President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden traded rhetorical blows across the debate stage in Cleveland during the first presidential debate of the 2020 election. As they attempted to make their points heard on everything from the next Supreme Court nominee to Hunter Biden's business dealings, some of what they said stretched the bounds of the truth. A few claims were outright whoppers.
NBC News fact-checked their statements in real time. Please check back regularly for the latest updates. For full coverage, visit the debate live blog.
Biden said the 'Green New Deal is not my plan.' But how similar is his environmental plan?
Biden attempted to put distance between the “Green New Deal” — an ambitious and comprehensive environmental justice policy plan supported by progressives like Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez — and his own plans to combat climate change and environmental racism and push clean energy sources and environmental justice.
“That is not my plan. The Green New Deal is not my plan,” Biden said during Tuesday night’s debate.
While Biden doesn’t explicitly support the Green New Deal, his own plans borrow very heavily from it — meaning his aggressive denials ring false.
Over the summer, Biden released a $2 trillion plan that emphasized building new energy efficient infrastructure projects and cutting fossil fuel emissions.
Under his plan, Biden would, if elected, increase clean energy use in various areas (including transportation, electricity and buildings), and have the U.S. achieve net-zero emissions by 2050 at the latest. The plan would also create 10 million clean energy jobs, according to his campaign website, with a focus on renewable energy, small nuclear reactors and grid energy storage, among other initiatives.
Biden’s plans adopt many of the same pillars of the Green New Deal. One of his campaign documents even says that “Biden believes the Green New Deal is a crucial framework for meeting the climate challenges we face." In addition, release of these plans were celebrated by many of the same groups that had touted the Green New Deal.
Biden’s plans do, however, omit some of the Green New Deal's more controversial elements, such as "Medicare for All," a federal jobs guarantee and a strict zero carbon-emissions mandate.
Did Trump suggest nuking a hurricane?
Biden said during Tuesday’s debate that the president of the United States said he wanted to “drop a nuclear weapon” on hurricanes. Trump retorted, “I never said that.”
Here’s what Biden was referring to: On Aug. 25, 2019, Axios reported that Trump had suggested “multiple times” that the U.S. should explore the use of nuclear bombs to combat hurricanes.
According to Axios: “During one hurricane briefing at the White House, Trump said, 'I got it. I got it. Why don't we nuke them?' according to one source who was there. 'They start forming off the coast of Africa, as they're moving across the Atlantic, we drop a bomb inside the eye of the hurricane and it disrupts it. Why can't we do that?' the source added, paraphrasing the president's remarks.”
One senior administration official did not deny the exchange, telling the publication: “His goal — to keep a catastrophic hurricane from hitting the mainland — is not bad... His objective is not bad."
But Trump wrote in a tweet at the time that the report was “just more fake news.”
Have 1 in 1,000 Black Americans been killed by coronavirus, as Biden claimed?
Biden claimed earlier in the evening that "1 in 1,000 African Americans" have "been killed because of the coronavirus" and that "if he [Trump] doesn't do something quickly, by the end of the year, 1 in 500 will have been killed."
There is no question that Black Americans have been more severely impacted by Covid-19 than whites — even the administration's public health agency agrees that Black Americans are disproportionately affected. A number of analyses and studies show that people of color in America have been hit harder by coronavirus and are more likely to know someone who has died from the virus.
Biden here, however, appears to be referencing a study on death rates, not on overall numbers.
A recent study from APM Research Lab found that the Covid-19 death rate for Blacks is 1 in 1,020 (97.9 deaths per 100,000). The report notes that "if they had died of COVID-19 at the same actual rate as White Americans, about 20,800 Black, 10,900 Latino, 700 Indigenous, and 80 Pacific Islander Americans would still be alive."
But that study doesn't address how the disparity in death rate will change by the end of the year — NBC News has reached out to the Biden campaign for additional information.
Did Kellyanne Conway say violence and chaos help Trump's cause?
During the debate, Trump disputed a broadside from Biden that Kellyanne Conway, Trump's own former campaign manager and top White House aide, said that riots and chaos “help [Trump’s] cause.” But Conway did make comments along those lines in late August.
