Fact check: Toned-down Trump continues his onslaught of falsehoods

Donald Trump’s more sedate debate performance on Thursday night was a departure in tone from his chaotic performance weeks ago, but the President continued to cast his warped view of the world as truth.

In reality, Trump’s performance was riddled with false claims, on topics ranging from the coronavirus to foreign policy to immigration. And while former Vice President Joe Biden made some missteps and stretched the truth at times, his comments essentially hewed to the truth.

Trump came into the debate needing to clean up from his first performance and he clearly listened to his advisers who urged him to turn down the heat and stop his incessant interruptions. But the President relied heavily on the same rhetoric that fills his raucous rallies and Twitter feed, just set at a lower volume. His lies ranged from the political, like when he falsely claimed the coronavirus was “going away” or that a vaccine to end the pandemic was ready, to the personal, like when he falsely said Biden has “houses all over the place” or lied about Biden receiving millions of dollars from Russia. And his lies were clearly aimed at politically important issues, like health care, the economy and coronavirus, three topics that voters say are critical to them as they head to the ballot box.

Biden’s misstatements were more on the margins, like when he falsely claimed that he never said he opposed fracking, understated the number of people for whom Trump has granted clemency and made a misleading claim about health care coverage losses under Obamacare.

CNN’s team watched the second and final presidential debate. Here are the facts.

Coronavirus

Trump: Coronavirus is ‘going away’

Trump claimed the virus is going away. “We’re rounding the corner. It’s going away,” Trump said.

Facts First: This is false. The US coronavirus situation — as measured by newly confirmed cases, hospitalizations and the test positivity rate — is getting worse, not better. There is no basis for his vague claim that we are “rounding the corner.”

Trump has baselessly claimed for eight months that the virus would disappear or was currently disappearing.

Holmes Lybrand

Trump: Covid vaccine is ready

Trump claimed a vaccine for Covid-19 is ready. “We have a vaccine that’s coming, it’s ready,” said Trump.

Facts First: It’s false to say that a vaccine is currently ready. The FDA has not approved a vaccine for emergency use authorization.

There are currently four US clinical vaccine trials in Phase 3 with Moderna, Pfizer, AstraZeneca, and Johnson & Johnson.

Two clinical trials are paused with no indication when they will resume. AstraZeneca paused more than a month ago on September 8 when a participant developed an unexplained illness. Johnson & Johnson paused on October 12 for the same reason.

Pfizer and Moderna have both said they could apply for Emergency Use Authorization from the US Food and Drug Administration in the coming weeks, but only if they have positive results from their Phase 3 clinical trials. Neither company says they know whether the results will be positive. Pfizer has said they could apply for emergency use authorization after the third week in November. Moderna has said they could apply in early December.

Sierra Jenkins and Elizabeth Cohen

Trump: He was ‘kidding’ when he suggested injecting bleach

Biden attacked Trump on comments he made over disinfectants and the coronavirus.

“What did the President say? He said don’t worry, it’s going to go away. Be gone by Easter. Don’t worry…Maybe inject bleach,” Biden said. “He said he was kidding when he said that but a lot of people thought it was serious.”

Trump replied that he “was kidding on that.”

Facts First: This is false. There was simply no indication that Trump was being anything less than serious when he made comments in April in which he wondered if it would be possible for people to inject disinfectants to fight Covid-19. The next day he claimed he was being sarcastic.

During an April 23 press briefing, Trump expressed interest in exploring the possibility of “injection inside or almost a cleaning” with disinfectants.

Here’s what he said: “[T]hen I see the disinfectant, where it knocks it out in one minute. And is there a way we can do something like that, by injection inside or almost a cleaning, because you see it gets in the lungs and it does a tremendous number on the lungs, so it’d be interesting to check that, so that you’re going to have to use medical doctors with, but it sounds interesting to me.”

The next day Trump claimed he was “asking a question sarcastically to reporters like you just to see what would happen.”

Read a longer fact check here.

Daniel Dale and Holmes Lybrand

Coronavirus response

Trump: 2.2 million people were initially expected to die from coronavirus

Trump claimed 2.2 million people were “expected to die.”

Facts First: This is false.

Trump is likely citing a report posted in March by scholars from the Imperial College in London that predicted that a total of 2.2 million Americans could die from Covid-19 if no preventative measures were installed on any level of society.

In other words, that would be the loss of lives if no action were taken at all to mitigate it.

The report did not analyze what would happen if just the federal government took no action against the virus but rather what would occur if there were absolutely no “control measures or spontaneous changes in individual behavior.”

Holmes Lybrand and Tara Subramaniam

Trump: Obama administration was a ‘disaster’ on swine flu

In attacking Biden over his handling of the H1N1 epidemic, Trump said Biden had handled the epidemic poorly for the Obama administration and it was “a total disaster.”

