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Fact-checking Biden’s first news conference as president

President Joe Biden held the first formal news conference of his presidency on Thursday, taking questions in the East Room of the White House on immigration, foreign policy, the Senate filibuster, his political future and other subjects.

Here is a fact check of some of the claims he made.

Migrant families and the border

Defending his approach to migration at the southern border, Biden claimed that “we’re sending back the vast majority of the families that are coming.”

Facts First: This was not true in February, the last month for which we have full data.

Published Customs and Border Protection data for February shows that 7,915 migrants who were part of a “family unit” on the southwest border were expelled under the Title 42 pandemic expulsion policy — about 41% of the 19,246 family-unit members who were in “encounters” with US officers that month.

At another moment of the news conference, Biden said, “The overwhelming majority of people coming to the border and crossing are being sent back.” That is a fair claim about what happened in February, when nearly 72% of the 100,441 total people encountered at the border — in other words, not just family-unit members — were expelled under Title 42.

Preliminary data for this month up to March 17, which was reviewed by CNN, showed that the percentage of people expelled under Title 42 had fallen substantially since February. For the week ending March 17, 53% of the 34,526 people encountered at the southwest border were expelled, the lowest percentage of a 2021 week to date. CNN did not review preliminary March data specifically on family expulsions.

Filibuster statistics

Biden claimed that there were five times as many motions to break the filibuster in 2020 than there were between 1917 and 1971.

“Between 1917 and 1971, the filibuster existed, there were a total of 58 motions to break a filibuster. That whole time. Last year alone there were five times that many,” Biden said.

Facts First: While experts on the filibuster say it is hard even for them to pinpoint the number per year, Biden’s figures are misleading. In 2020, the number of motions filed to end a Senate debate — a proxy measure for the use of the filibuster — was about double, not five times, the number from 1917 to 1971.

Molly Reynolds, a Brookings Institution senior fellow who has studied the filibuster, previously told CNN that most scholars think the best proxy measure is the number of motions filed for cloture, a move to end a Senate debate.

According to official Senate data, there were 58 cloture motions filed from 1917 through 1970 and 13 filed in 1971. If Biden was referring to the number of cloture motions filed from 1917 through 1970, he’d be right when he said there were a total of 58 motions to break the filibuster, but if he was including 1971, the total number of cloture motions would be 71.

Using either figure, Biden exaggerated the relative number of cloture motions filed in the past year, though he was accurate on his general point that the number of filibusters has increased significantly over time. There were 118 cloture motions filed in 2020 alone, closer to double the amount filed between 1917 and 1971.

Vaccinations in the US and the rest of the world

While discussing his goal to reach 200 million Covid-19 vaccinations in the first 100 days of his administration, Biden repeated his claim that “no other country in the world has even come close, not even close to what we are doing” on the vaccine front.

Facts First: It’s true that no country has vaccinated more total people than the US, though it’s worth noting that there are some smaller countries that have vaccinated a larger share of their total populations. So far, the US has administered vaccines to more than 130 million people, a higher number than any other country in the world. However, 16 countries and territories — including Chile, Israel and the United Kingdom — have administered vaccines to more people per capita. It should be noted that these countries and territories have much smaller populations.

The Trump tax cut and the top 1%

Biden challenged Republican criticism of the $1.9 trillion cost of his pandemic relief law, which he noted would put money in the pockets of “ordinary people.”

He asked rhetorically whether people had heard Republicans complain about President Donald Trump’s $2 trillion tax cuts, which Biden said had “83% going to the top 1%.” Biden and other Democrats have repeatedly invoked the “83%” figure.

Facts First: This statistic needs context. While it’s correct to generally say the wealthiest Americans were the biggest beneficiaries of Trump’s 2017 tax cuts, the “83%” figure is a projection about what might happen under certain circumstances in 2027, not about what has happened already.

