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Fact-Checking Trump’s Claims About the U.S. Death Rate in That Viral Axios Interview

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  • In a now-viral interview that was recorded last week, President Donald Trump said the coronavirus pandemic in the United States is “under control, as much as you can control it.”
  • Despite that, Axios national political correspondent Jonathan Swan pressed Trump on the country’s increasing death rate, a fact which Trump denied.
  • At one point, Trump also seemed to insinuate that South Korea’s death count is much higher than the 301 deaths it has reported, but he provided no basis for that.
  • Below is a list of coronavirus-related claims stated by Trump in the interview and a breakdown of how true or false those claims are.

Trump’s Axios Interview Goes Viral

In a clip that has now been viewed more than 30 million times alone on Twitter, President Donald Trump denied the United States’ climbing coronavirus death rate and made a number of other false statements. 

That clip is part of a 38-minute Axios on HBO interview, which was recorded on July 28 and aired Monday evening. In that interview, Axios national political correspondent Jonathan Swan pressed Trump on a variety of topics including the arrest of Ghislaine Maxwell and the recent death of Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.).

However, Trump’s comments regarding the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic have undoubtedly captured the most attention.

The Rising U.S. Death Rate in States 

In his interview with Swan, Trump said his administration has done an “incredible” job handling the coronavirus pandemic. 

Immediately, Swan pushed back by pointing to last week’s death rate, which saw daily death totals climbing above 1,000. Nonetheless, Trump rejected those figures and asserted that the death toll was falling. 

“It’s going down in Arizona,” Trump said. “It’s going down in Florida. It’s going down in Texas.”

“It’s going down in Florida?’ Swan asked, bewildered, after pointing out that, nationally, daily deaths tolls were rising at the time of the interview. 

Regarding Florida, it’s possible that Trump was referring to a four-day dip in coronavirus deaths, but even so, four days is not a long enough period of time to accurately gauge whether or not deaths are beginning to decrease. That’s why many states have implemented reopening plans that only allow them to move into new phases after seeing a two week decline in cases.  

Source: The New York Times

On top of that, the day this interview was recorded, Florida experienced its highest death toll up to that point. That record was later topped each day for the next three days in a row. 

Over the last few days, Florida’s daily death toll has significantly dropped; however, it remains to be seen if this is the beginning of a genuine decrease in daily deaths or if the numbers, on average, will continue to rise.

By comparison, Trump’s claim that cases in Arizona are decreasing does seem to be somewhat accurate, and it’s a point Swan even backs up in the interview. Still, that much does not seem to be the case for Texas yet. 

Source: The New York Times
Source: The New York Times

The Death Rate Nationally

Trump accused media outlets of incorrectly reporting coronavirus-related statistics, but he declined to offer an explanation as to how. Instead, he asserted that his administration should receive credit for testing more vigorously than other countries.

“Because we do more tests, we have more cases,” Trump said. “In other words, we test more, we have more.”

For Swan, however, that was not the point. 

“If hospital rates were going down and death rates were going down, I’d say, ‘Terrific. You deserved to be praised for testing,’ Swan responded. “But they’re all going up. 60,000 Americans are in hospital. A thousand dying a day.” 

“If you watch the news or read the papers, they usually talk about new cases, new cases, new cases,” Trump said.

“I’m talking about death,” Swan said. 

“Well, you look,” Trump said. “Death is way down from where it was.”

While Trump is technically correct here, his statement—as Swan noted—is misleading. Beginning in April and continuing through the beginning of May, daily death totals in the U.S. spiked. At one point, the country was recording daily death tolls reaching 2,700 people. 

As May continued, the death toll began to fall, so much so that the country was reporting less than 1,000 deaths a day by mid-June; however, that number started climbing again early last month, eventually climbing back over that 1,000 mark.

Source: The New York Times

“We’re Lower Than the World.”

“And if you look at death, here,” Trump said while pointing to a graph. “United States is lowest in numerous categories. We’re lower than the world.”

“Lower than the world?” Swan asked, bewildered.

“We’re lower than Europe.” Trump continued. 

“In what? In what?” Swan asked. 

“Take a look,” Trump said, still pointing to the graph. “Right here. Here’s case death.”

“Oh, you’re doing death as a proportion of cases. I’m talking about death as a proportion of population,” Swan said in what has now become the most viral moment of the interview. “That’s where the U.S. is really bad. Much worse than South Korea, Germany, etc.”

“You can’t do that,” Trump said.

Trump and Swan are citing two different stats here. Trump is referring to the percentage of people who die in the U.S. after having contracted the virus, known as the fatality rate. Swan is referring to the percentage of Americans who have died compared to the whole population, known as the mortality rate.

Both are relevant figures, but it is Trump’s denial of the second statistic’s importance that is concerning. According to Johns Hopkins University, the U.S. is the 10th-worst nation in terms of per capita coronavirus deaths: 47.50 per 100,000 people.

Among more information, mortality rate can be used to see what percentage of a country’s population has died compared to another country. Such a number is more accurate than simply following raw numbers, as most countries vary significantly in population from the U.S. It’s also less subject to variables than the fatality rate.

