FactChecking Biden’s Town Hall

Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden answered questions from the public in a CNN town hall, but he got some facts wrong and misled on others:

  • Biden made the far-fetched claim that data show President Donald Trump could have prevented “all” of the U.S. deaths from COVID-19 if he “had done his job.” There’s no research that supports such a claim.
  • Biden wrongly claimed the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently said “wearing masks would save 100,000” U.S. residents from dying of COVID-19 between now and January. That’s a projection from the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, not the CDC director.
  • The former vice president misleadingly claimed Trump “said that no longer would we … provide masks for schools.” One federal program to pay for masks ended, but another aims to distribute up to 125 million masks for schools.
  • Biden appears to have exaggerated when he said Trump had been told the coronavirus was “seven times more contagious than the flu.” Trump told journalist Bob Woodward the virus might be five times more lethal than the flu. The coronavirus is about two to three times more contagious.
  • Biden wrongly claimed that “we now have a larger trade deficit … than we’ve ever had with China.” He would have been right two years ago, but not now.
  • He claimed that capping orphan oil and gas wells could create 250,000 jobs. We only found support for 120,000 jobs.
  • Biden falsely claimed that Trump has never condemned the far right and white supremacists.

The Sept. 17 town hall was held near Biden’s hometown of Scranton, Pennsylvania, at a drive-in theater to maximize social distancing.

Far-Fetched Claim About Preventing ‘All’ Deaths

Biden claimed Trump could have prevented “all” of the deaths in the U.S. from COVID-19 if he “had done his job,” citing unspecified “data.” We know of no such data or any research that would support that notion.

Biden: And if president had done his job — had done his job from the beginning — all the people would still be alive. All the people — I’m not making this up, just look at the data. Look at the data.

The Biden campaign hasn’t responded to our request for the “data” Biden said supports his claim. But it’s far-fetched to say any leader could have done something to prevent every single one of the more than 197,000 deaths from COVID-19 in the United States.

We don’t know what actions Biden believes the president could have taken to stop all deaths. But even if the U.S. had implemented incredibly strict travel limitations very early on, the body of research shows that could have delayed the spread of the virus but not contained it. We reviewed that research when Trump claimed that the travel restrictions he instituted on China had saved “hundreds of thousands” of lives. There’s no support for that figure.

And there’s no support for the idea that a severe travel policy would have saved all lives, either.

Saad B. Omer, director of the Yale Institute for Global Health, told us in April that previous studies of viruses with a reproduction number of 1.9 or higher, meaning the average number of other people one person infects, have shown the travel limitations have to be very strict to have an effect. Travel restrictions “can have an impact if you shut down 90% of all travel,” Omer said. But, “even then, it delays it a little bit but it doesn’t stop it.”

Even countries with much smaller outbreaks than the U.S. have had some deaths from COVID-19. Biden mentioned Canada in his town hall, saying, “Last Friday, we had a thousand deaths, all of Canada had zero deaths.” That’s correct, according to figures from Worldometer. But Canada still has had deaths from COVID-19 — more than 9,000 deaths.

Even the tiny European country of Liechtenstein — population 39,000 — has had one death among its 112 cases, according to Johns Hopkins University & Medicine’s Coronavirus Resource Center.

Dr. Lee Riley, professor and chair of the Division of Infectious Disease and Vaccinology at the University of California, Berkeley School of Public Health, told us in an email: “There is no data to make the claim that ‘all the people would be alive.'”.

Riley said the president could have better mitigated the spread of the coronavirus. “The epidemic would have been under better control by now and many deaths could have been prevented had the President allowed organizations like the CDC do their work without his interference,” Riley said. “It can be clearly said the President’s actions not only prevented control of the epidemic but even fueled the epidemic. That’s what Biden should have said.”

Face Masks

Biden claimed the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Robert Redfield, said wearing masks would save 100,000 lives from now until the beginning of next year. He didn’t.

“His own CDC director contradicted him recently,” Biden said referring to Redfield, whom Trump appointed to lead the CDC in 2018. “He said, if in fact, you just wore this mask, nothing else, but this mask, you would save between now and January, another hundred thousand lives.”

That’s a projection from the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation — not Redfield.

On Sept. 3, IHME said its updated model projected there would be 410,000 U.S. deaths from COVID-19 at the end of 2020. IHME also said that 122,000 of those deaths could be prevented with increased mask use.

In congressional testimony on Sept. 16, Redfield did tell senators that face masks “are the most important, powerful public health tool we have” against COVID-19.

“I will continue to appeal for all Americans, all individuals in our country, to embrace these face coverings,” he said. “I have said it, if we did it for six, eight, 10, 12 weeks we would bring this pandemic under control. … We have clear scientific evidence they work and they are our best defense. I might even go so far as to say that this facemask is more guaranteed to protect me against COVID than when I take a COVID vaccine.”

But Redfield didn’t say “100,000 lives” could be saved by wearing masks.

Misleading on Masks

Biden misleadingly claimed Trump “said that no longer would we in fact provide masks for schools … because it was not a national emergency.” The Federal Emergency Management Agency said it would stop this month reimbursing states for the costs of masks for schools, but the Department of Health and Human Services said it would provide up to 125 million cloth masks for schools.

Biden: The president of the United States said that no longer would we in fact provide masks for schools — for schools — pay them to have the masks in school, because it was not a national emergency. What is he talking about? It’s totally irrational.

NPR reported on Sept. 1 that Keith Turi, FEMA assistant administrator for recovery, told state and tribal emergency managers that FEMA would stop on Sept. 15 reimbursing states for cloth masks and other personal protective equipment for places that are deemed nonemergency locations — including schools.

“The changes narrow what constitutes an ’emergency protective measure’ and is thus eligible for FEMA’s Public Assistance Program,” NPR, which obtained a recording of the call, said.

But that doesn’t mean the federal government isn’t providing any masks to schools. The same NPR story noted the HHS would provide up to 125 million masks to schools.

HHS’ Public Health Emergency webpage says: “The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services will be providing up to 125 million cloth masks to states for distribution to schools. The Administration intends for these masks to support students, teachers, and staff in public and private schools reopening, with an emphasis on students who are low-income or otherwise with high needs and schools providing in-person instruction.”

NPR also said states may stock up on such protective equipment before the FEMA policy went into effect. “The FEMA policy is not retroactive, so it could lead to a swift stockpiling during the next two weeks as states rush to get purchases in under the wire,” NPR reported.

