President Trump made a host of dubious claims during two recent public appearances, jumping from taxes to trade, from Iraqi oil to Canadian immigration laws, from promoting voter-fraud conspiracy theories to suggesting a California mayor should be charged with obstruction of justice.
We counted 24 false or misleading statements in Trump’s infrastructure speech in Ohio on March 29 and his roundtable on taxes in West Virginia on April 5. This is not an exhaustive list, however, and some of Trump’s claims include multiple inaccuracies.
The president seems to enjoy going off-script — Trump literally threw out his prepared remarks with a flourish in West Virginia — and perhaps as a result, we have a lot to unpack.
As usual with our roundups of multiple claims, we will not be giving Trump a Pinocchio rating.
Ohio, March 29
“We started building our wall. … We have $1.6 billion, and we’ve already started. You saw the pictures yesterday. I said, ‘What a thing of beauty.’ ”
The omnibus spending bill Trump signed in March includes $1.6 billion for fencing along the U.S.-Mexico border, not for Trump’s wall. (A fence is not a wall.) Parts of this all-fence project date to 2009, long before Trump took office.
Trump also tweeted pictures of the “wall,” but they’re actually photos of the 2009 project.
“We’re building up our military to the highest level it has ever been, and it was not in good shape. But it’s now going to be, very soon, the highest level it has ever been. And by the way, that means jobs, too. … Millions of jobs.”
Trump’s spending bill provides a record $700 billion to the U.S. military. But that’s in raw dollars. A better way to measure over time is percentage of the economy, and Trump’s is only one-third the size of the defense budget at the height of the Vietnam War. Moreover, experts say the added funds, $61 billion above what was appropriated in 2017, will not create “millions of jobs” but rather thousands or tens of thousands. Note that the spending bill provides a 2.4 percent pay raise for troops. That comes with a big price tag — and it does not directly create new jobs.
“Energy exports are at a record high, and foreign imports are at their lowest level in much more than a decade.”
Energy exports are in fact at a record high. But import levels are not as low as Trump claims. The United States imported 25.34 quadrillion BTUs of energy in 2017, according to the Energy Information Administration. Imports were lower in 2015 (23.79 QBTUs), 2014 (23.24 QBTUs) and 2013 (24.62 QBTUs).
“Just this week, we secured a wonderful deal with South Korea. We were in a deal that was a horror show. It was going to produce 200,000 jobs, and it did — for them. That was a Hillary Clinton special, I hate to say.”
Trump is referring to a free-trade agreement with South Korea that was negotiated by the President George W. Bush’s administration and then tweaked by President Barack Obama’s. It’s worth noting that calculating job gains or losses from such agreements is more art than science, as we found in 2015, so Trump’s 200,000 estimate should be taken with a grain of salt.
“We’ve got the greatest economy, maybe, ever — maybe in history. We have the greatest economy we’ve ever had.”
The stock market has seen a healthy recovery from the low points of the 2008-2009 economic downturn, and Wall Street pay has bounced back, too. But the recovery has been uneven. Median household income is barely above its 2008 level, adjusting for inflation. Wealth distribution has become more uneven since the financial crisis, with the rich now accounting for a larger share of total wealth than the middle and lower classes as compared with pre-crisis levels. This Wall Street Journal graphic gives a good overview of current economic conditions.
The U.S. gross domestic product grew 2.3 percent in 2017, Trump’s first year in office, according to Bureau of Economic Analysis data. It grew at a faster rate in three of the years Obama was in office (2010, 2014 and 2015); it also grew at a faster rate for much of the George W. Bush and Bill Clinton administrations.
“A very important, and respected, in some circles, Democrat, said we want to get rid — we should get rid of our Second Amendment. In other words, get rid of it.”
Trump is referring to Justice John Paul Stevens, a retired member of the Supreme Court who wrote an opinion piece in the New York Times calling for the repeal of the Second Amendment. Stevens for years was the leader of the Supreme Court’s liberal wing; his ideology was clearly in sync with the Democratic Party.
But Stevens never identified publicly as a Democrat. He was a registered Republican when Richard Nixon nominated him to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit, and when Gerald Ford nominated him to the Supreme Court. (In this sense, Stevens is not unlike Trump, who identifies as a Republican even though he made political contributions to Democrats for years.)
“We got rid of the bump stocks. The bump stocks, now, are under very strict control, which I think everybody agrees is fine.”
Trump’s administration has proposed to ban bump-stock accessories for firearms, but the rulemaking process takes time and the ban is still not finalized.
