FactChecking the Vice Presidential Debate
The candidates disagreed on the facts regarding the coronavirus, jobs, taxes and more.
Posted on October 8, 2020
In the first and only vice presidential debate, Sen. Kamala Harris and Vice President Mike Pence parroted many of the false and misleading claims we have heard from the top of the tickets.
- Harris misleadingly said President Donald Trump’s tax law benefited “the top 1% and the biggest corporations.” Actually most households received some tax cut.
- Pence said that Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden “is going to raise your taxes.” Biden’s plan says that’s true only for Americans making over $400,000 a year.
- Pence said that if the 2009 H1N1 pandemic had been as lethal as the novel coronavirus, “we would have lost 2 million American lives.” That’s a misleading comparison.
- Pence said “many” of the people in a crowded Rose Garden event “were tested” for the coronavirus. But testing isn’t enough to prevent infection.
- Harris said President Donald Trump had called the coronavirus “a hoax.” Trump said he was referring to Democrats finding fault with his administration’s response to the coronavirus, not the virus itself.
- Pence claimed Trump “secured” a law that saved 50 million jobs. The package was passed 96-0 in the Senate. A university expert estimated perhaps 5 million to 7 million jobs were preserved.
- Pence said the Trump administration “in our first three years … saw 500,000 manufacturing jobs created,” ignoring jobs lost since the pandemic. As of September, 164,000 manufacturing jobs have been lost.
- Harris falsely claimed Trump’s China trade war cost 300,000 manufacturing jobs. The U.S. gained 146,000 factory jobs during the first 18 months after the tariffs took effect.
- The vice president said that “there are no more hurricanes today than there were 100 years ago.” Climate change may not increase the number of storms, but it is making them more severe.
- Pence claimed that the U.S. “has reduced CO2 more than the countries that are still in the Paris climate accord.” But many nations taking part in the Paris Agreement have slashed emissions by a larger percentage.
- Pence did not provide the context in which Hillary Clinton said “under no circumstances should” Biden “concede the election.” She said Biden will be the declared winner when all absentee and mail-in ballots are counted, so he shouldn’t concede if it’s still close on Election Day.
- Pence warned that “universal mail-in voting” will “create a massive opportunity for voter fraud.” Election experts say the number of known cases is relatively rare.
- The candidates disagreed on whether the Trump administration had eliminated a team that planned for responses to public health emergencies. It eliminated the director’s role, but consolidated some team functions elsewhere.
- Pence falsely claimed the Trump administration has a plan to protect people with preexisting conditions; it has offered no such plan.
- Harris said that “there will be no more protection … for people with preexisting conditions” under Trump if the Supreme Court overturns the Affordable Care Act. Protections would largely remain in place for those with employer-sponsored health plans, but not on the individual market.
- Pence disputed Harris’ claim that Trump “refused to condemn white supremacists” at the presidential debate. Trump didn’t offer a clear condemnation in the debate; Pence then referred to other instances in which he did.
- Pence repeated the false claim that the Obama administration left the Strategic National Stockpile “empty.” That’s not so.
- Pence claimed that Biden and Harris “want to abolish fossil fuels and ban fracking.” Biden said he wants to ban new permitting on public land; most fracking occurs in non-public areas.
- Pence wrongly said Trump “suspended all travel from China,” when the restrictions included exceptions.
There were other repeated claims from Pence on the economy, the Osama bin Laden raid and the FBI.
The debate was held at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City on Oct. 7.
When it came to taxes, both sides spun the facts about Biden’s and Trump’s record and positions.
Harris said Trump “passed a tax bill benefiting the top 1% and the biggest corporations of America.” As we have written repeatedly, while those with higher incomes reaped greater benefits from the tax law, most households received a tax cut.
The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act — a Republican-crafted bill that the president signed into law on Dec. 22, 2017 — provided tax cuts to those at all income levels, on average. The Tax Policy Center estimated that about 65% of households paid less in federal income tax in 2018 under the tax law than they would have paid under the old tax laws, while about 6% paid more.
A higher percentage of high-income taxpayers got a tax cut, and that tax cut was, on average, greater than the tax cuts for those with lower incomes (both in dollar amounts and as a percentage of after-tax income). But 82% of middle-income earners — those with income between about $49,000 and $86,000 — received a tax cut that averaged about $1,050 in 2018, the Tax Policy Center estimated.
We should note that most of the individual income tax provisions expire after 2025, which will then shift most of the tax benefits to the top 1%. An analysis by the Tax Policy Center found that the top 1% of income earners would get 20.5% of the tax cut benefits in 2018. That percentage would go up to 25.3% in 2025 and then jump to 82.8% in 2027.
Pence responded with some spin of his own, repeatedly saying that Biden has promised to repeal the Trump tax cuts and that “on day one, Joe Biden is going to raise your taxes.”
It’s true, as Pence said, that during the presidential debate on Sept. 29, Biden vowed, “I’m going to eliminate the Trump tax cuts.” But Pence is ignoring that Biden has repeatedly said he will eliminate the tax cuts in the Trump plan only for those making more than $400,000 a year.
During the vice presidential debate, Harris used the same shorthand that Biden did, saying, “On day one, Joe Biden will repeal that tax bill, he’ll get rid of it.”
Pence seized on that comment, saying, “America, you just heard Sen. Harris tell you, on day one, Joe Biden is going to raise your taxes.”
