AP FACT CHECK: Trump wrong about Dems, census, citizenship

July 15, 2019 GMT
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President Donald Trump speaks during an event on the environment in the East Room of the White House, Monday, July 8, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
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President Donald Trump speaks during an event on the environment in the East Room of the White House, Monday, July 8, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump is spreading falsehoods on issues of race, immigration and American-ness, exhorting four non-white female lawmakers to “go back” to where they came from and crying foul over his failed bid to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census.

He suggests that the Democratic lawmakers, who recently sparred with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, are foreigners better off leaving the U.S. than trying to tell Americans what to do. In fact, all four of the women, who were elected to the House in 2018, are Americans. All but one were born in the U.S.

Trump and his aides also seek to justify their now-abandoned effort to put a citizenship question on the census, claiming that the government asks many exhaustive questions but can’t on this one because of the courts. That’s false. The citizenship question has been asked on a separate government survey every year since 2005.

The statements came in a week of exaggerations and untruths by the Trump administration on a number of fronts: claiming an environmental legacy that is not his, falsely accusing special counsel Robert Mueller of being a criminal, and more.

A look at the claims and reality:


TRUMP: “So interesting to see ‘Progressive’ Democrat Congresswomen, who originally came from countries whose governments are a complete and total catastrophe, the worst, most corrupt and inept anywhere in the world (if they even have a functioning government at all), now loudly ... and viciously telling the people of the United States, the greatest and most powerful Nation on earth, how our government is to be run. Why don’t they go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came.” — tweets Sunday.

THE FACTS: The women-of-color lawmakers whom Trump is criticizing are American citizens.

He was almost certainly referring to Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and her allies in what’s become known as “the squad.” The others are Reps. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan. Only Omar, from Somalia, is foreign-born.

Ocasio-Cortez, who is of Puerto Rican descent, was born in the Bronx, New York, and raised in suburban Westchester County. Pressley, the first black woman elected to the House from Massachusetts, was born in Cincinnati.

Omar, the first Somali native elected to Congress and one of its first Muslim women, was born in Somalia but spent much of her childhood in a Kenyan refugee camp as civil war tore apart her home country. She immigrated to the United States at age 12, teaching herself English by watching American TV and eventually settling with her family in Minneapolis.

Tlaib, who is Muslim, was born in Detroit.

Trump appeared to be inserting himself into a rift between Pelosi and the liberal congresswomen. Pelosi has been seeking to minimize Ocasio-Cortez’s influence in recent days, prompting Ocasio-Cortez to accuse Pelosi of trying to marginalize women of color.



TRUMP: “We spend — this is another thing that’s so crazy: $20 billion on a census — $20 billion. ... They go through houses — they go up, they ring doorbells, they talk to people. ‘How many toilets do they have?’ ‘How many desks do they have?’ ‘How many beds?’ ‘What’s their roof made of?’ The only thing we can’t ask is, ‘Are you a citizen of the United States?’ No, isn’t it the craziest thing?” — remarks Thursday at social media conference.

KELLYANNE CONWAY, White House counselor: “Think of all the questions that nobody complains are included in our U.S. census every 10 years that include a far, far, far smaller number of Americans, or I would argue, are much more intrusive, invasive and expansive. We’re asking about how many toilets are in your house and you don’t want to know who’s using them? It’s absolutely ridiculous.” — interview Tuesday with “Fox & Friends.”

THE FACTS: To be clear, the 2020 census form being sent to all U.S. households does not ask about the number of toilets, desks or beds, or about roofs.

The decennial census form is limited to questions about age, sex, Hispanic origin, race, relationship and homeownership status. Trump last week backed off including a citizenship question after the Supreme Court last month blocked his effort, disputing the administration’s rationale that the information was needed to enforce civil rights laws.

Trump and Conway may have been referring to a long-form section of the census survey that was sent to a portion of U.S. households from 1970 to 2000, not as part of the official census count. That long-form supplement was replaced by the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, a separate poll sent annually to about 3.5 million households, or about 1 in 37.

Both the long-form supplement and the newer poll did previously ask about the existence of flush toilets in the home to help identify geographical needs for housing assistance; but since 2016, the survey only asks about other forms of plumbing such as a sink or bathtub. The current sampling survey also asks about the number of bedrooms in a home, not beds.

Even so, Trump and Conway are wrong to assert that the citizenship question isn’t currently being asked by the government. It’s been asked on the American Community Survey, the same form that asks about a home’s plumbing, every year since 2005.


CONWAY: “Why can’t we just ask the question the way it was asked for 50 years before the Obama administration yanked it out of there?” — “Fox & Friends” interview.

THE FACTS: The Obama administration did not pull the citizenship question from the census after 50 years.

