WASHINGTON — Although more buttoned-up on the stage than his boss, Vice President Mike Pence nevertheless echoed many of President Donald Trump’s falsehoods Wednesday in the one and only debate with Democratic rival Kamala Harris.
Pence muddied the reality on the pandemic, asserted Trump respects the science on climate change when actually the president mocks it, overstated the threat of voting fraud and misrepresented the Russia investigation in the Salt Lake City debate.
Harris got tangled in tax policy at one point and misleadingly suggested that Trump branded the coronavirus a hoax.
Altogether, the debate wasn’t the madhouse matchup of Trump vs. Joe Biden last week. But there were plenty of distortions. A sampling:
PENCE: “Joe Biden wants to go back to the economic surrender to China, that when we took office, half of our international trade deficit was with China alone. And Joe Biden wants to repeal all of the tariffs that President Trump put into effect to fight for American jobs and American workers.”
THE FACTS: The tariffs were not the win claimed by Pence.
For starters, tariffs are taxes that consumers and businesses pay through higher prices. So Pence is defending tax increases. The tariffs against China did cause the trade deficit in goods with China to fall in 2019. But that’s a pyrrhic victory at best as overall U.S. economic growth slowed from 3% to 2.2% because of the trade uncertainty.
More important, the Trump administration has not decreased the overall trade imbalance. For all trading partners, the Census Bureau said the trade deficit was $576.9 billion last year, nearly $100 billion higher than during the last year of Barack Obama’s presidency.
HARRIS, on Trump’s tax cuts: “On Day 1, Joe Biden will repeal that tax bill.”
THE FACTS: No, that’s not what Biden proposes. He would repeal some of it. Nor can he repeal a law on his own, much less on his first day in office. Harris also said Biden will not raise taxes on people making under $400,000. If he were to repeal the Trump tax cuts across the board, he would be breaking that promise.
PENCE, on the Sept. 26 Rose Garden event after which more than 11 attendees tested positive for COVID-19: “It was an outdoor event, which all of our scientists regularly and routinely advise.”
THE FACTS: His suggestion that the event followed public-health safety recommendations is false. The event, introducing Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett, drew more than 150 people and flouted safety recommendations in multiple ways. And it was not all outside.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says large gatherings of people who have traveled from outside the area and aren’t spaced at least 6 feet apart pose the greatest risk for spreading the virus.
That’s exactly the type of high-risk event the White House hosted.
Guests were seated close together, not 6 feet apart, in rows of chairs outside. Many were captured on camera clapping backs, shaking hands and talking, barely at arm’s length.
The CDC also “strongly encourages” people to wear masks, but few in the Rose Garden wore them. There was also a private reception inside the White House following the Rose Garden ceremony, where some politicians, including North Carolina Republican Sen. Thom Tillis, who has since tested positive, were pictured not wearing masks.
HARRIS on the virus: “The president said it was a hoax.”
THE FACTS: That’s misleading.
She’s referring to a Feb. 28 campaign rally in South Carolina in which Trump said the phrases “the coronavirus” and “this is their new hoax” at separate points. Although his meaning is difficult to discern, the broader context of his words shows he was railing against Democrats for their denunciations of his administration’s coronavirus response.
“Now the Democrats are politicizing the coronavirus,” he said at the rally. “You know that, right? Coronavirus. They’re politicizing it.” He meandered briefly to the subject of the messy Democratic primary in Iowa, then the Russia investigation before returning to the pandemic. “They tried the impeachment hoax. … And this is their new hoax.”
Asked at a news conference the day after the rally to clarify his remarks, Trump said he was not referring to the coronavirus itself as a hoax.
“No, no, no.” he said. ”‘Hoax’ referring to the action that they take to try and pin this on somebody, because we’ve done such a good job. The hoax is on them, not — I’m not talking about what’s happening here. I’m talking what they’re doing. That’s the hoax.”