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Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden speaks during a Black economic summit in Charlotte, N.C., on Sept. 23, 2020. (AP) Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden speaks during a Black economic summit in Charlotte, N.C., on Sept. 23, 2020. (AP)

Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden speaks during a Black economic summit in Charlotte, N.C., on Sept. 23, 2020. (AP)

Louis Jacobson
By Louis Jacobson September 29, 2020

If Your Time is short

• On our Truth-O-Meter, Biden has been rated True 21 times, Mostly True 37 times, Half True 36 times, Mostly False 30 times, False 26 times, and Pants on Fire six times. Of these 156 ratings, about 40% were in the bottom half of our ratings system, that is, Mostly False or below.

• At PolitiFact, we are committed to fact-checking newsworthy, questionable and interesting claims, regardless of who said them. Read more about our process of how we select claims to check.

PolitiFact was barely four months old when we published our first fact-check of Joe Biden.

It came almost 13 years ago, in mid-October 2007, during the thick of the Democratic presidential primary contest, and it involved a somewhat arcane point on troop withdrawals from Iraq during a debate. Biden, who would drop out of the 2008 presidential primary, was attacking Bill Richardson, another primary candidate who, like Biden, would also drop out.

RELATED: How has Donald Trump fared on the Truth-O-Meter?

But Biden was eventually tapped by the primary winner, Barack Obama, as his running mate and served eight years as vice president. After leaving office, Biden would mount another run for the presidency, and earlier this year, he won the nomination. All this time, Biden has been a regular fixture on the Truth-O-Meter.

Overall, Biden has been rated True 21 times, Mostly True 37 times, Half True 36 times, Mostly False 30 times, False 26 times, and Pants on Fire six times. Of these 156 ratings, about 40% were in the bottom half of our ratings system, Mostly False or below.

Going back to Biden’s old fact-checks is a bit of a time warp. In 2008, during the primary, he took a shot at the future president he’d serve alongside, saying "Barack Obama hasn't passed any" bills in the Senate. (Rating: False.)

Biden also had a variety of attacks against John McCain, the 2008 Republican presidential nominee. Showing that politics is always changing, McCain’s widow Cindy recently endorsed Biden over fellow Republican Donald Trump.

A 2009 fact-check of Biden is eerily prescient for the coronavirus era: "When one person sneezes, it goes all the way through the aircraft." That one earned a Pants on Fire, based on assertions by scientists and published papers that sneeze particles might travel a couple of rows but not up and down the entire plane.

Biden’s first attack on Trump came in August 2016, when he said Trump "is going to go out and carpet bomb" the Middle East. That rated False; it was actually Trump’s primary opponent, Ted Cruz, who had said something similar.

Some of Biden’s highest-rated statements have come from accurately portraying his own record. He said, "I’m one of the first guys to introduce a climate change bill, way, way back in ‘87," and "I never called for a partition" of Iraq, both of which earned a True rating. He earned a Mostly True for saying, "I entered as one of the poorest men in Congress, left one of the poorest men in government, in Congress and as vice president."

More substantive statements have also earned the rating of Mostly True, such as "More cops have died from COVID this year than have been killed on patrol," "Trump lost a trade war that he started," and "We’re no longer the wealthiest middle class in the world."

A sizable chunk of the statements where Biden received a negative rating seem to have been made off the cuff.

Recently, Biden said that "a Black man invented the light bulb, not a white guy named Edison," which inflated the role of another inventor and earned a Mostly False.

When Biden said after the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg that "there's no court session between now and the end of this election," that was easily disproved by the high court’s own website. We rated it False. 

Biden earned a False when he said, "Military COVID infected: 118,984. Military COVID deaths: 6,114." His campaign said he misread the numbers for Michigan, not the military.

He also said that "you weren't allowed to own a cannon during the Revolutionary War as an individual." We talked to experts who said that wasn’t the case.

In other cases, Biden earned a False rating for more substantive exaggerations. He said, "If the president had done his job, had done his job from the beginning, all the people would still be alive. All the people. I'm not making this up. Just look at the data." Experts agreed that no president would have been able to save every American life from the coronavirus.

Biden was also incorrect to say he was the first person to call for invoking the Defense Production Act to fight the coronavirus; we found multiple Democrats who urged that course before he did.

Early in the pandemic, Biden earned a False for saying that because the Federal Reserve had recently cut interest rates to near 0%, "the Fed will be of little consequence now. They’ve already used what leverage they have." Experts told us there were other levers that the Fed could use to protect the economy.

And Biden went too far in criticizing the Trump administration’s immigration policies, saying the Obama administration "didn't lock people up in cages." Under Obama, that did happen at times, though not as extensively as would later happen under Trump.

All told, Biden has had only six Pants on Fire ratings. 

Recently, Biden said that when Trump walked across Lafayette Square to a church, he held the Bible upside down. That was a belief that went viral on social media but was easily disproved by photographic and video evidence.

Biden also misremembered or miscast an experience from his own life, saying, "I had the great honor of being arrested with our U.N. ambassador on the streets of Soweto trying to get to see (Nelson Mandela) on Robbens Island." Biden was actually stopped at an airport when he was traveling with African American colleagues; PolitiFact interviewed former UN ambassador Andrew Young to confirm the details. Biden later changed his story to say that he was stopped but not arrested.

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