“His own former spokesperson said, you know riots, chaos and violence help us and violence help his cause. That's what this is all about,” Biden said.
After Trump questioned who Biden was quoting, the former vice president responded “Kellyanne Conway.”
Trump replied: “I don’t think she said that.”
Here’s the exact quote, via video of Conway’s appearance on "Fox and Friends" on Aug. 27, 2020: “The more chaos and anarchy and vandalism and violence reigns, the better it is for the very clear choice on who’s best on public safety and law and order.”
Conway announced on Aug. 23 that she would be leaving the White House at the end of the month.
Did the Obama administration spy on Trump's 2016 campaign, as he claimed?
Trump, during Tuesday night's debate, once again accused the Obama administration of spying on his campaign — a claim that Trump has made on numerous occasions and remains false.
"When I listen to Joe talking about a transition, there's been no transition from when I won. I won if you look at that election and if you look at crooked Hillary Clinton, if you look at all of the different people, there was no transition, because they came after me trying to do a coup, coming after my spying on my campaign," Trump said. "They started from the day I won and even before I won."
A review conducted by the Justice Department’s own watchdog deemed in December that the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election — a probe that deeply touched the 2016 Trump campaign — was justified.
The 434-page report by Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz raised questions about the FBI's use of confidential human sources to gather information from individual members of the Trump campaign. FBI officials said it was a normal investigative technique, but the inspector general questioned whether there should be special guidelines when it comes to political campaigns.
The report did, however, clearly refute the notion that the FBI placed a "spy" in the Trump campaign.
"We found no evidence," the report said, that the FBI sent any confidential sources to join the Trump campaign, or sent them to campaign offices or events, or tasked them to report on the Trump campaign.
The inspector general said he examined more than a million documents and interviewed more than 100 witnesses to reach the report’s conclusions.
Did Trump's administration really bring back 700,000 manufacturing jobs?
Trump claimed he brought back 700,000 manufacturing jobs that were lost during the Obama administration because "they gave up."
"They said it would take a miracle to bring back manufacturing. I brought back 700,000 jobs. They brought back nothing. They gave up on manufacturing," Trump said.
Trump is overstating job gains made under his administration, according to federal employment data examining net job losses.
Approximately 1.4 million manufacturing jobs were lost during the Obama administration’s eight years, much of that amid a major recession that President Barack Obama inherited when he took office that hit the industry hard.
Under Trump, the U.S. has gained approximately half a million manufacturing jobs between 2016 and 2019, according to federal employment data. But some 200,000 of the manufacturing jobs gained under Trump have since been lost during the pandemic.
Trump says poll watchers were 'thrown out' in Pennsylvania. Is that true?
Trump said that his campaign's poll watchers were "thrown out" of voting sites in Philadelphia.
"Today, there was a big problem: In Philadelphia, they went in to watch, they were called poll watchers, a very safe, a very nice thing. They were thrown out, they weren't allowed to watch. You know why? Because bad things happen in Philadelphia," he said toward the end of the debate.
That's because the poll watchers weren't approved to be at that particular location.
A Philadelphia Inquirer reporter at a Board of Election satellite office said Tuesday that a woman who said she was hired by the Trump campaign as a poll watcher wasn't allowed into the office.
But a spokesman from the city commissioner's office said that's because satellite voting officials don't qualify as voting places, so poll watchers cannot be given poll watcher certificates to allow them to observe the process.
“The Satellite Offices are Board of Election Offices that provide voter services to residents of Philadelphia for registration, absentee, and mail-in ballots. Individuals are able to go to those offices for those types of services," said Nick Custodio, a Philadelphia deputy commissioner, in a statement.
"The Satellite Offices are not Polling Places. Poll watcher certificates have not been issued for any individuals for anything other than poll watching activities on Election Day at Polling Places," the statement continued.
"Individuals who are not seeking to receive services from a Satellite Office are not permitted to be there for other purposes. This is particularly important in the current environment as City buildings and offices remain closed to the public due to COVID-19.”
