President Donald Trump ended his Wednesday much like he began it, by repeating falsehood after falsehood.
During a morning interview on Fox News, Trump made at least 20 false claims. In a briefing hours later, he continued the trend, repeating several false statements on the coronavirus and voting by mail.
He continued to say that the virus is “going away” and to suggest that children are immune. And in a series of confusing comments, he also falsely alleged that Arizona’s and Nevada’s voting systems do not verify signatures on mail-in ballots.
The explosion in Beirut
Trump was asked about his claim at Tuesday’s briefing that US generals believe the massive explosion in Beirut was an “attack” with a “bomb of some kind.”
The reporter noted that Defense Secretary Mark Esper said earlier Wednesday that “most believe” the incident was an accident, “as reported,” though the US is still gathering information.
Trump retreated at least slightly, saying, “They don’t really know what it is. Nobody knows yet.” But then he said, “Somebody was, you know, left some terrible explosive type devices and things around, perhaps. Perhaps it was that. Perhaps it was an attack. I don’t think anybody can say right now. We’re looking into it very strongly. Right now, it’s – I mean, you have some people think it was an attack and you have some people that think it wasn’t.”
Facts First: Trump didn’t identify the “some” who he said believe the incident was an attack, but neither the US military, the Lebanese government or credible independent authorities have made such a claim. Again, though Trump cited “generals” on Tuesday, the defense secretary’s statement suggested there was a consensus that the incident was an accident. Lebanese Prime Minister Hassan Diab said Tuesday that 2,750 metric tons of ammonium nitrate, typically used as an agricultural fertilizer, had been stored for six years at a warehouse in the Beirut port without safety measures; it is not yet clear what might have caused the explosion, but Diab has not alleged a purposeful act.
White House chief of staff Mark Meadows told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer on Wednesday that Trump’s Tuesday claim was based on initial reports he had been briefed on. Regardless, nobody has presented evidence at this point to corroborate any such reports.
Arizona and Nevada vote-by-mail signature
While trying to spread his conspiratorial distrust over mail-in voting, Trump made confusing remarks over the mail-in voting system for Arizona.
“You look at Arizona, you don’t even have to have, as you know, they have a provision where they don’t have to check signatures,” the President said. “You sign it and you could have a totally different signature, it’s okay. It won’t be approved.”
“They have the right to go seven days after election for approval,” Trump added. “We won’t know who won the state of Nevada.”
It’s unclear exactly what Trump is saying and if he originally meant to say “Nevada” instead of Arizona, but here are the facts around Arizona and Nevada mail-in voting and signature verification.
Facts First: Both Arizona and Nevada do check signatures on mail-in ballots and verify them with the corresponding signature on file.
According to Arizona’s Citizens Clean Elections Commission, 80% of voters in the state receive their ballots by mail. Signatures on these ballots are verified before being tabulated.
“When you vote by mail, your signature on the early ballot affidavit is compared to the signature on file with your voter registration record,” the commission says. Voters can also make sure their vote has been counted by going online.
Recently, Arizona Democrats filed a lawsuit in order to allow five days for voters to correct a missing signature. As the commission notes, “voters have until 5:00 p.m. on the 5th business day after the primary or general election to confirm/correct their signature.” But the lawsuit maintains that this rule should also apply to ballots missing a signature.
When Trump made these claims during the briefing, a reporter quickly fact-checked him on the spot.
“Oh you’re talking about Nevada,” the reporter said, noting that she called Nevada’s Secretary of State’s office where a spokeswoman told her that Trump’s claim “simply isn’t true and that Nevada will continue to check ballot signatures against voter registration cards, it’s done at the county level.”
Trump denied this, saying, “their machinery, which is old, doesn’t allow them to” and moved on to criticizing how long mail-in ballots could take to count.
Nevada recently passed a law that will send all registered voters in the state mail-in ballots for the November election. As the law notes, “The clerk or employee shall check the signature used for the mail ballot against all signatures of the voter available in the records of the clerk.”
