Fact-checking the first presidential debate

“I think the country would be better served if we allowed both people to speak with fewer interruptions. I’m appealing to you, sir, to do that,” moderator Chris Wallace told Trump.

By Saumya Rastogi
BU News Service

Last night saw President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden go head-to-head, in the first of three presidential debates.

Moderated by Fox News’ Chris Wallace, the debate’s ground rules were set and accepted by both parties: each had two minutes to put their point across. However, the debate was defined by raised voices and interruptions.

“I think the country would be better served if we allowed both people to speak with fewer interruptions. I’m appealing to you, sir, to do that,” Wallace told Trump.

The debate covered several topics, including COVID-19, violence and policing and the candidate’s records. During the debate, Trump made several assertions that contained inaccuracies or falsities. Read on for BU News Service’s fact check of these assertions. 

Fact-checking the Supreme Court

The first segment started with questions regarding the nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court during an election year. Biden said, “she is a fine lady,” but that her opposition to the Affordable Care Act could mean “millions of people losing their right to health care.”

Biden argued that the nomination should be made by whoever wins in November, as the election had already begun. On the other hand, Trump was persistent that his term had not ended, and he was well within the right to elect a Supreme Court Justice. Trump drew parallels to the February 2016 death of Justice Antonin Scalia, when then-president Barack Obama selected Merrick Garland to fill the Supreme Court vacancy.

But this argument does not support Trump’s bid to appoint Barrett. Despite the fact that it was almost a year away from the end of his presidential term, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell stated any appointment by the current president to be “null and void,” even before Obama had nominated Garland, and only hours after Scalia’s death was announced. In 2016, McConnell said that the next Supreme Court justice should be appointed by the next president, a position he has now reversed for the case of Barrett.

Fact-checking COVID-19 and healthcare

On the stressing question of the ongoing public health crises regarding COVID-19, Biden highlighted the 200,000 people dead and 40,000 active cases in the country during Trump’s tenure. Trump retorted by saying he handled “the Chinese Virus” very well, and that with Biden’s in the Oval Office, there would have been more deaths. He further talked about the bad press he received compared to Biden, and how India, Russia, and China have had way more casualties than they revealed. 

According to public health records, The U.S. accounts for 4% of the world’s population but 25% of all COVID cases and 22% of deaths. Moreover, Trump has reduced U.S. engagement in global response, ended funding for WHO and announced withdrawal from WHO membership. 

Biden said he trusted the scientists and not Trump on the vaccine. He went onto lay down his plan to tackle Coronavirus by ensuring PPE and sanitation to reopen schools and colleges. “Young children and people are not vulnerable,” said Trump. A study published online in the journal Pediatrics claims otherwise. It looked at more than 2,000 ill children across China, where the pandemic began. It provides a more precise portrait of how the youngest patients are affected by the virus. Experts say the knowledge can help influence policies like school closures, hospital preparedness, and an eventual treatment and vaccine deployment.

Wallace questioned the candidates on their campaign trail, as Biden has opted for mostly online campaign events, while Trump has been holding massive in-person rallies. Although these rallies have been criticized for lack of masks and social distancing, Trump denied that they could be linked to any COVID-19 spikes.

However, Tulsa City-County Health Department Director Dr. Bruce Dart said that Trump’s campaign rally in Tulsa in late June that drew thousands of participants and massive protests “likely contributed” to a dramatic surge in new coronavirus cases. Herman Cain, a former presidential candidate and business executive, died from coronavirus. Cain tested positive for the virus in late June, nearly two weeks after attending President Donald Trump’s campaign rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma. 

On healthcare, Biden said Trump “had no plan.” Trump has supported many Congress efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act and substitute it with an alternative that would weaken protections for people with pre-existing conditions, drop the Medicaid expansion, and reduce premium assistance for people seeking marketplace coverage. 

The president, who proudly talked about reducing drug prices, has not implemented most of the proposals, other than one change that would reduce insulin cost for some Medicare recipients with diabetes and another that permits pharmacists to tell customers if they could save money on their prescriptions.

