AP FACT CHECK: President Trump and his mistold NATO tales
WASHINGTON (AP) — It’s been a muted week for the “real” Donald Trump, the Twitter account where the president normally says a lot of things that are unreal. That respite may have come to a close, though, as he wrapped up his foreign trip with yet another mistold tale about NATO.
In a tweet and a speech before leaving for home Saturday, he said that thanks to him, money is “starting to pour into NATO,” which it isn’t.
Besides going light on provocative tweets, Trump held no news conferences and gave no extended interviews abroad. Those venues are frequent sources of Trump’s off-the-cuff misstatements. Even a more scripted Trump, though, does not always tell it straight, and the release of his proposed budget stirred a fresh round of questionable rhetoric from his stateside aides.
A look at some of the statements under scrutiny over the past week:
TRUMP: “I will tell you, a big difference over the last year, money is actually starting to pour into NATO from countries that would not have been doing what they’re doing now had I not been elected, I can tell you that. Money is starting to pour in.” — speech to U.S. troops in Sicily on Saturday
TRUMP tweet: “Many NATO countries have agreed to step up payments considerably, as they should. Money is beginning to pour in.”
THE FACTS: First, no money is pouring in and countries do not pay the U.S. Nor do they pay NATO directly, apart from administrative expenses, which are not the issue.
The issue is how much each NATO member country spends on its own defense.
Although the president is right that many NATO countries have agreed to spend more on their military budgets, that is not a result of the NATO summit this past week at which Trump pressed them to do so. The countries agreed in 2014 to stop cutting their military spending and to start increasing it “toward” 2 percent of their gross domestic product by 2024.
That goal was set during the Obama administration and is less than an ironclad commitment.
TRUMP: “But 23 of the 28 member nations are still not paying what they should be paying and what they are supposed to be paying for their defense. This is not fair to the people and taxpayers of the United States and many of these nations owe massive amounts of money from past years, and not paying in those past years.” — remarks to NATO on Thursday
THE FACTS: Members of the alliance are not in arrears in their military spending. They are not in debt to the United States, or failing to meet a current standard, and Washington is not trying to collect anything, despite the president’s contention that they “owe massive amounts of money.” They merely committed in 2014 to work toward the goal of 2 percent of GDP by 2024.
TRUMP, in a telephone call to Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte: “I just wanted to congratulate you because I am hearing of the unbelievable job on the drug problem. Many countries have the problem, we have a problem, but what a great job you are doing and I just wanted to call and tell you that.” — Philippine government transcript of April 29 phone call, reported by The Washington Post.
THE FACTS: Trump’s own State Department’s human rights report, updated in March, described in harsh terms the more than 6,000 killings by police and vigilantes of suspected Philippine drug dealers and users. The killings, carried out without formal evidence or trials, were to fulfill a Duterte campaign promise to eliminate illegal drug activity in the country by the end of last year.
The report said Duterte released lists of suspected drug criminals on at least two occasions and some on those lists were killed in police or vigilante operations. It says “authorities made promises of immunity from investigation and prosecution for officers involved in drug killings.”
TRUMP, on his Oval Office meeting May 10 with Russia’s foreign minister and ambassador: “Just so you understand, I never mentioned the word or the name ‘Israel,’ never mentioned it in that conversation. And they’re all saying I did. So you have another story wrong.” — remarks at a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday.
THE FACTS: Trump is denying saying something that he wasn’t alleged to have said in the first place. His comment steers around the issue that emanated from that meeting — that he divulged classified information about an Islamic State threat in his conversation with the Russians, perhaps in a compromising way that would enable Russia to trace the source of the intelligence.
Trump is not alleged to have told the Russians specifically that the information came from the Israelis. Israel’s link was established separately, in news reports.
GARY COHN, Trump’s economic adviser: “Coal doesn’t even really make that much sense anymore.” Speaking to reporters on Air Force One en route to Italy on Thursday night, he added that natural gas is “such a cleaner fuel” and the U.S. could become a “manufacturing powerhouse” by spending on wind and solar energy.”
THE FACTS: That’s an accurate assessment of the improbability of reviving the coal industry — and a statement at odds with his boss’s vow to make coal king again. Trump and his team blame overregulation for the decline of coal but market forces are the larger problem. Natural gas supplies have surged with the advent of fracking, making coal increasingly uncompetitive as an energy source.
MICK MULVANEY, Trump budget chief, on the president’s proposed budget: “There are no Medicaid cuts in the terms of what ordinary human beings would refer to as a cut. We are not spending less money one year than we spent before.” — briefing Tuesday.
THE FACTS: Mulvaney is being artfully evasive about the health care program for families and the poor. By any conventional measure of federal financing, the program is on the chopping block.
First, the Trump-supported rollback of President Barack Obama’s health care law would reduce federal money that 31 states and the District of Columbia have relied on to extend coverage to low-income adults under Medicaid. The Republican health care bill passed by the House would cap the overall federal share of Medicaid spending, meaning it would no longer be an open-ended entitlement.
