Final presidential debate: Fact checking Trump and Biden

Author: CBS Staff
(COMBO) This combination of pictures created on September 29, 2020 shows Democratic Presidential candidate and former US Vice President Joe Biden (L) and US President Donald Trump speaking during the first presidential debate at the Case Western Reserve University and Cleveland Clinic in Cleveland, Ohio on September 29, 2020. US President Donald Trump speaks during the first presidential debate at Case Western Reserve University and Cleveland Clinic in Cleveland, Ohio, on September 29, 2020. (Photos by JIM WATSON and SAUL LOEB / AFP) (Photo by JIM WATSON,SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images)

In their second and final debate President Trump and Joe Biden argued about the handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, the economy and immigration, among other topics. CBS News’ fact-checking team evaluated the truth of some of their claims.

Fact check: Trump claims he’s immune from COVID-19

Statement by President Trump: “I can tell you from personal experience that, I was in the hospital, I had it. And I got better, and I will tell you that, I had something that they gave me — a therapeutic, I guess they would call it. Some people would say it was a cure, but I was in for a short period of time, and I got better very fast or I wouldn’t be here tonight. And now they say I am immune — whether it’s four months or a lifetime, nobody has been able to say that, but I’m immune.”

Claim: Mr. Trump claims he’s immune from COVID-19 after having contracted it and recovered.

Fact check: Inconclusive

Details: A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) COVID-19 vaccination fact sheet updated on October 14 states that “[t]here is not enough information currently available to say if or for how long after infection someone is protected from getting COVID-19 again; this is called natural immunity.”

The fact sheet says, “Early evidence suggests natural immunity from COVID-19 may not last very long, but more studies are needed to better understand this.” The CDC adds that until a vaccine is available and understands more about natural immunity from COVID-19, the CDC “cannot comment on whether people who had COVID-19 should get a COVID-19 vaccine.”

COVID-19 antibodies may confer immunity, but as notes, there’s no way to know whether a person is immune without trying to reinfect the individual.

By Lete Childs 

Fact check: Trump claims Obama spied on Trump’s 2016 campaign

Statement by President Trump: “They spied on my campaign. No president should ever have to go through, what I went through.”

Claim: Trump claims Obama spied on Trump’s 2016 campaign

Fact Check: False


The validity of this relies what President Trump means by “spied,” but most fact checkers who have looked into this claim have found it to be false. The FBI did conduct an operation, dubbed Crossfire Hurricane, that looked into Russian interference in the 2016 election, specifically focusing on four members of then-candidate Trump’s 2020 presidential campaign. But after numerous investigations, including extensive reports published by the Justice Department inspector general and the Senate Committee on Intelligence, there has been no evidence that President Obama, Vice President Biden, or any political staff at the White House Staff had any involvement in the FBI’s investigation.

Broadly speaking, the IG report concluded, “the FBI’s decision to open Crossfire Hurricane and the four related individual investigations was, under Department and FBI policy, a discretionary judgment call and that the FBI’s exercise of discretion was in compliance with those policies.” The report ultimately found some fault with the “low threshold” established by the FBI to open these types of investigations, but the report determined the investigations were handled appropriately.

Carter Page, a member of Trump’s 2020 foreign policy advisory team, had reportedly been on the FBI’s radar before he even joined the president’s campaign. After the launch of Crossfire Hurricane, Page was the subject of electronic surveillance, beginning in October 2016. This is often cited as evidence of “spying” on the Trump campaign. But the Justice Department IG report concluded, “We did not find documentary or testimonial evidence that political bias or improper motivation influenced the FBI’s decision to seek FISA authority on Carter Page.” But the surveillance didn’t begin until Page’s name was already in the news, and — according to Politifact — after the Trump campaign had stated publicly it had no connection with him.

Page had a rather insignificant role in the Trump campaign. The Senate Intelligence Committee “found no evidence that Page made any substantive contribution to the Campaign or ever met Trump.” In recent months, the FBI has been harshly criticized for its renewal warrants on Page, but because of the 90-day window for FISA warrants, the renewals occurred after the election.

Mr. Trump did not elaborate on what he means by “spying.” But as it pertains to other activities often thought of as spying — namely what the IG report calls Confidential Human Sources (CHSs) and Undercover Employees (UCEs) — the IG concluded there was none of that.

“After the opening of the investigation, we found no evidence that the FBI placed any CHSs or UCEs within the Trump campaign or tasked any CHSs or UCEs to report on the Trump campaign,” the report reads.