COVID-19, Flu Comparison

Biden appears to have exaggerated when he said, “The idea that you’re going — to not tell people what you’ve been told, that this virus is incredibly contagious, seven times more contagious than the flu.”

Biden may have been referring to the revelation that Trump, while downplaying the seriousness of COVID-19 to the public, had told journalist Bob Woodward in interviews that Trump knew the novel coronavirus was highly contagious and deadly.

“Bob, it’s so easily transmissible, you wouldn’t even believe it,” Trump told Woodward on April 13, according to an audio recording Woodward recently released.

In an earlier conversation, on Feb. 7, Trump told Woodward the virus was more fatal than “even your strenuous flus.” Trump said “this is deadly stuff,” adding that it might be five times more lethal than the flu.

But there’s no indication that Trump said the virus was “seven times more contagious than the flu.”

As we wrote in late January, an early estimate from the World Health Organization suggested that every infected person would spread SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, to 1.4 to 2.5 people, on average. A team at Imperial College London pegged the basic reproductive number — the number of secondary infections generated from one infected individual — at 2.6. A group at the University of Bern in Switzerland estimated the reproductive number, or R0, to be around 2.2, and Harvard University researchers estimated a figure between 2 and 3.1.

The WHO later said in mid-March that the reproductive number, which reflects potential transmission, “is understood to be between 2 and 2.5 for COVID-19 virus, higher than for influenza.”

Seasonal influenza has an R0 value ranging from around 1 to 2. That would mean SARS-CoV-2 is about two to three times more contagious.

Jobs Capping Abandoned Wells

In response to a question about whether he supports “the continuation of fracking safely and with proper guidelines,” Biden pivoted to discuss the creation of so-called green jobs.

In doing so, he appeared to exaggerate the number of jobs that can be created by capping orphan oil and gas wells. Orphan wells are gas and oil operations that have been abandoned and there is no responsible party to pay for closing up the wells.

Biden: We can provide for right now as you know, for thousands of uncapped wells because a lot of companies gone out of business, whether they’re gas or oil facilities, we can put to work right away 250,000 people from iron workers and other disciplines, making union wages.

We don’t know where Biden got his figure of 250,000. He used the same number in a climate change speech three days earlier.

A recent report by the Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University estimated that a “significant federal program” could potentially create “as many as 120,000” jobs — about half of what Biden said. That assumes plugging 500,000 wells at a cost of between $12 billion and $24 billion.

The number of orphaned wells is significant, but not known. The Columbia report said there are “56,600 documented unplugged orphaned wells as of 2018,” citing a report by the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission, a multistate government entity. “Addressing 500,000 wells would require state, tribal, and federal agencies to identify and prioritize hundreds of thousands of additional wells,” the Columbia report said.

U.S.-China Trade Deficit

Biden wrongly claimed that “we now have a larger trade deficit … than we’ve ever had with China.” He would have been right two years ago, but that is no longer true.

In fact, the trade deficit with China is less than it was in the last year of the Obama administration.

It’s true that the U.S. trade deficit with China in goods and services was a record $380 billion in nominal dollars in 2018, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis. The previous high was $337.3 billion in 2017 — roughly the same as it was in 2015 when Barack Obama was president and Biden was vice president.

But the trade deficit fell last year to $308 billion — which is slightly below the $310 billion trade deficit in Obama’s last year in office in 2016.

And it continues to fall. The most recent 12 months on record (ending in June) shows a deficit of $273.3 billion – which is $37 billion, or 12%, less than what it was in 2016.

Dan Ikenson, director of Cato’s Herbert A. Stiefel Center for Trade Policy Studies, attributed the declining trade deficits in large part to Trump’s trade war with China, which began in 2018 and resulted in both countries imposing escalating trade tariffs on certain imports.

Ikenson told us in an email that trade deficits, in general, are the result of “macroeconomic phenomena,” not trade policy. But “tariffs imposed on a particular country” — such as China — can affect trade deficits with that country. The impact of the tariffs on the U.S. trade deficit with China “was profound in 2019,” he said, and the U.S. trade imbalance with China has continued to fall in 2020 due to “the tariffs and the global economic contraction.”

Trump Has Condemned White Supremacists

Biden falsely claimed that Trump has never condemned the far right and white supremacists. He did, in the aftermath of the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017.

It is true, however, that Trump has done so rarely, and has far more frequently condemned violence on the left. The president declined to criticize Kyle Rittenhouse, a 17-year-old Trump supporter charged with killing two protesters in Kenosha, Wisconsin, with an assault-style weapon.

Biden: I’ve condemned every form of violence, no matter what the source is. No matter what the source is. The president is yet to condemn, as you’ve probably noticed, the far-right and the white supremacist, and those guys walking around with the AK-47s and not doing a damn thing about them. … But folks, I’m waiting for the day when he says I condemn all those white supremacy, I condemn those militia guys as much as I do every other organizational structure.

As we have written, after a violent white nationalist rally in Charlottesville on Aug. 12, 2017, in which one person was killed and others were injured, Trump said, “We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence, on many sides. On many sides.”

But much of the press coverage focused on another remark Trump made, that there had been “very fine people on both sides” in Charlottesville.

So two days later, Trump issued a statement from the White House in which he specifically condemned the Ku Klux Klan, neo-Nazis and white supremacists.

Trump, Aug. 14, 2017: As I said on Saturday, we condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry, and violence. It has no place in America.

And as I have said many times before: No matter the color of our skin, we all live under the same laws, we all salute the same great flag, and we are all made by the same almighty God. We must love each other, show affection for each other, and unite together in condemnation of hatred, bigotry, and violence. We must rediscover the bonds of love and loyalty that bring us together as Americans.

Racism is evil. And those who cause violence in its name are criminals and thugs, including the KKK, neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and other hate groups that are repugnant to everything we hold dear as Americans.

According to the journalist Bob Woodward in his book “Fear,” Trump later told Rob Porter, a White House aide at the time who had urged him to make the second statement, “That was the biggest fucking mistake I’ve made. You never make those concessions. You never apologize. I didn’t do anything wrong in the first place. Why look weak?”

When given an opportunity to condemn the actions of the pro-Trump teenager who allegedly killed two protesters in Kenosha, Trump demurred.

Reporter, Aug. 31: Are you going to condemn the actions of vigilantes like Kyle Rittenhouse?

Trump: We’re looking at all of it. And that was an interesting situation. You saw the same tape as I saw. And he was trying to get away from them, I guess; it looks like. And he fell, and then they very violently attacked him. And it was something that we’re looking at right now and it’s under investigation. But I guess he was in very big trouble. He would have been — I — he probably would have been killed.


