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Politics: Fact-checking Biden's CNN town hall in Baltimore

Biden scales BACK spending plan, says doesn't need corporate tax hike

  Biden scales BACK spending plan, says doesn't need corporate tax hike Biden backed away from a corporate tax hike to pay for his massive social spending plans on Thursday night, as he offered a concession to holdout centrist Democrats.But he also drew a red line during a CNN town hall, saying he would not introduce a work requirement for people getting child tax credits.

President Joe Biden participated Thursday in a CNN town hall in Baltimore, taking questions from anchor Anderson Cooper and local residents about his legislative agenda and a variety of other topics.

President Joe Biden, right, and CNN anchor Anderson Cooper, speak during a CNN town hall in Baltimore, Maryland, on October 21, 2021. © Heather Fulbright/CNN President Joe Biden, right, and CNN anchor Anderson Cooper, speak during a CNN town hall in Baltimore, Maryland, on October 21, 2021.

Biden made some false claims, along with making other claims that could have used additional context. He also made one claim, an assertion that he has visited the southern border in the past, that CNN couldn't immediately verify and that the White House did not immediately provide evidence to support.

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Here's a fact check of some of his claims from Thursday's town hall.

Biden and the border

A college student asked Biden: "Given that it's nearly been a year into your campaign, why haven't you been to the southern border of our country?"

After Biden addressed another immigration question from the student but ignored that one, Cooper followed up. Biden then responded, "I've been there before, and I haven't -- I mean, I know it well. I guess I should go down. But the -- but the whole point of it is: I haven't had a whole hell of lot of time to get down."

Biden explained that he has been spending time inspecting hurricane damage and "traveling around the world," then added, "But I plan on -- now, my wife, Jill, has been down. She's been on both sides of the river. She's seen the circumstances there."

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Facts First: CNN could not immediately find any evidence that Biden has previously visited the southern border, and the White House has not specified when this visit supposedly occurred. Also, it's worth noting that Jill Biden's last visit to the border was in December 2019, during the presidential campaign, not as first lady.

Since we don't know what the President did on every day of a political career that began in 1970, we can't currently declare he was making a false statement when he said he has previously visited the border. But we couldn't immediately locate any news stories about such a visit, and the White House hasn't provided corroborating information. A White House spokesman didn't immediately respond to a CNN request late Thursday night.

The subject of Biden visiting the southern border came up at a September press briefing from White House press secretary Jen Psaki. When a Fox News reporter asked if Biden had been to the border, Psaki said, "I will have to get -- look back in my history books and check the times he's been to the southern border." When the reporter said they had not uncovered evidence of Biden visiting at any time, Psaki softened her language, saying, "I can check and see when the last time or when he may have been."

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Two days later, when the reporter asked why Biden hadn't "ever" visited the southern border, Psaki didn't dispute the assertion, instead saying that Biden believes "the most constructive role we can play is by helping to push immigration reform forward, helping reform the broken policies of the last several years, and listening to his team of advisors, who have been to the border multiple times, about what the path forward should look like."

Though Biden mentioned foreign travel as one of the reasons he has not gone to the border as President to date, he has made only one trip abroad during the first nine months of his pandemic-era term -- a June trip to Europe. He is scheduled for another Europe trip next weekend for a G20 summit and United Nations climate conference.

Tax rates

After he was asked a question about taxes on the wealthy, Biden said that under "this present tax code, the highest tax rate is 35 percent."

Facts First: Biden was wrong. The top marginal rate is actually 37%; 35% is the second-highest marginal rate. The 37 percent rate affects individual single taxpayers with taxable incomes greater than $523,600 and married couples filing jointly with taxable incomes greater than $628,300. The 35 percent rate affects individuals with taxable incomes greater than $209,425 and married joint filers at incomes greater than $418,850.

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Biden said, "When I first was elected, there were only 2 million people who had Covid shots in the United States of America -- had the vaccine. Now we got 190 million, because I went out and bought everything I could do and buy in sight, and it worked."

