He responded to a series of tough questions from Pennsylvania voters, and some more from moderator George Stephanopoulos, much like he responds to easy questions from his favorite conservative television hosts – with a barrage of dishonesty.
Trump made at least 22 false or misleading claims over the hour-and-a-half event, according to our preliminary count.
Here is a list.
The coronavirus pandemic
Downplaying the virus
Trump was asked why he downplayed the coronavirus. He responded, “Well, I didn’t downplay it. I actually – in many ways I up-played it in terms of action.”
Facts First: This is ridiculous spin. Trump admitted to journalist Bob Woodward in a recorded March 19 interview that “I always wanted to play it down” (he claimed he did so to keep the public calm). And we didn’t need Woodward’s tape to know Trump had downplayed it; this was obvious even back in February and March, when Trump kept wrongly claiming that the situation was under control and that the virus was akin to the flu.
Trump’s praise of China
Pressed about how he had initially said China was doing a good job handling the virus, Trump suggested he had not issued such praise: “No, I didn’t say one way or the other. I’m not saying one way or the other.”
Facts First: Trump repeatedly and effusively praised China and leader Xi Jinping for their handling of the virus situation earlier this year. You can read a list of examples here.
Trump said: “So I didn’t say anything bad about President Xi initially, because nobody knew much about the disease. Nobody knew the seniors are susceptible.”
Facts First: It’s just not true nobody knew seniors were susceptible to the virus at the time of Trump’s praise. Chinese officials emphasized in January that elderly people with chronic diseases were at the highest risk of serious illness. January media reports around the world talked about the risk to seniors; a January 23 report in the New York Times was headlined “Coronavirus Deaths Are So Far Mostly Older Men, Many With Previous Health Issues.” Beginning in February, a nursing home in Kirkland, Washington, had one of the first known outbreaks of the virus in the US.
Biden and the pandemic
Trump claimed opponent Joe Biden said in March that the pandemic was “totally over-exaggerated.”
Facts First: We could not find any evidence of Biden saying anything like this in March.
Biden did say in late February and early March that people shouldn’t “panic” about the virus, but even conservative Breitbart News noted that Biden added in his February comments that “coronavirus is a serious public health challenge” and in March that people shouldn’t “downplay” the situation. In other words, he wasn’t saying that it was being overblown.
On March 12, Biden delivered a sharp rebuke of Trump’s handling of the pandemic and introduced his own plan for addressing the crisis.
Trump claimed that “a lot of people think that masks are not good.” Asked who these people are, Trump said “waiters” – citing the example of a person he said had been serving him but also touching their mask, which “can’t be good.”
Facts First: There is an overwhelming scientific consensus that masks help reduce transmission of the coronavirus. And there is no actual evidence that “waiters” generally disagree with this consensus; the example Trump cited did not involve even a single waiter expressing negative sentiments about masks.
Trump was correct when he said that prominent experts, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, initially advised people against wearing masks. (Fauci later said that he had been worried about a shortage of protective equipment for health care workers.) But that doesn’t mean there is a real debate now.
“These face masks are the most important, powerful public health tool we have,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director Dr. Robert Redfield testified to a Senate committee on Wednesday, urging “all Americans” to embrace them because of the “clear scientific evidence that they work, and they are our best defense.” He argued that masks might even be a better defense against someone getting Covid-19 than taking a vaccine.
Trump repeated his familiar claim that the “cupboards were bare” of ventilators when he took office.
Facts First: This is not at all true. Trump inherited more than 16,000 ventilators.
A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Human Services confirmed to CNN in late June that there had been about 19,000 ventilators in the national stockpile for “many years,” including 16,660 ventilators that were ready for immediate use in March 2020. The spokesperson confirmed that none of those 16,660 were purchased by the Trump administration.
As of June 23, the Trump administration had distributed 10,760 ventilators during the coronavirus pandemic, a smaller number than the administration inherited.
You can read a longer fact check here.
Testing and cases
Told that the US has 20% of the world’s coronavirus cases and deaths, Trump said, “We have 20% of the cases because of the fact that we do much more testing. If we wouldn’t do testing, you wouldn’t have cases. You would have very few cases.”
Facts First: Testing does not create cases; it reveals them. And testing is a tool used to help prevent the spread of the virus and reduce the number of actual cases. You can read a longer fact check here.