The Senate Committee on Intelligence broadly concluded, “Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the Russian effort to hack computer networks and accounts affiliated with the Democratic Party and leak information damaging to Hillary Clinton and her campaign for president. Moscow’s intent was to harm the Clinton Campaign, tarnish an expected Clinton presidential administration, help the Trump Campaign after Trump became the presumptive Republican nominee, and undermine the U.S. democratic process.”

According to the Senate report, the FBI’s counter-intelligence investigation was opened on July 31, 2016 with the broad intent of determining whether any individuals associated with the Trump campaign had either wittingly or unwittingly coordinated with the Russian government. The Trump campaign was briefed on this investigation on August 17, 2016, roughly two weeks after it officially began.

The Senate also concluded that Paul Manafort, who was Mr. Trump’s campaign chairman in 2016, “sought to secretly share internal Campaign information with Kilimnik,” who the report identifies as a “Russian intelligence officer.”

The Justice Department has one outstanding investigation into this matter, an inquiry being led by Connecticut U.S. Attorney John Durham. His report is not expected to be released before the election, CBS News has reported.

Fact check: Biden claims raising minimum wage doesn’t hurt hiring

Statement by Joe Biden: “No one should work two jobs, one job below poverty. People are making 6-, 7-, 8 bucks an hour. These first responders we all clapped for as they come down the street because they have allowed us to make it. What’s happening? They deserve a minimum wage of $15. Anything below that puts you below the poverty level. And there is no evidence that when you raise the minimum wage, businesses go out of business. That is simply not true.”

Claim: Biden said that America could raise the minimum wage and there would be no impact on hiring.

FACT CHECK: Inconclusive


Economists have long believed that increases in the minimum wage will cause employers to hire fewer workers. But studies have suggested there is little evidence that a higher minimum wage would lead to fewer jobs. In the 1990s, Princeton economists in a famous study found no loss of jobs at fast-food restaurants on the border with Pennsylvania, despite the fact that New Jersey had raised the minimum wage and Pennsylvania had not.

In fact, many economists now believe raising the wages of lower-paid workers will lead to more spending, a faster-growing economy and more jobs.

More recently, economists have examined the impact of the recent increase of the minimum wage in Seattle to $15. Initial studies did seem to suggest that the increase hurt hiring. But those studies excluded Walmart, Home Depot and other national chains that probably picked up the slack. And Seattle saw no increase in its unemployment rate after increasing its minimum wage.

By Stephen Gandel

Fact check: Biden says “we did not separate” children from families; Trump says Obama admin built cages at border


BIDEN: We did not separate–

TRUMP: –Who built the cages, Joe?

BIDEN: –Let’s talk about–

TRUMP: –Who built the cages, Joe?

BIDEN: Let’s talk about what happened. Let’s talk about what we’re talking about. Parents were ripped– their kids were ripped from their arms and separated.

Claim: Biden says “we did not separate” children from their families, and he says the Trump administration did.

Fact check: True

Claim: Trump accuses the Obama administration of building cages at the border.

Fact check: Misleading


Family separation at the border

President Trump appeared to reprise his false accusation that the Obama administration had a family separation policy. It was the Trump administration that implemented a border-wide, systematic policy to split up migrant families, sending parents to adult ICE detention centers and their children to U.S. refugee agency shelters after they were incorrectly treated as unaccompanied minors.

Biden correctly noted that this policy was implemented to deter unauthorized U.S.-bound migration. This did not happen during Mr. Obama’s tenure. His administration rejected a plan for family separations at the border, according to former White House Domestic Policy Council Director Celia Munoz the Washington Post notes.

The Obama administration only separated migrant children from families under certain limited circumstances, such as when the child’s safety appeared at risk or when the parent had a serious criminal history, according to the Associated Press.

The Trump administration began a pilot program for family separations in the El Paso area beginning in mid-2017. In April 2018, the Justice Department, under President Trump, announced its “zero-tolerance policy” prohibiting “both attempted illegal entry and illegal entry into the United States by an alien.” The policy dictated that all migrants who cross the border without permission, including those seeking asylum, be referred to the Justice Department for prosecution. Children under the age of 18 who were accompanying them were separated from their families and placed into the custody of the Health and Human Services Department. Following massive public backlash, President Trump was forced to sign an executive order in June 2018 rescinding the policy.

“Cages” at the border

When pressed on his administration’s family separation policy at the southern border, President Trump said the Obama administration built the “cages,” presumably referring to temporary Border Patrol processing stations for migrant families and unaccompanied minors.

Photographs taken in 2014 surfaced on social media of facilities in McAllen, Texas, and Nogales, Arizona, of immigrants behind a chain-link fence in a warehouse converted to a detention facility during a spike in incidences of unaccompanied minors crossing the border. The McAllen facility had been converted to house immigrant children, according to local reports.

