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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Clinton on the Stump

Part two of our series checking the accuracy of claims made by the presidential candidates in their daily stump speeches.


Hillary Clinton admits she’ll “never be the showman my opponent is and that’s OK with me.” While Donald Trump boasts of holding larger and more frequent rallies, Clinton touts the number of issue papers she has released.

“You know, my campaign has rolled out detailed plans in 38 different policy areas,” she said in Greensboro, North Carolina, on Sept. 15. “Yes, somebody actually counted.”

We actually count 39 policy papers now on her website.

And the recent stump speeches Clinton has given reflect her policy-wonk reputation: Her speech Sept. 19 in Philadelphia at Temple University was geared toward young people; two days later, she was telling an Orlando crowd about her plans to help people with disabilities. Last week, she spoke about her college tuition and debt plan alongside Sen. Bernie Sanders in New Hampshire.

A review of her stump speeches for the month of September also reveals a change in tone — from speeches with more attacks on Trump at the beginning of the month to more positive messages on her proposals, still with a sprinkling of criticisms of her opponent.

In fact, most of the false and misleading claims we found in reviewing her stump speeches were from those early September appearances. Among our findings:

  • Clinton misrepresents Trump’s words in claiming he “thinks wages are too high.” Trump said raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour would be too high.
  • She greatly exaggerated in saying that Trump has been “sued 4,000 times for not paying the bills that he owes” to contractors and other workers. USA Today tallied at least 60 such lawsuits.
  • She cherry-picks his words in saying he claimed “I alone can fix it,” suggesting he said he could fix everything alone. Trump said that as a political outsider only he can fix a “rigged” system.
  • Clinton claims Trump said “our armed forces are a disaster,” criticizing him for not respecting “the men and women who risk their lives and wear the uniform of our country.” But Trump had made clear that he’s talking about the military being underfunded when he calls it “a disaster.”
  • Clinton wrongly implies that Trump said he “didn’t care” about the auto industry when making comments about the auto bailout. Instead, he said the industry “would have ended up ultimately in the same place” if it hadn’t received government financial assistance.
  • She says an immigration overhaul would “increase our gross domestic product by an estimated $700 billion in 10 years.” That estimate, however, is a small fraction of the nation’s GDP and would come with an increase of 10 million in population.
  • She says she has an “old-fashioned notion” that candidates should say how they’re going to pay for their plans. It’s true that a nonpartisan group says Trump’s plans would add $5.3 trillion to the debt over 10 years — but it found Clinton’s proposals came up $200 billion short, too.
  • Clinton says she has “a plan that makes public college tuition free for working families.” She does, but it requires states to agree to put up matching funds.
  • She correctly said that “businesses are allowed to pay employees with disabilities a subminimum wage.” It’s worth noting employers need a Department of Labor certificate and the disability has to affect the workers’ ability to do the job.

As part of one of our new features, we’ve posted an annotated version of Clinton’s Sept. 5 speech in Illinois. Click on highlighted text to read our corresponding fact-checks.

Note to readers: This is the second of a two-part series examining the factual claims made by both major candidates. We posted our findings about Donald Trump’s stump-speech claims in a previous article.


Clinton’s focus on tailoring many campaign speeches to address certain issues or segments of voters makes her speeches more varied than the typically near-identical campaign stump speeches, given over and over. While she repeats some campaign lines and themes — and two speeches both given on Labor Day had many similarities — we find Clinton to be less repetitive on the stump than both her opponent, Donald Trump, and what we found in the 2012 campaign.

As we noted in our article on Trump’s stump speeches, he also holds campaign rallies more frequently, and speaks for longer than Clinton. Because of that — and due to Clinton being off the campaign trail for three days while recovering from pneumonia — we reached back to early September and included more of her speeches than we did for Trump.

While we reviewed three speeches by Trump, to include an equivalent number of minutes speaking, we looked at five for Clinton in the month of September: Sept. 5 appearances in Hampton, Illinois, and Cleveland, Ohio; Sept. 15 in Greensboro, North Carolina; Sept. 19 in Philadelphia; and Sept. 21 in Orlando, Florida.

Wages ‘Too High’

Clinton, Sept. 5 in Illinois: My opponent thinks wages are too high. I don’t know who he talks to – but he actually says that and he doesn’t believe in raising the national minimum wage.