The Tax Policy Center estimated in 2017 that the top 1% would get about 83% of the benefits in 2027, if the law’s individual tax cuts (which were designed as temporary) were allowed to expire without an extension and the law’s corporate tax cuts (which were designed as permanent) continued to exist. For 2018, conversely, the Tax Policy Center estimated that the top 1% got 20.5% of the benefits, while the 95%-99% group got another 22.1%. For 2025, the estimate was 25.3% going to the top 1%, while the 95%-99% would get another 21.6%.

Biden was correct on his broader point that there is a substantial difference in how the new Biden law and the 2017 Trump law treat the rich and the poor. For example, the Tax Policy Center found that households earning $25,000 or less will receive an average tax cut of $2,800 this year from the new relief law, boosting their after-tax income by 20%. Under the Trump law, these households saw a $60 average reduction in the first year, or about 0.4% of their after-tax income.

The American Rescue Plan and economic growth

Biden claimed that since the American Rescue Plan passed, a “majority of forecasters have significantly increased their projections. Now projecting it will exceed 6%, a 6% growth in GDP.”

Facts First: It’s true that many economists upgraded their 2021 gross domestic product forecasts north of 6% either just before or after the legislation passed, but it’s hard to say whether a majority did without a survey of all economists.

Once the passage of a big Covid relief bill became more likely, several economists upgraded their forecasts of 2021 US GDP growth.

RSM chief economist Joe Brusuelas said the legislation would boost GDP by an additional 3 percentage points and is now predicting 7.2% growth in 2021.

In March, Goldman Sachs increased its 2021 US GDP growth projection to 7% from an earlier projection of 6.8%. Morgan Stanley is now predicting 7.3% growth, upgrading from the 6.4% it projected in December.

Republican support for the American Rescue Plan

Dismissing criticism from Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Biden said that he has the support of Republican voters. He said that even if McConnell says that “the last thing I did, this last piece of legislation, is so far left, well, then he ought to take a look at his party. Over 50% of them must be over that edge as well. Because they support what I did.”

Facts First: Biden has a reasonable basis for this claim; there is some polling that has shown that a majority of Republicans support the American Rescue Plan. Multiple other polls, however, have shown Republican support for the bill well below majority level. For example, a CNN poll conducted March 3-8 found 26% of Republicans supportive and 73% of Republicans opposed. Poll results have appeared to vary with the wording of pollsters’ questions.

A Morning Consult/Politico poll conducted February 19-22 found 60% support for the bill among Republican registered voters — after poll respondents were told about the plan’s $1.9 trillion cost and some key provisions, including the $1,400 direct payments. A Morning Consult/Politico poll conducted March 6-8 found 59% Republican support.

A Monmouth University poll conducted February 25-March 1, however, put Republican support at just 33%. In addition to standard differences in pollster methodology and sampling (the Monmouth poll surveyed adults, not registered voters in particular), it’s worth noting that Monmouth mentioned the plan’s $1.9 trillion cost before asking respondents their opinion but did not mention the $1,400 payments until after that question.

Even in the CNN poll in which 73% of Republicans expressed opposition to the bill overall, a majority of Republicans expressed support for three of its specific provisions: checks of up to $1,400 (55% support), billions for schools to help resume in-person classes (55%), and larger tax credits for families and making it easier for low-income families to claim them (73%). However, 71% of Republicans were opposed to the bill’s $350 billion in aid to state, local, tribal and territorial governments.

Children on the border

Addressing the recent influx of unaccompanied migrant children on the US southern border, Biden claimed that “nothing has changed” from the Trump administration — saying there had been a “28% increase in children on the border under my administration” versus a 31% increase in the same period of 2019 under Trump.

Facts First: Biden was wrong about the increase in children at the border during his own administration. He appeared to be mixing up two different statistics, one about children and one about migrants generally.

According to data from Customs and Border Protection, the number of unaccompanied children encountered on the border rose by 61% between January and February 2021, not the 28% Biden claimed. That is about double the increase between January and February 2019.

According to the Customs and Border Protection data, overall encounters with migrants on the border did increase 28% from January to February of this year. But Biden referred specifically to “children.”

This story has been updated with additional fact checks.

Article Topic Follows: National Politics

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