Fact-checking President Biden’s first State of the Union address

The VERIFY team analyzed claims from Biden’s first State of the Union address as president.

President Joe Biden delivered his first State of the Union address on Tuesday, March 1, amid Russia’s attack on Ukraine and America’s ongoing recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.

During his address, Biden reiterated the role of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), an alliance created in 1949 after World War II, and how the United States is protecting the alliance’s member nations amid the conflict between Russia and Ukraine. 

“Putin’s war was premeditated and unprovoked. He rejected efforts at diplomacy. He thought the West and NATO wouldn’t respond. And, he thought he could divide us here at home,” Biden said. “Putin was wrong. We were ready.”

Biden also outlined his administration’s plan to fight inflation by lowering costs rather than wages and making more goods in America.  

The VERIFY team fact-checked claims from Biden’s address.

Related: Fact-check of Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds' rebuttal to Biden's State of the Union

THE CLAIM

“I signed 80 bipartisan bills into law last year.” -- President Biden

THE SOURCES

THE ANSWER 

This needs context.

This claim needs context. While Biden signed exactly 80 bills into law in the 12-month period after he was inaugurated that had at least one Republican vote, this count includes several bills that had no more than a handful of votes from Republicans and were rejected by the party as a whole.

WHAT WE FOUND 

Between Jan. 20, 2021 and Jan. 20, 2022, Biden signed 82 bills into public law. Of those 82, two bills were voted for exclusively by Democrats: the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 and another bill that expressed disapproval of a rule submitted by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. That leaves exactly 80 laws with at least one Republican vote.

But at least two other bills earned just one Republican vote from the House and Senate combined: the Promoting Physical Activity for Americans Act and a joint resolution relating to increasing the debt limit. Of the bills VERIFY checked the votes for, there are at least six other bills that had the support of less than a quarter of the Republicans in the two chambers of Congress.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines bipartisan as “of, relating to, or involving members of two parties; specifically: marked by or involving cooperation, agreement, and compromise between two major political parties.”

Even though those eight bills had the support of a few Republicans, they certainly didn’t involve the “cooperation, agreement and compromise” of the Republican Party.

Still, most of the 82 bills signed into public law in Biden’s first year as president were actually bipartisan. Some of them were passed by a voice vote or unanimous vote in one or both chambers, and others had very few votes against. 

THE CLAIM

“We’ve sent 475 million vaccine doses to 112 countries, more than any other nation.” – President Biden

THE SOURCES

THE ANSWER 

This is true.

Yes, the U.S. has sent 475 million COVID-19 vaccine doses to 112 countries. But that’s less than half of the administration’s total donation goal.

WHAT WE FOUND 

In 2021, the Biden administration committed to donating 1.2 billion COVID-19 vaccine doses to countries around the world. 

As of March 1, 2022, the United States has donated more than 478 million vaccine doses to more than 110 countries, according to the U.S. Department of State. Those countries include more than 30 in the African Union, roughly 25 in the Western Hemisphere, and about 20 in Southern and Eastern Asia. 

Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF), a nonprofit organization focusing on national health issues, is also tracking U.S. COVID-19 vaccine donations. The organization’s data shows that the U.S. has delivered 413.6 million vaccine doses and shipped – but not yet delivered – 60 million vaccine doses for a total of 473.6. 

KFF also lists 112 countries as recipients of vaccine dose donations. 

Jeff Zients, White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator, said during a White House COVID-19 Response Team press briefing on Jan. 26 that the U.S. had shipped 400 million vaccine doses – four times more free doses than any other country at that time. 

THE CLAIM

"The ruble has lost 30% of its value." -- President Biden

THE SOURCES

THE ANSWER

   

This is true.

Yes, the Russian ruble has lost 30% of its value.

WHAT WE FOUND

Trading Economics, a company that provides historical data and forecasts for tens of millions of economic indicators, reports on the ruble’s exchange rate against the U.S. dollar. Over the past four weeks, the ruble lost about 38% of its value against the dollar, Trading Economics data shows.

Financial news sites, including the Wall Street Journal and MarketWatch, use data from Tullett Prebon, a financial services firm, for exchange rate tracking. They publish graphing tools that show the exchange rate between the U.S. dollar and the ruble. A higher number indicates a higher exchange rate for the ruble, meaning more rubles are needed to buy one U.S. dollar worth of goods.

Data from Tullett Prebon shows the exchange rate was about 81 rubles per U.S. dollar as of Feb. 23. Now, as of Tuesday, March 1, the exchange rate is sitting at about 110 rubles per U.S. dollar. That is an increase of more than 35%, meaning the ruble has lost more than 30% of its value. 

FactSet, an American financial data company, tracks currency exchange rates. Data from FactSet shows that the exchange rate was sitting at nearly 82 rubles per U.S. dollar as of Feb. 23 compared to about 109 rubles per U.S. dollar as of March 1, as shown on the Vienna Stock Exchange.

THE CLAIM 

“In fact—our economy created over 6.5 Million new jobs just last year, more jobs created in one year than ever before in the history of America.” -- President Biden

THE SOURCE 

THE ANSWER

This is true.

 Yes, the US gained more than 6.5 million jobs in 2021, more than any prior year. But this claim requires context.

WHAT WE FOUND

According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, at the end of 2020 there were 142,497,000 total employees in the United States. By the end of 2021 that number had risen to 149,162,000. That’s an increase of 6,665,000.

That is indeed the largest change from the end of one year to the end of the next since the BLS began reporting the statistic in 1939. The second largest was in 1946, a year that saw 4,269,000 jobs added.

However, to understand exactly what the growth in 2021 really meant, important context needs to be added. Namely, that President Biden took over amidst a dramatic economic recovery following the shutdowns associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.

The most disruptive COVID-19 shutdowns occurred in spring of 2020, during then-President Donald Trump’s tenure. Between January and April of 2020, 21,615,000 jobs were lost. 

Then, between April and December of 2020, 11,984,000 jobs were added. Since that still nets to a 9,292,000 job loss in 2020, Biden’s claim of an all-time single-year high increase holds up.

But that also means the 6.5 million job increase in 2021 came shortly after a much larger and faster increase that began before he took office.

THE CLAIM

“Our economy grew at a rate of 5.7% last year, the strongest growth in nearly 40 years, the first step in bringing fundamental change to an economy that hasn’t worked for the working people of this nation for too long.” -- President Biden

THE SOURCES 

THE ANSWER

This is true.

Yes, the U.S. economy grew at a rate of 5.7% last year, which was the strongest growth in nearly 40 years. But that's after a year that saw a GDP decrease of 3.4%.

WHAT WE FOUND 

The Bureau of Economic Analysis released the latest data on January 27, 2022 in a press release. According to this release, the GDP jumped by 5.7 percent in 2021. This shows the change from the “2020 annual level” to the “2021 annual level.” 

“The increase in GDP in 2021 reflected increases in all major subcomponents,” the BEA wrote. 

It’s important to note there was a significant drop in GDP from 2019 to 2020, which allowed for a rapid rebound.  According to Statista, there was a real GDP decrease of 3.4 percent during this time period, amid the global pandemic.  

According to Macrotrends, which attributes its data to the World Bank, this GDP increase is the largest since 1983, when there was an increase of 6.39 percent. That makes the 2021 GDP growth rate the highest in nearly 40 years, as claimed by President Biden.

In 2010, the GDP jumped by 5.1 percent, which is just below this increase. 

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