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Fact checking the Republican National Convention, Night 1

Many of the speeches and elements focused on casting the president's pandemic response as a triumph, offering a misleading view of events.
Image: Donald Trump Jr and President Donald Trump
Donald Trump Jr., the president’s son, was among the speakers on the first night of the Republican National Convention on Monday to make some dubious claims.Chelsea Stahl / NBC News

The first night of the 2020 Republican National Convention commenced after the official business — the renomination of President Donald Trump — took place earlier in the day. The evening featured notable speakers, such as Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida, Republican Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina and the president's son Donald Trump Jr., as well as other figures who spoke to Trump's agenda.

NBC News fact checked the speeches as they happened.

Trump Jr. misleads in praise for father's handling of COVID-19 crisis

Trump Jr. said Monday night that as the coronavirus "began to spread, the president acted quickly and ensured ventilators got to hospitals that needed them most." He claimed that his father "delivered PP and E to our brave front-line workers" and that "he rallied the mighty American private sector to tackle this new challenge."

Doctors, public health experts and a prominent Republican governor on the front lines of the pandemic have sharply criticized how the Trump White House lagged in responding to the coronavirus, including delays in the distribution of ventilators and personal protective equipment, and public opinion surveys don't support a rosy assessment of Trump's leadership during this period.

Trump Jr.'s remarks omit the president's stance from January to March, when the president publicly downplayed the threat and predicted that the virus would disappear — time that public health experts have contended cost the U.S. in terms of developing all-important tests.

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican, ripped the slow and "bungled" federal response on testing, ventilators and other equipment. Hogan became so frustrated with the federal government's inability to help the state get testing kits that he cut a deal with the South Korean government himself, going around the Trump administration, to acquire 500,000 testing kits.

"I'd watched as the president downplayed the outbreak's severity and as the White House failed to issue public warnings, draw up a 50-state strategy, or dispatch medical gear or lifesaving ventilators from the national stockpile to American hospitals," Hogan wrote in an editorial for The Washington Post last month. "Eventually, it was clear that waiting around for the president to run the nation's response was hopeless; if we delayed any longer, we'd be condemning more of our citizens to suffering and death."

Trump, meanwhile, said March 18 that he was going to invoke the Defense Production Act — a 1950 law allowing the president to force U.S. businesses to produce materials in the national defense, such as ventilators and medical supplies for health care workers — but he waited a week to actually invoke it, finally using it on March 27 to force GM to make ventilators.

During that key stretch, hospitals and doctors implored the administration to use the Defense Production Act to increase the capacity to produce needed equipment. In a March 21 letter to Trump, the American Hospital Association, the American Medical Association and the American Nurses Association all urged Trump to "immediately use the DPA to increase the domestic production of medical supplies and equipment that hospitals, health systems, physicians, nurses and all front line providers so desperately need."

Meanwhile, Trump repeatedly dismissed the necessity of masks to help contain the spread of the disease until the middle of July, saying at various points that he wanted "people to have a certain freedom" and that "masks cause problems, too" — even though public health experts had long said wearing masks in public was one of the best tools people have to cut down on transmission of the virus.

In April, most Americans agreed that Trump was too slow in his initial response to the threat, according to the Pew Research Center.

Did Biden call Trump a racist over his coronavirus response?

"The president quickly took action and shut down travel from China. Joe Biden and his Democrat allies called my father a racist and xenophobe for doing it," Trump Jr. claimed.

Biden hasn't directly called the president's travel restriction — which shut down some travel into the U.S. from China in earlier days of the pandemic — xenophobic and racist, but he did denounce Trump's coronavirus response as "xenophobic" both a day after the travel restriction was announced and in another tweet in March.

Was Biden describing the travel ban or the racist term Trump uses to describe the coronavirus, which originated in Wuhan? Here's the tweet:

Biden has, more generally, characterized Trump as a racist.

"The way he deals with people based on the color of their skin, their national origin, where they're from, is absolutely sickening," Biden said in July when asked about the president's repeated use of the racist term for the virus. "We've had racists, and they've existed. They've tried to get elected president. He's the first one that has."

Do Democrats want to give tax breaks to Manhattan millionaires?

Republicans repeatedly criticized Democrats for including a tax break that would affect high-earning taxpayers in states like California and New York in COVID-19 relief bills Monday night.

