Egregious false claims and careless inaccuracies: fact-checking the third night of the RNC
Posted August 26, 2020 8:55 p.m. EDT
Updated August 27, 2020 1:13 a.m. EDT
CNN — The third night of the Republican National Convention was filled with both egregious dishonesty and careless inaccuracy.
Like nights one and two, Wednesday's proceedings featured false claims related to the coronavirus pandemic, Democrats, the economy, immigration and other important subjects.
On Wednesday, some of the speakers also just got things wrong for no apparent strategic reason — one citing a fake Abraham Lincoln quote, one wrongly claiming James Madison signed the Declaration of Independence.
Here is a list of fact checks of both consequential and minor claims:
Vice President Mike Pence addressed the pandemic with words of hope for Americans, claiming, "We're on track to have the world's first safe, effective coronavirus vaccine by the end of this year."
Facts First: Though there are several vaccine candidates in different phases of testing, there is no guarantee that the Food and Drug Administration will have approved a vaccine by the end of the year. And even once one is approved, it will likely still be many months before it's widely available across the US.
A vaccine developed by the biotechnology company Moderna and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) is in the final phase of its clinical trial, after promising initial results.
In interviews last month, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of NIAID, made clear that while a vaccine could be approved by or possibly before November, as the President has previously proposed, it would likely not be available widely until "several months" into 2021.
You can read more about the proposed timeline and plans for a vaccine here.
-- Tara Subramaniam
In his speech, Pence claimed that "Joe Biden is for open borders."
Facts First: No matter how many times this is repeated, it remains untrue.
While Biden is proposing a much less restrictive immigration policy than President Donald Trump's, he is not proposing completely unfettered migration
-- Holmes Lybrand
China travel ban
Pence claimed that the Trump administration banned all travel from China to the US in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak.
"[T]he President took unprecedented action and suspended all travel from China," Pence said.
Facts First: This is incorrect. Trump never suspended "all" travel from China. His travel restrictions banned most foreign nationals who had been in China within the past 14 days - but exempted US citizens, permanent residents, and many of the family members of both groups. Flights from China continued, and tens of thousands of people traveled from China to the US in the months after Trump's travel restriction went into place.
-- Holmes Lybrand
Threats to law enforcement
In his remarks, Pence highlighted Dave Patrick Underwood, a law enforcement officer who was shot and killed earlier this year.
Pence commended Underwood, "an officer in the Department of Homeland Security's Federal Protective Service, who was shot and killed during the riots in Oakland, California."
Facts First: Underwood was killed in a drive-by shooting, not in a riot.
At the time of his murder, there was a protest against police brutality happening nearby.
One of the suspects in the shooting is allegedly linked to the extremist Boogaloo movement, and federal authorities, according to the Washington Post, argue he was trying to use the protests to stoke racial violence.
-- Tara Subramaniam
Denouncing former Vice President Joe Biden's record on foreign policy, Pence claimed that Biden "even opposed the operation that took down Osama Bin Laden."
Facts First: There is a solid basis for this accusation: Biden himself said in 2012 that he had advised Obama "don't go" -- don't launch the raid -- without first obtaining more information.
Biden's account of his private advice to Obama has changed over time, but former top officials in the Obama administration have written in their memoirs that Biden was "against the operation," that he was "firmly in favor of waiting for more information," and that he was concerned about the risks of a raid.
In a revised October 2015 account of what happened, Biden said that he did not actually give Obama a "don't go" opinion at the 2011 meeting. (He said he had merely suggested that they should make "one more pass" with a surveillance drone to make sure bin Laden was present.)
Rather, he said, he withheld his opinion until he was alone with Obama after the meeting -- then made clear to Obama, "as we walked out of the room, and walked upstairs," that "I thought he should go."
You can read a longer CNN fact check here.
-- Daniel Dale
Care for veterans
Pence touted the Trump administration's efforts to reform the VA, and suggested that as a result, "Veterans Choice is now available to every veteran."
Facts First: The Veterans Choice bill was a bipartisan initiative that was signed into law by President Barack Obama in 2014. In 2018, Trump signed the VA Mission Act, which expanded and changed the program.
