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Fact-Checking the First 2020 Presidential Debate


— Mr. Trump

The president was challenging a statement by Mr. Biden. A 2017 report from the Department of Health and Human Services estimated that between 61 million and 133 million Americans under the age of 65 have pre-existing conditions.

— Mr. Biden

The Obama administration’s 2009 economic stimulus bill included over $50 billion in spending to promote renewable energy, such as wind and solar installations, the largest single investment in renewable energy in the nation’s history. Although the spending was plagued with some failures, including the bankruptcy of Solyndra, a solar company that Mr. Biden personally celebrated when it received stimulus funding, overall the stimulus is still credited with boosting the growth and driving down the cost of wind and solar power.

It is accurate that in some particularly windy and sunny parts of the country, wind and solar electricity are now as cheap or cheaper than coal or gas, but fossil-fueled electricity is still cheaper in portions of the country that do not have wind and solar facilities.

— Mr. Trump

Only nine states are automatically sending ballots to all registered voters, which is what Mr. Trump refers to as “unsolicited.” Five of them — Colorado, Washington, Oregon, Utah and Hawaii — have traditionally allowed voting by mail, and four, along with the District of Columbia, adopted the process in response to the coronavirus pandemic: California, New Jersey, Vermont and Nevada.

Of those states, only Nevada is considered a battleground.

The issues Mr. Trump cited were from states that have absentee ballots, or what the president refers to as a “solicited ballot” and is his preferred method of voting. Only his later mention of issues in New Jersey referred to a state that was sending ballots automatically to all registered voters.

— Mr. Trump

In a speech before U.S. troops in the United Arab Emirates in March 2016, Mr. Biden jokingly — not disparagingly — made the “stupid bastards” comment. Mr. Biden spoke about his visits to war zones and told the soldiers assembled that Americans “don’t fully understand the incredible sacrifices you make for our country,” before trying for an applause line that did not quite land.

“I have incredibly good judgment. One, I married Jill. And two, I appointed Johnson to the academy,” he said, referring to a female lieutenant from Delaware who had introduced him. Upon receiving a tepid reaction, he said, to some laughs, “Clap for that, you stupid bastards. Come on, man. Man, you are a dull bunch. Must be slow here, man. I don’t know.”

— Mr. Trump

Mr. Trump responded to the moderator’s question about why he rolled back the Clean Power Plan, a set of Obama-era Environmental Protection Agency regulations designed to curb planet-warming pollution from coal-fired power plants, by saying they were sending energy prices skyward. In fact, most of the Clean Power Plan was never implemented: it was temporarily halted by a 2016 Supreme Court order and never reinstated before the Trump administration effectively rolled it back last year.

— Mr. Trump

In New Jersey, four men, including a sitting city councilman, were charged this year with criminal conduct involving mail-in ballots in local elections in Paterson. The state attorney general accused them of attempting to collect hundreds of ballots and dropping them off in mailboxes; state law limits ballot collection to three per person. The episode quickly ricocheted around right-wing news sites with blaring headlines claiming it “signals national trouble,” though it was an isolated case in a local election.

The local board of elections did reject 3,200 ballots, or 19 percent of those cast in that local election, but not just for claims or suspicion of fraud. Ballots can be disqualified for mismatched signatures or for other user errors.

And Mr. Trump’s reference to irregularities in New York were exaggerated. Nearly 100,000 voters were sent defective ballots, apparently because of a printing error, elections officials acknowledged this week, but they said that new ballots would be mailed out.

The episode also seemed to raise the possibility that a voter’s ballot could be credited to someone else. In fact, security measures make that sort of mistake extremely unlikely. Every voter must sign the outside of the envelope they use to mail in their ballot, and election officials compare that signature with signatures in city files of the person whose name is printed on the envelope. Mismatches are set aside and the voter is given a chance to correct the mistake.

— Mr. Trump

Supporters of Mr. Trump were told they were not allowed inside newly-opened satellite election offices on Tuesday because they were not legally allowed to be inside. Philadelphia opened seven satellite election offices on Tuesday for early voting where voters can request, fill out and submit a ballot; they did not open up polling locations.

Philadelphia election law does not allow for poll watchers to come into satellite election offices, only polling locations. The Trump campaign also has no poll watchers registered in Philadelphia at the moment, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer.

— Mr. Trump

This is an apparent reference to a discovery last week by law enforcement officials of three trays of mail lying in a ditch alongside a highway in Greenville, Wisc. The mail — which appeared to have been headed to the post office — included “several” absentee ballots, according to Lt. Ryan Carpenter of the Outagamie County Sheriff’s Department. The sheriff’s department turned the mail over to inspectors from the United States Postal Service, who are investigating.

