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Fact checking Donald Trump’s presidential announcement speech

Speaking in New York on June 16, 2015, U.S. businessman Donald Trump announced he was running for president in 2016. (Video: AP)

Businessman Donald Trump is a fact checker’s dream … and nightmare. He spouts off so many “facts,” often twisted or wrong, that it takes a lot of time to hack through the weeds. So here are some of the highlights — and lowlights — of Trump’s announcement on June 16 that he will seek the Republican nomination for president.

As is our practice, we do not award Pinocchios when we do a roundup of facts in a major speech. But astute readers should be able to figure out the Four-Pinocchio whoppers. These claims are examined in the order in which they were uttered.

“When did we beat Japan at anything? They send their cars over by the millions, and what do we do? When was the last time you saw a Chevrolet in Tokyo? It doesn’t exist, folks. They beat us all the time.”

Chevrolet is not popular in Japan. However, we refer you to the Chevrolet Japan Facebook page, Chevrolet Japan Twitter account, and these photos from the GM dealership in Tokyo.

“We spent $2 trillion in Iraq, $2 trillion.”

Close enough, for Donald Trump. As we noted recently in a fact check of a Lincoln Chafee statement, a Brown University estimate came up with a total of $1.7 trillion through 2013, including disability costs.

“Islamic terrorism is eating up large portions of the Middle East. They’ve become rich. I’m in competition with them. They just built a hotel in Syria. Can you believe this? They built a hotel.”

This curious statement appears to be based on unconfirmed reports that the Islamic State is operating a luxury hotel in Mosul, Iraq. There are images and articles of the multi-story hotel apparently circulating on social media accounts affiliated with the group. But even if this report were confirmed, it is difficult to imagine it would be in any competition with Trump’s numerous hotels.

Donald Trump spoke on his personal wealth, China, Secretary of State John Kerry's bike accident and more in the top moments from his presidential announcement. (Video: Sarah Parnass/The Washington Post)
“Last week, I read 2,300 Humvees — these are big vehicles — were left behind for the enemy. 2,000? You would say maybe two, maybe four? 2,300 sophisticated vehicles, they ran, and the enemy took them.”

Yep, that’s what the Iraqi prime minster said: “We lost 2,300 Humvees in Mosul alone.”

“Last quarter, it was just announced our gross domestic product — a sign of strength, right? But not for us. It was below zero. Whoever heard of this? It’s never below zero.”

The GDP did shrink in first quarter 2015 by a 0.7 percent annual rate. But Trump is simply wrong when he asserts “it’s never below zero.” After all, two negative quarters in a row is a standard indicator for an economic recession. First quarter GDPs also are tied to unusual winter weather that can hurt certain industries. Bureau of Economic Analysis data show that since the second quarter of 1947, there have been at least 40 quarters when the GDP shrank.

“A lot of people up there can’t get jobs. They can’t get jobs, because there are no jobs.”

This is totally false. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, “the number of job openings rose to 5.4 million on the last business day of April, the highest since the series began in December 2000.”

“We have a disaster called the big lie: Obamacare. Yesterday, it came out that costs are going for people up 29, 39, 49, and even 55 percent, and deductibles are through the roof. You have to be hit by a tractor, literally, a tractor, to use it, because the deductibles are so high, it’s virtually useless.”

Trump overstates the case here. Deductibles have been going up, especially as employers shift more costs to employees even as growth in overall health costs has really slowed. As for costs, Trump appears to be talking about premium increases. Currently, insurance companies are proposing increases, and at least one has topped 50 percent. But that does not mean that state regulators will ultimately approve the proposals. Premiums increased by an average of about 5 percent in 2015, but rate increases generally are expected to be higher in 2016.

“Remember the $5 billion Web site? $5 billion we spent on a Web site, and to this day it doesn’t work. A $5 billion Web site.”

Actually, cost about $700 million. But you can get to $5 billion if you add in the cost of the various state health-care exchanges — some of which work poorly — and if you add in the federal assistance for the state exchanges.

“We owe China $1.3 trillion. We owe Japan more than that.”

Trump is close on China, as the Treasury Department says China’s holdings are $1.263 trillion as of April. (There is some suspicion that much of Belgium’s $228 billion in debt is being held on behalf of China, so the figure is actually even higher.) But Japan trails China, with $1.216 trillion. It’s also important to remember that foreign holdings of U.S. debt actually amount to less than 50 percent of the total U.S. debt.

“We get Bergdahl. We get a traitor. We get a no-good traitor, and they get the five people that they wanted for years, and those people are now back on the battlefield trying to kill us.”

Trump is wrong about this. While a one-year travel ban for the five prisoners released as part of trade for alleged deserter Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl was set to expire at the end of May, Qatar agreed to extend it, U.S. officials say.

“I would say, ‘Congratulations. That’s the good news. Let me give you the bad news. Every car and every truck and every part manufactured in this plant that comes across the border, we’re going to charge you a 35-percent tax, and that tax is going to be paid simultaneously with the transaction, and that’s it.’”

In Trump’s fantasy conversation with the head of an auto company planning a factory in Mexico, he apparently forgot that Congress, not the president, sets tax rates. This threat would presumably also violate the North American Free Trade Agreement.

“We are 26th in the world, 25 countries are better than us in education. And some of them are like Third World countries.”

The common international measure for education performance is the Program for International Student Assessment, of 15-year-old students’ reading, math and science performance. The latest report from 2012 showed the United States ranked between 24th and 36th in the three measures behind industrialized countries and regions (i.e., not “Third World” countries). The United States fared better in another international measure, the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study, ranking within top six to 13 industrialized countries or regions in 4th and 8th grade scores.

“I have assets — big accounting firm, one of the most highly respected — [says] 9 billion, 240 million dollars. And I have liabilities of about $500 million. That’s long-term debt, very low interest rates.”

The Fact Checker has learned from long experience never to trust Trump’s numbers when he talks about his wealth. Our colleague Allan Sloan dissected Trump’s claim of $9 billion in assets and found it wanting for six key reasons. As Sloan put it: “Trump’s balance sheet is certainly over-inflated and doesn’t seem to be tethered to much of a financial reality…. If he had presented this balance sheet to me in a personal finance class, I’d have given him a short message: ‘You’re fired.’”

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