Fact-checking the first Trump-Biden presidential debate (part 2)

“The bigger problem that you have is that you’re going to extinguish 180 million people with their private health care that they’re very happy with.”

The president falsely accused Biden of wanting to enact Medicare-for-all, a plan advanced by some Democratic candidates that would have replaced the private health insurance most Americans get through their employers with a government plan modeled on Medicare, which provides health care for people over 65. During the primaries, Biden refused to embrace such a single-payer program and instead advocated offering people an option of joining a government-run health plan.

“You’ve had 308,000 military people dying because you couldn’t provide them proper health care in the military.”

“A fixing of the VA [Veterans Affairs], which was a mess under him. 308,000 people died because they didn’t have proper health care.”

The president tossed out this figure twice during the debate. But it’s a bogus number that we debunked five years ago when he first used it. There were about 307,000 records of veterans who were marked as “pending” in a health-care database who had already died, according to their Social Security records. Some media outlets misreported what that meant. Given all the limitations in the database, it’s impossible to know whether those veterans had died before or after the VA began its health-care enrollment system, or whether they had applied for health care. Investigators found significant weaknesses in the data system that render the health enrollment database “virtually unreliable.”

“If you were here, it wouldn’t be 200 [thousand dead of covid-19]. It would be 2 million people because you were very late on the draw.”

Biden raised the alarm about a possible pandemic long before Trump, in his public remarks, appeared to take it seriously.

As for the 2 million figure, Trump cites a possible death figure that was a worst-case scenario produced by Imperial College London, which assumed that 81 percent of the population would become infected ­— 268 million people — and that 0.9% of them would die. It did so by also assuming people took no actions against the novel coronavirus — nobody avoided crowded elevators, wore face masks, washed their hands more often, or bought gloves or hand sanitizer — which the study itself acknowledged was unrealistic, saying it “is highly likely that there would be significant spontaneous change in population behavior even in the absence of government‐mandated interventions.”

Moreover, even the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918 is believed to have infected no more than 28 percent of the population, making the 81 percent figure suspect. Trump routinely mentions this figure to suggest he saved that many people from death, even as the actual death toll rises far above many of his earlier predictions.

“You don’t know her [Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s] view on Roe v. Wade. You don’t know her view.”

Biden said abortion rights were on the ballot, referring to Trump’s nominee to fill a Supreme Court vacancy, Judge Amy Coney Barrett. Trump said his nominee’s views were unknown to Biden.

Barrett, a former law clerk to Justice Antonin Scalia, has never said that she would vote to overturn Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 decision that recognized abortion rights. When Trump nominated her to be a federal appeals court judge in 2017, Barrett said Roe was settled law.

But she has said she believes life begins at conception and her stated views include plenty of legal criticism of Roe, and in addition, Barrett also has said she believes some court precedents should be overturned even if they are settled law.

“The public response to controversial cases like Roe reflects public rejection of the proposition that stare decisis can declare a permanent victor in a divisive constitutional struggle,” she wrote in a 2013 law review article.

Barrett would replace Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a staunch supporter of abortion rights who died in September.

“By creating through judicial fiat a framework of abortion on demand in a political environment that was already liberalizing abortion regulations state-by-state, she said, the court’s concurrent rulings in Roe and Doe v. Bolton ‘ignited a national controversy,’ ” Barrett was quoted as saying by Notre Dame Magazine in 2013. The magazine added: “Barrett believes it is ‘very unlikely’ the court will ever overturn Roe’s core protection of abortion rights, and sees the political battle shifting toward matters of public and private funding.”

Years later, she said the question had become how much leeway the Supreme Court will give states to regulate abortion.

Critics say Barrett nonetheless could chip away at abortion rights, voting for a series of smaller restrictions rather than overturning Roe in one swoop. “Donald Trump has made it clear that he would only appoint justices who would overturn Roe v Wade,” Planned Parenthood Action Fund said in a statement, alleging that Barrett has a “history of hostility toward reproductive health and rights.”

