News Update

Fact-checking six claims from Biden's news conference

Biden made at least three inaccurate claims during the extended proceedings, which he allowed to run for nearly two hours. He also made a claim about surprise medical billing in which he, at best, omitted key context; a claim about military history in which his meaning was unclear; and a claim about job creation that was accurate but could also have used some more contextual information.
Here’s a look at those six remarks.

A visit to a vaccine manufacturer

After a reporter asked Biden a series of questions on the issue of government competence, Biden told a story about visiting a vaccine manufacturer as part of his efforts to speed up production of Covid-19 vaccines.
He said, “When we were pushing on AstraZeneca to provide more vaccines — guess what, they didn’t have the machinery to be able to do it. So I physically went to Michigan, stood there in a factory with the head of the — of AstraZeneca, and said, ‘We’ll provide machinery for you. This is what we’ll do. We’ll help you do it so you can produce this vaccine more rapidly.’ I think that’s pretty hands-on stuff.”
Facts First: Biden cited the wrong vaccine manufacturer. He was attempting to describe his February 2021 visit to a Pfizer plant in Michigan, not an AstraZeneca plant. The official White House transcript of the news conference crossed out Biden’s mentions of AstraZeneca and replaced them with Pfizer, signaling that Biden misspoke.
About Pfizer, the substance of Biden’s story was at least roughly accurate. His administration used the Defense Production Act to help Pfizer get faster access to some of the components needed in the vaccine manufacturing process. Biden said in a speech at the Pfizer facility at the time: “On our tour today, they showed me a critical piece of machinery they didn’t have before; now, they do. And it’s allowing them to ramp up production.”
AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine is not even authorized for emergency use in the US, though it’s possible the company was on Biden’s mind because his administration announced last week that it was purchasing additional doses of an authorized Covid-19 treatment made by AstraZeneca. An AstraZeneca spokesperson said in a Wednesday email: “AstraZeneca does not have vaccine manufacturing operations in Michigan and President Biden never visited an AstraZeneca manufacturing facility.”

Equipment shipped to Ukraine

While talking about the possibility of a Russian invasion of Ukraine, Biden said, “We’re going to — I’ve already shipped over $600 million worth of sophisticated equipment, defensive equipment, to the Ukrainians.”
Facts First: Biden would have been correct if he had spoken of how much security assistance his administration has authorized for Ukraine — a State Department spokesperson told CNN Wednesday night that the administration “committed $650 million in defense equipment and related services to Ukraine” last year — but he was incorrect in specifically claiming that over $600 million worth of equipment has been “already shipped.” The most recent batch of assistance, a $200 million package the Biden administration quietly authorized in December, has not yet been shipped; the State Department spokesperson said the delivery of the lethal and nonlethal equipment in this package is “scheduled to begin imminently and will proceed over the next several weeks.”
The deliveries take time. The spokesperson also said that there is still one delivery left to make to Ukraine, “in the coming weeks,” from a previous $60 million assistance package the administration approved for Ukraine in August.
This authorized-versus-shipped issue isn’t a matter of mere semantics. Given that White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Tuesday that “we’re now at a stage where Russia could at any point launch an attack in Ukraine,” the timing of the shipments is of consequence.

Vaccination progress

In his remarks at the beginning of the news conference, Biden touted the country’s progress on Covid-19 vaccinations during his first year in office. He said, “We went from 2 million people being vaccinated at the moment I was sworn in to 210 million Americans being fully vaccinated today.”
Facts First: Biden’s “210 million” current figure was correct. However, his “2 million” starting figure was off by at least one million. Figures published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that more than 3 million people in the US were fully vaccinated as of January 19, 2021, the day before Biden’s inauguration, and more than 3.4 million were fully vaccinated as of his inauguration day.
Biden and his team might have been relying on news reports on January 20, based on CDC data available at the time, that put the number at around 2 million. But the CDC numbers get updated over time as more information comes in and vaccinations are assigned to the date they actually occurred instead of the date they were reported. CDC figures have shown for months that there were more than 3 million people fully vaccinated as of the day before Biden’s inauguration.

Surprise medical bills

While listing examples of “enormous progress” during his first year, Biden said, “And we just made surprise medical bills illegal in this country.”
Facts First: Biden’s claim was lacking key context at best, misleading at worst. His “we just” phrasing could have led listeners to believe that he was the person who signed the law to ban surprise medical bills. In fact, former President Donald Trump signed the bipartisan measure in late 2020. The Biden administration did, however, have to develop a series of rules to turn the law into reality.
The law took effect at the beginning of this month — so Biden’s “we just” could perhaps be defended as a reference to the law’s effective date rather than the date the law was signed. Still, he could’ve been much clearer.
CNN’s Tami Luhby reported in December that the law bans most unexpected medical charges from out-of-network providers. You can read more details here.

Russia and the history of invasions

When a reporter asked Biden about his concerns about a possible Russian invasion of Ukraine, Biden said his administration has to move forward carefully and make clear to Russian President Vladimir Putin that Russia will pay a significant price if it does invade.
Biden then added: “Of course you have to be concerned when you have, you know, a nuclear power, invade — this has — if he invades, it hasn’t happened since World War II. It’s the most consequential thing that’s happened in the world, in terms of war and peace, since World War II.”
Facts First: Biden wasn’t clear about what the “it” was in his claim that “if he invades, it hasn’t happened since World War II.” Contrary to one possible interpretation, a Russian invasion of Ukraine clearly wouldn’t be the first time since World War II that a nuclear power invaded another country or even that nuclear-armed Russia invaded another country; Russia invaded Ukraine in 2014, when Biden was vice president, and annexed the Crimea region. The nuclear-armed US has itself invaded several countries since World War II.
It’s possible Biden was clumsily attempting to make a different point related to World War II. United Kingdom Chief of the Defence Staff Admiral Sir Tony Radakin said in December: “The significance of the worst scenarios in terms of a full-scale invasion would be on a scale not seen in Europe since the Second World War.” Retired Army Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, the former National Security Council expert on Ukraine (and key witness in Trump’s first impeachment), said on Wednesday: “We’re about to have the largest war in Europe since World War II.”

Job creation

In his opening remarks, Biden touted “record job creation” during his presidency. He said, “We created 6 million new jobs — more jobs in one year than any time before.”
Facts First: Biden was correct; it’s true that more jobs were added in the US in 2021 than in any previous year for which we have good statistics, going back more than 80 years, and it’s true that more than 6 million jobs were added since Biden’s inauguration. However, it’s important to note some key context: the economic circumstances of Biden’s first year were so unique that meaningful direct comparison to previous years is very difficult.
Specifically, Biden took office less than a year after the economy shed more than 22 million jobs in two months because of the Covid-19 pandemic. Even with the jobs rebound that began in May 2020 and continued in 2021, the US still had about 3.6 million fewer jobs as of December 2021 than it did in February 2020. In other words, Biden-era gains — an average of more than 560,000 jobs added per month from February 2021 through December 2021 — are still filling the pandemic hole.
Biden is free, of course, to boast about how quickly the hole is being filled. But his claims about setting records should be viewed with contextual caution.
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