Fact check: Trump utters series of false and misleading claims at coronavirus briefing
President Donald Trump, who has been regularly dishonest and inaccurate in his remarks about the coronavirus crisis, delivered another series of false and misleading claims at the White House coronavirus briefing on Thursday.
Here is a preliminary roundup:
Gov. Jay Inslee’s comments and the media
Trump denounced “the fake news” for a report that Washington Gov. Jay Inslee had clashed with him on a Thursday phone call and had told him that “we need Tom Brady” in securing critical medical equipment rather than the “backup” Trump had pledged to be — using the football metaphor to urge the federal government to take a leading role in the effort. (The Washington Post broke the story.)
Trump then said that Inslee did make the comment, but “meant it very positively — but they took it differently.” Trump proceeded to repeat that the reporting was “only fake news.”
Facts First: The reporting on this exchange was not “fake news.” Trump himself confirmed that Inslee did utter the “Tom Brady” quote, as did Inslee implicitly (with a joke about it on Twitter). There is no indication that Inslee’s remark was meant to be interpreted in a manner substantially different than how the Post and other outlets interpreted it.
Inslee declined to discuss the specifics of the call at a Thursday press conference, but added, “I think it would be very, very helpful if the federal government could be more assertive and aggressive and more organized in helping all of us to obtain these systems.”
How unforeseen the coronavirus crisis was
Trump repeated his previous claim that “this was something that nobody has ever thought could happen to this country.” He added, “Nobody would have ever thought a thing like this could have happened.”
Facts First: This is false. The US intelligence community and public health experts had warned for years that the country was at risk from a pandemic. Experts had also warned that the country would face shortages of critical medical equipment, such as ventilators, if a pandemic occurred.
Americans’ views on coronavirus-related closures
Trump said, “We have to open up. We can’t say, ‘Let’s close.’ People don’t want to close.” He also said, “People want to go back to work. I’m hearing it loud and clear from everybody.” He added, “This is the United States of America. They don’t want to sit around and wait.”
Facts First: While there is no polling data on how long Americans want the country’s institutions to remain closed, it is clear that not “everybody” wants workplaces to reopen quickly amid an ongoing pandemic. A poll released on Thursday found that large majorities of Americans say the closure of businesses, schools and entertainment activities was necessary to address the pandemic.
A Pew Research poll conducted March 19-24 found that 89% of the 11,537 US adults surveyed thought the closure of K-12 schools was necessary, 91% thought canceling major sports and entertainment events was necessary, 85% thought limiting restaurants to carry-out only was necessary, and 71% thought requiring most businesses other than grocery stores and pharmacies to close was necessary.
A Fox News poll conducted March 21-24 found that 75% of the 1,011 registered voters surveyed supported a national “stay-in-place” order for everyone other than essential workers.
Public health experts have warned that it would be unwise to immediately abandon measures that keep Americans out of physical contact with each other.
The trade deficit with China
Trump repeated his regular claim that the trade deficit with China used to be $500 billion, saying, “$500 billion a year they were taking out. We had trade deficits that were so large nobody has ever seen anything like it.”
Facts First: There has never been a $500 billion trade deficit with China. The 2018 deficit was about $381 billion when counting goods and services; the goods and services deficit fell to about $308 billion in 2019. (The deficit with China has not been $500 billion even if you only count trade in goods.)
The history of tariffs on China
Trump repeated another regular claim about trade and China: “They’re paying us a lot of money in tariffs and other things. They never paid us 10 cents.”
Facts First: Study after study has shown that Americans are bearing the cost of the tariffs; Americans make the actual tariff payments. That aside, it’s not true that the Treasury has never received “10 cents” from tariffs on China. The US has had tariffs on China for more than two centuries; FactCheck.org reported that the US generated an “average of $12.3 billion in custom duties a year from 2007 to 2016, according to the U.S. International Trade Commission DataWeb.”
Mexican troops on the border
Trump repeated his claim that “we have 27,000 Mexican soldiers on our southern border.”
Facts First: Mexico has deployed around 27,000 troops, but Trump exaggerated how many are being stationed near the US border in particular; Mexico’s defense minister said in October that it was about 15,000 on the US border, about 12,000 on Mexico’s own southern border.