President Joe Biden delivered his first State of the Union address on Tuesday – using the occasion to condemn the Russian invasion of Ukraine, promote his first year in the White House as a success story and attempt to revive his domestic legislative agenda.
Here is a fact check of some of the claims from Biden and the Republican response by Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds:
Biden touted record job growth under his administration
“Our economy created over 6.5 million new jobs just last year, more jobs in one year than ever before in the history of the United States of America,” Biden said.
Facts First: This is true. The US added 6.6 million jobs in the first 12 months of Biden’s term, more than the US added in any year going back to 1939, when this data series was first published. However, the Biden-era gains should be viewed with contextual caution. Biden inherited an economy that had been crushed by unprecedented pandemic-related job losses.
Biden took office less than a year after the economy shed more than 22 million jobs in two months because of the pandemic. Even with the jobs rebound – which began under President Donald Trump in May 2020 – the US was still, as of January 2022, down more than 2 million jobs from when the pandemic hit. In other words, the substantial Biden-era gains are still filling the giant pandemic hole.
Biden is free, of course, to argue that he is doing a good job filling that hole, and some economists argue that the pandemic stimulus package he signed into law in early 2021 has played a significant role in the subsequent job growth. But the timing of Biden’s inauguration was a key factor too.
– Daniel Dale and Tara Subramaniam
Biden on mask wearing and Covid progress
Biden highlighted the high number of Americans who no longer need a mask as a sign of real progress in the pandemic. Biden claimed that “most Americans in most of the country can now be mask free. And based on the projections more of the country will reach that point across the next couple of weeks.”
Facts First: Biden is correct based on a recent change in CDC metrics, when the focus expanded from community transmission to include hospitalizations and hospital capacity.
As of last Thursday, about 99% of the US population lived in an area where the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended that people wear a mask indoors. On Friday that number dropped to 28%.
On Friday, the number of people catching Covid didn’t really change; what changed were the metrics the CDC used to determine who should wear a mask. CDC mask recommendations had been based on how high the transmission of the coronavirus was in a particular region. In addition to new Covid-19 cases, CDC mask guidance is now also based on new Covid-19 hospitalization and hospital capacity in a community.
CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said Friday that the guidance change reflects the lower risk Americans have of severe disease since more people are vaccinated or have had a prior infection. Access to tests and treatments has also improved. Many states went ahead and previously dropped mask mandates without waiting for CDC guidance to change.
As of Tuesday, the US is now averaging 69,549 new Covid-19 cases per day, according to Johns Hopkins University. This is 21% drop since last week and the lowest cases have been since July. Still the US is averaging 1,933 new deaths a day. That’s about the same as last week.
– Jen Christensen
Strongest economic growth in four decades
Biden said the US economy had its strongest year in nearly four decades in 2021, growing at a rate of 5.7%.
Facts first: That is correct. But it also needs some more context because the economy is still recovering from the devastating impact of the pandemic.
The US economy was strong last year. The nation’s gross domestic product, the broadest measure of economic activity, increased at a pace of 5.7%, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis. That was the fastest growth rate since 1984, when Ronald Reagan was in the White House.
That said, America is also still recovering from the worst of the pandemic. In 2020, GDP contracted as a result of the economy shutting down in response to Covid-19. Last year’s upswing was still making up for lost ground.
But the economic growth came at a price: inflation has soared, and Americans face higher prices everywhere from food to gasoline to furniture. At the start of 2022, two of the most-watched inflation indicators – the Labor Department’s consumer price index and the Commerce Department’s personal consumption expenditure price index – increased at the fastest pace since 1982 during the year ending in January.
– Anneken Tappe
Assistance to Ukraine
Biden said: “We are giving more than $1 billion in direct assistance to Ukraine.”
Facts First: This is true, but it needs context. The US has given more than $1 billion in total security assistance to Ukraine over the past year. While Biden administration officials have continued to send aid to Ukraine since the beginning of the Russian invasion six days ago, they are not giving the total $1 billion in assistance right now.
The US has given more than $1 billion in total security assistance to Ukraine over the past year, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement on February 26. The US is not currently giving Ukraine $1 billion in aid, as the President stated in his speech.
Blinken authorized the Defense Department to provide $60 million in immediate military assistance to Ukraine in the fall of 2021. In December, Blinken authorized an additional $200 million. After the invasion began, Blinken authorized a third aid package of $350 million for “immediate support to Ukraine’s defense,” Blinken said in the statement, bringing the total security assistance from the US to Ukraine “over the past year to more than $1 billion.”
Biden administration officials have said they are continuing to send security assistance to Ukraine, even as the Russian invasion continues.
US security assistance to Ukraine has continued to arrive, a senior defense official told reporters Monday.
“It continues to arrive. and continues to get to them, including in just the last day or so,” the official said on a call with reporters. “We’re not going to talk about the specifics of how we get stuff in, so we can continue to get stuff in.”
– Ellie Kaufman and Jeremy Herb
Ability to sue gun makers
Addressing gun control, Biden repeated his claim that “gun manufacturers (are) the only industry in America that can’t be sued.”
CNN has previously fact checked this claim. Here’s what we found.
Facts First: This is false. Gun manufacturers are not entirely exempt from being sued, nor are they the only industry with some liability protections.
Under the 2005 Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, gun manufacturers cannot be held liable for the use of their products in crimes. However, gun manufacturers can still be held liable for (and thus sued for) a range of things, including negligence, breach of contract regarding the purchase of a gun or certain damages from defects in the design of a gun.
In 2019, the Supreme Court allowed a lawsuit against gun manufacturer Remington Arms Co. to continue. The plaintiffs, a survivor and families of nine other victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School mass shooting, wanted to hold the company – which manufactured the semi-automatic rifle that was used in the killing – partly responsible by targeting the company’s marketing practices, another area where gun manufacturers can be held liable. On February 15, those families reached a $73 million settlement with the now-bankrupt gun manufacturer and its four insurers.
Other industries also have some exemptions from liability. For example, vaccine manufacturers cannot be held liable in a civil suit for damages from a vaccine-related injury or death. And for the next four years, pharmaceutical companies developing the Covid-19 vaccines will have immunity from liability under the 2005 Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness Act. Those who claim to have been harmed by vaccines may receive money from the government, not the pharmaceutical company, via the Vaccine Injury Compensation Program.
– Holmes Lybrand
Global supply chains and inflation
Biden said the pandemic disrupted global supply chains and in turn boosted inflation. A third of last year’s inflation was due to higher car prices, he said.
Facts first: That’s roughly correct.
As of January, inflation for used and new vehicles made up nearly a third of overall price increases.
The Labor Department’s consumer price index rose by 7.5% in the 12 months ended in January. Prices for used cars contributed roughly 1.7 percentage points of that, while new vehicles added another half percentage point.
Car prices rose as manufacturers faced a shortage of computer chips used in new vehicles, hampering new production. As a result, used car prices spiked.
– Anneken Tappe
Biden on support for his SCOTUS nominee
During his speech, Biden touted his Supreme Court nominee, Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, and claimed that her appointment has been embraced by a bipartisan array of interest groups and legal experts.
“Since she’s been nominated, she’s received a broad range of support, from the Fraternal Order of Police, to former judges appointed by Democrats and Republicans,” Biden said.
Facts First: This is correct.
Jackson, who is the first Black woman nominated to the Supreme Court, comes from a law enforcement family. Her brother was a detective in Baltimore and two of her uncles were police officers, including one who was the police chief in Jackson’s hometown of Miami.
Fraternal Order of Police National President Patrick Yoes issued a statement saying Jackson “has the temperament, intellect, legal experience, and family background to have earned this appointment” and will be a fair justice on the high court. This was a surprising endorsement, as the group endorsed former President Donald Trump in 2020 and the group’s vice president recently slammed Biden for “demonizing” police officers.
Biden also accurately pointed out that Jackson has support from some retired GOP-appointed judges. This includes J. Michael Luttig, who served in the Virginia-based federal appeals court for 15 years and informally advised former Vice President Mike Pence regarding January 6. And according to Axios, Jackson is also supported by former Judge Thomas R. Griffith, who was an influential conservative voice on the DC Circuit Court of Appeals from 2005 until his retirement in 2020.
