Trump’s flawed Rose Garden assault on Joe Biden

But rather than rehash old ground, in this roundup we will focus on Trump’s claims against his election rival, former vice president Joe Biden. Violating norms and protocol, the president used the august setting of the Rose Garden for a sustained campaign-style attack. Here are some of the more noteworthy claims he made. We don’t award Pinocchios in roundups, but many of these statements are wildly off-course.

“Biden personally led the effort to give China permanent, most-favored nation status, which is a tremendous advantage for a country to have. Few countries have it. But the United States doesn’t have it. Never did. Probably never even asked for it, because they didn’t know what they were doing.”

False. “Most favored” trading status is one of those confusing inside-the-Beltway terms that apparently the president still does not understand. It just means normal trading relations. (As the World Trade Organization explains: “It suggests special treatment, but in the WTO it actually means non-discrimination — treating virtually everyone equally.”)

In the case of China, normal trade relations were suspended in 1951 after the communist takeover and then restored in 1980 on a rolling basis. Bill Clinton led the way for permanent resumption of normal trading status, not Joe Biden, and it was George W. Bush who established it in 2001.

Contrary to Trump’s statement, the United States has normal trading relations with just about every country in the world. The only exceptions are Cuba and North Korea.

“America lost nearly 10,000 factories while Joe Biden was vice president. Think of that: 10,000 factories.”

Barack Obama took office in the midst of a recession, when hundreds of thousands of jobs a month were being shed, so be wary of numbers that record over an entire presidential term. (Similarly, the current recession has wiped away any gains earlier in Trump’s term.) In Obama’s second term, 10,000 factories were added. But we hesitate even to use the phrase.

“Factories” may conjure up images of smokestacks and production lines, but the data set Trump cited is not really about factories. Trump is citing a Bureau of Labor Statistics database set known as the Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages. More than 80 percent of these “manufacturing establishments” employ five or fewer people, as the data includes such “factories” as bakeries, candy stores and custom tailors.

“He opposed my very strict travel ban on Chinese nationals to stop the spread of the China virus. He was totally against it. ‘Xenophobic,’ he called me. ‘Xenophobic.’ A month later, he admitted I was right.”

Trump is seizing on a comment Biden made the day Trump announced the travel restrictions. But whether Biden was specifically speaking about Trump’s travel restrictions is open to debate.

“We have, right now, a crisis with the coronavirus, from China,” Biden said during an Iowa campaign appearance on Jan. 31. “This is no time for Donald Trump’s record of hysteria and xenophobia — hysterical xenophobia — and fearmongering to lead the way instead of science.” Biden went on to criticize Trump for proposing cuts in global health programs and for folding a White House pandemic office into another unit. But he did not specifically mention the travel restrictions on China.

The Biden campaign says Biden was not referring to the travel restrictions and notes that the former vice president’s remarks were similar to those in an opinion column he wrote that was published in USA Today four days earlier. “I remember how Trump sought to stoke fear and stigma during the 2014 Ebola epidemic,” Biden wrote on Jan. 27, such as advocating “reactionary travel bans.” The comment included a link to a Trump tweet from 2014, urging Obama to “close down the flights from Ebola infected areas right now.” (At the time, there were no direct flights from Ebola-affected areas to the United States.)

“If we had listened to Joe Biden, hundreds of thousands of additional lives would have been lost.”

There’s no evidence Trump’s restrictions on travel from China saved “hundreds of thousands” of lives. The Trump administration imposed an entry ban on all foreign nationals who were in the People’s Republic of China, excluding Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macao, in the previous 14 days, effective Feb. 2. But it included many exceptions. Moreover, many U.S. airlines already were canceling flights.

The New York Times in early April estimated nearly 40,000 people had traveled from China to the United States in the two months after Trump imposed restrictions on such travel — and at least 430,000 people had arrived in the United States on direct flights from China since Dec. 31. While Trump often suggests the United States imposed the first ban, dozens of countries acted before the United States.

The testing criteria set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention were extremely narrow: Only those with recent travel to China or those who had come into contact with a confirmed infection would be tested. Moreover, because the Trump administration bungled testing in February, allowing for few tests of Americans, it had little idea that the coronavirus was spreading silently through the country.

“If you look at the job he did on swine flu — I looked at a poll — they have polls on everything nowadays — and he — they got very bad marks on the job they did on the swine flu, H1N1. He calls it ‘N1H1′ H1N1. He got very poor marks from Gallup on the job they did on swine flu. And they stopped, very early on, testing. They totally stopped it. They just said, ‘Stop.’”

