Donald Trump’s more sedate debate performance on Thursday night was a departure in tone from his chaotic performance weeks ago, but the President continued to cast his warped view of the world as truth.
In reality, Trump’s performance was riddled with false claims, on topics ranging from the coronavirus to foreign policy to immigration. And while former Vice President Joe Biden made some missteps and stretched the truth at times, his comments essentially hewed to the truth.
Trump came into the debate needing to clean up from his first performance and he clearly listened to his advisers who urged him to turn down the heat and stop his incessant interruptions. But the President relied heavily on the same rhetoric that fills his raucous rallies and Twitter feed, just set at a lower volume. His lies ranged from the political, like when he falsely claimed the coronavirus was “going away” or that a vaccine to end the pandemic was ready, to the personal, like when he falsely said Biden has “houses all over the place” or lied about Biden receiving millions of dollars from Russia. And his lies were clearly aimed at politically important issues, like health care, the economy and coronavirus, three topics that voters say are critical to them as they head to the ballot box.
Biden’s misstatements were more on the margins, like when he falsely claimed that he never said he opposed fracking, understated the number of people for whom Trump has granted clemency and made a misleading claim about health care coverage losses under Obamacare.
CNN’s team watched the second and final presidential debate. Here are the facts.
Trump: Coronavirus is ‘going away’
Trump claimed the virus is going away. “We’re rounding the corner. It’s going away,” Trump said.
Facts First: This is false. The US coronavirus situation – as measured by newly confirmed cases, hospitalizations and the test positivity rate – is getting worse, not better. There is no basis for his vague claim that we are “rounding the corner.”
Trump has baselessly claimed for eight months that the virus would disappear or was currently disappearing.
– Holmes Lybrand
Biden: An additional 200,000 Americans will die from Covid-19 by the end of the year
Biden said: “The expectation is we’ll have another 200,000 Americans dead the time between now and the end of the year.”
Facts First: This needs context.
One study published in October in the medical journal JAMA showed that there were more than 225,000 excess deaths in a five-month period at the start of the year as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, compared to past years. (Excess deaths are the number of deaths beyond what historic numbers of deaths have been in a similar time period.) The study then predicted that the total number of excess deaths would likely be greater than 400,000. But as of Thursday evening, 223,000 Americans have lost their lives to Covid-19, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
These are merely projections. The latest forecast from an influential coronavirus model projects about 315,000 deaths by December 31. That’s about 92,000 additional American lives lost beyond the current death toll. There is a range of predicted deaths in this model from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington School of Medicine. The worst-case scenario is if US social distancing mandates are eased. The model projects fewer deaths if everyone wears masks.
– Jen Christensen
Trump: Covid vaccine is ready
Trump claimed a vaccine for Covid-19 is ready. “We have a vaccine that’s coming, it’s ready,” said Trump.
Facts First: It’s false to say that a vaccine is currently ready. The FDA has not approved a vaccine for emergency use authorization.
There are currently four US clinical vaccine trials in Phase 3 with Moderna, Pfizer, AstraZeneca, and Johnson & Johnson.
Two clinical trials are paused with no indication when they will resume. AstraZeneca paused more than a month ago on September 8 when a participant developed an unexplained illness. Johnson & Johnson paused on October 12 for the same reason.
Pfizer and Moderna have both said they could apply for Emergency Use Authorization from the US Food and Drug Administration in the coming weeks, but only if they have positive results from their Phase 3 clinical trials. Neither company says they know whether the results will be positive. Pfizer has said they could apply for emergency use authorization after the third week in November. Moderna has said they could apply in early December.
– Sierra Jenkins and Elizabeth Cohen
Trump: He was ‘kidding’ when he suggested injecting bleach
Biden attacked Trump on comments he made over disinfectants and the coronavirus.
“What did the President say? He said don’t worry, it’s going to go away. Be gone by Easter. Don’t worry…Maybe inject bleach,” Biden said. “He said he was kidding when he said that but a lot of people thought it was serious.”
Trump replied that he “was kidding on that.”
Facts First: This is false. There was simply no indication that Trump was being anything less than serious when he made comments in April in which he wondered if it would be possible for people to inject disinfectants to fight Covid-19. The next day he claimed he was being sarcastic.
During an April 23 press briefing, Trump expressed interest in exploring the possibility of “injection inside or almost a cleaning” with disinfectants.
