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Wisconsin Watch partners with Gigafact to produce fact briefs — bite-sized fact checks of trending claims. Read our methodology to learn how we check claims.


The national debt on Jan. 19, 2017, the day before Donald Trump was inaugurated president, was $19,944,429,217,107.

On Jan. 19, 2021, the day before Joe Biden was inaugurated, the debt was: $27,752,835,868,445 — about $7.8 trillion higher.

As of July 14, 2023, more than halfway through Biden’s term, the debt had risen by another roughly $4.7 trillion, to $32,542,410,783,067.

When the government spends more than it takes in, it borrows to make up the deficit. The outstanding debt is the accumulated deficits from previous years.

The debt is a result of decisions made by a president and Congress during a president’s term, but also by decisions made by previous presidents and Congresses.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a candidate for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, made the statement about Trump and the debt during a July 11, 2023, interview with the website Wisconsin Right Now. Trump is also a candidate.

This Fact Brief is responsive to conversations such as this one.


FiscalData Debt to the Penny (custom date range search)

Pew Research 5 facts about the U.S. national debt

FiscalData Debt to the Penny (as of July 14, 2023)

FiscalData Understanding the National Debt

Wisconsin Right Now Florida Gov Ron DeSantis interview (3:10)

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Tom Kertscher joined as a Wisconsin Watch fact checker in January 2023 and contributes to our collaboration with the The Gigafact Project to fight misinformation online. Kertscher is a former longtime newspaper reporter, including at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, who has worked as a self-employed journalist since 2019. His gigs include contributing writer for PolitiFact and sports freelancer for The Associated Press.