Fact-Checking Biden on the Coronavirus and His Own Record

Since effectively securing the Democratic nomination in April, former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. has focused his low-profile campaign on hammering President Trump’s handling of the coronavirus epidemic. We rounded up some inaccurate claims in his recent remarks.

What Mr. Biden Said

“There’s a study out of Columbia University and a disease control center up there. They pointed out that if he had listened to me and others and acted just one week earlier to deal with this virus, there’d be 36,000 fewer people dead.”
— in an interview in May on the radio program “The Breakfast Club”

This is misleading. A study by infectious disease modelers at Columbia University did find that about 36,000 deaths could have been prevented through early May had social distancing measures been enacted by March 8, rather than in mid-March. But there is no record of Mr. Biden urging adoption of those measures before March 8, nor does Mr. Trump have the power to compel their nationwide enforcement.

The study estimated the combined effects of all intervention practices including mask wearing, travel restrictions, business and school closings and shelter-in-place orders as “they were varyingly applied and complied with over time on a county-by-county basis,” said Jeffrey Shaman, a professor of environmental health sciences at Columbia University and a co-author of the study.

Mr. Biden has a point that Mr. Trump, far from promoting social distancing measures or lockdowns, was playing down the severity of the virus in early March. But while the presidential pulpit might have incentivized governors and mayors to act quicker, Mr. Trump lacks the authority to impose and enforce quarantine and isolation measures in states and cities. (As early as mid-February, officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had spoken of the need to mitigate the spread through social distancing and “nonpharmaceutical interventions at a community level.”)

Mr. Biden had warned in an op-ed in late January that the case number was likely to grow. He also criticized Mr. Trump’s previous proposals to cut funding to health agencies, promoted international cooperation and vowed to “uphold science” and “harness expertise.” He made similar points in interviews, town hall events and debates in February, but he did not suggest locking down cities or limiting social gatherings. A campaign spokesman argued that Mr. Biden’s urging Mr. Trump to “let the experts speak” included the health officials’ recommendations of social distancing.

It was not until March 12, when Mr. Biden’s campaign released its plan to combat the coronavirus, that he urged the C.D.C. to provide more clarity in issuing guidance on social distancing.

That was a day after Mr. Trump addressed the nation and promised guidelines on “school closures, social distancing and reducing large gatherings,” which were released on March 16.

What Mr. Biden Said

“Forty percent of the money that was supposed to go to small businesses did not go to small businesses. It went to large businesses.”
— in a town hall event in June

This is misleading. Mr. Biden was referring to the Paycheck Protection Program, which offers forgivable loans to cover payroll costs.

Data through June 20 showed that the relief program had approved more than 4.6 million loans totaling $514.9 billion. Of those, loans of over $1 million represented 35.1 percent of the funding and 1.7 percent of the number of loans. But loan size does not directly correlate to business size.

While the term “small business” may conjure up images of a locally run mom-and-pop shop, the government generally defines the term as companies with fewer than 500 employees, though that can vary across industries by average annual receipts and number of employees.

Companies that meet the definition, as well as some nonprofits and some larger food and accommodation businesses, are all eligible for the Paycheck Protection Program. Because of this expansive eligibility criteria, some high-priced law firms, lobbying firms, private schools, luxury hotels and restaurant chains qualified for and took out millions of dollars in loans.

But of the tens of thousands of companies that received over $1 million in loans, many were likely to adhere to the colloquial understanding of a “small business” like a local craft brewery in Philadelphia, an artisanal cowboy boot company in El Paso, an independent bookstore in San Francisco and a family-owned third-generation florist in Boston.

Survey data also undercuts the suggestion that small businesses had been crowded out by large ones: about three-quarters of small businesses had requested assistance from the lending program and about 72.4 percent had received funding through June 27. Moreover, when the program first expired and before it was extended on June 30, it had more than $130 billion still in its coffers.

