SciCheck Digest

President Joe Biden restricted travel from eight African nations on Nov. 26 to slow the spread of the omicron variant. Conservative commentators have misleadingly cited a Biden tweet from last year to claim he was critical of “the same travel ban” implemented by then-President Donald Trump. But that tweet was about a Trump immigration order directed at predominantly Muslim countries.

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The World Health Organization designated the omicron variant of the virus that causes COVID-19 as a variant of concern on Nov. 26.

On the same day, President Joe Biden issued a policy restricting travel from southern Africa, where scientists first identified the variant. The eight countries affected are Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe.

Biden called the move, which was intended to slow the spread of the variant to the U.S., a “precautionary measure until we have more information.” However, travel restrictions are most effective if they are implemented before a virus, or variant, has begun to spread. The omicron variant has already started to spread and has now been detected in more than a dozen countries, including the U.S.

Within a day of Biden’s announcement, conservative social media pages had taken aim at the president, but they leveled a criticism that was based on a misrepresentation of a past position Biden had taken on Trump’s immigration policies.

They called Biden a “hypocrite,” highlighting a tweet from Feb. 1, 2020. For example, the Republican Party of Portage County, Ohio, posted the tweet on Facebook with this misleading claim, “And yet he imposes the same travel ban. What a hypocrite!”

The Biden tweet from last year (below) was posted the day after then-President Donald Trump had signed a policy restricting travel from China in an effort to slow the spread of the virus that causes COVID-19. But the policy Biden was addressing had nothing to do with the COVID-19 pandemic or public health measures.

In his tweet, Biden was objecting to an expansion of Trump’s controversial ban on certain foreign nationals from largely Muslim countries.

As a candidate, Trump had proposed “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.” That 2015 campaign promise, and the resulting policy initiatives aimed at barring Muslims from entering the country that followed, came to be known as the “Muslim ban.”

On Jan. 31, 2020, Trump had added six more countries — Burma (Myanmar), Eritrea, Kyrgyzstan, Nigeria, Sudan and Tanzania — to the existing list of those affected by the travel restrictions, four of them in Africa. Hence, Biden’s reference to a “new ‘African Ban.’”

On the same day that Trump had signed that policy, he had also signed an unrelated measure restricting travelers from China due to the pandemic.

They were two separate and distinct policies. It’s clear which one Biden was referring to because his tweet also included a link to his full statement opposing the restrictions on those coming from Muslim majority countries. It said nothing about China or the pandemic.

This isn’t the first time that the two Trump-era policies signed on the same day have been confused. We wrote in April 2020 about a similar claim misrepresenting House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s opposition to the restrictions on those coming from Muslim majority countries as criticism of the pandemic-related travel restriction.

We could find no evidence in the public record at the time of Pelosi’s position on Trump’s pandemic-related restriction.

As for Biden’s position, we’ve written before about a comment he made about “xenophobia” while campaigning in Iowa on Jan. 31, 2020. At that time, he said that as the pandemic unfolds, Americans “need to have a president who they can trust what he says about it, that he is going to act rationally about it.” He added, “This is no time for Donald Trump’s record of hysteria and xenophobia – hysterical xenophobia – and fear-mongering to lead the way instead of science.”

The following day, he wrote on Twitter, “We are in the midst of a crisis with the coronavirus. We need to lead the way with science — not Donald Trump’s record of hysteria, xenophobia, and fearmongering. He is the worst possible person to lead our country through a global health emergency.”

Trump repeatedly claimed that Biden’s remarks were about the travel restrictions on China.

But Biden did not reference the travel restrictions on China in his remarks, and his campaign said he wasn’t talking about that.

Biden’s deputy campaign manager, Kate Bedingfeld, told CNN on April 3, 2020, that his “reference to xenophobia was about Trump’s long record of scapegoating others at a time when the virus was emerging from China.”