During a presidential debate in 2016, Trump vowed to appoint justices who would overturn the abortion rulings. “That will happen automatically, in my opinion, because I am putting pro-life justices on the court,” Trump said. “I will say this: It will go back to the states, and the states will then make a determination.”

“We will protect people with preexisting condition.”

If Trump wins a pending case before the Supreme Court, the entire Affordable Care Act would cease to exist, jeopardizing health care for millions of Americans during a deadly pandemic. The Justice Department filed a brief June 25 in support of the GOP argument that “the entire ACA … must fall.”

Nearly 100 million Americans with preexisting conditions could be denied coverage by insurers or charged prohibitively high prices as a result. Trump has no plan to replace ACA provisions such as coverage for preexisting conditions. He recently signed a toothless executive order affirming support for such protections, but health-care experts say what’s needed is a law — for instance, the ACA, which he is trying to dismantle.

Republicans have tried to repeal and replace the health-care law for 10 years and have never agreed on how to do it. Before he asked the nation’s highest court to strike down the law, Trump consistently sought to weaken some of the ACA provisions at issue, as we found in this fact check.

“You agreed with Bernie Sanders’s far left on the manifesto, we call it. … And that gives you socialized medicine.”

Trump often claims falsely that Biden veered sharply to the left after winning the Democratic primary, offering as proof a set of recommendations drafted by a “unity task force” of Biden advisers and supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).

But that document — which Biden has described consistently as recommendations he will consider, not set-in-stone policy positions — does not propose to socialize medical care.

“Private insurers need real competition to ensure they have incentive to provide affordable, quality coverage to every American,” it says. “To achieve that objective, we will give all Americans the choice to select a high-quality, affordable public option through the Affordable Care Act marketplace. The public option will provide at least one plan choice without deductibles, will be administered by the traditional Medicare program, not private companies, and will cover all primary care without any copayments and control costs for other treatments by negotiating prices with doctors and hospitals, just like Medicare does on behalf of older people. The lowest-income Americans not eligible for Medicaid will be automatically enrolled in the public option at no cost to them, although they may choose to opt out at any time.”

In so many words, that language from the unity task force rephrases Biden’s own health-care plan from the start of the campaign.

“If your insurance company isn’t doing right by you, you should have another, better choice,” Biden’s website says. “Whether you’re covered through your employer, buying your insurance on your own, or going without coverage altogether, the Biden Plan will give you the choice to purchase a public health insurance option like Medicare. As in Medicare, the Biden public option will reduce costs for patients by negotiating lower prices from hospitals and other health care providers. It also will better coordinate among all of a patient’s doctors to improve the efficacy and quality of their care, and cover primary care without any co-payments. And it will bring relief to small businesses struggling to afford coverage for their employees.”

Sanders proposed a much more ambitious plan, “Medicare-for-all,” or universal health care with the government acting as the single payer, that Biden does not support.

“Because he, in fact, already has cost 10 million people their health care that they had from their employers because of his recession, number one.”

A study of census data released in July by the Urban Institute found that 10.1 million people would lose their employer-sponsored health coverage from April to December. But Biden left out another finding from the same study: Many of those people would be able to get insurance through other means, such as Medicaid or the individual marketplace.

In the end, 3.5 million people would be left without coverage, the Urban Institute estimated.

A separate analysis by Avalere Health estimated that 12 million people could lose their insurance by the end of 2020. So the range of estimates is wide, and Biden misused one such figure on the high end.

“He went in and he — we were insisting that the people we had on the ground in China should be able to go to Wuhan and determine for themselves how dangerous this was. He did not even ask Xi to do that. He told us what a great job Xi was doing.”

