Fact check: Biden makes false claims about Covid-19, auto prices and other subjects at CNN town hall

President Joe Biden participated Wednesday in the second CNN town hall of his presidency, taking questions from anchor Don Lemon and local residents in Cincinnati.

As he did at his February town hall, Biden made a number of false or misleading claims. We haven’t been able to look into every single thing he said Wednesday night, but here is a rundown on some of his remarks.

Covid-19 vaccines

Calling on Americans to get vaccinated against Covid-19, Biden said, “If you’re vaccinated, you’re not going to be hospitalized, you’re not going to be in the ICU unit and you’re not going to die.” In another exchange moments later, Biden said that even if vaccinated people do “catch the virus,” they are “not likely to get sick.”

But then, during a third exchange, Biden said that since the vaccines “cover” the highly transmissible Delta variant of the virus: “You’re not going to get Covid if you have these vaccinations.”

Facts First: Biden’s second claim — that vaccinated people are “not likely to get sick” — was accurate. But the blanket promises in his first and third comments — that vaccinated people are simply “not going to be hospitalized,” “not going to die” and, even with the very contagious Delta variant, “not going to get Covid” — were inaccurate.

Covid-19 vaccines are highly effective, and they sharply reduce the likelihood of infection, serious illness and death. However, contrary to Biden’s categorical declarations, they do not guarantee that people will not get the virus or will not be hospitalized or die. Even vaccinated people on Biden’s own staff have been infected. So have a senior aide to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, multiple Democratic state legislators from Texas who have been in Washington, DC, this month; and various other high-profile people.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention does not endorse the definitive language Biden did. The CDC notes on its website that “vaccine breakthrough cases will occur, even though the vaccines are working as expected” and “there will be a small percentage of fully vaccinated people who still get sick, are hospitalized or die from Covid-19.”

Experts emphasize that it is uncommon for fully vaccinated people to become seriously ill from Covid-19. CDC director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said last Friday that more than 97% of Covid-19 patients hospitalized at present are unvaccinated; Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy said on CNN on Sunday that 99.5% of Covid-19 deaths at the moment are of unvaccinated people. But that means, of course, that hospitalizations and deaths among the fully vaccinated do sometimes occur, as various US jurisdictions have reported in recent days.

The CDC says that as of July 12 it had received reports of 1,063 deaths among vaccinated people with “breakthrough” cases, though it cautioned that 26% of these deaths were “reported as asymptomatic or not related to COVID-19.” The CDC said it had received reports of 5,189 hospitalizations among vaccinated people with “breakthrough” cases, though 28% were “reported as asymptomatic or not related to COVID-19.”

White House press secretary Jen Psaki sought to clarify Biden’s statement that “you’re not going to get Covid if you have these vaccinations.”

“Well, what the science says is that 97% of hospitalizations are people who were unvaccinated,” Psaki said Thursday. “So yes, there are cases of individuals who are vaccinated, to be absolutely clear, who have gotten Covid — it is a very small percentage, and a small number of people, and those cases, the vast, vast, vast majority, are asymptomatic and they have, they have minor symptoms, which means that you are largely protected — that was the point he was trying to make last night.”

Auto prices

After he was asked by a citizen if he is concerned about higher prices, especially inflation in gasoline, automotive and food prices, Biden asserted that “the cost of an automobile, it’s kind of back to what it was before the pandemic.”

Facts First: This is false, even with the wiggle room Biden granted himself with the phrase “kind of.” Because of challenges created by the Covid-19 pandemic, new car prices and used car prices are significantly higher today than they were before the pandemic, whether “before the pandemic” means mid-2019 or early 2020. Used car prices have experienced a particularly large increase.

For new and used vehicles in US cities, the Consumer Price Index was about 20% higher in June 2021 than it was in January 2020 and about 19% higher than in June 2019. Used cars and trucks were up about 43% in cities since January 2020 and about 41% since June 2019.

CNN Business senior writer Chris Isidore wrote Sunday that — according to Edmunds, a company that tracks auto prices — “the average new car transaction in June was just shy of the record $41,000 set in May, and up 10% from June 2019. The average used car price soared even more, rising 28% in that two-year period to reach a record $26,500.”