Did Obama hand Trump the 'slowest recovery' or a 'booming economy'?
Trump on Tuesday rattled off a series of claims that suggested he kickstarted a struggling economy.
He claimed that the Obama-Biden administration "had the slowest recovery since — economic recovery since 1929."
"It was the slowest recovery. Also they took over something that was down here. All you had to do is turn on the lights and you pick up a lot," he said.
"When the stock market goes up, that means jobs. It also means 401k's," he continued.
Biden replied by saying, "Look, we inherited the worst recession short of a depression in American history. I was asked to bring it back. We were able to have an economic recovery that created the jobs that you talked about. We handed him a booming economy. He blew it."
"It wasn't booming," Trump replied.
Several key economic indicators show that the economy was well into recovery during the Obama administration, before Trump took office. Furthermore, other metrics show that Trump did not significantly grow the economy any more than than the Obama White House did.
Looking at the broadest measure of economic health, gross domestic product, the numbers show that average quarterly economic growth under Trump, 2.5 percent, was almost exactly what it was under President Obama in his second term, 2.4 percent.
The Trump administration has rightly taken credit for having low unemployment during his presidency, but the idea that Trump rebuilt the economy is misleading. Unemployment under Obama had already been trending downward. In December of 2019 — before the pandemic hit the U.S. — the unemployment rate was a scant 3.5 percent, the lowest it had been in 50 years. However, as good as that number was, when Trump took office the rate was already at 4.7 percent. That figure is quite low by historical standards (lower than all of the 1980s as well as most of the 1990s and 2000s). In fact, Obama saw a much steeper drop in unemployment in his second term, a 3.3 drop in the rate, than Trump did in his first three years, a decline of 1.2 points.
The numbers under Trump appear to be the continuation of a trend, not something new. Job creation numbers offer more evidence for this. On average, there were more jobs added monthly in Obama’s second term than there were in Trump's first three years.
On average, the country created 215,000 new jobs a month in Obama’s second term. In Trump’s first three years, the figure was 182,000. They are both good numbers and if you look at the jobs data plotted on a graph, the rise since 2011 actually looks pretty consistent.
There is one indicator that suggests a change under Trump: the rise in the stock market. On Dec. 31, 2019, the Dow Jones Industrial Average was at 28,538. That was up 56 percent from 18,332, where it was the day Trump was elected in 2016.
From Obama's second Election Day until 2016, the Dow climbed 38 percent.
Did Trump call veterans 'losers'?
Biden made this claim Tuesday evening, and it accurately reflects media reports citing multiple sources.
“And speaking of my son, the way you talk about the military, the way you talk about them being losers and just being suckers. My son was in Iraq. He spent a year there. He got the Bronze Star. He got a service medal. He was not a loser. He was a patriot, and the people left behind there were heroes,” Biden said, speaking of his son Beau Biden.
Biden appears to be referring to a recent report in The Atlantic, which zeroed in on Trump's rhetoric about service members. Citing four people with firsthand knowledge of the discussions, the magazine reported that Trump canceled a visit to the Aisne-Marne American Cemetery near Paris in 2018 because he feared his hair would become disheveled in the rain. The Atlantic then was first to report that in a conversation with senior staff members, Trump said, “Why should I go to that cemetery? It’s filled with losers.”
Trump also reportedly called the more than 1,800 fallen Marines “suckers” for getting killed during the World War I battle. The Atlantic’s report was confirmed by the Associated Press, while the Washington Post reported similar rhetoric about fallen service members. The president denied The Atlantic report as “fake.”
Did violent crime fall under Obama, rise under Trump, as Biden claimed?
Biden said, “Violent crime went down 17 percent, 15 percent in our administration. It's gone up on his watch.”
Biden's attack is half-true. Asked about this claim, the Biden campaign pointed to a FactCheck.org review of FBI violent crime data during the Obama administration that found that the violent crime rate fell nearly 16 percent when adjusted for population. While that number appears to check out, his attack on Trump is unfounded: While homicide has been on the rise, violent crime has remained largely flat under the Trump administration.