“That’s not what I said,” Harris responded, later adding, “the truth and the fact is Joe Biden has been very clear he will not raise taxes on anybody who makes less than $400,000 a year.”
Biden has consistently stuck to that promise ever since. In numerous instances, Biden has made clear that he would not repeal the entirety of the Trump tax cuts, but rather that he would eliminate “Donald Trump’s tax cut for the wealthy,” as he put it in the first Democratic primary debate in June 2019.
But direct taxes such as income taxes are not the whole story when it comes to evaluating the impact of Biden’s tax plan. While the Biden plan does not call for any direct tax increases for anyone making less than $400,000, independent tax analysts say Biden’s plan to raise the corporate tax rate will indirectly affect employees due to lower investment returns or lower wages over time.
As a result, most Americans would see a reduction in after-tax income, but “[t]he change would be small for most of those middle- and lower-income households—on average, only a fraction of a percent of their after-tax income—and we estimate that 80 percent of the new tax revenue would come from the top 1 percent by income,” according to John Ricco, a senior tax analyst at the Penn Wharton Budget Model.
Biden’s tax plan includes provisions such as imposing a payroll tax on earnings over $400,000, restoring a top income tax rate of 39.6% for income above $400,000, and increasing the top corporate tax rate from 21% to 28%.
Ricco said that “[v]ery few families would be sending larger checks to the IRS (or having more money withheld from their paychecks) under Biden’s proposal.”
But when you include Biden’s plan to increase corporate taxes, the Penn Wharton Budget Model analysis found that “the tax plan will affect 82 percent of families,” Ricco said. “But instead of seeing their taxes go up directly, those additional families are paying the corporate tax hikes in the form of lower investment returns or lower wages over time.”
According to the Penn Wharton Budget Model — which estimates the Biden tax plan would raise between $3.1 trillion and $3.7 trillion over 10 years — middle-income earners would see their after-tax income decline by 0.4%, or $180, on average.
Garrett Watson, a senior policy analyst at the Tax Foundation, told us via email that “it’s more precise to say that Biden’s plan would lower the incomes of 82 percent of Americans as a result of the tax changes, but not that it would generate a larger direct tax bill for those Americans.”
In defending his record on the coronavirus pandemic, Pence misleadingly pointed to Biden’s handling of 2009’s H1N1 pandemic.
“When Joe Biden was vice president of the United States, not 7.5 million people contracted the swine flu; 60 million Americans contracted the swine flu,” he said. “If the swine flu had been as lethal as the coronavirus in 2009 when Joe Biden was vice president, we would have lost 2 million American lives.”
It’s true that around 60 million Americans are thought to have contracted swine flu — but that’s an estimate based on modeling after the fact, which is not comparable to the raw count of the number of Americans infected with COVID-19.
And it’s precisely because the influenza pandemic was not especially lethal that fewer precautions were taken to prevent infections.
Pence’s 2 million calculation of deaths appears to be based on a rough estimate of COVID-19’s case fatality rate, or the percentage of people who die who are identified as having the disease. But it’s still a tad high.
According to figures from Johns Hopkins University, the case fatality rate as of Oct. 7 is 2.9% worldwide and 2.8% in the U.S. If applied to the 60.8 million H1N1 infections the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates occurred, that would be around 1.7 million to 1.8 million deaths.
In reality, though, the pandemic influenza strain was not particularly deadly, and the CDC’s estimate is that 12,469 deaths occurred over a year.
Not only has it not been a full year since the novel coronavirus hit the U.S., but those estimates for the 2009 pandemic are based on modeling — not individually counted cases, unlike the COVID-19 tally — and corrected for underreporting. A similarly estimated number of cases and lost lives from COVID-19 would almost certainly be higher than the current figures.
Dr. Tom Frieden, president and CEO of the global health initiative Resolve to Save Lives, noted in an Oct. 5 blog post that the actual number of coronavirus infections in the U.S. is likely at least 40 million.
As we have written, the two viruses were very different and required different responses. Frieden, who was head of the CDC during the H1N1 pandemic, told us that in 2009 it wasn’t necessary to trace contacts or ask people to quarantine. The nation also never temporarily shut down to limit the spread of the virus.
“The current pandemic is much more severe,” he said, “which is why we have used public health and social measures to box in the virus.”
Pence then went on to repeat a misleading claim that Trump has made before. Referring to Biden, Pence said, “his own chief of staff, Ron Klain, would say last year that it was pure luck, that they did ‘everything possible wrong.’”
While it’s true that Klain said something similar at a May 14, 2019, Pandemic and Biosecurity Policy Summit, he has also said that his comments are out of context when presented like that.
As we’ve written before, Klain told us he was talking specifically about delays in the rollout of the vaccine, not the administration’s overall response to the H1N1 pandemic.
Testing Not Enough
So far, the president and 10 other people who attended a Sept. 26 White House announcement of Trump’s Supreme Court nominee have tested positive for COVID-19. In answering a question about the White House not following its own safety guidelines during that incident, Pence said that “many of the people who were at that event … actually were tested for coronavirus” and that “it was an outdoor event, which all of our scientists regularly routinely advise.”
But, as we’ve written before, testing is not enough to prevent infection. It can take days for COVID-19 to become detectable in an infected person, and the rapid tests used by the White House are less sensitive than traditional tests.
“They alone cannot stop the test taker from getting infected. But can serve to stop onward spread from the tester,” he wrote. “To stop from getting infected, masks/social distancing are needed.”