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Trump Again Overstates Speed of COVID-19 Vaccine Rollout

Contradicting the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director and other government officials, President Donald Trump incorrectly said in a press briefing that a coronavirus vaccine would be “immediately” available to the general public after an authorization.

Officials expect only a limited number of doses will be available in 2020 — and those will be given to prioritized groups. Members of the general public may not be able to receive a shot until well into 2021.

The president also claimed, without evidence, that the U.S. would “be able to distribute at least 100 million vaccine doses by the end of 2020.”

Trump made his remarks in a Sept. 16 press briefing. Earlier in the day, Dr. Robert Redfield, the head of the CDC, testified before the Senate, explaining the phased rollout.

Redfield, Sept. 16: I think there will be vaccine [that’ll] initially be available sometime between November and December, but very limited supply and will have to be prioritized. If you’re asking me when is it going to be generally available to the American public so we can begin to take advantage of vaccine to get back to our regular life, I think we’re probably looking at late second quarter, third quarter 2021.

When asked about Redfield’s comments, Trump said Redfield was mistaken and may have been confused by the question.

“I think he made a mistake when he said that. It’s just incorrect information,” Trump said. “No, we’re ready to go immediately as the vaccine is announced, and it could be announced in October. It could be announced a little bit after October. But once we go, we’re ready.”

Later, when pressed on when the vaccine would be available to the general public, Trump incorrectly said that it would be available “immediately.”

Trump, Sept. 16: I would say that — yeah, we will start distributing it immediately.

Reporter: But to the general public.

Trump: To the general public, very shortly there — I mean, really, to the general public: immediately. When we go, we go. We’re not looking to say, “Gee, in six months, we’re going to start giving it to the general public.” No, we want to go immediately. No, it was an incorrect statement.

The president insisted that “it’s going to be a much faster distribution than” Redfield said.

“Our distribution is going to be very rapid and very — it’s going to be all-encompassing,” he said. “We are going to have a focus on certain groups that have problems — senior citizens, et cetera — but it’s a very powerful — it’s a — it’s going to be very powerful distribution. It’s going to cover everybody, and it’s going to cover them rapidly.”

Trump also moved up the timeline for distribution beyond what any expert or official has previously suggested, indicating a possible start as early as mid-October.

“We’re on track to deliver and distribute the vaccine in a very, very safe and effective manner,” he said. “We think we can start sometime in October. So as soon as it is announced, we’ll be able to start. That’ll be from mid-October on. It may be a little bit later than that, but we’ll be all set.”

As we have written, experts are doubtful that the ongoing phase 3 clinical trials will have progressed enough to be able to conclude a vaccine is safe and effective by the end of October or early November, let alone begin distribution.

National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Dr. Anthony Fauci said in a Sept. 8 interview that having an answer on a vaccine was “unlikely” by Election Day, and that a more reasonable expectation would be by the end of the year.

Moncef Slaoui, the chief adviser of Operation Warp Speed — the government’s effort to fast-track vaccine development — said on Sept. 3 that there was a “very, very low chance” that the trials would provide results by the end of October.

Three vaccine makers have started conducting large, placebo-controlled randomized trials of their coronavirus vaccines in the U.S.

Pfizer/BioNTech’s mRNA vaccine trial is the most advanced, with more than 29,000 enrollees out of a goal of 30,000, as of Sept. 14. Moderna’s trial, which is also testing an mRNA vaccine, is close behind, with more than 25,000 enrollees as of Sept. 16. AstraZeneca’s viral vector vaccine trial was halted after the identification of a possible serious adverse effect in a participant who received the vaccine. The trial has resumed in the U.K. but remains on hold in the U.S. 

The CEO of Pfizer has stated that his company anticipates that it will know whether its vaccine works by the end of October, but that it “is only a prediction” and “only an answer.” Some scientists are skeptical of such a fast turnaround. 

Moderna told CNBC on Sept. 17 that it expects to know an answer on its vaccine in November — and that while one could come in October, it would be unlikely.

Once a company believes it has enough data to justify an authorization, it would need to submit an application to the Food and Drug Administration and the agency would have to review it. The authorization could be as fast as a few days if the data are unambiguous. 

Once approved, likely as an emergency use authorization, or EUA, any already produced vaccines would then need to be shipped out. The logistics head of Operation Warp Speed has said vaccines would begin to move to administration sites within 24 hours of the FDA’s decision.

Although that timeline is rapid, it still involves extra days, and makes it even more improbable that vaccine distribution and delivery would occur in October, even if everything goes along without a hitch and a trial does provide results at the end of that month.

As one sign of a reasonable timeline, the CDC’s COVID-19 vaccination interim playbook, which the president held up during the presser, doesn’t require states seeking grant funds to even submit their COVID-19 vaccination plans to the agency until Oct. 16.

Perhaps most important, Trump misleads by saying that the distribution plan would get shots to the general public “immediately” — and much faster than Redfield suggested.

Some news outlets reported that the CDC issued a statement clarifying that Redfield’s estimates were for when Americans could expect to have completed their vaccinations, not when doses would first be available. Other news organizations said that the agency later retracted the statement.

Regardless, Redfield’s description is consistent with what other officials have said and jibes with the tiered approach the government has proposed.

“We may have enough vaccine by the end of the year to immunize probably, I would say, between 20 and 25 million people,” Operation Warp Speed’s Slaoui told NPR earlier this month. “And then we will ramp up the manufacturing of vaccine doses to be able to, based on our plans, have enough vaccine to immunize the U.S. population by the middle of 2021.”

In July 31 Senate testimony, Fauci cautioned that the vaccine would be limited at first.

“I don’t think that … we will have everybody getting it immediately in the beginning, it probably will be phased in. And that’s the reason why we have the committees to do the prioritization of who should get it first,” Fauci said. “But ultimately, within a reasonable period of time, the plans now allow for any American who needs a vaccine to get it within the year 2021.”

The CDC playbook also explains that the vaccine supply will initially be constrained — and that the general public will not have immediate access.

“A key point to consider is that vaccine supply will be limited at the beginning of the program, so the allocation of doses must focus on vaccination providers and settings for vaccination of limited critical populations as well as outreach to these populations,” the playbook reads. “The vaccine supply is projected to increase quickly over the proceeding months, allowing vaccination efforts to be expanded to additional critical populations and the general public.”

