Advertisement
  1. News
  2. /
  3. The Buzz on Florida Politics

Fact-checking Joe Biden at CNN’s town hall

Biden delved into the details of multiple topics, including taxes, vaccines, policing and voting rights.
President Joe Biden participates in a CNN town hall at Baltimore Center Stage in Baltimore on Thursday.
President Joe Biden participates in a CNN town hall at Baltimore Center Stage in Baltimore on Thursday. [ NICHOLAS KAMM | Getty Images North America ]
Published Oct. 22

President Joe Biden used a CNN town hall to sell voters on his efforts to get Congress to pass infrastructure and social spending packages that he says would help average Americans with child care and education.

Despite the long legislative process and disagreements among Senate Democrats over the price tag, Biden expressed optimism that they would come together.

“It’s all about compromise. ... ‘compromise’ has become a dirty word. But bipartisanship and compromise still has to be possible,” Biden said. “When I ran for the presidency, I said I’m running for three reasons: one, to restore the soul and decency in the country; two, to build the middle-class and working-class so that we build from the middle out; and three, to actually unite the country.”

Biden delved into the details of multiple topics, including taxes, vaccines, policing and voting rights. Here’s a look at some of the things Biden said that needed a fact-check or additional context.

“This present tax code, the highest tax rate is 35%.”

This remark about federal income tax rates came in response to a question from a town hall attendee, who said, “I hear you repeatedly say that the wealthy are not paying their fair share of income taxes. What is the percentage of income that you believe is fair?”

For individual income tax rates, the top rate isn’t 35 percent. It’s 37 percent, for individuals making more than $523,601 and married couples making more than $628,301.

“All the talk about all these folks who were going to leave the military if they were mandated — not true. You’ve got about a 90-some percent vaccination rate.”

This number is right for active-duty military members, but the percentage is a bit lower if you include the National Guard and reserves.

According to June data from the Defense Department, the U.S. employs almost 1.38 million active-duty troops, plus nearly 800,000 National Guard and reserves. It’s roughly 2.18 million in total.

On Aug. 24, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin ordered all members of the military to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

As of Oct. 20, 1.4 million active-duty service members, National Guard and reserves had been fully vaccinated, and 315,075 had been partially vaccinated, for a total of 1.7 million, according to the Defense Department.

That total figure is roughly 80 percent of all service members.

But the figures are higher among active-duty members.

On Oct. 17, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby told reporters that just under 97 percent of active-duty troops were at least partially vaccinated, while just under 84 percent were fully vaccinated.

“We’ve created more jobs in the first eight months of my administration than any president in American history — total number of jobs created.”

We rated this Half True, just as we’ve done multiple times on similar claims Biden made earlier in his presidency.

The raw numbers support Biden’s statement. However, the talking point glosses over the reality that the U.S. economy remains about 5 million jobs under its pre-pandemic peak. It also ignores that adjusting for population growth would have made Jimmy Carter first, rather than Biden.

In addition, how presidents do on this measure is highly sensitive to the economic conditions in play at the time of their inauguration. Presidents have a role in economic growth, but they don’t deserve all of the credit, or the blame, for economic conditions on their watch.

“Look, Joe (Manchin) is not a bad guy. He’s a friend. And he’s always, at the end of the day, come around and voted for it.”

If you look at Manchin’s actual votes cast, this is accurate. If you consider Manchin’s positions beyond his votes, however, he has sometimes been at odds with Biden, other Senate Democrats, or both.

A perfect 100 percent of Manchin’s votes align with Biden and the Democrats, according to the website FiveThirtyEight. That included razor-thin party-line votes on a $3.5 trillion budget resolution (50-49), expanding voting rights (50-50) and $1.9 trillion for COVID-19 relief (50-49).

However, Manchin, along with Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., opposes changing the Senate’s filibuster rule that allows a minority of 41 senators to block a bill with little effort. That position has stymied top Democratic priorities, including strengthening the federal role in overseeing elections.

Manchin and Sinema have also balked at the full price tag of the Democratic reconciliation bill that includes many of Biden’s top agenda priorities. Manchin’s negotiating leverage will likely force Democrats to settle for a much smaller bill than many in the party had sought, including Biden.

Speaking about Fox News: “Do you realize they mandate vaccinations?”

Fox News does require employees to be vaccinated, but Biden omitted that Fox News’ policy has an option for frequent testing.