Travel restrictions on China and Europe
Trump claimed that he put “a ban on” China and “a ban on” Europe to address the pandemic.
Facts First: While Trump did restrict travel from China and from much of Europe, neither policy was a “ban”: both made exemptions for travel from US citizens, permanent residents, many of their families, and some others – and the restrictions on Europe exempted entire European countries.
Exemptions from the restrictions
Trump said of his critics’ comments about the travel restrictions: “They say that we allowed certain people in, it’s true – but they were American citizens.”
Facts First: Again, citizens were not the only people exempted. Also omitted from the prohibition were permanent residents; spouses of citizens and permanent residents; parents or guardians of unmarried citizens or permanent residents under age 21; unmarried siblings under age 21 of unmarried citizens or permanent residents under age 21; and various other categories of people.
Trump claimed that he would be “doing a health care plan” that would “protect people with pre-existing conditions.” He then said of the Democrats, “They will not do that.”
Facts First: This is a complete reversal of reality. Democrats created these protections for people with pre-existing conditions, in Obamacare; Biden was vice president at the time, and he is running on a promise to preserve and strengthen the law. Trump, conversely, has repeatedly tried to get bills passed that would have weakened the protections – and, as Stephanopoulos pointed out, is currently in court trying to get the entirety of Obamacare overturned.
Trump insisted to Stephanopoulos that he would put forward a “new health care” plan that would protect people. But he has never unveiled any plan that would offer protections equivalent to the ones in Obamacare – and, regardless, his claim about Democrats is absurd.
The existence of Obamacare
Trump claimed he “essentially ended Obamacare” by repealing the individual mandate that required people to obtain health insurance.
Facts First: The individual mandate, which required Americans to obtain health insurance, was indeed a key part of Obamacare – but Trump didn’t end Obamacare, essentially or otherwise; key parts of the law remain in effect. For example, Trump has not eliminated Obamacare’s expansion of the Medicaid insurance program for low-income people, the federal and state marketplaces that allow people to shop for coverage, or the consumer subsidies that help many of them make the purchases.
Biden’s health care plan
Trump suggested that Biden has agreed to adopt the “socialized” health care advocated by Sen. Bernie Sanders: “He (Biden) agreed to the manifesto, as I call it – the agreement with Bernie is that you’re going to go to socialized medicine.”
Facts First: This is misleading. While “socialized” is a vague term, and while Biden does endorse a “public option” to allow people to opt in to a Medicare-like government insurance plan, Biden has not agreed to anything like the “Medicare for All” single-payer proposal Sanders is known for, which would eliminate most private insurance plans. Biden and Sanders clashed on the issue during the Democratic primary.
After Sanders dropped out of the race, Biden and Sanders appointed a task force to make policy recommendations; this is what Trump calls “the manifesto.” The task force proposed to try to achieve universal health care through the public option Biden was already running on; it did not endorse any Sanders-style single-payer plan. It says: “Everyone will be eligible to choose the public option or another Affordable Care Act marketplace plan, even those who currently get insurance through their employers, because Democrats believe working people shouldn’t be locked in to expensive or insufficient health care plans when better options are available.”
Protests, race and policing
Black communities and police
Trump said: “So I just saw a poll where African Americans in this country, Black communities, are 81% in favor of having more police.”
Facts First: Trump wrongly described this poll result. In a survey conducted in late June and early July, Gallup found that 20% of Black Americans wanted the police to spend more time in their area; 61% said they wanted the police to spend the same amount of time they current spend. Those numbers add up to 81%, but it’s not true that 81% said they want a larger police presence.
Asked about how to achieve “common sense police reform,” Trump said Republican Sen. Tim Scott had a compromise plan “that everybody pretty much agreed to” – and that “a lot of Democrats agreed to it but they wouldn’t vote for it.”
Facts First: It’s not true that “everybody” agreed to Scott’s proposal. While there was indeed some overlap between the policy proposals in Scott’s bill and a bill written by House Democrats, there were also major differences on issues like chokeholds and qualified immunity for officers – and many Democrats said the Scott bill did not go nearly far enough. Sen. Mazie Hirono called it “half-assed,” and Sen. Richard Blumenthal called it “disastrously weak.”
