WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump has not proved to be the bearer of reliable information when calamity threatens and people want straight answers about it. That’s happening again as he addresses the prospect of a coronavirus outbreak in the U.S.
With numbers still low, but the first death in the U.S. now reported, the infectious disease risks not only public health but the economy he holds up to voters for his reelection. To date, his comments have largely seemed intended to put a positive spin on hard information from the scientists, as if he were wishing the problem away.
Trump has a record of unreliability on this front. In one hurricane episode, he displayed a map doctored to reflect his personal and ill-founded theory that Alabama would take it on the chin. In another, he dismissed the Puerto Rico death toll as a concoction by Democrats.
Meanwhile, leading the Democratic primary race and heading into Super Tuesday contests, Bernie Sanders misrepresented his past stance on how many delegates a candidate must amass before clinching the party’s presidential nomination.
Here are the facts behind some of the recent political rhetoric:
SANDERS: “If I, or anybody else, goes into the Democratic convention with a substantial plurality, I believe that individual, me or anybody else, should be the candidate of the Democratic Party.” — CNN town hall on Feb. 24.
JOE BIDEN, arguing Sanders flipped his position from 2016: “There’s not a lot of consistency coming out of some of these campaigns.” — interview Sunday on ABC’s “This Week.”
SANDERS: “I’m not being inconsistent with what I said in 2016. … If we go into Milwaukee, into the Democratic Convention with a lead, having won many, many states, having won the people’s vote, and that is reversed at the convention, how do you think people all over this country are going to feel?” — interview Sunday on ABC.
THE FACTS: Biden is right. Sanders’ position has shifted since 2016, when he said superdelegates should consider backing him even though he trailed Hillary Clinton in the number of pledged delegates because he had other strengths, such as an ability to beat Donald Trump. Late into the 2016 primary season, Sanders also publicly urged a “contested convention,” saying democracy is “messy” and requires vigorous debate.
At one point in May 2016, after falling behind Clinton by more than 300 pledged delegates and millions in primary votes, Sanders called on superdelegates — members of Congress and other party leaders who can support the candidate of their choice — to side with him.
“The responsibility that superdelegates have is to decide what is best for the country and what is best for the Democratic Party,” he said at the time.
His top strategist then, Tad Devine, argued that a plurality of pledged delegates should only be one factor in picking a nominee, along with a candidate’s momentum over the course of the primary season, such as winning the California primary being held in June.
Ultimately, Clinton prevailed in the California primary, and Sanders conceded the nomination after superdelegates showed no signs of switching their support from her.
Under new DNC rules, if no candidate receives support from a majority of pledged delegates on the first ballot at the convention, about 770 superdelegates would be allowed to vote on a second ballot.
Those rules changes came about after the 2016 election because Sanders and top advisers insisted on diminishing the influence of superdelegates at the convention.
Sanders is now dismissing a process that his own campaign team helped create.
TRUMP: “We are rapidly developing a vaccine. … The vaccine is coming along well, and in speaking to the doctors, we think this is something that we can develop very rapidly.” — news conference Wednesday.
THE FACTS: No vaccine is imminent for the coronavirus.
A candidate vaccine for the virus causing COVID-19 is approaching first-step safety tests, but federal experts say anything widely usable is probably more than a year away.
“We can’t rely on a vaccine over the next several months,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top infectious disease chief at the National Institutes of Health.
TRUMP: “The level of death with Ebola — you know, at the time, it was a virtual 100%. … There’s a very good chance you’re not going to die. It’s very much the opposite. You’re talking about 1 or 2%, whereas in the other case, it was a virtual 100%. Now they have it; they have studied it. They know very much. In fact, we’re very close to a vaccine.” — news conference Tuesday in New Delhi.
THE FACTS: “Close” is not correct. A vaccine has already been developed for Ebola. The FDA approved an Ebola vaccine in December. Even before its U.S. approval, it was being used in Congo to help stem the current outbreak.
TRUMP, on U.S. coronavirus cases: “We’re going down, not up. We’re going very substantially down, not up.” — news conference Wednesday.
THE FACTS: That was false assurance. He was referring to the fact that most of the people he cited as having COVID-19 in the U.S. are getting better. But that is not indicative of the spread or containment of the disease since most victims, by far, recover.
