Fact Squad | Trump, Biden swap falsehoods about Michigan, autos at messy debate

At Tuesday's debate between President Donald Trump and Joe Biden, both claimed they helped the autos industry, while the president said living under Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's COVID-19 restrictions was like "prison." (Shutterstock image)

LANSING — Amid 90 minutes of interruptions and insults during their first debate Tuesday, President Donald Trump and Democrat Joe Biden also made exaggerated claims about Michigan and the auto industry. 

In a chaotic event in Cleveland moderated by Fox News anchor Chris Wallace that often strayed wildly off-topic, the candidates briefly discussed their plans for Michigan, COVID-19 and reigniting the economy.

Both took credit for helping the auto industry, Trump claimed Michigan’s economy has never been better than last year, and the president also claimed Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s orders to prevent the spread of COVID-19 have made the state a “prison.”

Bridge Michigan’s Fact Squad is on the case.

The claim: Biden saved autos; Trump ruined them

Biden, referencing the auto industry bailout that was dramatically expanded in 2009 while he served as vice president, said he was “asked to bring back Chrysler and General Motors” and helped to do so. 

“We brought them back right here in the state of Ohio and Michigan,” Biden said. 

But Trump? “He blew it. They’re gone. He blew it,” Biden said.

Trump countered by claiming “many car companies came in from Germany, from Japan” and “went to Michigan, went to Ohio.”

The facts

It’s true, Biden played a role in the auto industry bailout that is widely credited with helping General Motors and Chrysler avoid collapse, which economists say could have crippled the Michigan economy. The companies and their affiliates were loaned some $80 billion by the administrations of former Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama.

But Biden grossly exaggerated the state of the auto industry under Trump when he claimed that the automakers are now “gone.”

As the vice president pointed out earlier this month in Macomb County, GM closed a transmission plant in Warren last year, and it also shuttered a plant in Lordstown, Ohio. 

But GM maintains a large presence in Michigan (nearly 50,000 jobs) and this year announced a $2.2 million investment to retool its Detroit-Hamtramck assembly plant to produce only electric vehicles. 

Fiat Chrysler, meanwhile, is building its first new plant in Detroit in almost three decades and expanding other facilities, a $4.5 billion investment to create nearly 6,500 jobs.

The claim: ‘Many car companies’ moved to Michigan.

In touting the auto industry, Trump claimed “many car companies” from Germany and Japan are relocating to Michigan and Ohio. 

The facts

This claim appears unfounded. There have been only a handful of new auto facilities announcements across the country during Trump’s tenure. 

Waymo, the electric car company linked to Google, is building a factory in the Detroit area. And Navya, a French company that builds driverless shuttles, reportedly plans to build a small facility in Saline. Neither company is from Germany or Japan. 

Trump’s claims on Tuesday were similar to talking points on the campaign trail, including during a rally in Saginaw County this month, that he brought thousands of autos jobs to Michigan.

In fact only one major plant, a Jeep plant in Detroit, has been announced in Michigan during his presidency and total auto manufacturing jobs in the state fell 2,000 to 40,300 under Trump as of February, according to federal statistics.

The claim: Michigan had its 'best year ever'

Trump, while bragging that he created the best economy in history, said Michigan enjoyed its “best year ever” in 2019.

The facts 

Not the best, but still pretty good:  The state’s gross domestic product was at the highest point since at least 1997 at the beginning of 2019, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. 

The labor force participation rate was higher than it had been since 2010 — though that was still lower than 1976 levels. The unemployment rate in 2019 was at the lowest point since 2000, which in turn was at the lowest point since 1976. 

However, auto sales nationwide were around the same as they were during the last two years of the Obama administration and real median household income was around $64,000, well below the maximum of around $71,000 in 1999. Manufacturing jobs were at mid-2000s levels, but still significantly down from the late 1990s. 

The claim: Michigan is ‘like being in prison’

In a segment on the coronavirus pandemic, Trump claimed some governors are “under siege” because of ongoing COVID-19 restrictions, mentioning Michigan, Pennsylvania and a “couple others” he did not name. 

“You’ve got to open these states up,” the president said. “It’s not fair. It’s almost like being in prison.”

The facts

To suggest living in Michigan feels like being in prison is an obvious exaggeration by Trump, who has feuded for months with Whitmer. 

