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AP FACT CHECK: Debate week's twisted tales on virus, climate

Donald Trump, Donald J. Trump
Posted at 7:33 AM, Oct 10, 2020
and last updated 2020-10-10 09:33:54-04

WASHINGTON — Sidelined but not silenced, President Donald Trump demonstrated anew this past week he can't be relied on to give a straight account of the disease that has afflicted millions, now including him. He heralded the arrival of a COVID-19 cure, which did not happen, and likened the coronavirus to the common flu even while knowing better.

The week featured the only vice presidential debate of the 2020 campaign and an emphasis on policy lacking in the virulent Trump vs. Joe Biden showdown of the week before.

Vice President Mike Pence asserted Trump respects the science on climate change when actually the president mocks it, and Pence defended a White House gathering that the government's infectious disease chief branded a super-spreader event. His Democratic rival, California Sen. Kamala Harris, tripped on tax policy while wrongly accusing Trump of dismissing the pandemic as a hoax.

A review:

CORONAVIRUS

TRUMP, on those who get COVID-19. “Now what happens is you get better. That’s what happens, you get better.” — to Fox Business on Thursday.

THE FACTS: As a blanket assurance, that is obviously false. Most people get better. But more than 1 million people worldwide have died from the disease, more than 212,000 of them in the U.S. The disease also may leave many people with long-term harm that is not fully understood.

Trump’s doctor, Navy Cmdr. Sean Conley, said Friday that Trump was showing no evidence of his illness progressing or adverse reactions to the aggressive course of therapy prescribed by his doctors. That doesn’t mean he is over it.

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TRUMP, on the experimental antibodies he was administered: “We have a cure. ... I can tell you, it’s a cure and I’m talking to you today because of it.” — speaking to Rush Limbaugh’s radio show by phone Friday.

THE FACTS: We don’t have a cure. His statement is premature at best and may raise false hope. And his present condition cannot be pinned on a particular medicine in the combination of drugs he has been given.

Antibody drugs like the one Trump was given are among the most promising therapies being tested for treating and preventing coronavirus infections. But the medicines are still in testing; their safety and effectiveness are not yet known.

Trump was among fewer than 10 people who were able to access the Regeneron Pharmaceuticals drug without having to enroll in a study. Eli Lilly and Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc. are both asking the U.S. government to allow emergency use of their antibody drugs, which aim to help the immune system clear the virus.

Trump has routinely made too much of promising developments in the pandemic and given weight to bogus theories about how to prevent and treat the disease while dismissing the importance of true preventives such as wearing a mask and staying away from groups of people.

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TRUMP: “Flu season is coming up! Many people every year, sometimes over 100,000, and despite the Vaccine, die from the Flu. Are we going to close down our Country? No, we have learned to live with it, just like we are learning to live with Covid, in most populations far less lethal!!!” — tweet Tuesday.

THE FACTS: He’s contradicting science and himself.

First, he’s overstating the U.S. death toll from the seasonal flu. The flu has killed 12,000 to 61,000 Americans annually since 2010, not 100,000, a benchmark rarely reached in U.S. history. More than 212,000 Americans have died of COVID-19.

Second, health officials widely agree that the coronavirus seems to be at least several times more lethal than seasonal flu. At one point, Dr. Anthony Fauci of the National Institutes of Health told Congress it could be as much as 10 times more lethal.

“There’s absolutely no doubt, no doubt at all, that this COVID-19 ... is far more serious than a seasonal flu, no doubt about that,” Fauci told MSNBC this past week.

Trump’s tweet also flies in the face of what he told author Bob Woodward in February, that the virus was even more deadly than “your strenuous flus,” even while suggesting publicly that the pandemic was akin to the flu season. “This is deadly stuff,” he told the author.

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FRACKING

TRUMP on Biden: "He gets up and he says, we’re not fracking. We’re not fracking. He was fracking. For six months he was fracking. He was raising his -- his very thin hand and he was fracking. And now all of a sudden he’s not fracking. ... It’s ridiculous. He said he’s not fracking." — Thursday to Fox News.

THE FACTS: It’s OK to be very confused by this.

What Trump was trying to say is that Biden flip-flopped on whether he would ban fracking, though the president skipped the part about banning in his remark. Biden in a 2019 Democratic primary debate said he would ban fracking, but his campaign quickly said he misspoke and corrected the record. Biden supports banning new oil and gas leases on public lands but says he does not want a fracking ban and consider such a ban probably impossible.

Trump did add at the end of more fracking accusations, “They’re going to stop fracking the minute they get into office.” That’s false, but it is the accusation Trump was trying to make before.

Biden did not flip-flop but rather flubbed his position at one event, his campaign said.

Democrats are divided on fracking and not all of them appreciated the clarity that Harris brought to the issue in the vice presidential debate, when she stoutly declared a Biden administration would not ban fracking.

“Fracking is bad, actually,” tweeted Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y.

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FROM THE DEBATE

CLIMATE CHANGE

PENCE: “The both of you repeatedly committed to abolishing fossil fuel and banning fracking. … President Trump has made clear we’re going to continue to listen to the science” on climate change.

THE FACTS: In addition to being wrong about Biden's position on fracking, Pence is wrong to say Trump follows the science on climate change. He conspicuously doesn't.

Trump’s public comments as president all dismiss the science on climate change — that it’s caused by people burning fossil fuels and it’s worsening sharply. As recently as last month, Trump said, “I don’t think science knows” what it’s talking about regarding global warming and the resulting worsening of wildfires, hurricanes and other natural disasters. He’s ridiculed the science in many public comments and tweets.

As for his actions, his regulation-cutting has eliminated key Obama-era efforts to reduce fossil fuel emissions.

Pence is correct when he says Harris supported banning fracking. That was when she was running for president.

At a CNN climate change town hall for Democratic presidential candidates last year, Harris said, “There’s no question I’m in favor of banning fracking. Starting with what we can do from Day One on public lands.” Now, as Biden’s running mate, she is bound to his agenda, which is different.

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PENCE: The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration “tells us that, actually, as difficult as they are, there are no more hurricanes today than there were 100 years ago, but many of the climate alarmists use hurricanes and wildfires to try and sell a bill of goods.”

THE FACTS: He’s evading what science actually says about climate change and hurricanes. The main studies don’t assert Earth is seeing more hurricanes than a century ago. They find that today’s hurricanes are worse because of the warming climate.

Research shows that intensification of the storms has increased tremendously since the 1980s in the Atlantic and the only explanation is human-caused climate change.

An analysis of 167 years of federal storm data by The Associated Press in 2017 found that no 30-year period in history has seen this many major hurricanes, with winds greater than 110 mph, this many days of those whoppers spinning in the Atlantic, or this much overall energy generated by those powerful storms.

Such findings are what alarm scientists and part of what Pence calls alarmist.

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PENCE: “You know, what’s remarkable is the United States has reduced CO2 more than the countries that are still in the Paris climate accord.”

FACTS: True but hardly remarkable. With its giant economy, the U.S. has far more raw emissions of climate-damaging carbon dioxide to cut than any other country except China.

A more telling measure of progress in various countries is to look at what percentage of emissions they have cut. Since 2005, the United States hasn’t been even in the top 10 in percentage of greenhouse gas emission reductions.