WASHINGTON (AP) - Playing defense on his handling of the coronavirus, President Donald Trump is letting the falsehoods fly.
Over the weekend, he railed against cases of voting fraud that didn’t exist, asserted that COVID-19 was “rounding a corner” despite what his top health advisers say and blasted Joe Biden for supposed positions on energy and health care that his Democratic rival doesn’t hold.
As the rhetoric flew during the past week, both Trump and Biden exaggerated accomplishments - Trump about himself and Biden about his son, Beau - as well as their own influence in reviving the auto industry.
A recent sampling:
TRUMP: “We are rounding the corner.” - remarks Sunday at a Latino roundtable event in Las Vegas.
TRUMP: The coronavirus “is rounding the turn, rounding the corner.” - remarks Saturday to reporters in Reno, Nevada.
THE FACTS: To be clear, that’s not what his top health advisers say.
“I’m sorry but I have to disagree with that,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government’s top infectious diseases expert, told MSNBC on Friday, calling the current coronavirus levels seven months into the pandemic “disturbing.”
He expressed concern about a potential spike in cases following the Labor Day holiday beyond a present rate of 40,000 cases a day and 1,000 deaths.
“What we don’t want to see is going into the fall season, when people will be spending more time indoors - and that’s not good for a respiratory-borne virus - you don’t want to start off already with a baseline that’s so high,” Fauci said.
Fauci this past week also cautioned that people should not “underestimate” the pandemic and they will “need to hunker down and get through this fall and winter because it’s not going to be easy.” He and other health experts such as Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, have warned of a potentially bad fall because of dual threats of the coronavirus and the flu season.
AWARDS and HONORS
TRUMP: “Remember, Miami Cubans gave me the highly honored Bay of Pigs Award for all I have done for our great Cuban Population!” - tweet Sunday.
THE FACTS: No such award exists.
Trump got an endorsement in 2016 from the Bay of Pigs Veterans Association, the first ever from the group of Florida-based veterans who fought in the United States’ failed attempt to overthrow the Cuban government in the 1961 invasion. But no award comes with it.
BIDEN, on a report in The Atlantic that Trump referred to service members killed in war as “losers” or “suckers”: “My son volunteered to go - as the assistant U.S. attorney in Philadelphia - to go into Kosovo. He was there six months. They erected a monument to him thanking him for his service, I think the only American that they did that for. And was he a sucker?” - interview Thursday on CNN.
THE FACTS: Beau Biden isn’t the only American to receive such honors from Kosovo.
It’s true that there is a road named after Biden’s late son and a monument in his honor in Kosovo, where he served as a legal adviser as the region recovered from war in 2001. But former presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton also have roadways named after them, and there are statues in Kosovo of Clinton and former Sen. Bob Dole.
Trump has denied that he ever called military members losers or suckers.
TRUMP: “We’re developing a vaccine in record time. It will be ready before the end of the year and maybe much sooner than that.” - rally Saturday in Minden, Nevada.
TRUMP: “You’ll have this incredible vaccine, and … in speed like nobody has ever seen before. This could’ve taken two or three years, and instead it’s going to be - it’s going to be done in a very short of period of time. Could even have it during the month of October.” - news conference on Sept. 7.
THE FACTS: He’s almost certainly raising unrealistic hopes as the November election approaches.
The Food and Drug Administration already has told manufacturers it won’t consider any vaccine that’s less than 50% effective. Getting the right math before November, as Trump has promised, is “incredibly unlikely,” said Dr. Larry Corey of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Institute, who is overseeing the U.S. government’s vaccine studies.
Public health experts are worried that Trump will press the FDA to approve a vaccine before it is proven to be safe and effective.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government’s top infectious diseases expert, has said he is “cautiously optimistic” that a coronavirus vaccine will be ready by early next year. Even then, Fauci made clear that the vaccine would not be widely available right away.
