Democracy Dies in Darkness

Fact Checker | Analysis

President Trump, king of flip-flops (continued)

By Michelle Ye Hee Lee

April 13, 2017 at 3:00 AM

(Andrew Harnik/AP)

At The Fact Checker, we recognize that politicians sometimes make a sincere evolution on a policy stance, especially as new facts emerge or as the constituency that elected them to office forms a new opinion on an issue. That's why we reserve the Upside-Down Pinocchio rating only for when a politician shifts positions without acknowledging they did so.

Perhaps no politician is a bigger flip-flopper than President Trump. In fact, two months into his presidency, we declared Trump the "king of flip-flops." He has received numerous Upside-Down Pinocchios, on his stance on employment numbers, the stock market, H-1B visas and more.

Sometimes, it was difficult to determine his actual positions amid the flipping and flopping. On the minimum wage, in particular, he was on so many sides that no matter what he position he took as president, he could claim he was consistent with a previously held stance.

When you're running for president, or when you're watching politics on the sidelines as a reality TV star or businessman, it's easy to lob baseless rhetoric. Many of Trump's recent flip-flops appeared to result from being confronted with facts he needs to accept to conduct diplomacy, or make decisions as commander in chief. As in the words of "Hamilton" the musical: "Winning was easy … governing is harder."

Here's a roundup of Trump's recent flip-flops, most of which took place in the 24 hours leading up to this fact check.

On NATO being “obsolete”

Throughout the campaign, and as recently as March 22, Trump declared the trans-Atlantic alliance "obsolete, because it doesn't cover terrorism." Of course, this was factually incorrect: NATO has been involved in counterterrorism since 1980, and especially since 9/11.

Then, in a news conference Wednesday with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, Trump decided NATO was no longer obsolete: "The secretary general and I had a productive discussion about what more NATO can do in the fight against terrorism. I complained about that a long time ago and they made a change, and now they do fight terrorism. I said it was obsolete. It's no longer obsolete."

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During a joint news conference with North Atlantic Treaty Organization Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, April 12, President Trump said NATO is “no longer obsolete.” (The Washington Post)

Trump also had claimed that the United States was paying the "lion's share" of contributions to NATO, and that "we are getting ripped off by every country in NATO, where they pay virtually nothing." As we previously explained, under guidelines established in 2006, defense expenditures of NATO alliance countries should amount to 2 percent of each country's gross domestic product by 2024.

Trump stood by his inaccurate point about cost-sharing at the news conference: "I did ask about all the money that hasn't been paid over the years — will that money be coming back? We'll be talking about that."

There was no clear acknowledgment of or reason for Trump's policy stance on whether NATO is "obsolete." Trump earns an Upside-Down Pinocchio.

On labeling China a currency manipulator

On April 12, Trump announced he would not label China a currency manipulator, breaking a key economic campaign promise.

Throughout the campaign, and as recently as 10 days before this announcement, Trump falsely blamed China for being a "world champion" of devaluing the yuan. We rated that outdated claim Four Pinocchios: Not only is the United States not being hurt by China's current currency manipulation, China also is not devaluing its currency anymore. In fact, China is selling foreign currency to prop up its own, in an effort to prevent the yuan from depreciating further and destabilizing the Chinese and global economy. Yet on April 2, Trump insisted to the Financial Times that "our country hasn't had a clue, they haven't had a clue" about China's alleged currency manipulations.

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President Trump met with China's president on April 6, after months of criticizing China and promising big trade changes. From blasting China for currency manipulation to accusing them of "raping our economy," here are some of his biggest blusters from the campaign trail. (Jenny Starrs/The Washington Post)

Trump must have finally gotten caught up on the news. He told the Wall Street Journal, just 10 days after the Financial Times interview, that he changed his mind because "China hasn't been manipulating its currency for months and because taking the step now could jeopardize his talks with Beijing on confronting the threat of North Korea."

While this is a 180-degree change in his policy stance, we will not issue an Upside-Down Pinocchio rating because Trump acknowledged that — and why — he changed his mind. However, it does merit a "Promise Broken" rating on The Fact Checker's Trump Promise Tracker.

On the Export-Import Bank

In the same interview with the Journal, Trump reversed his position on the Export-Import Bank, which underwrites loans for overseas companies that buy American products. He said he would fill two vacancies on the board of the bank.

However, on the campaign trail, Trump criticized the bank and said he found it unnecessary.