The Obama administration detained migrant families and unaccompanied minors in these temporary Border Patrol stations after apprehending them and before transferring families to ICE detention centers and the unaccompanied kids to the U.S. refugee agency. This has been the practice at the border during both Republican and Democratic administrations. The Obama administration did dramatically expand family immigration detention in 2014 and 2015 — when it faced a surge in border crossings — and was sued over the length of detention children endured.

In a June 2019 interview at the Aspen Institute, President Obama’s DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson explained, “Very clearly, chain link, barriers, partitions, fences, cages, whatever you want to call them, were not invented on January 20, 2017.” But he said the detention was meant to be temporary, noting that under the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act, children could only be held in those facilities for 72 hours before being transferred to HHS. “But during that 72-hour period, when you have something that is a multiple, like four times, of what you’re accustomed to in the existing infrastructure, you’ve got to find places quickly to put kids. You can’t just dump 7-year-old kids on the streets of McAllen or El Paso,” Johnson said.

The Obama administration detained migrant families and unaccompanied minors in these temporary Border Patrol stations after apprehending them and before transferring families to ICE detention centers and the unaccompanied kids to the U.S. refugee agency. This has been the practice at the border during both Republican and Democratic administrations. The Obama administration did dramatically expand family immigration detention in 2014 and 2015 — when it faced a surge in border crossings — and was sued over the length of detention children endured.

Camilo Montoya-Galvez and Sara Cook


PRESIDENT TRUMP: But when I closed, he said this is a terrible thing. You’re xenophobic. I think he called me racist even and because I was closing it to China. Now he says I should of closed it earlier. It just–Joe, it doesn’t work.

JOE BIDEN: I didn’t say either of those things. I didn’t say–

TRUMP: –You certainly did–

BIDEN: –You should have closed earlier–

TRUMP: –You certainly did–

BIDEN: –And I didn’t–I talked about his the xenophobia in a different context. It wasn’t about closing the border Chinese coming to the United States.

Claim: Trump says he banned travelers from China very early, and Biden called that ban “xenophobic” and “racist.”

Fact check: Inconclusive

President Trump’s decision to “close our country” wasn’t as strict as he claims, and while Biden criticized it, he did not do so in the way Mr. Trump describes. Tonight, Biden claimed he was referring to Mr. Trump’s overall response, and his original comments were vague enough to fit that defense.


We fact checked this at both of the previous debates, but the claim that Mr. Trump “shut down” travel from China is misleading, and while Biden’s response was critical, he did not use the term that Mr. Trump claims to criticize his specific decision on travel from China.

The president’s “ban” on travelers from China wasn’t a full ban. It allowed travel from China’s Hong Kong and Macao territories. Largely in line with restrictions other countries around the world were implementing at the time, the limitations on travel took effect February 2, after the virus was already widely prevalent in China, the Associated Press notes.

After Mr. Trump’s restrictions took effect, The New York Times reported that 40,000 Americans and other authorized travelers made the trip from China to the U.S. The AP reported that more than 8,000 Chinese and foreign nationals also entered the country after the restrictions were put in place.

While scientists and experts have praised the travel restrictions, there is little evidence to support the claim that it saved the large number of lives Trump has repeatedly claimed.

During an Iowa campaign appearance the same day restrictions were announced, Biden criticized the Trump administration’s handling of the pandemic.

“This is no time for Donald Trump’s record of hysteria and xenophobia — hysterical xenophobia — and fear-mongering to lead the way instead of science,” Biden said. He did not directly tie this to the president’s recently announced travel restrictions, and the campaign claims he was not directly referring to the China travel ban. Biden also repeatedly accused the president of xenophobia on Twitter. Eventually, in April 2020, the campaign said Biden supported the ban. “Science supported this ban, therefore he did, too,” said deputy campaign manager Kate Bedingfield.

By Adam Aigner-Treworgy

Trump claims U.S. has best COVID-19 testing in the world

Statement by President Trump: “We have the best testing in the world by far. ”

Claim: Trump claims U.S. has best COVID-19 testing in the world.

Fact check: Misleading


The president generally points to the total number of tests conducted to defend this claim. Aside from India, the U.S. has likely conducted more tests than any other country, but quantity is not entirely a measure of the “best” testing. The U.S. is the third most populous country and remains near the top of deaths per 100,000 COVID cases.

Johns Hopkins University sized up effective approaches to testing this way: “The U.S. has conducted more COVID-19 tests than any other country. However, there is no expert consensus on a recommended target for the raw number of tests or even the rate of tests per capita…In order for governments to identify new cases and effectively respond to the pandemic through tracing and treatment, testing programs should be scaled to the size of their epidemic, not the size of the population.

