FactChecking Biden’s Town Hall
By D'Angelo Gore, Lori Robertson and Eugene Kiely
Posted on October 22, 2021
We spotted a few instances in President Joe Biden’s televised town hall when his answers didn’t square with the facts:
- Biden said that both he and his wife had “been” to the U.S-Mexico border. But the White House press secretary said he was referring to a brief drive by the border in October 2008, and Jill Biden went in December 2019 — not since becoming first lady.
- The president said the top marginal income tax rate was 35%, but it’s 37%.
- Biden said “community policing” caused a significant drop in violent crime in the late 1990s. Experts have said more police did help, but there were many potential reasons.
- Biden cited the large increase in vaccinations under his watch and credited buying “everything … in sight.” But while his administration did increase the government’s orders with vaccine manufacturers, the Trump administration had options in place to order more.
- He said “we’ve created more jobs in the first eight months of my administration than any president in American history.” That’s correct but doesn’t acknowledge the unique circumstances as the country continues to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic’s economic fallout.
The Oct. 21 prime time town hall on CNN was held in Baltimore at a “pivotal moment” for Biden, as host Anderson Cooper put it. Congressional Democrats are trying to come to an agreement on a reconciliation plan that would incorporate many of Biden’s social policy goals.
The Bidens at the Border
When Cooper followed up on an immigration question posed by a college student who asked Biden why he had not been to the “southern border of our country” as president, Biden gave a few reasons and said that he had “been there before.”
Cooper: Do you have plans to visit the southern border?
Biden: I’ve been there before, and I haven’t — I mean, I know it well. I guess I should go down. But the — but the whole point of it is: I haven’t had a whole hell of lot of time to get down. I’ve been spending time going around looking at the $900 billion worth of damage done by — by hurricanes and floods and — and weather, and traveling around the world.
But I plan on — now, my wife, Jill, has been down. She’s been on both sides of the river. She’s seen the circumstances there. She’s looked into those places.
It turns out that Biden was talking about a brief drive by the U.S.-Mexico border in the fall of 2008, when he traveled for a campaign rally in Mesilla, New Mexico.
When asked about the president’s town hall remarks in an Oct. 22 press briefing, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said, “There’s been reporting that he did drive through the border when he was on the campaign trail in 2008, and he is certainly familiar with the fact, and it stuck with him, with the fact that in El Paso, the border goes right through the center of town.”
David E. Wade, who was a traveling press officer for the Obama-Biden campaign at the time, told the Washington Post‘s Fact Checker that Biden’s motorcade took him from the airport in El Paso, Texas, to the New Mexico suburb of Las Cruces. “The drive took Biden along a route that for a few minutes hugs the border of the United States and Mexico,” the Fact Checker reported.
As for Jill Biden, she visited a refugee camp in Mexico for people seeking asylum to the U.S. in December 2019. But that was during her husband’s presidential campaign — not while she was first lady, as the president’s comments may have led people to believe.
Jill Biden was there with religious and local leaders, as well as volunteer organizations, who went to the encampment in Matamoros — across the border from Brownsville, Texas — to provide meals and gifts to the migrants as they awaited their day in U.S. immigration hearings.
Wrong on Top Tax Rate
At one point, an audience member asked Biden if wealthy Americans aren’t paying their fair share, then “what is the percentage of income that you believe is fair?”
In response, the president got the top marginal tax rate wrong. He said “the highest tax rate is 35%” in “this present tax code,” but it is actually 37%, according to the IRS.
IRS, May 17: For tax year 2021, the top tax rate remains 37% for individual single taxpayers with incomes greater than $523,600 ($628,300 for married couples filing jointly).
The other rates are:
35%, for incomes over $209,425 ($418,850 for married couples filing jointly);
32% for incomes over $164,925 ($329,850 for married couples filing jointly);
24% for incomes over $86,375 ($172,750 for married couples filing jointly);
22% for incomes over $40,525 ($81,050 for married couples filing jointly);
12% for incomes over $9,950 ($19,900 for married couples filing jointly).
The lowest rate is 10% for incomes of single individuals with incomes of $9,950 or less ($19,900 for married couples filing jointly).
The last time the top rate was 35% was in the tax year 2012, when Biden was vice president and the Bush-era tax cuts were still in effect.
The top marginal tax rate was cut to 35% from 39.6% when President George W. Bush was president. The top rate returned to 39.6% for the tax year 2013 after then-President Barack Obama signed the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012. Under then-President Donald Trump, the top rate was reduced for tax year 2018 to 37% — where it currently stands.