Did Biden call Black Americans 'super predators'?
"Look at the crime bill, 1994, where you called them 'super predators,' African-Americans are 'super-predators,'" Trump said. "And they’ve never forgotten that."
This is mostly false. It was Hillary Clinton, then the first lady, who used the term "super predator" to advocate for the 1994 crime bill that Biden co-authored more than thirty years ago. Biden did warn of "predators" in a floor speech in support of his bill, however.
Did Trump pay 'a total of $750 in taxes,' as Biden claimed?
Biden, during a prolonged exchange over the amount of federal taxes Trump has paid, said, "this guy paid a total of $750 in taxes."
Trump retorted by saying, "I've paid millions of dollars in taxes, millions of dollars of income tax."
Biden's claim accurately reflects new reporting by The New York Times for the years 2016 and 2017.
Trump’s federal income tax bill was just $750 dollars the year he won the presidency, The New York Times reported after obtaining and reviewing more than two decades of the president’s tax information. During his first year in office, his bill remained $750. The information does not include his returns from 2018 and 2019.
According to The Times, Trump had paid no income taxes at all in 10 of the previous 15 years prior to 2016, because he reported losing much more money than he made during that time. NBC News has not seen or verified any of the documents reported by The Times.
Does Trump support cutting police funding?
"His budget calls for a $400 million cut in local law enforcement assistance," Biden said Tuesday night, reiterating his own opposition to defunding the police.
This is mostly true, though Biden actually undercounts the proposed cuts. While Trump has opposed calls from some Democrats to reduce police funding in response to the death of George Floyd and other Black Americans over the summer, the Trump administration’s budget proposal does indeed call for big cuts for several police programs. In the Justice Department’s budget plan for fiscal year 2021, the Trump administration requested $1.51 billion for over 50 programs funding state and local law enforcement. That number cuts about $515 million from previous fiscal years, in part by slashing budgets for a number of Obama-era programs, including initiatives that provided body cameras for police officers.
Could Biden have fixed the tax code in a way to prevent Trump from taking advantage of it?
During an acrimonious exchange, the president defended himself for his reportedly low tax bill by suggesting that if Biden wanted Trump to have not taken advantage of the tax code, then he should have taken action to fix it during his tenure in the U.S. Senate.
"The tax code that put him in a position that he pays less tax than a school teacher is because of — he says he’s smart because he can take advantage of the tax code. And he does take advantage of the tax code," Biden said.
Trump replied, "But why didn’t you do it over the last 25 years? Why didn’t you do it over the last 25 years?"
In reality, despite being in Senate for 36 years, Biden was never technically in a position to re-write the federal tax code.
While in the Senate from 1973 to 2009, Biden was chair of the Judiciary and Foreign Relations committees and had no direct hand in writing tax laws. That’s the job of the Senate Finance Committee.
Trump, on the other hand, takes advantage of several loopholes to avoid paying taxes, including some for which he personally lobbied.
Among them is a law passed in 1986 to limit investors not actively involved in a business from taking deductions and attributing losses against their income. An “at-risk” rule was also added to prevent a taxpayer from deducting losses greater than their investment. But Congress largely exempted real estate developers, like Trump.
At the same time his Atlantic City investments were suffering, Trump appeared before Congress in 1991 to advocate for “tax shelters” that would “incentivize” “investment in real estate” to help boost the economy during the recession.
Were Trump's claims about Hunter Biden's foreign business dealings true?
Trump and his allies have attacked the former vice president's son, Hunter Biden, for his foreign business dealings.
On Tuesday, Trump echoed one of the biggest claims from the recent Senate GOP Homeland Security Committee's "conflicts of interest investigation" into Hunter Biden — Trump claimed on the debate stage that "the mayor of Moscow's wife gave your son $3.5 million. What did he do to deserve it?"
The report, authored by Republican Sens. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin and Chuck Grassley of Iowa, claimed that Elena Baturina, the former wife of the late former mayor of Moscow, wired $3.5 million to a firm associated with Hunter Biden.
