Fact checks: What’s true and false from the Trump and Biden town halls

President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden spoke in two respective town hall events on Thursday, the same evening a second presidential debate was supposed to occur virtually before it was canceled because the president refused to participate.

Trump spoke at a town hall moderated by NBC News’ Savannah Guthrie in Miami. The event also aired at the same time Biden participated in a town hall on ABC. Both candidates answered questions directly from voters.

NBC News is providing live fact checks of both events. Please check back for updates. For full coverage of the town halls, visit the live blog.

Where does Biden stand on fracking?

Biden said Thursday, “I do not propose banning fracking.”

“I think you have to make sure that fracking is, in fact, not admitting methane or polluting the well or dealing with what can be small earthquakes in how they’re drilling. So it has to be managed very well,” he added.

While it’s true Biden has said he will not ban fracking, his position is complicated.

The policies he has released call only for no new fracking on federal lands. His policy also allows for existing fracking on federal lands to continue, and existing and new fracking on privately owned land to continue.

Biden, however, has also called for net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 — a plan that would include a systematic departure from the use of fossil fuels, which has implications for fracking.

ABC’s George Stephanopoulos brought up at the town hall the apparent contradiction in a follow-up question, noting that “not everyone buys your denial” that he won’t ban fracking and pointing to a quote from a member of the Boilermakers Local 154 union who told The New York Times that “you can’t meet your goal to end fossil fuels without ending fracking.”

Biden responded by saying that he had discussed the issue with the union “and went into great detail with leadership on exactly what I would do.”

Biden, including in that response, has yet to explicitly say how or when that move away from fossil fuels would affect fracking. President Donald Trump has used Biden’s proposal to tell audiences, inaccurately, that his opponent wants to ban fracking now.

Hydraulic fracturing, known as fracking, is a practice used to tap into natural gas reserves deep below the earth’s surface. It’s a critical issue in states like the battleground of Pennsylvania, where the practice has brought economic prosperity to several once-impoverished areas. It is controversial because many of the chemicals used in the process are toxic to humans and have been known to cause serious health problems in populations near fracking fields.

Did the Trump administration build ‘400 miles of border wall’?

“We’ve built now over 400 miles of border wall, southern border,” Trump said.

Trump’s administration says he’s built 360 miles as of Oct. 12. The bulk of it is replacement wall for older barriers, while a small portion of that figure consists of brand new wall.

Is the Trump administration ‘always protecting people with pre-existing conditions’?

Trump said that “we are always protecting people with pre-existing conditions” during his Thursday town hall, attacking Obamacare while reiterating his unkept campaign promise to replace the health care law with something better and cheaper.

We’ve fact checked the claim about pre-existing conditions at length before, and it’s still false. Trump has long insisted that he and the GOP will protect people with pre-existing conditions from losing their health insurance — but he has pursued legislation, litigation and executive actions to dismantle those protections under the Affordable Care Act.

A Republican bill backed by Trump included ACA state waivers that would allow insurers to charge higher prices to people with pre-existing conditions, potentially pricing them out of the market. It passed the House and died in the Senate in 2017, with Republicans not coalescing around a new, comprehensive health care plan since.

Trump has also used executive actions to expand the use of short-term insurance plans that aren’t required to cover pre-existing conditions.

His administration has argued that the Supreme Court should overturn the law in a case it will hear next month. When asked about that lawsuit, Trump defended it and said Republicans will “replace it with a much better health care at a much lower price and always, under all circumstances…protect people with pre-existing conditions.”

Trump recently signed a symbolic executive order affirming the protections Obamacare created and directing his administration to limit surprise billing. But the order had little effect on existing law.

Oct. 16, 202003:25

What was Biden’s contribution to the 1994 crime bill?

Biden, responding to a question about the 1994 crime bill, which he co-authored as a then-senator, acknowledged that “it had a lot of other things in it that turned out to be both bad and good.”

During a discussion with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos, Biden said at the town hall that he was against the bill’s provision that helped fund state prison systems — a provision that critics have frequently said contributed to “mass incarceration.”

So what’s this all about?

The 1994 crime bill earmarked billions for new prisons and encouraged states to keep criminals behind bars for years by offering special grants. It also instituted a federal “three-strikes” life sentence mandate, among other things. After the bill was enacted, crime dropped and incarceration rates skyrocketed.

“The crime bill, however, was just the most high-profile legislation to increase the number of people behind bars,” New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice concluded in a 2016 analysis. “On their own, states passed three-strikes laws, enacted mandatory minimums, eliminated parole, and removed judicial discretion in sentencing. By dangling bonus dollars, the crime bill encouraged states to remain on their tough-on-crime course.”

Does having more cops mean less crime?

