On the final night of the 2020 Democratic National Convention, many speeches continued to offer generalities, not hard numbers that fact checkers could chew on. Here are four items that caught our attention, including three from Joe Biden’s speech accepting the Democratic presidential nomination.
‘Very fine people’
“Remember seeing those neo-Nazis and Klansmen and white supremacists coming out … Remember what the president said when asked? He said there were, quote, very fine people on both sides. It was a wake-up call for us as a country. And for me, a call to action.”
— Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden
The march on Charlottesville by white supremacists in August 2017 — and President Donald Trump’s response to it — is a central event of his presidency. Over the course of several days, Trump made a number of contradictory remarks, permitting both his supporters and foes to create their own version of what happened.
Biden has frequently suggested that Trump said the white supremacists were “very fine people.” But the reality is more complicated. Trump was initially criticized for not speaking more forcefully against the white nationalists on the day of the clashes, Aug. 12. Then, in an Aug. 14 statement, Trump actually condemned right-wing hate groups — “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.”
But Trump muddied the waters on Aug. 15, a day later, by also saying: “You had people — and I’m not talking about the neo-Nazis and the white nationalists — because they should be condemned totally. But you had many people in that group other than neo-Nazis and white nationalists.” In was in this news conference that he said: “You had some very bad people in that group, but you also had people that were very fine people, on both sides.
Trump added: “There were people in that rally — and I looked the night before — if you look, there were people protesting very quietly the taking down of the statue of Robert E. Lee. I’m sure in that group there were some bad ones.”
The problem for Trump is that there were only neo-Nazis and white supremacists in the Friday night rally. He asserted there were people who were not alt-right who were “very quietly” protesting the removal of Lee’s statue.
It’s possible Trump became confused and was really referring to the Saturday rallies. But that’s also wrong. A Fact Checker examination of videos and testimony about the Saturday rallies found that there were white supremacists, there were counterprotesters — and there were heavily armed anti-government militias who showed up on Saturday.
The evidence shows there were no quiet protesters against removing the statue that weekend.
“He’s proposing to eliminate a tax that pays for almost half of Social Security without any way of making up for that lost revenue, resulting in cuts.”
Biden is relying on comments made by Trump after he signed an executive order that called for a payroll tax holiday after negotiations broke down with Congress on a coronavirus relief package.
The executive order would suspend collection of the 6.2% payroll tax imposed on wages for Social Security, starting Sept. 1. In theory, taxpayers would still be liable for the taxes at a later date, but the executive order says “the Secretary of the Treasury shall explore avenues, including legislation, to eliminate the obligation to pay the taxes deferred pursuant to the implementation of this memorandum.”
While the Trump White House has suggested this is similar to a payroll tax holiday in the Obama administration during the Great Recession, that law had a provision saying Social Security would be made whole with transfers from general funds. This executive order does not actually say that, but one would presume that any forgiveness would be accompanied by such transfers.
But since signing the executive order, Trump has repeatedly suggested he wanted to permanently end payroll taxes. “Payroll tax holiday, that’s a big, and what we’re doing is sometime after the election, if we win, we’re going to make that permanent, the payroll tax holiday. The payroll tax will be rescinded,” he told a North Carolina tele-rally on Aug. 11. On Aug. 8, he said at a news conference: “If I’m victorious on November 3rd, I plan to forgive these taxes and make permanent cuts to the payroll tax. So I’m going to make them all permanent.”
On Aug. 12, Trump said: “On the payroll tax, we’ll be terminating the payroll tax. After I hopefully get elected, we’ll be terminating the payroll tax.” He added that “will mean anywhere from 5,000 [dollars] to even more per family and also great for businesses and great for jobs.”
Trump’s language suggested he would eliminate the entire payroll tax, possibly affecting even Medicare in addition to Social Security. Trump asserted that he would pay for getting rid of the tax through “tremendous growth.” (That’s simply not possible and both programs could face financial pressures.)
“Five million Americans infected by covid. More than 170,000 Americans have died. By far the worst performance of any nation.”
Biden’s claim is accurate when using raw numbers. The United States leads all other countries in deaths and infections from the novel coronavirus.
However, to measure countries on a level playing field, public health experts look at cases or deaths per capita. According to a tracker from Johns Hopkins University, the United States has the fifth-highest coronavirus mortality rate per 100,000 people when looking at the 20 countries currently most affected. Peru, Spain, Chile and Brazil are higher.
“While Biden helped save one million auto industry jobs, Trump has lost two hundred and fifty thousand manufacturing jobs.”
— Former New York mayor Mike Bloomberg
Bloomberg slips in the word “helped,” which suggests that former Vice President Biden shouldn’t get all of the credit for the 2009 rescue of the auto industry. And that’s the case — the initial loans to automakers advanced by then-President George W. Bush in 2008 was also critical to saving the auto industry.
The Bush and Obama administrations loaned a total of $80 billion to the auto industry, including General Motors, Chrysler and part suppliers. The Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor, Mich., in 2013 calculated that the loans saved 1.5 million jobs.
As for manufacturing jobs, Bloomberg also undersold that figure. Since February 2017, the number of manufacturing jobs in the United States has declined by 272,000 manufacturing jobs, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.