And while outdoor events do mitigate some of the risk of COVID-19 spreading, scientists have made it clear that gatherings such as Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s introduction in the Rose Garden are still dangerous. The CDC classifies large outdoor or indoor gatherings “where it is difficult for individuals to remain spaced at least 6 feet apart and attendees travel from outside the local area” as “highest risk.” The CDC also recommends mask wearing among other safety measures to further minimize infection risk.
And while Pence referred to the ceremony as an “outdoor event,” that’s not entirely accurate. In addition to the outside reception in the Rose Garden, there was also an indoor reception in the White House. The New York Times published several photos from that reception, which was attended by the president, Barrett and her family, and other prominent Republicans — all maskless and close together.
Trump’s ‘Hoax’ Comment
When asked about the Trump administration’s response to COVID-19, Harris said, “The president said it was a hoax.” Trump referred to the Democrats’ “new hoax” after talking about the coronavirus at a rally on Feb. 28 in South Carolina, but clarified the next day he was referring to Democrats finding fault with his administration’s response to the coronavirus, not the virus itself.
At the late February rally, Trump said: “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 tried the impeachment hoax. … They tried anything. … And this is their new hoax.”
The following day, after the first death in the U.S. from the coronavirus, Trump was asked in a press conference if he regretted using the word “hoax.” He replied: “No. No. No. 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.”
Dubious 50 Million Jobs Claim
Pence claimed the president “secured” a program that saved 50 million jobs.
Pence: [Trump] secured $4 trillion from the Congress of the United States to give direct payments to families [and] save 50 million jobs through the paycheck protection program.
First, the cost of the relief package that included the PPP was over $2 trillion, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, not $4 trillion.
And the idea that Trump “secured” it is a stretch. He signed it all right, but it passed 96-0 in the Senate with Harris herself voting for it. The House passed the bipartisan measure by a simple voice vote.
The claim that it saved 50 million jobs is much disputed. What we know is that the economy lost 22 million jobs in March and April. How many more might have been lost without the bipartisan aid package can’t be known.
But Richard Prisinzano, director of policy analysis at the University of Pennsylvania’s Penn Wharton Budget Model and a former Treasury Department analyst in both Republican and Democratic administrations, puts the jobs saved at between 5 million and 7 million.
Manufacturing Jobs and a Magic Wand
Pence misleadingly said the Obama administration lost 200,000 manufacturing jobs in eight years, while the Trump administration created 500,000 jobs “in our first three years.”
Pence counts the job losses caused by the Great Recession against Obama, but ignores the job losses caused by COVID-19 under Trump. As of September, 164,000 jobs have been lost under Trump.
The fact is that both administrations were saddled with recessions.
Obama, who took office in January 2009, inherited the Great Recession, which began in December 2007 and lasted until June 2009. The recession and its lingering effects reduced the number of manufacturing jobs by more than 1.1 million in Obama’s first 14 months in office. But after March 2010, when manufacturing jobs hit a low of 11.5 million, the economy added 916,000 manufacturing jobs under Obama.
The net result under Obama: a loss of 192,000 manufacturing jobs.
The uneven but steady rise of manufacturing jobs continued under Trump, until roughly around the time the novel coronavirus struck — although there was a slowdown in 2019 even prior to the pandemic.
In Trump’s first three years, the economy added 475,000 manufacturing jobs. However, all but 19,000 of those jobs were added in the first two years, as the manufacturing sector in 2019 began to slow down. In 2020, the economy so far has shed 661,000 manufacturing jobs — wiping out all the gains from the first three years and then some.
The net result under Trump: a loss of 164,000 manufacturing jobs.
Pence also said this about the manufacturing jobs lost under Obama: “When Joe Biden was vice president we lost 200,000 manufacturing jobs and President Obama said they were never coming back. He said we needed a magic wand to bring them back.”
Obama’s “magic wand” remark came during the 2016 campaign, when Trump was promising to renegotiate trade deals to bring back manufacturing jobs. Obama said “some manufacturers” were returning to the U.S., because of low energy prices and a large U.S. market. But, he added, other jobs would not be returning — requiring retraining for the new manufacturing jobs being created.
The former president then went on to mock Trump’s promise to negotiate better trade deals, using the term “magic wand.”
“[W]hen somebody says, like the person you just mentioned who I’m not going to advertise for, that he’s going to bring all these jobs back, well how exactly are you going to do that? What are you going to do?” Obama said, referring to Trump. “There’s — there’s no answer to it. He just says, ‘Well, I’m going to negotiate a better deal.’ Well, how — what — how exactly are you going to negotiate that? What magic wand do you have? And usually, the answer is he doesn’t have an answer.”
False Factory Jobs Claim
Harris falsely said Trump’s tariffs on goods from China had cost the U.S. 300,000 manufacturing jobs.
Harris: Because of a so-called trade war with China, America lost 300,000 manufacturing jobs.
The facts are contrary: The U.S. actually gained 146,000 manufacturing jobs after the president’s tariffs on Chinese goods went into effect July 6, 2018, and before the COVID-19 pandemic forced mass layoffs in March.
To be sure, some economists said the China tariffs contributed to a mild downturn in manufacturing last year, but there were other causes as well, including safety problems with Boeing’s 737 Max aircraft and a strong dollar that made U.S. goods more expensive to buy overseas. But even in the worst month last year (October), the U.S. still had 104,000 more manufacturing jobs than it did when Trump’s tariffs went into effect.
