Fact-checking Trump's false claims at his first 2020 debate

President entered first appearance against Joe Biden armed with similar misleading statements from his rallies and White House briefings

Alex Woodward
New York
Wednesday 30 September 2020 08:54 BST
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Clouded by a flood of disinformation, conspiracies and false claims in the hours ahead of the debate, Donald Trump made several misleading statements and outright falsehoods during his 90-minute debate with Joe Biden on Tuesday.

Hours before the debate, the Trump campaign sent a text to supporters claiming that“Joe Biden REFUSES to take a drug test and DECLINES to undergo inspection for electronic ear pieces before the debate” – claims denied by the Biden campaign.

That story quickly dominated social media, joining a growing list of baseless conspiracies amplified by the campaign and his allies.

The president used the debate to deliver several false claims or misleading statements. Here are some of them.

Affordable Care Act

During the first round of questions from moderator Chris Wallace, Joe Biden turned the subject of the US Supreme Court to the future of the Affordable Care Act, a sweeping federal health law passed while he was vice president alongside then-president Barack Obama.

Mr Biden said that the president’s attempts to dismantle the law could “strip 20 million people” from their insurance, a figure corroborated by healthcare analysts.

The president claimed that health coverage for 180 million Americans would “extinguish” under Mr Biden’s plan, which would expand the ACA and include a public option to provide coverage for people outside private networks.

Mr Biden does not support Bernie Sanders’ vision for Medicare for All, which would eliminate private insurers and move millions of Americans into a nationalised single-payer system – but the president routinely conflates Mr Biden’s plan with proposals from progressive lawmakers in an attempt to paint him as a “radical” member of the left.

“Your party wants to go socialist,” the president said. “They’re going to dominate you, Joe.”

Manufacturing jobs

The president said he brought back 700,000 manufacturing jobs, overstating the job gains under his administration.

"They said it would take a miracle to bring back manufacturing,” he said. “I brought back 700,000 jobs. They brought back nothing. They gave up on manufacturing.”

Over his predecessor Barack Obama’s eight years in office, more than 1 million manufacturing were lost, amid a recession that struck across industries.

Roughly 500,000 jobs returned between 2016 and 2019, though more than 200,000 were lost during the coronavirus pandemic and economic fallout.

As of August, there were 237,000 fewer manufacturing jobs in the US than the beginning of Mr Trump’s time in office, according to the US Bureau of Labour Statistics.

“We handed him a winning economy – he blew it,” Mr Biden said.

Hunter Biden

The president claimed that Mr Biden’s son Hunter Biden received $3.5m from the wife of a former mayor of Moscow, which Hunter Biden has denied.

“Why is it, just out of curiosity, the mayor of Moscow's wife gave your son $3.5 million?" the president asked.

Hunter Biden’s lawyer George Mesires has said that he is not involved with a firm that Senate Republicans alleged received payments from the former mayor’s wife in 2015.

Their investigation alleged that Elena Baturina paid Rosemont Seneca Thornton as part of a "consultancy agreement." The report did not provide any further details about the transaction.

Mr Mesires has denied that Hunter Biden, a co-founder of the firm Rosemont Seneca Advisors, was involved with the firm Rosemont Seneca Thornton, and neither the Senate report nor Mr Trump and his campaign provided evidence of wrongdoing.

Federal income taxes

The president said he paid "millions of dollars" in federal income tax despite an investigation from The New York Times, which obtained his tax returns, revealing that he paid $750 in federal income taxes in 2016 and 2017.

Mr Wallace repeatedly asked how much the president paid in those years, and he insisted “millions of dollars.”

“Show us your tax returns,” Mr Biden said.

The paper’sinvestigation reported that the president paid little to no federal income taxes from 2000 through 2017.

Mr Trump is the first president in modern history to refuse to disclose his tax returns; he has claimed that he will release them pending an audit from the IRS, though the agency has said that does not preclude him from releasing them.

On Tuesday, Mr Biden and running mate Kamala Harris released their 2019 returns; documents from Mr Biden and his wife Jill Biden, filing jointly, show an adjusted gross income of roughly $985,000 and taxes totalling $300,000.

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