AP FACT CHECK: The silent partner in Trump’s boasts
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump has a silent partner behind several of the accomplishments he likes to boast about: Barack Obama.
Despite assailing his Democratic predecessor for waging a “cruel and heartless war on American energy,” for example, Trump can brag about U.S. energy supremacy thanks to the sector’s growth in the Obama years.
And the Obama-Trump decade is soon to yield an economic record if things stay on track a little longer — the most sustained expansion in U.S. history. Though Trump claims all the credit, the expansion started in Obama’s first year, continued through his presidency and has been maintained under Trump.
There are no fist bumps in the offing, however.
The past week saw the kickoff of Trump’s 2020 campaign with a rally in Florida. That and other events provided Trump a platform that he used to exaggerate what he’s done, take some factually challenged swipes at Obama and Democrats at large, and make promises that will be hard to keep.
TRUMP, on separating children from adults at the Mexican border: “When I became president, President Obama had a separation policy. I didn’t have it. He had it. I brought the families together. I’m the one that brought ‘em together. Now, I said something when I did that. I’m the one that put people together. ... They separated. I put ‘em together.’ — interview with Telemundo broadcast Thursday.
JOSE DIAZ-BALART, interviewer: “You did not.”
THE FACTS: Trump is not telling the truth. The separation of thousands of migrant children from their parents resulted from his “zero tolerance” policy. Obama had no such policy. After a public uproar and under a court order, Trump ceased the separations.
Zero tolerance meant that U.S. authorities would criminally prosecute all adults caught crossing into the U.S. illegally. Doing so meant detention for adults and the removal of their children while their parents were in custody. During the Obama administration, such family separations were the exception. They became the practice under Trump’s policy, which he suspended a year ago.
Before Trump’s zero-tolerance policy, migrant families caught illegally entering the U.S. were usually referred for civil deportation proceedings, not requiring separation, unless they were known to have a criminal record. Then and now, immigration officials may take a child from a parent in certain cases, such as serious criminal charges against a parent, concerns over the health and welfare of a child or medical concerns.
TRUMP on detention centers at the border: “President Obama is the one that built those prison cells.” — Telemundo interview.
THE FACTS: He has a point. Whether they are called prison cells or something else, Obama held children in temporary, ill-equipped facilities and built a large center in McAllen, Texas, that is used now.
Democrats routinely and inaccurately blame Trump for creating “cages” for children. They are actually referring to chain-link fencing inside the McAllen center — Obama’s creation.
Conditions for detained migrants deteriorated sharply during a surge of Central American arrivals under Trump, particularly in El Paso, Texas.
TRUMP: “This will be the largest trade deal ever made, and it won’t even be close. If you take a look at the numbers, second is so far away, you don’t even call it second. So it’s very exciting. And very exciting for Mexico; very exciting for Canada.” — remarks Thursday with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
THE FACTS: That’s wrong, simply by virtue of the number of trade partners involved.
The proposed new agreement, replacing the North American Free Trade agreement, covers the same three countries. The Trans-Pacific Partnership, negotiated by the Obama administration, included the three NAFTA partners — United States, Canada and Mexico — plus Japan and eight other Pacific Rim countries. Trump withdrew the United States from the pact on his third day in office.
Even the Pacific deal pales in comparison with one that did go into effect with the U.S. on board, the Uruguay Round. Concluded in 1994, the round of negotiations created the World Trade Organization and was signed by 123 countries. The Federal Reserve Bank of Boston said the WTO’s initial membership accounted for more than 90 percent of global economic output.
TRUMP on his tariffs: “We are taking in billions and billions of dollars into our treasury. ... We have never taken 10 cents from China.” — rally Tuesday in Orlando, Florida.
THE FACTS: It’s false to say the U.S. never collected a dime in tariffs on Chinese goods before he took action. They are simply higher in some cases than they were before. It’s also wrong to suggest that the tariffs are being paid by China. Tariff money coming into the treasury is mainly from U.S. businesses and consumers, not from China. Tariffs are primarily if not entirely a tax paid domestically.
TRUMP: “President Obama made a desperate and terrible deal with Iran - Gave them 150 Billion Dollars plus I.8 Billion Dollars in CASH! Iran was in big trouble and he bailed them out. Gave them a free path to Nuclear Weapons, and SOON. Instead of saying thank you, Iran yelled ... Death to America. I terminated deal.” — tweet Friday.
TRUMP, on his accomplishments: “And then terminating one of the worst deals ever made, the Iran deal that was made by President Obama — paid $150 billion. Paid $1.8 billion in cash. I terminated that and Iran is a much different country.” — Fox News interview Wednesday.