“Ultimately, within a reasonable period of time, the plans now allow for any American who needs a vaccine to get it within the year 2021,” Fauci told Congress last month.
Dr. Francis Collins, the director of the National Institutes of Health, also expressed “cautious optimism” this past week that one of the vaccines being tested will pan out by year’s end. But he warned: “Certainly to try to predict whether it happens on a particular week before or after a particular date in early November is well beyond anything that any scientist right now could tell you.”
The “particular date” is Nov. 3, Election Day.
TRUMP, on Biden: “He wants to do a complete shutdown.” - Nevada rally on Saturday.
TRUMP: “The approach to the virus is a very unscientific blanket lockdown by the Democrats.” - news conference Thursday.
TRUMP: “Biden’s plan for the China virus is to shut down the entire U.S. economy.” - news conference on Sept. 7.
THE FACTS: That’s not Biden’s plan at all. Biden has said he would shut down the economy only if scientists and public health advisers recommended he do so to stem the COVID-19 threat. He said he would follow the science, not disregard it.
Biden told ABC last month he “will be prepared to do whatever it takes to save lives” when he was asked if he would even be willing to shut the country again.
“I would listen to the scientists,” he said. If they said to shut it down, “I would shut it down.”
TRUMP: Biden will “destroy protections for preexisting conditions.” - Nevada rally on Saturday.
THE FACTS: This is baseless. Biden proposes building on “Obamacare” and does not seek to strip that law’s insurance protections for people with preexisting illness.
The Trump administration has asked the Supreme Court for full repeal of the health law, including provisions that protect people with preexisting conditions from health insurance discrimination. Republicans say they’d put new protections in place, but they haven’t spelled them out.
Trump has frequently claimed he will always protect preexisting conditions despite evidence to the contrary and has even asserted falsely that he was the one who “saved” such protections.
With the Obama-era law still in place, preexisting conditions continue to be covered by regular individual health insurance plans.
Insurers must take all applicants, regardless of medical history, and charge the same standard premiums to healthy people and those who are in poor health, or have a history of medical problems.
TRUMP: “He wants to ban fracking.” - Nevada rally on Saturday.
THE FACTS: That’s not Biden’s position at all.
In a March 15 primary debate, Biden misstated his fracking policy but his campaign quickly corrected the record. Biden has otherwise been consistent on his middle-of-the-road position, going so far as to tell an anti-fracking activist that he “ought to vote for somebody else” if he wanted an immediate fracking ban.
Trump continually ignores the correction.
Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, opened up a yearslong oil and gas boom in parts of the Southwest, Northeast and High Plains when the technique went into widespread use under the Obama administration, although the coronavirus pandemic and a global petroleum glut have now driven down prices and demand.
Biden floundered in the March primary debate when Sen. Bernie Sanders spoke of his own proposal, saying he was intending to wind down fracking entirely. “So am I,” Biden replied. “No more - no new - fracking.”
Biden’s campaign contacted reporters to say he misspoke, and the candidate and his campaign have been consistent in public statements of Biden’s position since.
Biden supports banning only new oil and gas permits, fracking included, on federal land. But most U.S. production is on private land - the U.S. Bureau of Land Management says production on federal land accounted for less than 10% of oil and gas in 2018. That amounts to a far more limited restriction than a full “ban” as Trump asserts.
TRUMP: “When Joe Biden was vice president, his failed approach to the swine flu was disastrous. … And 60 million Americans got H1N1 in that period of time. …We did everything wrong, it was a disaster.” - news conference Thursday.
THE FACTS: This is a distorted history of a pandemic in 2009 that killed far fewer people in the United States than the coronavirus is killing now. For starters, Biden as vice president wasn’t running the federal response. And that response was faster out of the gate than when COVID-19 came to the U.S.
Then, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s flu surveillance network sounded the alarm after two children in California became the first people diagnosed with the new flu strain in this country.