Following the discovery, the White House press secretary, Kayleigh McEnany, cited these ballots, as well as several ballots found in a garbage can in Pennsylvania that Mr. Trump has also emphasized as part of his false narrative on dangers of mail-in voting, as evidence that it “a system that’s subject to fraud.”

— Mr. Trump

Mr. Trump’s response to Mr. Wallace’s question, “Do you believe that human pollution, gas and greenhouse gases, contribute to global warming?” was at odds with the scientific conclusions of the most recent United States National Climate Assessment reports, which are published by 13 federal scientific agencies and which stand to date as the most comprehensive and authoritative scientific assessment of the causes and impacts of climate change in the United States.

The 2017 assessment concludes decisively that humans are the dominant cause of the global temperature rise that has created the warmest period in the history of civilization. And it found that tangible impacts of climate change had already started to cause damage across the country — including increasing water scarcity in dry regions and more severe heat waves and wildfires.

While forest management is believed to play some role in wildfires, the 2018 National Climate Assessment drew direct links between climate change and worsening wildfires in the west. And it concluded that if greenhouse gas emissions from burning fossil fuels continue to increase at current rates, the frequency of severe fires in the west could triple.

—Mr. Trump

Sheriff Mike Reese of Multnomah County, Ore., where Portland is located, said he does not support Mr. Trump. “In tonight’s presidential debate the President said the ‘Portland Sheriff’ supports him. As the Multnomah County Sheriff I have never supported Donald Trump and will never support him,” Mr. Reeese tweeted.

Mr. Trump may have been referring to comments made by one police officer about the protests last night in Portland: “if people liked our Trump government a lot more, we probably wouldn’t have this issue in the first place.”

— Mr. Biden

Though Mr. Trump’s homeland security secretary, Chad Wolf, has not made this assertion, other intelligence and election security officials have said that mail-in voting for the November presidential election is safe from foreign intervention. They have emphasized that standard security measures and the decentralized nature of the United States’ election system make it extremely difficult for a foreign power to penetrate and change the results.

Officials also said that there is no intelligence indicating that any nation-state is making a coordinated attempt to undermine absentee voting or create fake mail-in ballots in a nationwide election, though there are local instances of fraud.

The Homeland Security Department did, however, has issued warnings that Russia and other countries may seek to amplify disinformation about mail-in voting.

— Mr. Trump

The statement came as the president was being pushed to forthrightly condemn white supremacists, and in an important moment in the debate, Mr. Trump did not condemn violent white racism. His own F.B.I. director said this month that “racially motivated violent extremism,” mostly from white supremacists, has made up a majority of domestic terrorism threats. Kenneth T. Cuccinelli, the acting deputy secretary at the Department of Homeland Security, said days later that “when white supremacists act as terrorists, more people per incident are killed.”

The Homeland Security Department also singled out the white extremist threat as a primary threat in a domestic terrorism assessment published last year. That framework also flagged anti-government groups, including antifa and armed militia groups. But former top officials in the Homeland Security Department have accused the Trump administration of downplaying the rise of domestic terrorism and even suppressing intelligence warning of the rise of white supremacy.

At the debate, Mr. Trump continued a record going back to the 2016 campaign of reluctance to distance himself from white racists who back him.

— Mr. Trump

Mr. Trump was referring to a case involving nine ballots in Luzerne County in northeastern Pennsylvania.

Earlier this month, federal law enforcement officials disclosed that they were investigating whether local elections officials improperly discarded the ballots, at least seven of which were cast for Mr. Trump.

The investigation is ongoing and the announcement unnerved election experts, who saw politics at play, in part because of the disclosure about whom the ballots were cast for. County election officials have attributed the discarded ballots to a clerical error and have said it was not a sign of widespread fraud or cheating.

— Mr. Trump

Mr. Trump’s administration has rolled back or weakened over 100 environmental laws and rules, among them an Obama-era clean-water regulation that had been designed to reduce pollution in the nation’s rivers, lakes, wetlands and other public bodies of water. The administration has also significantly rolled back or weakened multiple Clean Air Act regulations designed to reduce pollution of both planet-warming greenhouse gases as well as soot and toxins from auto tailpipes, power plant smokestacks and oil and gas drilling sites. It is accurate that the United States’ carbon dioxide emissions have fallen slightly in recent years, but they are expected to increase in the coming years in part as a result of the Trump administration’s regulatory rollbacks.