Biden is arguing something that is in dispute. The Biden campaign says the public record is clear that Trump did not put pressure on Chinese President Xi Jinping to allow U.S. health experts into the country. The White House says that Biden is wrong and that Trump personally raised the issue in a conversation with Xi. When we looked into this in April, we concluded the administration at various levels sought access for Centers for Disease Control experts — and an administration official told The Fact Checker an offer to send staff was made at the presidential level. Whether Trump put pressure on Xi behind the scenes remains unclear, though Trump’s public comments and tweets do not indicate much pressure. “I did discuss that about sending our people in,” Trump told reporters in March. “And they didn’t really respond.”

Moreover, Biden suggests that early on he had been calling on China to admit U.S. experts. But the earliest example we can find is from the Democratic debate held on Feb. 25, a few days after a World Health Organization mission finally reached Wuhan.

“Well, masks — masks make a big difference. His own head of the CDC said if we just wore a mask between now — if they’re — everybody wore a mask and social distanced between now and January, we’d probably save up to 100,000 lives. It matters. It matters.”

“And they’ve also said the opposite. They’ve also said the opposite.”

Biden is wrong that Robert Redfield, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, made this prediction. Redfield certainly has said that face masks “are the most important, powerful public health tool we have” against spread of the coronavirus. But it was the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation that made the 100,000 prediction in early September.

But Trump is also wrong to suggest the effectiveness of masks is still in dispute.

“Look at Dr. Fauci — Dr. Fauci said the opposite — He said very strongly — masks are not good. Then he changed his mind. He said masks are good.”

Anthony S. Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, did say this, as did other health experts in the U.S. government, but the circumstances have changed. Fauci has explained he was motivated by early fears that N95 masks needed by hospital workers would quickly run out of stock. Once science indicated that the virus was spread by people who were asymptomatic, the guidance was updated, because even fabric masks can help halt the spread if everyone wears them.

“He didn’t think we should close it down, and he was wrong.”

Biden did not oppose shutdown orders in March. In fact, he has said Trump acted too slowly and could have saved more lives if he moved faster.

“The difference is millionaires and billionaires like him in the middle of the covid crisis have done very well, and other billionaires have raised — have made another $300 billion because of his profligate tax proposal, and he only focuses on the market.”

“The billionaires have gotten much more wealthy, by a tune of over $300 billion to $400 billion more, just since covid.”

The gain in billionaire wealth during the pandemic is certainly a fair target. But Biden twice cited a dubious number.

For the billionaire statistic, Biden appears to be citing a report by a liberal-leaning group, Americans for Tax Fairness, that estimated that between March 18 — the rough start date of the coronavirus pandemic shutdown — and May 19, the total net worth of the 600-plus U.S. billionaires jumped by $434 billion. The report used net-worth calculations from Forbes magazine, which tracks the net worth of billionaires.

But selecting March 18 was a bit of cherry-picking. The Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index had reached its peak on Feb. 19, and the market had fallen quite a bit by March 18. So, many of these billionaires were underwater on May 19. MarketWatch recalculated the numbers from Feb. 19 and came up with a much different picture.

“Cumulatively, the top 50 billionaires lost $232 billion between the market’s peak and [May 19],” MarketWatch reported. “If the remaining billionaires on the Forbes list lost wealth at the same roughly 12.5% rate that the top 50 experienced, that’s another $200 billion-plus wiped out.”

Of course, the S&P 500 index has since recovered much of its losses, so it’s safe to say many billionaires have probably regained their earlier losses.

“Many car companies came in from Germany, went to Michigan and went to Ohio.”

False. No auto manufacturers from Germany have opened factories in Michigan or Ohio since Trump became president. Mercedes-Benz, a German company, opened a plant in South Carolina in 2018, but the project broke ground in 2015. Trump frequently conjures up imaginary auto plants in swing states.

“You did a crime bill, 1994, when you call them super predators, African Americans, super predators, and they’ve never forgotten it. They’ve never forgotten it, Joe.”

Biden sponsored the 1994 crime bill, now seen as a source of racial disparities in the criminal justice system. But Biden never used the term “super predators” to describe African Americans. (That was Hillary Clinton.)

