Biden's ABC News town hall: Fact-checking the Democratic presidential candidate's answers

The former vice president heard from voters Thursday.

October 15, 2020, 11:12 PM

After the second presidential debate was canceled, Democratic candidate Joe Biden answered questions from voters Thursday night during a town hall hosted by ABC News in Philadelphia.

Below, ABC News fact checked what the former vice president said throughout the live 90-minute special, which was anchored by ABC News Chief Anchor George Stephanopoulos.

PHOTO: Democratic Presidential candidate and former US Vice President Joe Biden and moderator George Stephanopoulos participate in an ABC News town hall event at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, Oct. 15, 2020.
Democratic Presidential candidate and former US Vice President Joe Biden and moderator George Stephanopoulos participate in an ABC News town hall event at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, Oct. 15, 2020.
Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images

Biden correct he maintained officials needed to be in China to monitor virus, but town hall comments lack context

BIDEN'S CLAIM: "All the way back in the beginning of February, I argued that we should be keeping people in China. And we had set up, in our administration, a pandemic office within the White House."

FACT CHECK: Biden's comments about what his administration would have done differently at the beginning of the pandemic were lacking some context.

What Biden appeared to be referencing was the United States having Centers for Disease Control and Prevention staff based in China in order to monitor the spread of the virus. Reuters reported earlier this year that the Trump administration had cut the number of staff in China by more than two-thirds, mostly over the previous two years in the agency's Beijing office.

In a Democratic presidential primary debate in February, Biden referred to funding cuts for public health agencies. "What I would do immediately is restore the funding," he said then. "I would be on the phone with China and making it clear, we are going to need to be in your country."

His answer at the town hall Thursday night did not provide that full context, though, which made it sound like he could have been referring to whether he supported putting restrictions on travelers coming from China to the United States, a step President Donald Trump took at the beginning of February.

It was not until the beginning of April that Biden's campaign confirmed in a statement to CNN that he supported Trump's decision to bar some travel from China, because the move was supported by scientists and medical experts.

--John Verhovek

Biden claims Trump has no clear plan for vaccine distribution. But the Trump administration has outlined a plan.

BIDEN'S CLAIM: Biden claimed that neither he nor the doctors he has spoken with had seen a plan from the administration to distribute a COVID-19 vaccine. "There should be a plan," he said. "When we have the vaccine, how do we distribute it?"

FACT CHECK: The Trump administration does have a plan to distribute a potential COVID-19 vaccine, although the president has misrepresented how quickly it could be distributed.

Some of that plan was outlined in a Sept. 16 "Distribution Strategy," released jointly by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and Department of Defense.

The documents, according to HHS, provide an overview of distribution plans along with guidelines for "state, tribal, territorial, and local public health programs and their partners on how to plan and operationalize a vaccination response to COVID-19" in their communities.

The Trump administration also created "Operation Warp Speed," a partnership between HHS and DOD, as well as other private and federal agencies, to accelerate the research, development and eventual distribution of COVID-19 vaccines and treatments.

HHS Secretary Alex Azar has said that as part of Operation Warp Speed, federal officials have been laying the groundwork for vaccine delivery. "This in-depth, round-the-clock planning work with our state and local partners and trusted community organizations, especially through CDC, will ensure that Americans can receive a safe and effective vaccine in record time," Azar said in a press release last month.

Meanwhile, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention executed a contract with McKesson -- the company that distributes the annual flu vaccine -- to distribute the COVID-19 vaccine when it becomes available.

Trump, though, has exaggerated how quickly most Americans could receive it, suggesting it would be widely available by the end of the year or even sooner. Federal public health officials and outside experts say most Americans will not be able to get vaccinated until well into next year.

--Arielle Mitropoulos and Sony Salzman

PHOTO: Former Vice President Joe Biden speaks with ABC News' George Stephanopoulos at an ABC News town hall event in Philadelphia, Oct. 15, 2020.
Former Vice President Joe Biden speaks with ABC News' George Stephanopoulos at an ABC News town hall event in Philadelphia, Oct. 15, 2020.
ABC News

Biden correct Trump has overstated Regeneron drug's promise -- but wrong that there's no plan

BIDEN'S CLAIM: Biden said he had not seen a distribution plan for Regeneron's monoclonal antibody treatment for COVID-19. "What's happening is there is no plan to figure out how to distribute it," he said. "How many -- you know, we have 500,000, you know, vials of it. Well, we don't have all the testing equipment. We don't have all the ability to get it to the people who need it."

FACT CHECK: Biden is correct to suggest that Trump has overstated the promise of Regeneron's monoclonal antibody treatment for COVID-19.

However, there is a federal plan for distribution of the treatment touted by Trump.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has said the government is stockpiling doses of antibody treatments for Americans and that it plans to distribute those doses to state governments and hospitals similar to how it delivered the drug remdesivir, another therapeutic that has been administered to people with COVID-19.

Since Oct. 1, hospitals have been able to purchase remdesivir, also known as Veklury, directly from the drug's distributor. Over the past five months, the U.S. government had overseen the allocation of the drug in its limited supply, saying it distributed about 150,000 treatment courses of remdesivir.

HHS Secretary Alex Azar has said his agency does not anticipate a problem with delivering the doses so long as the drug receives authorization from regulators.

--Arielle Mitropoulos, Sony Salzman and Anne Flaherty

Biden generally right about disparity in majority-Black neighborhood home values

BIDEN'S CLAIM: "If ... my home was in a white neighborhood on one side of the highway and yours is in a Black neighborhood, same exact home, your home will start off being valued 29% less than my home, yet your insurance for that home will be higher. You'll be taxed more for it. We've got to end this."

