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President Donald Trump talks with host Bill Hemmer during a Fox News virtual town hall with members of the coronavirus task force, in the Rose Garden at the White House, March 24, 2020, in Washington. (AP/Evan Vucci) President Donald Trump talks with host Bill Hemmer during a Fox News virtual town hall with members of the coronavirus task force, in the Rose Garden at the White House, March 24, 2020, in Washington. (AP/Evan Vucci)

President Donald Trump talks with host Bill Hemmer during a Fox News virtual town hall with members of the coronavirus task force, in the Rose Garden at the White House, March 24, 2020, in Washington. (AP/Evan Vucci)

Miriam Valverde
By Miriam Valverde March 27, 2020

Fact-checking whether Biden called Trump ‘xenophobic’ for restrictions on travel from China

If Your Time is short

  • Biden has not directly said that the restrictions were xenophobic. 

  • Around the time the Trump administration announced the travel restriction,  Biden said that Trump had a “record of hysteria, xenophobia, and fear-mongering.” 

  • Biden used the phrase “xenophobic” in reply to a Trump tweet about limiting entry to travelers from China and in which Trump described the coronavirus as the “Chinese virus.” Biden did not spell out which part of Trump’s tweet was xenophobic.

Amid criticism of his administration’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, President Donald Trump routinely flags one action as efficient and bold: restricting travel from China into the United States.

Trump has said he instituted a travel ban against everyone’s wishes and that "nobody," not even doctors, wanted him to restrict travel. But "probably tens of thousands" of people would be dead now if he hadn’t done so, he claimed on Fox News March 24.

At the same time, he’s claimed that former Vice President Joe Biden, a contender for the Democratic nomination for president, called him racist and xenophobic for restricting entry from China.

"I had Biden calling me xenophobic," Trump said on Sean Hannity’s Fox News prime-time show March 26. "He called me a racist, because of the fact that he felt it was a racist thing to stop people from China coming in."

Trump has said that about Biden at least three other times — on Twitter, at a White House briefing, and during the Fox News town hall.

But Biden has not directly said that the travel restriction was xenophobic. He has used that phrase in reference to Trump and his handling of the coronavirus outbreak. Biden’s campaign told PolitiFact that Biden’s tweets were not specific to the restrictions on people coming from China.

Biden’s use of the word "xenophobic"

The White House press office said Trump’s claim is supported by a tweet Biden posted Feb. 1, the day after the Trump administration announced travel restrictions on people who were in China 14 days prior to their attempted entry into the United States.

Biden tweeted: "We are in the midst of a crisis with the coronavirus. We need to lead the way with science — not Donald Trump’s record of hysteria, xenophobia, and fear-mongering. He is the worst possible person to lead our country through a global health emergency."

But Biden did not explicitly tie xenophobia to the travel restriction. His tweet reflects coronavirus remarks he made during a campaign stop in Iowa Jan. 31, the day the travel restrictions were announced.

Biden said: "This is no time for Donald Trump's record of hysteria xenophobia, hysterical xenophobia, and fear-mongering to lead the way instead of science."

Featured Fact-check

Biden again used the word "xenophobic" in March — once at a press conference and once in response to a Trump tweet. In the first, Biden was criticizing Trump for labeling coronavirus a "foreign" virus. In the second, it’s not clear whether Biden’s use of the word was in direct reference to the travel restriction.

During a March 12 press conference Biden said, the United States should not be overly dismissive of the outbreak, "but neither should we panic or fall back on xenophobia, labeling COVID-19 a foreign virus does not displace accountability for the misjudgments that have been taken thus far by the Trump administration."

Earlier that day, the Trump campaign tweeted that Democrats and news outlets were "accusing President Trump of racism and xenophobia" for his use of the phrase "Chinese virus."

On March 18, Trump tweeted: "I always treated the Chinese Virus very seriously, and have done a very good job from the beginning, including my very early decision to close the ‘borders’ from China - against the wishes of almost all. Many lives were saved. The Fake News new narrative is disgraceful & false!"

Biden replied the same day: "Stop the xenophobic fear-mongering. Be honest. Take responsibility. Do your job."

The tweet that Biden responded to included the phrase "Chinese virus," which experts say could foster discrimination toward people of Chinese or Asian origin.

Andrew Bates, a Biden campaign spokesman, said Biden "has decried Trump's xenophobia for years, and was saying that it shouldn't influence the U.S. approach to this outbreak. This was not in reference to coronavirus travel restrictions."

Travel restrictions that are supported by science, advocated by public health officials, and backed by a full strategy can be warranted, Bates said.

Our ruling

Speaking of his restriction on travel from China, Trump said, "I had Biden calling me xenophobic. … . He called me a racist, because of the fact that he felt it was a racist thing to stop people from China coming in."

Biden has not directly said that the restrictions were xenophobic. Around the time the Trump administration announced the travel restriction, Biden said that Trump had a "record of hysteria, xenophobia, and fear-mongering." Biden used the phrase "xenophobic" in reply to a Trump tweet about limiting entry to travelers from China and in which he described the coronavirus as the "Chinese virus." Biden did not spell out which part of Trump’s tweet was xenophobic.

Trump’s statement contains an element of truth but ignores critical facts that would give a different impression. We rate it Mostly False.

Our Sources

Email interview, White House press office, March 26, 2020

Email interview, Andrew Bates, Joe Biden campaign spokesman, March 26, 2020

Hannity.com, Interview with President Donald Trump, March 26, 2020

Rev.com, President Donald Trump’s Fox News town hall, March 24, 2020

Factba.se, President Donald Trump’s March 21, 2020 press briefing

Twitter, @realDonaldTrump tweet, March 18, 2020; tweet, March 23, 2020

Twitter, @JoeBiden tweet, Feb. 1, 2020; tweet, March 18, 2020

Twitter, @TrumpWarRoom tweet, March 12, 2020

WhiteHouse.gov, Proclamation on Suspension of Entry as Immigrants and Nonimmigrants of Persons who Pose a Risk of Transmitting 2019 Novel Coronavirus, Jan. 31, 2020; Remarks by President Trump in Address to the Nation, March 11, 2020

Rev.com, Joe Biden Speech Transcript on Coronavirus, March 12, 2020

PolitiFact, Donald Trump calls the coronavirus the ‘Chinese virus.’ Health experts say that’s wrong, March 19, 2020

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