Earlier this year, Fox News CEO Suzanne Scott issued a memo asking employees to upload their vaccination status into the company’s HR system by Aug. 17.

In September, Kevin Lord, executive vice president of human resources for Fox Corp., wrote in a memo that 90% of full-time employees had been vaccinated. The memo stated that Fox News would soon start daily testing for the small share of employees who were unvaccinated or didn’t provide proof of vaccination.

The Fox News policy goes further than the policy for private businesses that Biden called for in September.

“I’m announcing that the Department of Labor is developing an emergency rule to require all employers with 100 or more employees, that together employ over 80 million workers, to ensure their work forces are fully vaccinated or show a negative test at least once a week,” Biden said at the time.

The phrase “vaccine mandate” is “not a legal term of art and has no legal definition,” said Rachel Arnow-Richman, a University of Florida employment law professor.

Fox News’ policy for its workers stands in contrast to the falsehoods spread by some of their hosts and guests. Tucker Carlson made misleading statements about death reports following vaccination and claimed the vaccines might not work, which we rated Pants on Fire. Some Fox News contributors or commentators have pushed back on Carlson’s falsehoods.

“When we had community policing initially in the late ‘90s, violent crime dropped significantly. And the reason it did, is because we had a significant number of police.”

Biden has been making this claim for years, but criminal justice experts consider it exaggerated.

We first fact-checked Biden on this issue in 2007, when he was running for president. He was touting the 1994 crime bill, which he championed as a senator.

The Community Oriented Police Services, or COPS, was part of that legislation and added tens of thousands of police officers on the streets from 1994 through 2000.

But several government and independent studies did not find a strong link between COPS and a 32% drop in violent crime from 1993 to 2001.

For example, the U.S. Government Accountability Office said “COPS grants were not the major cause of the decline in crime from 1994 through 2001,” and a peer-reviewed study published in the journal Criminology found that “COPS spending had little to no effect on crime.”

FactCheck.org checked a 2019 Biden claim that the crime bill cut violent crime in half. Our colleagues found that the violent crime rate dropped 46% from 1994 to 2017, but that it was misleading to credit the crime bill. Experts pointed to a variety of other factors for most of that decrease, such as changes in demographics, the economy and health.

We have seen the “greatest assault on voting rights in the history of the United States, for real, since the Civil War.”

This is an exaggeration and ignores major voter suppression efforts during the 20th century.

Following Democratic victories in November 2020, GOP state lawmakers proposed hundreds of bills that included restrictions on voting. Some of these bills ultimately made it into law and include limits on the use of absentee drop boxes, bans on certain food or water giveaways to voters in line or a  shorter early voting period.

The new restrictions are an additional hurdle for some voters, but it’s not the same as the Jim Crow restrictions in the pre-1960s South that kept Blacks segregated and politically powerless.

The methods that limited Black participation included poll taxes, complicated literacy tests and “grandfather clauses.” Many of the laws effectively exempted whites from such requirements even as they blocked Blacks from voting.

It has been a common talking point on the left to refer to the new restrictions as a resurgence of Jim Crow. Some experts see the comparisons as justified, saying it highlights the dangers of backsliding from hard-won voting rights.

Andra Gillespie, an Emory University political scientist and expert on African American politics, previously told us “it’s convenient” for Republicans to say they’re not enacting literacy tests or requiring prospective voters to count soap bubbles before they cast a ballot. But she said that’s a low bar.

Other experts told us that the comparison is overblown.

“While I have some issues with restrictive voting laws despite my personal center-right perspective, comparing the requirement that voters show a $5 plastic ID at the polls and bring their own water, to historical oppression or race war seems simply bizarre,” Wilfred Reilly, a political scientist at Kentucky State University, a historically Black university, previously told us.

“You have 55 corporations, for example, in the United States of America making over $40 billion, don’t pay a cent. Not a single little red cent.”

We previously rated this claim about some corporations not paying taxes Mostly True.

The figures come from a study by a liberal group, the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy.

Some experts took exception to the study’s methodology, because it drew information from federally required Securities and Exchange Commission filings, rather than the companies’ actual tax filings, which are private. The SEC filings count income differently than the way it’s reported to the Internal Revenue Service.

But a nonpartisan group, the Congressional Joint Committee on Taxation, which has access to corporations’ tax returns, has published data that supports the broad conclusions of the study.