Fact check: Pence echoes Trump’s false claims
In the debate, they tangled over the Trump administration’s coronavirus response, the economy, health care and the climate crisis, as well as other topics.
CNN’s team watched the debate in Salt Lake City. Here are the facts.
Pence claimed that the Trump White House has “always” told the truth about Covid-19.
“Let’s talk about respecting the American people. You respect the American people when you tell them the truth,” Harris said. Pence then interjected, “Which we’ve always done.”
Facts First: That’s false. The Trump administration has not “always” been truthful about the pandemic.
CNN’s fact-check reporter Daniel Dale called this “a whopper of a lie.” That’s because Trump has made hundreds of false claims during the pandemic, including false claims about his travel restrictions, Covid-19 testing, the effectiveness of hydroxychloroquine, the national stockpile of ventilators, and more. In recent weeks, Trump even lied about lying about the virus.
Trump has also admitted, in a series of interviews with Washington Post journalist Bob Woodward, that he concealed the true threat of the coronavirus from the American public earlier this year. Trump said, “I wanted to always play it down. I still like playing it down, because I don’t want to create a panic.”
— Marshall Cohen
Coronavirus travel restrictions
Pence claimed Trump “suspended all travel from China” in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Facts First: This is false. While Trump did restrict travel from China, his policy was not an actual “ban”: It made exemptions for travel by US citizens, permanent residents, many of the family members of both groups and some others.
The New York Times reported in April that nearly 40,000 people had flown to the US from China since the restrictions went into effect in early February.
You can read more here about the travel restrictions Trump imposed on China here.
Trump’s coronavirus comments
“The President said it was a hoax,” Harris claimed in criticizing the administration’s downplaying of the coronavirus.
Harris is likely referring to Trump’s comments during a February rally, which the Biden campaign portrayed as Trump calling the coronavirus a “hoax” in a September campaign ad.
Facts First: This is misleading. Taken in totality, Trump’s comments at the February 28 rally indicate that he is deriding Democrats for attacking his performance on the coronavirus. A full 56 seconds pass between the two clips the campaign ad edited together.
In this section of his rally speech, Trump began by saying that “the Democrats are politicizing the coronavirus,” ridiculing Democrats for attacking his administration’s performance addressing the virus. The President then compared this attack to the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election and calling his impeachment a “hoax.”
Trump then said, “They’d 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.”
Here is what Trump said in full:
“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. They can’t even count their votes in Iowa. They can’t even count. No, they can’t. They can’t count their votes.
One of my people came up to me and said, “Mr. President, they tried to beat you on Russia, Russia, Russia. That didn’t work out too well. They couldn’t do it. They tried the impeachment hoax. That was on a perfect conversation. They tried anything. They tried it over and over. They’d 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.”
The next day Trump was asked about this comment and tried to clarify what he said, claiming he was “referring to the action that [the Democrats] take to try and pin this on somebody, because we’ve done such a good job. The hoax is on them.”
That said, Trump’s clarification has not stopped some of his supporters from believing the pandemic is, in fact, a hoax. One Trump supporter attending a campaign rally in Michigan on September 10 was asked by CNN’s Jim Acosta why he was not wearing a mask. “Because there’s no Covid,” he said. “It’s a fake pandemic created to destroy the United States of America.”
— Holmes Lybrand
Biden’s comments on Trump coronavirus response
Pence claimed that Biden called Trump’s travel restrictions on China “xenophobic.”
“Biden opposed that decision. He said it was xenophobic,” Pence said.
Facts First: This needs context. It’s not clear Biden even knew about Trump’s China travel restrictions when he called Trump xenophobic on the day the restrictions were unveiled; Biden has never explicitly linked his accusation of xenophobia to these travel restrictions.
The campaign says Biden’s January 31 accusations — that Trump has a record of “hysterical xenophobia” and “fear mongering” — were not about the travel restrictions at all. The campaign says Biden did not know about the restrictions at the time of his speech, since his campaign event in Iowa started shortly after the Trump administration briefing where the restrictions were revealed by Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar.