THE FACTS: There was no $150 billion payout from the U.S. treasury. The money he refers to represents Iranian assets held abroad that were frozen until the international deal was reached and Tehran was allowed to access its funds.
The payout of about $1.8 billion is a separate matter. That dates to the 1970s, when Iran paid the U.S. $400 million for military equipment that was never delivered because the government was overthrown and diplomatic relations ruptured.
That left people, businesses and governments in each country indebted to partners in the other, and these complex claims took decades to sort out in tribunals and arbitration. For its part, Iran paid settlements of more than $2.5 billion to U.S. citizens and businesses.
The day after the nuclear deal was implemented, the U.S. and Iran announced they had settled the claim over the 1970s military equipment order, with the U.S. agreeing to pay the $400 million principal along with about $1.3 billion in interest. The $400 million was paid in cash and flown to Tehran on a cargo plane, which gave rise to Trump’s dramatic accounts of money stuffed in barrels or boxes and delivered in the dead of night. The arrangement provided for the interest to be paid later, not crammed into containers.
TRUMP: “We’ve ended the last administration’s cruel and heartless war on American energy. What they were doing to our energy should never be forgotten. The United States is now the No. 1 producer of oil and natural gas anywhere in the world.” — Orlando rally.
TRUMP: “We’re now No. 1 in the world in energy.” — Fox News interview Wednesday.
THE FACTS: As he’s done many times before, Trump is crediting himself with things that happened under Obama.
Here’s what the government’s U.S. Energy Information Administration says: “The United States has been the world’s top producer of natural gas since 2009, when U.S. natural gas production surpassed that of Russia, and the world’s top producer of petroleum hydrocarbons since 2013, when U.S. production exceeded Saudi Arabia’s.”
TRUMP: “Almost 160 million people are working. That’s more than ever before.” — Orlando rally.
THE FACTS: True but that’s a tribute to Americans making babies and immigrants coming to the country. Population growth, in other words.
Other than during recessions, employment growth has been trending upward since 1939, when the Labor Department started counting. The phenomenon is not a marker of leadership; it has spanned successful and failed presidents.
More on point, the annual rate of job growth has been within the same range since roughly 2011. It was 1.6% through May.
Another measure is the proportion of Americans with jobs, and that is still below record highs. The Labor Department says 60.6 percent of people in the U.S. 16 years and older were working in May. That’s below the all-time high of 64.7 percent in April 2000 during Bill Clinton’s administration, though higher than the 59.9 percent when Trump was inaugurated in January 2017.
TRUMP: “Women’s unemployment is now the lowest it’s been in 74 years.” — Orlando rally.
THE FACTS: No, the jobless rate for women of 3.1% in April was the lowest in 66 years, not 74, and it ticked up in May to 3.2%.
TRUMP: “It’s soaring to incredible new heights. Perhaps the greatest economy we’ve had in the history of our country.” — Orlando rally.
THE FACTS: The economy is not one of the best in the country’s history. It expanded at an annual rate of 3.2 percent in the first quarter of this year. That growth was the highest in just four years for the first quarter.
In the late 1990s, growth topped 4 percent for four straight years, a level it has not yet reached on an annual basis under Trump. Growth even reached 7.2 percent in 1984.
The economy grew 2.9% in 2018 — the same pace it reached in 2015 under Obama — and simply hasn’t hit historically high growth rates.
Trump has legitimate claim to a good economy but when it comes to records, there’s one he will have to share with Obama. The economy is on track to achieve its longest expansion ever, in July. Much of that decade-long growth came during Obama’s presidency, an achievement that Trump so far has largely sustained. Other than in its durability, the economy is far from the finest in history.
TRUMP: “We’ll have over 400 miles built by the end of next year.” — Fox News interview Wednesday.
TRUMP: “We’re going to have over 400 miles of wall built by the end of next year. It’s moving very rapidly.” — Orlando rally.
THE FACTS: That’s highly unlikely, and even if so, the great majority of the wall he’s talking about would be replacement barrier, not new miles of construction. Trump has added strikingly little length to barriers along the Mexico border despite his pre-eminent 2016 campaign promise to get a wall done.
Even to reach 400 miles or 640 kilometers, he would have to prevail in legal challenges to his declaration of a national emergency or get Congress to find more money to get anywhere close.
So far, the administration has awarded contracts for 247 miles (395 km) of wall construction, but that initiative has been constrained by court cases that are still playing out.