Clinton, Sept. 15 in Greensboro: We don’t need a president who says the minimum wage is too high. We need a president who knows that Americans deserve a raise to get to a living wage.

This is one of the top Democratic talking points of the campaign, and it misrepresents what Trump actually said. He was talking about a $15 federal minimum wage being too high, not wages in general, and certainly not the current minimum wage — which is $7.25 — as Clinton falsely claimed in Greensboro on Sept. 15.

At a Nov. 10, 2015, Republican primary debate, Trump was asked about raising the federal minimum wage to $15, and he said he was opposed to that.

Trump, Nov. 10, 2015: “[T]axes too high, wages too high, we’re not going to be able to compete against the world. I hate to say it, but we have to leave it the way it is. People have to go out, they have to work really hard and have to get into that upper stratum. But we cannot do this if we are going to compete with the rest of the world. We just can’t do it.

When he was asked about that “wages too high” comment two days later, he told Fox News: “And they said should we increase the minimum wage? And I’m saying that if we’re going to compete with other countries, we can’t do that because the wages would be too high. … The question was about the minimum wage. I’m not talking about wages being too high, I’m talking about minimum wage.”

As we said when we first heard this claim at the Democratic National Convention in July, Trump’s original statement may not have been clear, but the context, and his subsequent explanation show he was talking about a $15 minimum wage being too high.

As for Trump’s position on the federal minimum wage, it has varied over the campaign. In late July, Trump supported raising it to $10, saying “it has to go up,” but adding that “states should really call the shots.”

Trump’s Lawsuits

Clinton, Sept. 5 in Illinois: I don’t know what my family would have done if my dad did business with people like Trump who has told hundreds and hundreds of small businesses – he’s been sued 4,000 times for not paying the bills that he owes – if my Dad had been told, “Sorry. Just kidding. We’re not paying you.” This is a man who wants to be president of the United States? This is someone who doesn’t even honor contracts.

Clinton is right that contractors, such as cabinet-builders, painters, glass installers and architects, who have done work on Trump’s projects have said he and his businesses failed to pay them — and some filed lawsuits against Trump because of it. But he hasn’t been “sued 4,000 times” for not paying his bills.

That figure pertains to all lawsuits that Trump has been involved in, according to reporting by USA Today. The news organization’s count is up to 4,056 lawsuits over three decades.

In a June 9 story headlined “Hundreds allege Donald Trump doesn’t pay his bills,” USA Today reported that “[a]t least 60 lawsuits, along with hundreds of liens, judgments, and other government filings reviewed by the USA TODAY NETWORK, document people who have accused Trump and his businesses of failing to pay them for their work. Among them: a dishwasher in Florida. A glass company in New Jersey. A carpet company. A plumber. Painters. Forty-eight waiters. Dozens of bartenders and other hourly workers at his resorts and clubs, coast to coast. Real estate brokers who sold his properties. And, ironically, several law firms that once represented him in these suits and others.”

Trump and his daughter Ivanka told USA Today that non-payment claims were due to unsatisfactory work. “Let’s say that they do a job that’s not good, or a job that they didn’t finish, or a job that was way late. I’ll deduct from their contract, absolutely,” Trump was quoted as saying.

This was the only instance we found of Clinton using the 4,000 number when speaking about small businesses and contractors who say Trump failed to pay them. In her speech in Cleveland, also on Sept. 5, Clinton made a similar statement without using the lawsuit number. The following day, in a press conference during a flight to Florida, she only said he had been “sued about 4,000 times,” not saying why. But that’s off, too. Trump was the one doing the suing in more than 2,000 of those lawsuits, according to USA Today‘s tally. He was the defendant in 1,896 cases, as of Sept. 28.

‘I Alone’ Can Fix It

Clinton, Sept. 5 in Illinois: [Trump] says, “I alone can fix it.” Now, the folks I have met during this campaign, and for many years before, know that we have challenges, know we’ve got to come together, and believe we have to work together to fix what our problems are. That’s my view. … When somebody says, “I alone can fix it,” think of the people he’s leaving out. Everybody else. Leaving out our troops on the front lines, leaving out firefighters and police officers who run toward danger, leaving out teachers and educators who do their best to change children’s lives, leaving out everybody else. That is his campaign in a nutshell.

This was another talking point from the convention. And, again, it misrepresents what Trump actually said.