Fact-checking income tax

Just days before the debate, the New York Times published a large-scale investigation into Trump’s personal finances. Tax documents obtained by The New York Times show that in 2016 and 2017, Mr. Trump paid only $750 in federal income taxes. When asked about this in the debate, Trump said he had paid millions of dollars worth of taxes in 2016 and 2017, but would not directly say how much federal income tax he paid. 

The opening of the economy and economic recovery was a segment filled with accusations and interruptions to a point where Wallace had to stop Trump from speaking. Joe said he handed over Trump a booming economy. In contrast, Trump said, “The Obama administration had the slowest economic recovery since 1929.” 

Several indicators show that Trump did not significantly grow the economy any more than Obama. Looking at the most comprehensive economic health measure, gross domestic product, the figures confirm that average quarterly economic growth under Trump, 2.5%, was almost precisely under President Barack Obama in his second term, 2.4%.

Fact-checking racial justice

Trump called out on racial sensitivity training and said it had demeaned the country, and he would not let America be called racist. 

Trump accused Biden of calling African-Americans “superpredators” in 1994. However, it was Hillary Clinton, then the first lady, who used the word “superpredator” to push for the 1994 crime bill that Biden co-wrote more than 30 years ago.

The future of suburbs shortly took center stage. Following up on an exchange about crime in American cities, Trump brought up the subject by remarking, “By the way, the suburbs would be gone.” 

The debate over the suburbs started in July when Trump revoked President Obama’s Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH) rule. Part of the rule under Obama was intended to set out a structure for local governments, states, and public housing agencies to take significant actions to defeat historic patterns of segregation, promote fair housing choice, and nurture inclusive communities that are freed from discrimination.

Eugene Scott recently explained in The Washington Post, whatever racial and ethnic uniformity the suburbs may have had in the past has been strongly modified, which debunks Trump’s claim that suburbs are mostly white.

“Reimagining Policing,” a proposal by Biden and Sanders, was criticized by Trump as defunding the police. Biden denied the claim and went on to talk about how officers needed more training and sensitivity during arrests.

“I want peace,” Trump said, as he argued that left-wing groups commit more violence in their protests than white supremacist organizations. But in actuality, left-wing attacks have left far fewer people dead than violence by rightwing extremists, new research shows, and “Antifa” activists have not been connected to a single murder.

A recent database of nearly 900 politically motivated attacks and plots in the States since 1994 has just one attack by an anti-fascist that led to casualties. In that case, the one person killed was the perpetrator. Over the same time, American white supremacists and other rightwing extremists have carried attacks that left at least 329 victims dead, according to the database.

Fact-checking the climate crisis

The climate crisis is considered one of the leading issues of the election. However, Trump said that the current forest fires raging in the west of the country were a forest management issue, not a result of climate change.

However, data gathered by researchers at NASA, concentrates on the interaction between fires, climate, and humans.

Doug Morton, chief of the Biospheric Sciences Laboratory at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, said that their ability to track fires through satellite data had captured large-scale trends like increased fire activity in warming climate places like the western U.S., where fuels are abundant. “Where the warming and drying climate has increased the risk of fires, we’ve seen an increase in burning.”

Fact-checking the integrity of the election

The last segment on mail-in ballots was tackled with Trump’s speculation and distrust. He claimed it to be fraudulent and pointed out how, in West Virginia, and a few dumpsters ballots filled by the military were found, with his nomination. 

Trump’s campaign claimed in the Pennsylvania court that the prevailing practices would lead to voter fraud. While the Trump campaign mentioned a handful of mail-in ballot fraud cases in its initial complaint, the campaign turned over insufficient evidence of pervasive fraud.

The campaign also gave no evidence of fraud specifically linked to dropboxes or mail-in ballots. Several studies and inquiries have determined that voter fraud is very rare. Both the FBI and Homeland security had dismissed the alleged mishandling of ballots.

Biden said it was hypocritical of Trump to challenge mail-in ballots, as he filed one for his home state, Florida, and reassured the voters that their vote mattered. 

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