Fact check: An occasional whopper at Joe Biden's CNN town hall

  • Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden participates Thursday in a CNN town hall moderated by Anderson Cooper in Moosic, Pennslyvania.

    Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden participates Thursday in a CNN town hall moderated by Anderson Cooper in Moosic, Pennslyvania. Associated Press

Updated 9/18/2020 7:41 AM

A Joe Biden town hall does not hit the Pinocchio meter as much as a Donald Trump town hall. Biden tends to stick close to the facts but occasionally gets carried away with some over-exuberance. Here are five claims that caught our attention during his CNN town hall in Moosic, Pa., moderated by Anderson Cooper.

-- "If the 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."


Actually, Biden is making this up. There is no data to support this, even if the president had moved rapidly in January to deal with the coronavirus and been able to persuade the Chinese leadership to be more forthcoming about the situation. Even nations that have been praised for their handling of the pandemic, such as South Korea, New Zealand and Iceland, have suffered some deaths (377 in South Korea, 25 in New Zealand and 10 in Iceland).

In the United States, with 50 states run by governors, policies have varied greatly. Trump has been faulted for not articulating a national plan, but he would have had trouble persuading every governor to follow the exact same path.

(On the flip side, Trump routinely claims he saved millions of lives, a claim also not supported by evidence.)

-- "When, back in January, I wrote an article for USA Today saying, 'We've got a pandemic. We've got a real problem.'"

Biden overstates what he said in January; he did not flatly say it was a pandemic.

Biden's opinion piece was published on Jan. 27 and titled "Trump is worst possible leader to deal with coronavirus outbreak." The op-ed appeared only days after the Chinese government shut down the city of Wuhan in an effort to stem the crisis, so Biden should be commended for focusing early on an issue that for most Americans was still a distant threat.

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The USA Today piece is more of an attack on Trump and a recollection of Obama administration steps taken against the 2014 Ebola outbreak than a detailed plan for action against a possible pandemic. But at the same time, Biden indicated that he took the threat seriously, even if he did not explicitly say a pandemic was on the way.

Biden referred to the "possibility of a pandemic" and noted: "The outbreak of a new coronavirus, which has already infected more than 2,700 people and killed over 80 in China, will get worse before it gets better. Cases have been confirmed in a dozen countries, with at least five in the United States. There will likely be more."

A few days later, on Jan. 31, Biden asserted: "We have, right now, a crisis with the coronavirus."

That certainly stands in contrast to Trump, who repeatedly played down the possibility of a pandemic in the United States.

-- "We should expect another 215,000 dead by January. But if we wore a mask, we'd save 100,000 of those lives, doing nothing but that."

These numbers are on target. Deaths from the novel coronavirus are near 200,000 in the United States, and one influential group of researchers predicts the total will reach 415,000 by 2021.


The projection comes from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington. The IHME model currently forecasts 415,090 U.S. deaths by Jan. 1, 2021.

Assuming public health mandates were relaxed, the IHME model predicts twice as many deaths before the end of the year: 400,000, for a total of nearly 612,000. But the increase could be cut by half with universal face masks, according to the model, which predicts an additional 100,000 deaths under that scenario.

The institute's forecasts were influential earlier in the pandemic in guiding policies developed by the White House coronavirus task force, but they have been criticized by some experts as projecting further into the future than can be done reliably, The Washington Post reported.

-- "He's in federal court -- federal court trying to do away with the Affordable Care Act, 100 million people with preexisting conditions like your mom would not have to pay more for their insurance under now."

There are an estimated 102 million people with preexisting health conditions, according to a 2018 report by the consulting group Avalere. But depending on where people get their insurance -- such as the half of Americans who get it from their employer -- premiums would not necessarily go up for all 102 million if Trump succeeds in nullifying the ACA.

-- "But when you guys started talking on television about Biden, if he wins he'd be the first person without an Ivy League degree to be elected president."

Nope, no reporter said that. Ronald Reagan, elected in 1980, was the last president who did not go to an Ivy League university. (He went to little Eureka College in Illinois.)

Neither Biden nor his running mate, Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., went to an Ivy League university, the first such Democratic ticket since 1984. Biden attended the University of Delaware and the Syracuse University College of Law, while Harris attended Howard University and the University of California, Hastings College of the Law.

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