About two weeks later, the Obama administration declared a public health emergency against H1NI, also known as the swine flu, and the CDC began releasing anti-flu drugs from the national stockpile to help hospitals get ready. In contrast, Trump declared a state of emergency in early March, seven weeks after the first U.S. case of COVID-19 was announced, and the country’s health system struggled for months with shortages of critical supplies and testing.
More than 190,000 people have died from COVID-19 in the U.S. The CDC puts the U.S. death toll from the 2009-2010 H1N1 pandemic at about 12,500.
TRUMP: “Was Andy McCabe ever forced to pay back the $700,000 illegally given to him and his wife, for his wife’s political campaign, by Crooked Hillary Clinton while Hillary was under FBI investigation, and McCabe was the head of the FBI??? Just askin’?” - tweet Saturday.
THE FACTS: Trump is distorting facts. This tweet refers to a campaign contribution received by the wife of former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe during her unsuccessful bid for the Virginia state Senate. Almost everything Trump says about it is wrong.
The contribution to the campaign was not from Hillary Clinton but rather from a political action committee of her ally, former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, and there was nothing illegal about it.
McCabe did not become involved in the FBI investigation into Clinton’s email practices until after his wife’s campaign had ended, and at no point during the probe - which concluded in 2016 - was he ever head of the FBI. That did not happen until May 2017, when Trump fired James Comey as FBI director, making McCabe the acting director for several months.
BIDEN: “President Obama and I rescued the auto industry and helped Michigan’s economy come roaring back.” - tweet Wednesday.
THE FACTS: Biden is assigning too much credit to Barack Obama and himself for saving the auto industry.
As an initial matter, what the Obama administration did was an expansion of pivotal steps taken by Obama’s predecessor, President George W. Bush.
In December 2008, General Motors and Chrysler were on the brink of financial collapse. The U.S. was in a deep recession and U.S. auto sales were falling sharply. GM, Chrysler and Ford requested government aid, but Congress voted it down.
With barely a month left in office, Bush authorized $25 billion in loans to GM and Chrysler from the $700 billion bailout fund that was initially intended to save the largest U.S. banks. Ford decided against taking any money. Once in office, Obama appointed a task force to oversee GM and Chrysler, both of which eventually declared bankruptcy, took an additional roughly $55 billion in aid, and were forced to close many factories and overhaul their operations.
All three companies recovered and eventually started adding jobs again.
TRUMP: “We brought you a lot of car plants, you know that right? … I saved the U.S. auto industry.” - Michigan rally Thursday.
BIDEN, on Michigan’s economy: “Donald Trump squandered it - and hardworking Michiganders are paying the price every day.” -tweet Wednesday.
THE FACTS: Both Trump and Biden are overstating it. Trump did not wreck Michigan’s economy, but he certainly didn’t bring an auto industry boom, either.
In fact, the number of auto and parts manufacturing jobs in the state fell slightly between Trump’s inauguration and February of this year, before the coronavirus took hold.
When Trump took office there were 174,200 such jobs, and that dropped to 171,800 in February, according to Labor Department statistics. While most plants shuttered for about eight weeks after the pandemic hit, many are back running near capacity again, at least for now. In July, the most recent figures available, Michigan had 154,400 auto and parts manufacturing jobs.
Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat, recently said the state’s economy was operating now at 87% of pre-pandemic levels, citing figures from Moody’s Analytics and CNN.
TRUMP: “Instead of focusing on radical ideology, my administration is focused on delivering real results. And that’s what we have. Right now we have the cleanest air ever we’ve ever had in this country - let’s say over the last 40 years.” - remarks Tuesday in Jupiter, Florida.
FACTS: He’s not responsible for all of the progress - far from it.
All six air pollution measurements monitored by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency showed that in 2019 the U.S. air was the cleanest on record. But the most important pollutant, tiny particles, was essentially about the same as 2016, only down 1%, according to Carnegie Mellon University environmental engineering professor Neil Donahue. The same figures also showed that air pollution rose in the first two years of the Trump administration before falling greatly in 2019.