“I approved that Keystone XL pipeline, and I approved the Dakota Access pipeline; both of them. … I thought we would have, like, some commotion. Right? Some commotion. Like, some protest — nobody. I approved it. The pickets, they picked up their stuff and they left. That was the end of it.”
“We’re only into about 15 months, but I think I have approved much more than I’ve promised.”
As of January, the president had broken or failed to deliver on many of his campaign promises, according to our Trump Promise Tracker.
“I tell the story about Keystone. … That was dead for a couple of years, and no chance. I get elected, I approve it almost, like, in the first day, right at the very beginning. And I just say to myself, ‘Can you imagine the boss of whatever the hell company it is — who never actually called me to say thank you?’ But that’s okay.”
TransCanada chief executive Russ Girling actually thanked Trump twice in a meeting.
“We spent $7 trillion in the Middle East. We’d build a school; they’d blow it up. We’d build it again; they’d blow it up. We’d build it again; hasn’t been blown up yet, but it will be.”
Trump is lumping together the wars in Iraq (in the Middle East) and Afghanistan (in South Asia), which together cost about $1.6 trillion from 2001 to 2014. He is also adding in estimates of future spending, such as interest on the debt and veterans’ care for the next three decades.
“I got tired of watching. I used to say, ‘Keep the oil.’ We never kept the [Iraqi] oil. If we kept the oil, we would have been okay. If we kept the oil, we wouldn’t have ISIS. … That’s how they funded themselves.”
This one’s a real doozy.
First, invading and then seizing the resources of a sovereign nation would violate the Geneva Conventions. Second, taking Iraq’s oil would be logistically impossible with the troop levels committed by the United States, and would ultimately cost more than the oil is worth, experts say.
Third, the Islamic State might still exist, and still might be able to fund itself, without Iraqi oil proceeds. Much of the oil revenue that finances it comes from Syria, which the United States did not invade.
According to FactCheck.org, oil was not the most significant revenue source for the Islamic State, also known as ISIS, in 2015:
“ISIS had total revenue of $1.18 billion in 2015, according to a 2016 report by the inspectors general for the State Department, Defense Department and USAID. The terrorist group’s primary source of financing that year was extortion, stolen goods and taxes, at a combined total of $600 million. Oil accounted for $480 million. That report didn’t say how much oil revenue came from Iraq and how much came from Syria. However, a former Bush administration counterterrorism official told the House Financial Services Committee in May 2015 that about 90 percent of oil produced by ISIS came from Syrian oil fields.”
“You know, when I got in, we had over 100 federal judges that weren’t appointed. … But now we have about 145 federal district judges. We have 17 court of appeals judges. And as I said, we have the one Supreme Court justice. But think of 145 district judges.”
Prepare for a math headache.
These statements in combination suggest that Trump has appointed 145 judges to the U.S. District Court, 17 to the U.S. Court of Appeals and one Supreme Court justice. But his numbers are wildly inflated.
Since Trump took office, the Senate has confirmed 14 appellate judges, 14 district judges, and one Supreme Court justice.
Another 45 district court nominees and 10 appellate court nominees are awaiting Senate confirmation.
In total, Trump has appointed 29 judges to the district, appellate and supreme courts, not 162 as he suggested. Even when including the pending nominees, the total number rises only to 84, or about half of the 162 he claimed. Trump has set a record with judicial appointments, but it’s more modest than he portrays.
West Virginia, April 5
“You know, they used to call it tax reform, and for 40 years they couldn’t pass anything and they didn’t know why. I said, ‘How’s it hard to pass tax cuts?’ Turned out it was not that hard. It was not easy.”
Never mind that Ronald Reagan’s tax cuts passed more than 31 years ago; George W. Bush and Obama also passed big tax-cut bills.
“We had a trade deficit of almost $500 billion last year with China.”
This is a zombie claim. It keeps getting debunked, but Trump keeps saying it. (Accurately relaying trade figures is not the president’s strong suit.)
The trade deficit with China was $310 billion in 2016. This factors in both goods and services.
“This is our country. If you have a baby on our land, congratulations, that baby is a United States citizen. We’re the only one.”
Thirty countries offer birthright citizenship, including all in North America and almost all in South America, according to the Center for Immigration Studies. The number rises to 33 when including Lesotho, Tanzania and Tuvalu.
“If you come into Canada, it’s got to be based on merit. With us, it’s a lottery system — pick them out — a lottery system. You can imagine what those countries put into the system. They’re not putting their good ones.”