Whitmer has issued more than 180 executive orders since the pandemic began and continues to require Michigan businesses and residents to adhere to various public health protocols, including mask requirements, some of which are controversial.

But the governor has also allowed most sectors of the state economy to reopen after lifting her stay-home order June 1 as Michigan case counts, once among the highest in the nation, dropped. Last week, Whitmer announced plans to allow businesses like movie theaters and banquet centers that had remained closed longer than others to reopen Oct. 9. 

The conclusion

The messy and combative debate between Trump and Biden provided the public with few opportunities to actually learn about the policy positions and proposals of the candidates. 

And for Michigan voters, the few references to our state were muddled by exaggeration and hyperbole. 

If there is a winner, and we’ll leave that assessment to the public, it was not facts.

Facts matter. Trust matters. Journalism matters.

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Wed, 09/30/2020 - 8:39am

Seems that trump did all the lying<<< Biden kept saying WE not I like trump did>>> All that trump has did for the USA was to help the spread of the virus and helping russia to take over OUR government!!!

Wed, 09/30/2020 - 9:40am

Well after yesterday's revelation that the smear campaign of the Russian Hoax perpetrated on Our President, was orchestrated by Hillary Clinton and our then President Obama was briefed on it. Your comment about Russia taking over our government proves the notion that a lie told often enough will be believed as the truth. So sir you are lying and thinking you are telling the truth. Mr. Biden, was less than truthful when he repeated many of the lies made up about our President and told over and over enough times that you again think they are true. In reality, yesterday was about 1 man trying to let people know what he has done, while 2 individuals, 1 a polished 47 year politician who has been known to lie and plagiarize and 1 polished opinion commentator who has allowed his political leanings to be known, tried to box him in with gotcha questions, insults, name calling, and lies. Can you imagine a candidate for President of the United States telling the sitting President of the United States to SHUT UP, calling him a CLOWN. I ask you sir where is Mr. Bidens civility, why didn't Mr. Biden remain quiet and allow Mr. Trump to attack and smear his family? You ask Mr. Trump who has been lied about, smeared, his family attacked including his minor child, to be still, be quiet, and let us destroy you, your family, and everything you have ever worked for, and if you don't we will call you a bully and a buffoon.
I dare you as a man to stand there while you, your family, and your honor are continually attacked and insulted. Most men would stand and fight, you are just angry that we have elected a man to this office who does fight and defend himself. You probably appreciated the Bush Doctrine of let them lie about you and destroy your reputation until most of the people in the country grow to revile you.
Sorry cupcake your President is a man and thank God for that.

Wed, 09/30/2020 - 10:47am

Thank you , SJG. Well said

Kyle Estrada
Wed, 09/30/2020 - 11:37am

SJG sounded more like a rambling tirade to me. Trump has a cult following.

Wed, 09/30/2020 - 3:24pm

Thank you!! Well said!

middle of the mit
Wed, 09/30/2020 - 3:36pm

I would like to know where this information came from and why you don't link to it. If you don't talk to foreign adversaries, especially when they are trying to mess with the election....the Patriot Act, that you conservatives shoved down the nations throat to keep us safe, won't listen to your conversation. Of course.....I am not sure they aren't listening even when aren't talking to people you aren't supposed to.

Could you please tell us what lies Mr Biden told? He was hardly able to get a word in edge wise with The Presidents cordiality.

And I would really like to know what Trump was letting people know he was going to do. Other than telling the proud boys to be on stand by, all I heard was him taking credit for the Governors shutting down the economy and stalling infections, then tell everyone we need to open it up and who cares about infections. There isn't anything contradictory about that at all....is there?

When the sitting President will NOT allow you to answer questions and refuses to OBeY the rules, yeah. Someone needed to do that. I hear Trump supporters say all the time he needs to shut up and stop tweeting.

Did you have strong feelings when Chelsea Clinton was being bashed by the right? And hey! You brought out the kids first! How many patents does Ivanka have in China again?

If this is your idea of a man, why won't he answer questions about his healthcare plan? Why won't he answer any questions at all? If you heard him answer a question last night? It wasn't about anything that had to do with running the country.

He has too much executive time with his friends on Fox in the morning to worry about the country.

Wed, 09/30/2020 - 4:04pm

Very well said!