The document includes tentative scenarios noting that if both vaccines A and B — references to the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines — were authorized under an EUA, only about 3 million doses, or enough for 1.5 million people to get two doses, would be available by the end of October. By the end of November, the number of cumulative doses could rise to 20 million to 30 million and 35 million to 45 million by the end of December.

Those numbers would mean only a fraction of those prioritized would be able to be vaccinated in 2020, assuming there is a vaccine. Although it’s not known yet exactly which groups will be prioritized — that will be determined only after there is vaccine data — some of the first groups are likely to include health care workers as well as adults with underlying conditions that put them at higher risk for COVID-19 and older individuals who live in places such as nursing homes. 

August meeting slides from the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, which will provide guidance on which groups should get first dibs, estimate that there are 17 million to 20 million health care workers in the U.S. and some 3 million seniors in long-term care facilities, along with as many as 100 million adults with underlying health conditions.

100 Million Doses?

Notably, neither Slaoui’s estimates nor the CDC numbers fit with Trump’s other claim that “we’ll be able to distribute at least 100 million vaccine doses by the end of 2020.”

The Department of Health and Human Services issued a press release the same day as Trump’s remarks and quoted Redfield as using the number, but in a different context. “Through the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, CDC will play a vital role in deciding, based on input from experts and stakeholders, how initial, limited vaccine doses will be allocated and distributed while reliably producing more than 100 million doses by January 2021,” he said.

But having 100 million doses produced by January is different from having those doses distributed by the close of 2020 — and distribution assumes the vaccine is approved, which is still unknown. Neither HHS nor the White House responded to our inquiry asking about the dose projection.

Pfizer’s website says that if its vaccine receives authorization, the company expects “to manufacture globally up to 100 million doses by the end of 2020 and potentially 1.3 billion doses by the end of 2021.” Since it’s a global number, that again suggests 100 million doses would not be available to Americans before the year ends. 

The company declined to provide more specific information about its dose number and timeline in the U.S., although the CEO said on Sept. 13 that Pfizer had already manufactured “hundreds of thousands of doses.”

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Posts Mislead on Biden’s Role in Social Security Taxes

Quick Take

Posts on Facebook and Twitter suggest that former Vice President Joe Biden is responsible for taxes on Social Security, but those posts ignore the political history and mislead on the details. The posts also twist Biden’s proposals on retirement contributions.

Full Story

A claim linking Joe Biden to Social Security taxes has been shared widely online, but it offers a misleading interpretation of how the taxes were established, Biden’s role and the vice president’s tax plan.

Text posts shared on Facebook and Twitter — where actor and wellspring of dubious claims James Woods garnered more than 45,000 retweets — make this claim: “Prior to 1983, social security was not taxable. Joe Biden voted successfully in favor of taxing 50% of social security. In 1993, Joe Biden was the deciding vote in raising taxes on social security from 50% to 85%. Now he wants to tax our 401k’s and IRA’s (page 78, Dems’ platform)”

We’ll address each of the three parts of that claim below.

“Prior to 1983, social security was not taxable. Joe Biden voted successfully in favor of taxing 50% of social security.”

That’s not the whole story. Biden was one of 88 senators who voted for a bipartisan bill in 1983 to tax up to 50% of Social Security for beneficiaries with income above a certain threshold. That vote came at a time when the Social Security trust fund for retirement benefits was running out of money.

In the early 1980s, President Ronald Reagan, with congressional leaders, convened a bipartisan commission to study the issue. In 1983, that commission issued a report that formed the basis for amendments to the Social Security program. Among the recommendations in the report was that benefits be taxed as income for recipients who had income over a certain threshold.

Congress set that threshold a little higher than recommended, at $25,000 for single people and $32,000 for married couples. That would be equivalent to about $64,000 and $82,000 today, adjusted for inflation using the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ consumer price index calculator.

A Senate Finance Committee report issued in March 1983 said that the bill would assure that those with low incomes wouldn’t pay taxes, but those with “substantial taxable income from other sources” would be taxed on some of the benefits they receive.

The income thresholds weren’t indexed to inflation, though. So, as time went on, inflation would rise but the thresholds would remain the same, effectively lowering the bar that was intended to keep low-income beneficiaries from being taxed and adding more beneficiaries to the tax rolls.

It should also be noted that the thresholds weren’t a hard line above which everyone would be treated the same. Rather, the bill set out a formula with a gradual increase in the amount of benefits eligible to be taxed, which maxed out at half of a recipient’s benefits.

All of the taxes collected on those benefits would go back into the Social Security coffers.

The bill that included that change to the program passed in a bipartisan vote in 1983. Biden was one of 88 senators who voted for it. Only nine senators voted against it.

When Reagan signed the bill into law, he praised the bipartisan effort in his remarks and was joined by members of both parties. “This bill demonstrates for all time our nation’s ironclad commitment to Social Security,” he said.

Today, about half of Social Security recipients pay no federal income tax on their benefits, according to a June 12 report from the Congressional Research Service. When the law was passed, about 10% of recipients owed taxes on their benefits. So, the portion of those affected has risen, although it’s far from including everyone.

So it’s true that Biden voted to tax some Social Security benefits. But the social media posts leave out the fact that the law had overwhelming bipartisan support, wouldn’t apply to all beneficiaries and would only tax 50% of benefits at the upper end of a sliding scale.

“In 1993, Joe Biden was the deciding vote in raising taxes on social security from 50% to 85%.”

In this case, the change was part of a major tax bill that President Bill Clinton had laid out in his State of the Union address in February 1993.

Among its provisions was an increase to the amount of Social Security benefits that could be taxed for some recipients. The way this claim is phrased, though, it sounds like the benefits are subject to an 85% tax rate. That’s not right.

This change to the Social Security program was structured similarly to the 1983 change. It added another bracket to the income thresholds and increased the portion of benefits eligible to be taxed if recipients exceeded the second-tier thresholds. Under this bill, single recipients with income over $34,000 and married couples making more than $44,000 could pay income tax on up to 85% of their Social Security benefits.

The tax bill, which included several controversial changes, was highly partisan. Not a single Republican voted in favor of it.

Biden voted for the bill, along with the majority of his Democratic colleagues in the Senate.

He wasn’t the “deciding vote,” though. The Senate vote was tied, 50-50, and Vice President Al Gore cast the deciding vote.

We addressed another claim related to this issue when Sen. Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign pointed to Biden’s vote on the 1993 bill. The Romney campaign had failed to mention, as do the current social media posts, that the additional tax revenue would go into the Medicare hospital insurance trust fund — which was rapidly depleting.

