AP FACT CHECK: Trump sees what others do not in the pandemic
WASHINGTON (AP) — “I believe we’re rounding the corner.” “We’re a winner on the excess mortality.” “We have the vaccines coming and we have the therapies coming.” “We have done an amazing job.”
President Donald Trump sees in the pandemic what he wants to see. He seemed to acknowledge as much when he was challenged on stage a few days ago for repeatedly and thoroughly misrepresenting a study about masks.
No, the study did not find that most people who wear masks get COVID-19. Most people don’t. But, “that’s what I heard and that’s what I saw, and — regardless....”
Regard for the facts is not a hallmark of Trump’s campaign for the Nov. 3 election or of his presidency.
His assurance, heard for weeks, that the U.S. is rounding the corner on the coronavirus is belied by rising infection in the vast majority of states and higher deaths in 30 by week’s end, as well as by a surge in Europe. This as the flu season approaches, another layer of risk to health.
As for Trump’s claim that he’s done an amazing job on the pandemic, that’s part of a record in office that voters are judging now and until polls close for the Nov. 3 election. He and Democratic rival Joe Biden bid for late advantage in competing forums that replaced a canceled presidential debate.
Meantime, the Senate vetted Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination for the Supreme Court with committee hearings that often seemed to put the Affordable Care Act, also known as “Obamacare,” on trial.
Some statements from the past week and how they compare with the facts:
TRUMP, asked about the many attendees at a White House event who got sick with COVID-19: “Just the other day they came out with a statement that 85% of the people that wear masks catch it.” — NBC forum in Miami on Thursday.
NBC’S SAVANNAH GUTHRIE: “Well, they didn’t say that, I know that study.”
TRUMP: “Well that’s what I heard and that’s what I saw, and -- regardless, but everybody’s tested and they’re tested often.”
THE FACTS: That was at least the third time the same day that he flatly misstated the findings of a federal study and the first time he was called out on it. The study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention did not find that 85% of mask wearers catch COVID-19. If that were so, the majority of Americans would be infected.
It found something quite different: that 85% of a small group of COVID-19 patients surveyed reported they had worn a mask often or always around the time they would have become infected. Dining in restaurants, where masks are set aside for meals, was one activity suspected of spreading community infection. The study not declare masks ineffective.
Trump told a North Carolina rally earlier in the day: “Did you see CDC? That 85% of the people wearing a mask catch it, OK?” And to Fox Business News: ”CDC comes out with a statement that 85% of the people wearing masks catch it.”
TRUMP: “We’re a winner on the excess mortality.” — Miami forum.
THE FACTS: That marker of mass death is a problematic bragging point.
Excess mortality estimates take a look at how many more people are dying than usual. The estimates help to illustrate that the death toll attributed to COVID-19 understates how many are actually dying from the disease.
As many as 215,000 more people than usual died in the U.S. during the first seven months of the year, suggesting that the number of lives lost to the coronavirus was significantly higher than the official toll, which was then about 150,000. More than half the dead in the excess mortality count were people of color, a higher proportion than their share of the population, according to an analysis by The Associated Press and the Marshall Project, a nonprofit news organization covering the criminal justice system.
Exactly how many of the abnormally high deaths were from the virus cannot be known, and international comparisons cannot be made with precision.
But the findings don’t make the U.S. a “winner.”
JOE BIDEN: “This nominee said she wants to get rid of the Affordable Care Act.” – remarks to reporters Monday.
BIDEN: “Why do Republicans have time to hold a hearing on the Supreme Court? ... It’s about finally getting his (Trump’s) wish to wipe out the affordable health care act because their nominee has said in the past that the law should be struck down.” – to supporters in Ohio on Monday.
THE FACTS: No, Barrett has not said explicitly that she would strike down the health law. Biden may ultimately be right that if she joins the court, she would vote to eliminate the law, but there are also reasons to believe she might not.
Biden is alluding to a 2017 commentary Barrett wrote that included a critique of the Supreme Court’s 2012 ruling upholding parts of the law. Barrett was a University of Notre Dame law professor at the time.
In her critique, she specifically took issue with Chief Justice John Roberts’ reasoning that the penalty attached to one part of the law — the mandate that everyone get health coverage — be considered a tax and therefore within the powers of Congress to enforce. She said he stretched the law “beyond its plausible meaning” to uphold it in the 5-4 vote.
That’s not necessarily the same as her wanting to trash the entire law. It’s difficult to take what a prospective jurist wrote about a complex law and use it to state as fact how she might rule years later when some circumstances have changed. But Biden and other Democrats didn’t hesitate to do so.
All that is certain is that Barrett criticized how her potential colleagues on the high court ruled on the law eight years ago.
