WaPo fact-checker: Biden's still fibbing about Trump's coronavirus response

Fibbing, or just disconnected from reality? With Joe Biden, it’s tough to tell. Nevertheless, Washington Post fact-checker Glenn Kessler gives the presumptive Democratic nominee three Pinocchios for this meandering accusation from last week’s CNN virtual town hall. It’s the third week in a row that the Post has had to call out Biden or his campaign for lying about the administration’s coronavirus response:

“The first thing this president did, maybe not the first but very first, he eliminated the office, took it out of the White House. He, in addition to that, when we were talking about early on in this crisis, we said — I said, among others, that, you know, you should get into China, get our experts there, we have the best in the world, get them in so we know what’s actually happening. There was no effort to do that. He didn’t put any pressure on Xi. I guess because of his trade deal, which wasn’t much of a deal. And in addition to that, what happened was, we had one person in country was working — he pulled him out of the country.” …

There are two issues we will explore: What did President Trump and the Trump administration do to gain access to China, and when did Biden say the United States should get experts into China?

The answer to Kessler’s first question stretches on for a great many paragraphs. That’s because both Trump and his administration had tried to get US experts into China from the beginning of January, efforts which Kessler lists in detail. The Biden campaign later claimed that Biden was talking only about Trump himself, but Kessler notes that Trump personally pushed the issue with Xi Jinping by the end of January, shortly before Trump suspended travel between China and the US:

Be sure to read it all to get a sense of just how many efforts were made by Trump administration officials to get more engagement with China, efforts which began on January 3. What about Kessler’s second question, though? When did Biden start engaging on the COVID-19 pandemic? A full month later than Trump’s tweet, Kessler concludes:

Biden suggests that early on he had been calling on China to admit U.S. experts. But the earliest example we can find is from the Democratic debate held on Feb. 25, a few days after the WHO mission finally reached Wuhan.

“And here’s the deal,” Biden said. “I would be on the phone with China and making it clear, we are going to need to be in your country; you have to be open; you have to be clear; we have to know what’s going on; we have to be there with you, and insist on it and insist, insist, insist.”

It seems pretty clear that the administration tried repeatedly to do that, long before Biden made it an issue. China didn’t want outsiders looking at their data, it has become clear, and resisted it despite Trump’s attempts to take it all the way to the top. As Kessler points out in his conclusion, Xi’s interests didn’t allow for it:

The administration at various levels sought access for CDC experts — and as noted earlier, an administration official, speaking not for attribution, says an offer to send staff was made at the presidential level. Whether Trump didn’t “put pressure” on Xi behind the scenes remains unclear, though Trump’s public comments and tweets do not indicate much pressure. But, given Chinese sensitivities, perhaps no amount of pressure would have worked. It’s a lesson in how relations between leaders do not make much difference when national interests are at stake.

With more precision in his language, Biden would have a better case. We wavered between Two or Three Pinocchios, as it’s a close call, but ultimately tipped toward Three.

Worth noting, too, that FactCheck also called this claim false.  It’s one in a series of misrepresentations from Biden, including a claim that Trump “silenced” a CDC official (4 Pinocchios) and the now-thoroughly-debunked accusation that Trump called the coronavirus a “hoax” (another 4 Pinocchios). And that’s not even including Biden’s claim to have been arrested in South Africa for trying to visit Nelson Mandela in prison, which not only got four Pinocchios in February but left even his campaign scratching its collective head.

By the way, Biden still plans on holding his COVID-19 call with Trump in the near future:

Joe Biden said during a virtual fundraiser on Thursday night that his staff is working with President Trump and his team to set up a call about the coronavirus and how he can help.

The state of play: “Yesterday, the Trump administration suggested I should call the president to offer my help,” Biden said, chuckling. “Well, I’m happy to hear he’ll take my call; my team’s working with him to set it up.”

That will set up an interesting question — just whose version of this call will we eventually trust most?

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