The Census Bureau hasn’t included a citizenship question in its once-a-decade survey sent to all U.S. households since 1950.

From 1970 to 2000, the question was included only in the long-form section of the census survey, which is sent to a portion of U.S. households. After 2000, the question has been asked each year since 2005 on the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, a separate poll also sent to a sample of U.S. households.

The Census Bureau made the switch to that survey in 2005 as a replacement to the long-form supplement, prior to the Obama administration. As a result of that switch, no long form was sent as part of the next-held census in 2010, when Obama was in office. Instead, the citizenship question was asked as part of the 2010 ACS survey.



TRUMP, speaking of special counsel Robert Mueller on communications between two FBI employees: “This is one of the most horrible abuses of all. Those texts between gaga lovers would have told the whole story. Illegal deletion by Mueller.” — tweet Saturday.

THE FACTS: Trump makes a false accusation that Mueller committed a crime. Mueller had no role in deleting anti-Trump text messages traded by former FBI counterintelligence agent Peter Strzok and ex-FBI lawyer Lisa Page, and there’s no basis for saying he was involved in anything illegal.

In fact, once Mueller learned of the existence of the texts, which were sent before his appointment as special counsel, he removed Strzok from his team investigating potential ties between Russia and the Trump campaign.

Trump appears to be referring to the fact that the FBI, for technical reasons, was initially unable to retrieve months of text messages between the two officials. But the FBI was ultimately able to recover them and there’s never been any allegation that Mueller had anything to do with that process.


TRUMP, on Mueller’s upcoming testimony to Congress, now set for July 24: “They also want to interview the highly ... conflicted and compromised Mueller again.” — tweets Thursday.

THE FACTS: Trump makes a groundless charge, as he often does, that Mueller was “highly conflicted and compromised.” Mueller, a longtime Republican, was cleared by the Justice Department’s ethics experts to lead the Russia investigation.

Trump typically cites a business dispute with Mueller and asserts that Mueller wanted the FBI director position, but that Trump rejected him.

But according to the special counsel’s report, when Trump previously complained privately to aides that Mueller would not be objective, the advisers, including then-White House chief strategist Steve Bannon, then-White House counsel Don McGahn and Reince Priebus, chief of staff at the time, rejected his complaints of an alleged business dispute and possible bad feelings over the FBI job as not representing “true conflicts.” Bannon called the claims “ridiculous.”

Bannon told Mueller’s investigators that while the White House had invited Mueller to speak to the president about the FBI and thought about asking him to become director again, Mueller did not come in looking for a job. Mueller was FBI director from 2001 to 2013.



ANDREW WHEELER, administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency: “From 1970 to 2018, U.S. criteria air pollution fell 74 percent. ... Under your administration, emissions of all the criteria air pollutants continue to decline. For example, the lead and sulfur dioxide have dropped by double-digit percentages over the last two years. Today, we have the cleanest air on record.” — remarks on July 8.

THE FACTS: Air quality has not improved since Trump took office and air in the U.S. is not the cleanest on record.

Wheeler specifically is incorrect that emissions for all six of the “criteria” air pollutants tracked by EPA have declined during the Trump administration. Of the six, three actually increased in 2017: carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide and two measures of particulate matter pollution. The other three, ozone, lead and sulfur dioxide, did decline.

Indeed, after decades of improvement, progress in air quality stalled. Over the last two years the U.S. had more polluted air days than just a few years earlier , according to EPA data analyzed by The Associated Press.

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 the U.S had its fewest number of those days since at least 1980, when the measurement started.

Records for the fewest air polluted days were set during the Obama administration.

It would be premature to blame Trump’s anti-regulatory policies for this setback. Scientists say it is too early to see the effects of changes in environmental policy of the Trump administration. Air quality is affected by complex factors, both natural and man-made; last year’s western wildfires may have contributed, for example. Along the same lines, Trump cannot plausibly claim that his policies have delivered clean air in a year or two when citing developments that have been trending for years.

How is U.S. air quality doing overall? The Health Effects Institute’s State of Global Air 2019 report ranked the U.S. 37th dirtiest out of 195 countries for ozone, also known as smog, worse than the global average for population-weighted pollution. Countries such as Britain, Japan, Spain, Portugal, France, Germany, Albania, Cuba, Russia, Vietnam, New Zealand and Canada have less smoggy air. The U.S. ranks 8th cleanest on the more deadly category of fine particles in the air. It’s still behind countries such as Canada and New Zealand but better than the global average.


TRUMP: “We’ve refocused the EPA back on its core mission, and, last year, the agency completed more Superfund hazardous waste clean-ups than any year of the previous administrations and set records in almost every year.” — remarks on July 8.