— Mr. Biden

In July, Mr. Biden publicly announced that he was “putting the Kremlin and other foreign governments on notice” that as president he would “impose substantial and lasting costs on those who interfere with American elections.” Mr. Trump has offered virtually no words of concern or criticism about election meddling directed by Russian President Vladimir V Putin.

Nor has Mr. Trump condemned or warned Mr. Putin over a C.I.A. assessment that Russia’s military intelligence service covertly offered bounties for the killing of Americans service members in Afghanistan. Mr. Trump said that he did not bring up the report during a phone call with the Russian leader after it was released by the C.I.A. Mr. Trump has called reports of the bounties a “hoax,” but Secretary of State Mike Pompeo took them seriously enough to warn his Russian counterpart.

— Mr. Trump

Mr. Trump offered his backing for electric cars as evidence that he cares about reducing carbon emissions. But the president has actually tried to do away with tax incentives for consumers who buy them.

In 2019, Mr. Trump’s budget called for eliminating a $7,500 tax credit for electric vehicles, which his administration said would save $2.5 billion over a decade.

In 2018, Mr. Trump also threatened to punish General Motors over its plan to cut jobs by dangling the possibility that he could end the federal tax credits that have helped underwrite that automaker’s electric-vehicle fleet.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who used to drive a Tesla, has also said that he believed the subsidy was unnecessary and that the segment of the industry should stand on its own.

— Mr. Trump

Mr. Trump was misleadingly referring to the Green New Deal, a proposal to combat climate change released by Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and Senator Edward J. Markey of Massachusetts. It is not Mr. Biden’s plan. Though the Green New Deal would significantly alter the transportation and agriculture sectors, it does not literally call for the elimination of cars, airplanes or cows.

Outside the text of the legislation, however, a blog post on Ms. Ocasio-Cortez’s website describing the plan did note, “The Green New Deal sets a goal to get to net-zero, rather than zero emissions, at the end of this 10-year plan because we aren’t sure that we will be able to fully get rid of, for example, emissions from cows or air travel before then.” Her staff retracted the post and said that it was incomplete and published by accident.

— Mr. Trump

Some members of antifa, a loose movement of “anti-fascists,” have committed acts of violence. Michael Forest Reinoehl, a self-proclaimed supporter of the movement, was also suspected of fatally shooting a right-wing activist who was part of a pro-Trump caravan in Portland, Ore. Mr. Reinoehl was shot and killed by law enforcement agents before he could be taken into custody.

But Mr. Trump’s own top national security officials have said the movement has not represented the most lethal threat to the United States in recent years. Just this month, the F.B.I. director, Christopher Wray, said “racially motivated violent extremism,” mostly from white supremacists, make up a majority of domestic terrorism threats. Mr. Wray and other top law enforcement officials have expressed alarm about antifa, but also armed militia groups that tend to be aligned with right-wing ideology.

The Trump administration often cites the killing of a Federal Protective Service officer in Oakland, Calif., as an example of the violence within demonstrations protesting police violence. But that fatal shooting was not committed by a protester but rather a member of the anti-government group the Boogaloo, an extremist ideology that seeks to bring about a second civil war. Members of the movement have sought to exploit the demonstrations to commit violence.

— Mr. Biden

The economy was not “booming” in the final year of Mr. Biden’s time as vice president, and Mr. Trump did not “cause” the pandemic recession. When President Barack Obama and Mr. Biden left office, the economy was healthy, though growth had dipped below 2 percent in 2016 in part because of a contraction in business investment stemming in part from a plunge in oil prices rippling through America’s energy industry. Unemployment had fallen steadily.

Under Mr. Trump, economic growth accelerated from 2016, spurred by the fiscal stimulus of tax cuts and increased government spending and continued monetary stimulus from the Federal Reserve. The first three years of Mr. Trump’s presidency were similar, in terms of economic and job growth, to the first three years of Mr. Obama’s second term.

The coronavirus pandemic plunged the United States into recession this spring. Mr. Biden and others have criticized Mr. Trump’s response to it, blaming him for deaths from the virus and a contraction in economic activity. But there is no evidence Mr. Trump’s actions caused the recession: every major wealthy country in the world has experienced a sharp economic contraction along with its outbreak of the virus.

— Mr. Trump

While it is true that Mr. Trump had vacancies to fill when he assumed the White House, the reason is not simply that former President Barack Obama “left” the positions vacant. The Republican-led Senate refused to confirm many of Mr. Obama’s judicial nominees, including Judge Merrick Garland, whom Mr. Obama named to fill the vacancy left by the death in February 2016 of Justice Antonin Scalia of the Supreme Court.

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