In the debate, they tangled over President Donald Trump’s coronavirus response, the economy, health care and the climate crisis, as well as other topics.
CNN’s team watched the debate in Salt Lake City. Here are the facts.
Pence claimed that the Trump White House has “always” told the truth about Covid-19.
“Let’s talk about respecting the American people. You respect the American people when you tell them the truth,” Harris said. Pence then interjected, “Which we’ve always done.”
Facts First: That’s false. The Trump administration has not “always” been truthful about the pandemic.
— Marshall Cohen
Trump’s coronavirus comments
“The President said it was a hoax,” Harris claimed in criticizing the administration’s downplaying of the coronavirus.
Harris is likely referring to Trump’s comments during a February rally, which the Biden campaign portrayed as Trump calling the coronavirus a “hoax” in a September campaign ad.
Facts First: This is misleading. Taken in totality, Trump’s comments at the February 28 rally indicate that he is deriding Democrats for attacking his performance on the coronavirus. A full 56 seconds pass between the two clips the campaign ad edited together.
In this section of his rally speech, Trump began by saying that “the Democrats are politicizing the coronavirus,” ridiculing Democrats for attacking his administration’s performance addressing the virus. The President then compared this attack to the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election and calling his impeachment a “hoax.”
Trump then said, “They’d been doing it since you got in. It’s all turning. They lost. It’s all turning. Think of it. Think of it. And this is their new hoax.”
“Now the Democrats are politicizing the coronavirus — you know that right? Coronavirus. They’re politicizing it. We did one of the great jobs. You say, “How’s President Trump doing?” They go, “Oh, not good, not good.” They have no clue. They don’t have any clue. They can’t even count their votes in Iowa. They can’t even count. No, they can’t. They can’t count their votes.
One of my people came up to me and said, “Mr. President, they tried to beat you on Russia, Russia, Russia. That didn’t work out too well. They couldn’t do it. They tried the impeachment hoax. That was on a perfect conversation. They tried anything. They tried it over and over. They’d been doing it since you got in.” It’s all turning. They lost. It’s all turning. Think of it. Think of it. And this is their new hoax.”
— Holmes Lybrand
Biden’s comments on Trump coronavirus response
Pence claimed that Biden called Trump’s travel restrictions on China “xenophobic.”
“Biden opposed that decision. He said it was xenophobic,” Pence said.
Facts First: This needs context. It’s not clear Biden even knew about Trump’s China travel restrictions when he called Trump xenophobic on the day the restrictions were unveiled; Biden has never explicitly linked his accusation of xenophobia to these travel restrictions.
The campaign says Biden’s January 31 accusations — that Trump has a record of “hysterical xenophobia” and “fear mongering” — were not about the travel restrictions at all. The campaign says Biden did not know about the restrictions at the time of his speech, since his campaign event in Iowa started shortly after the Trump administration briefing where the restrictions were revealed by Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar.
Given the timing of Biden’s remarks, it’s not unreasonable for Pence to infer that the former vice president was talking about the travel restrictions. But Biden never took an explicit position on the restrictions until his April declaration of support.
— Holmes Lybrand
Harris said that Trump knew about the threat of the coronavirus weeks before it took hold in the United States, noting that “on January 28th, the vice president and the President were informed about the nature of this pandemic.”
Facts First: This is true. Trump told journalist Bob Woodward how deadly the virus was in a February 7 interview, and Woodward reported that the President had been briefed on the serious threat the virus posed on January 28.
Woodward reported that Trump’s national security adviser, Robert O’Brien, told the President in a classified briefing that coronavirus would be the “biggest national security threat” of his presidency. Trump’s head “popped up,” Woodward reported.
— Jeremy Herb
Coronavirus travel restrictions
Pence claimed Trump “suspended all travel from China” in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
You can read more here about the travel restrictions Trump imposed on China here.
Pence gave Americans hope that there would be a coronavirus vaccine by the end of the year. “The reality is, we will have a vaccine, we believe, before the end of this year, and it will have the capacity to save countless American lives and your continuous undermining of confidence in a vaccine is just unacceptable,” Pence said.
Facts First: This needs context.
Though there are several vaccine candidates in different phases of testing, there is no guarantee that the US Food and Drug Administration will have approved a vaccine by the end of the year. And even once one is approved, it will likely still be many months before it’s widely available across the US.
