President Joe Biden participated Wednesday in the second CNN town hall of his presidency, taking questions from anchor Don Lemon and local residents in Cincinnati.
As he did at his February town hall, Biden made a number of false or misleading claims. We haven't been able to look into every single thing he said Wednesday night, but here is a rundown on some of his remarks.
Calling on Americans to get vaccinated against Covid-19, Biden said, "If you're vaccinated, you're not going to be hospitalized, you're not going to be in the ICU unit and you're not going to die." In another exchange moments later, Biden said that even if vaccinated people do "catch the virus," they are "not likely to get sick."
Facts First: Biden's second claim -- that vaccinated people are "not likely to get sick" -- was accurate. But the blanket promises in his first and third comments -- that vaccinated people are simply "not going to be hospitalized," "not going to die" and, even with the very contagious Delta variant, "not going to get Covid" -- were inaccurate.
Fact check: Joe Biden makes false claims about Covid-19, auto prices and other subjects at CNN town hall
Covid-19 vaccines are highly effective, and they sharply reduce the likelihood of infection, serious illness and death. However, contrary to Biden's categorical declarations, they do not guarantee that people will not get the virus or will not be hospitalized or die. Even vaccinated people on Biden's own staff have been infected. So have a senior aide to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, multiple Democratic state legislators from Texas who have been in Washington, DC, this month; and various other high-profile people.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention does not endorse the definitive language Biden did. The CDC notes on its website that "vaccine breakthrough cases will occur, even though the vaccines are working as expected" and "there will be a small percentage of fully vaccinated people who still get sick, are hospitalized or die from Covid-19."
Experts emphasize that it is uncommon for fully vaccinated people to become seriously ill from Covid-19. CDC director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said last Friday that more than 97% of Covid-19 patients hospitalized at present are unvaccinated; Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy said on CNN on Sunday that 99.5% of Covid-19 deaths at the moment are of unvaccinated people. But that means, of course, that hospitalizations and deaths among the fully vaccinated do sometimes occur, as various US jurisdictions have reported in recent days.
The CDC says that as of July 12 it had received reports of 1,063 deaths among vaccinated people with "breakthrough" cases, though it cautioned that 26% of these deaths were "reported as asymptomatic or not related to COVID-19." The CDC said it had received reports of 5,189 hospitalizations among vaccinated people with "breakthrough" cases, though 28% were "reported as asymptomatic or not related to COVID-19."
"Well, what the science says is that 97% of hospitalizations are people who were unvaccinated," Psaki said Thursday. "So yes, there are cases of individuals who are vaccinated, to be absolutely clear, who have gotten Covid -- it is a very small percentage, and a small number of people, and those cases, the vast, vast, vast majority, are asymptomatic and they have, they have minor symptoms, which means that you are largely protected -- that was the point he was trying to make last night."
After he was asked by a citizen if he is concerned about higher prices, especially inflation in gasoline, automotive and food prices, Biden asserted that "the cost of an automobile, it's kind of back to what it was before the pandemic."
Facts First: This is false, even with the wiggle room Biden granted himself with the phrase "kind of." Because of challenges created by the Covid-19 pandemic, new car prices and used car prices are significantly higher today than they were before the pandemic, whether "before the pandemic" means mid-2019 or early 2020. Used car prices have experienced a particularly large increase.
For new and used vehicles in US cities, the Consumer Price Index was about 20% higher in June 2021 than it was in January 2020 and about 19% higher than in June 2019. Used cars and trucks were up about 43% in cities since January 2020 and about 41% since June 2019.
CNN Business senior writer Chris Isidore wrote Sunday that -- according to Edmunds, a company that tracks auto prices -- "the average new car transaction in June was just shy of therecord $41,000 set in May, and up 10% from June 2019. The average used car price soared even more,rising 28% in that two-year period to reach a record $26,500."
Kelley Blue Book, which also tracks auto prices, reported this week that the average transaction price for a new light vehicle in the US was an all-time high of $42,258 in June 2021, not including applied consumer incentives. That's up about 12% from June 2019 and about 9% from January 2020, according to Kelley Blue Book spokeswoman Brenna Buehler.