During an exchange about the 1994 crime bill that Biden co-authored, ABC News moderator George Stephanopolous noted that the bill “funded 100,000 police,” prompting Biden to note that the officers placed on the streets conducted community policing, which caused crime to drop.

“You’ve often said that more cops clearly mean less crime,” Stephanopolous said. “Do you still believe that?

“Yes, if in fact they’re involved in community policing, not jump squads,” Biden replied. “For example, when we had community policing from the mid-90s on until Bush got elected, what happened? Violent crime actually went down precipitously.”

Is that true?

Biden’s fudging a bit here, according to government reports. The 1994 crime bill did help reduce violent crime, but whether that was a direct result of the bill’s Office Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) grants has been disputed. Estimates also suggest that the COPS grants did not lead to a full 100,000 new police on the streets.

At passage, the crime bill aimed to put 100,000 more cops on the streets. A 2005 Government Accountability Office (GAO) report found the bill resulted in about 88,000 additional officers.

The 2005 GAO report found that COPS had a “modest” effect on the drop in violent crime but noted “factors other than COPS funds accounted for the majority of the decline in crime during this period

Was the U.S. ever facing 42 percent unemployment?

“We just hit a record, 11.4 million jobs,” Trump said Thursday, pointing to recent job gains after historic pandemic losses. “So people were saying we’re going to have a 42 percent unemployment. Look, this was a thing that came into our country, and it happened 100 — more than 100 years ago, and it happened now. We’re talking about a 42 percent unemployment rate.”

He continued: “Just came out at 7.8 percent unemployment and people can’t even believe it.”

The president is wildly inflating the economy’s successes here, as well as projections for the unemployment rate. The U.S. has replaced 11.4 million of the 22 million jobs that were lost in March and April because of the pandemic, though job growth is slowing and economic predictors suggest the recovery may be slowing.

But the U.S. was never facing 42 percent unemployment — economists predicted 20 percent unemployment. Additionally, this isn’t the first time 42 percent unemployment has made its way into a false economic claim by the president. Back in 2015, Trump falsely claimed the “real” unemployment rate was 42 percent; at the time, it was 5.1 percent, PolitiFact reported.

Is voter fraud rampant and are ballots being ‘dumped in dumpsters’?

In response to a question about accepted the results of the 2020 election, Trump insisted Thursday that voter fraud was rampant.

“When I see thousands of ballots, right, unsolicited ballots being given out by the millions and thousands of them are dumped in dumpsters and when you see ballots with the name — Trump military ballots from our great military and they’re dumped in garbage cans,” he said.

Moderator Savannah Guthrie pointed out that the president was referring to anecdotal reports, adding, “Your own FBI director said there’s no evidence of widespread fraud.”

Trump responded: “Oh, really? Then he’s not doing a great job. 50,000 in Ohio, the great state of Ohio. 50,000 in another location, I think North Carolina. 500,000 applications in Virginia. No, no. There’s a tremendous problem.”

This is not true. Numerous studies have debunked the notion that there is substantial, widespread voter fraud in American elections, whether those elections are conducted predominantly by mail or otherwise.

Trump is citing election infrastructure errors — like 50,000 flawed absentee ballots sent out in one county in Ohio and later reprinted by officials, or a half million absentee ballot application that were mailed by a nonpartisan group encouraging mail voting that included inaccurate return mailing addresses — as proof of fraud, instead of what they are, which is errors and inefficiencies.

There’s no reason to believe either of these errors will result in fraudulent ballots being counted. Only verified and registered voters can cast a mail ballot.

Did the Obama administration spy on Trump’s campaign?

President Trump, during Thursday’s NBC News town hall, once again accused the Obama administration of spying on his campaign — a claim that Trump has made on numerous occasions and remains false.

“They talk about the peaceful transfer,” Trump said, about questions posed to him about whether he would accept a peaceful transfer of power if he loses in November.

“They spied on my campaign and they got caught,” he said, a reference to his claim about the Obama administration.

A review conducted by the Justice Department’s own watchdog deemed in December that the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election — a probe that deeply touched the 2016 Trump campaign — was justified.

The 434-page report by Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz raised questions about the FBI’s use of confidential human sources to gather information from individual members of the Trump campaign. FBI officials said it was a normal investigative technique, but the inspector general questioned whether there should be special guidelines when it comes to political campaigns.

The report did, however, clearly refute the notion that the FBI placed a “spy” in the Trump campaign.

“We found no evidence,” the report said, that the FBI sent any confidential sources to join the Trump campaign, or sent them to campaign offices or events, or tasked them to report on the Trump campaign.

The inspector general said he examined more than a million documents and interviewed more than 100 witnesses to reach the report’s conclusions.

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Did Trump downplay the severity of the coronavirus?

Biden said Thursday that he recognized as early as February, writing in an editorial for USA Today, that Covid-19 was a “serious problem,” while accusing Trump of having “denied it.”