Wed, 09/30/2020 - 7:53pm

From Politico 9.29.2020


Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe on Tuesday declassified a Russian intelligence assessment that was previously rejected by Democrats and Republicans on the Senate Intelligence Committee as having no factual basis, according to two sources familiar with the matter.

The extraordinary disclosure, released to Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) earlier Tuesday, rankled Democrats, who said the move effectively put Russian disinformation into the public sphere in order to boost President Donald Trump’s unsubstantiated claims about the government’s efforts to investigate Russian interference in the 2016 election.

“It’s very disturbing to me that, 35 days before an election, the director of national intelligence would release unverified Russian rumint,” or rumor intelligence, Senate Intelligence Committee Vice Chairman Mark Warner (D-Va.) told reporters.

And several former senior intelligence officials described Ratcliffe’s move as incendiary and irresponsible, given the manner in which he was publicly releasing unverified information that originated from a foreign adversary.

More discredited nonsense that will nowhere. All released by a desperate Lindsey Graham.

middle of the mit
Wed, 09/30/2020 - 9:08pm

Since Bridge didn't post my last response, hopefully they will allow this one to be posted.

Are you talking about this revelation? https://www.wsj.com/articles/intelligence-officials-urged-trump-spy-chie...

Officials at CIA, NSA, Office of Director of National Intelligence warned disclosure to Congress would give credibility to Kremlin-backed material


Senior U.S. officials urged Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe not to release information about a Russian intelligence product containing unverified allegations about Hillary Clinton and the 2016 election, advice that President Trump’s spy chief ignored,” the Wall Street Journal reports.

And just before the election, just like like Comey. Can we unredact the rest of the Muller report? Tomorrow?

What lies did VP Biden make up, and how could you have heard them over the interrupting of the President?

What has the President done? And the only one trying to box anyone in was Trump trying to obfuscate, and obliterate any questions and answers that didn't agree with him.

I never could have imagined a candidate for President telling the current President to "shut up", but I have never heard another candidates supporters say they wish their President would just shut up and stop tweeting either. And when someone else won't let you get an word in edgewise......what would you do?

Bridge won't even post this civil retort.

[[. I ask you sir where is Mr. Bidens civility, why didn't Mr. Biden remain quiet and allow Mr. Trump to attack and smear his family? You ask Mr. Trump who has been lied about, smeared, his family attacked including his minor child, to be still, be quiet, and let us destroy you, your family, and everything you have ever worked for, and if you don't we will call you a bully and a buffoon.]]]

But this goes all good for bothsidesin'!

May I? Has Mr Biden personally gone after President Trumps family? No? President Trump went there. Don't talk about civility when your candidate can't even allow his competitor 2 uninterrupted minutes to make their case...........not just once.............but for 90 minutes. And then the President goes after the candidates son.........and you want children off limits? These are the rules that the press allows. Publicans get to change the rules at a whim.....when ever they are being partisinized. That's my word. You are so worried about offending those in power, that you would rather offend the truth than them.

Joe Biden didn't attack President Trumps kids! This is the EPITOME of projection! Whose kid was called bad names? By whom? Who had class and who failed at it because he run on his own record?

The Bush Doctrine? You mean lie America into a never ending war on an ideology that can only be extinguished when we stop trying to take over the world? That's your doctrine. live with it.

And if you think this President is a man? Why won't he answer questions? Why won't he take responsibility?

Silence Dogood
Wed, 09/30/2020 - 7:32pm


Wed, 09/30/2020 - 8:40am

I live in Michigan (Southeast) and feel like its a prison with all the Governor's executive orders, lock-downs and extending using masks. So to me, that wasn't an exaggeration.

Wed, 09/30/2020 - 9:44am

Wearing a mask feels like prison? The stay at home orders were demands to stay in your 10x10 bedroom 20 hours a day. You could still go outside as much as you wanted and enjoyed this beautiful state. Go spend a few days in real prison and come back and tell us how social distancing and mask wearing compares.

Wed, 09/30/2020 - 3:30pm

Wow Bob, relax. Talk about taking things literally and not symbolically.

Wed, 09/30/2020 - 10:01am

Totally agree with you over here on the other side of the state (SW Michigan)...thanks to Governor Whitmer's ridiculous amount of executive orders and shutdown measures our state economy is trashed.