In his convention speech, Trump said that as a political outsider only he can fix a “rigged” system. He didn’t say he could fix everything by himself, and, in fact, he talked about working with others in that same speech. Here’s the quote in question:

Trump, July 21: I have joined the political arena so that the powerful can no longer beat up on people that cannot defend themselves. Nobody knows the system better than me, which is why I alone can fix it. I have seen firsthand how the system is rigged against our citizens, just like it was rigged against Bernie Sanders – he never had a chance.

He went on to say “we are going to fix the system,” and then talked about working with Mike Pence, his running mate, saying, “We will bring the same economic success to America that [Gov. Pence] brought to Indiana.” We found other examples of Trump talking about “we” and not “I” in that speech. He said that “we must work with all of our allies who share our goal of destroying ISIS and stamping out Islamic terrorism.” And, he said, “I will work with, and appoint, the best prosecutors and law enforcement officials to get the job properly done.”

A few days later, he said, “we need to fix the VA,” in talking about his plans for the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Armed Forces

Clinton, Sept. 5 in Cleveland: So when Donald Trump says, and I quote, “I know more about ISIS than the generals do,” when he claims, as he had, that our armed forces are a disaster, or he insults a Gold Star family, that’s not just wrong and offensive. That’s dangerous. Our military is a national treasure. And a president must respect the men and women who risk their lives and wear the uniform of our country.

As her running mate, Tim Kaine, has also done, Clinton is cherry-picking Trump’s words on the military being “a disaster.” Trump has said that, but he has made clear he’s talking about the military institution being depleted, not the “men and women who risk their lives,” as Clinton says.

Kaine has pointed to a quote that may not have been clear. In a January GOP, Trump said only, “Our military is a disaster,” in listing several problems he saw in the country. But in other instances, Trump’s statements show his complaint is that elected officials have left the military underfunded and “depleted.”

For example, in remarks at a National Guard Association convention on Sept. 12, Trump said:

Trump, Sept. 12: My plan calls for a major rebuilding of the entire military and the elimination of the defense — and we have to do this so quickly, it’s a disaster — of the defense sequester. It is a disaster. Have no choice, it is a disaster. It’s called depletion. We have been depleted as a military, we can’t let that happen. The greatest men and women on Earth, but we have been depleted by what’s taken place.

During the NBC “commander-in-chief forum” on Sept. 7, Trump also said, “We have a depleted military. We have the greatest people in the world in our military. But it is very sadly depleted.”

Auto Bailout

Clinton, Sept. 5 in Illinois: The American auto industry just had the best year it has had in a long time, and that was because of the teamwork and the partnership that we had between the companies, between the union, and because the president of the United States knew we had to save the auto industry. Donald Trump basically said he didn’t care, didn’t matter to him; just shows you how he doesn’t understand or care about the real jobs that put bread on the table and give people a sense of purpose and dignity.

Clinton wrongly implies that Trump said he “didn’t care” about the auto industry or its workers. That’s not what he said. Instead, he said that the industry “would have ended up ultimately in the same place” if it hadn’t received government financial assistance through the Troubled Asset Relief Program in 2008 and 2009. Here’s the quote from a press conference in Birch Run, Michigan, in August 2015. Trump was asked whether he would have done what President Obama did in Detroit (at the 2:54 mark).

Trump, Aug. 11, 2015: There are two ways of looking at it. You could have let it go, and rebuilt itself, through the free enterprise system. You could have let it go bankrupt, frankly, and rebuilt itself, and a lot of people think that’s the way it should have happened. Or you could have done it the way it went. I could have done it either way. Either way would have been acceptable. I think you would have ended up ultimately in the same place.

Clinton made a similar statement that same day in Cleveland, claiming that “last year he said it didn’t matter whether or not we saved the auto industry. Either way would have been acceptable. He said we could have just let it go.”

That’s closer to an accurate description of Trump’s comment, but it still leaves out that Trump said he felt the industry would’ve been OK either way.

Years before, Trump made comments more strongly supporting the auto bailout. He told CNBC on Dec. 10, 2008: “It would seem to be that they should Chapter it and the country should put up the financing.” (And that’s what happened, with GM and Chrysler declaring bankruptcy and restructuring with government loans and backing.) A week later, he told Fox Business’ Neil Cavuto: “I think the government should stand behind [the Big Three automakers] 100 percent. You cannot lose the auto companies.” When Cavuto pressed him on whether the auto bailout should happen, Trump said: “There are so many ways that it can be saved. … If they do a Chapter 11 — and over the years, I’ve put companies into a Chapter 11. You negotiate from Chapter 11.”