What Mr. Biden Said

“Without a uniform plan and guidance from the federal government that state and local leaders can use to inform their reopening plans, this is going to continue to be worse than it would’ve been otherwise.”
— in remarks in July

This is exaggerated. Though they were nonbinding and criticized by some as vague, the White House did release guidelines in mid-April about “opening up American again.”

The guidelines recommended states and regions meet certain criteria — including a “downward trajectory” of cases or positive rates for 14 days, increasing testing and contact tracing capacity, and the ability to“independently supply” personal protective equipment and medical equipment — before they move through three phases of reopening.

Of the 30 states that had planned to begin reopening in early May, most had failed to meet those guidelines.

The Biden campaign also pointed to reporting in May from The Associated Press that said the Trump administration had suppressed detailed reopening guidance from the C.D.C., but that guidance was revised and eventually released later that month.

Mr. Biden is right that messaging about the guidelines has been far from uniform. Officials in the Trump administration have stressed the importance of the guidelines, but also noted in recent weeks, even as virus cases have been surging, that reopening plans and timelines were up to states. Mr. Trump himself has actively encouraged states to open in spite of the guidelines.

What Mr. Biden Said

“The N.A.A.C.P. has endorsed me every time I’ve run. I mean, come on, take a look at the record.”
— in the May interview on “The Breakfast Club”

False. As a tax-exempt nonprofit, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People cannot and “does not endorse political candidates at any level,” the president and chief executive of the organization said in a statement.

Mr. Biden was imprecisely referring to the largely high marks he received from the N.A.A.C.P. in its voter information guides throughout his career, ranging from 60 percent in 1995 to 1996 to 100 percent in three congressional terms.

Mr. Biden later acknowledged that his claim was a “mistake” and said that he had “overwhelming support from the African-American community my whole career.”

Based on scattered polling data throughout Mr. Biden’s long electoral history, his claim of “overwhelming support” from Black voters is generally true. The Wilmington News Journal reported that Mr. Biden won 65 percent of Black voters in 1972, his first Senate race. Polling in March 1984, before his re-election bid, also showed him leading his opponent among Black voters. More than 80 percent of Black voters backed Mr. Biden in 1990 and 1996, and more than 97 percent in his last Senate race in 2008, according to exit polling data provided by the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research. Black primary voters in South Carolina powered him to a crucial victory this year en route to securing the presidential nomination.

What Mr. Biden Said

“I’ve been against Keystone from the beginning.”
— in a May interview on CNBC

This is exaggerated. Whether Mr. Biden privately opposed the Keystone XL pipeline project “from the beginning,” he rarely spoke about it publicly as vice president and did not really stake out a position.

The pipeline, which would carry crude oil from Canada to Nebraska, was first proposed in the summer of 2008 and attracted fierce opposition from environmental groups and others during the Obama administration.

A first proposal for the pipeline was rejected by President Barack Obama in January 2012, reasoning that a deadline set by Congress did not leave his administration time to do a thorough environmental assessment. Mr. Obama said that the decision was “not a judgment on the merits of the pipeline,” and left the door open for a revised application.

Mr. Biden, responding to a question about Keystone on Twitter that month, said a permit could “possibly” be revisited, but it would “need thorough study.”

In March of that year, Mr. Obama voiced support for the southern leg of the Keystone pipeline from the Gulf of Mexico to Cushing, Okla. A month later, Mr. Biden was again asked in an interview about the initial rejection of the entire pipeline.

“It hadn’t gone through the process,” he said. “There is a process to make sure it can be environmentally sound.”

A year later, an environmental activist wrote a blog post claiming that Mr. Biden had told her he opposed the pipeline but said “I am in the minority.” The vice president’s office declined to verify the account but noted that Mr. Biden had “made his views known on this issue and his views haven’t changed,” Politico reported.

Ben Casselman contributed reporting.

Curious about the accuracy of a claim? Email factcheck@nytimes.com.

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