“And frankly, he ran the H1N1 swine flu and it was a total disaster. Far less lethal, but it was a total disaster,” Trump said. “Had that had this kind of numbers, 700,000 people would be dead right now, but it was a far less lethal disease.”

Facts First: This claim is misleading and needs context. The swine flu killed an estimated 12,500 Americans and Trump praised the Obama administration’s early handling of it.

Trump said the Obama administration’s handling of the swine flu was “a total disaster,” claiming 700,000 would have died if the swine flu had been more deadly. Trump’s claim appears to be citing an article from the Wall Street Journal opinion page and not an academic study.

In 2009, Trump actually praised the Obama administration’s early handling of the swine flu outbreak.

“It’s going to be handled,” Trump said on Fox News. “It’s going to come. It’s going to be bad. And maybe it will be worse than the normal flu seasons. And it’s going to go away. I think it is being handled fine. I think the words are right.”

Later in the interview, Trump downplayed the swine flu and referenced the false assertion that vaccines might cause autism (there is no evidence that vaccines cause autism).

“It’s called the flu,” Trump said. “Have you had the flu many times, Neil (Cavuto)? Probably. You know, we all have.”

Andrew Kaczynski

Trump: Biden called him “xenophobic” following travel restrictions on China

“When I closed and banned China from coming in … he was saying I was xenophobic, I did it too soon,” Trump said.

Facts First: This needs context.

It’s not clear the former vice president 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.

Biden’s campaign announced in early April that he supports Trump’s travel restrictions on China. But the campaign did not say the former vice president had previously been wrong about the ban, much less apologize. Rather, 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 the Biden remarks, it’s not unreasonable for the Trump campaign 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.

Holmes Lybrand

Trump: Nancy Pelosi was dancing on streets of Chinatown

Trump claimed House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was “dancing on the streets in Chinatown in San Franciso,” after his administration enacted restrictions on travel from China.

Facts First: This is false.

Amid fears of anti-Asian bigotry related to the pandemic, Pelosi did go to San Francisco’s Chinatown in late February and did urge people to visit, saying it was safe. But contrary to Trump’s repeated claims, she did not call for a Chinatown parade, parties, a street fair or a march; she was not holding a street fair or a rally, and she was not dancing; she simply walked around, visited businesses and a temple, ate dim sum, and spoke to the media.

After her visit to Chinatown, Pelosi said, “we think it’s very safe to be in Chinatown and hope that others will come. It’s lovely here. The food is delicious, the shops are prospering, the parade was great. Walking tours continue. Please come and visit and enjoy Chinatown.”

So, while Pelosi did speak positively about Chinatown, she was not dancing on the streets.

Tara Subramaniam and Daniel Dale

Russia

Trump: Biden received $3.5 million from Russia

Trump claimed that Biden received $3.5 million from Russia and that it “came through Putin because he was very friendly with the former mayor of Moscow, and it was the mayor of Moscow’s wife. You got $3.5 million. Your family got $3.5 million.”

Facts First: This is false.

Trump was seemingly trying to raise an allegation previously made against Joe Biden’s son, Hunter Biden, but there’s no connection to Joe Biden.

Hunter Biden also denies the allegation he received $3.5 million. Hunter Biden’s lawyer, George Mesires, told CNN that Hunter Biden was not an owner of the firm Senate Republicans allege received the $3.5 million payment in 2014.

A partisan investigation conducted by Senate Republicans, whose report was released this month, alleged that Elena Baturina, a Russian businesswoman and the wife of late Moscow mayor Yuri Luzhkov, sent $3.5 million in 2014 to a firm called Rosemont Seneca Thornton, and that the payment was identified as a “consultancy agreement.” The report did not provide any further details about the transaction.

Hunter Biden was a co-founder and CEO of the investment firm Rosemont Seneca Advisors. But Mesires said Hunter Biden did not co-found Rosemont Seneca Thornton. It’s not clear what connection exists between Rosemont Seneca Advisors and Rosemont Seneca Thornton.

Neither the Senate report nor Trump have provided any evidence that the payment was corrupt or that Hunter Biden committed any wrongdoing.

Jeremy Herb

Trump: Russia is meddling in the election

Trump falsely claimed that Russia is meddling in the election to defeat him.

“About your thing last night, I knew all about that. And through John, who is — John Ratcliffe, who is fantastic, DNI,” Trump said, using the initials for Director of National Intelligence. “He said the one thing that’s common to both of them, they both want you to lose because there has been nobody tougher to Russia — between the sanctions — nobody tougher than me on Russia.”

Facts First: It’s false to suggest that Russia wants Trump to lose. In fact, senior US intelligence officials announced months ago that Russia is actively meddling in the election to hurt Biden.