Under fire for a sluggish response, Trump has targeted the Obama administration’s handling of the 2009 swine flu outbreak. But Obama’s handling was widely praised at the time as the right mix of action and no overreaction.

The estimated death toll in the United States during the H1N1 epidemic was 12,469 from April 2009 to April 2010, using an after-the-fact statistical analysis. That was much less than a forecast of 30,000 to 90,000 deaths made in August 2009 by the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology.

Trump claims Obama got “very poor marks from Gallup,” but he would be gratified to get Obama’s numbers. Two Gallup polls found 74 percent (May 2009) and 60 percent (August 2009) had confidence the government could handle the swine flu outbreak. By comparison, just 42 percent approve of Trump’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic in the most recent Gallup poll.

As for halting testing, the Obama administration decided that it would conserve government resources if it assumed flu cases with certain symptoms and risk factors could be deemed “probable” H1N1 flu. So testing for the flu did not end, just testing to identify this particular strain. Laboratory-confirmed deaths continued to be counted. (The decision did earn some criticism, as it turned out the number of probable cases was likely overestimated.)

“These are actual key elements of the Biden-Sanders unity platform: Abolish immigration detention. No more detention. You come in here illegally, no more detention.”

Nope. Remember: Biden surged in the Democratic primary running as a moderate alternative to more liberal candidates who proposed to decriminalize border crossings or abolish the agency in charge of deportations, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

The Biden campaign’s immigration page says he would “seek alternatives” to migrant detention and work with nonprofits that help manage immigration cases for families awaiting hearings and released into the country. Under a legal settlement from 1997 known as the Flores agreement, U.S. immigration officials must release underage migrants in their custody within 20 days, usually to a relative or shelter. Biden’s website says he would “move migrants into safe environments as quickly as possible” and “end for-profit detention centers.”

The Biden-Sanders unity task force, which issued recommendations to Biden, not set-in-stone policies, similarly says “detention should be a last resort, not the default.”

“Democrats will prioritize investments in more effective and cost-efficient community-based alternatives to detention,” the task force said. “We will end for-profit detention centers and ensure that any facility where migrants are being detained is held to the highest standards of care and guarantees the safety and dignity of families. Detention of children should be restricted to the shortest possible time, with their access to education and proper care ensured.”

“Stop all deportation. So if we get a MS-13 gang member, which we’ve taken out of our country by the thousands — brought them back to Honduras, Guatemala — can’t do that anymore — El Salvador. Can’t do that anymore. Stop all deportations. So in other words, we’ll take all of these people — many of whom are in prison for rape, murder, lots of other things.”

Neither Biden nor the unity task force has called for a full stop, though Biden has vowed a return to an Obama-era policy of prioritizing violent offenders and national security threats for deportation. Biden is also pledging a 100-day moratorium “on any deportations of people already in the United States.”

On his campaign website, Biden says he would “restore sensible enforcement priorities,” “direct enforcement efforts toward threats to public safety and national security,” end workplace immigration raids and “protect sensitive locations from immigration enforcement actions.”

“No one should be afraid to seek medical attention, go to school, their job, or their place of worship for fear of an immigration enforcement action,” the Biden website says.

The Biden-Sanders unity task force did not recommend a stop to deportations.

The Trump campaign tweeted “I’m on Team Joe” next to an image of shirtless, tattooed “MS-13 gang members.” But the reality is that Biden would make it easier than Trump to deport MS-13 gang members. The Obama-era policy was to put violent offenders such as gang members at the front of the deportation line. Trump took office and rolled back Obama’s executive order, allowing immigration authorities to prioritize whatever they choose.

“Expand asylum for all new illegal aliens. How about that one? All new illegal aliens, expand asylum.”

It’s more accurate to say that the Trump administration has imposed a series of new restrictions on asylum claims and Biden would lift them.

The Biden immigration page says he would reverse Trump’s additional restrictions on asylum seekers traveling through Mexico or Guatemala, would not prosecute asylum seekers for “misdemeanor illegal entry” and would undo attempts “to prevent victims of gang and domestic violence from receiving asylum,” among other changes.

The Trump administration pioneered a program known as “Remain in Mexico,” or the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP), under which mostly Central American migrants petitioning for asylum in the United States wait in Mexico while their U.S. immigration cases are pending. Democrats and migrant advocates say the arrangement exposes those asylum seekers to danger, which is not allowed under international laws covering refugees. Biden’s website says he would end the MPP initiative “and restore our asylum laws so that they do what they should be designed to do — protect people fleeing persecution and who cannot return home safely.”

