Politics

Fact-checking Biden’s address to the nation

President Joe Biden speaks about the COVID-19 pandemic during a prime-time address from the East Room of the White House, Thursday, March 11, 2021, in Washington. AP Photo/Andrew Harnik

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President Joe Biden’s address to the nation was heavy on emotion and hope, but light on facts. Here are two moments where the president stretched the truth.

“That’s more deaths than in World War I, World War II, Vietnam War and 9/11 combined.”

Biden’s math on this is wrong. The president said 527,726 Americans have been recorded as dying from the coronavirus. But, as we have noted before, about 580,000 people died in the three wars he mentioned.

World War I: 116,516 deaths

World War II: 405,399

Vietnam: 58,220

Adding in the nearly 3,000 people who died during the Sept. 11 attacks brings you to about 583,000.

In the past, the White House said that Biden had misspoke and meant to refer to combat deaths. Using just battlefield deaths, you come up with a much different number for the three wars – about 392,000. That’s because more than half the deaths in World War I were not on the battlefield, in part because the 1918 flu pandemic at the time also claimed many lives in the military.

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But in this case it’s rather strange for Biden to include 9/11 deaths (not in combat) and then mix that with combat deaths, especially because in-service deaths are more commonly used when referring to the military death toll in wars.

It’s also odd that the White House says Biden is referring to combat deaths – and yet he never seems to utter that caveat. (In his inaugural address, the story was that he was counting all in-service deaths, so it also makes little sense to suddenly change the metrics.)

“I set a goal that many you said was a kind of way over the top. I said I intended to get 100 million shots in people’s arms in my first hundred days in office.”

Biden has become the master of underpromising and then overdelivering, in contrast to former president Donald Trump. Trump, for instance, more than 20 times had promised 100 million doses would be delivered by the end of 2020 – and only about 21 million had been delivered by the time Biden took the oath of office on Jan. 20.

But the Trump administration improved its performance as it counted down to Trump’s last days in office. Vaccinations had reached a seven-day average of 980,000 by the time Biden took office — virtually the goal Biden initially set for himself. The Biden administration has now managed to more than double that daily total, but Biden was in the position of being assured of winning the race even before he started it.

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As for whether many Americans said the goal was “way over the top,” we are unaware of polling that would confirm that. Most news accounts depicted Biden’s goal as potentially difficult but not impossible when he announced it in early December.

The New York Times called the plan “ambitious,” adding that “fulfilling it will require no hiccups in manufacturing or distributing the vaccine and a willingness by Americans to be vaccinated.” The Washington Post also called it an “ambitious target” and USA Today pegged it a “lofty goal.”

“My eyes got big when I saw that,” Kavita Patel, a physician who served in the Obama White House, said at the time. “That’s not going to be easy to fulfill.”

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