— Jen Christensen
Coronavirus and the economy
The pandemic has devastated the American economy. Harris said “1 in 5 businesses closed.”
Facts First: This needs context. Harris is correct based on a June survey from the US Chamber of Commerce, but there’s little real-time data on small business closures and it’s hard to tell how many have permanently shuttered because of the pandemic.
— Anneken Tappe
When asked about the future of American health care at the debate, Pence said, “President Trump and I have a plan to improve health care and to protect pre-existing conditions for every American.”
Facts First: This is false. The Trump administration, along with Republicans in Congress, have long promised a plan to replace the Affordable Care Act and that they would also protect people with pre-existing conditions. However, the President has yet to put forth a concrete plan that will provide the same strong provisions that currently exist under the ACA.
In fact, the President is supporting a lawsuit brought by a coalition of Republican attorneys general that could topple the landmark health reform law and its provisions that ban insurers from denying coverage or charging higher premiums based on consumers’ pre-existing conditions. The Supreme Court is scheduled to hear oral arguments in the case on November 10, a week after the election.
Trump signed an executive order in September that stated that it’s US policy that people who suffer from pre-existing conditions will be protected. However, this is not actually a plan.
Later in the debate, when asked directly to explain the administration’s health care plan, Pence switched topics.
— Tami Luhby
Green New Deal
Pence said that “while Joe Biden denied the Green New Deal… the Green New Deal is on their campaign website.”
After lauding the “framework” of the Green New Deal, Biden’s campaign webpage on the environment lays out the bullet points of the candidate’s own plan to combat climate change, which includes items like building out energy-efficient infrastructure and setting a goal for the US to reach zero emissions by 2050.
While the two plans overlap on some environmental objectives, Biden’s plan does not include many of the social welfare proposals of the Green New Deal. For instance, he is not calling for a guaranteed job for each American with family and medical leave and paid vacations, as the deal proposes.
— Holmes Lybrand
Pence claimed that the Biden campaign wants to “ban fracking.”
Facts First: This is misleading. Biden is not running on a proposal to completely ban fracking (hydraulic fracturing, a drilling method used to extract natural gas or oil). However, there is at least some basis for Pence’s claim: During the Democratic primary, Biden sometimes suggested he was proposing to get rid of all fracking. He’s also pledged to “establish an enforcement mechanism to achieve net-zero emissions no later than 2050,” which would almost certainly require a significant reduction in fracking.
Biden’s written plan never included a full ban on fracking; rather, it proposes “banning new oil and gas permitting on public lands and waters,” not ending all new fracking anywhere or ending all existing fracking on public lands and waters. Biden has explicitly said he does not support a nationwide fracking ban (though in part because he doesn’t believe such a ban would pass).
Biden created confusion about his stance with some of his comments during the Democratic primary. For example, he had this exchange with CNN’s Dana Bash during a July 2019 debate:
Bash: “Thank you, Mr. Vice President. Just to clarify, would there be any place for fossil fuels, including coal and fracking, in a Biden administration?”
Biden: “No, we would — we would work it out. We would make sure it’s eliminated and no more subsidies for either one of those, either — any fossil fuel.”
Could a president even ban fracking alone? No.
Without an act of Congress, the president could not issue an outright ban on fracking across the US. There are, however, a number of regulatory and executive actions an administration could take to prevent or shrink the use of fracking technology, particularly on federal land. However, most fracking takes place on private land, and any attempts to limit it would likely face legal challenges.
— Holmes Lybrand
Pence said Harris had previously supported a ban on fracking.
“You yourself said on multiple occasions when you were running for president that you would ban fracking,” he claimed.
Facts First: It’s true Harris voiced support for a ban on fracking during her primary run, starting with public lands.
“There’s no question I’m in favor of banning fracking,” Harris said. “So yes. And starting with what we can do on day one around public lands. And then there has to be legislation.”
— Holmes Lybrand
Pence claimed the Obama administration “left the Strategic National Stockpile empty.”
Facts First: This is misleading.
While Trump isn’t wrong to suggest he inherited a depleted stockpile of some medical supplies — the stockpile of masks, for example, was drained and not replenished by the Obama administration — it was not completely empty; he inherited significant quantities of other supplies. Congress repeatedly did not pay for the stockpile to be replenished. And Trump had three years in office to build depleted stockpiles back up.
You can read a longer fact check here.
— Tara Subramaniam
This is a breaking story and will be updated.