Harris was referring to an estimate from frequent Trump critic Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics, who has estimated that the China trade war resulted in 300,000 fewer total jobs being created in the U.S. But that’s not just manufacturing. And it refers to jobs that might have been created but weren’t, not a loss of current jobs.
We don’t know if Zandi’s estimate is correct. Perhaps more jobs might have been created without the tariffs. But it’s a fact that the economy added 3.4 million jobs overall after the China tariffs took effect in July 2018 and before the pandemic-induced layoffs began in March.
Hurricanes & Climate Change
When asked whether he agreed with the scientific consensus on climate change, Pence pivoted to clean air and conservation, before suggesting that it’s unknown what the cause is.
“Now with regard to climate change, the climate is changing,” he said. “The issue is, what’s the cause, and what do we do about it? President Trump has made it clear that we’re going to continue to listen to the science.”
But scientists have a very good idea of what’s causing climate change: humans. The U.S. government’s own 2018 National Climate Assessment clearly states that the issue is far from unsettled.
“Global average temperature has increased by about 1.8°F from 1901 to 2016,” a key message of the report reads, “and observational evidence does not support any credible natural explanations for this amount of warming; instead, the evidence consistently points to human activities, especially emissions of greenhouse or heat-trapping gases, as the dominant cause.”
Later, Pence gave a misleading impression about the link between climate change and hurricanes.
“And with regard to hurricanes, the National Oceanic Administration tells us that actually, that as difficult as they are, there are no more hurricanes today than there were 100 years ago,” he said.
Pence is correct that climate change may not be increasing the raw number of hurricanes. But it has been tied to more extreme hurricanes.
A Q&A from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration explains that Atlantic hurricane activity has “increased since the 1970s,” but that the short length of good hurricane records makes it difficult to say how much of the increase is due to human activity.
“With future warming, hurricane rainfall rates are likely to increase, as will the number of very intense hurricanes, according to both theory and numerical models,” the webpage, which was written to explain the National Climate Assessment, continues. “However, models disagree about whether the total number of Atlantic hurricanes will increase or decrease.”
“Regardless of any human-influenced changes in storm frequency or intensity, rising sea level will increase the threat of storm surge flooding during hurricanes,” the site adds.
The National Climate Assessment itself is even more direct.
“Increases in greenhouse gases and decreases in air pollution have contributed to increases in Atlantic hurricane activity since 1970. In the future, Atlantic and eastern North Pacific hurricane rainfall and intensity are projected to increase,” the report concludes.
“In the future, the total number of tropical storms is generally projected to remain steady, or even decrease, but the most intense storms are generally projected to become more frequent, and the amount of rainfall associated with a given storm is also projected to increase,” it adds.
And the evidence on climate change making hurricanes worse keeps getting stronger. Earlier this year, NOAA scientists published an analysis of satellite data that found between 1979 and 2017, tropical cyclones across the globe became about 8% more likely each decade to be a category 3 storm or higher. The greatest changes in storm severity were in the North Atlantic.
As part of his answer on climate change, Pence also spun the facts on America’s carbon dioxide emissions.
“You know, what’s remarkable is the United States has reduced CO2 more than the countries that are still in the Paris climate accord,” he said. “But we’ve done it through innovation. And we’ve done it through natural gas and fracking.”
Pence didn’t give a time frame for the claim, but Trump has made similar boasts in the past, when he said that since 2000, U.S. emissions “declined more than any other country on Earth” — and more than any of the Paris accord signatories.
As we’ve written, that’s only true in terms of an absolute reduction in emissions. Many countries that are part of the Paris pact — which is nearly the entire world — have cut their emissions by a larger percentage, according to data from the International Energy Agency.
In the past decade, numerous industrialized nations have posted larger percentage declines than the United States’ 11% drop between 2010 and 2019, including Denmark (39%), Sweden (31%), the U.K. (29%), Italy (23%), Ireland (15%), France (14%), Germany (13%) and Spain (12%).
Hillary Clinton on Biden Not Conceding
Pence said that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told Biden not to concede the election to Trump, but Pence did not provide the context in which she made that remark.
Clinton did not say Biden should not concede if Trump wins, as Pence suggested. She said she believes, when all absentee and mail-in ballots are counted, Biden will be the winner, and so he should not concede if the election results are still close on Election Day.
“And now Hillary Clinton has actually said to Joe Biden that, in her own words, that ‘under no circumstances should he concede the election,’” Pence said. He was referring to comments Clinton made during an August interview for Showtime’s “The Circus.”
In the clip, Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign communications director, Jennifer Palmieri, asked Clinton: “If it’s a close election, like, say Biden wins, what do you think Trump will do?”
Clinton went on to describe how she believes the Trump campaign is planning on “messing up absentee balloting,” particularly by challenging absentee and mail-in ballots, so that Trump has a “narrow advantage” on Election Day. But Clinton noted that in some cases when “courts had ordered absentee ballots to be counted, if they were postmarked on Election Day, Democrats actually won some important races.”
So, she urged Biden to wait because after all votes have been counted, she believes Biden will be declared the winner.
“And, you know, Joe Biden should not concede under any circumstances because I think this is going to drag out, and eventually I do believe he will win if we don’t give an inch and if we are as focused and relentless as the other side is,” Clinton said.
