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Louis Jacobson
By Louis Jacobson June 21, 2024

Joe Biden cherry-picks Donald Trump statement on cutting Social Security

If Your Time is short

  • In a March CNBC interview, former President Donald Trump said of entitlement programs such as Social Security, "There’s a lot you can do in terms of entitlements, in terms of cutting." 

  • However, Trump quickly walked that statement back. In addition, his campaign website says that not "a single penny" should be cut from Social Security, and he’s repeated similar lines in campaign rallies.

  • Before the 2024 campaign, Trump expressed openness to major overhauls of Social Security, including cuts and privatization.

President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump have sparred over their plans for Social Security, as each seeks to make clear that they have no intention of cutting the popular entitlement program.

Biden has repeatedly spotlighted an instance on March 11 when Trump told CNBC that with regard to entitlement programs such as Social Security, "there’s a lot you can do in terms of entitlements, in terms of cutting."

Biden and his campaign held up Trump’s remark as evidence that the former president would be gunning for Social Security cuts. On March 14, Biden said during a speech that "just this week, Donald Trump said cuts to Social Security and Medicare are on the table."

On April 4, Biden appeared in a TikTok with Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt. In the post, Biden said that Trump’s plan is "cutting Social Security for you." 

And as recently as June 12, Biden’s campaign posted a clip to Threads showing Trump saying in a 2020 Fox News town hall that "we’ll be cutting" entitlements.  

During his years-long tenure in the public eye, Trump has provided the Biden campaign with a rich vein of statements expressing openness to cutting Social Security. But by focusing on the remark to CNBC and his long ago statements, the Biden campaign ignores most of what Trump has said during the 2024 campaign — namely, that he will not cut Social Security and Medicare.

What is Social Security’s fiscal challenge?

The key threat to the long-term viability of Social Security, the universal income-support program for older Americans, is a shortage of workers feeding their tax dollars into the system, plus a growing number of retirement-age Americans qualifying to receive benefits.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s administration established Social Security in 1935. As life expectancy has risen, so, too, has the number of eligible recipients. But as the baby boom generation has increasingly shifted into retirement, fewer workers are paying into the system. 

In 2000, there were 3.4 workers paying into Social Security for every retiree drawing benefits. By 2010, that had fallen to 2.9 workers per beneficiary. By 2020, it was 2.7. And by 2030, it’s expected to be 2.5.

Unless changes are made, such as increasing the retirement age or paring benefit levels, the trust fund that supports Social Security is poised to run out in the 2030s. If nothing is done, significant cuts would take effect.

However, cutting Social Security has long been the "third rail of politics" — touch it and you die politically — so even making smaller cuts to avoid bigger ones down the road has been controversial.

That’s why both Biden and Trump have pledged in the 2024 campaign not to cut the program.

What has Trump said about Social Security cuts during the 2024 campaign?

After his CNBC comment went viral, Trump sought to clarify his position in an interview with the conservative outlet Breitbart News, saying he would "never do anything that will jeopardize or hurt" Social Security. He added, "We’ll have to do it elsewhere. But we’re not going to do anything to hurt them."

The rest of Trump’s rhetoric from the 2024 campaign is more aligned with his comment to Breitbart — that he does not intend to cut Social Security — than the openness to cuts that he suggested to CNBC. 

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More than a year before the CNBC appearance, Trump posted a video to his campaign website in which he says not "a single penny" should be cut from Social Security. "DO NOT CUT the benefits our seniors worked for and paid for their entire lives," Trump said. "Save Social Security. Don’t destroy it."

Trump has repeated that he would not cut Social Security at campaign rallies in Michigan and Georgia.

He has also posted to his Truth Social platform multiple times this year that he will not reduce Social Security. 

Karoline Leavitt, the Trump campaign’s national press secretary, told PolitiFact in a statement that he "will continue to strongly protect Social Security and Medicare in his second term."

Trump’s earlier statements on Social Security have been more of a mixed bag

A few of Trump’s earlier statements tracked with his policy of not cutting Social Security. In 2015, he said, "I’m not going to cut Social Security like every other Republican," and in a 2016 primary debate, he said, "It’s my absolute intention to leave Social Security the way it is. Not increase the age, and to leave it as is." 

But on other occasions, Trump has flirted with support for cuts to the program, according to examples provided to PolitiFact by the White House as well as our own research.

