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Fact checking the Biden-Trump presidential debate

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(NEW YORK) — President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump met for a showdown over policy and their records, but not everything claimed by the candidates onstage was factual.

Inflation rates, border crossings, Jan. 6, abortion, the stock market and the cost to America of the Paris Climate Accord were among the issues the two sparred over that need a closer look.

ABC News’ politics team analyzed their comments to break down fact from fiction.

Did Biden inherit 9% inflation?

TRUMP CLAIM: “He also said he inherited 9% inflation — no. He inherited almost no inflation, and it stayed … stayed that way for 14 months, and it blew up under his leadership …”

FACT CHECK: This is mostly true. In January 2021, when Biden was inaugurated, year-over-year inflation was about 1.4%. Under Biden, year-over-year inflation peaked at 9.1 % in June 2022. But it is now down to 3.3 %. Under Trump, inflation rose 7.76 % from January 2017 to January 2021, and year-over-year inflation peaked at 2.9 % in July 2018.

–Zunaira Zaki

Were there any military conflicts during Trump’s term in office?

TRUMP CLAIM: “We got…a lot of credit for the military, and no wars and so many other things. Everything was rocking good.”

FACT CHECK: Needs context. While it’s true that Trump did not formally declare war against a foreign power while in the White House, he significantly scaled up military action in Syria and Iraq in the fight against ISIS and also authorized the air strike that killed Iranian General Qasem Soleimani, putting the country on the brink of a direct conflict with Iran. Pentagon records also show that at least 65 American troops were killed in action during Trump’s term.

–Shannon Kingston

Crime and the Border

TRUMP CLAIM: “We have a border that’s the most dangerous place anywhere in the world, considered the most dangerous place anywhere in the world, and he opened it up, and these killers are coming into our country, and they are raping and killing women.”

FACT-CHECK: False. The reality is that no evidence points to a significant surge in crime caused by recent arrivals. The former president’s claims ignore the fact that, overall, crime is down across the country. According to the latest FBI statistics released quarterly, violent crimes were down 6% in quarter 4 of 2023 (through Dec 2023) compared to the same time frame in 2022. There was a 13% decline in murders and a 4% drop in property crimes across the country. That declining trend followed unprecedented spikes in 2019 and 2020, Trump’s last two years in office.

–Armando Tonatiuh Torres-García

Hunter Biden’s laptop

TRUMP CLAIM: “It’s the same thing — 51 intelligence agents said that the laptop was Russian disinformation. It wasn’t that — it came from his son, Hunter. It wasn’t Russia.”

FACT CHECK: True, but needs unpacking At the final presidential debate of the 2020 cycle, Joe Biden suggested the contents of his son’s laptop’s hard drive — which by then had been dubbed the “laptop from hell” in the New York Post and other conservative outlets — were “garbage” and a “Russian plant.”

Biden’s claim that the laptop hard drive was a “Russian plant” was an apparent reference to a letter signed by 51 retired intelligence officials who wrote that the timing of its emergence “has all the classic earmarks of a Russian information operation.”

Several of those signees have since said that Biden mischaracterized the language in their letter.

Furthermore, earlier this month, prosecutors at Hunter Biden’s criminal trial in Delaware introduced the laptop into evidence and, in one of the more theatrical moments of the trial, showed jurors the physical MacBook Pro 13 that Hunter Biden purportedly abandoned at a Wilmington computer repair shop in April 2019.

“Ultimately, in examining that laptop, were investigators able to confirm that it was Hunter Biden’s laptop?” prosecutor Derek Hines asked an FBI agent who testified as an expert witness in Hunter Biden’s recent gun case.

“Yes,” the FBI agent said.

–Lucien Bruggeman

Late-term abortions

TRUMP’S CLAIM: “The problem they have is they are radical because they will take the life of a child in the eighth month, the ninth month and even after birth.”

FACT CHECK: This is not true. Abortions that occur later in pregnancy are around 1% of abortions, according to KFF. Democrats do not call for abortions late into pregnancies, and infanticide is illegal in the U.S. Democrats often respond that abortions that do happen in the third trimester are the result of tragic circumstances in a pregnancy.

–Cheyenne Haslett

Who had a better stock market?

TRUMP CLAIM: “[Biden] created mandates. That was a disaster for our country but other than that we had, we had given back a country where the stock market actually was higher than pre-COVID, and nobody thought that was even possible.

FACT CHECK: Unclear. The Dow hit 30,000 for the first time on November 24, 2020. But that was after the last presidential election, so it’s hard to say whether it was because of Trump’s presidency or because of Biden’s win.

–Zunaira Zaki

Are more terrorists now crossing the border into America?

TRUMP CLAIM: “We have the largest number of terrorists coming into our country right now.”

FACT CHECK: Largely exaggerated. Trump appears to be referring to the increasing number of migrants on the federal terror “watchlist” who are encountered at the border. The number of people encountered by border authorities on the watchlist jumped from three in Trump’s last full year to nearly 100 in the first full fiscal year under Biden. However, the Terrorist Screening Dataset, maintained by the FBI, includes names of people who have suspected ties to individuals who may be affiliated with a foreign terror organization. It is not a comprehensive list of actual terrorists.