Hunter Biden’s legal team told NBC News that Biden had "no interest" in that firm that received the money, so "the claim he was paid $3.5 million was false."
And on the debate stage, the former vice president said the claim had been "totally discredited."
The Senate GOP-led "conflicts of interest" report largely resurfaced outstanding allegations, specifically as to Hunter Biden’s role on the board of a Ukrainian energy company as well as what the committee called “questionable financial transactions between Hunter Biden and his associates and foreign individuals.”
Largely focusing on those optics, the report doesn’t say that Hunter Biden’s work changed U.S. policy. Biden campaign spokesman Andrew Bates slammed the report as an “attack founded on a long-disproven hardcore right-wing conspiracy theory” that Johnson “has now explicitly stated he is attempting to exploit to bail out Donald Trump's re-election campaign."
Did Trump lower drug prices?
“I'm cutting drug prices. I'm going with favored nations which no president has the courage to do because you're going against big pharma. Drug prices will be coming down 80 or 90 percent,” Trump said on Tuesday night.
“He has no plan for health care,” Biden argued. “He hasn't lowered drug costs for anybody.”
Brand name drug prices are on the rise, too.
Were there really 'no negative effects' from Trump's rallies, as he claimed?
Trump just said that "we've had no negative effect" from coronavirus at his rallies, a claim that ignores the spate of Covid-19 cases that have been linked to those campaign events.
A handful of Trump's own campaign staff tested positive for Covid-19 in the days surrounding his late-June rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, including members of the Secret Service. Former Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain tested positive days after the rally and ultimately died due to complications from the virus. While Cain attended the rally and was photographed without a mask on, it's unclear where he contracted the virus.
Tulsa's top health official said that the rally "likely contributed" to a surge in cases after the rally.
Did Trump accurately characterize the Obama administration's response to swine flu?
"Well you didn’t do that well on swine flu, H1N1, you were a disaster. Your own chief of staff said you were a disaster," Trump said to Biden Tuesday night.
Trump's exaggerating here. Ron Klain, Biden’s former chief of staff, has criticized the Obama administration's swine flu response, not Biden specifically.
“We did every possible thing wrong — 60 million Americans got H1N1,” he said at a biosecurity summit in May 2019. “It is purely a fortuity that this isn’t one of the great mass casualty events in American history. It had nothing to do with us doing anything right. It just had to do with luck.”
Klain later told Politico his comments referred to the administration’s difficulties producing enough of the vaccine they developed, and argued the Obama team quickly adapted to the pandemic — quickly responding and distributing supplies from the federal stockpile, for example — and made very different choices than the Trump administration.
It's also worth noting that the swine flu is estimated to have killed 12,000 in the U.S., far smaller than the more than 200,000 who have died of Covid-19 to date. The Obama administration also received generally high marks for its response to the swine flu. While government reports after the fact identified room for growth they also highlighted successes, like rapid research and development of a vaccine that arrived in less than six months. There’s little contemporaneous reporting on the Obama administration response that portrays the kind of unmitigated disaster Trump is suggesting occurred.
Was America's response to the pandemic 'great,' as Trump claimed?
Trump boasted about his pandemic response on Tuesday, saying, "We've done a great job."
This is false, according to all available metrics. The U.S. is still struggling badly with the Covid-19 pandemic. The U.S. has more cases than any country, with more than 7 million, and more deaths than any country, recently surpassing 200,000. The U.S. has an uncontrolled outbreak, reporting just shy of 37,000 new Covid-19 cases Monday. For comparison, far smaller countries, like Italy, Germany, and Japan, are reporting between a few hundred and 3,000 new cases a day.
Other countries are struggling — India is the most affected country by caseload, while Brazil is the third most affected — but the U.S. remains the second-worst documented outbreak. It would be more accurate to say the U.S. has done worse than most other countries. As of Tuesday, Sept. 29, the U.S. has the fifth-highest number of deaths per 100,000 people in the world, according to Johns Hopkins.