Here’s what he said: “[T]hen I see the disinfectant, where it knocks it out in one minute. And is there a way we can do something like that, by injection inside or almost a cleaning, because you see it gets in the lungs and it does a tremendous number on the lungs, so it’d be interesting to check that, so that you’re going to have to use medical doctors with, but it sounds interesting to me.”
The next day Trump claimed he was “asking a question sarcastically to reporters like you just to see what would happen.”
Read a longer fact check here.
– Daniel Dale and Holmes Lybrand
Trump: 99% of people recover from Covid-19
“99.9% of young people recover,” Trump said. “99% of people recover. We have to recover. We can’t close up our nation,” Trump said.
Facts First: This is false.
So far, about 2.6 percent of people in the US who tested positive for Covid-19 died from it, according to Johns Hopkins University. Recovering from Covid-19 depends on someone’s underlying health conditions, and many survivors experience lingering symptoms. Health experts are unclear as to why some people experience lingering symptoms and other internal damage.
Dr. Anthony Fauci stated in August that understanding the long-term effects of Covid-19 is “a work in progress.”
“If you look at the people who were sick, but didn’t require hospitalization,” Fauci said, “when you look at the percentage of them – that actually recover, and recover within two to three weeks – a substantial proportion of them don’t feel right.”
According to a CDC survey, symptoms subsided in some people in as little as five days, while others, studies show, have experienced symptoms several months later. Sixty-five percent of 292 people surveyed from April 15 to June 25 said they returned to their normal health as soon as five to 12 days after they tested positive for Covid-19. It is worth mentioning this sample is significantly smaller than the 8.4 million people infected with the virus.
– Sierra Jenkins
Trump: Fauci said not to wear masks
Trump claimed that Fauci made a mistake by advising people not to wear masks.
“I get along very well with Anthony,” Trump said. “But he did say, ‘Don’t wear masks.’ He did say, as you know, “This is not going to be a problem.”
Trump also said, “But Anthony said, “Don’t wear masks.” Now he wants to wear masks. Anthony also said, if you look back, exact words, here’s his exact words: “This is no problem. This is going to go away soon.” So he’s allowed to make mistakes. He happens to be a good person.’”
Facts First: This needs context.
While Fauci, along with several other US health leaders, initially advised people not to wear masks, Fauci later said that he was concerned that there wouldn’t be enough protective equipment for health care workers. This was also early in the pandemic before public health experts fully knew how contagious the disease was and how it spread.
Fauci explained that at that time, “we were not aware that 40 to 45% of people were asymptomatic, nor were we aware that a substantial proportion of people who get infected get infected from people who are without symptoms. That makes it overwhelmingly important for everyone to wear a mask.”
“So when people say, ‘Well, why did you change your stance? And why are you emphasizing masks so much now when back then you didn’t – and in fact you even said you shouldn’t because there was a shortage of masks?’ Well the data now are very, very clear,” he said.
“We need to put that nonsense behind us about ‘well, they keep changing their minds,’ ” Fauci said.
As to Fauci’s other comments, while he occasionally sought to reassure Americans in the very early days of the virus, he consistently advised to follow CDC guidelines and that things could change.
– Jen Christensen
Trump: 2.2 million people were initially expected to die from coronavirus
Trump claimed 2.2 million people were “expected to die.”
Facts First: This is false.
Trump is likely citing a report posted in March by scholars from the Imperial College in London that predicted that a total of 2.2 million Americans could die from Covid-19 if no preventative measures were installed on any level of society.
In other words, that would be the loss of lives if no action were taken at all to mitigate it.
The report did not analyze what would happen if just the federal government took no action against the virus but rather what would occur if there were absolutely no “control measures or spontaneous changes in individual behavior.”
– Holmes Lybrand and Tara Subramaniam
Biden: Trump’s coronavirus mismanagement left millions without health insurance
Biden claimed Trump’s failure to contain the coronavirus or prevent the resulting economic downturn has left millions of people without jobs and health insurance.
“The fact is that he’s already cost the American people because of his terrible handling of the Covid virus and economic spillover. Ten million people have lost their private insurance,” Biden said.
Facts First: Biden’s claim needs context.