Second, the Trump budget could compound those restrictions by reducing the rate of growth in federal Medicaid money even more. Under the budget, Medicaid spending would fall from 2 percent of the economy to 1.7 percent in 2027 due to reductions in spending projections by Trump. That slight decrease adds up to more than $600 billion over 10 years.
MULVANEY: “I went back and looked at some of the economic assumptions that the Obama administration made in its first couple of years. And I want to say on a couple of different occasions, their assumed growth rate was more than 4.5 percent. Come on, this is the first administration in history — OK? — it was the first decade, the first eight-year period in history not to have a 3 percent growth rate. Yet they were promising us 4.5 percent growth.” — briefing Tuesday.
THE FACTS: Obama’s expectations for growth were in line with accepted economic views at the time. That’s because accelerated growth often follows a downturn. He took office in a deep recession, and his team figured the economy would naturally rebound at a stronger pace than its average growth rate.
Obama’s first budget in 2009 estimated growth would be above 4 percent in 2011, 2012 and 2013. It would then settle into an average growth rate of 2.6 percent starting in 2015. That isn’t that far from separate estimates by the Congressional Budget Office.
The economy expanded instead at a sluggish pace, closer to 2 percent a year. Trump’s budget is more ambitious than Obama’s, rosy but thin on rationale for the optimism. It anticipates shifting growth above 3 percent, much higher than Obama’s long-term average.
TRUMP, on why the U.S. under Obama should not have agreed to the Iran nuclear deal in 2015: “I think they would have failed, totally failed within six months. We gave them a lifeline and we not only gave them a lifeline, we gave them wealth and prosperity.” — Statement in Jerusalem on Monday, standing with Netanyahu.
THE FACTS: What would have happened without the deal is impossible to say, but such an imminent collapse of Iran’s economy was highly improbable.
International penalties on Iran in response to its nuclear program did drive its economy into crisis earlier this decade. But even before the nuclear deal, Iran had cut budget expenditures and fixed its balance of payments. It was still exporting oil and importing products from countries such as Japan and China.
The multinational deal froze Iran’s nuclear program in return for an end to a variety of oil, trade and financial sanctions on Tehran. Iran also regained access to frozen assets held abroad. The deal was conceivably an economic “lifeline” for the state but Iran is not wealthy as a result; ordinary Iranians have seen limited benefits to date.
TRUMP: “I don’t know who the people are that would put us into a NAFTA, which was so one-sided. Both from the Canada standpoint and from the Mexico standpoint. So one-sided. Wilbur (U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross) will tell you that, you know, like, at the court in Canada, we always lose. Well, the judges are three Canadians and two Americans. We always lose.” — Economist interview in May.
THE FACTS: Trump mischaracterizes the system for resolving trade disputes under the North American Free Trade Agreement. When the U.S. and Canada are at odds over trade, NAFTA calls for five-person panel to weigh in. Each country picks two panelists, drawn from a list that consists largely of trade lawyers, economists and retired judges. The fifth comes from one of the two countries and usually alternates between them.
The system “does treat all parties the same regardless of what Trump says,” says Fred McMahon, a fellow at the Fraser Institute think-tank in Toronto.
Trump has a stronger case when he complains about America’s losing record against Canada in NAFTA cases, though it’s not true that the Americans “always lose.” A 2007 study found that the NAFTA panels changed or overturned U.S. government decisions two-thirds of the time.
In those cases, the panels are supposed to base their decisions on U.S. law. But “there are a lot of folks in Washington who have felt that sometimes NAFTA panels overstep their bounds” and don’t defer to American laws, says Dean Pinkert, a partner at the Hughes Hubbard & Reed law firm and former member of the U.S. International Trade Commission.
TRUMP told Coast Guard cadets of his “historic investment in our military,” adding: “I’m proud to say that under my administration, as you just heard, we will be building the first new heavy icebreakers the United States has seen in over 40 years.” — speech to Coast Guard Academy May 17.
THE FACTS: Although his rousing words earned applause from the cadets, Trump’s budget this past week excludes the Coast Guard from his planned expansion of military spending. He’s proposing to cut the Coast Guard budget by more than $420 million, or 3.8 percent, while increasing military spending overall. The Coast Guard is under the Homeland Security Department, not the Pentagon.
The icebreaker project he boasts about started under the Obama administration and Trump’s budget would advance it only incrementally, spending $19 million to continue efforts “toward awarding a contract” for design and construction in 2019. “We all know that doesn’t get us an icebreaker,” Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska told a budget hearing, “but it gets us started.”
Associated Press writers Bradley Klapper, Paul Wiseman, Alicia A. Caldwell, Jim Drinkard, Robert Burns and Ricardo-Alonso Zaldivar contributed to this report.
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