Cases in the U.S. are almost certain to increase, his own officials have said repeatedly, and he acknowledged as much Saturday.
TRUMP: “Unfortunately, one person passed away overnight. She was a wonderful woman, a medically high-risk patient in her late 50s.” — news conference Saturday.
THE FACTS: The patient who died of the disease was a man. Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said the CDC mistakenly told Trump and Vice President Mike Pence that the victim was female.
TRUMP: “The flu in our country kills from 25,000 people to 69,000 people a year; that was shocking to me. And so far, if you look at what we have with the 15 people, and they are recovering.” — news briefing Wednesday.
THE FACTS: His remarks on the coronavirus risks are misleading. Scientists don’t know enough about how deadly the new virus actually is, and so far it hasn’t infected nearly as many people as the flu. Of the cases cited by Trump, they are not “all recovering.” One died and four others are “very ill,” he said Saturday. On Sunday, Washington state officials said a second man had died.
Flu deaths fluctuate depending on which strain is circulating and how well each year’s vaccine is working, but Trump’s cited range is in the ballpark. Two flu seasons ago, the CDC estimated there were 80,000 U.S. deaths, the highest death toll in at least four decades. This year’s flu season isn’t as deadly; so far this season, the CDC estimates there have been 16,000 to 41,000 deaths from the flu.
As to COVID-19, an illness characterized by fever and coughing and in serious cases shortness of breath or pneumonia, there are now about 80 cases in the U.S. In addition to the ones Trump cited, 45 were among groups the U.S. government evacuated and quarantined either from China or the Diamond Princess cruise ship.
In the hardest-hit part of China, the death rate from the new coronavirus was between 2% and 4%, while in other parts of China it was 0.7%. In contrast, the death rate from seasonal flu on average is about 0.1%, said Fauci, of the U.S. National Institutes of Health. That’s far lower than what has been calculated so far for COVID-19. But millions of people get the flu every year around the world, leading to a global annual death toll in the hundreds of thousands.
MIKE BLOOMBERG: “There’s nobody here to figure out what the hell we should be doing. And he’s defunded — he’s defunded Centers for Disease Control, CDC, so we don’t have the organization we need. This is a very serious thing.” — Democratic presidential debate Tuesday.
JOE BIDEN, comparing the Obama-Biden administration with now: “We increased the budget of the CDC. We increased the NIH budget. … He’s wiped all that out. … He cut the funding for the entire effort.”
THE FACTS: They’re both wrong to say the agencies have seen their money cut. Bloomberg is repeating the false allegation in a new ad that states the U.S. is unprepared for the virus because of “reckless cuts” to the CDC. Trump’s budgets have proposed cuts to public health, only to be overruled by Congress, where there’s strong bipartisan support for agencies such as the CDC and NIH. Instead, financing has increased.
Indeed, the money that government disease detectives first tapped to fight the latest outbreak was a congressional fund created for health emergencies.
Some public health experts say a bigger concern than White House budgets is the steady erosion of a CDC grant program for state and local public health emergency preparedness — the front lines in detecting and battling new disease. But that decline was set in motion by a congressional budget measure that predates Trump.
The broader point about there being “nobody here” to coordinate the response sells short what’s in place to handle an outbreak.
The public health system has a playbook to follow for pandemic preparation — regardless of who’s president or whether specific instructions are coming from the White House. Public-health experts outside government have praised the CDC’s work so far and noted that its top scientific ranks have remained stable during the past three years.
BERNIE SANDERS: “What every study out there — conservative or progressive — says, ‘Medicare for All’ will save money.” — Democratic debate.
THE FACTS: Not true. Some studies say that, some don’t.
Sanders, a Vermont senator, cites a recent medical journal article in The Lancet, which estimated “Medicare for All” would save more than $450 billion annually, or about 13%.
But other studies have found a Sanders-like single-payer plan would cost more, partly because free health care would increase the demand for services.
A study last fall from the Commonwealth Fund and the Urban Institute estimated that such a plan would increase national health spending by about $720 billion. A Rand study estimated spending would increase 1.8% under a national single-payer plan.
JOE BIDEN: “A hundred and fifty million people have been killed since 2007, when Bernie voted to exempt the gun manufacturers from liability.” — Democratic debate.