Pence echoed Trump’s repeated warnings about the potential for large-scale voter fraud due to the expansion of mail-in voting in many states this year in response to the pandemic.
Pence said the Trump campaign is fighting in courthouses around the country to block states from changing voting rules this year “creating this universal mail-in voting that’ll create a massive opportunity for voter fraud.”
By “universal,” Pence is referring to some states automatically mailing absentee ballots to registered voters without voters having to request them.
Elections experts say mail-in voting is somewhat less secure than in-person voting — and in that sense Pence has a point that there may be more opportunities for fraud — but those experts also say that mail-in voter fraud is far less prevalent than the rhetoric of the president and vice president suggest. That’s due in part to measures states use to track and verify the authenticity of mail-in ballots.
“Election fraud committed with absentee ballots is more prevalent than in person voting but it is still rare,” Richard L. Hasen, a professor of law and political science at the University of California, Irvine School of Law, and author of “The Voting Wars,” told us via email back in April. “States can and do take steps to minimize the risks, especially given the great benefits of convenience — and now safety — from the practice.”
Justin Levitt, a law professor at Loyola Marymount University and voter fraud expert, told us that while misconduct in the mail voting process is “meaningfully more prevalent than misconduct in the process of voting in person” it “still amounts to only a tiny fraction of the ballots cast by mail.”
Over the past year, Trump has made numerous false, misleading and unsupported claims about mail-in ballots, some of which we summarized in our Sept. 25 story, “Trump’s Repeated False Attacks on Mail-In Ballots.”
Pandemic Planning Team
The candidates disagreed about how the Trump administration handled a National Security Council group dedicated to planning the national response to global health security threats, such as the COVID-19 pandemic.
“There’s a weird obsession that President Trump has had with getting rid of whatever accomplishment was achieved by President Obama and Vice President Biden. For example, they created within the White House an office that basically was responsible for monitoring pandemics,” Harris said. “They got rid of it.”
Pence shook his head and said, “Not true.”
Numerous experts and groups at the time had cautioned against doing away with that position, but getting rid of it didn’t necessarily mean that everyone who was part of the team was fired or that all of its functions ceased.
Responding to claims at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic that the office had been dissolved, Tim Morrison, former senior director for counterproliferation and biodefense for the NSC, said that the group had been reorganized. He wrote in the Washington Post on March 16 that the administration “create[d] the counterproliferation and biodefense directorate, which was the result of consolidating three directorates into one, given the obvious overlap between arms control and nonproliferation, weapons of mass destruction terrorism, and global health and biodefense. It is this reorganization that critics have misconstrued or intentionally misrepresented.”
Morrison led that directorate for a year, he wrote, before leaving that position. Another official replaced him, he said. The administration has decreased staffing at the NSC, something Morrison said was needed after “bloat” under the previous administration.
Similarly, John Bolton, who was the national security adviser at the time Ziemer left, said on Twitter in March: “Claims that streamlining NSC structures impaired our nation’s bio defense are false. Global health remained a top NSC priority, and its expert team was critical to effectively handling the 2018-19 Africa Ebola crisis.”
Also at the time, Beth Cameron, former senior director for the NSC team under Obama, wrote in the Post that disbanding that directorate “left an unclear structure and strategy for coordinating pandemic preparedness and response.”
Months before the pandemic arose, a report issued in November 2019 by the bipartisan think tank Center for Strategic & International Studies had recommended that the global health security and biodefense directorate be reinstated. It reasoned, “Health security is national security. Strong, coherent, senior-level leadership at the National Security Council (NSC) is essential to guarantee effective oversight of global health security and biodefense policy and spending, speed and rigor in decisionmaking, and reliable White House engagement and coordination when dangerous pandemics inevitably strike.”
The directorate hasn’t been reinstated, but since parts of it have been reorganized elsewhere in the NSC, saying that it was eliminated completely goes too far.
Preexisting Conditions Disagreement
Pence and Harris had a disagreement on whether Trump would eliminate protections for people with preexisting health conditions. We found fault with both.
“Donald Trump is in court right now trying to get rid of the Affordable Care Act and I said it before and it bears repeating,” Harris said. “This means that there will be no more protections, if they win, for people with preexisting conditions.” Pence replied, “No.”
Harris is correct that the Trump administration supports a lawsuit to strike down the ACA, which prohibits insurers from denying coverage, charging more or excluding coverage of certain conditions based on health status. But she went too far when she said there would be “no more protections, if they win, for people with preexisting conditions,” suggesting everyone with existing health issues would lose all protections.
Nearly half of all Americans have employer-based plans, which could not deny insurance even before the ACA — except for a limited period for new employees if they had a lapse in coverage.
Earlier in the debate, Pence said, “President Trump and I have a plan to improve health care and protect preexisting conditions for every American.” But no plan has been released.
The Trump administration has yet to offer a health care plan that would be implemented in place of the ACA. Trump signed an executive order on Sept. 24 that said “access to health insurance despite underlying health conditions should be maintained” even if the ACA were struck down in court. But he hasn’t provided details, and, as we have written, the executive order is meaningless without an act of Congress.
Trump’s Debate Response on White Supremacy
In criticizing Trump on issues of race, Harris revisited a controversy from the first presidential debate, saying that “last week, the president of the United States took a debate stage in front of 70 million Americans and refused to condemn white supremacists.”
Pence claimed that was “not true.”
