Steve April 2, 2021

Regular readers know we don’t write fact checks to change the behavior of politicians. Still, we’ll admit it always warms our hearts when a politician drops a talking point or admits error in response to a fact check.

President Donald Trump frequently complained about Pinocchios but he rarely changed his rhetoric. In fact, he often doubled down, repeating over and over claims that had been fact-checked as false, sometimes hundreds of times.

It’s still relatively early in the Biden presidency, so patterns are hard to discern. But there are three claims President Biden has made that appear impervious to fact-checking, given that he’s already said them at least three times. Some readers have noticed, sending us puzzled emails about why the president keeps making these statements. In fact, the president said all three of these claims at various points on March 31, which is why it caught our attention.

Here’s a quick guide to Biden’s recidivism.

A messed-up calculation of war deaths

To remind himself of the death toll from the coronavirus, Biden keeps a card in his breast pocket with the latest daily count. He often pulls it out when making a speech or giving remarks — and then makes a fallacious comparison to deaths in various military conflicts.

  • “Today, we mark a truly grim, heartbreaking milestone: 500,071 dead. That’s more Americans who have died in one year in this pandemic than in World War I, World War II and the Vietnam War combined.” (Feb. 22)
  • “On Monday, our nation passed a grim, grim milestone: covid-19 has now taken over 500,000 of our fellow Americans. That’s more than died in World War I, World War II and the Vietnam War combined.” (Feb. 25)
  • “As of now, the total deaths in America: 527,726. That’s more deaths than in World War I, World War II, the Vietnam War and 9/11 combined.” (March 11)
  • “We’re at 535,217 dead as of yesterday, last night. … That’s more people than have died in all of World War — Americans — all of World War I, World War II, the Vietnam War and 9/11 combined, combined in a year, in a year.” (March 19)
  • “I have the list of exactly how many have died: 547,296 Americans dead from the virus — more than all the people killed in World War I, World War II, the Vietnam War, 9/11. 547,296 Americans.” (March 31)

Here’s the problem: The number of in-service deaths during World War I, World War II and the Vietnam War combined adds up to about 580,000 deaths. When we first looked into this, a White House official told The Fact Checker that the president intended to refer to combat deaths in World War I, World War II and Vietnam, which is under 400,000, but he inadvertently omitted that qualifier in his remarks.

That was odd because in a similar statement in his inaugural address, Biden referred to in-service deaths. In fact, if Biden really was using only battlefield deaths, he actually could have said more people have died of covid-19 than in combat during all of America’s wars against foreign enemies.

Despite our fact check, Biden kept leaving off the qualifier referring to battlefield deaths and so kept making this mistake. Eventually, Biden started to include the almost 3,000 deaths from the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks (obviously not in combat). It’s especially strange to mix that tragedy with battlefield deaths during wars, as in-service deaths are more commonly used when referring to the military death toll in wars.

We gave Biden Two Pinocchios for this claim. With deaths averaging 1,000 a day, Biden eventually will be correct in about a month.

A misleading claim about Trump’s tax bill

Biden wants to raise taxes on the wealthy to help pay for his infrastructure projects. As part of his pitch, he repeatedly makes a misleading claim about what percentage of the savings flowed to the top 1 percent of taxpayers in Trump’s 2017 tax cut.

  • “They don’t like it because in fact their — their idea of a tax cut is give the Trump tax cut, where 83 percent went to the top 1 percent of the people in America.” (March 16)
  • “To hear them [Republicans] complain when they passed a close to $2 trillion Trump tax cut, 83 percent going to the top 1 percent.” (March 25)
  • “I’d note, parenthetically, that I got criticized for giving tax breaks to middle-class and poor folks this last time. I didn’t hear that cry — hue and cry when we were doing the same thing when Trump’s tax bill passed and 83 percent of the money went to the top 1 percent.” (March 31)

This is a misleading Democratic talking point that has often earned Two Pinocchios. The nonpartisan Tax Policy Center estimated that initially, more than 80 percent of taxpayers would get a tax cut, with less than 5 percent getting a tax increase. The top 1 percent received 20.5 percent of the tax cut in 2018.

But the individual tax cuts expire over the course of the decade. Republicans structured the tax cut this way to keep the whole package — especially the corporate tax cut — in a budget box that allowed only for a $1.5 trillion increase in the federal deficit over 10 years.

The assumption — possibly a big one — is that Congress will vote to extend the tax cuts when they begin to expire, just as most of the George W. Bush tax cuts were extended, with the eventual support of Democrats who had long opposed the Bush-era cuts. So Democrats prefer to focus on the TPC estimates for 2027, when the study shows 82.8 percent of the tax cuts will flow to the top 1 percent.

It’s not 2027 yet, so most of the taxpayers are still getting some kind of tax cut. Biden, however, speaks in the present tense, as if that 83 percent is already ending up in the pockets of the top 1 percent.

A falsehood about the Georgia election law

  • “What I’m worried about is how un-American this whole initiative is. It’s sick. It’s sick … deciding that you’re going to end voting at 5 o’clock when working people are just getting off work.” (March 25)
  • “Among the outrageous parts of this new state law, it ends voting hours early so working people can’t cast their vote after their shift is over.” (March 26)
  • “You are going to close a polling place at 5 o’clock when working people just get off. This is all about keeping working folks and ordinary folks that I grew up with from being able to vote.” (March 31)

In reality, Election Day hours were not changed and the opportunities to cast a ballot in early voting were expanded. The law made a modest change, replacing a vague phrase “normal business hours” — presumed to be 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. — to a more specific 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. time period. (Some rural county election offices worked only part time during the week, not a full eight-hour day, so the shift to more specific times makes it clear they must be open every weekday for at least eight hours.) But that’s the minimum.

Under the new law, counties have the option to extend the voting hours so voters can start casting ballots as early as 7 a.m. and as late as 7 p.m. — the same as Election Day in Georgia. Moreover, an additional mandatory day of early voting on Saturday was added and two days of early voting on Sunday were codified as an option for counties.

The White House did not provide an explanation for Biden’s erroneous statement, which has turned up in a news conference, an official statement and an interview. Astonishingly, at an April 1 news briefing, White House press secretary Jen Psaki defended the president’s comment, incorrectly arguing “it standardizes the ending of voting every day at 5, right?”

Tellingly, in a massive lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and other groups, this alleged defect in the law was not mentioned in an almost 100-page filing. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on March 31 issued a correction to an article that had echoed Biden’s remarks, saying the newspaper had incorrectly reported the new law would limit voting hours. “Nothing in the new law changes those rules,” the correction said.

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