The Senate voted 55-45 to begin debate on the bill, denying Scott the 60 votes needed. Just two Democrats and independent Maine Sen. Angus King, who caucuses with the Democrats, voted to begin debate.
Trump said of protesters in Seattle: “They took over a big chunk of the city – 20% of the city.”
Facts First: Trump’s figure was not even close to correct. In June, protesters set up a self-proclaimed “autonomous zone” covering six blocks in the Capitol Hill neighborhood – a significant development, no doubt, but a tiny fraction of the whole city.
The protest was cleared out by local authorities at the beginning of July.
Minnesota and the National Guard
Trump again took credit for the National Guard deployment in Minnesota to address violent protests following the killing of George Floyd, claiming that these protests “went on for a week or a week and a half” before the governor “allowed us to bring in the National Guard.”
Facts First: Minnesota’s Democratic governor, Tim Walz, was the one who activated the Guard – and Walz, a Guard veteran, did so two days after the violent protests began, more than seven hours before Trump publicly threatened to deploy the Guard himself.
You can read a longer fact check here.
Crime in New York City
Trump said: “Look at New York. New York was a very safe city. Rudy Giuliani did a fantastic job. The city was safe and then, all of a sudden, we have a mayor – who starts cutting the police force, and crime is up 100%, 150%. I saw one form of crime up 300%.”
Facts First: There is no major crime category in New York City that is currently up “300%,” whether you are doing a weekly or monthly or yearly comparison, according to official data that is released on a weekly basis. And while there has been a major increase in New York City shootings this year – as Trump alluded to, the number of shooting incidents has been up about 150% year-over-year – the city remains safer than it was in Giuliani’s final year in office, 2001, even after Giuliani presided over a major decline in crime.
What Trump didn’t mention was that the improvements continued under Giuliani successors Michael Bloomberg and Bill de Blasio. So while the 2020 increases are concerning, they are increases from a relatively low 2019 level.
For example, New York City had 319 murders in 2019, less than half the 649 murders of 2001; while 2020 is on pace to be worse for murder than 2019, with 305 murders as of September 6, 2020 is still on pace to be much better than 2001.
When Stephanopoulos said that people at the top of the economic ladder, who own stocks, are doing well, Trump interjected and said, “George, stocks are owned by everybody.”
Facts First: Trump could fairly point out that it’s not just the super-wealthy who own stocks, but it’s also not true that stocks are owned by “everybody.” In polling from March and April, Gallup found that 55% of American adults reported owning stock this year, the same percentage as last year. And wealthy people have long owned far more stock than people in lower income groups.
The departure of James Mattis
As Trump did on Fox News earlier on Tuesday, he claimed at the town hall that he had fired James Mattis as defense secretary.
Facts First: Trump did not fire Mattis; Mattis resigned in December 2018 because of policy differences with Trump,saying in a resignation letter that Trump deserved a secretary of defense whose views were “better aligned” with the president’s.
Trump forced Mattis to leave the government two months earlier than the departure date Mattis had chosen upon his resignation, but that is still not a firing.
Mattis and ISIS
Repeating more of the same sentiments he expressed on Fox News on Tuesday, Trump said at the town hall that Mattis “didn’t do good on ISIS” and that “I took over 100% of the ISIS caliphate.”
Facts First: While the final remnants of the caliphate were eradicated in March 2019, more than two months after Mattis’s departure, it’s misleading for Trump to suggest this was his own accomplishment that Mattis had nothing to do with. Much of the progress in liberating the caliphate occurred during Mattis’s tenure as secretary of defense between January 2017 and January 2019.
Churchill and Trump
Defending his decision to conceal the severity of the virus from the American public, Trump again invoked the late UK Prime Minister Winston Churchill – saying Churchill was “not so honest” when he stood on London rooftops during Nazi bombings and told the public “everything’s going to be good,” but that he was still a “great leader” by keeping people calm.
Facts First: Churchill did not give speeches from the rooftops, though he sometimes did watch the bombing from rooftops, and did not say “everything’s going to be good” or generally play down the Nazi threat. Rather – as Churchill scholars have told CNN – he was generally blunt about the threat of death and severe suffering, warning citizens repeatedly about hardships to come.
You can read a longer fact check here.