Kayla Reynolds, industry intelligence analyst for Cox Automotive, which owns Kelley Blue Book, said in an email: "Historically tight new-vehicle inventory has helped push transaction prices higher throughout the past year. Incentives spending by the automakers has also dropped notably, and new-vehicle affordability hit a ten-year low in June." Reynolds added that, given the global microchip shortage that is still affecting vehicle manufacturing, analysts at Cox Automotive "don't expect new-vehicle inventory to return to normal levels until next year, and even then consumers can't expect a significant price correction, only a slowing of price increases."
Biden criticized the broad corporate use of "noncompete"clauses that restrict workers' ability to leave for jobs at other companies. He said, "For example, you have over 600,000 people out there signing -- 6 million people signing a -- I better check the number -- of -- signing noncompete agreements. Not because they have ... any secret, but because they were working for one fast-food restaurant, and they're told they can't get 10 cents more going across town, going to the other fast-food restaurant. Why? To keep wages down."
Facts First: Biden made very clearhe wasn't sure what the real number of workers was, but still the numbers he used were way off, according to his own administration's previous estimates. Psaki told reporters on July 7 that noncompete agreements affect "over 30 million people" in the private sector. A White House document published on July 9, meanwhile, put the figure at "some 36 to 60 million workers," citing an estimate from theEconomic Policy Institute think tank.
In a July 9 executive order, Biden asked the chair of the Federal Trade Commission to "consider working" with the rest of the commission to use its authority "to curtail the unfair use of non-compete clauses and other clauses or agreements that may unfairly limit worker mobility."
An infrastructure letter
Talking about the ongoing Senate negotiations over a bipartisan infrastructure bill, Biden said he thinks the negotiators need only until Monday to resolve outstanding issues. He said, "You had up to 20 Republicans sign a letter saying, 'We think we need this deal. We think we need this deal.' "
Facts First: If he was talking about the letter that was in the news the day he spoke, Biden exaggerated the extent of Republican support. According to Republican Sen. Rob Portman, 11 Republican senators sent a letter to Democratic Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer in which they made clear they would vote no if Schumer held a procedural vote on Wednesday to advance the bipartisan infrastructure proposal but that they intended to vote yes if a vote were held next Monday. (Biden did say"up to 20," not plain "20," but 11 is so far away from 20 that the claim is at least misleading.)
Biden might have gotten the letter to Schumer mixed up with a public statement Wednesday in support of the infrastructure talks, which was endorsed by 22 senators. But that statement, too, included the names of 11 Republicans -- 10 senators and one House member.
Touting his expansion of the child tax credit, which was part of the $1.9 trillion relief package he signed into law in March, Biden claimed, "It's called the child tax credit. If you have a child under the age of 7, you get 300 bucks a month -- 350 bucks a month. If you have a child under -- between 7 and 17, you get a total of 200 bucks a month."
Eligible parents receive up to $250 per month for each child 6 to 17, not $200 as Biden said. They receive up to $300 a month for each child under 6; Biden originally cited this amount but then incorrectly boosted the figure to $350.
Biden's initial vaccination goal
Biden said, "Now, by the way, remember when I first got elected, the issue was, well, I said I was going to do a million shots a week, and people said, 'Biden can't do that' or 'Biden team can't do that.' And it was 2 million."
Facts First: Biden misspoke here. His initial goal -- which someobservers did indeed greet with skepticism -- was 1 million Covid-19 shots a day, not 1 million shots "a week." Specifically, Biden had set a target of 100 million shots in his first 100 days.
Biden then raised the target to 200 million shots in his first 100 days. That goal was achieved.
Joe Biden’s obsession with scoring a bipartisan deal suddenly looks quite doable
President Joe Biden may finally be nearing the bipartisan win he's long yearned for but that some in his party say is politically unnecessary and may ultimately prove fleeting.
Despite a failed vote on Wednesday to advance the roughly $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure deal, White House negotiators have been working aggressively to settle disagreements with GOP senators.
The White House supported Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer's move to force that vote, viewing it as necessary for kicking negotiations into higher gear. As one White House official put it, the president knows when to give Democratic leaders space to manage their caucus.
The move angered Republican negotiators. But it didn’t drive them away. By Wednesday afternoon, 10 GOP Senators had signed onto a bipartisan statement saying they were prepared to vote to break a filibuster in a matter of days. Later that night, Biden credited Sen. Rob Portman, (R-Ohio), for his work in negotiations,saying at a CNN town hall in Cincinnati that he takes Republicans at their word and believes a deal with them would come together.