In any event, all but 17 miles (27 km) of his awarded contracts so far would replace existing barriers.
TRUMP: “We’ve done so much ... with the biggest tax cut in history.” — Orlando rally.
THE FACTS: His tax cuts are nowhere close to the biggest in U.S. history.
It’s a $1.5 trillion tax cut over 10 years. As a share of the total economy, a tax cut of that size ranks 12th, according to the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget. President Ronald Reagan’s 1981 cut is the biggest, followed by the 1945 rollback of taxes that financed World War II.
Post-Reagan tax cuts also stand among the historically significant: President George W. Bush’s cuts in the early 2000s and Obama’s renewal of them a decade later.
TRUMP: “Our water and our air today is cleaner than it ever was. ... Our air — it’s the best it ever was.” — Fox News interview Wednesday.
TRUMP: “Our air and water are the cleanest they’ve ever been by far.” — Orlando rally.
THE FACTS: Not true about air quality, which hasn’t gotten better under the Trump administration. U.S. drinking water is among the best by one leading measure.
After decades of improvement, progress in air quality has stalled. Over the last two years the U.S. had more polluted air days than just a few years earlier, federal data show.
There were 15% more days with unhealthy air in America both last year and the year before than there were on average from 2013 through 2016, the four years when America had its fewest number of those days since at least 1980.
The Obama administration, in fact, set records for the fewest air polluted days, in 2016.
On water, Yale University’s global Environmental Performance Index finds 10 countries tied for the cleanest drinking water, the U.S. among them. On environmental quality overall, the U.S. was 27th, behind a variety of European countries, Canada, Japan, Australia and more. Switzerland was No. 1.
TRUMP on the confirmation of federal judges: “President Obama was very nice to us. He didn’t fill the positions.” — Orlando rally.
THE FACTS: Trump’s sarcasm aside, he does have a better success rate than Obama in filling judicial vacancies. The Republican-controlled Senate in Obama’s last two years avoided taking action on many of his nominees. Republicans still control the Senate and have been able to confirm about 120 of Trump’s picks despite their slim majority. That’s about 35 more than Obama had confirmed at this point in his presidency.
TRUMP: “We will always protect patients with pre-existing conditions. Always.” — Orlando rally.
THE FACTS: His administration’s actions say otherwise. It is pressing in court for full repeal of Obama’s health law, which requires insurers to take all applicants, regardless of medical history, and charge the same standard premiums to healthy people and those who had medical problems before or when they signed up.
Trump and other Republicans say they’ll have a plan to preserve protections for people with pre-existing conditions, but the White House has provided no details.
TRUMP: “Leading Democrats have even opposed measures to prevent the execution of children after birth.” — Orlando rally.
THE FACTS: Executing children is already a crime.
Trump is offering here a somewhat toned down version of a distorted story he’s been telling for months that falsely suggests Democrats are OK with murder.
His account arises from extremely rare instances when babies are born alive as a result of an attempted abortion. When these cases occur, “execution” is not an option.
When a baby is born with anomalies so severe that he or she would die soon after birth, a family may choose what’s known as palliative care or comfort care. This might involve allowing the baby to die naturally without medical intervention. Providing comfort without life-extending treatment is not specific to newborns. It may happen with fatally ill patients of any age.
TRUMP: “We passed VA Choice. ...They’ve been trying to get that passed also for about 44 years.” — Orlando rally.
THE FACTS: No, Congress approved the private-sector Veterans Choice health program in 2014 and Obama signed it into law. Trump signed an expansion of it.
TRUMP: “I’m the most transparent president in history. I let Mueller have everything they wanted.” — Fox News interview Wednesday.
THE FACTS: It’s highly questionable to say Trump was fully cooperative in the Russia investigation.
Trump declined to sit for an interview with Robert Mueller’s team, gave written answers that investigators described as “inadequate” and “incomplete,” said more than 30 times that he could not remember something he was asked about in writing, and — according to the report — tried to get aides to fire the special counsel or otherwise shut or limit the inquiry.
In the end, the Mueller report found no criminal conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia but left open the question of whether Trump obstructed justice.
According to the report, Mueller’s team declined to make a prosecutorial judgment on whether to charge partly because of a Justice Department legal opinion that said sitting presidents shouldn’t be indicted. The report instead factually laid out instances in which Trump might have obstructed justice, specifically leaving it open for Congress to take up the matter.
Associated Press writers Josh Boak, Christopher Rugaber, Matthew Daly, Seth Borenstein, Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar and Colleen Long in Washington and Elliot Spagat in San Diego contributed to this report.
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