Harris continued: “And it wasn’t like he didn’t have a chance. He didn’t do it, and then he doubled down. And then he said, when pressed, ‘Stand back, stand by.’”
Trump didn’t offer a clear condemnation in the debate; Pence then referred to other instances in which he did.
During the Sept. 29 debate between Biden and Trump, moderator Chris Wallace asked Trump if he was willing “to condemn white supremacists and militia groups.” Trump’s first response was: “Sure, I’m willing to do that.” When pressed by Biden to denounce the Proud Boys, a far-right group, Trump told the group to “stand back and stand by.”
Here’s the relevant portion of the transcript from that debate.
Wallace: You have repeatedly criticized the vice president for not specifically calling out antifa and other left-wing extremist groups. But are you willing tonight to condemn white supremacists and militia groups and to say that they need to stand down and not add to the violence in a number of these cities as we saw in Kenosha and as we’ve seen in Portland.
Trump: Sure, I’m willing to do that.
Wallace: Are you prepared specifically to do it?
Trump: I would say almost everything I see is from the left-wing, not from the right-wing.
Wallace: But what are you saying?
Trump: I’m willing to do anything. I want to see peace.
Wallace: Well, do it, sir.
Biden: Say it, do it, say it.
Trump: What do you want to call them? Give me a name, give me a name, go ahead who do you want me to condemn.
Wallace: White supremacists and right-wing militia.
Biden: Proud Boys.
Trump: Proud Boys, stand back and stand by. But I’ll tell you what, I’ll tell you what, somebody’s got to do something about antifa and the left because this is not a right-wing problem this is a left-wing …
While the Proud Boys has denied it tolerates white supremacy, the Anti-Defamation League says that some members “espouse white supremacist and anti-Semitic ideologies and/or engage with white supremacist groups.”
Following the presidential debate, some GOP members called on Trump to clarify his comments and to clearly condemn such groups. “I agree with @SenatorTimScott statement about President Trump needing to make it clear Proud Boys is a racist organization antithetical to American ideals,” Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham tweeted.
In an Oct. 1 interview with Sean Hannity, Trump said: “I have said it many times. And let me be clear again. I condemn the KKK. I condemn all white supremacists. I condemn the Proud Boys. I don’t know much about the Proud Boys, almost nothing, but I condemn that.”
Pence during the vice presidential debate responded to Harris in part by saying that Trump has repeatedly “condemned the KKK, neo-Nazis and white supremacists.” We’ve previously documented a number of instances in which the president has done so.
Stockpile Wasn’t Empty
Pence repeated the false claim that the Obama administration left the Strategic National Stockpile “empty.” That’s not so.
Some personal protective equipment, such as N95 respirator masks, distributed from the stockpile to states during 2009’s H1N1 influenza pandemic was not restocked. But that doesn’t mean there were none of those items available when Trump was inaugurated.
As of 2016, the year before Trump took office, there were at least six warehouses holding “approximately $7 billion in products across more than 900 separate line items,” according to a report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. In addition, reporters who were allowed to tour at least one of the U.S. facilities that year described seeing “shelves packed with stuff” and “row after row of containers filled with mystery medications and equipment — including that one item everyone’s been talking about lately, ventilators.”
The federal government had more than 16,000 ventilators in stock — more than it ended up distributing amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Pence claimed that Biden and Harris “want to abolish fossil fuels and ban fracking which would cost hundreds of thousands of American jobs all across the heartland.”
He later said to Harris: “You, yourself said on multiple occasions when you were running for president that you would ban fracking. Joe Biden looked a supporter in the eye and pointed and said, ‘I guarantee — I guarantee that we will abolish fossil fuels.’”
It’s true Harris supported banning fracking during her run as a presidential candidate, and at times during the Democratic primary, Biden did tell environmental activists and protesters that he would “end” or “get rid of fossil fuels.”
But the climate change plan that Biden has proposed does not include a full ban on either fossil fuels or fracking.
It calls for “banning new oil and gas permitting on public lands and waters.” That would allow for existing fracking permits to continue on federal lands and does nothing to prohibit fracking in non-federal areas — where most crude oil and natural gas is produced.
“I am not banning fracking,” Biden said emphatically at an Aug. 31 campaign rally in Pittsburgh.
As for fossil fuels, generally, Biden’s plan is to reduce the reliance on them and reach net-zero emissions no later than 2050. Net-zero means the amount of greenhouse gases emitted in the U.S. would be matched by the amount sequestered, or removed, from the atmosphere. In theory, this allows fossil fuels to be used with carbon capture technologies or other sequestration efforts.
China Travel Repeats
Pence repeated a false talking point of Trump’s, saying the president “suspended all travel from China” to combat the coronavirus.
As we’ve written before, the travel restrictions, which went into effect on Feb. 2, were not a total ban as they included exceptions for U.S. citizens, permanent residents and the immediate family members of both. Others who had traveled to China within the prior two weeks were prohibited from entering the U.S.
A New York Times story on April 4 found that nearly 40,000 people had flown on direct flights from China to the United States in the two months after the travel restrictions went into effect.
Pence also claimed that Biden opposed the restrictions and called them “xenophobic.” Biden’s campaign said on April 3 that the former vice president supported the travel restrictions and that his “xenophobic” comment was in reference to Trump’s “long record of scapegoating others,” not the travel restrictions. Biden referred to Trump’s “record of hysteria and xenophobia” on the same day those travel prohibitions were announced.