With this claim, Pence took a page from the President's book. Trump has lied about getting veterans choice more than 150 times.
-- Tara Subramaniam
The Obama economy
Pence claimed that the Trump administration inherited "an economy struggling to break out of the slowest recovery since the Great Depression."
Facts First: While it's true that the US economy recovered more slowly after the Great Recession than after any other on record, this needs context.
In terms of the average pace of GDP growth, the recovery from the Great Recession is the slowest expansion since World War II, when the government started tracking quarterly GDP.
But while the recovery was slow, it was one of the longest expansions on record, lasting more than 10 years. It ended just this year due to the pandemic. Since World War II, the American economy has typically grown for about five years and then slowed down.
In terms of job creation, the recovery from the Great Recession was stronger than the 2001 to 2007 expansion under President George W. Bush.
-- Katie Lobosco
The Trump economy
Lara Trump, the President's daughter-in-law, claimed that "4.3 million new jobs have been created for women" during the Trump administration.
Facts First: This is false. While female employment grew by 3.7 million between January 2017, when Trump took office, and February of this year, Lara Trump completely disregarded the devastating force of the Covid-19 pandemic. Including the pandemic, female employment has actually fallen by 3.9 million between January 2017 and July 2020.
Women have been hit harder by this recession than by previous ones. The crisis wiped out more jobs in sectors that employ more women than men, such as hospitality. While many jobs have resurfaced since the lockdown shock, female employment is still down 7.6 million from February of this year.
The spring lockdown to curb the spread of the virus collapsed America's job market. In April alone, more than 20 million jobs vanished. As of July, the country is still nearly 13 million jobs short compared with February .
-- Anneken Tappe
Lara Trump also said, "Abraham Lincoln once famously said, 'America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves.' "
She added that even those words were spoken long ago, "never have they been more relevant."
Facts First: While this quote has circulated online, Lincoln did not say it in those words, according to PolitiFact and Snopes.
Christian McWhirter, a historian at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, told PolitiFact that the quote mangles a speech the 16th President made in 1838.
In it, Lincoln said, "At what point then is the approach of danger to be expected? I answer, if it ever reach us, it must spring up amongst us. It cannot come from abroad. If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of freemen, we must live through all time, or die by suicide."
-- Alex Rogers
After sharing a personal story about getting a phone call from Trump following her preventative mastectomy, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said, "This President stands by Americans with preexisting conditions." She added, that "the same way President Trump has supported me, he supports you."
Facts First: This needs context. Though the President has repeatedly asserted his support for covering individuals with preexisting conditions, his administration has consistently taken steps to undermine the Affordable Care Act without presenting alternative plans that would offer similar benefits.
The Trump administration and congressional Republicans have repeatedly put forward bills and filed lawsuits that would weaken Obamacare's protections for people with preexisting conditions.
Trump is also supporting a Republican lawsuit that is seeking to declare all of Obamacare void. He has not issued a plan to reinstate the law's protections for people with preexisting conditions if the suit succeeds.
In early August, he promised he would issue an executive order to require health insurers to "cover all preexisting conditions for all customers," but has not yet done so.
-- Tara Subramaniam
The Trump impeachment
New York Rep. Elise Stefanik said that the impeachment of President Donald Trump was not only "baseless" and a "sham" but "illegal."
Facts First: The impeachment of Trump was not illegal. The Constitution grants the House "the sole power of impeachment."
In December, the House exercised that power for the third time in U.S history, charging Trump with two crimes: abuse of power, for pressuring Ukraine to investigate his political rival Joe Biden while withholding US security assistance and a coveted White House meeting, and obstructing Congress in its investigation.
The House voted to impeach the President and the Senate voted to acquit him largely on party lines.
-- Alex Rogers
Former acting Director of National Intelligence and US Ambassador to Germany Ric Grenell claimed the "Obama-Biden administration secretly launched a surveillance operation on the Trump campaign."
Facts First: There is no evidence that Obama or Biden personally directed the FBI to surveil people in the Trump campaign.
