Fact-Checking the Vice-Presidential Debate – The New York Times


— Mr. Pence

Through its expedited vaccine development program, Operation Warp Speed, the Trump administration is already funding the manufacturing of millions of doses of coronavirus vaccines, and has contracts with five drugmakers that have vaccine candidates in late-stage trials.

But just one of the five — Pfizer — has said that it could have initial results this month, and the Food and Drug Administration this week published guidelines for evaluating emergency authorizations that detailed why it could take at least several more months for a company to clear the bar.

Dr. Anthony Fauci and other top health officials have said that evidence of a vaccine’s effectiveness could be available by November or December. If every aspect of the vaccines’ development and distribution goes exactly as planned, certain people in high-risk groups, including frontline health workers, could get vaccinated this year.

— Mr. Pence

It is true that the economy has added back a lot of jobs since the depths of the pandemic, regaining about 11.4 million of the 22 million jobs it lost between February and April. But that rebound had relatively little to do with Mr. Trump’s policies. People came back to work quickly because they had been temporarily furloughed as states and cities shut down amid the virus, and businesses brought workers back to their jobs as they reopened.

The government’s Paycheck Protection Program — which offered forgivable loans to small businesses that retained employees — helped, and payments to households supported consumer spending and may have prevented deeper recession dynamics from taking hold.

— Mr. Pence

Mr. Pence was referring to a gathering at the White House on Sept. 26, when Mr. Trump nominated Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court, an event that appears to have produced a cluster of coronavirus infections at the highest levels of the administration. Mr. Trump formally announced the nomination in the Rose Garden, where many of the attendees flouted the recommendations of public health experts by not wearing masks or social distancing. But there was also a private reception indoors, where photos show attendees mingling in close quarters without wearing masks.

It is impossible to say which of those events was responsible for the virus’s spread, but the day’s festivities were not all outside.

— Mr. Pence

Since the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Mr. Biden and Ms. Harris have declined to weigh in on whether they supported adding seats to the Supreme Court, as some progressives have called for.

Mr. Biden has repeatedly declined to take a position, including at last week’s debate.

Before Justice Ginsburg’s death, Mr. Biden and Ms. Harris had expressed different views on the issue. Mr. Biden had stated his opposition to adding seats to the court, saying last year, “We’ll live to rue that day.” Ms. Harris had expressed openness to the idea.

— Mr. Pence

Mr. Pence suggested that there remains a question about the chief causes of climate change. But the established scientific consensus is conclusive. The scientific evidence that the combustion of fossil fuels produces emissions that warm the Earth’s atmosphere is ample.

Among the most recent, exhaustively researched and authoritative of such scientific reports was the National Climate Assessment, a comprehensive scientific report produced by 13 federal agencies and published in 2017 and 2018.

The product of hundreds of experts within the government and academia and peer-reviewed by the National Academy of Sciences, it is considered the United States’ most definitive statement on climate change science. It concludes decisively that humans are the dominant cause of the global temperature rise that has created the warmest period in the history of civilization.

— Ms. Harris

Ms. Harris is taking Mr. Trump’s comments out of context. He was speaking about the Democrats’ criticism of his administration’s response to the pandemic and comparing it to the “impeachment hoax,” not the virus itself.

“Now the Democrats are politicizing the coronavirus. You know that, right? Coronavirus. They’re politicizing it. We did one of the great jobs. You say, ‘How’s President Trump doing?’ They go, ‘Oh, not good, not good.’ They have no clue. They don’t have any clue,” Mr. Trump said at a February rally in South Carolina. “They tried anything, they tried it over and over, they’ve been doing it since you got in. It’s all turning, they lost, it’s all turning. Think of it. Think of it. And this is their new hoax,” he continued.

— Mr. Pence

Mr. Biden and Ms. Harris support abortion rights, but that does not mean they call for women to have an unfettered right to terminate pregnancies up until the point of birth. Mr. Pence may have been referring to a debate over a bill proposed last year by Democrats in the Virginia legislature that would have made it easier for women to obtain abortions late in pregnancy if the mother’s physical health or safety were at risk.

The proposed legislation prompted Senator Ted Cruz, Republican of Texas, to falsely claim that Democrats support “abortion up until the moment of birth and even, horrifically, after that.” Other Republicans have echoed the claim.

Mr. Biden and Ms. Harris support codifying Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 decision that held states could prohibit abortion after fetal viability — the point at which fetuses can sustain life outside the womb. The current Supreme Court standard holds that states may prohibit abortion after fetal viability so long as there are exceptions for the life and health of the mother.