Pence falsely said that Trump had “turned this economy around.”
In fact, as we wrote when Trump took office and after his 2020 State of the Union, the economy was doing quite well when Trump and Pence succeeded President Barack Obama and Vice President Biden in January 2017.
Let’s start with jobs. “Since my election, we have created 7 million new jobs,” Trump said in the State of the Union (taking credit for thousands of jobs created after the election but while Obama was still president). In the 35 months after Trump actually took office, the economy added just under 6.4 million jobs. (Of course, the economy has since been hammered by the COVID-19 pandemic and jobs have plummeted.)
But the rate of job growth (pre-pandemic) actually slowed down a bit under Trump. In the 35 months before he took office, the economy added nearly 8 million jobs.
As for gross domestic product growth, the economy had posted seven straight years of annual increases in real (inflation-adjusted) GDP under Obama. It grew 3.1% in 2015, and while it grew less robustly the following year (1.7%), the 2015 rate was higher than the rate in two of Trump’s first three years in office.
It is true that unemployment was quite low in Trump’s first three years. The average rate during Trump’s first three years was 3.9%, compared with an average monthly rate of 7.4% under Obama, 5.3% under George W. Bush and 5.2% under Bill Clinton. But the jobless rate was down to 4.7% by the time Trump took office — well below the historical norm of 5.6%, which is the median monthly rate for all the months since the start of 1948.
Biden’s Stance on Osama bin Laden Raid
Pence at one point made the claim that “Joe Biden actually opposed the raid against Osama bin Laden.”
Biden, as we explained, said publicly in mid-2011 and early 2012 that he advised Obama during a national security strategy meeting in April 2011 to not proceed with the raid until there was further confirmation that bin Laden was actually in the compound in Pakistan. Other officials’ accounts from the meeting offer similar details about his skepticism.
But Biden also claimed — months later and in the time since — that in a private meeting with Obama immediately after that security meeting, he told the president to “follow your instincts,” knowing that Obama was inclined at that time to move forward with the raid.
We don’t know what was said in a private meeting, and Biden’s story has no doubt evolved over time. But it’s worth noting that even the early version of Biden’s recollection holds that he advised Obama to seek confirmation before carrying out the raid — not that he opposed conducting it altogether.
FBI Didn’t ‘Spy’ on Trump Campaign
Pence also said falsely, “The FBI actually spied on President Trump’s and my campaign.” This echoes a claim made frequently over the years by Trump that Obama had spied on his campaign.
But the Justice Department’s inspector general has investigated and found that there is no truth to that allegation.
As we wrote, the FBI launched a counterintelligence investigation on July 31, 2016, into whether individuals associated with the Trump campaign were coordinating with the Russian government based on information from a “Friendly Foreign Government,” according to the Department of Justice’s Office of the Inspector General report on the origins of the investigation.
The inspector general’s report released in December 2019 found no evidence of illegal “spying” — either before or after the FBI opened the investigation, known as Crossfire Hurricane.
The report said that the Crossfire Hurricane team conducted an “initial analysis of links between Trump campaign members and Russia,” and then opened four individual cases in August 2016 — on Trump campaign associates George Papadopoulos, Carter Page, Paul Manafort and Michael Flynn. The IG report reviewed the department’s handling of those four cases.
“We found no evidence that the FBI used CHSs [confidential human sources] or UCEs [undercover employees] to interact with members of the Trump campaign prior to the opening of the Crossfire Hurricane investigation,” the report said. “After the opening of the investigation, we found no evidence that the FBI placed any CHSs or UCEs within the Trump campaign or tasked any CHSs or UCEs to report on the Trump campaign.”
The report said the interactions between the Trump campaign aides and the FBI’s confidential sources “received the necessary FBI approvals” and were “consensually monitored and recorded by the FBI.”
Editor’s Note: Please consider a donation to FactCheck.org. We do not accept advertising. We rely on grants and individual donations from people like you. Credit card donations may be made through our “Donate” page. If you prefer to give by check, send to: FactCheck.org, Annenberg Public Policy Center, 202 S. 36th St., Philadelphia, PA 19104.
This fact check is available at IFCN’s 2020 US Elections FactChat #Chatbot on WhatsApp. Click here for more.
Farley, Robert. “Biden’s Position on Osama bin Laden Raid.” FactCheck.org. 8 Jan 2020.
Farley, Robert. “Trump Has Condemned White Supremacists.” FactCheck.org. 11 Feb 2020.
“Interview: Sean Hannity Interviews Donald Trump Live Via Telephone.” Factbase. 1 Oct 2020.
Niedzwiadek, Nick, et. al. “Republicans to Trump: Condemn white supremacy now.” Politico. 30 Sep 2020.
“Proud Boys.” Anti-Defamation League. Accessed 7 Oct 2020.
Shannon, Joel. “Who are the Proud Boys? Far-right group has concerned experts for years.” USA Today. 30 Sep 2020.
Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Employment, Hours, and Earnings from the Current Employment Statistics survey; All employees, thousands, manufacturing, seasonally adjusted.” Data extracted 7 Oct 2020.
“Questions for President Obama: A Town Hall Special.” Transcript. PBS NewsHour. 1 Jun 2016.
Keith, Katie. “Trump Administration Asks Court To Strike Down Entire ACA.” Health Affairs. 26 Mar 2019.