–Quinn Owen

Paris Climate Accord

TRUMP CLAIM: “The Paris Accord was going to cost us a trillion dollars and China nothing and Russia nothing, and India nothing. It was a rip-off of the United States, and I ended it because I didn’t want to waste that money because they treated us horribly.”

FACT CHECK: Not entirely true. Biden rejoined the Paris Climate Accord on his first day in office, according to a State Department memo. One-hundred and ninety-six countries signed on to the Paris Accord, agreeing to work together to limit the impacts of climate change and global warming. As part of that, the more developed, wealthier nations committed to contributing $100 billion to support developing countries more vulnerable to climate change’s impacts.

Biden pledged to work with Congress to authorize $11 billion to contribute to the Paris Agreement’s $100 billion in funds to support developing countries who need help adapting to climate change’s impacts. As of 2023, the U.S. was on track to meet that goal with $9.5 billion committed to financing global climate initiatives, according to the State Department.

–Stephanie Ebbs

National Guardsmen on Jan. 6

TRUMP CLAIM: “I offered her [House Speaker Nancy Pelosi] 10,000 soldiers who are National Guard. And she turned them down, and the mayor of – in writing, by the way, the mayor, in writing, turned it down. The mayor of D.C. They turned it down. I offered 10,000 because I could see I had virtually nothing to do. They asked me to go make a speech.”

FACT-CHECK: False. The final report by the bipartisan Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol determined there was “no evidence” to support the claim that Trump gave an order “to have 10,000 troops ready for January 6th.”

The report quoted President Trump’s Acting Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller, who directly refuted this claim under oath, saying, “There was no direct order from the President” to put 10,000 troops to be on the ready for January 6th.

Instead, the report noted that when Trump referenced that number of troops, it was not to protect the Capitol but that he had “floated the idea of having 10,000 National Guardsmen deployed to protect him and his supporters from any supposed threats by left-wing counter-protesters.”

–Luis Martinez

Iran, Israel, and Oct. 7

TRUMP CLAIM: “He [Putin] never would have invaded Ukraine, never, just like Israel would have never been invaded in a million years by Hamas. You know why? Because Iran was broke with me. I wouldn’t let anybody do business with them. They ran out of money. They were broke. They had no money for Hamas. They had no money for anything, no money for terror. That’s why you had no terror at all during my administration.”

FACT CHECK: Not true. Iran has been Hamas’ principal backer for decades, including through the Trump presidency. Although Trump did withdraw from an Obama-era nuclear deal and levy sanctions against Tehran that dealt a sharp blow to its economy, records retrieved from inside Gaza by the Israeli Defense Forces and verified by independent news outlets indicate Iran still funneled tens of millions of dollars to Hamas during his administration. Two of Trump’s top advisers for Middle Eastern affairs also claimed that Iran was supplying Hamas and other Palestinian terror groups with $100 million each year in an op-ed published in 2019.

–Shannon Kingston

Trump’s Manhattan hush-money case

TRUMP CLAIM: “That was a case that was started, and … they moved a high-ranking official, a DOJ, into the Manhattan DA’s office to start that case. … [Biden] basically went after his political opponent because he thought it was going to damage me.”

FACT CHECK: There are a few things to unpack here – but there is no evidence to support either statement.

First, there is no evidence that Joe Biden, as president of the United States, directed or choreographed a state prosecution — which was brought by the Manhattan District Attorney, Alvin Bragg. Biden has no authority to do so, and there is no evidence to support Trump’s assertion.

Second, with regard to the “high-ranking” DOJ official who Trump claims was moved into the District Attorney’s office to “start the case,” Trump appears to be referring to Matthew Colangelo, who left the Justice Department in December of 2022, years after the investigation began. There is no evidence that Biden or the Justice Department coordinated Colangelo’s move. The case was brought by Bragg, an elected Democrat in New York.

Trump was found guilty by a jury of his peers.

–Lucien Bruggeman

Were tax cuts under Trump the largest in history?

TRUMP CLAIM: “I gave you the largest tax cut in history. I also gave you the largest regulation cut in history, that’s why we had all the jobs.”

FACT-CHECK: False. According to Erica York at the Tax Foundation, the Trump-era tax cut (TCJA) was a large tax cut but not the largest in history. If you look at percent of revenue as share of GDP in the first two years, several tax cuts going back to 1940 were larger. The most recent that was larger was the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012.Separately, the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget estimates that the tax cuts under President Ronald Reagan were the largest tax cuts in recent history as a percent of GDP.

At the time the law went into effect, the Tax Foundation estimated that it would boost long-term employment by more than 300,000 jobs. But Moody’s Chief Economist Mark Zandi says, “the tax cuts did support job growth, but at the cost of adding approximately $2 trillion to the nation’s debt.” He added, “The regulatory changes had no measurable impact on job growth.”

–Zunaira Zaki

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