So, it’s true that Biden voted for an increase in the amount of Social Security benefits that could be taxed for some recipients, but it didn’t apply to all recipients and he wasn’t the “deciding vote.”

“Now he wants to tax our 401k’s and IRA’s (page 78, Dems’ platform).”

Neither the Democratic Party’s platform, nor Biden’s campaign website, calls for taxing retirement accounts. Rather, they refer to a proposal to equalize the tax incentive for contributions to such accounts, which would increase the tax break for lower-income individuals and decrease it for those with high incomes.

An analysis of Biden’s tax proposals conducted by the Tax Policy Center notes that his plan for retirement savings accounts is similar to an option laid out in a 2012 report from the AARP Public Policy Institute. Currently, contributions to 401(k) aren’t taxed — only withdrawals. The AARP report proposed a flat-rate credit instead of tax-free contributions, which are keyed to workers’ tax brackets and benefit those with higher incomes. 

Explaining the effect of that policy, the report said, “consider two taxpayers, each of whom contributes $6,000 to a 401(k) and thus reduces taxable income by $6,000. One taxpayer has high income and faces a marginal tax rate of 35 percent; by contributing to the 401(k), she reduces taxes owed by $2,100 (35 percent of the $6,000 contribution). The other has relatively low income and is in the 10 percent tax bracket, so that the 401(k) contribution only reduces taxes by $600.”

In that example, the more well-off person gets a 35% government subsidy and the less well-off person gets a 10% government subsidy, since the subsidies are tied to their tax rates.

If, instead, everyone who put money into a retirement account received a flat-rate credit — untethered from their tax rate — it would shift more of the subsidies to low- and middle-income workers.

Using a roughly 28% credit as an example, the 2012 report found, “Tax increases would be concentrated in the top decile of the income distribution, while the bottom 90 percent of the distribution would receive, on net, a tax reduction.”

So, introducing a flat-rate that’s lower than someone’s tax rate — 28% versus 35%, to use the examples above — could be cast as a tax increase since that person would be liable for the difference. But that person would still be able to put away money with an effectively lower tax rate than they’d usually pay.

Gordon Mermin, a researcher at the Tax Policy Center who worked on the analysis of Biden’s tax proposals, said in an email to FactCheck.org, “My bottom line is that proposal increases retirement tax subsidies for low and middle income savers and reduces subsidies for certain higher income savers, but to be clear, everyone who contributes to an IRA or 401K still gets a tax break.”

The actual impact of the plan would depend on the details, and we didn’t get a response from the Biden campaign when we asked. But it’s misleading to say that Biden “wants to tax our 401k’s and IRA’s” without any further explanation. In fact, a flat tax credit would result in a larger tax break for lower-income individuals who contribute to retirement accounts.

Editor’s note: FactCheck.org is one of several organizations working with Facebook to debunk misinformation shared on social media. Our previous stories can be found here.

This fact check is available at IFCN’s 2020 US Elections FactChat #Chatbot on WhatsApp. Click here for more.


Social Security Administration. Report of the National Commission on Social Security Reform. SSA.gov. Jan 1983.

Svahn, John A. and Mary Ross. “Social Security Amendments of 1983: Legislative History and Summary of Provisions.” SSA.gov. Jul 1983.

Social Security Administration. Social Security Amendments of 1983 – reports, bill, debates, and act. SSA.gov. Accessed 15 Sep 2020.

Congressional Research Service. “Social Security: Taxation of Benefits.” Crsreports.congress.gov. Updated 12 Jun 2020.

Social Security Administration. Research Note #12: Taxation of Social Security Benefits. SSA.gov. Accessed 14 Sep 2020.

UCLA Social Sciences Division. “98th Congress > Senate > Vote 53.” Voteview.com. 23 Mar 1983.

Reagan, Ronald. Remarks on Signing the Social Security Amendments of 1983. SSA.gov. 20 Apr 1983.

Clinton, Bill. Address Before a Joint Session of Congress on Administration Goals. 17 Feb 1993.

Altig, David and Jagadeesh Gokhale. “The Budget Reconciliation Act of 1993: A Summary Report.” Economic Commentary — Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland. 15 Oct 1993.

U.S. Senate. Roll Call Vote 103rd Congress – 1st Session. 6 Aug 1993.

Social Security Administration. MYTHS AND MISINFORMATION ABOUT SOCIAL SECURITY- Part 2. Accessed 14 Sep 2020.

Kiely, Eugene. “Social Security Scare.” FactCheck.org. 3 Oct 2012.

2020 Democratic Party Platform. Approved 18 Aug 2020.

THE BIDEN PLAN FOR OLDER AMERICANS.” Joebiden.com. Accessed 16 Sep 2020.

Mermin, Gordon B., et al. “An Analysis of Former Vice President Biden’s Tax Proposals.” Tax Policy Center. 5 Mar 2020.

Mermin, Gordon B. Senior research associate, Tax Policy Center. Phone interview with FactCheck.org. 15 Sep 2020.

Gale, William G., et al. “New Ways to Promote Retirement Saving.” AARP Public Policy Institute. Oct 2012.

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CBS News Didn’t Misrepresent Trump Gathering as a Biden Event

Quick Take

Social media posts are using an image of a CBS News report to accuse the network of misrepresenting a campaign event for President Donald Trump as one for former Vice President Joe Biden. That’s false. The report’s voiceover was discussing the Trump campaign while the photo was on the screen.

Full Story 

A viral claim on Facebook and Twitter is accusing CBS News of being “Fake News Media,” but it’s the social media posts — not CBS — spreading misinformation.

On Sept. 16, Jonathan Gilliam, a former Navy SEAL and supporter of President Donald Trump, shared an image on Twitter of a CBS News report whose chyron reads: “Biden Pitches Crucial Latino Voters During Florida Campaign Stop.” A photo in the report shows a crowd of Trump supporters, not his election rival, former Vice President Joe Biden.

Gilliam wrote: “I’m 100% positive I was in Arizona on Monday supporting @realDonaldTrump with #LatinosForTrump despite @CBS claiming I was at a @JoeBiden rally in Florida. 👉🏻#FakeNewsMedia👈🏻”

His tweet was shared nearly 14,000 times. The claim made its way to Facebook, too, where a user pointed out obvious signs that the photo was from a Trump event — including hats and signs — and suggested the network was misleading viewers with its chyron.