But there are limits to the bipartisan support for Jackson’s nomination. Some Senate Republicans have criticized her record and the Republican National Committee called her a “radical, left-wing activist.”
– Marshall Cohen
Energy efficiency savings of climate agenda
As Biden touted the need to invest in energy efficiency, he said his clean energy legislative agenda would cut energy costs for American families an average of $500 a year by combating climate change.
Facts first: This needs context. Biden’s estimate is based on third party analysis that assessed the savings Americans might see by 2030, not immediately.
Biden’s $500 per year figure comes from a recent report done by the nonpartisan research firm Rhodium Group – which analyzed how much greenhouse gas emissions the US could slash by passing major clean energy legislation, putting forth new federal regulations, and having states pass new climate and clean energy bills as well.
Rhodium’s report also looked at how this would impact household energy costs; it stresses that clean energy tax credits would have the biggest impact on potential household savings because they would help bring down the costs of items such as clean electricity and electric vehicles.
“Long-term tax credits, investments in energy efficiency and other factors cushion consumers from price increases associated with new standards and regulations,” the Rhodium report reads. “On a national average basis, households save roughly $500 a year in energy costs in 2030 in our joint action scenario.”
As it notes, Americans wouldn’t expect to see energy costs go down by $500 per year immediately. Rhodium estimates that would happen by the end of the decade, with savings building gradually if Congress passed a major clean energy bill.
– Ella Nilsen
Biden on banning chokeholds for federal officers
Biden touted his record on criminal justice and said that the Justice Department “banned chokeholds” for federal officers.
Facts First: This is true, though it’s important to note that the ban does not apply to state and local law enforcement officers.
Biden said the Justice Department banned chokeholds, but the “ban” wasn’t a strict ban and doesn’t apply to the thousands of local and state police departments across the country.
In September 2021, the Justice Department announced that federal law enforcement officers would be banned from using neck restraints except in rare cases. It wasn’t a strict ban – it still allowed agents to use those techniques when deadly force is justified. The policy change did not apply to local police departments, whose policies are set by mayors and city councils and whose laws are set by their state legislatures.
Neck restraints have resulted in high-profile in-custody deaths in recent years that have spurred calls for the technique to be banned. The DOJ’s policy change bans both chokeholds and “carotid restraints” except in cases where officers are authorized to use deadly force. In those cases, an agent would still be able to apply pressure to someone’s neck or carotid artery to restrict airflow or blood.
The DOJ can’t change the policies of the thousands of local police departments across the country. But officials in academia and in law enforcement have advocated for federal “best practices” that local police departments could model, even if there was no way to enforce compliance. The DOJ’s policy announcement was welcomed by some policing leaders.
Some big cities, even without law changes at the state level, have restricted the use of neck restraints in recent years. But even when departments or states “ban” techniques, there are exceptions allowed when deadly force is justified, when there’s a threat to someone’s life.
– Peter Nickeas
Taxes on those earning less than $400,000
Biden said that his plan to cut costs for families won’t raise taxes on anyone earning less than $400,000 a year.
“Nobody earning less than $400,000 a year will pay an additional penny in new taxes. Not a single penny,” he said.
Facts First: This needs context and depends a lot on how you define taxes.
At least two economic models show that Biden’s original economic plan would not raise taxes on those earning less than $400,000 when considering direct income and payroll taxes. That includes analyses from the nonpartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget and the Penn Wharton Budget Model.
But some Americans who earn less than $400,000 may still be indirectly affected by Biden’s proposed corporate tax increase. Many economists assume that an increase in the corporate tax rate will result in lower wages for workers and effectively reduce their after-tax income.
On average, the top 10% of tax filers, or those earning more than $115,800, could see their after-tax income shrink if one version of Biden’s plan took effect, according to the Tax Foundation.
The change would result in a small decrease for those earning less than $400,000, amounting to about 0.2%. While those households won’t face a higher income tax rate and won’t be paying Uncle Sam more, their wages could take a hit due to the higher corporate tax rate.