Kelley Blue Book, which also tracks auto prices, reported this week that the average transaction price for a new light vehicle in the US was an all-time high of $42,258 in June 2021, not including applied consumer incentives. That’s up about 12% from June 2019 and about 9% from January 2020, according to Kelley Blue Book spokeswoman Brenna Buehler.

Kayla Reynolds, industry intelligence analyst for Cox Automotive, which owns Kelley Blue Book, said in an email: “Historically tight new-vehicle inventory has helped push transaction prices higher throughout the past year. Incentives spending by the automakers has also dropped notably, and new-vehicle affordability hit a ten-year low in June.” Reynolds added that, given the global microchip shortage that is still affecting vehicle manufacturing, analysts at Cox Automotive “don’t expect new-vehicle inventory to return to normal levels until next year, and even then consumers can’t expect a significant price correction, only a slowing of price increases.”

Noncompete agreements

Biden criticized the broad corporate use of “noncompete” clauses that restrict workers’ ability to leave for jobs at other companies. He said, “For example, you have over 600,000 people out there signing — 6 million people signing a — I better check the number — of — signing noncompete agreements. Not because they have … any secret, but because they were working for one fast-food restaurant, and they’re told they can’t get 10 cents more going across town, going to the other fast-food restaurant. Why? To keep wages down.”

Facts First: Biden made very clear he wasn’t sure what the real number of workers was, but still the numbers he used were way off, according to his own administration’s previous estimates. Psaki told reporters on July 7 that noncompete agreements affect “over 30 million people” in the private sector. A White House document published on July 9, meanwhile, put the figure at “some 36 to 60 million workers,” citing an estimate from the Economic Policy Institute think tank.

In a July 9 executive order, Biden asked the chair of the Federal Trade Commission to “consider working” with the rest of the commission to use its authority “to curtail the unfair use of non-compete clauses and other clauses or agreements that may unfairly limit worker mobility.”

An infrastructure letter

Talking about the ongoing Senate negotiations over a bipartisan infrastructure bill, Biden said he thinks the negotiators need only until Monday to resolve outstanding issues. He said, “You had up to 20 Republicans sign a letter saying, ‘We think we need this deal. We think we need this deal.’ “

Facts First: If he was talking about the letter that was in the news the day he spoke, Biden exaggerated the extent of Republican support. According to Republican Sen. Rob Portman, 11 Republican senators sent a letter to Democratic Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer in which they made clear they would vote no if Schumer held a procedural vote on Wednesday to advance the bipartisan infrastructure proposal but that they intended to vote yes if a vote were held next Monday. (Biden did say “up to 20,” not plain “20,” but 11 is so far away from 20 that the claim is at least misleading.)

Biden might have gotten the letter to Schumer mixed up with a public statement Wednesday in support of the infrastructure talks, which was endorsed by 22 senators. But that statement, too, included the names of 11 Republicans — 10 senators and one House member.

The Wednesday vote failed. Schumer has the right to call another vote on Monday or in the future.

The child tax credit

Touting his expansion of the child tax credit, which was part of the $1.9 trillion relief package he signed into law in March, Biden claimed, “It’s called the child tax credit. If you have a child under the age of 7, you get 300 bucks a month — 350 bucks a month. If you have a child under — between 7 and 17, you get a total of 200 bucks a month.”

Facts First: Biden was inaccurate in two ways — both on the amount of the tax credit for the two age groups and on what the two age groups actually are.

The age groups used to determine how much money families receive from the tax credit are: 1) ages 6 to 17 (not 7 to 17 as Biden said): 2) under 6 (not under 7 as Biden said).

Eligible parents receive up to $250 per month for each child 6 to 17, not $200 as Biden said. They receive up to $300 a month for each child under 6; Biden originally cited this amount but then incorrectly boosted the figure to $350.

Biden’s initial vaccination goal

Biden said, “Now, by the way, remember when I first got elected, the issue was, well, I said I was going to do a million shots a week, and people said, ‘Biden can’t do that’ or ‘Biden team can’t do that.’ And it was 2 million.”

Facts First: Biden misspoke here. His initial goal — which some observers did indeed greet with skepticism — was 1 million Covid-19 shots a day, not 1 million shots “a week.” Specifically, Biden had set a target of 100 million shots in his first 100 days.

Biden then raised the target to 200 million shots in his first 100 days. That goal was achieved.

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