President Trump and his allies have responded to recent revelations of his minuscule federal income tax bills by saying they’re overheated fake news.
But on the debate stage Wednesday night, Vice President Mike Pence went a step further—saying the story served to highlight that Trump, unlike Democratic nominee Joe Biden, has been a true American job creator, not a career politician.
“The American people have a president who is a businessman, a job creator, who has paid tens of millions of dollars in taxes, payroll taxes, property taxes. He's created tens of thousands of American jobs,” said Pence. “The president said those public reports are not accurate, and the president's also released literally stacks of financial disclosures the American people can review just as the law allows.”
In reality, Trump has consistently avoided releasing his full tax returns—ignoring a modern practice for presidents—claiming he couldn’t because of an IRS audit. A fuller financial picture from the president only emerged after recent reporting from the New York Times, which obtained two decades of Trump tax records to show how he consistently avoided high tax bills by leaning on his business’ losses and claiming questionable breaks.
In 2016 and 2017, Trump, a billionaire, paid $750 in federal income tax—far less than what many working and middle-class Americans pay each year. Pence’s debate rival, Democratic vice presidential nominee Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA), first brought up the bombshell reporting, quipping that “when I first heard about it, I literally said, you mean $750,000?”
“We now know Donald Trump owes and is in debt for $400 million,” said Harris. “And just so everyone is clear, when we say in debt, it means you owe money to somebody. And it would be really good to know who the president of the United States, the commander in chief, owes money to because the American people have a right to know what is influencing the president's decisions.”
Indeed, Trump’s debt situation is so severe that the Times report stipulated that, if reelected, the president might put his lenders in the unprecedented position of deciding whether to foreclose on the U.S. commander-in-chief. Additionally, the IRS is weighing a potential penalty of over $100 million stemming from Trump’s write-off of his Atlantic City casinos, which may not have been as total as he once claimed.