President Joe Biden sat for an interview with ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos on Tuesday.
Biden was generally factual in the interview, much of which aired on Wednesday. But he was wrong on three statistical claims.
The context around two of these inaccurate claims suggests they may have been slips rather than purposeful lies. And on the third claim, regarding the history of the Senate filibuster, Biden explicitly told Stephanopoulos that he didn’t think the numbers he was using were right.
Still, it’s our job to correct the record when the President is incorrect. Here’s a fact-check look at the three inaccurate claims and two other claims Biden made in the interview.
The distribution of the American Rescue Plan
Biden, touting the tax benefits of the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan pandemic relief law he signed last week, said, “60% of all these tax breaks go – all these tax breaks go to the bottom 60% of the population.”
Facts First: Biden stumbled his way into inaccuracy here. When CNN asked where Biden got this figure, the White House said Biden was referring to a figure from the Tax Policy Center. But Tax Policy Center senior fellow Howard Gleckman explained to CNN that the center actually found that 67.4% of the tax benefits this year from the new law would go to the bottom 60% of households – not that “all” of the benefits go to the bottom 60% as Biden said.
“He got the first half of the sentence right and actually understated it. But he got the second half of the sentence wrong,” Gleckman said.
Obama-era assistance to Central America
Biden took credit for the passage of an Obama-era initiative to increase federal assistance to Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras, countries from which the US had experienced an influx of unaccompanied minors. He said that “I was able to get a bipartisan bill passed for almost $800 billion to go to the root cause of why – why people are leaving.”
Facts First: The 2015 initiative Biden was talking about – which he did, as vice president, play a significant role in getting passed – provided up to $750 million in US funding for Central American countries, not “$800 billion” as Biden said. We would have let it slide if he had said “$800 million” instead of $750 million, but "$800 billion” is a significant error.
The history of the filibuster
Biden endorsed a change to Senate filibuster rules, saying senators should once again be required to stand on the floor and keep talking if they want to impede legislation. Current filibuster policy allows senators to filibuster without making speeches.
Biden said: “Look, I think – don’t hold me to the numbers, George, but I think between 1960 and 2000, there were – I’m making this number up, I don’t know – there were, like – you know, 50 filibusters. Now there’re, like, 200 since then…”
Facts First: As Biden said himself, he didn’t have his numbers straight. While experts say it is hard even for them to pinpoint the number of filibusters per year (here’s an explanation of the complexity), it’s clear that Biden’s figure was too low both for the past period and the current period – though he was accurate on his general point that the number of filibusters has increased significantly in the 21st century as compared to the late 20th century.
Molly Reynolds, a Brookings Institution senior fellow who has studied the filibuster, said that most scholars think the best proxy measure is the number of motions filed for cloture, a move to end a Senate debate. According to official Senate data, there were 755 cloture motions filed from 1961 to 2000 (which works out to an average of less than 20 per year) and 1,516 cloture motions filed from 2001 onward (which works out to an average of about 75 per year).
The Trump tax cuts
Biden said of Republican opposition to his Covid relief plan: “They don’t like it because in fact their – their idea of a tax cut is give the Trump tax cut, where 83% went to the top 1% of the people in America.”
Facts First: This needs context. While it’s correct to generally say the wealthiest Americans were the biggest beneficiaries of Trump’s 2017 tax cut, the “83%” figure is a projection about what might happen under certain circumstances in 2027, not about what has happened already.
The Tax Policy Center estimated in 2017 that the top 1% would get about 83% of the benefits in 2027, if the law’s individual tax cuts (which were designed as temporary) were allowed to expire and the law’s corporate tax cuts (which were designed as permanent) continued to exist. For 2018, conversely, the Tax Policy Center estimated that the top 1% got 20.5% of the benefits, while the 95%-99% group got another 22.1%.
There is certainly a substantial difference in how the new Biden law and the 2017 Trump law treat the rich and the poor. For example, the Tax Policy Center found that households earning $25,000 or less will receive an average tax cut of $2,800 this year from the new relief law, boosting their after-tax income by 20%. Under the Trump law, these households saw a $60 average reduction in the first year, or about 0.4% of their after-tax income.
Polling on the American Rescue Plan
Speaking of the American Rescue Plan, Biden boasted that “there’s 78% of the people say they support this program, 52% of Republicans.” He granted that there could be some polling error, saying, “Let’s assume it’s off by 15%.”
Facts First: This claim is accurate enough; there has been some public polling that has shown overall support for the American Rescue Plan just shy of the 78% Biden claimed and support among Republicans even higher than the 52% he claimed. Other public polling, however, has found lower support than Biden claimed, both for the general public and for Republicans. Poll results have appeared to vary with the wording of pollsters’ questions.
A Morning Consult/Politico poll conducted February 19-22 found 76% overall support for the relief plan among registered voters and 60% support among Republican registered voters – after poll respondents were told about the plan’s $1.9 trillion cost and some key provisions, including the $1,400 direct payments. A Morning Consult/Politico poll conducted March 6-8 found 75% overall support for the plan and 59% Republican support.
A Monmouth University poll conducted February 25-March 1 found substantially lower support for the plan than Morning Consult did, particularly among Republicans: overall support was 62%, while Republican support was just 33%. In addition to standard differences in pollster methodology and sampling (the Monmouth poll surveyed adults, not registered voters in particular), it’s worth noting that Monmouth mentioned the plan’s $1.9 trillion cost before asking respondents their opinion but did not mention the $1,400 payments until after that question.