In November 2012, Trump criticized Obama in a tweet for being a “terrible negotiator” on the bailout, falsely claiming that Chrysler was going to send all Jeep production to China.

So, Trump’s position on the government rescue of the auto companies has varied, with Trump most recently saying either the government financing or a bankruptcy without it “would have been acceptable.” But he didn’t say he “didn’t care” about the auto industry.

Immigration Overhaul

Clinton, Sept. 21 in Orlando: Because bringing millions of undocumented workers into the formal economy will decrease abuse and exploitation, and it will increase our economic breath and our tax base. It is estimated if we did this, despite what you hear from the other side, we would increase our gross domestic product by an estimated $700 billion in 10 years.

Clinton’s figure is based on the 2013 Congressional Budget Office analysis of the bipartisan Gang of Eight immigration bill that would have provided a path to citizenship for those in the country illegally. That bill passed the Senate but died in the House. CBO said that the bill would have increased gross domestic product by 3.3 percent in 2023 (or 10 years after passage) and by 5.4 percent in 2033. A 2014 White House fact sheet put those figures into today’s dollars: about $700 billion and $1.4 trillion.

But there’s some missing context to this claim. First, $700 billion over 10 years isn’t much, considering the GDP is $18 trillion for 2015 alone, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis. Second, CBO estimates the population would grow by 10 million over the first 10 years, and the labor force would grow by 6 million people beyond what is expected under current law. So, this GDP increase would be spread out over more people on a per capita basis.

Paying for It

Clinton, Sept. 15 in Greensboro: You see, I have this old-fashioned notion that if you’re running for president, you should say what you plan to do, how you’re going to get it done and how you’re going to pay for it.

As we said after Clinton’s speech at the convention, we can’t predict the future, but one nonpartisan analysis has found that Clinton’s proposed revenue increases — tax increases for the wealthy —  don’t quite pay for everything she has proposed. The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget’s analysis, updated in late September, shows Clinton coming up $200 billion short over 10 years.

Clinton’s claim is a not-so-subtle dig at Trump, and the CRFB analysis does show a significantly larger increase in the debt under Trump’s proposals — $5.3 trillion over 10 years.

CRFB notes that these are “rough and preliminary estimates,” based on changes and additions the candidates made to their proposals after the group’s original report in June. The earlier report found Clinton’s spending plans would add $250 billion to the debt and Trump’s plans would add $11.5 trillion, mainly due to his tax-cut plan, which he later scaled back.

Tuition-Free College

Clinton, Sept. 19 in Philadelphia: We came up with a plan that makes public college tuition free for working families and debt free for everyone.

This wording is an improvement over what we heard at the Democratic convention, when Sen. Bernie Sanders claimed that Clinton “will guarantee” free tuition at in-state public colleges or universities for families with incomes of $125,000 a year or less. We said then that there was no guarantee, because states must put up matching funds for free tuition under the plan, and the plan would be phased in and not available to families earning as much as $125,000 until 2021.

In her remarks in Philadelphia, Clinton didn’t go so far as to guarantee it, but, again, the plan only makes public colleges free for some students if states agree to participate. Clinton’s plan says: “States will have to step up and invest in higher education, and colleges and universities will be held accountable for the success of their students and for controlling tuition costs.”

As New York Times columnist Kevin Carey wrote in late July, “States will be able to opt out of the Clinton plan, just as a significant number have chosen not to accept large federal subsidies to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.”

Subprime Minimum Wage

Clinton, Sept. 21 in Orlando: Businesses are allowed to pay employees with disabilities a subminimum wage.

Clinton was correct when she said in her Orlando speech that companies are allowed to pay those with disabilities a “subminimum wage.” It’s worth noting that those employers have to get a certificate from the Department of Labor, and the disability has to affect the workers’ ability to do the job.

Department of Labor, Fact Sheet #39: The Employment of Workers with Disabilities at Subminimum Wages: Section 14(c) does not apply unless the disability actually impairs the worker’s earning or productive capacity for the work being performed. The fact that a worker may have a disability is not in and of itself sufficient to warrant the payment of a subminimum wages.

Clinton wants to end that policy. These numbers are dated, but a 2001 General Accounting Office report found more than 420,000 people with disabilities were under the subminimum wage program. Work centers for those with disabilities employed 95 percent of those workers.


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