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Biden’s NATO Press Conference

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In a press conference in which President Joe Biden was repeatedly asked about whether he would — or should — stay in the presidential race, Biden made a few remarks that were misleading or could use more context.

  • Biden said that border apprehensions were now “lower today than when Trump left office.” That refers to the latest seven-day average compared with former President Donald Trump’s last week in office. But apprehensions fluctuated wildly under Trump. The latest average is still 30% higher than the daily average over Trump’s entire term.
  • The president left the misleading impression that his “initial initiatives” didn’t contribute to inflation or the debt or yearly deficits. Economists point to the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic as the main cause of inflation, but many say a pandemic relief measure signed by Biden had some impact. And it did add to the deficit.
  • Biden claimed there were “at least five presidents running or incumbent presidents” with lower polling numbers than he had at a later point in their campaigns. But the White House provided only one example of an incumbent who went on to win, trailing by a wider margin in the polls than Biden is now.
  • He was largely accurate in describing comments Trump had made about NATO, Ukraine and Russian President Vladimir Putin. We provide the context to those remarks.

Some Democratic lawmakers have publicly called for Biden to step aside in the presidential race after his performance in the late June debate. “I’m determined I’m running,” Biden told reporters in his July 11 press conference, which was held during the North Atlantic Treaty Organization summit in Washington, D.C., on the 75th anniversary of the alliance.

Border Apprehensions

Biden claimed that due to executive actions he implemented in early June, “border encounters have gone down over 50%” and “the current level is lower today than when Trump left office.” Biden is comparing the seven-day average ending July 11 to the seven-day average of Trump’s last week in office. And by that measure, he’s right. But apprehensions of those trying to cross the border illegally — which are referred to as “encounters” by the federal government — fluctuated wildly over the course of Trump’s presidency. The current seven-day average is about 30% higher than the daily average over Trump’s entire four years.

“Our efforts to secure the … southern border is working,” Biden said in the press conference. “After Trump killed the bipartisan effort to secure the border the Republicans and Democrats had worked on because he thought it would benefit me and make him a loser, Republicans walked away. So, I took executive action last month. As a consequence, working with Mexico, border encounters have gone down over 50%. The current level is lower today than when Trump left office.”

On June 5, the Department of Homeland Security began implementing a Biden administration proclamation that allows border officials to temporarily restrict asylum eligibility and promptly remove many who cross the border illegally between ports of entry when the daily average of encounters reaches 2,500 or more for seven straight days. The policy was immediately implemented because levels were already well above that.

Three weeks later, on June 26, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas reported that Border Patrol encounters of migrants had decreased by over 40% after the new policy was enacted and that in those three weeks more than 24,000 migrants had been removed or returned by the Department of Homeland Security.

A White House official told us via email that the latest seven-day average of southwest border encounters between ports of entry was 1,838 as of July 11. The seven-day average was 2,415 as of Jan. 19, 2021, Trump’s last full day in office. (The temporary restrictions directed by Biden will continue until 14 calendar days after the daily average of people apprehended crossing the border illegally drops to 1,500 encounters or less for seven consecutive days.)

But as we have written, the number of apprehensions fluctuated wildly under Trump, from a monthly low of 11,127 in April 2017 shortly after he took office to a high of 132,856 in May 2019.

The daily average of southwest border apprehensions over the entirety of Trump’s presidency was just under 1,400. The current seven-day average is about 30% higher than that.

The White House also pointed us to preliminary data — not yet publicly released but leaked to a Washington Post columnist — that showed the number of apprehensions at the southwest border in June was 84,000. That’s a little higher than December 2020, Trump’s last month in office. The White House notes that the preliminary figure for June is lower than the same month in 2019, Trump’s final pre-pandemic year. That’s also true, but April, May and June 2019 were the high mark of Trump’s presidency.

The latest publicly available data from U.S. Customs and Border Protection on southwest border apprehensions only go through May, which does not provide any insight into the effect of Biden policies implemented in early June. Should the preliminary figures for June hold, it would mark the lowest monthly total of Biden’s presidency. We should note that over the entirety of Biden’s presidency so far, however, apprehensions have been significantly higher than under his predecessors.

Biden’s new policy may be having an impact, but it’s a small sample size so far. When we compare apprehensions under Biden to Trump, we look at the most recent 12 months on record, compared with the year before Biden took office, to even out the seasonal changes in border crossings. By that measure, apprehensions are still up considerably under the president.


Economists cited several reasons for higher inflation in the U.S. beginning in 2021, first and foremost among them: the unprecedented economic circumstances created by the COVID-19 pandemic. But economists also told us that the American Rescue Plan — a $1.9 trillion pandemic relief measure that Biden signed into law in March 2021 — contributed to inflation. Biden suggested that wasn’t the case.

“As you recall, understandably, many of you and many economists thought my initial, initi- initiatives that I put forward — ‘Can’t do that. It’s going to cause inflation. Things are going to skyrocket. The debt’s going to go up,'” Biden said. “What are you hearing now from mainstream economists? Sixteen economic Nobel laureates said I’ve done a hell of a job.”

The year-over-year increase in inflation peaked under Biden at 9.1% in June 2022 (before seasonal adjustment), according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. We looked into the causes that month and what impact the American Rescue Plan had. Jason Furman, a former economic adviser to President Barack Obama and now a Harvard University professor, told us the ARP contributed 1 to 4 percentage points to inflation and when “pressed for one number,” he said he used the midpoint of 2.5. Mark Zandi, chief economist of Moody’s — whose work is often cited by the White House — said the impact of the stimulus measure by then had “largely faded.”