Mr. Biden said during a recent NBC televised town hall meeting in Miami that if Roe were overturned, his “only response to that is pass legislation making Roe the law of the land. That’s what I would do.”

— Mr. Pence

Voter fraud in the United States is extremely rare, and voter fraud in voting by mail is also exceedingly rare. And President Trump himself and members of his family and cabinet vote by mail.

Mr. Pence is correct that his campaign, along with Republican allies and state parties, are involved in hundreds of lawsuits around the country regarding the rules and regulations of how votes will be cast and counted. But Republicans have sought for years to push the notion of a voter fraud problem with little evidence to back up the claims, and Democrats, civil rights groups and others have been wary of voter fraud accusations that draw more attention than posit substantive problems.

There is also no “universal vote by mail” nationally. Nine states and Washington, D.C., are automatically sending ballots to voters for the election in November. In other states where voters can mail in their ballots, they have to request one.

While election experts say that voting by mail is slightly more vulnerable to cheating than voting in person, instances of fraud are few. Nationally, fewer than eight cases of mail ballot fraud occurred per year, on average, over the last two decades, according to a running database kept by the conservative Heritage Foundation.

There have been issues with the vast expansion of absentee ballots this year in response to the coronavirus pandemic, but nearly all have been the results of delays in the mail or errors in printing ballots by vendors.

— Mr. Pence

Mr. Biden has offered shifting accounts of how he counseled then President Barack Obama. It is clear that he was more skeptical than most other Obama administration officials about the May 2011 operation that killed bin Laden. But saying that he opposed the raid outright, as Mr. Pence also did at the Republican National Convention, is at best a selective interpretation of the available evidence.

In the months after Mr. Obama ordered the risky mission, Mr. Biden said he had been skeptical of the unconfirmed intelligence showing that bin Laden was hiding in a compound in Pakistan. In January 2012, he recalled having told Mr. Obama in a final Situation Room meeting when top officials were polled on their positions: “Mr. President, my suggestion is, don’t go.” But he implied that his view was subject to change, saying that more work should be done “to see if he’s there.”

A few months later, he added more detail to his account, saying that he spoke privately with Mr. Obama after that Situation Room meeting and told him, “Follow your instincts, Mr. President.” At the time, Mr. Biden recounted, “I knew he was going to go,” thus indicating that he was implicitly endorsing Mr. Obama’s decision to act. In 2015, Mr. Biden offered a new account of his private exchange with Mr. Obama after the meeting. “I told him my opinion, that I thought he should go, but follow his own instincts,” Mr. Biden said. “Imagine if I had said in front of everyone, ‘Don’t go,’ or ‘Go,’ and his decision was a different decision. It undercuts that relationship.” That analysis conflicts with his first account of telling Mr. Obama to delay the operation.

Subsequent books by former Obama officials describe Mr. Biden as skeptical of the intelligence and former Defense Secretary Robert Gates recounted that “Biden’s primary concern was the political consequences of failure.” Mr. Biden’s own 2017 memoir does not mention the bin Laden raid, and Mr. Obama has not commented on the matter.

— Mr. Pence

According to the Covid Tracking Project, more than 111 million coronavirus tests have been performed in the United States since January. But the nation is still falling short of its target of 1.3 million tests per day. Some experts have estimated that 4 million tests per day are necessary to keep the virus in check; others have called for an order of magnitude more.

While the absolute number of tests being done is high, so too are cases of the virus, which has infected more than 7.4 million people in the United States. Many tests have also come under scrutiny for delivering inaccurate results, including rapid tests deployed at the White House, where officials relied too heavily on the products to protect top officials from infection, with disastrous results.

— Ms. Harris

A survey published this month by the Pew Research Center found that few respondents had confidence in either country’s leader, but that western Europeans put more faith in Xi Jinping, the president and Communist Party secretary of China. Across 14 countries, a median of 19 percent said they had confidence in Mr. Xi, and a median of 17 percent said the same of Mr. Trump. Only in Japan and the United States did respondents have more confidence in Mr. Trump than in Mr. Xi, Pew said.

— Ms. Harris

Mr. Trump has not condemned or warned President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia over a C.I.A. assessment that Russia’s military intelligence service covertly offered bounties for the killing of coalition troops, including American service members, in Afghanistan. Mr. Trump said that he did not bring up the report during a phone call with the Russian leader after it was released by the C.I.A.