But while the image of the CBS News report is authentic, the report did not suggest it was from a Biden rally. The CBS News reporter was discussing the Trump campaign when the photo was used.

The picture was taken of a Sept. 15 segment on “CBS Evening News with Norah O’Donnell(seen above). In the report, CBS News political correspondent Ed O’Keefe reported on a Biden campaign stop in Florida and the need for the Democrat to improve support within the Latino community. A recent NBC News/Marist poll showed Trump slightly ahead with Latino voters in the state.

The report featured Chuck Rocha, identified as a former adviser for Sen. Bernie Sanders’ campaign and the founder of a Latino-focused super PAC, who said Biden needs to spend more time courting Latino voters in the state. That’s when the report began discussing the Trump campaign’s strategy toward Latino voters and featured the photo in question.

“The president has cut into Biden’s advantage by wooing conservative Latinos with ominous warnings about a Biden presidency,” O’Keefe said in a voiceover as the photo is shown.

The photo was taken by an Associated Press photographer on Sept. 14 at a “Latinos for Trump Coalition” roundtable event in Arizona, as Gilliam correctly noted.

The next photo and footage seen in the report also show Trump supporters and the president himself.

So in short, the viral posts are using a snapshot of a CBS News report out of context to falsely claim that the network was misrepresenting a Trump campaign event as one for Biden. The report itself easily disproves that.

Editor’s note: FactCheck.org is one of several organizations working with Facebook to debunk misinformation shared on social media. Our previous stories can be found here.


Biden visits Florida to meet Latino voters.” CBS News. 15 Sep 2020.

Murray, Mark. “Poll: Trump and Biden are tied in battleground Florida.” NBC News. 8 Sep 2020.

What We Do.” Nuestro PAC. Accessed 17 Sep 2020.

Supporters react as President Donald Trump speaks at a Latinos for Trump Coalition roundtable at Arizona Grand Resort & Spa, Monday, Sept. 14, 2020, in Phoenix (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik).” AP Images. Associated Press. 14 Sep 2020.

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Report Resurrects Baseless Claim that Coronavirus Was Bioengineered

Quick Take

A paper that has not been peer-reviewed reaches faulty conclusions to advance the unsubstantiated claim that the novel coronavirus was bioengineered in a Chinese lab, according to immunology and microbiology experts. The paper’s claims were amplified by Fox News, anyway.

Full Story 

A long-circulating, unsubstantiated claim about the origins of the novel coronavirus resurfaced in recent days after a paper published online purported that SARS-CoV-2 was created in a lab.

The baseless claim — which we first addressed in the early days of the pandemic — was further amplified when Fox News host Tucker Carlson featured an interview with one of the authors of the paper on his show on Sept. 15.

That segment was viewed on YouTube nearly 2 million times and that link alone was shared by more nearly 50,000 users on Facebook, according to CrowdTangle analytics data, where other popular posts also repeated the allegations.

But experts say the new paper, which has not been peer-reviewed, does not prove that the virus was created in a lab.

The paper was uploaded to an open-access website Sept. 14 and was published by the “Rule of Law Society & Rule of Law Foundation” — two related entities in New York tied to Steve Bannon, a former adviser to President Donald Trump. Bannon is listed as the chair of the Rule of Law Society in a registration document filed last year with the state.

The organizations are connected to a partnership forged by Bannon and Guo Wengui, an exiled Chinese businessman, that has been described as being based on their shared disdain for the Chinese government. Guo is wanted in China on charges of bribery and fraud — allegations he has denied — according to the New York Times. Bannon announced in November 2018 that Guo would be setting up a $100 million “Rule of Law fund” in part to aid Chinese dissidents and their families.

Guo’s work in the U.S., including consulting services from Bannon, has drawn the interest of federal investigators, the Wall Street Journal has reported.

The new paper attempts to make the case that the novel coronavirus couldn’t have come from nature and instead may have been created by altering a previously discovered bat coronavirus. But several of its main points rest on faulty conclusions.

One of the study’s main claims is that the “genomic sequence of SARS-CoV-2 is suspiciously similar to that of a bat coronavirus discovered by military laboratories” in China and therefore indicates that another coronavirus was used to create the novel coronavirus.

Kristian G. Andersen, a professor of immunology and microbiology at Scripps Research who has studied the origins of the virus, said of the claim on Twitter: “This simply can’t be true – there are more than 3,500 nucleotide differences between SARS-CoV-2 and these viruses.”

And Dr. Stanley Perlman, a professor of microbiology and immunology at the University of Iowa who studies coronaviruses, told us in an email that the coronavirus referenced — ZC45 — is “only 89% related to SARS-CoV-2. In virology terms, that is very distant.”

Perlman said it would be nearly impossible to make the reverse genetics system needed to manipulate the virus and “changing its sequence to arrive at SARS-CoV-2 would be virtually impossible since it would not be known how to manipulate the virus.”

Nevertheless, Dr. Li-Meng Yan — one of the authors of the new paper and a virologist who has claimed she fled China to reveal the truth about COVID-19 — doubled down on Carlson’s show. She alleged a cover-up by the Chinese government and the scientific community.

Yan, Sept. 15: This virus, COVID-19 SARS-CoV-2 virus, actually is not from nature. It is a man-made virus created in the lab based on the China military discovered and owned the very unique bat coronavirus, which cannot affect people, but after the modification become a very harmful virus at now. So, I have evidence to show why they can do it, what they have done, how did they do it.

The paper goes on to suggest that “SARS-CoV-2 contains a unique furin-cleavage site in its Spike protein” — which is “completely absent in this particular class of coronaviruses found in nature” — and that, therefore, the virus was engineered.

Susan R. Weiss, a University of Pennsylvania professor of microbiology who researches coronaviruses, told us in an email that that “makes no sense in terms of what we know about” coronaviruses.

“Among murine coronavirus strains there are viruses with the furin site and strains without — closely related strains closer than SARS-1 and SARS-2 yet they are all virulent,” Weiss said. “So this observation says nothing to me about the virus being engineered.”

A furin site is a short protein sequence that can be recognized and cut by other proteins.

Perlman also said “furin sites are found in many coronaviruses and finding it does not surprise us in the field.”

The paper also argues a conspiracy is afoot by claiming that scientific journals won’t publish the “alternative theory that the virus may have come from a research laboratory.”

“I don’t believe that,” Weiss said. “It is just that the data is not compelling. I don’t know any CoV researchers that believe this at all. There is no way anyone could figure out how to make a virus behave like SARS-2 – asymptomatic spread for [one] thing.”