Given the timing of Biden’s remarks, it’s not unreasonable for Pence to infer that the former vice president was talking about the travel restrictions. But Biden never took an explicit position on the restrictions until his April declaration of support.
You can read more about Biden’s comments here.
— Holmes Lybrand
Green New Deal
Pence said that “while Joe Biden denied the Green New Deal… the Green New Deal is on their campaign website.”
Facts First: This is true but needs context. Biden’s campaign website does say the resolution is a “crucial framework” for addressing climate change, but his own plan differs from it in several ways. In particular, Biden’s plan does not include some of the Green New Deal’s proposed economic actions, such as guaranteeing a job for every American.
After lauding the “framework” of the Green New Deal, Biden’s campaign webpage on the environment lays out the bullet points of the candidate’s own plan to combat climate change, which includes items like building out energy-efficient infrastructure and setting a goal for the US to reach zero emissions by 2050.
While the two plans overlap on some environmental objectives, Biden’s plan does not include many of the social welfare proposals of the Green New Deal. For instance, he is not calling for a guaranteed job for each American with family and medical leave and paid vacations, as the deal proposes.
In other ways, the proposals differ less dramatically. Biden’s plan also has a goal of creating a carbon-pollution-free energy sector by 2035, whereas the Green New Deal proposed reaching 100% clean power in 10 years.
— Holmes Lybrand
Pence claimed that the Biden campaign wants to “ban fracking.”
Facts First: This is misleading. Biden is not running on a proposal to completely ban fracking (hydraulic fracturing, a drilling method used to extract natural gas or oil). However, there is at least some basis for Pence’s claim: During the Democratic primary, Biden sometimes suggested he was proposing to get rid of all fracking. He’s also pledged to “establish an enforcement mechanism to achieve net-zero emissions no later than 2050,” which would almost certainly require a significant reduction in fracking.
Biden’s written plan never included a full ban on fracking; rather, it proposes “banning new oil and gas permitting on public lands and waters,” not ending all new fracking anywhere or ending all existing fracking on public lands and waters. Biden has explicitly said he does not support a nationwide fracking ban (though in part because he doesn’t believe such a ban would pass).
Biden created confusion about his stance with some of his comments during the Democratic primary. For example, he had this exchange with CNN’s Dana Bash during a July 2019 debate:
Bash: “Thank you, Mr. Vice President. Just to clarify, would there be any place for fossil fuels, including coal and fracking, in a Biden administration?”
Biden: “No, we would — we would work it out. We would make sure it’s eliminated and no more subsidies for either one of those, either — any fossil fuel.”
Could a president even ban fracking alone? No.
Without an act of Congress, the president could not issue an outright ban on fracking across the US. There are, however, a number of regulatory and executive actions an administration could take to prevent or shrink the use of fracking technology, particularly on federal land. However, most fracking takes place on private land, and any attempts to limit it would likely face legal challenges.
— Holmes Lybrand
Pence claimed the Obama administration “left the Strategic National Stockpile empty.”
Facts First: This is misleading.
The Strategic National Stockpile was not empty before the coronavirus pandemic. For example, the stockpile contains enough smallpox vaccines for every American, among other medical resources.
While Trump isn’t wrong to suggest he inherited a depleted stockpile of some medical supplies — the stockpile of masks, for example, was drained and not replenished by the Obama administration — it was not completely empty; he inherited significant quantities of other supplies. Congress repeatedly did not pay for the stockpile to be replenished. And Trump had three years in office to build depleted stockpiles back up.
A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Human Services also confirmed to CNN in late June that there had been about 19,000 ventilators in the national stockpile for “many years,” including 16,660 ventilators that were ready for immediate use in March 2020; the spokesperson confirmed that none of those 16,660 were purchased by the Trump administration.
You can read a longer fact check here.
— Tara Subramaniam
This is a breaking story and will be updated.