AP FACT CHECK: Trump and the virus-era China ban that isn't
WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump's “ban” on travel from China is his go-to point when defending his response to the coronavirus pandemic. The problem with his core argument starts with the fact that he did not ban travel from China. He imposed porous restrictions.
Over the past week, Trump cited his China action repeatedly and as part of a scattered indictment of Democratic presidential rival Joe Biden.
Trump thoroughly misrepresented Biden's position on immigration and more, while an economic adviser with no public health credentials tried to discredit Dr. Anthony Fauci, the country's top infectious disease expert, with a scientific argument.
It was a difficult week for discerning the reality of things.
TRUMP: “We would’ve had thousands of people additionally die if we let people come in from heavily infected China. But we stopped it. We did a travel ban in January. ... By closing up, we saved millions, potentially millions of lives." — Rose Garden remarks Tuesday.
THE FACTS: He didn't ban travel from China. He restricted it. Dozens of countries took similar steps to control travel from hot spots before or around the same time the U.S. did.
The U.S. restrictions that took effect Feb. 2 continued to allow travel to the U.S. from China's Hong Kong and Macao territories over the past five months. The Associated Press reported that more than 8,000 Chinese and foreign nationals based in those territories entered the U.S. in the first three months after the travel restrictions were imposed.
Additionally, more than 27,000 Americans returned from mainland China in the first month after the restrictions took effect. U.S. officials lost track of more than 1,600 of them who were supposed to be monitored for virus exposure.
Few doubt that the heavy death toll from COVID-19 would be even heavier if world travel had not been constricted globally. But Trump has no scientific basis to claim that his action alone saved “millions" or even "hundreds of thousands” of lives, as he has put it.
TRUMP, on what happened after he restricted travel from China: “Nancy Pelosi was dancing on the streets of Chinatown in San Francisco a month later, and even later than that, and others, too.” — Rose Garden.
THE FACTS: No she wasn't. This is Trump's frequent and fanciful account of the House speaker's visit to San Francisco's Chinatown on Feb. 24. That day, she visited shops and strolled the streets to counter the hostility some people in the district were encountering over a virus that emanated from China.
On that day, Pelosi said the public should be vigilant about the virus but the city took precautions and “we should come to Chinatown.” Local TV news tracked her visit;. She wasn't seen dancing and did not call for a “street fair,” as Trump at times has put it. Community spread of the coronavirus had not yet been reported.
As FactCheck.org pointed out, the same day Pelosi went to Chinatown, Trump tweeted: “The Coronavirus is very much under control in the USA. We are in contact with everyone and all relevant countries. CDC & World Health (Organization) have been working hard and very smart. Stock Market starting to look very good to me!” The CDC is the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Two days later, Trump asserted that only 15 people in the U.S. were infected and that number would go down “close to zero.” Instead the numbers exploded. More than 3.6 million Americans have had COVID-19.
Trump has accused Pelosi of being “responsible for many deaths” because of the Chinatown visit. He has denied responsibility for any of the deaths sweeping the country as he has persistently minimized the threat, pushed for reopening and refused to take mask-wearing seriously.
BIDEN ON THE ‘BAN’
TRUMP: “He opposed my very strict travel ban on Chinese nationals to stop the spread of the China virus. He was totally against it. ‘Xenophobic,’ he called me. ‘Xenophobic.’ A month later, he admitted I was right.” — Rose Garden.
THE FACTS: No, Biden did not come out against the travel restrictions on China. He said little about them at the time. In April, his campaign said he supported travel restrictions if “guided by medical experts.”
Biden did say Trump has a record of xenophobia, a comment made during an Iowa campaign event when the restrictions were announced. Biden said Trump was “fear-mongering” against foreigners and the Democrat took issue with Trump's references to the “China virus” as an example. He did not address the travel steps.
Trump has claimed that Biden realized he was right after all about restricting travel from China and wrote him a “letter of apology." This didn't happen, either.
