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VERIFY: Fact-checking the second presidential debate

Our VERIFY researchers fact-checked what President Trump and Joe Biden said during the second and final presidential debate.

President Donald Trump and Democratic nominee Joe Biden faced off Thursday night in Nashville, Tennessee, for the second and last presidential debate. 

Our VERIFY researchers worked to fact-check the claims and statements both nominees were making in real-time:

CLAIM: Biden said, "The expectation is we'll have another 200,000 Americans dead in the time between now and the end of the year." 

This claim is false.

This is based on outdated estimates from the University of Washington's Institute for Health Metrics. In early September, its projection was 410,451 U.S. coronavirus deaths by Jan. 1, 2021. As of the night of the debate, October 22, 2020, its estimate is 316,935 U.S. coronavirus deaths by Jan. 1, 2021. 

There were 222,977 U.S. deaths from coronavirus as of the night of the debate, according to Johns Hopkins University, so there would be an additional 94,000 deaths by the start of 2021 under the current estimate, not 200,000.

Sources: Institute for Health Metrics; Johns Hopkins University

Credit: AP
Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden holds up a mask as President Donald Trump takes notes during the second and final presidential debate Thursday, Oct. 22, 2020, at Belmont University in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Morry Gash, Pool)

CLAIM: Trump said, “If you notice the [COVID-19] mortality rate is down 85%.”

This claim is false. 

Mortality rate tracks the percentage of patients who die from a disease after being diagnosed. Johns Hopkins data estimates that the current observed mortality rate in the U.S. is 2.7%. 

When VERIFY first reported on the COVID-19 mortality rate in January -- the mortality rate was about 2%. That’s actually an increase. 

The 85% number that the president mentioned can be found by comparing the number of weekly deaths during the peak in April to the most recent recorded week. 

On the week of April 18th, 17,077 people died, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. On the week of Oct. 10, 2,540 people died. That’s a drop of about 85%.

Sources: CDC; Johns Hopkins; January VERIFY 

CLAIM: Trump said "99.9% of young people recover. 99% of people recover.”

The first half of this quote lacks context. The second half is false.

The Johns Hopkins COVID-19 tracker shows the U.S. at 222,977 deaths and 8.4 million total cases. That’s a death rate of nearly 2.7%. The global death rate is about the same. This calculation would mean that a little more than 97% of people testing positive for the virus recover.

Experts say, however, this number is not exact as it does not account for people who died from the virus when testing was not widely available. It’s unclear which age groups Trump was referring to when he referred to "young people." However, when it comes to people under 30 in the U.S., the CDC reports 829 deaths among that age group and about 1.5 million cases. That makes the death rate 0.05% for the age group and a survival rate at 99.9%. 

This calculation also does not account for deaths before testing was available. Experts say death rates do not capture all of the harm caused by COVID-19, including extended hospital stays and rehabilitation.

Sources: CDC COVID-19 tracker demographics via the Wayback Machine; Johns Hopkins University COVID-19 tracker

CLAIM: Biden called the Black community "super predators" in reference to his 1994 Crime Bill.

This claim is false. 

"He's been in government 47 years, he's never done a thing except in 1994, when he did such harm to the Black community," Trump said during Thursday's debate. "And they were called and he called them 'super predators' and he said that, he said it 'super predators.' And they never lived that down. 1994, your Crime Bill, the 'super predators.'" 

Trump made this false claim during the first presidential face-off, but it wasn't Biden who talked about "super predators," it was actually Hillary Clinton. She used the term in a 1996 speech at Keene State College in New Hampshire in support of the 1994 Crime Bill signed into law by her husband, President Bill Clinton. That speech made an appearance during the 2016 campaign. Trump made mention of it in an August tweet that year and Hillary Clinton issued a statement to The Washington Post in February apologizing for using it.

While Biden has received criticism for his role in the passage of the 1994 Crime Bill, and did warn of "predators" in a floor speech in support of that legislation, he did not refer to African-Americans as "super predators."