"And now Joe Biden wants to come for your pocketbooks. Unless, of course, you're a blue state millionaire," Scott said. "I'm serious. That's one of their solutions for the pandemic. They want to take more money from your pocket and give it to Manhattan elites and Hollywood moguls so they get a tax break." Trump Jr. made a similar remark.

It's accurate to say Democrats have advocated for repealing a Trump tax change that capped state and local deductions from federal taxes. The so-called SALT deduction benefits high-income earners in high-tax jurisdictions, like Manhattan and Hollywood. That having been said, Scott oversimplifies how tax cuts work — the SALT cap repeal isn't taking money from the poor and giving it to the wealthy. It's lowering how much blue state taxpayers pay on their own incomes.

It's a decidedly partisan issue: The people hit by the SALT tax cap are typically from blue states like New York and California, both of which pay far more money into U.S. tax coffers than they receive in federal funding, making up for other states that get more federal funding than their taxpayers put in. And the cap was written into Trump's tax overhaul to help pay for other tax cuts that benefited wealthy people and corporations.

Scott says Biden's 1994 crime bill 'put millions of Black Americans behind bars'

Scott said Monday night that in 1994, when he was a senator from Delaware, "Biden led the charge on a crime bill that put millions of Black Americans behind bars."

The crime bill Scott referred to contributed to mass incarceration, studies have shown. Here's more context for the claim.

The Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, or the 1994 crime bill, as it became known, earmarked billions of dollars in funding for states to build prisons and to train and hire additional police, expanded the federal death penalty and instituted a federal "three-strikes" life sentence mandate.

Biden helped write the bill, which President Bill Clinton signed into law. Critics in both parties — not only Trump, but also several of Biden's former rivals for the Democratic nomination, including Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., his running mate — have said it contributed to mass incarceration.

Different studies have come to different conclusions. Some — like a 2016 Brennan Center analysis — have said that although the bill wasn't the root cause of "mass incarceration," it was "the most high-profile legislation to increase the number of people behind bars."

The crime bill granted states billions to build prisons if they passed laws requiring inmates to serve at least 85 percent of their sentences, the Brennan Center said, noting that 30 states introduced or amended laws from 1995 to 1999 so they would be in compliance and receive the money. By 1999, 42 states had "truth-in-sentencing" laws on the books, which contributed to an increase in imprisonment.

But a 2019 report titled "Racial Disparity in U.S. Imprisonment Across States and Over Time," published in the Journal of Quantitative Criminology, found that while the law increased overall mass incarceration, it didn't widen the existing disparity in imprisonment rates between Black people and white people.

"Whatever its other effects, this suggests that the 1994 crime bill did not aggravate the preexisting racial disparity in imprisonment," the report said.

Others, like Marc Mauer, executive director of The Sentencing Project, a criminal justice reform and advocacy group, have said suggestions that the bill was the key driver of mass incarceration were "off base."

Echoing Trump, Patty McCloskey warns Biden wants to abolish suburbs. (He doesn't.)

Patty McCloskey, who along with her husband was caught on video brandishing firearms at Black Lives Matter protesters outside their St. Louis home in June, accused Biden and "radical" Democrats of wanting "to abolish the suburbs altogether by ending single-family home zoning."

"This forced rezoning would bring crime, lawlessness and low-quality apartments into now-thriving suburban neighborhoods," said McCloskey, who, with her husband, Mark, was charged with felony unlawful use of a weapon in the incident.

Those claims are all false.

Her statement echoes a key campaign claim by Trump, who has pointed to Biden's support for an Obama-era rule to combat racial discrimination in housing as the basis of the allegation.

The policy pushed by Biden, however, aims only to help the federal government work with local government agencies to create more affordable housing units in all communities. That includes in "communities where U.S. government policies purposely excluded their ability to buy homes and rent homes" — like the suburbs.

The broader rule in question, the Affirmatively Further Fair Housing rule, was designed to help implement provisions of the Fair Housing Act of 1968.

Political analysts, including NBC News' Jonathan Allen, have pointed out that Trump, in saying Biden wants to "abolish the suburbs," is actually saying Biden is just trying to enforce a federal rule to counter segregation in housing.

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The strategy, Allen wrote last month, amounts to a racism-fueled warning to white suburbanites who have been fleeing the Republican Party that Biden essentially wants to stop suburban segregation.

"His campaign sounds more like George Wallace than Ronald Reagan," Democratic strategist Michael Starr Hopkins told Allen last month. "His message is clear: 'Elect me and I'll keep Black people out of your neighborhoods and out of your schools.'"