Wed, 09/30/2020 - 11:07am

Wearing a mask feels like prison? The stay at home orders were demands to stay in your 10x10 bedroom 20 hours a day. You could still go outside as much as you wanted and enjoyed this beautiful state. Go spend a few days in real prison and come back and tell us how social distancing and mask wearing compares.

Wed, 09/30/2020 - 11:35am

Anthony, what is the governor stopping you from doing that you can do in other states?

Ron H
Wed, 09/30/2020 - 8:54am

Very good assessment of the squabble last night. I know independent voters are what both sides are after, since everyone else has already made up their minds. But after last night, if I was an independent I'd still be undecided.

Wed, 09/30/2020 - 11:38am

But obviously you're not.

Wed, 09/30/2020 - 9:46am

The real losers last night were the citizens who were deprived of meaningful debate of any substance. I realize that watching two men shout insults at each other at the same time is what some people consider entertainment, but it in no way qualifies as meaningful debate. Won’t someone please bring back civil debate with actual rules limiting the time each can speak without interruption even if it means shutting off the non-speaker’s microphone? Then maybe we listeners could hear and evaluate what is being said.

Annmarie Boyle
Wed, 09/30/2020 - 11:43am

For the most part, I agree with you, but one candidate did talk about policies and the future. The other didn't. This has become a reality presidency. You should have all the information you need right now to make a decision. Just vote already. There's a clear choice and you can vote absentee. Don't wait for the next dramatic episode. We should stop enabling this madness.

Game Over
Wed, 09/30/2020 - 10:46am

They say working people like Trump because he speaks for them. I'm a working stiff and Biden speaks for ME: Shut up, Man! You're the worst president America has ever had!

Enough already. No need for further debates. Our family is voting today, absentee. Biden Harris 2020!

BTW Who does Trump owe $400,000,000 to? That's the ONLY question that interests us and it wasn't addressed.

Jenny B
Wed, 09/30/2020 - 10:50am

If living in Michigan were like living in a prison, why is the Unlock Michigan petition employing fraud and deceitful lies to get signatures?

Janice Toomey
Wed, 09/30/2020 - 11:03am

Michigan had its 'best year ever' claim. Many people, including my sister, my cousins, lost lucrative jobs, as lawyers, engineers, and teachers, etc. during the Trump debacle. There may be more jobs, not sure, but the new ones don't pay well at all, nor do they come with benefits.

No one can afford insurance costs, let alone health care insurance. As a business woman I did well under the Obama Biden years, every year a little better. Since Trump got in office I have been losing 20% in revenue every year. This year will be especially depressing for everyone of them with the pandemic. Sure business tax cuts seem enticing, but when your customers can't afford to buy your products, you lose revenue. I'd rather have the higher revenue and higher taxes, than low revenue and low taxes. The tax cuts shrink your customer base. Charities make less money too because people have less disposable discretionary income.

Wed, 09/30/2020 - 11:10am

The Governor may be loved by some, but she has gone about control of the whole pandemic completely wrong. From her initial executive orders requiring that some infected patients return to nursing homes, she, along with Gov. Cuomo of New York, are directly responsible for a large number of deaths. When she closed dental providers offices, she never took into account that these medically trained people would know exactly what to do to keep the virus from spreading in their offices. Her whole approach ruined what little remained of the economy by saying that certain types of offices must close, when instead she should have put up conditions that if met would allow them to stay open. I feel no safer going to a restaurant that is only allowed 25% capacity than one that is allowed 100% capacity. I would feel safer if the facility had required ventilation, or was outdoors, or had other protocols in place to allow them to stay open. In short, maybe the Unlock Michigan petition will be allowed, but it appears the governor has unleashed her attack dog on the petitioners. Time will tell as we now stay "in prison" until late October.

Wed, 09/30/2020 - 11:49am

Trump will check himself into a mental institution after he loses to avoid going to prison.

James Grant
Wed, 09/30/2020 - 12:57pm

In future debates the moderator should turn on the microphone of the person he is asking a question of and leave off all other microphones. The "debaters" should also be widely spaced.

Thu, 10/01/2020 - 10:13am

The GOP are nothing more than a fascist party led by a madman. Their main objective is to retain power by any means possible including violence. Our country is closer to becoming World War II Germany than a continuing democracy. Vote the fascist party out in November!