At the debate, Trump was asked whether he thought there was systemic racism in the country. His response focused on his decision to curtail racial sensitivity training in the federal government. Trump’s administration has taken action against such training, using the argument that it involves reverse racism and discriminates against White people.

“I ended it because it’s racist,” Trump said. “If you were a certain person, you had no status in life — it was sort of a reversal.”

“If you look at New York, where it’s going up like nobody has ever seen anything. The numbers are going up 100 percent, 150 percent, 200 percent, crime.”

These numbers do not add up. In New York, crime overall is down slightly (about 1.5 percent) so far this year. Shootings are up about 93 percent, and murders have increased 38 percent. Crime is down 10 percent compared with 10 years ago in the city.

“We have to have community policing like we had before, where the officers get to know the people in the communities. That’s when crime went down. It didn’t go up; it went down.”

Whether the 1994 crime bill, which funded nearly $10 billion in grants provided by the Community Oriented Police Services (COPS) program between 1994 and 2000, helped bring down crime has long been a subject of debate among experts. The crime rate did go way down. But the COPS program was not the primary or even secondary factor in the dramatic reduction in crime during the 1990s — the precise reasons for which remain a mystery. The results vary depending on whether the research is done by a criminologist or an economist, or from within the government or outside of it. But overall the answer is “maybe — but only modestly.”

“He’s talking about defunding the police.”

“No, I don‘t support defunding the police,” Biden said in a CBS News interview. “I support conditioning federal aid to police based on whether or not they meet certain basic standards of decency and honorableness and, in fact, are able to demonstrate they can protect the community and everybody in the community.”

Biden, in fact, has come under scrutiny from the left for his position and for proposing to spend an additional $300 million a year on the community policing program started in the Clinton administration. (That would effectively double the budget for the program.)

Biden: “And by the way, his own former spokesperson said riots and chaos and violence help his cause. That’s what this is all about.”

Trump: “I don’t know who said that.”

Biden: “I think Kellyanne Conway.”

Trump: “I don’t think she said that.”

She did say it. Amid the protests in Kenosha, Wis., appearing on “Fox & Friends” in late August, Conway said, “The more chaos and anarchy and vandalism and violence reigns, the better it is for the very clear choice on who’s best on public safety and law and order.”

In a Washington Post Live interview, Conway protested that her full quote was being chopped up to convey a different message.

Conway said she also said, “It’s not Donald Trump’s watch. He’s trying to get law and order restored. But I don’t think Joe Biden will go to Wisconsin, because the last time a Democratic nominee went there was 2012,” among other things. But it doesn’t make Biden’s quotation of her inaccurate. She said Trump stands to benefit politically from chaos and violence. Some may see that as a crass admission, but various independent political analysts believe the same.

“We now got a 91 percent approval rating at the VA … highest ever recorded.”

“Veterans strongly endorsed VA health care, with 91 percent offering positive assessments of inpatient care and 92 percent for outpatient care,” according a news release from the Department of Veterans Affairs announcing the survey results in 2014, when Obama was still in office.

In a Military Times poll of 1,018 active-duty troops conducted this summer, nearly half had an unfavorable view of Trump. The poll also showed a slight preference for Biden among respondents.

“He [Hunter] was given tens of millions of dollars.”

Hunter Biden certainly had some lucrative contracts. But tens of millions of dollars? There is no evidence.

“What’s happening is the car is much less expensive and it’s a much safer car, and you’re talking about a tiny difference. And then what would happen, because of the cost of the car, you would have at least double and triple the number of cars purchased. We have the old slugs out there that are 10, 12 years old. If you did that, the car would be safer, it would be much cheaper by $3,500.”

Trump is arguing against higher fuel efficiency standards by making an economic and safety argument rejected by many experts and that most automakers do not want. The rule to roll back Obama-era standards being written by the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration proposal has nothing to do with making new cars safer; in fact, internal EPA emails released in 2018 said the rule change would increase highway fatalities. He also falsely claims there would be little environmental impact. Experts say any potential savings on the sticker price of new cars probably would be offset by the increased fuel cost over the life of those vehicles, even if gas prices stay low. With less fuel-efficient cars, the rollback could also introduce hundreds of millions of metric tons of CO2 into the air and increase oil consumption by more than 1 billion barrels, according to the EPA’s own estimates.