Facts First: Biden's "2 million people" assertion was inaccurate no matter which way you parse it -- slightly off if you decide to be charitable, way off if not. Also, Biden gave too much credit to his own administration's vaccine purchases. The Trump administration purchased enough vaccine doses to fully vaccinate at least a large percentage of the 190 million people who have received two shots at present.

Let's look first at the issue of credit. According to the Government Accountability Office, a nonpartisan watchdog for Congress, "As of December 31, 2020, the government had at least 800 million vaccine doses under contract expected to be delivered by July 31, 2021, pending any issues with clinical trials, (emergency use authorization) issuance, or other factors." That included 200 million doses each of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines that would prove by far the most popular with Americans. Also, the Trump-era contracts with Pfizer and Moderna gave the US the option to buy hundreds of millions more doses.

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Even with millions of doses being wasted after delivery, the contracts signed during the Trump presidency covered, at minimum, a large majority of the people who have been vaccinated so far.

Biden is free to boast that his administration's own actions have resulted in more people getting vaccinated than would have under a Trump administration whose pandemic response was widely criticized. Asked about Biden's claim, a White House official noted Friday that the Biden administration bought additional doses in January and again in the summer, and that the administration used the Defense Production Act to allow Pfizer to accelerate its vaccine manufacturing by getting easier access to critical supplies it had struggled to obtain.

All of that is fair enough. But Biden was still hyperbolic here in giving sole credit to his own purchases.

Let's now turn to Biden's claim that "only 2 million people" had Covid shots when he was first elected.

Obviously, only the tiny number of Americans who participated in clinical trials had received Covid-19 shots when Biden was elected in November, since public vaccinations began in December. But even if we look at the situation when Biden first took office on January 20, his claim that "there were only 2 million people who had Covid shots" is at least a bit incorrect.

According to data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 18 million people in the US had received at least one shot at the time. But Biden did say "shots," plural, and he was comparing this figure to the 190 million current figure for fully vaccinated Americans, so he was likely referring, imprecisely, to the number of people who were fully vaccinated early in his presidency.

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Even then, though, current CDC data says 3.4 million people were fully vaccinated on January 20. Biden might have been thinking of news reports from January 20, based on CDC data available at the time, that put the number at around 2 million, but the CDC numbers get updated over time as more information comes in and vaccinations are assigned to the date they actually occurred instead of the date they were reported.

Vaccination sites

Biden said that "there are over 800,000 sites right now that exist in America where you can go get a vaccine."

Facts First: This is false; Biden added an extra zero. The White House official said Biden meant 80,000 vaccination sites, the number he has used on multiple previous occasions.

Fox and vaccinations

Talking about right-wing television station Fox News, Biden asked, "Do you realize they mandate vaccinations?"

Facts First: This needs context. Fox Corp., which owns Fox News, has a Covid-19 vaccination policy stricter than the one Biden plans to impose on many US companies -- and Fox News hosts, like CNN journalists and others, have described Biden's policy as a "mandate." However, it's important to note that Fox Corp. does not actually require that employees get vaccinated. Rather, in a September memo, Fox Corp. announced that it would require unvaccinated employees to get tested daily.

In other words, the Fox policy is most thoroughly described as a vaccination-or-test mandate. However, we can't be too hard on Biden for describing it as a vaccination mandate given that his own planned vaccination-or-test mandate -- which he says will require companies with 100 or more employees to ensure their workers are either vaccinated or get tested at least weekly -- is also commonly described, on Fox and elsewhere, as a vaccination mandate.

Biden's jobs record

Biden said, "We've created more jobs in the first eight months of my administration than any president in American history."

Facts First: This is true, but the circumstances of Biden's first eight months are so different from the circumstances that greeted every other newly elected modern president that meaningful direct comparison is effectively impossible. Biden took office less than a year after the economy shed more than 22 million jobs in two months because of the pandemic. Even with the jobs rebound that began in May 2020, the US still has about 5 million fewer jobs than it did before the pandemic hit. In other words, Biden-era gains -- an average of more than 600,000 jobs added per month from February through September -- are still filling the giant pandemic hole.

Biden is free, of course, to argue that he is doing a good job filling that hole. But his president-versus-president boasts should be viewed with contextual caution.

This is a breaking story and will be updated.

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