Like the United States, Canada offers family sponsorship for would-be immigrants, so its immigration system is not entirely based on merit.
Trump often mischaracterizes the U.S. diversity visa lottery. Other countries do not choose people to “put into the system.” Instead, nearly 15 million self-selected people from countries with low immigration to the United States apply annually for the slim chance to win an invitation to apply for a green card.
Those who win the lottery must then meet educational or work experience requirements and pass a background check. A State Department office in Kentucky manages the lottery.
“Remember my opening remarks at Trump Tower, when I opened. Everybody said, ‘Oh, he was so tough,’ and I used the word ‘rape.’ And yesterday, it came out where, this journey coming up, women are raped at levels that nobody has ever seen before. They don’t want to mention that.”
Trump is referring to rape allegations within the caravan of Central Americans heading to the United States. There are two problems with this statement.
First, Trump is harking back to 2015, when he announced his presidential candidacy in Trump Tower. He claimed at the time, “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. … They’re rapists.” But the caravaners are Central Americans, so these rape allegations do not prove his point about Mexicans.
Second, the rape allegations themselves are a matter of dispute. “A BuzzFeed News reporter who has been traveling with the caravan for 12 days says there’s no evidence that’s true,” the news site reported.
White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters that Trump was referring to a report, in 2014, that as many as 80 percent of women who have tried the journey outside such caravans have been raped. “He’s saying that the drug smugglers, the traffickers, the coyotes — this is something that, again, has been in recent years — I know it’s been up to as high as 80 percent,” she said.
“We’re going to have the wall. We’ve already started building it. We have a billion-six. We’ve started building it and fixing miles and miles of wall that’s already up — and fence.”
Trump made this claim in both Ohio and West Virginia. Regardless of where Trump says this, a fence is not a wall.
“How about the mayor of Oakland, where she tells a thousand people to ‘get going; law enforcement is coming to get you.’ And this was all planned. And many of them scattered, and it was pretty much a failure. I mean, to me that’s obstruction of justice, and something should happen there. And it hasn’t, and I don’t know why it hasn’t.”
Trump blames the mayor of Oakland, Calif., for spoiling a four-day immigration sweep in Northern California. The mayor, Libby Schaaf, had warned residents about the raid by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement the night before it began in February.
The suggestion that Schaaf allowed 1,000 people to evade ICE is misleading because the agency never captures all its targets in such raids, according to a former ICE spokesman in California who resigned in protest after this raid.
ICE ended up arresting 232 unauthorized immigrants during this raid that Trump calls “pretty much a failure.”
“We had somebody on the West Side Highway, which I know very well, in Manhattan, he ran over — I think he killed about eight people. … And came in through chain migration. Or he might have also come in through a lottery. But he brought a lot of people with him. They say 22 people. Twenty-two people.”
Trump is repeating a Four Pinocchio claim about Sayfullo Saipov, an immigrant from Uzbekistan charged with killing eight and injuring 12 in a deadly rampage in New York in 2017. Saipov entered the United States with a diversity visa. We found no evidence that he brought any relatives to the United States, let alone 22.
“In many places, like California, the same person votes many times. You probably heard about that. They always like to say, ‘Oh, that’s a conspiracy theory.’ Not a conspiracy theory, folks. Millions and millions of people.”
A wide range of studies has found only infinitesimal evidence of voter fraud in the United States. One study says the rate is so low as to be almost nonexistent: between 0.0003 percent and 0.0025 percent. (The odds of getting struck by lightning are higher.)
Tellingly, Trump dissolved his own voter fraud task force, which produced no evidence of fraud.
“And we’re working on coal — clean coal. I always say ‘clean, beautiful coal.’ ”
There’s no such thing as “clean coal.” Power plants can mitigate some of the effects of burning coal by capturing and burying carbon-dioxide emissions, but that doesn’t cleanse the coal itself.
“We’re negotiating a deal with Mexico, NAFTA, and I hope it works out. But it was a horrible deal for our country. It was incompetently drawn. It was a shame that it ever happened. It emptied out millions of jobs. Thousands of factories and plants. They left. And a lot of them are moving back. Chrysler just announced they’re moving back into Michigan and many other car companies are expanding and building brand-new plants.”
Trump once again exaggerates the effects of NAFTA. The Congressional Research Service says the trade deal had a “modest” effect on the U.S. economy.
Trump also says Fiat Chrysler is moving a plant back to Michigan. But Chrysler actually is moving one production line from a Mexican plant to Michigan. Both plants were already operating, and the Mexican plant won’t be closed.
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