“I’m all for electric cars. I’ve given big incentives for electric cars.”

Nope. Trump has actually proposed to eliminate two of the three key programs — which predate Trump’s tenure — that encourage the manufacture or purchase of an electric vehicle.

Biden: “Look how much we’re paying now to deal with the hurricanes, with, to deal with — by the way, he has an answer for hurricanes. He said, ‘Maybe we should drop a nuclear weapon on them.’ They may —”

Trump: “I never said that at all.”

Whether or not Trump suggested using nuclear weapons, Trump repeatedly floated the idea of using bombs of some kind to stop hurricanes. Axios reported that a National Security Council memo from 2017 describes a conversation “in which Trump asked whether the administration should bomb hurricanes to stop them from hitting the homeland.”

“He called the military ‘stupid bastards.’ ”

Trump has elevated this false claim since the Atlantic reported new accounts of Trump’s private remarks disparaging soldiers who died in service of the United States.

Biden did use those words, once, but a video of the 2016 event shows Biden was clearly joking early in his speech, given during a stop in Abu Dhabi in March 2016.

“I have incredibly good judgment. One, I married Jill. And two, I appointed [Lt. Karen] Johnson to [attend] the [U.S. Air Force] Academy. I just want you to know that,” he said. “Clap for that, you stupid bastards.” The audience smiled and began to clap and Biden added, “Man, you are a dull bunch.”

Biden ended his speech by thanking the military personnel for their service. “You are the finest generation of warriors the world has ever, ever known,” he declared.

“They were a disaster. They were a disgrace to our country. And we’ve caught them. We’ve caught them all. We’ve got it all on tape. We’ve caught them all. And, by the way, you gave the idea for the Logan Act against General Flynn. You had better take a look at that because we caught you, in a sense, and President Obama was sitting in the office. He knew it too, so don’t tell me about a free transition.”

Trump has concocted conspiracy theories about the Obama administration spying on his campaign, which he sometimes labels “Obamagate.”

It started with Trump’s false claim in 2017 that President Barack Obama ordered a wiretap on him. Then that merged with a report that an FBI informant in Europe, a professor named Stefan Halper, met with at least three people working on the Trump campaign in Europe.

A former campaign aide, Carter Page, was subject to an FBI warrant.

Lately, Trump has focused on a January 2017 meeting that Obama held in the Oval Office with then-FBI Director James B. Comey, Biden and national security adviser Susan E. Rice, among others. Rice indicated in an email that Obama was primarily concerned with whether limits should be placed on classified information that was shared with the incoming team, in particular incoming national security adviser Michael Flynn, in light of the intercepts of the calls between Flynn and the Russian ambassador.

Although presidents generally are expected not to inquire about criminal investigations, it is appropriate to have a discussion about a counterintelligence probe, as that involves national security. Somehow, without much explanation, Trump has turned this meeting into a high crime that he considers to be treason.

In the debate and other occasions, Trump has asserted that at the meeting Biden raised Logan Act prosecution of Flynn, based on cryptic notes of an FBI official who was not in the meeting. (The law, rarely enforced since it went on the books in 1799, prohibits private citizens from attempting to carry out official U.S. foreign policy.)

In testimony before the Senate the day after the debate, Comey said Biden did not suggest prosecuting Flynn under the Logan Act. “I would remember it because it would be highly inappropriate,” Comey said. “It did not happen.”

“They found some with the name Trump, just happened to have the name Trump, just the other day in a wastepaper basket.”

“They found ballots in a wastepaper basket three days ago, and they all had the name — military ballots; they were military. They all had the name Trump on them.”