In March, Andersen and other scientists concluded in an article in Nature Medicine that the novel coronavirus “is not a laboratory construct or a purposefully manipulated virus.” The authors said that the virus likely originated in one of two ways: “natural selection in an animal host before zoonotic transfer,” meaning before the spread of disease from animals to humans, or “natural selection in humans following zoonotic transfer.”

The Nature Medicine article did say it couldn’t rule out an accidental laboratory release of the naturally occurring virus, but its authors said they “do not believe that any type of laboratory-based scenario is plausible.”

The new, dubious paper attempts to discredit those findings by saying the Nature Medicine study’s authors “show signs of conflict of interests, raising further concerns on the credibility of this publication.”

The supposed support for that allegation: that one of the authors, Columbia University’s Dr. W. Ian Lipkin, received an award from China for his work on public health there following the 2003 outbreak of the coronavirus that causes severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS.

The new paper also references the curriculum vitae of another author — Edward C. Holmes, a researcher at the University of Sydney in Australia — which shows that he has collaborated with scientists and organizations in China.

“[D]espite the online lies and malicious editing of my Wikipedia page, I have never received any funds from China, personal or research, and have no grants with Chinese scientists. I do have some honorary appointments there and a nice certificate though,” Holmes wrote on Twitter. “I do work closely with some Chinese scientists and as that directly led to the first release of the genome sequence that might just perhaps possibly be argued to be a good thing.”

Andersen also said that the allegation about the authors being “conflicted” was wrong. “[M]y lab has never received funding from China and we have no collaborations with Chinese investigators. I have no financial interests in China,” he said in a tweet. “All our analyses are scientific and unbiased.”

It’s worth noting that collaborations between researchers in the U.S. and China aren’t uncommon. A recent study published in Higher Education found that U.S. research output between 2014 and 2018 would have dropped without Chinese partnerships — while China’s output would have grown regardless of work with the U.S. “[T]he findings demonstrate that the USA has more to lose than gain in cutting ties with China,” its authors wrote.

Public health officials have also suggested the virus originated in bats.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said: “The SARS-CoV-2 virus is a betacoronavirus, like MERS-CoV and SARS-CoV. All three of these viruses have their origins in bats. The sequences from U.S. patients are similar to the one that China initially posted, suggesting a likely single, recent emergence of this virus from an animal reservoir. However, the exact source of this virus is unknown.”

And in April, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence said in a statement that the “Intelligence Community also concurs with the wide scientific consensus that the COVID-19 virus was not manmade or genetically modified.” The intelligence community, it said, “will continue to rigorously examine emerging information and intelligence to determine whether the outbreak began through contact with infected animals or if it was the result of an accident at a laboratory in Wuhan.”

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told National Geographic in a May interview, “If you look at the evolution of the virus in bats and what’s out there now, [the scientific evidence] is very, very strongly leaning toward this could not have been artificially or deliberately manipulated.”

“Everything about the stepwise evolution over time strongly indicates that [this virus] evolved in nature and then jumped species,” Fauci said.

Jessica McDonald contributed to this article.

Editor’s note: FactCheck.org is one of several organizations working with Facebook to debunk misinformation shared on social media. Our previous stories can be found here.


Akpan, Nsikan and Victoria Jaggard. “Fauci: No scientific evidence the coronavirus was made in a Chinese lab.” National Geographic. 4 May 2020.

Andersen, Kristian G., et. al. “The proximal origin of SARS-CoV-2.” Nature Medicine. 17 Mar 2020.

Andersen, Kristian G. (@K_G_Andersen). “A few comms on the (lack of) scientific merits of the ‘Yan Report’. It is non-scientific and false – cherry picking data and ignoring data disproving their hypotheses. It’s using technical language that is impossible to decode for non-experts – poppycock dressed up as ‘science’.” Twitter. 15 Sep 2020.

Barboza, David. “Steve Bannon and a Fugitive Billionaire Target a Common Enemy: China.” New York Times. 4 Dec 2018.

Holmes, Edward (@edwardcholmes). “And despite the online lies and malicious editing of my Wikipedia page, I have never received any funds from China, personal or research, and have no grants with Chinese scientists. I do have some honorary appointments there and a nice certificate though 1/2.” Twitter. 15 Sep 2020.

Intelligence Community Statement on Origins of COVID-19.” Press release, Office of the Director of National Intelligence. 30 Apr 2020.

Lee, Jenny J. and John P. Haupt. “Winners and losers in US-China scientific research collaborations.” Higher Education. 6 Jul 2020.

McDonald, Jessica. “Social Media Posts Spread Bogus Coronavirus Conspiracy Theory.” FactCheck.org. 24 Jan 2020.

McDonald, Jessica. “Baseless Conspiracy Theories Claim New Coronavirus Was Bioengineered.” FactCheck.org. 7 Feb 2020.

Perlman, Stanley. Professor of microbiology and immunology, University of Iowa. Email to FactCheck.org. 16 Sep 2020.

Rawnsley, Adam and Lachlan Markay. “Steve Bannon Is Behind Bogus Study That China Created COVID.” Daily Beast. 15 Sep 2020.

Registration Statement for Charitable Organizations | Rule of Law Society IV Inc.” Charities Bureau – Registration Section, New York State Office of the Attorney General. Accessed 16 Sep 2020.

Swan, Jonathan and Erica Pandey. “Exclusive: Steve Bannon’s $1 million deal linked to a Chinese billionaire.” Axios. 29 Oct 2019.

Viswanatha, Aruna. “FBI Probes Chinese Exile, Including Work With Former Trump Aide Steve Bannon.” Wall Street Journal. 8 Jul 2020.

Weiss, Susan. Professor of microbiology, University of Pennsylvania. Email to FactCheck.org. 16 Sep 2020.

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Trump Reprises Inaccurate COVID-19 Comparisons with Europe

In a series of recent appearances, President Donald Trump continued to wrongly insist that the U.S. compares favorably with Europe on both coronavirus cases and deaths.

Trump falsely said that Europe’s COVID-19 outbreaks are “much worse” than those in America and that the U.S. has also done “much, much better” on coronavirus deaths, including by having a significantly lower excess mortality rate. While coronavirus cases are increasing in Europe, the U.S.’s per-capita rate is still higher, as is the best estimate of the excess mortality rate.

Trump has made inaccurate comparisons with Europe before, but in a Sept. 10 press briefing, two weekend campaign rallies in Nevada and a Sept. 15 televised town hall, the president continued to insist that the U.S. compares favorably with Europe on coronavirus cases and deaths.

