Fact Checking President Trump’s Statements on His First Foreign Trip
Here’s a new U.S. export: President Donald Trump’s exaggerations about his record.
In his speech in Saudi Arabia on Sunday during his first foreign trip as president, Trump claimed to have accomplished record spending on the armed forces, even though Congress has yet to pass a budget that reflects his plans and promises. Trump releases a detailed budget proposal Tuesday after having come up only with an outline before, and nothing is achieved until and unless Congress passes something.
Trump often takes credit for accomplishments that have yet to be realized or that were the work of his predecessor, as he did last week when boasting about a Coast Guard icebreaker that the Obama administration started. But it was his first opportunity to do so abroad.
Trump’s foreign trip came as something of a break from the storm over the investigation into his 2016 campaign’s relationship with Russia. That episode prompted a number of questionable statements by the president and his aides. Here’s a review of claims on various matters over the past week:
Trump: “In just a few months, we have created almost a million new jobs … and made record investments in our military.” — speech in Riyadh on Sunday
The Facts: He’s getting ahead of developments on military spending, with no budget passed. He also not proposing a record increase in military spending as his remarks might imply.
The 10% increase he called for in his March budget outline has been exceeded three times in recent history—the base military budget went up by 14.3%, in 2002, 11.3% in 2003 and 10.9% in 2008, according to the Pentagon. Looked at another way and deeper into history, military spending consumed 43% of the economy in 1944, during World War II, and 15% in 1952, during the Korean War. It was 3.3% in 2015, says the World Bank.
Trump’s claim that almost 1 million jobs have been added is in the ballpark, though it’s taken more than a “few months” and Barack Obama was president for most of one of them, January.
Job creation has averaged 185,000 a month from January through April. But that is the same pace of hiring as occurred in 2016, when Obama was president, and slower than in 2014 and 2015, when more than 225,000 jobs a month were added, on average.
Trump: “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.” — Coast Guard Academy speech Wednesday
The Facts: Trump is claiming credit for something that started under his predecessor. Obama’s homeland security secretary, Jeh Johnson, spoke about modernization of the Coast Guard fleet and design work on a new heavy polar icebreaker a year ago in a speech to graduating Coast Guard cadets.
Trump, on his decision to fire FBI Director James Comey: “I actually thought when I made that decision—and I also got a very, very strong recommendation, as you know, from the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein.” — news conference Thursday with his Colombian counterpart, Juan Manuel Santos.
The Facts: The recommendation he cites came after Trump decided to fire Comey, according to Rosenstein and to Trump’s own previous statement taking sole ownership of the decision.
In an interview with NBC two days after the May 9 Comey dismissal, Trump said he had been planning to fire Comey for months, and linked it with the FBI’s Russia investigation. “In fact when I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said, ‘You know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story.'”
On Thursday, Rosenstein told senators in a closed-door briefing that he had been informed of Trump’s decision to fire Comey before he wrote his memo providing a rationale for that act, said Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill.
Trump: “Even my enemies have said there is no collusion.” — Thursday news conference
The Facts: Democrats have not absolved Trump on whether his campaign and Russian officials coordinated efforts last year to disadvantage his Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton. Several have said they have not seen evidence of collusion, but that’s not to say they are satisfied it did not happen.
Trump has cited James Clapper, the director of national intelligence until Trump took office Jan. 20, among others, as being “convinced” there was no collusion.
Clapper said this past week that while a report he issued in January did not uncover collusion, he did not know at the time that the FBI was digging deeply into “potential political collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians” and he was unaware of what the bureau might have found. The FBI inquiry continues, as do congressional investigations and, now, one by the special counsel.
Trump: “Obamacare is collapsing. It’s dead. It’s gone. There’s nothing to compare anything to because we don’t have health care in this country. You just look at what’s happening. Aetna just pulled out. Other insurance companies are pulling out. We don’t have health care. Obamacare is a fallacy. It’s gone.” — Thursday news conference
The Facts: He’s venting and not to be taken literally. Obama’s health care law remains in effect and people are using it. As of last count 12.2 million signed up for private health plans through HealthCare.gov and state markets that offer federally subsidized coverage. Separately another estimated 12 million were made eligible for Medicaid through the law’s expansion of that program. It’s true that many people who buy their own health insurance are facing another year of big premium increases and shrinking choices.
Trump worked with House Republicans to pass a bill that would roll back much of the health law and the Senate is considering the legislation.
Trump, speaking of the MS-13 gang presence in the U.S.: “A horrible, horrible large group of gangs that have been let into our country over a fairly short period of time. … They’ve literally taken over towns and cities of the United States.” — Thursday news conference.
The Facts: His depiction of the gang as a foreign one “let into” the U.S. is not accurate.
The gang actually began in Los Angeles, according to a fact sheet from Trump’s own Justice Department, and “spread quickly across the country.” And it started not recently, but in the 1980s, according to that same fact sheet.
The department indirectly credits the Obama administration, in its early years, with helping to rein in the group, largely made up of first-generation Salvadoran-Americans and Salvadoran nationals. It said: “Through the combined efforts of federal, state and local law enforcement, great progress was made diminishing or severely (disrupting) the gang within certain targeted areas of the U.S. by 2009 and 2010.”
The U.S. carried out record deportations during the Obama administration and, on MS-13 specifically, took the unprecedented action of labeling the street gang a transnational criminal organization and announcing a freeze on its U.S. assets. Such actions were not enough to bring down the group and the Trump administration says it will do more.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin: “I believe that a goal of 3% GDP or higher economic growth is achievable if we make historic reforms to both taxes and regulation.” — Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee hearing Thursday
The Facts: Several quarters or a year of 3% growth may be possible, but few economists expect the changes Mnuchin has proposed would result in sustained growth at that pace. That’s because the U.S. economy is facing long-term constraints. As baby boomers retire, fewer people are working. As well, workers’ productivity is growing at historically weak levels. An economy can only grow as fast as the size and productivity of its workforce. If Trump’s policies reduce immigration, the U.S. workforce would grow even more slowly.
Trump’s goal of cutting corporate taxes could encourage companies to spend more on computers and machinery, making employees more productive, accelerating growth and lifting wages. Liberal economists argue that corporate profits are already high and any tax cut probably would go to shareholders instead of equipment.
Trump: “I won’t talk about how much I saved you on the F-35 fighter jet. I won’t even talk about it.” — Coast Guard Academy speech
The Facts: He shouldn’t. Trump has repeatedly taken credit for cost savings that began before his presidency on this jet. Pentagon officials took steps before the election to reduce costs on the Lockheed (LMT) contract and announced savings Dec. 19, a month before Trump was sworn in.
Nikki Haley, ambassador to the U.N.: “I believe the Western Wall is part of Israel and I think that that is how, you know, we’ve always seen it and that’s how we should pursue it … we’ve always thought the Western Wall was part of Israel.” — interview on Christian Broadcasting Network on Wednesday
The Facts: That’s a misstatement of U.S. policy and diplomatic history. The wall is in the Old City, a part of east Jerusalem, which the U.S. and most of the world consider to be occupied territory. So the U.S. position is that the wall is part of Jerusalem, not specifically Israel. Since Israel’s founding, the U.S. has maintained that no state has sovereignty over Jerusalem and its ultimate status must be resolved through Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. That stance has not changed.
In addition to misstating U.S. policy, Haley stepped outside diplomatic norms in asserting a personal view at variance with that policy—that the Western Wall is or should be considered part of Israel.