The source of the statistic, Biden’s campaign said, is a July Urban Institute study that estimated 10.1 million people would lose coverage as a result of a Covid-related job loss in the last three quarters of 2020. However, Biden failed to mention that most would regain insurance elsewhere.
The study predicted that about 32% of the 10.1 million would switch to the employer-sponsored insurance of another family member. Another 28% would enroll in Medicaid, and 6% would sign up for other coverage, primarily on the Affordable Care Act exchanges, where many would receive federal premium subsidies.
Only about a third, or 3.5 million people, would be left uninsured, the study estimates.
However, the actual number of people who have lost their job-based coverage isn’t known. There are various estimates out there, and some early data indicate that some employers that furloughed workers continued to provide them with health insurance – at least in the first few months of the pandemic.
-- Alyssa Choi and Tami Luhby
Trump: Obama administration was a ‘disaster’ on swine flu
In attacking Biden over his handling of the H1N1 epidemic, Trump said Biden had handled the epidemic poorly for the Obama administration and it was “a total disaster.”
“And frankly, he ran the H1N1 swine flu and it was a total disaster. Far less lethal, but it was a total disaster,” Trump said. “Had that had this kind of numbers, 700,000 people would be dead right now, but it was a far less lethal disease.”
Facts First: This claim is misleading and needs context. The swine flu killed an estimated 12,500 Americans and Trump praised the Obama administration’s early handling of it.
Trump said the Obama administration’s handling of the swine flu was “a total disaster,” claiming 700,000 would have died if the swine flu had been more deadly. Trump’s claim appears to be citing an article from the Wall Street Journal opinion page and not an academic study.
In 2009, Trump actually praised the Obama administration’s early handling of the swine flu outbreak.
“It’s going to be handled,” Trump said on Fox News. “It’s going to come. It’s going to be bad. And maybe it will be worse than the normal flu seasons. And it’s going to go away. I think it is being handled fine. I think the words are right.”
Later in the interview, Trump downplayed the swine flu and referenced the false assertion that vaccines might cause autism (there is no evidence that vaccines cause autism).
“It’s called the flu,” Trump said. “Have you had the flu many times, Neil (Cavuto)? Probably. You know, we all have.”
- Andrew Kaczynski
Trump: He banned China travel in January
Trump claimed that he “closed and banned China” in January.
Facts First: This is false.
While Trump did restrict travel from China, it was not a complete “ban.”
His policy made numerous exemptions, including for US citizens, permanent residents, many of the family members of both groups, and some others.
The New York Times reported April 4 that more than 40,000 people had flown to the US from China since the restrictions had gone into effect in early February.
– Hyeyoon “Alyssa” Choi and Daniel Dale
Trump: Biden called him “xenophobic” following travel restrictions on China
“When I closed and banned China from coming in … he was saying I was xenophobic, I did it too soon,” Trump said.
Facts First: This needs context.
It’s not clear the former vice president 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.
Biden’s campaign announced in early April that he supports Trump’s travel restrictions on China. But the campaign did not say the former vice president had previously been wrong about the ban, much less apologize. Rather, 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 the Trump campaign 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.
– Holmes Lybrand
Trump: Nancy Pelosi was dancing on streets of Chinatown
Trump claimed House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was “dancing on the streets in Chinatown in San Franciso,” after his administration enacted restrictions on travel from China.
Facts First: This is false.
Amid fears of anti-Asian bigotry related to the pandemic, Pelosi did go to San Francisco’s Chinatown in late February and did urge people to visit, saying it was safe. But contrary to Trump’s repeated claims, she did not call for a Chinatown parade, parties, a street fair or a march; she was not holding a street fair or a rally, and she was not dancing; she simply walked around, visited businesses and a temple, ate dim sum, and spoke to the media.
After her visit to Chinatown, Pelosi said, “we think it’s very safe to be in Chinatown and hope that others will come. It’s lovely here. The food is delicious, the shops are prospering, the parade was great. Walking tours continue. Please come and visit and enjoy Chinatown.”
So, while Pelosi did speak positively about Chinatown, she was not dancing on the streets.
– Tara Subramaniam and Daniel Dale
Trump: Biden received $3.5 million from Russia
Trump claimed that Biden received $3.5 million from Russia and that it “came through Putin because he was very friendly with the former mayor of Moscow, and it was the mayor of Moscow’s wife. You got $3.5 million. Your family got $3.5 million.”
Facts First: This is false.