Sources: C-SPAN 1996; Trump's Twitter; C-SPAN 1993

CLAIM: Trump said, "We have the best carbon emissions numbers in 35 years." 

Trump is off by a decade.

American carbon emissions in 2016 were at their lowest point in 25 years, according to the World Bank. It had no data listed for 2017-2019.

To expand beyond carbon, U.S. greenhouse gas emissions in 2017 were the lowest in 25 years, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Greenhouse gas emissions went up the following year in 2018. 

The EPA has tracked the inventory of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions and sinks from 1990 to 2018. In 2017, greenhouse gas emissions dipped to their lowest point since 1992. 

Greenhouse gas emissions in the United States reached that low point in 2017 after beginning to drop in 2006. That year was only the third time since 1990 American greenhouse gas emissions dropped on a year-to-year basis and began a period in which emissions dropped eight out of 12 years. 

The lowest drop in emissions on a year-to-year basis was in 2009, when they dropped 6.3%. Greenhouse gas emissions never changed more than 3.5% with the exception of that year. Greenhouse gas emissions dropped 0.5% in 2017 after dropping 2.3% in 2016 and 2.2% in 2015. But in 2018, they went up 2.9%. The EPA has not yet put out greenhouse emission data for 2019. 

Sources: World Bank; EPA (Page 32 of this PDF) 

CLAIM: Biden said that Trump "won't give federal subsidies to solar and wind. Why are we giving them to the oil industry?"

This claim is false.

There are currently tax credits available to both the wind and solar industry - like the Production Tax Credit and Investment Tax Credit for Wind. It offers tax credits per kilowatt-hour for “utility-scale wind.” It was actually extended under the Trump administration in December last year. However some options, like a residential tax credit for installing solar panels has decreased under the Trump administration.

The fossil fuel industry also receives subsidies, mostly in tax credits.

Sources: U.S. Department of Energy; Environmental and Energy Study InstituteOffice of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy

CLAIM: When talking about immigration policy and so-called cages that held unaccompanied children who crossed the border, Trump said, "And they said look at these cages, President Trump built them. And then it was determined they were built in 2014. That was [Biden]."

This claim is true.

In a 2019 interview with the Center for Immigration Studies on the Border Crisis, former Director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement Thomas Homan said, “I’ve been to that facility where they talk about cages. That facility was built under President Obama, under Secretary Jeh Johnson. I was there because I was there when it was built,” according to the transcript. He continued, saying the facility was built and funded in fiscal year 2015. 

An article from The Associated Press confirms the facility's projected opening date in mid-July 2014, with plans for "four fence-enclosed pods inside a corrugated steel warehouse" that could accommodate about 1,000 children. 

A CNN news story in 2014 shows the opening of then-new facility in McAllen, Texas. The video shows the chain linked holding cells, often called cages.

Sources: Center for Immigration Studies; AP reporting 

CLAIM: Biden said nobody lost their private insurance under the Affordable Care Act unless they chose they wanted to go to something else.

This claim is false. 

According to Health Affairs, a peer-reviewed journal on health policy and affairs, some non-group health insurance plans in 2013 were canceled because they were not compliant with Affordable Care Act standards. The journal said many of those people were eligible for coverage assistance.

"While our sample size of those with non-group health insurance who report that their plan was canceled due to ACA compliance is small (N=123), we estimate that over half of this population is likely to be eligible for coverage assistance, mostly through Marketplace subsidies," they said.

They noted there was potential for some of those people to pay significantly more if they enrolled in a "new catastrophic plan option." 

Source: Health Affairs

CLAIM: Biden said, "If we just wear these masks we could save 100,000 lives"

This is false, but needs context.

This claim is based on outdated estimates from the University of Washington's Institute for Health Metrics. In September, the organization estimated that if there was near-universal usage of masks, the number of total projected COVID-19 fatalities in the U.S. by January 1 would be decreased by 122,000.

As of Oct. 22, the night of the debate, IHME projected that U.S. fatalities by Feb. 1, 2021 would be reduced by 63,000 with universal mask usage.

Source: Institute for Health Metrics

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