These include the 2020 Fox News town hall that was clipped and shared by the Biden campaign on June 12 and a 2020 interview with CNBC. As president, Trump also submitted budget proposals that included cuts to Social Security, though they focused on one particular part of the program — Social Security Disability Insurance — not old-age and survivor benefits, for which the pool of beneficiaries is almost seven times as large

Before he became president, Trump periodically opined that Social Security needed to be cut or privatized, including in a 2012 interview with told CNBC; a 2004 appearance on MSNBC, and a 2000 book, "The America We Deserve," in which he called Social Security "a huge Ponzi scheme" and said he’d consider privatization.

"The solution to the Great Social Security Crisis couldn’t be more obvious: Allow every American to dedicate some portion of their payroll taxes to a personal Social Security account that they could own and invest in stocks and bonds," he wrote. "We can also raise the age for receipt of full Social Security benefits to 70."

For his part, Biden himself has also jumped around on Social Security during his decades-long political career.

In the 1970s, Biden supported increases in Social Security benefits, but in the 1980s and 1990s, he supported a one-year freeze in benefits. Starting in the 2000s, he opposed benefit cuts, protected Social Security from automatic budget cuts, and supported a change that would reduce benefits by about 4.5% over 40 years.

Our ruling

Biden said Trump’s plan is "cutting Social Security for you."

In a March CNBC interview, Trump said of entitlement programs such as Social Security, "There’s a lot you can do in terms of entitlements, in terms of cutting." 

However, Trump quickly walked that statement back. In addition, his campaign website says that not "a single penny" should be cut from Social Security, and he’s repeated similar lines in campaign rallies.

Before the 2024 campaign, Trump said about a half dozen times that he’s open to major overhauls of Social Security, including cuts and privatization.

The statement is partially accurate but leaves out important information, so we rate it Mostly False.

Our Sources

Biden-Harris campaign, TikTok, April 4, 2024

Biden-Harris campaign, Threads post, April 4, 2024

White House, "Remarks by President Biden on How His Investments are Rebuilding Our Communities and Creating Good-Paying Jobs, Milwaukee, Wis.," March 14, 2024

CNBC, "Former President Donald Trump on entitlements: There’s tremendous numbers of things you can do," March 11, 2024

Breitbart, "Exclusive — Donald Trump: ‘I Will Never Do Anything that Will Jeopardize or Hurt Social Security or Medicare,’" March 14, 2024

Donald Trump, remarks in an interview with the Daily Signal, 2015

Trump campaign website, "We Must Protect Medicare and Social Security," Jan. 20, 2023

Donald Trump, posts to Truth Social, June 6, 2024, April 13, 2024, March 22, 2024, March 21, 2024, March 14, 2024 and January 10, 2024 

CNN, "Transcript of Republican debate in Miami, full text," March 15, 2016

Fox News, "Bret Baier and Martha MacCallum Host a Town Hall with Donald Trump," March 5, 2020

CNBC, "Full interview: President Trump discusses trade, impeachment, Boeing and Elon Musk with CNBC in Davos," Jan. 22, 2020

CNN. "Donald Trump once backed 2012 privatization plans for Medicare, despite attacks on key 2024 rival for the same position," Sept. 26, 2023

NBC News, "'Hardball with Chris Matthews' for Dec. 13," Dec. 14, 2004

CNN, "Trump previously backed policies on Social Security for which he’s now attacking DeSantis, calling the program a ‘Ponzi scheme,’" April 27, 2023

Social Security Administration, "Social Security Beneficiary Statistics," accessed June 14, 2024

NBC News, "Donald Trump has been all over the map on Social Security and Medicare," March 19, 2024

CNN, "Trump suggests he’s open to cuts to Medicare and Social Security after attacking primary rivals over the issue," March 11, 2024

Politico, "Trump tries to clean up his Social Security comments," March 14, 2024

Washington Post, "GOP hopefuls’ past positions on Social Security loom over 2024 primary," Feb. 9, 2023

Vox.com, "Trump said he wouldn’t cut Medicaid, Social Security, and Medicare. His 2020 budget cuts all 3," March 12, 2019

FactCheck.org, "Trump’s Comments About ‘Cutting’ Entitlements in Context," March 15, 2024

PolitiFact, "Donald Trump’s false claim that immigration hurts Social Security," March 20, 2024

PolitiFact, "When will Social Security sunset? Barring congressional changes, money will deplete by 2034," Feb. 22, 2023

PolitiFact, "Sanders’ misleading Social Security attack on Biden," March 12, 2020

PolitiFact, "Trump suggested raising Social Security retirement age in 2000, but hasn’t backed it since," May 12, 2023

Statement from Karoline Leavitt, the Trump campaign’s national press secretary, June 14, 2024

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Joe Biden cherry-picks Donald Trump statement on cutting Social Security

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