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Fact check: Joe Biden's State of the Union address

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Fact-checking claims in the State of the Union and GOP response 02:21

—In his first State of the Union address, President Biden confronted Vladimir Putin's "premeditated and unprovoked" invasion of Ukraine and announced the closure of U.S. airspace to Russian planes. He also discussed the high inflation the U.S. is enduring at home and his plans to bring costs down while reducing the country's deficits. 

CBS News fact-checked some of the statements made by Mr. Biden Tuesday night in his address before Congress.


Gun manufacturers only U.S. industry that can't be sued

President Biden: Called on Congress to "Repeal the liability shield that makes gun manufacturers the only industry in America that can't be sued."

Fact check: Misleading

The liability shield law that President Biden referenced is called the "Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act."

2019 analysis by the Congressional Research Service (CRS) notes that this law does generally shield firearm manufacturers and sellers from lawsuits in federal and state courts when a "third part acquires a firearm…and uses it for criminal ends." 

But this law doesn't prevent all lawsuits against gun manufacturers, as Mr. Biden seemed to suggest by stating that gun manufacturers "can't be sued." The CRS states that gun manufacturers and sellers can be sued when they "knowingly" violate laws regarding the selling and marketing of guns. Manufacturers may also be held liable for design and manufacture defects, as well as for "knowingly" conspiring to sell weapons to buyers who are prohibited from possessing firearms, the CRS says. 

In recent years, a lawsuit in Connecticut was allowed to proceed against gun manufacturer Remington over the way it advertised the Bushmaster semiautomatic rifle, the weapon used in the Sandy Hook mass shooting that left 20 children and six educators dead. The lawsuit was settled for $73 million in February.

— Bo Erickson, Romello Oliver


Nobody making under $400K per year will pay more in new taxes

President Biden: "Under my plan, nobody, let me say this again, nobody earning less than $400,000 a year will pay an additional penny in new taxes. Not a single penny."

Fact check: True, but lacks context

Mr. Biden has put forth a number of tax proposals in the American Families Plan, some of which become effective at $400,000 in income and some of which kick in at much higher thresholds.

The plan proposes to raise the top tax rate to 39.6% from its current 37%, a change that would kick in at $452,700 for single taxpayers and $509,300 for married couples. It would place an additional tax on pass-through business income of $400,000 or higher. Taxpayers making above $1 million would also see a new capital gains tax. Also, taxpayers who die with significant accumulated wealth — $1 million or more in unrealized capital gains — would face an additional tax on the increase in their investment. Mr. Biden also proposes increasing the corporate tax rate to 28% from 21%.

A number of analyses of Mr. Biden's proposals by think tanks including the Tax Policy Center, the American Enterprise Institute and the Penn-Wharton Budget Model, agree that the vast majority of the tax increases would be paid by the highest earners. But their models also predict small tax increases or decreased earning power for all income brackets. For instance, the Penn-Wharton model predicts the lowest earners would come out $15 to $90 behind under the plan. These calculations assume that corporations will pass on their higher tax payments to workers, in the form of lower wages. That's not a tax increase per se, but an attempt to model the full effect of the tax changes.

By Irina Ivanova

Fact check: Ruble down 30%, Russian stock market has lost 40%

President Biden: "Tonight I am announcing that we are joining our allies in closing off American air space to all Russian flights — further isolating Russia and adding an additional squeeze on their economy. [Russian President Vladimir Putin] has no idea what's coming. The ruble has lost 30% of its value. The Russian stock market has lost 40% of its value, and trading remains suspended."

Fact check: True

  • The ruble exchange rate to the U.S. dollar weakened from roughly 78 on February 22 to more than 108 by March 2, a decrease of more than 30% in value against the U.S. dollar.
  • The MOEX Russian Index plummeted from 3,646 on February 16 to 2,058 on February 24 — a more than 40% drop before rebounding slightly.
By Sarah Ewall-Wice

Fact check: The Justice Dept banned chokeholds for its officers

President Biden: "Let's come together and protect our communities, restore trust, and hold law enforcement accountable. That's why the Justice Department has required body cameras, banned chokeholds, and restricted no-knock warrants for its officers."

Claim: The Justice Department has banned chokeholds.

Fact check: True, except when "deadly force" is authorized

In September 2021, the Justice Department announced "written department-wide policies explicitly prohibiting the use of 'chokeholds' and 'carotid restraints' unless deadly force is authorized, and limiting the circumstances in which the department's federal law enforcement components are authorized to use unannounced entries."

So, while the department did implement a ban on chokeholds, they are still allowed in very limited circumstances. Federal law enforcement may use "chokeholds" and "carotid restraints" in cases in which "deadly force is authorized" — which it defines as incidents "when the officer has a reasonable belief that the subject of such force poses an imminent danger of death or serious physical injury to the officer or to another person."

The policy only applies to federal "law enforcement components" and not state or local law enforcement officers.

— Lete Childs and Arthur Jones II


Fact check: 55 Fortune 500 companies earned $40 billion in profit and paid no federal taxes

President Biden: "Last year, 55 of the Fortune 500 companies earned $40 billion in profit and paid zero in federal taxes." 

Fact check: True.

This statistic comes from the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP), a liberal think tank. Across several different industries, the ITEP states there are at least 55 of the "largest corporations in America paid no federal corporate income taxes." The organization says these 55 companies made more than $40.5 billion dollars in pre-tax incomes. This is a common reference point for President Biden when he advocates for top American corporations to "pay their fair share" of taxes.

— Bo Erickson, Romello Oliver  


Fact check: 2017 Trump tax cut benefited top 1%

President Biden: "Unlike the $2 trillion tax cut passed in the previous administration, that benefited the top 1% of Americans, the American rescue plan — the American Rescue Plan helped working people and left no one behind."

Claim: The 2017 Trump tax cut benefited the top 1% of Americans.

Fact check: Partially true, but omits details

President Biden's claim that the 2017 tax cuts passed by former President Trump benefited the top earners in the U.S. is certainly true — but the tax cuts also benefitted other Americans, too. 

The Brookings Institution wrote that "80 percent of taxpayers will receive a tax cut averaging about $2,100 in 2018 due to the major provisions in the [tax cuts]."

Regarding Mr. Biden's subsequent claim that his American Rescue Plan helped "working people," an analysis by the Tax Policy Center stated that 70% of the tax benefits from the Senate's version of the American Rescue Plan would benefit low- and moderate-income households.

— Bo Erickson, Romello Oliver  

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