Most countries in Africa have fared significantly better than other parts of the world, particularly the U.S. South Africa, the hardest-hit country on the continent, has recorded more than 671,000 cases and 16,508 deaths as of Tuesday. That represents 28 deaths per 100,000 people, compared to more than 62 deaths per 100,000 in the U.S.
For European countries, the U.S. is doing better than Spain, which has experienced just over 67 deaths per 100,000 people, but worse than Italy (59.3), France (47.4) and Germany (11.4)
American voters do not approve of Trump’s response to the pandemic: 57 percent of Americans disapprove of his handling of the pandemic, according to a September NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll.
How many people are there in the U.S. with pre-existing conditions?
Trump and Biden came out of the gate with conflicting statements over how many people in the U.S. have pre-existing conditions. Biden said there are 100 million such people — and that they would lose their health care coverage should the Affordable Care Act be eliminated. Trump insisted Biden's number was wrong.
“There's 100 million people who have pre-existing conditions and they'll be taken away as well,” Biden said. Trump shot back, “There aren’t 100 million people with pre-existing conditions.”
Studies on the topic show a range that would technically make both men correct.
The Kaiser Family Foundation estimated in 2018 that at least 53.8 million adults under had a pre-existing condition that would make them unable to buy insurance.
Another study, conducted by Avalere, a health care consulting firm, estimated that 102 million Americans had a pre-existing condition that would make them unable to buy insurance.
A 2017 study from the Department of Health and Human Services estimated that about 133 million people had a pre-existing condition that would make them unable to buy insurance.
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Do GOP health plans protect people with pre-existing conditions, as Trump claimed?
Trump said Tuesday, "Obamacare is no good. We made it better. And I had a choice to make very early on. We took away the individual mandate. We guarantee pre-existing conditions."
It's true that Republicans eliminated Obamacare’s individual mandate — a provision designed to force people to purchase healthcare coverage or pay a fine through their taxes — as part of its 2017 tax bill. But Trump is wrong on the point of pre-existing conditions. We’ve fact checked this at length before, and it’s still false.
Trump has long insisted that he and the GOP will protect people with pre-existing conditions from losing their health insurance — but he has pursued legislation, litigation and executive actions to dismantle those protections under the Affordable Care Act.
A Republican bill backed by Trump included ACA state waivers that would allow insurers to charge higher prices to people with pre-existing conditions, potentially pricing them out of the market. It passed the House and died in the Senate in 2017. Trump has also used executive actions to expand the use of short-term insurance plans that aren't required to cover pre-existing conditions.
Trump recently signed a symbolic executive order affirming the protections Obamacare created, but his administration is backing a Republican-led lawsuit claiming the actual protections in the law should be struck down. Republicans have yet to offer a plan that would restore pre-existing conditions protections.
Did Trump correctly characterize Biden's health care plan?
Trump, during a testy exchange about health care, said of Biden's health care plan, "the bigger problem that you have is you're going to extinguish 180 million people with their private health care that they're very happy with."
This claim is false. It conflates Biden’s plan with that of other Democrats pushing “Medicare for All.”
While there are varying estimates about how many Americans have private insurance, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services estimates that about 180 million people have private insurance.
Biden’s plan doesn’t end private insurance, like some of Biden's other Democratic presidential primary opponents proposed. Instead, Biden's health care plan creates a public option for those who want to get government health insurance while allowing those with private insurance to stay on their plan.
Many Republicans have sought to tie the proposals for "Medicare for All" to all Democrats — and it is true that many Democratic members of Congress are sponsoring the bill (118 in the House and 14 in the Senate).
But Biden has criticized "Medicare for All" throughout his campaign.
Will a GOP lawsuit 'strip 20 million people' of their insurance, as Biden claimed?
Biden claimed that the Republican-backed lawsuit targeting the Affordable Care Act would strip 20 million people of their health care.
This checks out, according to multiple studies. The Center for American Progress estimates 23.3 million would lose their health care if the GOP-backed legal challenge to the law succeeded before the Supreme Court in a recent analysis. An estimated 20 million people gained coverage under Obamacare, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.
A version of this story originally appeared on NBCNews.com.