Fact checking Biden and Trump at the first presidential debate



Fox News’s Chris Wallace moderated the debate, which covered both candidates’ records as well as the Supreme Court vacancy, Covid-19, the economy, the recent racial justice protests across the country and questions about the integrity of the upcoming election.

Here’s what they said.

Trump claimed that Biden’s son Hunter Biden got a $3.5 million payment from the wife of the former mayor of Moscow. “Why is it, just out of curiosity, the mayor of Moscow’s wife gave your son $3.5 million?” Trump said.

Facts First: This needs context. Hunter Biden denies the allegation. His 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.

“Hunter Biden had no interest in and was not a ‘co-founder’ of Rosemont Seneca Thornton, so the claim that he was paid $3.5 million is false,” Mesires said.

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.

— Daniel Dale and Jeremy Herb

Coronavirus and the economy

Trump claimed several times that Biden wants to shut down the country to address the coronavirus.

“He wants to shut down this country and I want to keep it open,” Trump said.

Facts First: This is false. Biden said in an August interview with ABC that he would shut down the country if scientists told him it was necessary — but he has not himself advocated a shutdown or introduced a shutdown plan.
Additionally, he clarified his comments after the interview, saying in September, “There is going to be no need, in my view, to be able to shut down the whole economy.”

It’s also worth noting that presidents themselves cannot shut down the country. The pandemic restrictions governing people’s movements and the operations of businesses and other entities have been imposed by state and local officials, not Trump.

You can read a longer fact check here.

— Tara Subramaniam

Coronavirus travel restrictions

Defending his response to the coronavirus pandemic, Trump referenced the travel restrictions his administration imposed on foreign nationals who had been in China, then attacked Biden for remarks he had made the same day.

Addressing his opponent, Trump said, “I closed it, and you said, ‘He’s xenophobic. He’s a racist and he’s xenophobic,’ because you didn’t think I should have closed our country.”

Facts First: This needs context. It’s not clear Biden 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.

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 Trump 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.

You can read more about Biden’s comments here.

Tara Subramaniam

Veterans’ health care

During a discussion on health care and insurance, Trump claimed 308,000 “military people” died because Biden “couldn’t provide them proper health care.”

Facts First: This claim is misleading and misconstrues the findings of a government report.

Trump seems to be referencing findings from a 2015 inspector general report that examined a backlog of healthcare applications at the Department of Veterans Affairs. The report found more than 307,000 records that remained pending in a VA enrollment system were for people who had already died, according to social security records.

But the report did not reach conclusions about whether lack of health care caused those deaths, and due to data limitations, the VA’s inspector general’s office could not determine how many of those records actually represented veterans who applied for health care benefits.

Moreover, the database in question contained some records for veterans who died before 1998, when Biden was a senator. And the report projected that at least 477,000 records pending in the system were missing application dates, which made the system “unreliable” for understanding the timeliness of care.

Curt Devine

Affordable Care Act

Biden turned a question about the Supreme Court into a defense of the Affordable Care Act, which was enacted while he was in office.

“He’s in the Supreme Court right now, trying to get rid of the Affordable Care Act, which will strip 20 million people from having insurance,” Biden said of Trump’s support of a case coming up before the justices that could overturn the landmark health reform law.

Facts First: Health care experts say this figure is roughly accurate. It is an estimate from the Obama administration as to how many people gained coverage under the Affordable Care Act.

Some 12 million newly eligible, low-income adults have obtained coverage under Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion provision, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. Some 38 states and the District of Columbia have broadened their coverage or passed ballot measures to do so.

And roughly 10.7 million were enrolled in individual coverage on the Affordable Care Act exchanges in February, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

— Tami Luhby

US trade deficit

Biden suggested that the United States currently has a higher trade deficit with both China and Mexico than it has had before.

“His trade deals are the same way, he talks about these great trade deals,” Biden said. “You know, he talks about the art of the deal. China’s made — perfected the art of the steal. We have a higher deficit with China now than we did before. We have the highest deficit, trade deficit with Mexico.”

Facts First: Biden was wrong on China, but correct on Mexico.

He would have been right on China in 2018, when the goods and services trade deficit with China hit $380 billion, but it’s no longer true, according to data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis. The gap fell to $308 billion in 2019 — which is the lowest it’s been since 2013.

The US goods and services trade deficit with Mexico grew to a record $104 billion in 2019. It was $64 billion in 2016, before Trump took office.

— Katie Lobosco

This story is being updated with additional fact checks.



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