Most economists we spoke with said the ARP should have been smaller or the money spent more slowly, though they also said some level of stimulus was needed, noting positive economic effects that helped insure a robust recovery. As for the 16 Nobel-winning economists, their letter — released in late June — said they agreed that “Joe Biden’s economic agenda is vastly superior to Donald Trump’s.”

The letter said Biden’s pandemic stimulus spending had “enabled” a “remarkably strong and equitable labor market recovery.”

The ARP also added to the deficit, contrary to Biden’s suggestion that it didn’t. Overall, the deficit declined in fiscal year 2021 and 2022, but as we’ve reported before, budget experts have said those deficits would have been even lower if the pandemic and infrastructure spending bills backed by Biden hadn’t been enacted.

Inflation has moderated since that 2022 peak. The 12-month percentage change in inflation overall had dropped to 3% in June 2023, and it was 3% again this June.

Biden correctly commented in his press conference that “core inflation is the lowest it’s been in three years.” Core inflation, which leaves out food and energy, went up 3.3% for the 12 months ending in June, which is the smallest growth since April 2021, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Reelection Polling

Biden claimed, “There were at least five presidents running or incumbent presidents who had lower numbers than I have now later in a campaign.” But the White House provided only one example of an incumbent who went on to win, trailing by a wider margin in the polls than Biden is now.

Most of the examples the White House listed were presidential candidates at the time of the polls, but not incumbents.

An average of national polls compiled by ABC News’ 538 project shows Trump up by 1.9 points over Biden as of July 12. RealClear Polling’s average shows Trump up by 2.9 points for the period of June 28 to July 11.

In his 2004 reelection campaign, President George W. Bush lagged behind John Kerry by 2.5 points in the national average in August of that year.

The White House also cited President Barack Obama trailing his challenger, Mitt Romney, by 1 point in the national polling average in October 2012, according to RealClear Polling. That’s not more than the average for Biden — though it certainly occurred much later in the campaign, and we’d note that these averages are within the margin of error for most polls.

The White House pointed to wider gaps for John F. Kennedy, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, Obama and Trump, but those instances were all when those men were first vying for the presidency.

Trump Remarks on NATO, Ukraine and Putin

Biden was largely accurate in describing comments Trump had made about NATO, Ukraine and Putin. We’ll provide more context.

Ukraine invasion. While criticizing Trump for having “no commitment” to NATO, Biden said that Trump had even complimented Putin after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24, 2022.

“In fact, the day after Putin invaded Ukraine, here’s what he said: It was ‘genius.’ It was ‘wonderful,’” Biden said of Trump. “Some of you forgot that, but that’s exactly what he said.”

Biden is right about what Trump said, although Trump made those exact comments before Russia launched its attack. In a Feb. 22, 2022, radio interview, Trump said: “I went in yesterday and there was a television screen, and I said, ‘This is genius.’ Putin declares a big portion of the Ukraine. … Putin declares it as independent. Oh, that’s wonderful.” A transcript of the radio interview posted on the website of “The Clay Travis & Buck Sexton Show” indicated that Trump said “wonderful” sarcastically.

The following day, at a fundraiser at Mar-a-Lago, Trump defended his comments. “I mean [Putin’s] taking over a country for $2 worth of sanctions. I’d say that’s pretty smart,” Trump said. “He’s taking over a country — literally, a vast, vast location, a great piece of land with a lot of people, and just walking right in.” Trump later said “it would have never happened” if he had been president instead of Biden.

Knowledge of NATO. Biden went on to critique Trump’s grasp of foreign policy, saying that Trump recently admitted that he “just learned” about NATO. Actually, Trump said he had limited knowledge of NATO before becoming president — not now.

“I think he said in one of his rallies — don’t hold me to this — recently, where NATO, ‘I just learned about NATO,’ or something to that effect,” Biden said.

At a July 9 campaign rally in Doral, Florida, Trump said he was not very familiar with the NATO alliance before he attended his first summit early in his presidency.

“Nobody was paying, but I didn’t want to be obnoxious because I felt it’s the first time I’d ever done this,” Trump said, recalling his thoughts about NATO before his first trip to speak before alliance members in May 2017. “I went. I didn’t even know what the hell NATO was too much before, but it didn’t take me long to figure it out, like about two minutes.”

Trump wasn’t saying that he learned about NATO recently, as Biden’s remark may have suggested.

‘Do whatever.’ Biden also said that Trump “made it clear that [Trump] would feel no obligation to honor Article 5” of NATO’s founding agreement, which says an attack on one ally is an attack on all. He then added that Trump “already told Putin, and I quote, ‘do whatever the hell you want.'”

Biden was referring to an alleged exchange that Trump said he had with an unnamed president of an unnamed NATO nation.

“One of the presidents of a big country stood up said, ‘Well, sir, if we don’t pay and we’re attacked by Russia will you protect us?’” Trump said at a Feb. 10 campaign rally in South Carolina. “I said, ‘You didn’t pay, you’re delinquent?’ He said, ‘Yes. Let’s say that happened.’ ‘No, I would not protect you. In fact, I would encourage them to do whatever the hell they want. You got to pay. You got to pay your bills. And the money came flowing in.”

Trump did not directly tell Putin to “do whatever the hell you want,” but Putin could have interpreted Trump’s public remarks that way.

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A Paler Shade of Gray

Real Clear Politics -

Today on TAP: Biden's NATO press conference was not quite a catastrophe, but far from sufficient to stop the steady drip of demands that he step aside.


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