FACT CHECK: Trump and GOP distort on health care, vote fraud, Biden tax plan

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WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump made a dizzying array of misleading claims about voting fraud and health care Monday as fellow Republicans opened their convention with speeches distorting the agenda of his Democratic rival, Joe Biden.

Trump falsely asserted that he was the one who ensured that people with preexisting medical problems will be covered by health insurance; actually that was Democratic President Barack Obama. Several speakers accused Biden of proposing to defund police, ban fracking, take over health care and open borders — none of that true.

A look at statements at the Republican National Convention:

HEALTH CARE

TRUMP: “We protected your preexisting conditions. Very strongly protected preexisting … and you don’t hear that.”

THE FACTS: You don’t hear it because it’s not true.

People with preexisting medical problems have health insurance protections because of President Barack Obama’s health care law, which Trump is trying to dismantle.

One of Trump’s alternatives to Obama’s law — short-term health insurance, already in place — doesn’t have to cover preexisting conditions. Another alternative is association health plans, which are oriented to small businesses and sole proprietors and do cover preexisting conditions.

Neither of the two alternatives appears to have made much difference in the market.

Meanwhile, Trump’s administration is pressing the Supreme Court for full repeal of the Obama-era law, including provisions that protect people with preexisting conditions from health insurance discrimination.

With “Obamacare” still in place, preexisting conditions continue to be covered by regular individual health insurance plans.

Insurers must take all applicants, regardless of medical history, and charge the same standard premiums to healthy people and those who are in poor health, or have a history of medical problems.

Before the Affordable Care Act, any insurer could deny coverage — or charge more — to anyone with a preexisting condition who was seeking to buy an individual policy.

Democratic attacks on Republican efforts to repeal the health law and weaken preexisting condition protections proved successful in the 2018 midterms, when Democrats won back control of the House.

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VOTING FRAUD

TRUMP, on mail-in voting: “Absentee — like in Florida — absentee is good. But other than that, they’re very, very bad.”

THE FACTS: He’s making a false distinction. Mail-in ballots are cast in the same way as absentee mail ballots, with the same level of scrutiny such as signature verification in many states.

In more than 30 states and the District of Columbia, voters have a right to “no excuse” absentee voting. That means they can use mail-in ballots for any reason, regardless of whether a person is out of town or working.

In Florida, the Legislature in 2016 voted to change the wording of such balloting from “absentee” to “vote-by-mail” to make clear a voter can cast such ballots if they wish. So there is no “absentee” voting in that state, as Trump alludes to.

More broadly, voter fraud has proved exceedingly rare. The Brennan Center for Justice in 2017 ranked the risk of ballot fraud at 0.00004% to 0.0009%, based on studies of past elections.

Only nine states currently have plans for “universal” mail-in voting, where ballots are sent automatically to registered voters. Five of those states relied on mail-in ballots even before the coronavirus pandemic raised concerns about voting in person.

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TRUMP, on the November vote count and Democrats: “We have to be very, very careful and this time they are trying to do it with the whole post office scam. They will blame it on the post office. You can see them setting it up.”

THE FACTS: No postal scam has emerged from the Democrats. Instead Trump has given credence to suspicions that he wants to suppress mail-in voting to help his chances in the election.

He’s said as much. In an interview this month, he admitted he’s trying to starve the U.S. Postal Service of money in order to make it harder to process an expected surge of mail-in ballots, which he worries could cost him the election.

Trump explicitly noted funding provisions that Democrats are seeking in a relief package that has stalled on Capitol Hill. Without the additional money, he said, the Postal Service won’t have the resources to handle a flood of ballots from voters who are seeking to avoid polling places during the coronavirus pandemic.

“If we don’t make a deal, that means they don’t get the money,” Trump told Fox Business Network. “That means they can’t have universal mail-in voting; they just can’t have it.”

Over the weekend, the House approved legislation that would reverse recent changes in postal operations and send $25 billion to shore up the agency before the November election, but the White House has said Trump would veto it.

