are now the number one producer of oil and natural gas in the world.” The U.S. became the leader in production of petroleum in 2013 and natural gas in 2009, as we’ve written before.

Nobel Peace Prize. At the rally, Trump complained that the media had ignored his nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize. Trump said: “I got nominated for two Nobel Peace Prizes. … And I said, ‘They didn’t cover two Nobel prizes.’ I got two in one week. … But the fake news never even put it on. And somebody had a show where they said the amount of time devoted to Donald Trump’s Nobel Peace Prize, two of them, zero on the network, zero.”

As we have written, Trump makes a number of false statements when he discusses his nomination. Trump conflates being nominated, as he was, with actually winning, as his predecessor, Barack Obama, did. Trump hasn’t won one. Simply being nominated is not a huge deal: This year 211 individuals and 107 organizations have been nominated. And he wasn’t nominated for two: While he was nominated by two people, there is just one Nobel Peace Prize. 

Border wall and open borders. As he often does, Trump talked about the progress his administration has made on building his long-promised wall on the border between the United States and Mexico, a major Trump campaign promise during 2016. “And we are just finishing a beautiful wall,” he said. “That wall 340 miles, 340.  … Now we’re up to 330 miles.” According to U.S. Customs and Border Protection, 341 miles of wall and fencing have been erected. But as we have reported, most of that is replacement of existing fencing or wall; there has been little new construction. The San Antonio Express-News reported on Aug. 7 that only five miles of new wall have been built.

Trump also said, “By contrast, Joe Biden supports open borders.” As we have reported, that is not the case. There’s no doubt Biden supports a more open and welcoming immigration policy than the one championed by Trump. But that’s not the same as advocating open borders. “I’m going to make sure that we have border protection, but it’s going to be based on making sure that we use high-tech capacity to deal with it. And at the ports of entry — that’s where all the bad stuff is happening,” Biden said in an interview on Aug. 5.

Quelling urban unrest. Trump falsely took credit for sending the National Guard into Minneapolis to put down violent protests in the wake of the death of George Floyd in police custody in Minneapolis. “You saw what we did in Minneapolis,” he said. “She called us like a week and a half too late. We went in. How long did that take? About a half hour. It was over. We brought in the National Guard. We told Seattle we’re coming in and they left that night.”

Trump is wrong about the National Guard in both cases. In Minneapolis, as we have written, after a second day of demonstrations got out of hand, Mayor Jacob Frey officially declared a local emergency and called for the state’s National Guard to be deployed. Minnesota’s governor Tim Walz signed an executive order activating the state’s National Guard following day. Similarly, in Seattle, Washington state Gov. Jay Inslee activated the guard at the request of Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan after protests turned violent.

Low–income housing in the suburbs. Trump said that he had “knocked out” an Obama-era regulation regarding low-income housing in the suburbs. “I knocked out the regulation that allows low-income housing in the suburbs,” he said. “They’re changing the zoning so they can build. That’s what it is. They’re changing the zoning. It was a rule, a regulation that was a disaster.” As we have written, on other occasions Trump has said the regulation “required” building low-income housing in suburbia.

As we said in our story, it’s unclear whether the rule had any impact at all, as Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson suspended its requirements in 2018. Experts on regulatory processes and community development told us HUD’s 2015 final rule on “Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing” did not mandate either low-income housing or rezoning. In its published rule, HUD said of the regulation: “This rule does not impose any land use decisions or zoning laws on any local government.”

Islamic State. Trump again took too much credit for recapturing Islamic State-held land. “In just three and a half years, we’ve … obliterated 100% of the ISIS caliphate,” he said. Before Trump took office, about half of the territory held by the Islamic State, also known as ISIS, had been regained under his predecessor, Barack Obama. That’s according to figures provided by Trump’s own administration.

The rest of the land was retaken under Trump. In March 2019, the Syrian Democratic Forces announced that the final stronghold in eastern Syria had been retaken.

Obama’s unfilled judicial vacancies. Trump again wrongly claimed that President Barack Obama left the Trump administration “over 100″ federal judicial court vacancies — it was precisely 112 — “because he probably thought that Crooked Hillary was going to win. And, you know, in which case it wouldn’t have mattered too much. I guess that’s what he assumed.”

As we have written, the number of judicial vacancies left by Obama was historically high, but that wasn’t because Obama didn’t try to fill most of them. Rather, it was resistance to Obama’s judicial nominations from Senate Republicans who took over a majority during the last two years of Obama’s presidency. In early January 2017, just before Trump took office, there were 59 federal court nominees pending.

Ukraine

Ukraine prosecutor. At his rally and in a White House briefing, Trump repeated the false narrative about “Joe’s involvement” in the removal of Ukraine’s top prosecutor in 2015. Trump falsely accused the former vice president of withholding $1 billion in U.S. loan guarantees to Ukraine “until such time as they let go of a prosecutor that was investigating the company that his son was involved with,” referring to Hunter Biden’s work as a board member for the Ukraine gas company Burisma. 

As we have written, the Obama administration joined the international community and anti-corruption advocates in Ukraine in calling for the prosecutor to be removed from office for his failure to aggressively prosecute corruption. A Republican-led Senate committee investigation recently found no evidence of wrongdoing by the former vice president.

Schiff and Trump’s Ukraine phone call. Trump criticized Rep. Adam Schiff, the chairman of the House intelligence committee, for giving his own dramatic crime-novel representation of what happened in the July 25 phone call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. “Shifty Schiff, he gets up and says a totally different thing than what I said, totally different. They say, ‘Sir, you can’t go after him because he’s shielded because he made this speech.’ He totally lied,” Trump said. 

A day after the White House released a memo of the July phone call, in which Trump asked Zelensky to investigate Biden and Biden’s son, Hunter, Schiff gave his own rendition at the start of a congressional hearing, saying this was “the essence of what the president communicates” in his call “in not so many words.” Later in the hearing, Schiff said the summary “was meant to be at least part in parody.”

So, it’s true Schiff admittedly gave an account that was different than the memo — and in some respects inaccurate, as we’ve said. But it wasn’t “totally different”: Other parts of Schiff’s comments were similar to the memo of the phone call.

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