Fact check: Kamala Harris and Mike Pence debate

CNN/Stylemagazine.com Newswire | 10/7/2020, 9:11 p.m.
Vice President Mike Pence and Sen. Kamala Harris are participating Wednesday in the lone vice presidential debate of the 2020 ...
Vice President Mike Pence and Sen. Kamala Harris are participating Wednesday in the lone vice presidential debate of the 2020 election. Credit: Getty

CNN Staff

(CNN) -- Vice President Mike Pence and Sen. Kamala Harris are participating Wednesday in the lone vice presidential debate of the 2020 election.

In the first half of the debate, they tangled over the Trump administration's coronavirus response, the economy and the climate crisis.

CNN's team is watching the debate in Salt Lake City and will be fact-checking throughout the night.

Trump's truthfulness about Covid

Pence claimed that the Trump White House has "always" told the truth about Covid-19.

"Let's talk about respecting the American people. You respect the American people when you tell them the truth," Harris said. Pence then interjected, "Which we've always done."

Facts First: That's false. The Trump administration has not "always" been truthful about the pandemic.

CNN's fact-check reporter Daniel Dale called this "a whopper of a lie." That's because Trump has made hundreds of false claims during the pandemic, including false claims about his travel restrictions, Covid-19 testing, the effectiveness of hydroxychloroquine, the national stockpile of ventilators, and more. In recent weeks, Trump even lied about lying about the virus.

Trump has also admitted, in a series of interviews with Washington Post journalist Bob Woodward, that he concealed the true threat of the coronavirus from the American public earlier this year. Trump said, "I wanted to always play it down. I still like playing it down, because I don't want to create a panic."

-- Marshall Cohen

Coronavirus travel restrictions

Pence claimed Trump "suspended all travel from China" in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Facts First: This is false. While Trump did restrict travel from China, his policy was not an actual "ban": It made exemptions for travel by US citizens, permanent residents, many of the family members of both groups and some others.

The New York Times reported in April that nearly 40,000 people had flown to the US from China since the restrictions went into effect in early February.

You can read more here about the travel restrictions Trump imposed on China here.

--Tara Subramaniam

Trump's coronavirus comments

"The President said it was a hoax," Harris claimed in criticizing the administration's downplaying of the coronavirus.

Harris is likely referring to Trump's comments during a February rally, which the Biden campaign portrayed as Trump calling the coronavirus a "hoax" in a September campaign ad.

Facts First: This is misleading. Taken in totality, Trump's comments at the February 28 rally indicate that he is deriding Democrats for attacking his performance on the coronavirus. A full 56 seconds pass between the two clips the campaign ad edited together.

In this section of his rally speech, Trump began by saying that "the Democrats are politicizing the coronavirus," ridiculing Democrats for attacking his administration's performance addressing the virus. The President then compared this attack to the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election and calling his impeachment a "hoax."

Trump then said, "They'd been doing it since you got in. It's all turning. They lost. It's all turning. Think of it. Think of it. And this is their new hoax."

Here is what Trump said in full:

"Now the Democrats are politicizing the coronavirus -- you know that right? Coronavirus. They're politicizing it. We did one of the great jobs. You say, "How's President Trump doing?" They go, "Oh, not good, not good." They have no clue. They don't have any clue. They can't even count their votes in Iowa. They can't even count. No, they can't. They can't count their votes.

One of my people came up to me and said, "Mr. President, they tried to beat you on Russia, Russia, Russia. That didn't work out too well. They couldn't do it. They tried the impeachment hoax. That was on a perfect conversation. They tried anything. They tried it over and over. They'd been doing it since you got in." It's all turning. They lost. It's all turning. Think of it. Think of it. And this is their new hoax."

The next day Trump was asked about this comment and tried to clarify what he said, claiming he was "referring to the action that [the Democrats] take to try and pin this on somebody, because we've done such a good job. The hoax is on them."

That said, Trump's clarification has not stopped some of his supporters from believing the pandemic is, in fact, a hoax. One Trump supporter attending a campaign rally in Michigan on September 10 was asked by CNN's Jim Acosta why he was not wearing a mask. "Because there's no Covid," he said. "It's a fake pandemic created to destroy the United States of America."

-- Holmes Lybrand

Biden's comments on Trump coronavirus response

Pence claimed that Biden called Trump's travel restrictions on China "xenophobic."

"Biden opposed that decision. He said it was xenophobic," Pence said.

Facts First: This needs context. It's not clear Biden even knew about Trump's China travel restrictions when he called Trump xenophobic on the day the restrictions were unveiled; Biden has never explicitly linked his accusation of xenophobia to these travel restrictions.

The campaign says Biden's January 31 accusations -- that Trump has a record of "hysterical xenophobia" and "fear mongering" -- were not about the travel restrictions at all. The campaign says Biden did not know about the restrictions at the time of his speech, since his campaign event in Iowa started shortly after the Trump administration briefing where the restrictions were revealed by Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar.

Given the timing of Biden's remarks, it's not unreasonable for Pence to infer that the former vice president was talking about the travel restrictions. But Biden never took an explicit position on the restrictions until his April declaration of support.

You can read more about Biden's comments here.

-- Holmes Lybrand

This is a breaking story and will be updated.