The top US intelligence official for election security, William Evanina, announced in August that the Russian government is interfering in the 2020 election to hurt Biden’s candidacy, primarily by spreading disinformation about alleged “corruption” by Biden and his family regarding Ukraine.

Russia is also trying to “denigrate” Biden on social media, according to Evanina’s statement, and Facebook has already taken down Russian-backed fake accounts targeting liberal voters.

The Russian government also interfered in the 2016 election to help Trump win, according to the US intelligence community. Trump has repeatedly rejected and questioned this finding, too.

CNN previously analyzed Trump’s claims that “there has been nobody tougher” as president on Russia than him. This is a false narrative. Trump’s administration has taken some tough steps against Russia, but Trump himself has rejected widely held US foreign policy views and aligned himself with the Kremlin on issues including Syria, NATO, election-meddling, and more.

Marshall Cohen

Foreign policy

Trump: Obama sold ‘pillows and sheets’ to Ukraine

Trump claimed that while he “sold tank busters to Ukraine,” the Obama administration sold “pillows and sheets.”

Facts First: Trump is being hyperbolic about the Obama administration.

Obama did refuse to provide lethal aid to Ukraine, but he didn’t send mere pillows; he sent counter-mortar radars, armored Humvees and night vision devices, among other things. You can read a full fact check here.

Tara Subramaniam

Trump: NATO members increased contributions to ‘guard against Russia’

As an example of how he’s been tough on Russia, Trump said he had gotten NATO member nations to increase their contributions to fund the alliance “to guard against Russia.”

“I’ve got the NATO countries to put up an extra $130 billion, going to $420 billion a year,” Trump said. “That’s to guard against Russia.”

Facts First: This is misleading. Trump was using actual figures but describing them inaccurately.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said in November 2019 that non-US NATO members were expected to add a total of $130 billion to their defense budgets between 2016 and the end of 2020 — not $130 billion more per year. By the end of 2024, Stoltenberg has said, the total was expected to be $400 billion over 2016 levels.

However, the coronavirus pandemic might impact members’ spending plans. In an email in August, NATO spokesperson Peggy Beauplet referred CNN to the transcript of a Stoltenberg news conference in July where he encouraged members to continue to invest in defense but acknowledged, “Covid-19 has created serious economic problems. And it will impact the budget situation for all allies. And I understand that allies will be faced with some very difficult and demanding decisions.”

Tara Subramaniam

Economy

Biden: Trump wants to end payroll tax that funds Social Security

Biden repeated his claim that the President wants to end the payroll tax that funds Social Security.

“If in fact he continues to withhold — his plan to withhold the tax on Social Security, Social Security will be bankrupt by 2023. With no way to make up for it,” Biden said.

Facts First: This is not quite true. Trump signed an executive measure in August giving employers the ability to defer Social Security’s payroll taxes until the end of the year.

When he signed the action, the President said that if he wins reelection, he’ll push to terminate the levy in 2021. Asked by Democrats to assess the impact of eliminating the tax, the Social Security Administration’s chief actuary said it would deplete the Social Security trust fund within three years if there were no alternative source of revenue.

The White House has said that Trump was referring to forgiving the deferred amount, not canceling the levy. The Treasury Department has said that the executive measure will not harm the Social Security trust funds because the deferral is temporary, and the funds must be repaid.

Only Congress has the power to eliminate the payroll tax, either temporarily or permanently.

Tami Luhby

Immigration

Trump: ‘Over 400 miles of brand new wall” have been built

Trump claimed during the debate, “We’re over 400 miles of brand new wall.”

Facts first: This is false.

The Trump administration is nearing 400 miles of new border wall system, but has not surpassed that benchmark yet. The majority of construction is swapping out old, dilapidated design for new, enhanced wall system. Only a small share that’s been constructed has gone up where no wall previously existed.

Earlier Thursday, acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf said the administration has “completed almost 400 miles of the new border wall system in high priority locations like San Diego, El Centro, Yuma, Tucson, El Paso, and the Rio Grande Valley Sectors.”

According to US Customs and Border Protection, 371 miles have been completed, as of Monday. The administration has set a goal of 450 miles by the end of the year.

Priscilla Alvarez

The rest

Trump: Biden has houses ‘all over the place’

Trump, who has long touted his own prosperity as a selling point, attacked Biden’s lifestyle, saying, “You have houses all over the place.”

Facts first: This is false.

While Biden has reported earning millions since leaving office, the former vice president doesn’t have houses “all over the place.”

He owns two properties in Delaware.

Biden’s main home in Greenville, a suburb of Wilmington, was constructed on land he bought in 1996 for $350,000.

Biden bought a vacation home, also in Delaware, for $2.7 million in 2017 — after he finished his tenure as vice president and signed a lucrative book deal.

— Anneken Tappe

This is a breaking story and will be updated.

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