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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Trump’s False Claims about Pelosi and Chinatown

President Donald Trump is making false and exaggerated claims about House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s Feb. 24 trip to San Francisco’s Chinatown. Pelosi urged people to shop and eat there at a time when tourism was suffering because of the novel coronavirus, which originated in China late last year.

  • Trump falsely tweeted that “Crazy Nancy Pelosi” had deleted a video from Twitter of her visit to Chinatown. “She wanted everyone to pack into Chinatown long after I closed the BORDER TO CHINA,” Trump said. But there is no record such a video was ever posted on Twitter by Pelosi.
  • At an April 13 coronavirus briefing, Trump falsely claimed that during her visit Pelosi said, “‘Let’s all have the big parade — Chinatown parade.'” Pelosi didn’t say that. In fact, that parade had taken place on Feb. 8, more than two weeks before Pelosi went to Chinatown.
  • At a coronavirus briefing on April 15, Trump exaggerated when he said Pelosi “was trying to have, in San Francisco, parties in Chinatown, because she thought it would be great.” Pelosi didn’t mention parties during her visit, although she urged people to come to Chinatown to shop and eat.
  • Trump also falsely said Pelosi visited Chinatown “to show that this thing doesn’t exist,” referring to the novel coronavirus. Pelosi never suggested that it didn’t exist. She stressed the need for “prevention, prevention, prevention” — urging people to be “concerned and vigilant,” but not “afraid.”

The president has raised Pelosi’s visit several times in recent days to counter criticism that he was slow to react to the coronavirus. He repeatedly mentions that he issued travel restrictions on China, which he did on Jan. 31. Meanwhile, he points out, the House speaker was urging people to go to Chinatown.

Trump is mischaracterizing and exaggerating what she said during her visit. And while Trump did issue the travel restrictions, as we have reported, he also downplayed the danger of the virus in a series of remarks and tweets from Jan. 22 to March 10.

The California Democrat’s visit to Chinatown came three weeks before six Bay Area counties implemented shelter-in-place restrictions. On the same day as Pelosi’s visit, Trump tweeted, “The Coronavirus is very much under control in the USA. We are in contact with everyone and all relevant countries. CDC & World Health have been working hard and very smart. Stock Market starting to look very good to me!”

Here’s Trump’s April 16 tweet accusing Pelosi of deleting a video from her Twitter account:

We could find no record that the video was ever posted on Pelosi’s Twitter account.

We checked Politwoops, a project of ProPublica that preserves tweets deleted by politicians, and there’s no record Pelosi deleted a tweet of the video, nor a record of her deleting a tweet about the Chinatown visit. The Internet Archives’ Wayback Machine captured an image of Pelosi’s Twitter page on Feb. 27, and that, too, shows no tweet of the video. Pelosi still has a tweet about her Chinatown visit on her Twitter feed.

Pelosi spokesperson Drew Hammill tweeted that Pelosi’s office hadn’t posted it. “Fact check: We never posted this video. It’s obviously local TV coverage of the Speaker visiting Chinatown in San Francisco….”

Pelosi explained at the time that she was making her Chinatown visit “to say to everyone: we should come to Chinatown.”

Pelosi, Feb. 24: Precautions have been taken by our city. We know that there is concern surrounding tourism, traveling all throughout the world, but we think it’s very safe to be in Chinatown and hope that others will come. It’s lovely here. The food is delicious, the shops are prospering, the parade was great. Walking tours continue. Please come and visit and enjoy Chinatown.

So, Pelosi mentioned the Chinese New Year parade. But she did not say, “‘Let’s all have the big parade — Chinatown parade,'” as Trump maintained during the April 13 coronavirus briefing. In fact, the parade occurred on Feb. 8

And, while she encouraged people to “visit and enjoy Chinatown” and called it “very safe,” Trump went too far in saying at his April 15 briefing that Pelosi “was trying to have, in San Francisco, parties in Chinatown, because she thought it would be great.” Pelosi didn’t mention parties during her visit.

As for the coronavirus, Pelosi didn’t deny its existence — contrary to Trump’s remarks — while visiting Chinatown. She struck a middle ground. “Prevention, prevention, prevention. We want people to be concerned and vigilant,” she said. “However, we don’t want them to be afraid.”

During her excursion, Pelosi was asked if it was irrational for people to stay away from Asian-American-owned businesses in San Francisco and elsewhere.

“Well, that’s one of the reasons we are here today,” she replied. “It doesn’t make any sense, but it’s not just Asian-owned now. You see in Italy where the shows – the fashion shows and all of that were done without an audience because people – they just didn’t – because people were not coming. So, again, this fear is – I think – unwarranted in light of the precautions that are being taken here in the United States.”

But in response to a question, Pelosi rejected the notion that racism was the reason people were avoiding Asian businesses.

“I don’t know that,” she said. “But, I do think that because it started in China, there’s a concern that are the – is the Chinese government doing what it needed to do early enough, and now as we go forward. But that should not be carried over to Chinatown and San Francisco.”

Asked whether she felt the federal government was doing enough to control the virus, Pelosi said, “I have confidence in Dr. [Anthony] Fauci at the National Institutes of Health, who has even further confidence in what we’re doing.”

Trump and Pelosi have long had a frosty relationship, one that wasn’t warmed up by the impeachment battle. And the president has bristled at her criticism that he was slow to react to the threat of the novel coronavirus. On March 29, on CNN’s “State of the Union,” she said, “his denial at the beginning was deadly. His delaying of getting equipment to where — it continues — his delay in getting equipment to where it’s needed is deadly.”

Trump returned fire the following day in an interview on Fox News’ “Fox & Friends,” assailing Pelosi as a “sick puppy.”

To sum up: Pelosi did visit Chinatown in late February in an effort to encourage people to go there to eat and shop. But she did not support parades or parties, try to show the coronavirus didn’t exist or delete a tweet of her visit, as Trump claimed.