Trump was seemingly trying to raise an allegation previously made against Joe Biden’s son, Hunter Biden, but there’s no connection to Joe Biden.
Hunter Biden also denies the allegation he received $3.5 million. Hunter Biden’s 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.
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.
– Jeremy Herb
Trump: Russia is meddling in the election
Trump falsely claimed that Russia is meddling in the election to defeat him.
“About your thing last night, I knew all about that. And through John, who is – John Ratcliffe, who is fantastic, DNI,” Trump said, using the initials for Director of National Intelligence. “He said the one thing that’s common to both of them, they both want you to lose because there has been nobody tougher to Russia – between the sanctions – nobody tougher than me on Russia.”
Facts First: It’s false to suggest that Russia wants Trump to lose. In fact, senior US intelligence officials announced months ago that Russia is actively meddling in the election to hurt Biden.
The top US intelligence official for election security, William Evanina, announced in August that the Russian government is interfering in the 2020 election to hurt Biden’s candidacy, primarily by spreading disinformation about alleged “corruption” by Biden and his family regarding Ukraine.
Russia is also trying to “denigrate” Biden on social media, according to Evanina’s statement, and Facebook has already taken down Russian-backed fake accounts targeting liberal voters.
The Russian government also interfered in the 2016 election to help Trump win, according to the US intelligence community. Trump has repeatedly rejected and questioned this finding, too.
CNN previously analyzed Trump’s claims that “there has been nobody tougher” as president on Russia than him. This is a false narrative. Trump’s administration has taken some tough steps against Russia, but Trump himself has rejected widely held US foreign policy views and aligned himself with the Kremlin on issues including Syria, NATO, election-meddling, and more.
– Marshall Cohen
Trump: Mueller probe found ‘nothing wrong’
Trump exaggerated the scope of former special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election, and he claimed that the probe found “nothing wrong.”
“They went through everything I had, including my tax returns, and they found absolutely no collusion and nothing wrong,” Trump said, referring to the Mueller investigation.
Facts First: Trump is wrong on three fronts. There’s no indication that Mueller’s team examined Trump’s tax returns. While it didn’t bring collusion-related charges, it found that Trump associates were willing to take help from Russia. And it never said he did “nothing wrong.”
There are no references in the 448-page Mueller report to Trump’s taxes or loans to his businesses, except for information about his attempts to land a business deal in Moscow during the 2016 campaign. In fact, one of Mueller’s top prosecutors, Andrew Weissmann, wrote in a recent book that the investigation did not aggressively scrutinize the President’s finances – but should have.
The investigation did not investigate “collusion,” but looked into whether Trump associates illegally conspired with Russians. They did not bring charges on that front, but unearthed dozens of contacts between Trump associates and Russian spies, oligarchs and officials.
Trump’s biggest whopper here is that Mueller said he did “nothing wrong.” In fact, Mueller’s final report explains that there was strong evidence that Trump obstructed justice, on several occasions. But Mueller decided not to make a decision on whether to charge Trump, for many reasons, partially because of Justice Department rules against indicting a sitting president.
– Marshall Cohen
Biden: Trump spreads Russian disinformation
Biden accused Trump of spreading Russian disinformation after the President brought up recent articles in the New York Post about Biden’s son, Hunter, and his business dealings with Ukraine. Trump specifically cited a “laptop” that contained emails allegedly belonging to Hunter Biden.
“There are 50 former national intelligence folks who said that what he’s accusing me of is a Russian plant,” Biden said. “… Five former heads of the CIA, both parties, say what he’s saying is a bunch of garbage. Nobody believes it except his good friend Rudy Giuliani.”
Facts First: This is somewhat misleading.
Many of the claims in the articles overlap with Russia’s known disinformation efforts against Biden, and CNN reported that the FBI is investigating whether there is a connection. Biden accurately cited the letter from ex-officials, but their analysis was based on experience only, not any current insights. Trump’s handpicked intelligence chief, John Ratcliffe, who has credibility issues of his own, said there is no intelligence “that the alleged emails are part of a disinformation campaign.”
The letter was signed by respected career officials who served under Democratic and Republican presidents, and some ex-officials who are outspoken Trump critics. They said the stories about Hunter Biden have “all the classic earmarks of a Russian information operation.”