THE FACTS: Biden vastly overstated gun deaths. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports about 413,000 gun deaths from 2007 to 2018, a far cry from 150 million, which equates to close to half the U.S. population. More than half of the gun deaths in 2018 were from suicide, says the CDC. His campaign acknowledged he misspoke.
AMY KLOBUCHAR: “I am the author of the bill to close the boyfriend loophole that says that domestic abusers can’t go out and get an AK-47.”
BIDEN: “I wrote that law.”
KLOBUCHAR: “You didn’t write that bill, I wrote that bill.”
BIDEN: “I wrote the bill, the Violence Against Women Act, that took (guns) out of the hands of people who abused their wife.”
KLOUBCHAR: “OK we’ll have a fact check look at this.” — Democratic debate.
BIDEN: “No, let’s look at the fact check. The only thing (is) that that boyfriend loophole was not covered, I couldn’t get that covered. You, in fact, as a senator tried to get it covered and Mitch McConnell is holding it up on his desk right now.”
THE FACTS: Klobuchar, a Minnesota senator, correctly called out the former vice president for seeming to take credit for legislation closing the “boyfriend loophole.” Biden conceded the point, then correctly pointed out that the loophole has not been eliminated in law.
In short, Biden did write the legislation that became the Violence Against Women Act, one of his most prominent achievements. The 1994 law sets out services and specific protections for victims of domestic violence.
Klobuchar took the lead in the Senate on legislation passed by the House that would extend the law’s protections to help women who are threatened by abusive partners who are not a spouse, ex-spouse or parent of a common child — in other words, boyfriends or dating partners. But that effort, opposed by the National Rifle Association, has been hung up in the Senate.
WOMEN IN THE WORKPLACE
BLOOMBERG, responding to Elizabeth Warren’s demand that he lift non-disclosure agreements for all women who signed them: “We are doing that, senator.” — Democratic debate.
THE FACTS: He hasn’t done that.
Bloomberg agreed to release three women from non-disclosure agreements in situations where they specifically identified an issue with him. But many more former Bloomberg employees have signed such agreements, having to do with the culture and work environment at his company. He hasn’t freed them from their obligation to stay quiet about their complaints.
WARREN: “At least I didn’t have a boss who said to me ‘kill it’ the way that Mayor Bloomberg is alleged to have said to one of his pregnant employees.”
BLOOMBERG: “I never said that.” — Democratic debate.
THE FACTS: The woman who made the allegation against Bloomberg recounted it in a legal filing.
Former Bloomberg employee Sekiko Sekai Garrison, 55, filed a complaint against Bloomberg and his company with the New York Division of Human Rights in 1995. In Garrison’s written complaint, she recounted several personal interactions with Bloomberg when she worked at the company.
In one incident, Garrison said Bloomberg approached her near the office coffee machines and asked if she was still married, according to the complaint.
Garrison says she responded that her marriage was great and that she was pregnant with her first child, and alleged that Bloomberg replied: “Kill it.” Bloomberg has denied that the exchange happened, but in her complaint, she transcribed a voicemail she says Bloomberg later left on her voicemail, apologizing and saying he meant the “kill it” remark as a joke. Her complaint was eventually settled as part of a lawsuit with no admission of guilt, and she resigned from the company.
BLOOMBERG, on China’s president, Xi Jinping: “In terms of whether he’s a dictator, he does serve at the behest of the Politburo, their group of people. There’s no question he has an enormous amount of power. But he does play to his constituency.” — Democratic debate.
THE FACTS: He’s minimizing Xi’s broad powers in China.
Xi serves as the head of the ruling Communist Party’s Politburo Standing Committee and is also head of state and leader of the party’s military wing, the People’s Liberation Army. The Politburo and its standing committee aren’t generally viewed as a check on his power. Although Xi’s moves to accumulate power have been criticized by some non-party intellectuals, he faces no clear rivals or constraints on his power.
However, a faltering economy and the knock-on effects of the coronavirus outbreak that originated in China are seen as placing him under greater pressure than he has previously faced.
Associated Press writers Lauran Neergaard, Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar and Matthew Daly in Washington, Alexandra Jaffe in Charleston, South Carolina, and Amanda Seitz in Chicago contributed to this report.
EDITOR’S NOTE — A look at the veracity of claims by political figures.