THE TRADE ADVISER
PETER NAVARRO, White House trade adviser: “When Fauci was telling the White House Coronavirus Task Force that there was only anecdotal evidence in support of hydroxychloroquine to fight the virus, I confronted him with scientific studies providing evidence of safety and efficacy. A recent Detroit hospital study showed a 50% reduction in the mortality rate when the medicine is used in early treatment.” — op-ed published Wednesday in USA Today.
THE FACTS: Navarro cherry-picks a study widely criticized as flawed and ignores multiple studies finding hydroxychloroquine doesn't help.
Numerous rigorous tests of hydroxychloroquine, including a large one from Britain and one led by the National Institutes of Health, concluded that the anti-malaria drug was ineffective for treating hospitalized coronavirus patients. Fauci leads the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at NIH.
The Food and Drug Administration also has warned the drug should only be used for the coronavirus in hospitals and research settings because of the risk of serious heart rhythm problems and other safety issues.
The Henry Ford Health System study that Navarro refers to was an observational look back at how various patients fared. It was not a rigorous test where similar patients are randomly assigned to get the drug or not and where each group is compared later on how they did.
In the study, some people with heart or certain other conditions were not given the drugs, which can cause heart rhythm problems, so those patients were fundamentally different from the group they were compared with. Researchers said they adjusted statistically for some differences, but the many variables make it tough to reach firm conclusions.
Some patients also received other treatments such as steroids and the antiviral drug remdesivir, further clouding any ability to tell whether hydroxychloroquine helped.
Trump repeatedly has pushed the drug and claimed he took it himself to try to prevent COVID-19 infection or illness.
The White House said Navarro was not authorized to challenge Fauci with the op-ed and should not have done it. But his points largely reflect ones Trump and others in the White House have made themselves.
NAVARRO: “Fauci says a falling mortality rate doesn’t matter when it is the single most important statistic to help guide the pace of our economic reopening. The lower the mortality rate, the faster and more we can open.” — USA Today op-ed.
THE FACTS: He's taking Fauci's words out of context. Fauci said in early July that it was a “false narrative to take comfort in a lower rate of death." At the time, deaths were dipping as infections spiked in many parts of the country. But deaths lag sickness, a risk cited by Fauci and other experts. Deaths have since increased, driven by fatalities in states in the South and West, according to data analyzed by The Associated Press.
“It’s consistently picking up,” said William Hanage, a Harvard University infectious diseases researcher. “And it’s picking up at the time you’d expect it to.”
More from the Rose Garden on Tuesday:
TRUMP: “We’re placing massive tariffs and have placed very large tariffs on China -- first time that’s ever happened to China. Billions of dollars have been paid to the United States.”
THE FACTS: A familiar assertion, false to the core.
It’s false to say the U.S. never collected tariffs on Chinese goods before he took action. Tariffs on Chinese goods are simply higher in some cases than they were before. It’s also wrong to suggest that the tariffs are being paid by China. Tariff money coming into the government's coffers is mainly from U.S. businesses and consumers, not from China. Tariffs are primarily if not entirely a tax paid domestically.
TRUMP, on the economy: “Prior to the plague pouring in from China, they were having the worst year, you know, in 67 years.”
THE FACTS: That’s not true. China is far from the impoverished disaster of over a half century ago, when it was reeling from the massive famine caused by Mao Zedong’s radical economic policies and heading into the chaos of the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s.
China’s economy has been slowing from Trump’s taxes on Chinese imports, as well as its own campaign to constrain runaway debt. But it’s still markedly faster than U.S. growth.
Since overhauling its economy in the late 1970s, China has lifted hundreds of millions of people out of poverty, established a growing middle class and surpassed Japan to become the world’s second-biggest economy.
TRUMP, on Joe Biden: “His son walked out with $1.5 billion of money to invest, where he’ll make hundreds of thousands of dollars — maybe millions of dollars a year. Walked out with $1.5 billion.”
THE FACTS: There’s no evidence Hunter Biden pocketed $1.5 billion from China.
In 2014, an investment fund started by Hunter Biden and other investors joined with foreign and Chinese private equity firms in an effort to raise $1.5 billion to invest outside China. It was not a lone effort by Hunter Biden to get his hands on that much money.