Suburbs, of course, are, loosely defined; they are simply the areas around major metropolitan areas with more wealth and less housing density. And while it is accurate to say the racial composition of suburbs has changed significantly over time (in 2018, Pew reported that the white share of the population in suburban counties had fallen by 8 percentage points, to 68 percent, since 2000), communities within suburbia remain highly segregated — for a complex set of reasons, Allen wrote.

Trump, however, has said as much, arguing that local agencies should get federal housing subsidies even if they refuse to desegregate.

"The Democrats in D.C. have been and want to at a much higher level abolish our beautiful and successful suburbs by placing far-left Washington bureaucrats in charge of local zoning decisions," Trump said at a White House event last month. "Our plan is to protect the suburbs from being obliterated by Washington Democrats, by people on the far left that want to see the suburbs destroyed — that don't care. People who have worked all their lives to get into a community and now they're going to watch it go to hell."

Trump suggests Democrats want to get rid of the Postal Service. (That's false.)

During a conversation with front-line workers that was played during the convention, the president falsely suggested that Democrats are the party of "getting rid of our postal workers."

"We're taking good care of our postal workers," Trump said. "Believe me, we're not getting rid of our postal workers, you know? They'd like to sort of put that out there. If anyone does, it's the Democrats, not the Republicans."

Democrats have spent months pushing for more funding for the U.S. Postal Service. Over the weekend, the Democratic-controlled House advanced a bipartisan bill that would put $25 billion in emergency funding toward the struggling Postal Service. Trump has opposed such funding, in part because, he has said, he doesn't want more voting by mail, but he has said he's open to a compromise.

Kimberly Guilfoyle calls herself the daughter of two immigrants. Her mom's from Puerto Rico.

Trump surrogate Kimberly Guilfoyle described herself as a "first-generation American" on Monday and described both her mother — "a special education teacher from Aguadilla, Puerto Rico" — and her Ireland-born father as immigrants. People born in Puerto Rico are U.S. citizens.

Republicans claim Democrats want to defund the police. Biden isn't in favor.

Republican speakers made misleading claims about calls from some politicians to reform or "defund" the police.

"The police aren't coming when you call in Democrat-run cities. They're already being defunded, disbanded. Blaming our best and allowing society's worst? That's the story they write in Hollywood," Gaetz said in his remarks early on in the evening.

Referring to last week's Democratic National Convention, Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel said shortly afterward: "Democrats spent a lot of time talking about how much they despise our president. But we heard very little about their actual policies. Policies that would have been unthinkable a decade ago. Policies like banning fossil fuels, eliminating private health insurance, taxpayer-funded health care for people who come here illegally and defunding the police."

While some on the left have embraced calls to cut police funding, Biden and the Democratic Party aren't among them. Biden says he supports adding funding for local police forces and using more psychologists and social workers to do police work. The official Democratic platform, approved last week, includes no references to defunding the police.

Asked recently by ABC News whether he supports defunding the police, Biden said, "No, I don't."

Some cities run by Democratic mayors have sought to reduce police funding — New York shifted $1 billion out of the police budget — and some, like Minneapolis, have considered a fundamental rethinking of policing. But that doesn't mean Americans have been left without police. New York City's police still have a $5 billion operating budget. Efforts to disband the Minneapolis police through a ballot initiative have failed so far.

Trump falsely claims he 'protected pre-existing conditions.' (He didn't.)

Earlier in the day, Trump inaccurately told a crowd in Charlotte, North Carolina, that he has "strongly protected pre-existing conditions" in medical coverage.

"We strongly protected your pre-existing conditions. We got rid of the horrible mandate," he said Monday, referring to his 2017 tax law that zeroed out the penalty for not carrying insurance. "Every Republican is sworn to protecting your pre-existing condition. You won't hear that."

In fact, Trump has pursued legislation, litigation and executive actions that would weaken protections for people with pre-existing conditions, which were set up under the Affordable Care Act of 2010.

Trump championed legislation in 2017 to undo the act and allow states to obtain waivers from rules that bar insurers from charging more from people with pre-existing illnesses. (The effort passed the House but stalled in the Senate.)

The Trump administration is backing a lawsuit led by Republican attorneys general that would wipe out the Affordable Care Act, including its pre-existing condition protections. He hasn't offered an alternative plan to restore them. And Trump has expanded the use of short-term plans that are cheaper and that aren't required to cover pre-existing conditions.