Former vice president Joe Biden sometimes has a loose definition of time.
During the novel coronavirus pandemic, Biden also has demonstrated a fuzzy sense of time. In the four cases documented below, he claims that he first called for a specific action sooner than he actually did. Sometimes he cites a Jan. 27 opinion article he published in USA Today, titled “Trump is worst possible leader to deal with coronavirus outbreak.” The op-ed appeared only days after the Chinese government shut down the city of Wuhan in an effort to stem the crisis. But the article itself was more of an attack on President Trump and a recollection of Obama administration steps taken against the 2014 Ebola outbreak than a detailed plan for action against a possible pandemic.
Calling for use of the Defense Production Act
April 1, El Show De Piolin: “The president was very, very slow out of the gate. I argued a month ago he should invoke what they call the Defense Production Act, but we didn’t have enough ventilators to go out and say this, under the law, the president can become the commander in chief as in wartime, and dictate that companies produce things that are badly needed."
March 31, Brian Williams’s show on MSNBC: “On January the 17th [sic], I think, I wrote an article for one of the major press outlets saying that we had to begin to act now. We knew what was happening in China and we talked — guys like me — and I’m not the only one — others talked about the need to employ the Defense Authorization legislation — act to be able to move, I think the president and his team have been very slow to move.”
March 30, MSNBC’s “Live With Katy Tur”: “I talked about doing the Defense Production Act before anyone came along.”
March 29, NBC’s “Meet the Press”: “I argued several weeks ago we should be using the Defense Production Act. It was there. I’ve been arguing for it for some time.”
The reality: The earliest we can find that Biden called for invoking the DPA was March 18, in a news release: “Prioritize and immediately increase domestic production of any critical medical equipment required to respond to this crisis — such as the production of ventilators and associated training to operate — by invoking the Defense Production Act, delegating authority to HHS and FEMA.”
Biden’s statement came just minutes after Trump first said he would invoke the DPA.
Trump has been reluctant to use the DPA, calling it a “hammer” he holds in reserve. So Biden would have every right to call him out on that score. But Biden can’t suggest he called for it as far back as January. His opinion article in USA Today did not mention the DPA.
Building temporary hospitals
April 7, interview on NBC10 in Philadelphia: “We also dealt with the whole pandemic that was in Africa. Kept it under control by doing what I urged the president to do months ago, he’s doing now, get the United States military in building hospitals, et cetera, tent hospitals and the like.”
The reality: Biden hadn’t raised building hospitals “months ago.” He first mentioned doing so March 12 during his speech on the coronavirus: “The president should order FEMA to prepare of [sic] the capacity with local authorities to establish temporary hospitals with hundreds of beds in short notice.”
Getting U.S. experts into China
March 30, MSNBC’s “Live With Katy Tur”: “I suggested we should have people in China at the outset of this event, when it all started, in Luhan province [sic]. And what happened? We did not insist that they go into the areas we wanted to. I just — that’s all I can do is do what I know has to be done. Say what I know has to be done.”
March 27, remarks at a virtual CNN town hall: “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 [Jinping]. 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 the country who was working — he pulled him out of the country.”
The reality: As we noted before, Biden first said this during a Democratic primary debate Feb. 25, not in January: “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.”
Not trusting China
March 26, “Jimmy Kimmel Live”: “I don’t understand, for example, when he was talking about China initially, talking about how Xi Jinping has done this great job and everything was working really well and I, and I wasn’t the only one who suggested that we send people — our experts into China — see for ourselves.”
The reality: Biden again suggests that he said this in January. But he first said China could not be trusted Feb. 26, during a CNN town hall: “The last point I’d make, and I know I’m going to get a lot of questions, is that what we did — what I would do were I president now, I would not be taking China’s word for it. I would insist that China allow our scientists in to make a hard determination of how it started, where it’s from, how far along it is. Because that is not happening now.”
(The Biden campaign did not dispute the dates we identified as Biden’s first public utterances on these topics.)
The Pinocchio Test
With Trump under fire for a slow and indecisive response to the coronavirus, Biden is clearly trying to demonstrate that he would have taken action sooner. That may well be case; certainly his op-ed indicated that he was concerned about this issue before many Americans had paid much attention. Unlike Trump, there is no record of Biden dismissing the urgency of the problem or suggesting that it will go away by itself.
But the vice president gets into trouble when he suggests that he first raised issues such as invoking the DPA or building hospitals as early as January — when in fact we can only trace such statements to late February or mid-March. By that point, the potential impact of the virus was becoming apparent to most Americans.
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