The investigation opened by the FBI in the summer of 2016 was probing Russia's efforts to meddle in the presidential election and whether any Trump campaign associates were involved in that effort.
A report by the Justice Department inspector general found that there was no political conspiracy to undermine Trump's 2016 campaign and that the start of the probe was justified. It did find that there were major errors in how the FBI conducted the probe.
-- Jenny Hansler
Jack Brewer, a former NFL player and a member of Black Voices for Trump, claimed that Donald Trump didn't call White supremacists "very fine."
"Are you going to allow the media to lie to you by falsely claiming that he said there were 'very fine white supremacists' in Charlottesville? He didn't say that, it's a lie."
Facts First: The media never claimed that Trump said "there were 'very fine white supremacists' in Charlottesville", so while Brewer is correct that Trump didn't say that, but he's wrong to suggest the media reported Trump as specifically saying that.
In the aftermath of 2017's Unite the Right rally that took place in Charlottesville, Virginia, Trump said of the organizers "you had some very bad people in that group, but you also had people that were very fine people, on both sides."
Trump's comments came at a news conference on August 15, 2017, and he was referring to a march that took place on August 11. It was widely reported in the media that the march was organized by White nationalists, led by White nationalists and that the people in the march were chanting White nationalist slogans. Trump did condemn White nationalists at the same press conference -- "I'm not talking about the neo-Nazis and the White nationalists, because they should be condemned totally," Trump said -- but then said, "But you had many people in that group other than neo-Nazis and white nationalists, OK? And the press has treated them absolutely unfairly."
The Trump campaign and his supporters routinely claim that this proves Trump condemned White supremacists at the rally, but there's no evidence that anyone other than white supremacists attended the Unite the Right rally that sparked the protests and ensuing violence, so his claim that when he talked about "very fine" people in the march, he wasn't talking about White supremacists, is specious.
-- Nate McDermott
Black Lives Matter protests
Tennessee Sen. Marsha Blackburn said of Democrats she didn't identify: "They say we can't gather in community groups, but encourage protest, riots, and looting in the streets."
Facts First: Blackburn's claim about riots and looting is an exaggeration. While there are scattered examples of Democrats making comments that can be seen as supporting riots, the party and Democratic leadership have not "encourage(d)" violent protests.
Biden has explicitly condemned such protest, both in a speech in June and in a Wednesday video statement released after Blackburn recorded this speech.
"[T]here is no place for violence," Biden said. "No place for looting or destroying property or burning churches, or destroying businesses -- many of them built by people of color who for the first time were beginning to realize their dreams and build wealth for their families."
Congressman James Clyburn told the Washington Post on June 3 that "peaceful protest is our game. Violence is their game," adding, "This looting and rioting, that's their game. We cannot allow ourselves to play their game." These are just two examples of the many Democratic leaders who have criticized the riots and looting.
Blackburn could, like other conservatives, make a subjective argument that Democratic cities and states have not done enough to denounce or discourage protest violence -- and it's possible she could find some Democratic official somewhere in the country who has cheered on a riot. But her suggestion that Democrats as a group have encouraged riots and looting is misleading.
-- Daniel Dale and Holmes Lybrand
Pelosi, Biden and China
Blackburn exaggerated Democrats' views on coronavirus restrictions, then misleadingly described a remark about China by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
Blackburn exaggerated by claiming that Democrats want people locked in their homes until they become "dependent on the government for everything." (While some Democrats have called for additional stay-home orders to help stop the spread of the coronavirus, they are not seeking endless lockdowns for the purpose of fostering dependence.) Blackburn then said that this supposed Democratic position is reminiscent of "Communist China." (It's worth noting that many vibrant industrialized democracies had longer mandatory lockdowns than the US)
And then she continued: "Maybe that's why Joe Biden is so soft on them. Why Nancy Pelosi says that 'China would prefer Joe Biden.' Yeah. I bet they would."