“But if you look at the European Union right now, they’re having breakouts like you’ve never seen before,” he said at the briefing. “And, frankly, their numbers are at a level that are much worse than the numbers here.”

Three days later, at a rally in Henderson, Nevada, Trump focused again on Europe. “Other countries are doing terribly,” he said. “Did you see the statistics of us compared to other countries? Us compared to Europe?”

It’s true that many countries in Europe are experiencing a surge in coronavirus cases that now rivals or exceeds the number of cases those nations had in the spring. But only a few countries are posting more new cases per capita than the U.S. — and Europe’s rate is about half of America’s.

According to Oxford University’s Our World in Data, on Sept. 10, the U.S. reported a seven-day average of 106 new coronavirus cases per day per million people, compared with 59 for the European Union and 50 for Europe. 

Only Montenegro, Spain, Andorra, Moldova and France had higher rates of new cases — and at 112 cases per million, France’s rate was only slightly higher, not “much worse” as Trump claimed. Since Montenegro, Moldova and Andorra are not part of the E.U., that means only two E.U. nations, out of 27, had worse outbreaks than the U.S. when adjusted for population.

When measured cumulatively, only one European nation — the microstate of San Marino — has had more COVID-19 cases per capita than the U.S. As of Sept. 15, America has had 19,803 cases per million people, a rate 3.6 to 3.9 times that of Europe (5,546) and the E.U (5,094).


Trump also gave inaccurate information about Europe’s COVID-19 mortality. When a reporter noted that many people have died in the U.S., Trump falsely claimed that “we have done much, much better than the European Union.”

“Yesterday, European nations experienced 50% more deaths than the United States,” Trump incorrectly said earlier in the briefing. “And you don’t hear these things. You don’t hear these statistics.”

In both Nevada rallies, the president also rolled out his previously debunked claim that Europe has a much higher excess mortality rate than the U.S.

“Europe’s excess mortality rate is 24% higher,” Trump said on Sept. 12 to a crowd in Minden, Nevada. He repeated the same statistic at an indoor rally in Henderson the next day.

Trump doubled down on the claim in an ABC News town hall on Sept. 15. “The excess mortality rate is among the best in the whole world,” he boasted. “I mean, I can show you. There’s a chart that just came out a little while ago, excess mortality rate is compared to Europe, compared to other places, it’s about 25% better. In one case, it’s over 60% better.”

The White House did not explain what figure the president had in mind when he said Europe had “50% more deaths,” but we found that was false by several metrics.

Our World in Data shows that on Sept. 10, the U.S. had more new coronavirus deaths, whether adjusted for population or not, than both Europe and the E.U. The same was true when using the seven-day average of new deaths.

Using cumulative numbers on Sept. 10, Europe had more deaths than the U.S. on a raw basis, but only about 11% more — and when taking Europe’s larger population into account, the roles reverse. Per capita, America had 576 deaths per million people, 80% more than the E.U. (318) and 103% more than Europe (282).

On excess mortality, Trump previously claimed that Europe’s excess mortality rate was 33% or 40% higher than the U.S. Controversial Trump coronavirus adviser Dr. Scott Atlas, who is a senior fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, also has used 38% in interviews. This time, Trump used 24% and 25% — but the statistic is still wrong.

As we wrote earlier, excess mortality is an alternative way of estimating the impact of the coronavirus that looks at the actual number of deaths, regardless of cause, compared with a “normal” or expected number of deaths during a given time period.

Many of the deaths this past spring and summer may be due directly to COVID-19, but some may be due to indirect effects of the pandemic, such as those who may have died from other causes because they avoided seeking medical attention.

Using updated sources since our last analysis, we found no evidence for Trump’s claim that Europe’s excess mortality rate is 24% or 25% higher than America’s. We performed two calculations, the first comparing estimates of excess deaths from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and EuroMOMO, a group monitoring mortality trends in Europe.

The CDC estimates that between Feb. 1 and Sept. 5, there have been 201,917 to 262,877 excess deaths in the U.S., for a middle estimate of 232,397 excess deaths. For 24 European countries or parts of countries, EuroMOMO estimates there have been 209,144 excess deaths through week 36, or Sept. 6.

When adjusted for population, those figures work out to show that the U.S. has had 704 excess deaths per million people, slightly more than the EuroMOMO region of Europe’s 680 excess deaths per million.

Because the EuroMOMO figures only cover a portion of Europe, for a better comparison, we also repeated our analysis using updated figures from the Human Mortality Database. We used data covering 2020 up until June 28 (week 26) because several countries had data only up until that point (Slovenia was once again excluded because it lacked data past week 13).

For that time period, Europe had 246,620 excess deaths, a 9.9% increase over the number of deaths the continent usually has. The U.S., meanwhile, had 194,936 excess deaths, which is 13.7% more than normal — meaning the American excess death rate is worse, not better, than Europe’s.

It’s possible Trump’s 24% and 25% figures come from a calculation based on the raw number of excess deaths for both places — using the numbers here, the sheer total for Europe is 26.5% higher than the U.S. The campaign did not respond to our query about where the statistic originated or how it was calculated, and the White House has also never provided additional information, despite repeated inquiries about the figure.

But if that’s the source of the statistic, it’s nevertheless a skewed and misleading portrait of excess mortality because Europe has a significantly larger population than the U.S. The best indicator to use is the P-score, or the percentage of excess deaths to “normal” deaths, and by that measure America’s 13.7% excess mortality rate is 38% higher than Europe’s 9.9% rate.

On a per-capita basis, Europe has had 509 excess deaths per million, compared with 590 in the U.S.

A few European countries do have worse excess mortality rates than the U.S., including Spain, which has the worst rate in the region. By the end of June, Spain’s mortality was 22.1% higher than normal, or 62% higher than America’s rate. But looking further out, through Aug. 23, Spain’s rate fell to 19.3%, or 42% higher than the U.S. As Spain is the most extreme example, Trump is cherry-picking this number — if that’s what he meant when he said in one case the U.S. is “over 60% better.”

These data once again do not support Trump’s claim that Europe as a whole has significantly more excess death in 2020 than America, and begin to bear out the predictions University of Oxford economists Janine Aron and John Muellbauer made in August, when they said they expected the numbers to worsen for the U.S. as time went on.

As they noted then, it’s premature to compare excess mortality given the ongoing pandemic, and it’s not entirely fair to relate the U.S. to Europe given America’s younger, less dense population.

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