AP FACT CHECK: Trump assails Mexico, Amazon, twisting facts
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump won’t let up on Amazon. He’s been assailing the online retailer for days, zeroing in on a “scam” contract with the U.S. Postal Service that’s actually been judged profitable for the post office.
Trump’s latest flurry of tweets also slammed Mexico for lax border enforcement, using as his example a caravan of Central Americans who have been moving north after crossing Mexico’s southern border. But the caravan’s destination is a conference in central Mexico, not the U.S., though many from the group may split off and ask for asylum either in Mexico or the U.S.
Trump’s fired veterans affairs secretary, meantime, sidestepped the truth when he asserted on the weekend that his ethics problems at the agency were all about politics.
Here’s a look at statements Monday and from the weekend on these matters:
TRUMP: “Only fools, or worse, are saying that our money losing Post Office makes money with Amazon. THEY LOSE A FORTUNE, and this will be changed. Also, our fully tax paying retailers are closing stores all over the country...not a level playing field!” — tweet Monday.
TRUMP: “If the P.O. ‘increased its parcel rates, Amazon’s shipping costs would rise by $2.6 Billion.’ This Post Office scam must stop. Amazon must pay real costs (and taxes) now!” — tweet Saturday.
THE FACTS: Trump is misrepresenting the contract that has the post office deliver some Amazon orders. Federal regulators have found that contract to be profitable for the Postal Service.
As well, people who buy products sold by Amazon pay sales tax in all states that have a sales tax. Not all third-party vendors using Amazon collect it, however.
As for the post office, package delivery has been a bright spot for a service that’s lost money for 11 straight years. The losses are mostly due to pension and health care costs — not the business deal for the Postal Service to deliver packages for Amazon. Boosted by e-commerce, the Postal Service has enjoyed double-digit increases in revenue from delivering packages, but that hasn’t been enough to offset declines in first-class letters and marketing mail, which together make up more than two-thirds of postal revenue.
While the Postal Service’s losses can’t be attributed to its package business, Trump’s claim that it could get more bang for its buck may not be entirely far-fetched. A 2017 analysis by Citigroup concluded that the Postal Service was charging below-market rates as a whole for parcels. The post office does not use taxpayer money for its operations.
Trump is upset about Amazon because its owner, Jeff Bezos, owns The Washington Post, one of the targets of his “fake news” tweets.
TRUMP: “Mexico has the absolute power not to let these large ‘Caravans’ of people enter their country. They must stop them at their Northern Border, which they can do because their border laws work, not allow them to pass through into our country, which has no effective border laws.” — tweet Monday.
TRUMP: “Mexico is making a fortune on NAFTA...They have very strong border laws - ours are pathetic. With all of the money they make from the U.S., hopefully they will stop people from coming through their country and into ours, at least until Congress changes our immigration laws!” — tweet Monday.
TRUMP: “These big flows of people are all trying to take advantage of DACA. They want in on the act!” — tweet Sunday.
THE FACTS: Trump is painting an overly ominous picture of the procession of some 1,100 migrants, many from Honduras, who have been marching in a caravan along roadsides and train tracks in the southern Mexico state of Oaxaca. They are not marching en masse to the U.S. border to sneak in.
These “Stations of the Cross” migrant caravans have been held in southern Mexico for at least the last five years. They began as short processions of migrants, some dressed in biblical garb and carrying crosses, as an Easter-season protest against the kidnappings, extortion, beatings and killings suffered by many Central American migrants as they cross Mexico.
The organized portions of the caravans usually don’t proceed much farther north than the Gulf coast state of Veracruz; migrants as individuals or in smaller groups often take buses or trucks from there to the border.
The current march is scheduled to wind up this month with a conference on migration issues in the central Mexican state of Puebla, east of Mexico City. That’s some 650 miles by road (1,050 km) from the U.S. Migrants who break away and reach the U.S. border often turn themselves in and request asylum.
A Mexican government official said the caravans are tolerated because migrants have a right under Mexican law to request asylum in Mexico or to request a humanitarian visa to ask for asylum at the U.S. border. The understanding is that most participants in the caravan will do one or the other.
“Mexico is not allowing people to massively travel across the country without documents to reach the United States,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the person was not authorized to be identified.
Mexico routinely stops and deports undocumented Central Americans, sometimes in numbers that rival those of the United States. Deportations of foreigners dropped from 176,726 in 2015 to 76,433 in 2017, in part because fewer were believed to have come to Mexico, and more were requesting asylum in Mexico.
As for migrants trying to “take advantage of DACA,” the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program is closed to new entrants, so it’s not clear how new migrants could benefit from it.
The Obama-era program has provided temporary protection and work permits to hundreds of thousands of immigrants who are living in the U.S. illegally after being brought into the country as children. Trump ended the program. Absent a deal with Congress to renew it under law, the U.S. is not issuing new permits, though existing ones can be renewed.
DAVID SHULKIN, defending himself against ethics accusations that contributed to his firing as VA secretary: “I have been really clear. Everything that I did was done properly. It was preapproved by our ethics team. ...I think what the IG found was that a staff member had made essentially some problems in the way that they put the paperwork through. But the IG said I had no knowledge of that.” — ABC interview Sunday.
THE FACTS: Shulkin grossly misrepresents a report by the VA’s inspector general that concluded he had violated ethics rules during an 11-day trip to Europe in July. The watchdog office determined Shulkin had improperly accepted free Wimbledon tennis tickets and failed to consult with VA ethics counsel beforehand. According to the February report, Shulkin belatedly asked VA counsel to expedite an ethics review of his acceptance of the tickets in September — two months after the trip — upon learning that journalists were making inquiries.
The inspector general also concluded that Shulkin’s chief of staff, Vivieca Wright Simpson, had lied to ethics officials by falsely claiming he was receiving an award in Europe to justify his wife’s free travel at taxpayer expense — and doctoring emails to back up her claim. While the VA watchdog “found no evidence” that Shulkin was aware of his staffer’s actions, Shulkin understates the extent of Simpson’s deception to justify the free trip and his own actions abroad.
SHULKIN, citing reasons Trump fired him: “I have been falsely accused of things by people who wanted me out of the way. But despite these politically based attacks on me and my family’s character, I am proud of my record and know that I acted with the utmost integrity.” — op-ed Thursday in The New York Times.
THE FACTS: His statement that he and his family were subjected to politically based attacks is disingenuous, though politics contributed to his dismissal.
White House support for Shulkin eroded after the blistering report in February by VA’s internal watchdog, a nonpartisan office, about his travels in Europe.
It is true, though, that Shulkin had encountered resistance from about a half-dozen political appointees at the VA and White House who rebelled against him. In an extraordinary telephone call, top communications aide John Ullyot and VA spokesman Curt Cashour asked the Republican staff director of the House Veterans Affairs Committee to push for Shulkin’s removal after the release of the inspector general’s report. The staff director declined to do so. Those political appointees were not involved in drafting the inspector general’s report.
Shulkin expressed regret for the “distractions” caused by the report and agreed to pay more than $4,000 to cover the costs of his wife’s coach airfare and the Wimbledon tickets. He continues to insist he did nothing wrong and points to what his staff did in doctoring his emails as a “mistake.”
Stevenson reported from Mexico City.
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