FROM NORTH CAROLINA
TRUMP, reacting to news that several people associated with the Biden campaign on a recent flight with Biden’s running mate, Sen. Kamala Harris, tested positive for COVID-19: “We extend our best wishes, which is more than they did to me, but that’s OK.” — North Carolina rally Thursday.
THE FACTS: That’s false.
Hours after Trump’s early morning announcement on Oct. 2 that he had tested positive, both Biden and Harris sent their wishes for a quick recovery via Twitter.
“Jill and I send our thoughts to President Trump and First Lady Melania Trump for a swift recovery,” Biden wrote. “We will continue to pray for the health and safety of the president and his family.”
Harris tweeted a similar message “wishing President Trump and the First Lady a full and speedy recovery. We’re keeping them and the entire Trump family in our thoughts.”
The Biden campaign at the time also said it would stop running negative ads, with the candidate tweeting that “this cannot be a partisan moment” when Trump was going to a hospital for treatment of his coronavirus infection. Biden’s camp resumed the advertising after Trump was released.
GOP v. “OBAMACARE”
SEN. TED CRUZ: “‘Obamacare’ has doubled the profits of the big health insurance companies, doubled them. ‘Obamacare’ has been great corporate welfare for giant health insurance companies at the same time, according to the Kaiser foundation, premiums — average families’ premiums — have risen more than — have risen $7,967 per year on average. That is catastrophic that millions of Americans can’t afford health care. It is a catastrophic failure of ‘Obamacare.’” — Barrett nomination hearing Wednesday.
THE FACTS: No, family premiums for health insurance have not risen by $7,967 per year, as Cruz asserted. Nowhere close.
That figure comes from the Kaiser Family Foundation but it captures the increase over 11 years — 2009 to 2020 — not per year, as the Republican senator from Texas put it. In addition, the figure applies to the cost of premiums for employer-provided coverage, not for “Obamacare” or for health insurance overall.
Kaiser’s Larry Levitt says the cost of employer coverage wasn’t much affected by the health law and “the increase in premiums is largely due to changes in underlying health care costs over this period.”
The law’s premiums for a standard “silver” individual plan purchased by a hypothetical 40-year-old went up from an average of $273 a month nationally in 2014, to $462 this year.
Levitt said there’s not a clear equivalent for a family premium in the health law’s marketplaces; what a family pays is the sum of each member’s individual premiums.
Cruz’s take on insurer profits also missed the mark. Some major insurers lost money for a time selling “Obamacare” coverage, and several companies exited the health law’s markets. The law actually has a provision that in effect limits insurer profits.
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM: “Under the Affordable Care Act, three states get 35% of the money, folks. Can you name them? I’ll help you, California, New York and Massachusetts. They’re 22% of the population. ... Now, why did they get 35% of the money when they are only 22% of the population?” — Barrett confirmation hearing Tuesday.
THE FACTS: The South Carolina senator’s suggestion that Democrats designed the health law to benefit Democratic states is misleading.
Big states with higher premiums and more enrollment in the health insurance marketplaces get more federal money. But that’s driven by differences in premiums between states and by the number of people who sign up for taxpayer-subsidized coverage.
Moreover, some states such as South Carolina get much less federal money under the health law because they chose not to expand Medicaid, where the federal government picks up 90% of the cost.
TRUMP: “We had the greatest economy in the history of our country.” — Miami forum.
THE FACTS: The numbers show it wasn’t the greatest in U.S. history.
Did the U.S. have the most jobs on record before the pandemic? Sure, the population had grown. The 3.5% unemployment rate before the recession was at a half-century low, but the percentage of people working or searching for jobs was still below a 2000 peak.
Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Romer looked at Trump’s economic growth record this month. Growth under Trump averaged 2.48% annually before the pandemic, only slightly better than the 2.41% gains achieved during Barack Obama’s second term. By contrast, the economic expansion that began in 1982 during Ronald Reagan’s presidency averaged 4.2% a year.
So Trump is wrong.
BIDEN: “The crime bill itself did not have mandatory sentences, except for two things, it had three strikes and you’re out, which I voted against in the crime bill.” — ABC forum in Philadelphia on Thursday.
THE FACTS: That’s misleading. Biden is understating the impact of the Clinton-era bill and the influence he brought to bear in getting it passed into law.
Biden wrote and voted for that sweeping 1994 crime bill, which included money for more prisons, expanded the use of the federal death penalty and called for a mandatory life sentence for three-time violent offenders — the so-called three strikes provision.
He did call the three-strikes rule “wacko” at one point, even as he was helping to write the bill. Whatever his reservations about certain provisions, he ultimately voted for the legislation, which included the three-strikes rule and has come to be seen in the Black Lives Matter era as a heavy-handed and discriminatory tool of the justice system.