They acknowledged they “do not have evidence of Russian involvement” but said “experience makes us deeply suspicious that the Russian government played a significant role in this case.”
The New York Post has said it was tipped off to the story by former Trump strategist Steve Bannon, and was given the alleged emails by Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani, who has coordinated some of his past anti-Biden efforts with a Ukrainian official who the US says is a known Russian agent.
The top US intelligence official for election security, Bill Evanina, announced in August that the Russian government is interfering in the election to hurt Biden’s candidacy, primarily by spreading disinformation about alleged “corruption” by Biden and his family regarding Ukraine.
Trump, his campaign staff, Giuliani and pro-Trump media outlets have embraced many of these debunked theories about Biden, including disinformation being peddled by Russian agents.
Ratcliffe, who Democrats and ex-officials have accused of politicizing intelligence to help Trump, said in a recent interview on Fox Business that “Hunter Biden’s laptop is not part of some Russian disinformation campaign.” Days later, the FBI sent a letter to Congress saying it had “nothing to add at this time” regarding Ratcliffe’s comments.
Former intelligence officials who served under Democratic and Republican presidents have accused Ratcliffe of abusing his position and politicizing intelligence to help Trump’s campaign.
– Marshall Cohen
Trump: Obama sold ‘pillows and sheets’ to Ukraine
Trump claimed that while he “sold tank busters to Ukraine,” the Obama administration sold “pillows and sheets.”
Facts First: Trump is being hyperbolic about the Obama administration.
Obama did refuse to provide lethal aid to Ukraine, but he didn’t send mere pillows; he sent counter-mortar radars, armored Humvees and night vision devices, among other things. You can read a full fact check here.
Trump: NATO members increased contributions to ‘guard against Russia’
As an example of how he’s been tough on Russia, Trump said he had gotten NATO member nations to increase their contributions to fund the alliance “to guard against Russia.”
“I’ve got the NATO countries to put up an extra $130 billion, going to $420 billion a year,” Trump said. “That’s to guard against Russia.”
Facts First: This is misleading. Trump was using actual figures but describing them inaccurately.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said in November 2019 that non-US NATO members were expected to add a total of $130 billion to their defense budgets between 2016 and the end of 2020 – not $130 billion more per year. By the end of 2024, Stoltenberg has said, the total was expected to be $400 billion over 2016 levels.
However, the coronavirus pandemic might impact members’ spending plans. In an email in August, NATO spokesperson Peggy Beauplet referred CNN to the transcript of a Stoltenberg news conference in July where he encouraged members to continue to invest in defense but acknowledged, “Covid-19 has created serious economic problems. And it will impact the budget situation for all allies. And I understand that allies will be faced with some very difficult and demanding decisions.”
– Tara Subramaniam
Trump: China is paying billions in tariff revenue
Trump claimed that China is paying the billions in tariff revenue Trump’s administration has distributed to farmers.
“First of all, China is paying. They’re paying billions and billions of dollars. I just gave $28 billion to our farmers,” Trump said.
“Taxpayers’ money,” Biden interrupted. “It didn’t come from China.”
“You know the taxpayers are called China,” Trump said. “China paid $28 billion and you know what they did to pay it Joe? They devalued their currency and they also paid up. And you know who got our money? Our farmers,” he added.
Facts First: Trump’s claim about who is paying the tariff money is false.
Study after study has found that Americans are bearing the cost of Trump’s tariffs on imported Chinese products. And American importers, not Chinese exporters, make the actual tariff payments to the US government.
– Daniel Dale and Katie Lobosco
Biden: Trump caused the trade deficit with China to go up
Biden said Trump has caused the trade deficit with China to go up. “He has caused the deficit with China to go up, not down, with China. Up not down,” Biden said.
Facts First: This is false.
The goods and services trade deficit with China grew during the first two years of Trump’s presidency, but then fell to $308 billion in 2019 – the lowest it’s been since 2013, according to data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis.
It was $310 billion at the end of 2016, just before Trump was elected.
– Katie Lobosco
Health care and Social Security
Biden: ‘Not a single person’ lost private insurance under the Affordable Care Act
In countering Trump’s arguments about health care, Biden said no one had lost private insurance because of the Affordable Care Act.
“Not one single person with private insurance would lose their insurance under my plan, nor did they under Obamacare. They did not lose their insurance, unless they chose – they wanted to go to something else,” Biden said.