“We later learned that he knew full well how serious it was when he did an interview with…Bob Woodward, and at the time, he said he didn’t tell anybody because he was afraid Americans would panic.”

The facts show that Trump downplayed the severity of the pandemic.

Here’s what Trump said in the early days of the pandemic.

And in interviews with journalist Bob Woodward, referenced by Biden, Trump revealed he knew the virus was deadly and admitted playing it down.

“You just breathe the air and that’s how it’s passed,” Trump told Woodward on Feb. 7, according to The Washington Post. “And so that’s a very tricky one. That’s a very delicate one. It’s also more deadly than even your strenuous flus.”

In a March 19 interview, Trump acknowledged he’d been playing down the threat from the start.

“I wanted to always play it down,” Trump said. “I still like playing it down, because I don’t want to create a panic.”

Did original projections show that 2.2 million people would die in America?

Trump on Thursday claimed that original projections for coronavirus deaths in America said the country would lose 2.2 million people to the virus.

“We were expected to lose, if you look at the original charts from original doctors who are respected by everybody, two million [and] two hundred thousand people,” Trump said.

This is misleading. Trump is referring to a model published on March 17 by Imperial College London, which did predict that 2.2 million people in America could die from the virus, but only if no mitigation efforts whatsoever were in place.

In late March, White House Coronavirus Task Force response coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx told NBC’s “Today” that the projection of 1.6 million to 2.2 million deaths referred to what could happen if America did “nothing” to stop the spread of the virus.

“If we do things together, well, almost perfectly, we could get in the range of 100,000 to 200,000 fatalities,” Birx said at the time.

March 30, 202005:42

As of Thursday evening, there have been 218,744 deaths attributed to the virus in America, according to NBC News data.

Have 1 in 5 minority businesses closed because of Covid-19?

Biden on Thursday said at the ABC town hall, “You had in one in five, one in six, minority businesses closing, many of them permanently” because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

This appears to be true — and Biden may be understating the closures.

According to a study conducted by Stanford University, more than 1 million black-owned businesses in the U.S. were open in February 2020. But by April, 440,000 black business owners had closed, a drop of more than 40 percent.

Did the U.S. do an ‘amazing’ job on Covid-19 response and is it ’rounding the corner’ on the pandemic?

“What we’ve done has been amazing, we’ve done an amazing job,” Trump said on Thursday, claiming that the U.S. is “rounding the corner” with the pandemic.

This is false. The U.S. is facing an uncontrolled outbreak and there are few signs of a turnaround. The U.S. has more cases than any country, with more than 8 million, and more deaths than any country, recently surpassing 218,000.

Cases are high and rising in 28 states; cases are low and rising in 19 states, according to New York Times data.

Oct. 16, 202002:23

Did Trump say people could inject bleach to fight Covid-19?

Biden on Thursday said at the ABC town hall, “President Trump says things like, everything from ‘that’s crazy stuff,’ then he walks away and says inject bleach in your arm and that’s gonna work.”

That comment is inference to Trump’s suggestions that people should inject bleach in their arm to effectively fight off Covid-19.

Trump did indeed speculate that an injection of disinfectants like bleach could have a curative effect.

“And then I see the disinfectant where it knocks it out in a minute. One minute. And is there a way we can do something like that, by injection inside or almost a cleaning?” Trump said during a news conference at the White House in April, after a briefing from a Homeland Security official who described the ability of disinfectants like bleach to kill the coronavirus on surfaces.

“Because, you see, it gets on the lungs, and it does a tremendous number on the lungs. So it’d be interesting to check that. So that you’re going to have to use medical doctors, but it sounds — it sounds interesting to me.”

Do ’85 percent of people who wear masks catch’ the coronavirus?

Trump wrongly characterized a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study Thursday evening when he claimed that “they came out with a statement that 85 percent of people who wear masks catch” the coronavirus.

That is an inaccurate read of a Sept. 10 CDC report — the study found that people who contracted Covid-19 are more likely to have eaten in a restaurant, and both those who have tested positive and negative for the virus report wearing masks at similar rates.

The CDC tweeted on Wednesday that “the interpretation that more mask-wearers are getting infected compared to non-mask wearers is incorrect.”

All the available evidence suggests that masks help slow the transmission of the deadly coronavirus. A recent study published in the peer-reviewed journal Health Affairs showed that Covid-19 transmission slowed after states implemented mask requirements. Scientists believe this is because masks reduce the amount of respiratory droplets spread by the wearer.

While some masks appear ineffective at slowing the spread of coronavirus (like very thin masks or masks with valves), the concept of masks is not up for debate. Trump has been criticized for not aggressively promoting the use of masks, and for refusing to appear in public wearing one until months into the pandemic.