“It’s surely a relevant statistic to say if the U.S. has X population and X percentage of death of that population versus South Korea—” Swan said.

“No, you have to go by cases,” Trump responded.

“Well, look at South Korea, for example,” Swan said. “Fifty-one million population, 300 deaths. It’s like— it’s crazy.”

“You don’t know that,”  Trump said. You don’t know that.”

“I do, it’s on their—You think they’re faking their statistics, South Korea?” Swan asked. “An advanced country?”

“I won’t get into that because I have a very good relationship with the country, but you don’t know that,” Trump said.

Since the coronavirus pandemic began, South Korea has only officially recorded 301 deaths. It is possible that Trump said, “You don’t know that,” because there may be some variation in that statistic. Still, even if more or fewer people died than what is officially recorded, that figure is likely not substantially different from the recorded value.

Trump provided no additional context into the meaning of this claim, and there is no basis to suggest that South Korea has fabricated its death toll. 

The Outbreak Is “Under Control”

Near the beginning of the interview, Trump says that the outbreak in the U.S. is “under control, as much as you can control it.”

As of Tuesday, the U.S. undoubtedly leads the world in cases: 4.7 million out of 18.3 million. Similarly, it leads the world in deaths: nearly 156,000 of nearly 695,000.

Notably, it is true that despite massive raw numbers, the U.S. does not have the highest percentage of cases or deaths compared to every country; however, the situation in the U.S. is significantly worse than almost every other country in the world. Even regardless of comparisons, the situation on its own is more than concerning. 

Because of that, Swan immediately pushed back against the president, asking him if his administration has truly done everything in its power to fight the virus. From there, the president shifted blame to governors, though he did praise some.

As Swan also noted, Trump’s position as president carries weight, and despite being highly controversial throughout his term, many listen to his words and trust them.

“I’ve covered you for a long time,” Swan said. “I’ve gone to your rallies. I’ve talked to your people. They love you. They listen to you. They hang on your every word. They don’t listen to me or the media or Fauci. They think we’re fake news. They want to get their advice from you. And so when they hear you say, ‘Everything’s under control, don’t worry about wearing mask,’ I mean, decent people. Many of them are older people, Mr. President. It’s giving them a false sense of security.”

“Under the circumstances right now, I think it’s under control,” Trump said. 

“How?” Swan asked. A thousand Americans are dying everyday.”

“They are dying, that’s true,” Trump said. “And it is what it is. But that doesn’t mean we aren’t doing everything we can.” 

See what others are saying: (Business Insider) (MarketWatch) (The Washington Post)

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Jan. 6 Committee Prepares Criminal Charges Against Steve Bannon for Ignoring Subpoena

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The move comes after former President Trump told several of his previous aides not to cooperate with the committee’s investigation into the insurrection.


Bannon Refuses to Comply With Subpoena

The House committee investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection announced Thursday that it is seeking to hold former White House advisor Steve Bannon in criminal contempt for refusing to comply with a subpoena.

The decision marks a significant escalation in the panel’s efforts to force officials under former President Donald Trump’s administration to comply with its probe amid Trump’s growing efforts to obstruct the inquiry.

In recent weeks, the former president has launched a number of attempts to block the panel from getting key documents, testimonies, and other evidence requested by the committee that he claims are protected by executive privilege.

Notably, some of those assertions have been shut down. On Friday, President Joe Biden rejected Trump’s effort to withhold documents relating to the insurrection.

Still, Trump has also directed former officials in his administration not to comply with subpoenas or cooperate with the committee. 

That demand came after the panel issued subpoenas ordering depositions from Bannon and three other former officials: Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, Deputy Chief of Staff Dan Scavino, and Pentagon Chief of Staff Kash Patel.

After Trump issued his demand, Bannon’s lawyer announced that he would not obey the subpoena until the panel reached an agreement with Trump or a court ruled on the executive privilege matter.

Many legal experts have questioned whether Bannon, who left the White House in 2017, can claim executive privilege for something that happened when he was not working for the executive.

Panel Intensifies Compliance Efforts

The Thursday decision from the committee is significant because it will likely set up a legal battle and test how much authority the committee can and will exercise in requiring compliance.

It also sets an important precedent for those who have been subpoenaed. While Bannon is the first former official to openly defy the committee, there have been reports that others plan to do the same. 

The panel previously said Patel and Meadows were “engaging” with investigators, but on Thursday, several outlets reported that the two — who were supposed to appear before the body on Thursday and Friday respectively —  are now expected to be given an extension or continuance.

Sources told reporters that Scavino, who was also asked to testify Friday, has had his deposition postponed because service of his subpoena was delayed.

As far as what happens next for Bannon, the committee will vote to adopt the contempt report next week. Once that is complete, the matter will go before the House for a full vote.  

Assuming the Democratic-held House approves the contempt charge, it will then get referred to the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia to bring the matter before a grand jury.

See what others are saying: (CNN) (The Washington Post) (Bloomberg)

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Senate Votes To Extend Debt Ceiling Until December

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The move adds another deadline to Dec. 3, which is also when the federal government is set to shut down unless Congress approves new spending.