A version of Biden’s plan, known as Build Back Better, passed the House late last year but has stalled in the Senate and is unlikely to move forward in its current form. The tax increases were meant to fund an economic plan to transform the nation’s social safety net and combat climate change.
– Katie Lobosco
Biden’s claim about Fortune 500 companies’ tax bills
Calling for corporations and the wealthiest Americans to “start paying their fair share,” Biden said, “Last year, 55 of the Fortune 500 companies earned $40 billion in profit and paid zero dollars in federal taxes.”
Facts First: This needs context. Biden left out a significant word from the prepared text of his speech.
The prepared text, which the White House emailed to journalists just before Biden spoke, said that the 55 Fortune 500 companies paid zero dollars last year in federal income taxes. That was indeed the conclusion of a report from the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, a left-leaning think tank. (The institute looked at federal income tax data from 2020, the last year for which these figures are currently available, not 2021.)
However, in Biden’s actual remarks to Congress, he said the 55 companies had paid zero dollars in “federal taxes,” not zero dollars in federal income taxes in particular. It’s possible that the companies in question paid some kind of federal taxes.
Matthew Gardner, a senior fellow at the institute, said in a text message to CNN during the State of the Union that he “would have preferred” that Biden had specified that the report was specifically about federal income taxes. Gardner added, though, that the omission of the word “income” is not “egregious.” Gardner said the income tax is the only “substantial federal tax that is explicitly designed to be paid by corporations.” (Companies also submit federal payroll taxes, which are legally split between employers and employees, but Gardner said it’s “pretty non-controversial” that even the employers’ share of those payroll taxes is ultimately borne by workers.)
One more note of context: The institute’s analysis of large companies’ federal income tax payments was based on the tax numbers the companies included in their public annual financial reports, which may not have been the same as the numbers on the companies’ actual tax returns; the tax returns are usually not disclosed to the public. But as The Washington Post reported in October, the institute’s conclusion is broadly consistent with a 2020 report from the Joint Committee on Taxation, a nonpartisan federal entity that was able to analyze a sample of corporations’ actual tax filings for the period from 2014 to 2018.
Gardner told CNN last week that since companies are required to publish their “best estimate of what that tax number will be” in their annual public reports, and since we will generally “never see” the actual figures from their tax returns, the numbers from their annual reports are appropriate ones to use.
– Daniel Dale
Biden’s claim on building 500,000 electric vehicle charging stations
Biden said his administration will “build a national network 500,000 electric vehicle charging stations” on the nation’s roads, using money included in the bipartisan infrastructure law he signed in November.
Facts First: This needs context. For a few reasons, it’s questionable whether the Biden administration will be able to meet its goal of installing 500,000 electric vehicle charging stations on US roads.
The $7.5 billion allocated to charging stations in the bipartisan infrastructure law that Biden signed into law last year is just half of the $15 billion that Biden had originally proposed for the charging network. This change from the original proposal could significantly hinder the administration’s ability to meet the goal.
Second, there’s a wide range in how much different types of chargers cost, and individual states have a lot of leeway deciding what kinds of chargers will go on their roads. DC fast chargers can charge a car to mostly full in 20-30 minutes and are meant to go on major highways and roads. Another kind of charger known as an L2 charger can take hours to charge a car to full. DC fast chargers typically cost around $100,000 compared to around $6,000 for an L2, Ellen Hughes-Cromwick, a senior resident fellow at the think tank Third Way, has told CNN.
In a recent interview with climate publication Grist, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said that ultimately the number of EV chargers on the roads “really depends on how the states decide to mix the fast chargers and different types of technology.”
– Ella Nilsen
Biden on healthcare savings
Biden touted the $1.9 trillion coronavirus rescue package that he signed a year ago, saying that it is bringing people relief from skyrocketing inflation by reducing premiums for Obamacare plans through enhanced subsidies.
“Look the American Rescue Plan is helping millions of families with Affordable Care Act plans to save them $2,400 a year on their health premiums,” he said.
Facts First: It’s true the enhanced subsidies in the American Rescue Plan are reducing monthly premiums. In fact, the average savings are likely even larger than Biden said.