WHEELER: “We’re making tremendous environmental progress under President Trump. ... There may be no better example than our renewed focus on Superfund — the federal program that cleans up large, hazardous sites. ...In fiscal year 2018, we deleted the most sites from the National Priorities List in one year since 2005.” — remarks on July 8.

THE FACTS: The Trump administration is taking undue credit for cleanup of hazardous industrial sites that was largely done under President Barack Obama and previous administrations. In addition, Wheeler’s reference to a “renewed focus” on the Superfund program ignores the fact that the administration recommended cutting the program’s budget 15%.

It’s true that the EPA announced last year that it had deleted 22 Superfund toxic waste sites from the government’s national priorities list, the most since 2005. But it takes years, if not decades, to clean up a Superfund site before it is removed from the list. That means the construction work, such as removing soil or drilling wells to suck out contaminated groundwater, would have been largely done before the Trump administration.

For instance, an analysis of EPA records by The Associated Press found that at seven Superfund sites the EPA took off the list in 2017 and boasted about, the physical cleanup was performed before Trump took office.

Removing sites from the list is a procedural step that occurs after monitoring data show that remaining levels of harmful contaminates meet cleanup targets, which were often set by EPA decades ago.

There are currently more than 1,300 Superfund sites on EPA’s National Priorities List at various stages in the cleanup process.


TRUMP: “The previous administration waged a relentless war on American energy.” — remarks on July 8.

THE FACT: This accusation is hard to sustain given the rise of U.S. energy under Obama. In 2013, the U.S. became the world’s top producer both of natural gas and petroleum hydrocarbons, says the government’s U.S. Energy Information Administration. As for crude oil specifically, the agency says the U.S. became the world’s top crude oil producer last year. That is largely attributed to the shale oil boom that began late in George W. Bush’s administration and proceeded apace during the Obama years.

The boom came because of fracking and other technology, such as horizontal drilling, that made it possible to find a lot more oil and gas without drilling more holes. (As a senator, Obama voted for a 2005 law that exempted fracking from a range of regulations.)

As president, Obama did impose fracking regulations on federal lands that were challenged by industry, then overturned by Trump, but he did little to slow the surge, especially on state and private lands. Altogether, the government issued permits for about 30,000 new oil and gas wells on federal lands during Obama’s presidency.

Perhaps the central paradox of the Obama energy policy is that, despite his keen focus on wind and solar power, the greatest energy revolution of the past half century happened on his watch as U.S. petroleum and natural gas production achieved pre-eminence.


TRUMP: “Today, the United States is ranked — listen to this — No. 1 in the world for access to clean drinking water — ranked No. 1 in the world.” — remarks on July 8.

THE FACTS: True in this respect: The U.S. is tied with nine other countries as having the cleanest drinking water, according to one leading measure. Yale University’s global Environmental Performance Index finds 10 countries tied for the cleanest drinking water.

On environmental quality overall, the index puts the U.S. 27th, behind a variety of European countries, Canada, Japan, Australia and more. Switzerland was No. 1.



ROBERT WILKIE, secretary of veterans affairs, asked if he’s achieved progress in fixing VA since being confirmed to the job one year ago: “Since that time, I can say yes. ...The Journal of the American Medical Association says our wait times are now as good or better than in the private sector. And the Annals of Internal Medicine say our care is as good or better than it is in the private sector, across the country. What that means is that morale is up, that VA is in a better place than it has been in the last few years.” — interview Wednesday with Fox News.

THE FACTS: The progress he cites in waiting times and quality of care happened before he became VA secretary.

It’s true that a study by the medical association that came out in January found veterans got into a VA facility for an appointment faster on average than if they went to a private facility. But the study tracked progress from 2014 to 2017. Wilkie became acting VA secretary in late March 2018 and was confirmed as permanent VA secretary that July.

Similarly, a study published last December in the Annals of Internal Medicine did find that VA facilities outperform private hospitals in most health care markets throughout the country. But the finding is also based on data from as early as 2014 through June 30, 2017.

Wilkie, in fact, credits the VA’s “concerted” effort to improve access to care “since 2014″ in a VA press release in January announcing the medical association study’s results.

The wait time study covered four specialties, primary care, dermatology, cardiology and orthopedics.

It found that in 2014, the average wait to get into VA medical center was 22.5 days, compared with 18.7 days in the private sector, which was not statistically different. By 2017, the wait at VA improved to 17.7 days, while increasing to 29.8 days for private doctors. Waits at VA medical centers were shorter in all specialties except orthopedics.


Associated Press writers Seth Borenstein, Eric Tucker, Matthew Daly, Michael Biesecker, Ellen Knickmeyer and Kevin Freking in Washington, Matthew Brown in Billings, Montana, and Nicky Forster in New York contributed to this report.


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