Biden also pledges to increase the number of asylum officers, to process applications faster.

“Migrants who qualify for an asylum claim will be admitted to the country through an orderly process and connected with resources that will help them care for themselves,” the Biden website says. “Migrants who do not qualify will have the opportunity to make their claim before an immigration judge, but if they are unable to satisfy the court, the government will help facilitate their successful reintegration into their home countries.”

The unity task force similarly says “Democrats will end Trump Administration policies that deny protected entry to asylum seekers” and adds, “We will end prosecution of asylum seekers at the border and policies that force them to apply from ‘safe third countries,’ which are far from safe.”

“His son [Hunter Biden] walked out with $1.5 billion of money to invest, where he’ll make hundreds of thousands of dollars — maybe millions of dollars a year. Walked out with $1.5 billion. I asked one of the biggest people on Wall Street — maybe the biggest — ‘Is that possible?’ He said, ‘No.’ He’s never seen it. They don’t do that.”

In December 2013, Hunter Biden and one of his daughters flew from Japan to China with Joe Biden on Air Force Two as the vice president embarked on a diplomatic mission. Twelve days after he flew to Beijing, Hunter Biden joined an advisory board of a fund called BHR Partners, which had announced it would try to raise $1.5 billion. While Joe Biden was vice president, Hunter Biden was only on the board of the advisory firm that did not directly invest, but instead advised those who did.

George Mesires, a lawyer for Hunter Biden, said the younger Biden only took an equity stake in 2017, after Joe Biden was no longer vice president. Mesires told The Fact Checker that the investment management company “was capitalized from various sources with a total of 30 million RMB [Chinese Renminbi], or about $4.2 million, not $1.5 billion.” Because Biden acquired a 10 percent minority interest, his “capital commitment is approximately $420,000,” Mesires said. “To date, Mr. Biden has not received any return or compensation on account of this investment or his position on the board of directors,” Mesires added. Hunter Biden announced he would resign from the board of the company on Oct. 31, 2019.

“As Vice President, Biden was a leading advocate of the Paris climate accord, which was unbelievably expensive to our country. It would’ve crushed American manufacturers while allowing China to pollute — pollute the atmosphere with impunity.”

Each country set its own commitments under the Paris accord. So Trump could have unilaterally changed the commitments offered by Obama, which is technically allowed under the agreement.

Moreover, China, in its Paris accord commitment, said that, compared with 2005 levels, it would seek to cut its carbon emissions by 60 to 65 percent per unit of GDP by 2030. China pledged to reach these goals by 2030. The Climate Action Tracker says Beijing has policies in place to meet and even overachieve its Paris accord targets, even if it remains insufficient to halt global warming of temperatures.

“Abolish — in the suburbs, you’re going to abolish the suburbs with this. Enforce Obama-Biden’s radical AFFH — that’s the AFFH regulation that threatens to strip localities of federal affordable housing funds unless they change their zoning laws to fit the federal government’s demands. So what you have — I mean, I’ve been watching this for years in Westchester, coming from New York. They want low-income housing built in a neighborhood. Well, I’m ending that rule. I’m taking it out, so — I spoke with Ben Carson the other day. We’re going to be taking it out. I’ve watched that whole thing go, and now they want to make it twice as bad in the suburbs — in the suburbs. Mothers aren’t happy about that. Fathers aren’t happy about that. They worked hard to buy a house, and now they’re going to watch the housing values drop like a rock, and that has happened. It dropped like a rock. So we’re not going to do that; we’re going to do the exact opposite.”

The Affirmatively Further Fair Housing rule (AFFH) does not aim to bulldoze the suburbs. Rather, the rule is the latest attempt to push the Department of Housing and Urban Development to do more to enforce and implement a section of the Fair Housing Act of 1968 requiring the government to “affirmatively further fair housing.”

The rule, which was finalized in July 2015 and been in limbo since Obama left office, is designed to push “meaningful actions, in addition to combating discrimination, that overcome patterns of segregation and foster inclusive communities free from barriers that restrict access to opportunity based on protected characteristics.” Put simply, it was designed to help state and local officials provide better access to opportunity, following the original 1968 guideline.

For evidence of the bleak future, Trump points to his own experience “watching this for years.” But he goes on to bungle the facts, suggesting that following the AFFH would lead to “housing values drop like a rock.” Most research suggests that the proximity of affordable housing does not depress property values.

The president ought to be familiar with fair housing rules. The government charged Trump, along with his father and their company, with violating the Fair Housing Act in 1973. The Trumps eventually signed a consent decree in 1975, which they were accused of violating just three years later.

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