"I don't like it because I don't think it's necessary," Trump told Bloomberg News in August 2015. "It's a one-way street also. It's sort of a featherbedding for politicians and others, and a few companies. And these are companies that can do very well without it. So I don't like it. I think it's a lot of excess baggage. I think it's unnecessary. And when you think about free enterprise it's really not free enterprise. I'd be against it."

In 2017, Trump acknowledged he changed his mind: "It turns out that, first of all, lots of small companies are really helped, the vendor companies," Trump told the Journal. "But also, maybe more important, other countries give. When other countries give it we lose a tremendous amount of business."

Again, this is a clear change in his stance, but we will not award an Upside Down Pinocchio. (For more on the bank, see our previous fact checks.)

On whether he knows Putin

On April 12, Trump claimed: "I don't know Putin."

But as recently as November 2015, Trump repeatedly claimed he not only knew Vladimir Putin, but knew him "very well," and that he had a relationship with the Russian president. Trump changed his stance in July 2016, while facing criticism about his relationship with Kremlin: He declared he didn't know Putin, after all. Our colleague Philip Bump compiled a chronology of Trump's claims about Putin.

Trump didn't really explain how he came to un-know Putin, resulting in an Upside-Down Pinocchio. He offered this explanation in an interview on ABC in 2016:

Host George Stephanopoulos: But I just want to clear this up, because you did say on three different occasions you had a relationship with him. Now you say there is none.
Trump: Well, I don't know what it means by having a relationship. I mean, he was saying very good things about me, but I don't have a relationship with him. I didn't meet him. I haven't spent time with him. I didn't have dinner with him. I didn't go hiking with him.

On whether to pursue a tax code overhaul

After failing to rally enough Republican votes in support of the GOP replacement bill for the Affordable Care Act, Trump announced he was moving on from health care to pursue a tax code overhaul. He said on March 24, the day House Speaker Paul D. Ryan pulled the doomed bill: "We'll be going right now for tax reform, which we could have done earlier, but this really would have worked out better if we could have had some Democrat support. Remember this: We had no Democrat support. So now we're going to go for tax reform, which I've always liked."

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President Trump is now saying he has to do health-care reform before "phenomenal tax reform," but he's changed course on the order of those priorities before. (Jenny Starrs/The Washington Post)

But on April 11, Trump changed his stance with no explanation. In an interview with Fox Business Network, he said he will now "do health care first": "We have a great health care plan that I think will happen, and if it happens, then I go immediately to tax reform. And that will happen. That will be easier than health care."

In an interview with the Wall Street Journal the next day, Trump said he would not release any guidelines on rewriting the tax code until a new health-care bill passes. We award him an Upside Down Pinocchio.

On Janet L. Yellen

In May 2016, Trump said he would "most likely" replace Federal Reserve Chair Janet L. Yellen. During a September 2016 general-election debate, Trump criticized Yellen and the Fed for low interest rates, implying it was politically motivated: "This Janet L. Yellen of the Fed. The Fed is doing political — by keeping the interest rates at this level."

In his April 12 interview with the Journal, Trump was less sure about replacing Yellen. From the Journal:

Asked if Ms. Yellen was "toast" when her term ends in 2018, Mr. Trump said, "No, not toast."
"I like her, I respect her," Mr. Trump said, noting that the two have sat and talked in the Oval Office. "It's very early."

He added:  "I do like a low-interest-rate policy, I must be honest with you."

On intervening in Syria

Lastly, here's a bonus flip-flop that we previously covered in our running list of Trump's false or misleading claims in his first 100 days.

On April 6, Trump authorized the launch of 59 cruise missiles at a Syrian military airfield in response to a chemical attack that killed dozens of civilians. It marked the first direct American military action against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime since the country's civil war began.

But in more than a dozen tweets in 2013 and 2014, Trump consistently opposed U.S. military action and urged then-President Barack Obama against launching air attacks on Syria for allegedly deploying chemical weapons. Trump said the United States should focus on domestic issues instead. Later, this view would evolve into the noninterventionist "America-first" platform of Trump's 2016 presidential campaign.

Trump also mocked Obama for declaring a "red line," or Obama's threat to take U.S. military action if Syria used chemical weapons.

Yet Trump took military action days after the chemical weapons attack in Syria, and he mocked Obama for inaction after declaring the red line. In his statement about his decision to order the airstrike, Trump offered no acknowledgment of his previous stance against military action. He earns yet another Upside Down Pinocchio.

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Michelle Ye Hee Lee is a national political enterprise and investigations reporter for The Washington Post.

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