Trump is spinning a conspiracy theory about voter fraud based on a faint iota of evidence, and he has been aided in his efforts by the Justice Department’s irregular disclosures and its violation of ballot secrecy in this case.

Luzerne County, Pa., officials said in a statement that a “temporary seasonal independent contractor … incorrectly discarded [nine ballots] into the office trash” during their three-day period of employment. The county’s top election official caught wind, fired the employee and launched an investigation. In other words, at the moment this could just as well be described as a success story about Pennsylvania’s election controls.

The Justice Department at first said all nine ballots were for Trump, violating ballot secrecy, before issuing an unusual correction to note that, actually, seven were for Trump. The department also seems to have tipped off Trump to developments in this case before making a public announcement about an ongoing investigation, which is rare.

“[In] a Democrat area, they sent out 1,000 ballots. Everybody got two ballots. This is going to be a fraud like you’ve never seen.”

The president apparently is referring to Fairfax County in Virginia, which recently has trended toward the Democrats. At least 1,400 voters received duplicate absentee ballots because of a printer error. But officials said only one ballot per voter would be counted. “Each ballot cast by a Virginia voter is recorded into a state verification system, election officials said,” The Washington Post reported. “If someone were to try to vote more than once with the same identity, the system would reject the extra ballot as invalid.”

“Take a look at what happened in New Jersey.”

Trump often points to Paterson, N.J., where a special election was held for several City Council seats May 12. As part of its coronavirus response, New Jersey held all-mail elections for the first time that day. The state attorney general later announced that a sitting councilman, a former councilman and two others (all Democrats) had been charged with voter fraud after postal inspectors found hundreds of ballots stuffed in a Paterson mailbox.

The Passaic County Board of Elections rejected 3,190 ballots, about 19 percent of the mail-in ballots cast in Paterson’s race. The question is how many were connected to the fraud allegations. Trump says all of them were corrupted, but a county elections official told the Paterson Press that 2,300 ballots were rejected as “part of the normal process,” meaning they were disqualified for common reasons such as signature mismatches or arriving after the deadline.

Doing the math, that means fewer than 5 percent of the 16,747 ballots cast in that election can be linked to the fraud allegations.

What would that look like in context? In an analysis of 31 local elections held the same day, New Jersey Spotlight found that 9.6 percent of ballots were rejected. “Most commonly, officials did not count ballots because the signature on the ballot did not match the one on file, the ballot arrived too late or the required certificate was not enclosed,” New Jersey Spotlight reported.

“Take a look at West Virginia, mailmen selling the ballots. They are being sold.”

A West Virginia postal carrier in July pleaded guilty to mail and election fraud after admitting he changed the political affiliation on five voter ballots from Democrat to Republican. The mail carrier said he did it “as a joke.” There is no evidence he or other mailmen in the state sold ballots.

“As you know, today, there was a big problem. In Philadelphia they went in to watch. They were called poll watchers — a very safe, very nice thing. They were thrown out. They weren’t allowed to watch.”

The Philadelphia Inquirer labeled this as a false claim. “The Trump campaign has no poll watchers approved to work in Philadelphia at the moment. There are no actual polling places open in the city right now. And elections officials are following coronavirus safety regulations, such as those limiting the number of people indoors,” the newspaper reported. Some voters have begun to cast ballots at satellite election offices, but “poll watchers don’t have the same rights at such locations as they do at traditional polling places on Election Day, officials said.”

“Take a look at Carolyn Maloney’s race. … They have no idea what happened.”

Results were delayed for several weeks in a New York congressional primary, with Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney (D-N.Y.) eventually declared the winner. Trump falsely suggested fraud was afoot, when no such allegation has been leveled.

“Let’s be clear, the issue in my race was disenfranchisement, not voter fraud. More than 1 in 5 ballots were discarded, many multiples of the final margin,” Suraj Patel, Maloney’s opponent, wrote on Twitter. “We called our election a canary in the coal mine for November, we were right. Trump lied about what happened here.”

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