She also said that Biden supported Trump’s decision to impose travel restrictions on China.

Biden himself addressed the issue in the final presidential debate: “I talked about his xenophobia in a different context. It wasn’t about closing the border to Chinese coming to the United States.”

Despite this evidence, some high-profile conservative figures still highlighted Biden’s tweet about restrictions on travelers from Muslim majority countries as though it were about pandemic-related travel restrictions. Among those who did so were Rep. Dan Crenshaw, former Arkansas governor and current Fox News contributor Mike Huckabee, commentator Glenn Beck and Trump’s former aide Dan Scavino.

Editor’s note: SciCheck’s COVID-19/Vaccination Project is made possible by a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The foundation has no control over FactCheck.org’s editorial decisions, and the views expressed in our articles do not necessarily reflect the views of the foundation. The goal of the project is to increase exposure to accurate information about COVID-19 and vaccines, while decreasing the impact of misinformation.

Sources

World Health Organization. Update on Omicron. 28 Nov 2021.

Biden, Joe. “A Proclamation on Suspension of Entry as Immigrants and Nonimmigrants of Certain Additional Persons Who Pose a Risk of Transmitting Coronavirus Disease 2019.” Whitehouse.gov. 26 Nov 2021.

Biden, Joe. Statement by President Joe Biden on the Omicron COVID-⁠19 Variant. Whitehouse.gov. 26 Nov 2021.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Press release. “First Confirmed Case of Omicron Variant Detected in the United States.” 1 Dec 2021.

Biden, Joe (@JoeBiden). “Trump further diminished the U.S. in the eyes of the world by expanding his travel ban. This new ‘African Ban,’ is designed to make it harder for black and brown people to immigrate to the United States. It’s a disgrace, and we cannot let him succeed.” Twitter. 1 Feb 2020.

Trump, Donald. “Presidential Proclamation Enhancing Vetting Capabilities and Processes for Detecting Attempted Entry Into the United States by Terrorists or Other Public-Safety Threats.” Whitehouse.gov (archived). 24 Sep 2017.

Kight, Stef. “The evolution of Trump’s Muslim ban.” Axios. 10 Feb 2020.

Trump, Donald. “Proclamation on Improving Enhanced Vetting Capabilities and Processes for Detecting Attempted Entry.” Whitehouse.gov (archived). 31 Jan 2021.

Trump, Donald. “Proclamation on Suspension of Entry as Immigrants and Nonimmigrants of Persons who Pose a Risk of Transmitting 2019 Novel Coronavirus.” Whitehouse.gov (archived). 31 Jan 2020.

Biden, Joe. “Statement from Vice President Joe Biden on Donald Trump’s Expanded Travel Ban.” Medium.com. 1 Feb 2020.

Hale Spencer, Saranac. “Video Misconstrues Pelosi Tweet on ‘un-American Travel Ban.’” FactCheck.org. 3 Apr 2020.

Rieder, Rem. “Trump’s Misleading Comments on Biden and the Coronavirus.” FactCheck.org. 15 Jul 2020.

Farley, Robert. “Trump, Biden Spin China Travel Restrictions.” FactCheck.org. Corrected 4 May 2020.

Robertson, Lori. “Trump’s Mysterious Claim of an Apology ‘Letter’ from Biden.” FactCheck.org. 4 May 2020.

Biden, Joe (@JoeBiden). “We are in the midst of a crisis with the coronavirus. We need to lead the way with science — not Donald Trump’s record of hysteria, xenophobia, and fear-mongering. He is the worst possible person to lead our country through a global health emergency.” Twitter. 1 Feb 2020.

Tapper, Jake. “Biden campaign says he backs Trump’s China travel ban.” CNN. 3 Apr 2020.

Donald Trump & Joe Biden Final Presidential Debate Transcript 2020. Rev.com. 22 Oct 2020.

WI Guest Author

This correspondent is a guest contributor to The Washington Informer.

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