Final presidential debate: Fact checking Trump and Biden

Statement: 

PRESIDENT TRUMP: But when I closed, he said this is a terrible thing. You’re xenophobic. I think he called me racist even and because I was closing it to China. Now he says I should of closed it earlier. It just–Joe, it doesn’t work.

JOE BIDEN: I didn’t say either of those things. I didn’t say–

TRUMP: –You certainly did–

BIDEN: –You should have closed earlier–

TRUMP: –You certainly did–

BIDEN: –And I didn’t–I talked about his the xenophobia in a different context. It wasn’t about closing the border Chinese coming to the United States.

Claim: Trump says he banned travelers from China very early, and Biden called that ban “xenophobic” and “racist.”

Fact check: Inconclusive

President Trump’s decision to “close our country” wasn’t as strict as he claims, and while Biden criticized it, he did not do so in the way Mr. Trump describes. Tonight, Biden claimed he was referring to Mr. Trump’s overall response, and his original comments were vague enough to fit that defense. 

Details: 

We fact checked this at both of the previous debates, but the claim that Mr. Trump “shut down” travel from China is misleading, and while Biden’s response was critical, he did not use the term that Mr. Trump claims to criticize his specific decision on travel from China. 

The president’s “ban” on travelers from China wasn’t a full ban. It allowed travel from China’s Hong Kong and Macao territories. Largely in line with restrictions other countries around the world were implementing at the time, the limitations on travel took effect February 2, after the virus was already widely prevalent in China, the Associated Press notes.

After Mr. Trump’s restrictions took effect, New York Times reported that 40,000 Americans and other authorized travelers made the trip from China to the U.S. The AP reported that more than 8,000 Chinese and foreign nationals also entered the country after the restrictions were put in place. 

While scientists and experts have praised the travel restrictions, there is little evidence to support the claim that it saved the large number of lives Trump has repeatedly claimed. 

During an Iowa campaign appearance the same day restrictions were announced, Biden criticized the Trump administration’s handling of the pandemic. 

“This is no time for Donald Trump’s record of hysteria and xenophobia — hysterical xenophobia — and fear-mongering to lead the way instead of science,” Biden said. He did not directly tie this to the president’s recently announced travel restrictions, and the campaign claims he was not directly referring to the China travel ban. Biden also repeatedly accused the president of xenophobia on Twitter. Eventually, in April 2020, the campaign said Biden supported the ban. “Science supported this ban, therefore he did, too,” said deputy campaign manager Kate Bedingfield. 

By Adam Aigner-Treworgy

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