For weeks, Biden's pledge to find a bipartisan compromise appeared on life-support. Early negotiations with Senate Republicans stalled and Democrats began openly fretting that the White House was being strung along by the opposition. Through it all, the president’s aides projected calm to the point of it becoming a mantra inside the White House: Settle down. Take a breath. We’re not giving up on it.
If a deal on the massive bill materializes next week, as several senators involved in talks are suggesting, it would represent the most significant validation to date of Biden’s commitment to bipartisanship. It would also support his claims that he possesses a unique congressional acumen. Biden based a large part of his 2020 campaign on breaking the partisan fever in Washington. And though he argued on Wednesday that it was working — “that's all beginning to move,” he said — many in his party warn that it could be a waste of time and capital.
The White House’s zealous pursuit of a bipartisan deal was kept alive, in no small part, due to the team of top advisers Biden installed to help work toward an agreement. The group includes Louisa Terrell, Biden’s director of the Office of Legislative Affairs and Shuwanza Goff, deputy director of legislative affairs. Both Terrell and Goff are frequently on calls and in meetings with House and Senate lawmakers and their staff and have continued to track thetemperature of Democrats on both the bipartisan and party-line reconciliation proposals.
"Every day we work to stay focused on how to come through, how to deliver investments people across the country have needed for a long time,” Terrell said in a statement to POLITICO. “And we do that by being honest brokers with the parties, staying in touch with leadership and key members, keeping our gaze on how to make steady progress, and not getting fazed."
Senators and their aides, meanwhile, credit senior officials like White House counselor Steve Ricchetti and National Economic Council director Brian Deese and acting director of the Office of Management and Budget Shalanda Young for showing commitment to a deal.
Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), a member of the core negotiating group of five Republicans and five Democrats, said Ricchetti, Deese and Young helped negotiators “by providing data on how much money is left in various accounts as a result of the Covid bills that we passed in 2020.”
Though hang-ups remain over how to finance the bill, Collins credited Ricchetti for keeping talks moving, including after Biden sent Republicans reeling last month when he said he’d reject the infrastructure deal if it reached his desk without the Democrats’ reconciliation package. In the past week, White House involvement ramped up, she said. Collins and Ricchetti had multiple calls alone on Saturday.
“Steve has been really key,” Collins said. “He keeps his word and he’s easy to work with ... He is a hard worker, who represents the president well, and given his experience he understands the Senate and negotiations, and that's a big plus.”
Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.), another member of the bipartisan group, said his office is routinely in talks with Deese.
But even as Biden aides worked Republicans in the Senate, they’ve been developing contingency plans if the deal falls apart — both to pass the package on their own and to make the case they went to extraordinary lengths to seek out a compromise and should be credited for it.
“He ran on uniting the country and being a president for everyone and he has heard out the Republican senators on this,” said Ben LaBolt, a Democratic strategist and former aide to Obama. “I think the average American recognizes that Biden leaned in hard here and gave political muscle to the bipartisan deal.”
But Biden’s insistence on pursuing bipartisan negotiations may not be cost free, fellow Democrats have warned. The size of the infrastructure bill will be roughly half of what he initially p.... And there is no guarantee that Democrats can include all the elements left out of the bipartisan legislation in their $3.5 trillion reconciliation package. Others in the party insist Biden’s team needs to focus more on selling his current accomplishments or else voters may not give him credit.
For those reasons and others, few Democrats have openly shared Biden’s commitment to getting a bipart.... Those who do are primarily the ones working directly on the narrow infrastructure bill.
“This week when we did have the White House present at some of our meetings, they worked for hours,” said Collins. “We were meeting from like seven till 11 at night.”
Ultimately, Collins said, the fate of the deal is “a make or break opportunity for the president.”
“If we do not successfully conclude these negotiations, produce and pass a bipartisan infrastructure bill,” Collins said, “then I see very little hope for bipartisan cooperation on other is...
But Democrats already say there is little reason to believe, given recent history, that Republicans will be open to cooperation elsewhere. On Wednesday morning, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said he doubted a single Republican would vote to raise the debt ceiling. Others pointed to the lack of Republican cooperation on most Democratic priorities and its rejection of an independent commission to study the Jan. 6 insurrection.