Donahue and three other outside experts in air pollution said the president was wrongly taking credit for what years, even decades, of ever-increasing emissions restrictions caused.
H. Christopher Frey, an engineering professor at North Carolina State University and former chief of the EPA’s air quality scientific advisory board, said that “current trends in air quality are for reasons irrespective of, or despite, policies of the Trump administration.” Instead he and Donahue attributed it to a shift from use of dirtier coal - a shift the Trump administration has fought against - and to newer, cleaner cars replacing older vehicles.
BIDEN: “Troops died in Iraq and Afghanistan: 6,922. … Military COVID deaths: 6,114. Folks, every one of these lives mattered.” - remarks Wednesday in Warren, Michigan.
THE FACTS: He’s way off on the number of coronavirus deaths in the U.S. military.
According to the Defense Department, just seven members of the military have died from COVID-19, including reservists and those in the National Guard.
The Biden campaign acknowledged he had misspoken. citing overall coronavirus deaths in Michigan instead of U.S. military deaths in a mix-up.
TRUMP: “We’re pretty much out of Syria.” - news conference Thursday.
THE FACTS: Not so much.
Last year close to 30 U.S. troops moved out of two outposts near the border area where a Turkish attack on the country was initially centered. But the U.S. currently has about 700 troops deployed to Syria, a number that hasn’t changed a lot lately.
TRUMP, on mail-in voting: “Who’s sending it back? Who’s signing? They don’t even have to have an authorized signature in Nevada.” - Nevada rally on Saturday.
THE FACTS: Not true. Nevada’s existing law requires signature checks on mail ballots. A new law also spells out a process by which election officials are to check a signature against the one in government records.
In Nevada’s June primary, nearly 7,000 ballots were thrown out due to mismatched or missing signatures.
TRUMP, on Democrats: “They’re trying to rig this election … Tiny amounts, a congressional race in New York, a small number of votes. If you go to New Jersey, if you go to Virginia, if you go to Pennsylvania, if you go to California, look at some of these races, every one of these races was a fraud, missing ballots.” - Nevada rally on Saturday.
TRUMP, retweeting an Associated Press analysis projecting the number of ballots that get rejected will soar this fall because of increased mail-in voting: “Rigged Election!” - tweet Tuesday.
THE FACTS: No, defective ballots do not equate to fraud. The overwhelming majority aren’t.
According to the Brennan Center for Justice, the vast majority of ballots are disqualified because they arrive late - what Trump describes as going “missing” - a particular worry this year because of recent U.S. Postal Service delays and an expected surge in mail-in voting during the coronavirus pandemic.
Ballots also are deemed defective if there is a missing signature - common with newer voters unfamiliar with the process - or it doesn’t match what’s on file. In addition, some states require absentee voters to get a witness or notary to sign their ballots.
“None of those are fraud,” said Wendy Weiser, director of Brennan’s democracy program at NYU School of Law. When suspected cases are investigated for potential fraud, studies have borne out the main reason for defects is voter mistake.
The AP analysis published on Sept. 7 found that rejections of absentee ballots could triple compared with 2016 in some battleground states, potentially tipping the election outcome.
It said voters “could be disenfranchised in key battleground states” and that nullified votes could be “even more pronounced in some urban areas where Democratic votes are concentrated and ballot rejection rates trended higher during this year’s primaries.” That’s far from an election “rigged” against Trump.
Associated Press writers Jonathan Lemire in Las Vegas, Eric Tucker, Lauran Neergaard, Seth Borenstein, Josh Boak, Christopher Rugaber, Robert Burns and James LaPorta in Washington, Tom Krisher in Detroit, and Alexandra Jaffe in Warren, Michigan, contributed to this report.
EDITOR’S NOTE - A look at the veracity of claims by political figures.
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