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Fact check: 10 repeat Trump false claims to look out for at the debate

Donald Trump made dozens of false claims during the three presidential debates against Hillary Clinton in 2016.

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Daniel Dale
CNN — Donald Trump made dozens of false claims during the three presidential debates against Hillary Clinton in 2016.

Trump returns to the debate stage on Tuesday against Democrat Joe Biden -- after making thousands more false claims as president. Here are 10 false claims that are among his most repeated.

Veterans Choice

Even while bashing President Barack Obama's administration, in which Biden served as vice president, Trump likes to take credit for a law Obama signed. He has declared more than 150 times that he is the one who got the Veterans Choice health care program created.

In fact, Obama signed the Veterans Choice bill at an event in 2014. It was a bipartisan initiative led by two people Trump has criticized repeatedly: Sen. Bernie Sanders and the late Sen. John McCain.

What Trump signed was the VA MISSION Act of 2018, which expanded and changed the Choice program.

Pre-existing conditions

Trump keeps promising that he will "always" protect patients with pre-existing conditions. And he keeps declaring that Biden will "destroy" these protections.

This is an up-is-down reversal of reality.

The protections were created by the Obama administration -- as part of Obamacare, the 2010 law Biden has vowed to preserve and strengthen if elected. Trump, conversely, has tried repeatedly to get bills passed that would have weakened these protections. He is now trying to get the entirety of Obamacare struck down by the courts.

Trump's vague September executive order on the subject does not have the force of law.

The Iraq War

Trump has criticized Biden over Biden's Senate vote in favor of authorizing the Iraq War. That's fair enough. But Trump sometimes adds that he himself was a vocal public opponent of the invasion.

He wasn't. Trump became an explicit opponent of the war in 2004, more than a year into it. There is no record of him criticizing the war before it started -- and when radio host Howard Stern asked him in 2002 if he was in favor of an invasion, he responded, "Yeah, I guess so. I wish the first time it was done correctly."

Tariffs on China

Trump has boasted over and over again that he has gotten China to pay billions in tariffs, which he has then distributed to American farmers.

That money isn't coming from China. Study after study has found that Americans are bearing the cost of Trump's tariffs on imported Chinese products. And American importers, not Chinese exporters, make the actual tariff payments to the US government.

Travel restrictions

Trump's most frequent pandemic-related false claim is his insistence that he put a "ban" on travel from China and from Europe.

The word "ban" is a clear exaggeration. While he did impose travel restrictions, they contained exemptions for US citizens, permanent residents, many family members of both groups, and some others. In addition, the restrictions on Europe exempted entire countries.


Trump has found a way to criticize the Obama administration while simultaneously hailing his own coronavirus performance. He has claimed that while the US is now well-stocked with ventilators, he did not inherit any ventilators at all. (Sometimes he is slightly vaguer, saying he inherited bare shelves or cupboards.)

The claim is just not true. A spokesperson for Trump's own health department has confirmed he was left more than 16,000 ventilators in good working order in the national stockpile.

Mail-in voting

A large percentage of what Trump says about mail-in voting is wrong. His most frequent false claim on the subject is the most basic: his insistence that mail-in voting is rife with fraud. In fact, fraud is exceedingly rare.

Manufacturing jobs

Trump's promise to bring back manufacturing jobs was central to his 2016 campaign. He claimed last week that he has succeeded in bringing back "700,000."

That's not even close to true. Through August, there had been a net loss of 237,000 manufacturing jobs during Trump's presidency. And even if you end the count in February, before the pandemic-related economic crisis, it was a gain of 483,000, not 700,000.

Monuments and penalties

Trump has tried to take credit for quelling the unrest that erupted around the country this spring and summer, along with peaceful protests, in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis in May.

One of Trump's favorite claims on the subject is that he deterred protesters by signing a new law, or updating an old law, to give people who damage monuments 10 years in prison.

He didn't actually sign any law. He simply issued an executive order in June telling the federal government to fully prosecute people under existing laws governing damage to monuments -- which provide for a maximum 10 years in prison, not the automatic 10 years in prison Trump keeps suggesting.


A full year after the emergence of an anonymous whistleblower who revealed information about Trump's dealings with Ukraine, Trump is still attacking this person -- continuing to call them "fake" and allege that their allegations were inaccurate.

They were, in fact, highly accurate. The whistleblower's primary allegations have been corroborated, both by witness testimony in Trump's impeachment and by a rough call transcript Trump released himself.

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