“Unity was never a thing: Republicans won’t allow it,” said Paul Ma.... “Biden was elected to calm the country down and produce some results particularly on the ... and the economy. If an infrastructure deal can help in both then it’s a good thing. If the Republicans prevent that then he makes sure to tell the people in the middle that he is doing what they wanted him to.”
Ultimately, Democratic lawmakers said, the White House has positioned itself well under challenging circum...s — giving bipartisanship a good try while not being naive about the tough political climate th....
“Biden has a reputation as being a skilled negotiator and a knowledgeable parliamentarian, and he's working with people in the Senate, who he served with,” said Rep.Hank Johnson (D-Ga.) “But everyone knows that the politics of today are unlike politics of old when he was in the Senate and so his ability to achieve bipartisan consensus is severely challenged.”
Ordinary Joe Biden
It's often said that each US president is the direct antidote to the excesses of his predeces...
You might have noticed that Donald Trump -- who made his name by literally splashing it across apartment blocks, hotels, airliners, steaks and pretty much anything else that could be sold -- was not the humblest president in US history. He was forever boasting about how smart he was, awarding himself A grades for his often-questionable performance -- for instance, on the pandemic -- and boasting falsely that no president before him had achieved what he did.
Joe Biden is just the opposite. In a clear reaction to the Trump years, he's made the presidency less noisy and attention-grabbing.
Biden's humility was on display throughout the CNN town hall in Ohio on Wednesday night when he spoke about his administration's pandemic response. "One of the things that we're doing is what I've done-- we've done, excuse me -- my team has done," the President said. Later the ex-senator and former vice president argued that he was a foreign policy expert -- but in the most modest way. "I've had a lot of experience internationally. And I mean that -- not good or bad, just I have," he said.
Biden said his recent first foreign trip had made him realize his n... -- but he avoided puffing his own ego. "The only place I have felt like what the office connotes is when I went to Europe and watched the rest of the heads of state react to me -- not me, because I'm the President of the United States of America," Biden said.
Of course, Biden knows what he's doing. Making out that he's just like any other American is good politics. He's following a method that he's long used on the campaign trail to burnish his ordinary Joe image. He's using modesty as a political weapon, and the fact that he is not personally objectionable creates an aura of moderation even though some of his social policy plans are quite radical.
But he's been around long enough -- and been scarred by enough personal tragedy -- that it's pretty clear that his personality isn't just an act. At the end of the town hall, Biden told CNN's Don Lemon a self-deprecating story that underscore....
"The first time I walked downstairs and they played 'Hail to the Chief,' I wondered, 'Where is he?' No, you think I'm kidding. I'm not kidding."
"It's a great tune, but ... you feel a little self-conscious," the President added.
The Republican reversal on vaccines
There's been a sudden epiphany as lawmakers and TV opinion hosts from the Republican Party and Fox News -- two organs more than happy to raise skepticism about Covid-19 vaccines -- have changed their tune. In a striking statement, Sean Hannity, one of Fox's most watched conservative pundits, called on his viewers this week to get their shots. "I can't say it enough. Enough people have died. We don't need any more death," Hannity said on his show. In fairness, Hannity, a Trump confidant, had spoken out on vaccines before, despite often downplaying the pandemic. But such a strident message from such a powerful conservative opinion host led a chorus of other Fox hosts to board the vaccine train.
One of the top people in the House Republican leadership, Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana, took the plunge and went to TV to urge viewers to do the same after waiting months to get his dose. This came after some members of Scalise's House caucus compared Biden to a Nazi because he sent teams into hard-hit states to plead with people to get the life-saving shots.
What's behind the sudden change of heart?
It's always possible -- though admittedly unfathomable in Washington -- that people are simply, finally, doing the right thing. More likely, there's a realization that it's not good politics or business for the Republican Party or Fox to see its viewers getting sick and dying.
Almost all of the states with the lowest vaccination rates and highest new case numbers in a summer surge of Covid-19 fueled by the Delta variant are Republican-run. Hospitals all over Trump country are filling up. There are tales from doctors and nurses of patients pleading for vaccines on their death beds, when it is too late.
Whatever the reason -- and frustrated by the previous conservative torrent of misinformation about vaccines -- Biden will take it. "They've had an altar call, some of those guys," Biden, a devout Roman Catholic, said at the CNN town hall on Wednesday night. "All of a sudden, they're out there saying, 'Let's get vaccinated' .... I shouldn't make fun. That's good."