Fact checking Biden’s claims on the trade deficit, auto bailout and his yearly income

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In a rare campaign trip during the pandemic, Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden made several stops in Michigan Wednesday, giving a speech, holding a roundtable with several steelworkers, and giving an interview to CNN’s Jake Tapper.

We took a look at several claims Biden made during these stops and the facts behind them.

Trade deficit

During a campaign speech in Michigan, focused on manufacturing and his support for unions, Biden claimed that the US trade deficit has hit a record high under the current administration.

“Under President Trump, US trade deficit has grown,” Biden said. “It’s hit an all-time high. Let me say that again. US trade deficit is at an all-time high, under Trump in the last three years.”

Facts First: Biden is wrong. While the trade deficit has grown under Trump, measuring for both goods and services, the overall trade deficit has not hit an all-time high under Trump. Measured by just goods however, Biden is correct. However, he did not specify that he was talking only about goods.

The trade deficit refers to the balance left over after subtracting the amount of goods and services imported to a country from the number exported. While some see trade deficits as a negative thing, many economists dispute that characterization.

The total trade deficit hit a record $763.5 billion in 2006 under George W. Bush. By the end of Barack Obama’s term it had fluctuated and fallen to $481.2 billion in 2016, according to the Census Bureau.

The deficit rose under Trump, hitting $576.9 billion in 2019, despite Trump’s promises during the 2016 campaign that he’d reduce it.

If you looked only at the trade deficit of goods and ignore the surplus of services — which includes things like communication, technical and financial services — the US had a record breaking trade deficit of $880.3 billion in 2018. That year also saw a record trade surplus in services of $300.4 billion.

The US has not seen a trade surplus of goods and services since 1970.

Auto bailout

On Twitter Wednesday, Biden wrote “President Obama and I rescued the auto industry.”

Facts First: Biden is leaving out crucial context in not mentioning the efforts of President George W. Bush.

With just weeks left in his presidency and in the midst of the great recession and an automotive crisis in the US, Bush announced on December 19, 2008 a $17.4 billion auto bailout — $13.4 billion of which would be distributed almost immediately.

After an auto bailout bill was rejected by the Senate, Bush took this money from the Troubled Asset Relief Program. Obama continued where Bush left off, and by June of 2009, had given — combined with the amount under Bush — $80 billion in bankruptcy loans from TARP, mostly to Chrysler and General Motors.

Biden’s paycheck

In discussing his tax plan — which would raise taxes for those making over $400,000 a year — Biden claimed he has never made that much money.

“We’re not going to punish anybody,” Biden said in a conversation with several Michigan steelworkers Wednesday. “No one making under $400,000, which is more money than I’ve ever made, is going to have to pay more taxes.”

Facts First: The Biden’s have made more than $400,000, though only in the last few years.

In 2017, after leaving office, Biden and his wife Jill reported an income of $11 million and in 2018 they brought in $4.6 million. Much of the new revenue came from book sales and speaking engagements, according to Forbes.

The only other year the Bidens made over $400,000 was in 2013 when they made $407,009.

Otherwise, the Bidens have, year by year, pulled in less than the $400,000 mark that would take on additional taxes under his plan.


Criticizing Trump after multiple reports, including from The Atlantic, that Trump called soldiers who died in battle “losers,” Biden brought up his son Beau’s service. Trump has denied saying it.

“My son volunteered to go — as the assistant US Attorney in Philadelphia — to go into Kosovo. He was there six months,” Biden told CNN’s Jake Tapper Wednesday. “They erected a monument to him thanking him for his service, I think the only American that they did that for. And was he a sucker?”

Facts First: There is a road named after Beau Biden in Kosovo and a monument there in his honor. But it’s not true that Beau Biden is the only American to receive such honors.

The year following his death from brain cancer, Kosovo erected the monument and renamed a highway in honor of Beau, who served as a legal adviser to help rebuild the war-torn area’s justice system in 2001.

Kosovo has done this for other US officials as well. As the Delaware newspaper News Journal reported at the time of Beau’s tribute:

“Kosovo has a long history of naming roads after American officials, a tribute to the U.S. involvement in the nation’s 2008 independence from Serbia. Former presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush have roadways named after them.”

There are streets and statues of Clinton and former Sen. Bob Dole in Kosovo.

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