Facts First: Blackburn's claim about Pelosi was misleading in two ways. First, Pelosi did not personally argue that China would prefer Biden. Rather, in a CNN interview on August 9, Pelosi made clear that she was quoting the view of the US intelligence community, not speaking for herself. Second, the intelligence community reported that China wants Trump to lose because it sees him as "unpredictable," not because Biden is perceived to be friendly to Chinese interests.
Speaking to CNN's Dana Bash on August 9, Pelosi argued that what the intelligence community has concluded about China is "not equivalent" to its conclusion about Russia. She noted that the intelligence community has found that China would prefer Biden, but that Russia has been actively interfering in the election to hurt Biden.
Pelosi's exact words: "What they said is, China would prefer Joe Biden. Whether they do -- that's their conclusion, that they would prefer Joe Biden. Russia is actively, 24/7 interfering in our election."
-- Daniel Dale
Sister Dede Byrne, a member of the Little Workers of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, asserted, "President Trump will stand up against Biden-Harris, who are the most anti-life presidential ticket ever, even supporting the horrors of late-term abortion and infanticide."
Facts First: This is false. No politician from either party -- and, really, no one -- supports infanticide, or killing a baby that's been born, which is illegal.
Democrats generally favor less restrictive abortion laws and several states allow abortions later in pregnancy.
According to their campaign website, Biden and Harris support codifying Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 Supreme Court ruling that legalized abortion nationwide prior to viability, which can occur at about 24 weeks of pregnancy.
-- Caroline Kelly
Green New Deal
Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst said, "The Democratic Party of Joe Biden is pushing this so-called Green New Deal." She continued by alleging that "if given power, they would essentially ban animal agriculture..."
Facts First: This claim about animal agriculture is baseless. While we can't definitively fact-check what might happen in the future, Biden's platform does not include anything even close to a ban. The Green New Deal resolution introduced by other Democrats in 2019 also does not include anything resembling a ban.
Biden's climate plan says he will "create new opportunities to support deployment of methane digesters," which turn waste produced by cattle and other animals into electricity. The plan also says Biden will "invest in climate-friendly farming such as conservation programs for cover crops and other practices aimed at restoring the soil and building soil carbon, and in the process, preventing run-off and helping family farmers deploy the latest technologies to maximize productivity."
Trump has repeatedly alleged that the Green New Deal would ban cows. It wouldn't.
The allegation appears to be based on a single sentence in a Frequently Asked Questions document posted by the office of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York. That sentence explained that proponents of the Green New Deal were proposing "net-zero" carbon emissions in 10 years, rather than proposing zero carbon emissions at all, "because we aren't sure that we'll be able to fully get rid of farting cows and airplanes that fast."
It wasn't clear how serious the "farting cows" comment was supposed to be. Regardless, the FAQ document, which was quickly deleted, was never endorsed by the other Democrats who signed on to the Green New Deal resolution.
-- Daniel Dale
Comparing Democrats to World War II-era enemies
Burgess Owens, a Utah congressional candidate, said: "Mobs torch our cities while popular members of Congress promote the same socialism my father fought against in World War II."
Facts First: Owens' historical analogy is entirely baseless. US enemies during World War II were not socialists or left-wingers of any kind, whether Owens was talking about Germany, Japan or Italy. (The US was allied with the communists of the Soviet Union.)
While dictator Adolf Hitler's Nazi Party called itself "National Socialist," it was not actually a party of the left; it was a far-right -- fascist -- entity whose totalitarian and genocidal politics do not at all resemble those of the left-wing Democrats of 2020.
It's perhaps worth noting that the best known democratic socialist in Congress, Sen. Bernie Sanders, is a Jewish man who lost family members in the Holocaust.
-- Daniel Dale
Madison and the Declaration of Independence
Madison Cawthorn, a Republican House candidate in North Carolina, claimed in his speech that James Madison, one of America's founding fathers, signed the Declaration of Independence when he was the same age as Cawthorn.
"James Madison was just 25 years old when he signed the Declaration of Independence," he said.
Facts First: This is incorrect.
Madison did not sign the Declaration of Independence. He was 25 when it was ratified.
This is a breaking story and will be updated.