Many Factors for Crime Drop
Biden credited community policing for a significant decrease in violent crime in the late 1990s. Experts have said more police on the streets did contribute at least somewhat to the drop, but there were several other factors.
Biden: Look, when we had community policing initially in the late ’90s, violent crimes dropped significantly, significantly. And the reason it did is because we had significant number of police.
We have fact-checked a similar claim in the past, when Biden suggested the 1994 crime legislation, which funded community policing, was responsible for cutting violent crime. The violent crime rate has dropped significantly from the 1990s. From 1994 to 2020, the drop in the rate is 44%, and just from 1994 to 2000, the drop was 29%.
While community policing did contribute to the decline in crime, according to some experts, there were several other potential factors. And one expert told us “no one agrees” on what caused it.
As we’ve written before, experts with the Brennan Center for Justice said in 2016 that the 1994 crime bill “likely helped … by putting more cops on the street, studies show.” The authors said, “Research also indicates smarter policing tactics, like the ones funded by the bill, and social and economic factors — like an aging population and decreased alcohol consumption — played a role in the crime decline as well.”
A 2005 Government Accountability Office report estimated that funding in the law for Community Oriented Policing Services, which led to an increase in police officers in the tens of thousands, helped, but not by much. The GAO said the funding “contributed to a 1.3 percent decline in the overall crime rate [from 1993 to 2000] and a 2.5 percent decline in the violent crime rate from the 1993 levels.” But the report said other factors were responsible for most of the decrease in crime.
John Worrall, a professor of criminology at the University of Texas at Dallas, previously told us “the jury is very much still out” on what caused the drop. “Criminologists and economists are in no agreement as to the causes of the crime declines we’ve seen,” Worrall said in 2016. “Could be economic, demographic, a civilizing effect, possibly because of abortion or lead paint, tougher sentences, etc., etc. A dozen or more explanations have been offered and no one agrees.”
In a 2007 report published in the journal Criminology, Worrall and co-authors said their findings “suggest that COPS spending had little to no effect on crime.”
But he cautioned us, “Ours is one voice in a crowd. Some have found no effect. I am comfortable saying modest effect. It could not have hurt to strengthen the police presence.”
Misleading Vaccine Boast
Biden reprised a claim he’s made before — talking about the large increase in vaccinations under his watch and crediting buying every vaccine “in sight.” The administration did increase the federal government’s orders with Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna, but even under the Trump administration, there were options in place to order more from the two companies.
Biden: When I first was elected, there were only 2 million people had COVID shots in the United States of America, the vaccine. Now we’ve got 190 million because I went out and bought everything I could do and buy in sight and it worked.
First, Biden’s 2 million figure is wrong — however, that was the estimate at the time on how many were fully vaccinated on the day he was inaugurated, as we reported. But the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s figures are constantly updated as more information is gathered. The statistics now show that 3.4 million were fully vaccinated as of Jan. 20, and 18.8 million people had received at least one shot. Back in November, when he “first was elected,” no vaccine had yet received authorization.
Certainly, the Biden administration has taken many steps to encourage and increase vaccinations and continues to do so. The pace of vaccination increased greatly after Biden took office, and as of Oct. 21, 188.8 million people were fully vaccinated and 219.9 million had received at least one shot. (Those numbers will also likely change as more data come in.)
In the past, Biden has directly claimed that the previous administration had “failed to order enough vaccines.” He did not do that in the CNN town hall, but the misleading suggestion is there that ordering vaccines was a problem before he took office.
As we’ve explained before, under the Trump administration, in December, Pfizer and Moderna had agreed to provide 400 million doses (200 million each) by the end of July. The Biden administration announced in February the two companies would provide another 200 million doses by the end of July, for a total of 600 million.
But the initial agreements with the vaccine manufacturers included options for the federal government to buy even larger quantities.
Job Creation Repeat
As he has in the past, Biden boasted about job creation on his watch. But his historical comparisons are skewed by the devastating economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
When asked about the labor shortage and millions of unfilled jobs, Biden said: “First of all, we’ve created more jobs in the first eight months of my administration than any president in American history — total number of jobs created.”
That’s true, but his boast comes with a couple of big asterisks.
The U.S. economy lost a staggering 22.4 million jobs in March and April 2020, when the pandemic forced large parts of the economy to shut down. The job recovery started under Trump, with 56% of those jobs returning before Biden took office, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics’ estimates. (For more, see “Trump’s Final Numbers.”)
And, despite Biden’s boast, the recovery isn’t complete. In September, the number of people with jobs was still about 5 million below the pre-recession peak in February 2020.
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