In any event, the effort fell far short, his lawyer, George Mesires, wrote in an internet post last year. Mesires said the fund, an investment management company known as BHR, raised only about $4.2 million, not the $1.5 billion it aimed for. Hunter Biden’s 10% share was worth about $420,000, but he did not cash it in, Mesires said. And he said Hunter Biden was an unpaid director at the time.
“He has not received any return on his investment,” Mesires said. Biden stepped down from the board in October as part of a pledge not to work on behalf of any foreign-owned companies should his father win the presidency.
TRUMP: “Sign new immigrants up for welfare immediately. This is Joe Biden. So they walk off, and they come in, and they put a foot into our land, and we sign up new immigrants up for welfare. We sign them up immediately. They get welfare benefits. United States citizens don’t get what they’re looking to give illegal immigrants."
THE FACT: Biden has proposed no such thing. Nor has the task force on immigration that Biden advisers created with advisers from Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders' former presidential campaign.
Biden has proposed something far more limited. He would reverse a Trump administration rule that allows immigration officials to consider whether someone seeking a U.S. visa or green card is likely to use Medicaid or certain other public benefits. If so, that person's bid to live legally in the U.S. could be disadvantaged.
The committee of advisers makes a similar recommendation in hopes of influencing the Democratic platform. But neither Biden nor the panel has endorsed extending blanket public assistance immediately to immigrants regardless of their legal status.
THE U.S.-MEXICO BORDER WALL
TRUMP: “What they’re going to do is they’re going to rip down the wall. They’re taking it down. They want to take down the wall, which we fought hard for."
THE FACTS: Also false.
Biden’s immigration plan does not include money for new border fencing, and he and the task force aren’t calling for any new walls. But neither has proposed taking down existing barriers.
TRUMP, on Biden's agenda: “Abolish immigration detention. No more detention. You come in here illegally, no more detention.”
THE FACTS: Such a plan also does not exist.
Instead, Biden has promised to adhere to federal court precedent capping how long immigrants can be held in detention, which the Trump administration has challenged. He also supports “community-based” alternatives to detention and would close private, for-profit detention centers.
As for the task force of advisers, it proposes using federal money to help states find alternatives to detention for immigrant children specifically and says detention centers should be a last resort for all immigrants. Biden is not bound by what these advisers want him to do, and in any event, they are not proposing to eliminate incarceration but to reduce it.
TRUMP: “Think of that: Abolish immigration enforcement. They’re going to abolish immigration enforcement.”
THE FACT: No, they're not.
Biden has been notably outspoken in arguing that crossing the U.S. border illegally is a crime and should remain punished as such in federal court. In fact, he and the task force have not endorsed immigration plans supported by Sanders and other former presidential candidates that sought to decriminalize illegal border crossings and make doing so only a civil offense.
TRUMP: “Stop all deportation. So if we get a MS-13 gang member, which we’ve taken out of our country by the thousands — brought them back to Honduras, Guatemala — can’t do that anymore — El Salvador. Can’t do that anymore. Stop all deportations. So in other words, we’ll take all of these people — many of whom are in prison for rape, murder, lots of other things.”
THE FACTS: Biden hasn't proposed ceasing deportations. He's not committed to a policy on it either way. The committee of advisers has proposed a 100-day moratorium on deportations, not a ban.
TRUMP on Biden's agenda: “Federal student aid and free community college for illegal aliens. What do you think about that?”
THE FACTS: Only for the people already in the country who came illegally as children — the so-called Dreamers. Neither Biden nor the task force is proposing such aid for everyone who is in the country illegally or who comes illegally in the future.
TRUMP: “Expand asylum for all new illegal aliens. How about that one? All new illegal aliens, expand asylum.”
THE FACTS: No. Biden and the task force are not proposing asylum for all who seek it.
They have advocated rolling back Trump administration restrictions that greatly reduced the number of immigrants who are now eligible for U.S. asylum. That would probably expand the number of immigrants eligible for asylum closer to levels before Trump took office. That's far from a universal granting of asylum.
— AP Chief Medical Writer Marilynn Marchione in Milwaukee and Associated Press writers Will Weissert and Ben Fox contributed to this report.