Claxton, Gary et al. “Pre-existing Conditions and Medical Underwriting in the Individual Insurance Market Prior to the ACA.” Kaiser Family Foundation. 12 Dec 2016.
“Health Insurance Coverage of the Total Population.” Kaiser Family Foundation. Data extracted 7 Oct 2020.
White House. “Executive Order on An America-First Healthcare Plan.” 24 Sep 2020.
Fichera, Angelo. “Viral Post Overstates Effect of Trump’s Order on Preexisting Conditions.” FactCheck.org. 6 Oct 2020.
Farley, Robert. “Trump’s Latest Voter Fraud Misinformation.” FactCheck.org. 10 Apr 2020.
Kiely, Eugene and Rieder, Rem. “Trump’s Repeated False Attacks on Mail-In Ballots.” FactCheck.org. 25 Sep 2020.
McDonald, Jessica. “Final Night of the Democratic Convention.” FactCheck.org. 26 Aug 2020.
Congress.gov. H.R.1, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. Introduced 02 Nov 2017.
Nunns, James R. “An Analysis of Donald Trump’s Revised Tax Plan.” Tax Policy Center. 18 Oct 2016.
Sammartino, Frank. “The Effect of The TCJA Individual Income Tax Provisions Across Income Groups and Across the States.” Tax Policy Center. 28 Mar 2018.
Tax Policy Center. “Distributional Analysis of the Conference Agreement for the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.” 18 Dec 2017.
Long, Heather. “Joe Biden says he won’t raise taxes on anyone making under $400,000.” Washington Post. 22 May 2020.
Jackson, Brooks. “Republican Convention Night 2.” FactCheck.org. 26 Aug 2020.
Farley, Robert. “Trump Distorts Biden’s Tax Plan.” FactCheck.org. 13 May 2020.
Penn Wharton Budget Model. “The Updated Biden Tax Plan: Budgetary, Distributional, and Economic Effects.” 10 Mar 2020.
Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Labor Force Statistics from the Current Population Survey; All employees, thousands, manufacturing, seasonally adjusted.” Data extracted 8 Oct 2020.
Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Employment, Hours, and Earnings from the Current Employment Statistics survey (National); Total Nonfarm Employment, Seasonally Adjusted.” Data extracted 8 Oct 2020.
Layne, Rachel. “Trump trade war with China has cost 300,000 U.S. jobs, Moody’s estimates.” CBS News. 12 Sep 2019.
The White House. “Remarks by President Trump at Signing of H.R.748, The CARES Act.” 27 Mar 2020.
U.S. Senate Vote #80. 22 Mar 2020.
“2009 H1N1 Pandemic (H1N1pdm09 virus).” CDC. Accessed 8 Oct 2020.
McDonald, Jessica. “Trump Misleads on H1N1 Swine Flu Testing.” FactCheck.org. 16 Jul 2020.
COVID-19 Dashboard. Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University. Accessed 8 Oct 2020.
Shrestha, Sundar S. et al. “Estimating the burden of 2009 pandemic influenza A (H1N1) in the United States (April 2009-April 2010).” Clinical Infectious Diseases. Vol. 52, Jan 2011.
Frieden, Tom. “Covid Epi Weekly: 40 million plus 1. And…NYC is on the brink of a precipice.” LinkedIn. 5 Oct 2020.
Robertson, Lori and Farley, Robert. “Trump Spins Quotes by/About Biden.” FactCheck.org. 14 Sep 2020.
Hayhoe, Katharine et al. Chapter 2, “Our Changing Climate.” In Impacts, Risks, and Adaptation in the United States: Fourth National Climate Assessment, Volume II. U.S. Global Change Research Program.
“Could climate change make Atlantic hurricanes worse?” NOAA. 29 May 2019.
“Link Between Earth’s Heat and Hurricane Strength Grows.” National Centers for Environmental Information, NOAA. 19 May 2020.
Kossin, James P. et al. “Global increase in major tropical cyclone exceedance probability over the past four decades.” PNAS, 2020.
McDonald, Jessica. “Trump’s False ‘Facts’ on the Environment.” FactCheck.org. 5 Sep 2019.
McDonald, Jessica et al. “Trump Twists Facts in Environmental Speech.” FactCheck.org. 10 Jul 2019.
Apparicio, Soila and Natalie Sauer. “Which countries have not ratified the Paris climate agreement?” Climate Home News. 13 Aug 2020.
Data and statistics. International Energy Agency. Accessed 8 Oct 2020.
Jackson, Brooks. “What President Trump Inherits.” FactCheck.org. 20 Jan 2017.
Kiely, Eugene et. al. “FactChecking the State of the Union.” FactCheck.org. 5 Feb 2020.
Kiely, Eugene, Robertson, Lori, and Farley, Robert. “How Old Claims Compare to IG Report.” FactCheck.org. 10 Dec 2019.
Kiely, Eugene, and Rieder, Rem. “Trump’s Misleading Spin on Roger Stone’s Conviction.” FactCheck.org. 13 July 2020.
White House press conference. Transcript. Rev.com. 29 Feb 2020.
Donald Trump Charleston, South Carolina Rally. Transcript. Rev.com 28 Feb 2020.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Considerations for Events and Gatherings. updated 7 Jul 2020.
McDonald, Jessica and Robertson, Lori. “Updated: Q&A on Trump’s COVID-19 Diagnosis.” FactCheck.org. 2 Oct 2020.