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Clip of Biden using term ‘dictator’ to describe executive orders lacks context

January 29, 2021 GMT

CLAIM: President Joe Biden admitted he is governing like a “dictator” in an interview with ABC News host George Stephanopoulos.

AP’S ASSESSMENT: Missing context. Biden said that he doesn’t believe tax increases should be passed by executive order. The executive orders Biden has signed so far in his presidency have not addressed tax policy.

THE FACTS: In just over a week as president, Biden has signed more than three dozen executive orders, prompting scrutiny from social media users and lawmakers who say his early reliance on executive actions detracts from his pledge to unify the country.


But some of that criticism involves a misleading argument born out of an out-of-context video clip circulating widely on social media.

The clip comes from an October ABC News town hall, when Biden said there are certain “things you can’t do by executive order unless you’re a dictator” during an exchange about how quickly he’d raise taxes on corporations and wealthy Americans if elected president.

“So, there’s not going to be any delay on the tax increases?” Stephanopoulos asked Biden, according to an ABC transcript of the event.

“No, well, I’ve got to get the votes,” Biden responded. “I got to get the votes. That’s why — you know, the one thing that I — I have this strange notion. We are a democracy. Some of my Republican friends and some of my Democratic friends even occasionally say, ‘Well, if you can’t get the votes by executive order, you’re going to do something.’ Things you can’t do by executive order unless you’re a dictator. We’re a democracy. We need consensus.”

Stephanopoulos then cut to a commercial break, saying, “We’ve got to take a quick break. We’ll be right back.”

Several Facebook users and conservative websites this week have posted the video clip without Stephanopoulos’ question, casting Biden as a hypocrite for referring to executive orders as dictatorial, when, in fact, his reference was more specific.


The misleading clip even reached Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who claimed in a Senate floor speech on Thursday morning that Biden as a candidate had declared “you can’t legislate by executive action unless you are a dictator.”

The U.S. Constitution gives Congress the power to “lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts and excises, to pay the debts and provide for the common defense and general welfare of the United States.”

Presidents have some power to influence tax policy unilaterally — for example, President Donald Trump last fall used an executive order to defer payroll taxes for a period during the COVID-19 pandemic — but Biden’s executive orders so far have not involved changing tax policy.

During a press briefing on Jan. 21, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki answered a question about whether tax reform would happen in 2021.

“I don’t really have any predictions for you on that,” she said. “I — I think, at this point in time and for the foreseeable future, addressing the pandemic, getting the pandemic under control, and that linkage to getting people back to work will be his top priority.”

Psaki also addressed the viral video clip during a press briefing on Jan. 28, saying the president’s comments were being taken “a bit out of context,” and that Biden was specifically asked about whether tax reform could be done by executive order.

I think the question is pretty important context for everybody and he said no,” Psaki said. “And the President also said during an interview with columnists back in December that he didn’t think executive action should be used for everything. And that certainly is his point of view, but there are steps including overturning some of the harmful, detrimental, and yes, immoral actions of the prior administration that he felt he could not wait to overturn and that’s exactly what he did.”


This is part of The Associated Press’ ongoing effort to fact-check misinformation that is shared widely online, including work with Facebook to identify and reduce the circulation of false stories on the platform.

Here’s more information on Facebook’s fact-checking program: