Fact check: Donalds makes inaccurate claim about Biden’s income to argue he couldn’t legitimately afford loan to his brother

The Republican chairman of the House Oversight Committee, Rep. James Comer, raised questions in October about a $200,000 check that one of Joe Biden’s siblings wrote to Biden in March 2018 with the words “loan repayment” written on the front. Though the available evidence suggests that James Biden was indeed repaying a $200,000 loan that Joe Biden had sent him less than two months prior, Comer has repeatedly said he doesn’t “believe” Joe Biden had made the loan at all.

This Tuesday and Wednesday, another Republican congressman, Rep. Byron Donalds of Florida, scoffed at the idea that Biden could have legitimately afforded such a loan.

“When does a member – somebody who’s been in the US Senate making $174,000 a year – have $200,000 to lend his brother? I mean, give me a break. This is just absolutely ridiculous,” Donalds said in a Tuesday night interview on right-wing television channel Newsmax, calling Democratic Rep. Eric Swalwell of California “dumb” for believing there was a legitimate loan.

On Wednesday, Donalds posted a clip of the interview on his account on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter, and wrote: “Imagine being dumb enough to believe that a career politician who makes less than $200,000 a year can somehow ‘loan’ his family $200,000.”

Facts First: The premise of Donalds’ claims is wrong. Biden was earning far more than $200,000 per year in January 2018, when his brother was sent the $200,000 payment; he was not in government at the time. Biden and his wife Jill Biden reported about $11 million in adjusted gross income on their 2017 tax returns and about $4.6 million on their 2018 tax returns. Most of the income was from a multi-million-dollar book deal and the dozens of paid speeches for which Joe Biden received five-figure and six-figure fees.

So: Donalds argued it is “ridiculous” to think that someone would be able to afford a $200,000 loan on a senator’s salary, but whether that’s true in general is irrelevant when it comes to the president in particular. Biden, whose vice presidency ended in January 2017, was earning many multiples of a senator’s salary at the time his brother was wired the $200,000. (Comer says there is reason to doubt Democrats’ claims that Joe Biden was the person behind the wired money; as CNN explained earlier this week, the available evidence suggests, though does not prove with absolute certainty, that it was indeed Joe Biden.)

Biden released his 2017 and 2018 tax returns in 2019, when he launched his 2020 presidential election campaign. Therefore, the fact that he had a lucrative 2017-2018 period while out of government has been publicly known for years now – as Semafor journalist Dave Weigel noted when he challenged Donalds’ claim on social media on Wednesday.

And a minor additional note: Biden served as vice president for eight years after his 36 years in the US Senate, so he was earning the vice president’s salary of $230,700 at the time the Obama-Biden administration ended, not a senator’s salary of $174,000.

Asked for comment on Wednesday, Donalds spokesperson Harrison Fields did not dispute the fact that Biden was making millions per year, not the $174,000 per year Donalds claimed on Newsmax, at the time of the $200,000 payment to Biden’s brother in 2018. But Fields argued that focusing on this fact would “miss the forest for the trees” and “really miss the point.” He said Donalds was making a bigger point, which Fields said Donalds’ followers on X would understand, about what Fields contended is a record of “sketchy at best” financial dealings by Biden and his family.

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