And proving quantity isn’t everything, JHU went on to note, “several countries effectively controlled the spread of the virus through testing programs that had a far lower number of tests per capita than the U.S. Meanwhile, despite having the highest rate of tests per capita, the U.S. faces the largest outbreak in the world and new cases continue to trend upwards in many states.”

Despite the high raw numbers of tests in the U.S., there remain numerous recent stories from across the country about long lines for testing, labs delivering false results or states where testing is not readily available.

recent survey found that while testing turnaround time has fallen, “test results are too slow in most cases to support a successful strategy of contact tracing.”

By Adam Aigner-Treworgy

Fact check: Trump claims Mueller saw his tax returns and found there was nothing wrong in them

Statement by President Trump: “Mueller and 18 angry Democrats and FBI agents all over the place spent 48 million dollars. They went through everything I had, including my tax returns, and they found absolutely no collusion and nothing wrong.”

Claim: Trump claims special counsel Robert Mueller saw his tax returns and found there was nothing wrong in them.

Fact check: False


The special counsel’s probe did not exonerate Mr. Trump on his taxes. The president said it’s likely that Robert Mueller looked at his tax returns and claims it would have been easy for him to do so.

But there is no evidence that he did so. Mueller’s 448-page report includes no mention of Mr. Trump’s tax returns or any significant analysis of his businesses.  Senator Amy Klobuchar asked Attorney General William Barr about Mr. Trump’s taxes during a hearing, and Barr said he had no evidence that Mueller looked at the president’s taxes.

Martin Sheil, a retired official from the IRS Criminal Investigation Unit, wrote in the The Hill in 2019 that it would have been very difficult for Mueller to obtain the president’s tax records unless he had already proven that a crime had been committed. He also said Mueller would likely have to go to court to get Mr. Trump’s tax records, and there is no evidence that Mueller did that either.

“So when President Trump muses out loud that he assumes Mueller looked at his tax returns, he may very well be making a false assumption,” wrote Sheil.

By Stephen Gandel

Fact check: Trump says “99.9(%) of young people recover; 99% of people recover” from COVID-19

Statement by President Trump: “99.9(%) of young people recover; 99% of people recover.”

Claim: Trump claims 99.9% of young people recover and 99% of people recover from COVID-19.

Fact check: Misleading


Based on identified cases, the CDC shows an overall cumulative case death rate of 4.5%. About 4% of new cases require hospitalization.

Among young people, according to the CDC, the survival rate for COVID-19 among people 19 years of age and younger is 99.997%. The survival rate among individuals age 20 to 49 is 99.98%.

But studying the death rate from the virus is complicated because drops in the overall U.S. death rate for COVID-19 coincides with a change in whom the disease is sickening. Studies that have calculated the death rate based on broader antibody testing suggest an infection death rate of less than 1%.

By Sara Cook

Fact check: Trump says we’re “rounding the turn” on coronavirus

Statement by President Trump: “It will go away. And as I say, we’re rounding the turn. We’re rounding the corner. It’s going away.”

Claim: Trump claims that the coronavirus is going away.

Fact check: False


Cases and hospitalizations are currently rising in the U.S.

  • Coronavirus cases are currently increasing in at least 34 states, according to Johns Hopkins University.
  • Hospitalizations are rising in 37 states, according to a study by CNBC.
  • The U.S. saw over 62,735 new cases on Wednesday, October 21, according to Johns Hopkins University.
  • The U.S. is averaging 59,000 new cases per day, according to the New York Times, the most since the beginning of August.

By Sara Cook

Fact check: Trump says 2.2 million could have died of COVID-19 in U.S.

Statement by President Trump: “As you know, 2.2 million people modeled out — were expected to die.”

Claim: A model forecast that 2.2 million people might die of COVID-19 in the U.S.

Fact check: True, but misleading


A March 16 report by Imperial College London projected there could be 2.2 million deaths after three months in the United States from the unmitigated spread of COVID-19:

“In the (unlikely) absence of any control measures or spontaneous changes in individual behavior, we would expect a peak in mortality (daily deaths) to occur after approximately 3 months,” the report said. “In such scenarios, given an estimated R0 of 2.4, we predict 81% of the G.B. and U.S. populations would be infected over the course of the epidemic. . . In total, in an unmitigated epidemic, we would predict approximately 510,000 deaths in G.B. and 2.2 million in the U.S., not accounting for the potential negative effects of health systems being overwhelmed on mortality.”

However, the report specifically qualified its estimate, stating that this number could be reached in the “(unlikely) absence of any control measures or spontaneous changes in individual behavior.”

By Lete Childs 

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