Biden’s statistic is based on an initial 2021 analysis from the Department of Health and Human Services that found the beefed up subsidies would save policyholders $50 a month, on average, or $2,400 for a family of four.
The agency later found that existing Obamacare policyholders who signed up for new or updated 2021 plans during last year’s special enrollment period saved an average of $67 per consumer per month on premiums, thanks to the subsidies. That equates to just over $3,200 a year for a family of four.
Multiplying the per person savings by four is “imprecise,” but it does yield an approximately accurate figure, said Larry Levitt, executive vice president for health policy at the Kaiser Family Foundation. The updated HHS statistic is in line with a Kaiser analysis that estimated those who purchase Affordable Care Act policies would save $70 per person per month, on average.
The American Rescue Plan made several major changes to Affordable Care Act subsidies for 2021 and 2022. Enrollees pay no more than 8.5% of their income on health insurance coverage, down from nearly 10%. Lower-income policyholders receive subsidies that eliminate their premiums.
Also, those earning more than 400% of the federal poverty level now qualify for premium assistance, lowering what they pay each month.
Reynolds on Biden and Harris visiting border
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds, in the Republican response, touted GOP governors who visited the US-Mexico border, claiming: “We’ve actually gone to the border, something that our President and vice president have yet to do since taking office.”
Facts First: Reynolds is partially correct. President Joe Biden has not been to the US-Mexico border since he was elected, but Vice President Kamala Harris did visit the border last June.
After a surge of unaccompanied minors at the US southern border last year, Harris visited El Paso, Texas – a city on the US-Mexico border – in June and toured a US Customs and Border Protection facility. She was joined by Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, Senate Judiciary Chairman Dick Durbin and Democratic Texas Rep. Veronica Escobar.
The visit to El Paso came on the heels of fierce GOP criticism of Harris, who had been tasked by Biden with leading diplomatic efforts in the Northern Triangle to address root causes of migration.
– Priscilla Alvarez
Reynolds on Democrats and defunding the police
Reynolds said, “Many prominent Democrats still want to defund the police.”
Facts First: This needs context. While it’s certainly possible to find elected Democrats who support the idea of defunding the police, the party’s Washington leaders – notably including Biden – have explicitly opposed the idea. Biden, in fact, rejected the concept once more during Tuesday’s address itself.
Biden said in the State of the Union: “The answer is not to defund the police. It’s to fund the police. Fund them. Fund them. Fund them with resources and training.”
It’s worth noting that the slogan “defund the police” means different things to different activists – from the dissolution of police forces to partial reductions in funding.
- Daniel Dale
Reynolds on DOJ treating parents like ‘terrorists’
In accusing the Biden administration of being soft on crime, Reynolds claimed that “the Department of Justice treats parents like domestic terrorists” instead of cracking down on violent crime and looting.
Facts First: This claim about the Justice Department is false. It was debunked last year – during the uproar at school boards over Covid-19 restrictions and anti-racism curriculums – but has nonetheless remained a GOP talking point. The Justice Department isn’t treating concerned parents like terrorists.
The National School Boards Associations, in a September letter to the Justice Department asking it to “deal with” the uptick in threats against education officials, equated that activity to “domestic terrorism.” In response, Attorney General Merrick Garland directed federal prosecutors to work with state and local authorities to combat the issue – but importantly, he never used or embraced the heated “domestic terrorism” language.
Still, Congressional Republicans pounced and quickly accused Garland, Biden and the DOJ of treating innocent parents like terrorists. At contentious hearings last year, Garland said prosecutors were only looking at violent threats against educators and weren’t trying to crack down on free speech.
The FBI’s counterterrorism division did create an internal “threat tag” called “EDUOFFICIALS” to help agents monitor investigations and intelligence assessments about illegal threats against teachers and school board officials. This is an internal organizing tool – not a nationwide dragnet to target concerned parents who speak up nonviolently at school board meetings. It’s impossible to know everything the FBI is doing behind the scenes, but this is a very far cry from the massive abuses claimed by top Republicans.
– Marshall Cohen
This story has been updated