Mr. Trump has called reports of the bounties a “hoax,” but Secretary of State Mike Pompeo took them seriously enough to warn his Russian counterpart.

Mr. Trump and Mr. Putin have actually spoken seven times since Mr. Trump was provided with a written briefing in February about the bounties, twice in joint calls with the king of Saudi Arabia.

— Ms. Harris

Ms. Harris was referring to the president’s history of challenging the conclusions of the intelligence agencies that Russia interfered in the 2016 election in an effort to help him — and that the country is trying to do so again this year. In July 2018 in Helsinki, Mr. Trump stood next to President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia and made clear that he believed Mr. Putin’s denial that Russia had meddled on his behalf.

“They said they think it’s Russia,” Mr. Trump said. “I have President Putin; he just said it’s not Russia.” He added: “I will say this: I don’t see any reason why it would be” Russia that was responsible for the election hacking. Mr. Trump said that “President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today.”

— Mr. Pence

It is accurate that the United States’ levels of air pollutants such as smog, soot and asthma-causing nitrogen dioxide have declined steadily over the past 40 years. However, that reduction is largely attributed to the Environmental Protection Agency’s regulations on those pollutants, which have tightened over the years. The Trump administration has sought to weaken or freeze those rules.

It is also accurate that the United States typically ranks in the top 10 countries for safe drinking water by most measures. However, the Trump administration has also weakened major Clean Water Act regulations.

— Ms. Harris

In July 2015, President Trump described Senator John McCain of Arizona, a former prisoner of war, to a Republican presidential forum: “He’s not a war hero. He’s a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren’t captured.”

— Mr. Pence

The Islamic State did capture huge swaths of Iraq and Syria, but the Trump administration simply continued the same policy to dismantle the terrorist group that former President Barack Obama implemented in 2014. Mr. Trump did speed up decision-making to allow the military to move more quickly on raids, airstrikes, bombing missions and arming allies in Iraq, Syria and elsewhere.

But Mr. Trump also shunted blame to the Pentagon for mistakes, including after a botched raid in Yemen in January 2017 that killed a member of the Navy SEALs, despite the president having signed off on the raid himself.

“They explained what they wanted to do, the generals, who are very respected,” Mr. Trump told Fox News after the raid. “And they lost” the SEAL member, Chief Petty Officer William Owens.

— Mr. Pence

While it is true that the United States’ carbon dioxide emissions have declined by more than 10 percent in the past decade, more than a dozen other countries — including most of the European Union — have seen declines of more than twice that. Carbon emissions in the United States have declined in part recently because of the recession and collapse of a coal industry that the Trump administration tried to protect.

But U.S. carbon dioxide emissions are on track to begin increasing in the coming years, in part because of the Trump administration’s rollbacks of regulations on carbon dioxide pollution.

— Mr. Pence

Mr. Pence sought to blame the Obama administration for the challenges in responding to this year’s coronavirus pandemic, citing an “empty” Strategic National Stockpile. The stockpile was far from empty.

It is true that the stockpile, which includes supplies for responding to a range of national health disasters, was short of enough equipment such as masks to meet surging demand during the opening months of the pandemic. Greg Burel, who was the director of the stockpile until this year, told CBS News this year that the stockpile had not received funds to replace masks and other equipment that were used in response to the 2009 swine flu pandemic.

But Mr. Burel had said last year that the stockpile was an “$8 billion enterprise” that had undergone “a dramatic expansion of the scope” of its capabilities. A Washington Post reporter who visited one of the stockpile sites in 2018 described a massive warehouse with “hundreds of thousands of shrink-wrapped boxes of medicines” stacked nearly five stories high.

And while Mr. Pence points to the actions of the prior White House administration, his administration had three years to make investments to build out the stockpile. That didn’t happen.

— Mr. Pence

Mr. Pence made a very precise and therefore accurate claim. But it’s worth noting that these metrics do not fully capture the complex beliefs of a lawmaker.

Newsweek was referring to analysis from GovTrack, a service that monitors Congress. The website ranked Ms. Harris as the most liberal senator of 2019, based on each lawmaker’s patterns of serving as a co-sponsor of legislation. But it rated Mr. Sanders as more liberal than Ms. Harris in 2017, 2018 and 2020 so far. Joshua Tauber, GovTrack’s founder, also told The Times that “we’d be the first to disavow our analysis as proof that Senator Harris is radical.”