During a House hearing, Postmaster General Louis DeJoy acknowledged that Trump’s repeated attacks on mail-in ballots are “not helpful,” but he denied that recent cuts were linked to the election.

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TRUMP, on defective ballots in an election: “What does defective mean? It means fraud.”

THE FACTS: No, defective ballots do not equate to fraud. The overwhelming majority aren’t.

According to the Brennan Center for Justice, the vast majority of ballots are disqualified because they arrive late, a particular worry this year because of recent U.S. Postal Service delays and an expected surge in mail-in voting during the coronavirus pandemic.

Ballots also are deemed defective if there is a missing signature — common with newer voters unfamiliar with the process — or it doesn’t match what’s on file. In addition, some states require absentee voters to get a witness or notary to sign their ballots.

“None of those are fraud,” said Wendy Weiser, director of Brennan’s democracy program at NYU School of Law. When suspected cases are investigated for potential fraud, studies have borne out the main reason for defects is voter mistake, she said.

Defective ballots also disproportionately impact voters of color, and recent lawsuits have successfully challenged some requirements as posing health risks or disenfranchising voters. Earlier this year, for instance, a federal judge ruled that a South Carolina requirement to have witnesses to mail-in ballots could put voters’ health at risk and suspended it for the June primary. Others states including Minnesota and Rhode Island have also suspended that requirement due to the pandemic.

While the rates of defective ballots are unacceptable, “people should still feel confident in their votes, and they should follow-up,” Weiser said. “People should know these problems are being fought over and hopefully many will be mitigated and addressed before November.”

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POLICE

REP. STEVE SCALISE of Louisiana on the police: “Joe Biden has embraced the left’s insane mission to defund them.”

THE FACTS: No, Biden has explicitly rejected the call by some on the left to defund the police. He has proposed more money for police, conditioned on improvements in their practices.

Biden’s criminal justice agenda, released long before the protests over racial injustice, proposes more federal money for “training that is needed to avert tragic, unjustifiable deaths” and hiring more officers to ensure that departments are racially and ethnically reflective of the populations they serve.

Specifically, he calls for a $300 million infusion into federal community policing grant programs. That’s more money, not less.

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BIDEN AGENDA

REP. JIM JORDAN of Ohio on the Democratic agenda: “Defund the police, defund border patrol and defund our military.”

RONNA McDANIEL, chairwoman of the Republican National Committee: “You deserve to know that they would ban fracking and eliminate fossil fuels, which would kill millions of good-paying jobs and raise the cost of driving our cars and heating our homes. You deserve to know that they want a complete government takeover of our health care system, so moms like me won’t be able to take our kids to the same pediatrician they’ve been seeing for years.”

THE FACTS: Those aren’t Biden’s positions. A number of Republican speakers seized on proposals of the Democratic left, in some cases distorting those positions, and assigned them to Biden, who doesn’t share those views.

He does not favor a government takeover of health care; instead he proposes building on “Obamacare,” which preserves the private insurance market while expanding Medicaid.

He also did not endorse proposals to cease border enforcement or even to decriminalize illegal crossings.

Biden supports banning only new oil and gas permits, fracking included, on federal land. But most U.S. production is on private land — the U.S. Bureau of Land Management says production on federal land accounted for less than 10% of oil and gas in 2018.

In a March 15 primary debate, Biden misstated his energy policy, suggesting he would allow no new fracking. His campaign quickly corrected the record. Biden has otherwise been consistent on his middle-of-the-road position, going so far as to tell an anti-fracking activist that he “ought to vote for somebody else” if he wanted an immediate fracking ban.

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McDANIEL: “You deserve to know about their plans to raise taxes on 82% of Americans.”

THE FACTS: That’s not the plan. Biden says he won’t raise taxes on anyone making under $400,000.

An analysis of Biden’s tax plan by the University of Pennsylvania’s Penn Wharton Budget Model in March found that the bottom 90 percent of income earners would not pay more in federal income taxes under Biden’s proposal.

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