Debt Ceiling Raised Temporarily

The Senate voted on Thursday to extend the debt ceiling until December, temporarily averting a fiscal catastrophe.

The move, which followed weeks of stalemate due to Republican objections, came after Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) partially backed down from his blockade and offered a short-term proposal.

After much whipping of votes, 11 Republicans joined Democrats to break the legislative filibuster and move to final approval of the measure. The bill ultimately passed in a vote of 50-48 without any Republican support.

The legislation will now head to the House, where Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said members would be called back from their current recess for a vote on Tuesday. 

The White House said President Joe Biden would sign the measure, but urged Congress to pass a longer extension.

“We cannot allow partisan politics to hold our economy hostage, and we can’t allow the routine process of paying our bills to turn into a confidence-shaking political showdown every two years or every two months,’’ White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement.

Under the current bill, the nation’s borrowing limit will be increased by $480 billion, which the Treasury Department said will cover federal borrowing until around Dec. 3.

The agency had previously warned that it would run out of money by Oct. 18 if Congress failed to act. Such a move would have a chilling impact on the economy, forcing the U.S. to default on its debts and potentially plunging the country into a recession. 

Major Hurdles Remain

While the legislation extending the ceiling will certainly offer temporary relief, it sets up another perilous deadline for the first Friday in December, when government funding is also set to expire if Congress does not approve another spending bill.

Regardless of the new deadline, many of the same hurdles lawmakers faced the first time around remain. 

Democrats are still struggling to hammer out the final details of Biden’s $3.5 trillion spending agenda, which Republicans have strongly opposed.

Notably, Democratic leaders previously said they could pass the bill through budget reconciliation, which would allow them to approve the measure with 50 votes and no Republican support.

Such a move would require all 50 Senators, but intraparty disputes remain over objections brought by Joe Manchin (D-W.V.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Az.), who have been stalling the process for months.

Although disagreements over reconciliation are ongoing among Democrats, McConnell has insisted the party use the obscure procedural process to raise the debt limit. Democrats, however, have balked at the idea, arguing that tying the debt ceiling to reconciliation would set a dangerous precedent.

Despite Republican efforts to connect the limit to Biden’s economic agenda, raising the ceiling is not the same as adopting new spending. Rather, the limit is increased to pay off spending that has already been authorized by previous sessions of Congress and past administrations.

In fact, much of the current debt stems from policies passed by Republicans during the Trump administration, including the 2017 tax overhaul. 

As a result, while Democrats have signaled they may make concessions to Manchin and Sinema, they strongly believe that Republicans must join them to increase the debt ceiling to fund projects their party supported. 

It is currently unclear when or how the ongoing stalemate will be resolved, or how either party will overcome their fervent objections.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (NPR) (The Washington Post)

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California Makes Universal Voting by Mail Permanent

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California is now the eighth state to make universal mail-in ballots permanent after it temporarily adopted the policy for elections held amid the COVID-19 pandemic. 


CA Approves Universal Voting by Mail

California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) signed a bill Monday requiring every registered voter in the state to be mailed a ballot at least 29 days before an election, whether they request it or not.

Assembly Bill 37 makes permanent a practice that was temporarily adopted for elections during the COVID-19 pandemic. The law, which officially takes effect in January, also extends the time mail ballots have to arrive at elections offices from three days to seven days after an election. Voters can still choose to cast their vote in person if they prefer.

Supporters of the policy have cheered the move, arguing that proactively sending ballots to registered voters increases turnout.

“Data shows that sending everyone a ballot in the mail provides voters access. And when voters get ballots in the mail, they vote,” the bill’s author, Assemblyman Marc Berman (D-Palo Alto), said during a Senate committee hearing in July.

Meanwhile opponents — mostly Republicans — have long cast doubts about the safety of mail-in voting, despite a lack of evidence to support their claims that it leads to widespread voter fraud. That strategy, however, has also faced notable pushback from some that a lot of Republicans who say it can actually hurt GOP turnout.

Others May Follow

The new legislation probably isn’t too surprising for California, where over 50% of votes cast in general elections have been through mail ballots since 2012, according to The Sacramento Bee. Now, many believe California will be followed by similar legislation from Democrats across the country as more Republican leaders move forward with elections bills that significantly limit voting access.

Newsome signed 10 other measures Monday changing election and campaign procedures, including a bill that would require anyone advocating for or against a candidate to stand farther away from a polling place. Another bill increases penalties for candidates who use campaign funds for personal expenses while a third measure increases reporting requirements for limited liability corporations that engage in campaign activity.

“As states across our country continue to enact undemocratic voter suppression laws, California is increasing voter access, expanding voting options and bolstering elections integrity and transparency,” Newsom said in a statement.

“Last year we took unprecedented steps to ensure all voters had the opportunity to cast a ballot during the pandemic and today we are making those measures permanent after record-breaking participation in the 2020 presidential election.”

The news regarding California came just in time for National Voter Registration day today, giving Americans another reminder to make sure they’re registered in their states. For more information on how to register, visit Vote.gov or any of the other resources linked below.

See what others are saying: (The Hill) (Los Angeles Times) (The Sacramento Bee)

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