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President Donald Trump speaks during a news conference in the Rose Garden of the White House.  (AP Photo/Evan Vucci) President Donald Trump speaks during a news conference in the Rose Garden of the White House.  (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

President Donald Trump speaks during a news conference in the Rose Garden of the White House. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Sophie Austin
By Sophie Austin July 19, 2020
Jon Greenberg
By Jon Greenberg July 19, 2020
Louis Jacobson
By Louis Jacobson July 19, 2020
Miriam Valverde
By Miriam Valverde July 19, 2020

If Your Time is short

  • Trump exaggerated the proposed moves on deportations and falsely said Democrats would tear down barriers at the border. 

  • Trump misleadingly cast proposed changes in education policy as the total elimination of school choice. He turned access to housing for ex-felons into free housing.

  • Trump incorrectly said several of Biden’s criminal justice policies would benefit violent criminals.

  • Trump falsely said Democrats plan to mandate net-zero emission buildings and get rid of windows on buildings.

President Donald Trump listed scores of what he called "extreme" recommendations that emerged from weeks of meetings between advisers to Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders.

Biden, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, and Sanders, the leading voice for the most progressive Democrats, released a sweeping 110-page document covering platform positions on immigration, health care, climate change and more. Trump’s critique was similarly extensive.

"The Biden-Sanders agenda is the most extreme platform of any major party nominee, by far, in American history," Trump said July 14 in a Rose Garden speech before listing his takeaways of the Biden-Sanders Unity Task Force recommendations. "These are actual key elements of the Biden-Sanders unity platform."

What followed, however, were many distortions.

Trump exaggerated the proposed moves on deportations and falsely said Democrats would tear down barriers at the border. He cast changes in education policy as the total elimination of school choice. He turned access to housing for ex-felons into free housing. He incorrectly said several of Biden’s criminal justice policies would benefit violent criminals. He falsely said the task force is proposing a mandate for net-zero emission buildings and getting rid of windows on buildings.

He also got some points right. We vetted 22 of Trump’s accusations.


"Abolish immigration detention. No more detention. You come in here illegally, no more detention."

This is inaccurate. The proposal calls for an end to for-profit detention centers, but not an abolition of all detention centers. It says the government should prioritize the use of Department of Homeland Security facilities. Detention should be "a last resort, not the default," the recommendation said.

"Stop all deportation. So if we get a MS-13 gang member, which we've taken out of our country by the thousands — brought them back to Honduras, Guatemala — can't do that anymore."

This is misleading. The plan doesn’t say to permanently stop deportations. It calls for a 100-day moratorium on deportations of people already in the country (not people arriving at the border). The task force recommended that during the pause, there be a full-scale review of U.S. deportation practices.

"End prosecution of illegal border crossers. Oh, okay, they come in illegally, and we have to stop the whole process."

This is misleading. The task force wants to end some prosecutions, but not all. It recommended prioritizing the criminal prosecution of human traffickers, smugglers, and others engaged in serious crimes.

The task force recommended getting rid of the Trump administration’s "zero-tolerance" policy that caused the separation of more than 2,000 children from their parents. The group also recommended ending prosecution of asylum seekers arriving at the border. Under federal and international law, immigrants may request asylum even if they entered the country illegally.

Under Biden’s policy, immigrants in the country illegally "get welfare benefits. United States citizens don't get what they're looking to give illegal immigrants." 

This is False. The task force recommended that Biden extend health care coverage to immigrants illegally in the country by allowing them to purchase insurance through the Affordable Care Act marketplace, and allowing them to have health care coverage during a pandemic. Being allowed to buy health insurance isn’t the same as getting welfare.

The group also recommended easing federal benefits restrictions on immigrants — but for those lawfully present in the United States. The recommendations do not restrict or deny benefits to U.S. citizens or give immigrants illegally in the country an upper hand.

"Increase refugee admissions by 700%."

This needs context. What Democrats are proposing is to raise the refugee admission cap to around the level that existed before Trump took office.

Trump has reduced the refugee admissions ceiling every year he’s been in office. The ceiling for fiscal year 2020 — 18,000 refugees — is the lowest in the history of the U.S. refugee admissions program. The task force recommended admitting 125,000 in Biden’s first year, that would be a nearly 600% increase from 2020’s ceiling. Compared to the 110,000 proposed by Obama for 2017, an admission of 125,000 refugees would be an increase of about 14%.

"What they're going to do is they're going to rip down the wall. They're taking it down."

That’s not the recommendation. The document does not say that existing structures should be ripped down. Rather, it calls for an end to the national emergency designation Trump issued to access Defense Department funding for border barriers

Education and Housing

"End school choice." 