He noted that the rankings reflect just one aspect of a lawmaker’s job and do not capture the complex views an individual could hold so “our analysis does not reflect the totality of Harris’s political views.” DW-Nominate, an ideological position tracker based on votes, rated Ms. Harris as more liberal than Mr. Sanders but less liberal than Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts in the 2017 to 2019 legislative session.

Scoring by ideological groups also support Mr. Pence’s assertion. Mr. Sanders earned a higher lifetime score from the American Conservative Union than Ms. Harris, based on how their votes and positions align with conservative positions. Conversely, Ms. Harris received a higher score from Progressive Punch than Mr. Sanders.

— Mr. Pence

President Trump’s physician, Dr. Sean P. Conley, has repeatedly declined to answer several important questions about his illness, including when Mr. Trump had his last negative test for the coronavirus and his first positive one.

Dr. Conley also initially refused to say whether the president had received supplemental oxygen. It was only on Sunday, two nights after Mr. Trump arrived at the hospital, that Dr. Conley acknowledged Mr. Trump had a high fever and that his oxygen level dropped on Friday morning, before he was taken by helicopter to Walter Reed.

Dr. Conley has also not revealed anything about the condition of Mr. Trump’s lungs, though the president’s oxygen levels had dropped to a level that can indicate that a patient’s lungs are compromised.

— Mr. Pence

According to the White House’s Council of Economic Advisers, the typical family of four received a $2,000 tax cut in 2018, the first year that Mr. Trump’s tax cut was in effect. However, the statement is misleading because it suggests that the tax cuts were spread equitably across the country. The bulk of the tax cuts benefited the highest earners. Moreover, many of the individual tax cuts will expire in 2025 unless they are extended.

— Mr. Pence

Mr. Biden has described the tariffs that Mr. Trump imposed on more than $360 billion of Chinese products in the course of the trade war as erratic and self-defeating, and has called for more targeted measures against China, but he has not publicly committed to repealing all of the tariffs.

Mr. Biden actually appears reluctant to commit either way to fully keeping or eliminating the tariffs, and his aides have said that he plans to evaluate the tariffs once in office based on their impact on the American middle class.

— Mr. Pence

Mr. Biden’s climate change plan would end new leases for hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, for oil and gas on federal lands, but it does not ban existing fracking on public lands or new or existing fracking on private land.

— Ms. Harris

In a story drawing on several years of Mr. Trump’s tax returns, The New York Times reported last month that Mr. Trump “is personally responsible for loans and other debts totaling $421 million, with most of it coming due within four years.”

— Mr. Pence

Mr. Pence was quoting Ron Klain, once Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s chief of staff, who was the Obama administration’s Ebola response coordinator.

Mr. Klain, asked at an event last year about vaccine development and whether the Strategic National Stockpile of medical supplies was equipped to deal with a flu outbreak, said that “we did every possible thing wrong,” adding that it was “purely a fortuity that this wasn’t one of the great mass casualty events in American history.” But Mr. Klain said this year that his comments solely addressed the difficulties in producing a vaccine for the H1N1 virus, which caused the outbreak.

Mr. Klain fact-checked the vice president on his own:

— Ms. Harris

Ms. Harris appeared to be referring to a passage from Bob Woodward’s recent book, “Rage,” which recounts a Jan. 28 White House meeting at which President Trump’s national security adviser, Robert C. O’Brien, told Mr. Trump that the coronavirus “will be the biggest national security threat you face in your presidency.” During the same meeting, Mr. Woodward reported, Mr. O’Brien’s deputy, Matthew Pottinger, told Mr. Trump that the virus might rival the 1918 influenza pandemic, which killed an estimated 50 million people worldwide.

Mr. Trump did not relay such alarms to the public. “Hopefully it won’t be as bad as some people think it could be,” he said two days later, according to an Associated Press timeline. “We think we have it very well under control.”

“This is deadly stuff,” Mr. Trump said in an interview with Mr. Woodward a week later. “You just breathe the air and that’s how it’s passed,” he said adding: “It’s also more deadly than even your strenuous flus.”

Three days later, Mr. Trump again downplayed the virus, telling supporters: “I think the virus is going to be — it’s going to be fine.” And on Fox News he said, We’re in very good shape. We have 11 cases. And most of them are getting better very rapidly. I think they will all be better.”

As for Mr. Pence, even on Feb. 27 he assured reporters at a White House briefing that “the threat to the American public remains low of a spread of the coronavirus.”