TRUMP: “When I see thousands of ballots dumped in a garbage can and they happen to have my name on it? I’m not happy about it.” — Miami forum.
THE FACTS: Nobody has seen that. Contrary to Trump’s repeated, baseless attacks on voting security, voting and election fraud is vanishingly rare. No cases involving thousands of ballots dumped in the trash have been reported in this election.
Trump has cited a case of military ballots marked for him being thrown in the trash in Pennsylvania as evidence of a possible plot to steal the election. But he leaves out the details: County election officials say that the seven ballots, along with two unopened ones, were accidentally tossed in an elections office in a Republican-controlled county by a single contract worker and that authorities were swiftly called.
The Brennan Center for Justice in 2017 ranked the risk of ballot fraud at 0.00004% to 0.0009%, based on studies of past elections.
In the five states that regularly send ballots to all voters, there have been no major cases of fraud or difficulty counting the votes.
TRUMP: “We have the vaccines coming and we have the therapies coming.” —Miami forum.
THE FACTS: That’s the expectation, but not a certainty. The intense effort to develop vaccines and treatments has had both advances and setbacks.
Despite Trump’s repeated promises of an imminent vaccine, scientists say it’s unlikely that data showing a leading shot actually works would come before the election. Promising therapies are being tried.
A new study led by the World Health Organization suggests that the antiviral drug remdesivir — among the drugs given to Trump — did not help hospitalized COVID-19 patients. But that’s not the final word on a medicine that became the standard of care in many countries after a U.S. study found it sped recovery.
TRUMP: “One of the most important issues for Pennsylvania is the survival of your fracking industry. Joe Biden has repeatedly pledged to abolish fracking. He’s a liar. He’s a liar.” — remarks Tuesday at a rally in Johnstown, Pennsylvania.
THE FACTS: That’s false. Biden has repeatedly pledged not to abolish fracking. None of that has dissuaded the president from wholly distorting Biden’s position.
At one of the Democratic primary debates, Biden misspoke when he addressed the subject, saying that if he became president, there would be “no more — no new — fracking.” Biden’s campaign quickly corrected his mistake.
Biden’s actual position is that he would ban new gas and oil permits, including for fracking, on federal lands only. The vast majority of oil and gas does not come from federal lands.
He’s hewed closely to that middle-of-the-road position, going so far as to tell an anti-fracking activist that he “ought to vote for somebody else” if he was in a hurry to see fracking abolished.
Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, opened up a yearslong oil and gas boom in parts of the Southwest, High Plains and Northeast, including battleground Pennsylvania. The technique went into widespread use during the Obama-Biden administration.
Some liberal Democrats wish Biden were taking a tougher line against fracking now. But he isn’t.
WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION
TRUMP: “The World Health Organization just admitted that I was right. Lockdowns are killing countries all over the world. The cure cannot be worse than the problem itself. Open up your states, Democrat governors. Open up New York. A long battle, but they finally did the right thing!” — tweet Monday.
WHITE HOUSE: “Over the weekend, the World Health Organization officially changed their policy and strongly stated that prolonged lockdowns must end because of their significant harms.” — White House official in call Monday with reporters, speaking on condition of anonymity.
THE FACTS: They’re twisting words out of context. The WHO has not shifted its position that national stay-at-home orders or “lockdowns” should be considered a measure of last resort to contain the virus. Nor did it ever declare that Trump “was right” on his COVID-19 response.
Trump appeared to be referring to comments made last week by Dr. David Nabarro, one of six special envoys to the WHO on COVID-19. He told the British magazine The Spectator that lockdowns should be considered as just one measure among many to control the virus, with an aim to give countries “breathing space” to roll out other, better anti-COVID measures.
“We in the World Health Organization do not advocate lockdowns as the primary means of control of this virus,” Nabarro said. He added that lockdowns can only be justified “to buy you time to reorganize, regroup, rebalance your resources, protect your health workers who are exhausted. But by and large, we’d rather not do it.”
Since declaring the coronavirus a pandemic in March, the WHO has said that if countries decide to go into lockdown, it should be considered temporary and they should use the time to implement measures such as testing, tracing, informing local populations and promoting physical distancing.
The United Nations body has been inconsistent at times with its recommendations, such as mask wearing that it first opposed for the general public. It has also lagged governments in pushing border closings. But on “stay at home” lockdown measures, it hasn’t changed.
Associated Press writers Amanda Seitz, David Klepper, Jude Joffe-Block, Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar, Bill Barrow, Josh Boak, Darlene Superville, Kevin Freking and Jamey Keaten contributed to this report.
EDITOR’S NOTE — A look at the veracity of claims by political figures.
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