Analysis | Fact-checking Biden’s address to the nation

  • World War I: 116,516 deaths
  • World War II: 405,399
  • Vietnam: 58,220

Adding in the nearly 3,000 people who died during the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks brings you to just over 583,000.

In the past, the White House said that Biden misspoke and meant to refer to combat deaths. Using just battlefield deaths, you come up with a much different number for the three wars — about 392,000. That’s because more than half the deaths in World War I were not on the battlefield, in part because the 1918 flu pandemic at the time also claimed many lives in the military.

But in this case it’s rather strange for Biden to include 9/11 deaths (not in combat) and then mix that with combat deaths, especially because in-service deaths are more commonly used when referring to the military death toll in wars.

It’s also odd that the White House says Biden is referring to combat deaths — and yet he never seems to utter that caveat. (In his inaugural address, the story was that he was counting all in-service deaths, so it also makes little sense to suddenly change the metrics.)

On March 11, President Biden claimed that his goal of vaccinating 100 million Americans was called “way over the top.” (The Washington Post)

“I set a goal that many of you said was kind of way over the top. I said I intended to get 100 million shots in people’s arms in my first hundred days in office.”

Biden has become the master of underpromising and then overdelivering, in contrast to former president Donald Trump. Trump, for instance, promised more than 20 times that 100 million doses would be delivered by the end of 2020 — and only about 21 million had been delivered by the time Biden took the oath of office on Jan. 20.

But the Trump administration improved its performance as it counted down to Trump’s last days in office. Vaccinations had reached a seven-day average of 980,000 by the time Biden took office — virtually the goal Biden initially set for himself. The Biden administration has now managed to more than double that daily total, but Biden was in the position of being assured of winning the race even before he started it.

As for whether many Americans said the goal was “way over the top,” we are unaware of polling that would confirm that. Most news accounts depicted Biden’s goal as potentially difficult, but not impossible, when he announced it in early December.

The New York Times called the plan “ambitious,” adding that “fulfilling it will require no hiccups in manufacturing or distributing the vaccine and a willingness by Americans to be vaccinated.” The Washington Post also called it an “ambitious target” and USA Today pegged it as a “lofty goal.”

“My eyes got big when I saw that,” Kavita Patel, a physician who served in the Obama administration, said at the time. “That’s not going to be easy to fulfill.”

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