— Ms. Harris

Economic estimates of job losses resulting from the president’s trade war with China vary but a September 2019 report by Moody’s Analytics estimated the trade fight had already cut overall American employment by 300,000 jobs and reduced economic output by 0.3 percentage points.

Farmer bankruptcies have risen during the trade war, which prompted China to impose retaliatory tariffs on American soybeans, pork and other agricultural products.

But the U.S. is not in a manufacturing recession, which is commonly defined as output shrinking for two consecutive quarters. Factory output was sluggish through 2019 in part as a result of the trade war and plummeted with the pandemic but has been recovering since April.

— Ms. Harris

Ms. Harris is referring to the Directorate of Global Health Security and Biodefense, a unit under the National Security Council that was established by the Obama administration and focused largely on pandemic preparedness. The team working on the unit was disbanded in May 2018, though a few of its members remained a part of the National Security Council.

“It’s impossible to assess the full impact of the 2018 decision to disband the White House office responsible for this work,” Beth Cameron, the first director of the unit, wrote in an op-ed for The Washington Post in March. “Biological experts do remain in the White House and in our government.”

But Dr. Cameron also noted that she was “mystified when the White House dissolved the office, leaving the country less prepared for pandemics like Covid-19.”

— Mr. Pence

This was a reference to a series of questions Ms. Harris asked Judge Brian Buescher in 2018 during hearings on his nomination to a federal District Court seat about his membership in the Knights of Columbus, an organization of Catholic men.

She did not say explicitly that his membership in the organization was disqualifying, but did ask whether Judge Beuscher was aware that the Knights of Columbus opposed same-sex marriage and abortion, and whether he held those views. Some religious groups and Republican senators accused Ms. Harris of exhibiting anti-Catholic bias with the questions.

— Mr. Pence

In 2009, the H1N1 flu virus infected about 60 million Americans and killed an estimated 12,500 people. Mr. Pence suggests that 2 million would have died if this strain of flu were as deadly as the coronavirus — 160 times the actual death toll. There’s not enough data to support the vice president’s statement, and it’s unclear how he arrived at these figures. Mr. Pence may be extrapolating from current estimates of the global burden of the coronavirus, which has infected more than 36 million people around the world and killed more than 1 million.

Roughly doubled, these statistics could arrive at about 2 million deaths among 60 million infections.

But experts have repeatedly stressed that it is extremely difficult to calculate the death rate linked to a new pathogen like the coronavirus during an ongoing outbreak — especially one as vast, fast-moving and geographically far-reaching as the Covid-19 pandemic. Researchers are still unsure what proportion of coronavirus infections are without symptoms; without adequate testing, these individuals are difficult to pinpoint and factor into case counts. And it is also difficult to tabulate deaths.

What has been so far, however, is that the coronavirus is more deadly and more contagious than typical seasonal flu viruses, which tend to kill around 0.1 percent of the people they infect.

— Mr. Pence

The United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, which replaced and updated the North American Free Trade Pact, passed the Senate in January with a vote of 89 to 10. Ms. Harris was one of 10 senators to vote against the pact.

She said she had concluded “that the USMCA’s environmental provisions are insufficient —and by not addressing climate change, the USMCA fails to meet the crises of this moment.”

— Ms. Harris

Mr. Biden’s stated campaign plan proposes to repeal some, but not all, of the tax cuts Mr. Trump signed into law in 2017. The House and Senate would have to pass new tax legislation to accomplish that.

— Ms. Harris

There are a range of estimates by independent economists for how much Mr. Trump’s 2017 tax cuts were projected to add to federal budget deficits over the course of a decade. Some of them are in the neighborhood of $2 trillion, including projections from the Penn Wharton Budget Model.

— Mr. Pence

Mr. Trump did not ban all travel from China, nor did Mr. Biden call his executive order restricting travel xenophobic.

The travel restrictions, put in place on Jan. 31, only applied to foreign citizens and included exceptions, ultimately allowing 40,000 people to travel from China to the United States from the end of January to April.

Mr. Biden has generally criticized Mr. Trump for “xenophobia” and “fear-mongering” in his response to the coronavirus. (Mr. Trump has used the phrase “Chinese virus” in describing the outbreak.) But The Times was unable to find an instance of him using those words to describe the restrictions specifically.

In April, the Biden campaign said that Mr. Biden supported the restrictions, as they had the backing of scientists and public health officials.

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