FACT CHECK: Biden's statement is generally accurate.

After the town hall concluded, Biden's campaign told ABC News he had been referring to a 2018 study by the Brookings Institution that found "homes of similar quality in neighborhoods with similar amenities are worth 23 percent less ($48,000 per home on average, amounting to $156 billion in cumulative losses) in majority black neighborhoods, compared to those with very few or no Black residents."

His campaign said Biden misspoke and meant to say 23%.

The 1968 Fair Housing Act is supposed to prevent discrimination that leads to those disparities. But civil rights groups and anti-poverty advocates have long argued that even with the law, cities and states can perpetuate housing segregation through zoning laws, insurance and lending policies, as well as tax credits that often favor wealthier white families over others.

Under Trump, Housing Secretary Ben Carson finalized a rule in August 2019 making it harder for people to allege discrimination -- a proposal advocated by insurance companies and others in the housing industry that said regulations weren't clear enough.

--Anne Flaherty

Biden says he wants to improve, not ban, fracking

BIDEN'S CLAIM: "I do not propose banning fracking. I think you have to make sure that fracking is, in fact, not admitting methane or polluting the well or dealing with what can be small earthquakes and how they're drilling. So it has to be managed very, very well, No. 1. No. 2, what we have to do is the future rests in renewable energy."

FACT CHECK: Biden said he does not support a ban on fracking, the shorthand for the process of extracting natural gas, but he does support limiting its environmental impact, blocking its use on public lands and putting more focus on renewable energy.

The debate around fracking has focused on whether a candidate would "ban" the entire industry, but a president would only have the power to stop issuing new leases for oil and gas activity on public land, not activity on private property.

Biden has said that he doesn't want to add new fracking on public lands. He has said he wants to move away from fracking and focus on more renewable energy sources to eventually get net-zero emissions, including preventing the release of the methane from natural gas activity.

He has also argued that a transition to clean energy is necessary to keep people employed and that it won't be possible to immediately eliminate all fossil fuels, including natural gas.

Biden's environmental plan calls for an end to fossil fuel subsidies and for a massive investment in clean energy, including training fossil fuel workers for clean energy jobs.

--Stephanie Ebbs and Averi Harper

PHOTO: Former Vice President Joe Biden speaks with ABC News' George Stephanopoulos at an ABC News town hall event in Philadelphia, Oct. 15, 2020.
Former Vice President Joe Biden speaks with ABC News' George Stephanopoulos at an ABC News town hall event in Philadelphia, Oct. 15, 2020.
ABC News

Biden incorrect on his website's praise of Green New Deal

BIDEN'S CLAIM: "My deal is a crucial framework, but not the New Green Deal."

FACT CHECK: In addition to misstating the name of the Green New Deal, Biden was incorrect in how he laid out his view of the plan compared to how it is stated on his own campaign website.

"Biden believes the Green New Deal is a crucial framework for meeting the climate challenges we face," his website reads.

While Biden has said he does not support major aspects of the Green New Deal, his own plan calls for moving the nation's power system to net-zero emissions by 2035, a more ambitious timeline than his original climate plan laid out, which has been praised by progressive activists.

The Green New Deal was a resolution that laid out a broad framework for climate action but would not have changed any policies if it had passed.

In one major distinction from that framework, Biden said he does not think it would be possible to completely eliminate fossil fuels by 2030, saying the country will need to be able to transition to more investments in renewable energy while improving sources that can release greenhouse gas emissions like natural gas.

--John Verhovek and Stephanie Ebbs

Biden highlights the number of transgender killings -- and it's even higher than he said

BIDEN'S CLAIM: Responding to a question about rights for LGBTQ people, Biden referenced the number of transgender people killed this year, saying it was at least 17.

FACT CHECK: After the mother of an 8-year-old transgender daughter asked Biden how he would restore rights to the LGBTQ community that had been eroded under the Trump administration, Biden acknowledged that the number of transgender people killed might be higher than he knows. And he was right.

"There should be zero discrimination, and what's happening is too many transgender women of color are being murdered," Biden said. "I think it's up to now 17 -- don't hold me to that number, but it's -- it's higher now? And that's just this year. So I promise you, there is no reason to suggest that there should be any right denied your daughter."

According to the Human Rights Campaign, 33 transgender or gender non-conforming people have been fatally shot or killed by other means this year.

The organization, a progressive LGBTQ advocacy group, began tracking this data in 2013 and has never reported such a high number at this point in the year, according to its website.

It has tracked at least 126 deaths of transgender people since 2016 due to fatal violence, with most victims being Black transgender women, but the organization said the violence is hard to track due to misgendering and transphobia. The actual number of killings could be much higher.

"Six transgender woman have been killed over the last 23 days -- which is just over three weeks -- in this country," Tori Cooper, HRC's director of community engagement for its Transgender Justice Initiative, said in a statement Thursday.

"We have already seen more trans and gender non-conforming people killed this year since we began tracking these deaths in 2013, and the numbers continue to climb, even during a pandemic," Cooper said. "We must all ask ourselves what each of us is doing to work to bring this violence to an end."

--Cheyenne Haslett

This report was featured in the Friday, Oct. 16, 2020, episode of “Start Here,” ABC News’ daily news podcast.

"Start Here" offers a straightforward look at the day's top stories in 20 minutes. Listen for free every weekday on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, the ABC News app or wherever you get your podcasts.

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