This is Mostly False. It holds only if your definition of school choice is limited to vouchers to private schools, which the Biden-Sanders unity platform opposes. But the school choice movement includes charter schools, magnet schools and letting kids apply to go to the public school of their choice, rather than requiring them to attend their neighborhood school. In those terms, nothing in the policy paper ends school choice.

"End tax credit scholarships serving disadvantaged students in 26 states."

This is basically right. The platform opposes "any and all voucher and neo-voucher programs such as Education Savings Accounts and Tax-credit Scholarship programs." In about half the states, a person or corporation can reduce their state tax payments by some or all of the  amount they donate to a fund that distributes private school scholarship funds to deserving students.

"Abolish all charter schools."

This is wrong. The policy paper proposes shuttering for-profit charter schools, demands high standards for all others, and gives public school districts a powerful say over the use of federal dollars to start new charters or expand existing ones. But that might not matter for current charters that don’t depend on federal money.

"Abolish educational standards."

This is a mischaracterization. The education section calls for "high quality assessment systems." What it opposes are "high-stakes testing" that it might mislabel students. The platform encourages districts to develop multiple approaches to assessing learning and progress.

"You’re going to abolish the suburbs"

An extreme interpretation. The unity policy paper seeks to bring back an Obama administration requirement that local governments work with Washington to examine housing and segregation and come up with plans to fix systemic bias. The goal was to produce more affordable housing, including in suburbs but not only them. For opponents such as Trump, the effort risked lower property values as low-income housing came into neighborhoods. For supporters, it was a collaborative planning model that would reward localities for coming up with practical solutions.

Criminal justice

"They want to abolish our police departments. They want to abolish our prisons, I guess."

Pants on Fire! The document does not say anything about abolishing police departments, and while the document does support abolishing privately owned and privately run prisons, equating that with abolishing all prisons is highly misleading.

"End cash bail, releasing dangerous criminals onto our streets."

The unity document does support ending of cash bail, but this proposal is not aimed at "dangerous criminals." The Biden-Sanders unity platform argues that bail penalizes poor people arrested for minor crimes and leaves them in jail for months awaiting trial. Proposals such as the New York state law passed in 2019 apply only for minor, nonviolent offenses.

"Appoint social justice prosecutors in order to free violent criminals."

The document says nothing about releasing "violent criminals." It proposes appointing "people committed to criminal justice reform to key prosecutorial positions," including the U.S. attorney general and U.S. attorneys. It also urges that state prosecutors "ensure public safety while reducing incarceration."

"Free federal housing for former inmates."

This is an exaggeration. The document says Biden would "remove restrictions on access to public housing" for former inmates and "ensure that 100% of returning citizens have access to transitional housing upon reentry from jail or prison." It does not say that this housing would be granted rent-free.

"Abolish completely the death penalty."

This is accurate. The unity document reads "Democrats continue to support abolishing the death penalty." But while abolishing the death penalty is not yet a majority position among Americans, it’s inching closer to becoming one. According to Gallup, opposition to the death penalty bottomed out in 1995 at 16% of respondents and has risen steadily to 42% in 2019.

"End mandatory minimums" in sentencing.

Yes, the unity document says this. And this idea is even more popular than abolishing the death penalty. The Pew Charitable Trusts found in 2016 that nearly 80% of respondents favored ending mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses. 

"End solitary confinement."

The unity document does say this, though it allowed that solitary confinement could be used in "rare, exceptional cases."

Climate change

"Rejoin Paris Climate Accord and seek an even higher level of restrictions." 

This is correct. The task force recommends "rejoining the Paris Climate Agreement and seeking higher ambition on Day One, putting the United States back in the position of global leadership where we belong."

Says Biden plans to "mandate net-zero carbon emissions for homes, offices and all new buildings by 2030. That basically means no windows, no nothing." 

False. The unity paper recommends a goal of net-zero emissions buildings, not a mandate. Buildings can have windows and achieve net-zero emissions.

"We will set a bold, national goal of achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions for all new buildings by 2030," the paper says. 

"Mandate zero carbon emissions from power plants by 2035."

This is misleading. The task force recommends eliminating carbon pollution from power plants by 2035, but it doesn’t mention a mandate. 

Says Biden plans to "mandate net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. And I believe he’s changing that. He’s bringing it down. He wants no petroleum product. He wants no oil or gas."

This is partially correct. The unity platform says the country should achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions "as soon as possible, and no later than 2050." 

But it doesn’t propose immediately ceasing oil and gas production. It does recommend reducing "conventional and greenhouse gas pollution in all regulated sectors, including the regulation of oil and gas."

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