Nevada counting delays
About Nevada, and its recent law expanding mail-in voting for the upcoming presidential election, Trump said, “they are allowed to count votes until seven days after the election.”
“I don’t think it is appropriate,” he added.
Facts First: Trump is technically right – under the new Nevada legislation, mailed-in ballots can be still be counted if they arrive up to a week after November 3, as long as they were postmarked on or before Election Day. Regardless of whether or not Trump feels that’s appropriate, it’s not unusual. At least 15 states count ballots received between 3-14 days after Election Day, according to Vote.org.
You can read more here.
Absentee vs. mail-in voting
In a stream of consciousness about mail-in voting and alleged fraud, Trump once again claimed that absentee and mail-in ballots are “much different.”
“Absentee ballots are different than mail-in ballots, what you call universal mail in ballots, much different,” Trump said. “You have to apply for it, you have to do different things, and it’s a much better system.”
Facts First: Trump often defends absentee voting – a practice he has used himself – while lambasting mail-in voting. But the voting methods are very similar, and experts have told CNN they are largely “the same thing.”
Rick Hasen, a University of California-Irvine professor and one of the nation’s top experts in election law, told CNN, “The President seems to be trying to distinguish between mail-in voting where someone has to have an excuse and no excuse voting by mail.”
In Florida, which Trump commended, voters have to request to receive their ballot by mail. Under the new rules in Nevada and California due to the pandemic, registered voters will receive their ballot in the mail without having to submit a separate application. But ultimately, those registered voters in both states will be receiving and casting their ballots by mail. And the systems that states have in place to prevent fraud apply to both absentee ballots and mail-in ballots for in-state voters.
While there can be some differences in the methods used to implement absentee and mail-in voting, experts say that they are both secure ways of voting.
“The bottom line is that absentee and mail balloting are secure in America,” Wendy Weiser, the director of the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center, told CNN. “Election officials, Republicans and Democrats alike, pretty much universally are confident in the system.”
You can read more about how mail-in voting works here.
Children and Covid-19
Trump was asked about his false claim on Fox News Wednesday morning that children are “almost immune” from the coronavirus.
He explained as follows at the briefing on Wednesday evening: “When I say that, I’m talking about from getting very sick. If you look at children, I mean, they’re able to throw it off very easily.”
Facts First: This is still false. While children are far less likely on the whole to get seriously ill or die from coronavirus than adults, they are not “immune” from the possibility; some children do indeed get seriously ill or die. And children also transmit the virus to others.
“I’m starting to sense that maybe he doesn’t know what the word ‘immune’ really means,” Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN’s chief medical correspondent, said on air after the briefing. “Kids clearly get infected. We were just looking up some of the more recent statistics. Between 250- and 350,000 young people, people under the age of 18, have become infected with this virus. The risk is lower for them getting sick or dying, but it’s not zero by any means.
“And kids can still transmit the virus. Kids 10 and older transmit this virus just like adults do. Kids younger than that, frankly, I don’t think we know enough. Because these kids have largely been at home since the middle of March. They have very few contacts. So I think we’re going to learn a lot more about the transmissibility, but it’s no question: fourth, fifth grade and above, kids can transmit just like adults do.”
You can read a longer article on this subject here.
The virus ‘going away’
Trump was also asked about his false claim on Fox that the virus is “going away.”
He simply reiterated the claim on Wednesday evening, saying, “It’s going away. It’ll go away, things go away, absolutely – no question in my mind it will go away. Hopefully sooner rather than later.”
Facts First: No matter how many times he says it, there is still no evidence the virus is “going away”; Trump has been making this same claim for more than four months, even as the situation has continued to worsen. The US had 57,540 confirmed new cases on Tuesday, according to Johns Hopkins University data. And the virus may never disappear entirely: Dr. Anthony Fauci told Congress last week, “I do not believe it would disappear because it is such a highly transmissible virus.”