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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

FactChecking Trump’s Press Conference

In his first press conference since July, President-elect Donald Trump repeated some false and misleading claims on jobs, health care and his tax returns:

  • Trump falsely claimed that there are “96 million really wanting a job and they can’t get [one].” There are roughly 96 million people not in the labor force, but that includes retirees, students and others who don’t want jobs. Only 5.5 million of them want work.
  • Trump said that “you learn very little” from a tax return. But experts told us there’s plenty of information to be gleaned from tax returns — such as potential conflicts of interest, charitable giving habits and effective tax rates.
  • Trump claimed that “some states” have seen health insurance coverage on the Affordable Care Act exchanges increase by 100 percent. Only Arizona has an average increase that high, and 84 percent with marketplace coverage in 2016 received tax credits to purchase insurance.
  • Trump continues to oversimplify the rise of the Islamic State by blaming President Obama for “leaving at the wrong time” from Iraq. President George W. Bush set the withdrawal date. More important, there were numerous factors in the rise of the terrorist group.
  • Trump claimed that “nobody even talked about it” when hacked emails showed that Hillary Clinton’s campaign got debate questions in advance. Actually, there was plenty of press coverage when it was revealed that former CNN contributor Donna Brazile shared questions with Clinton’s campaign.

Trump hasn’t held a press conference since July 27, 2016, during the Democratic National Convention. The purpose was to discuss how he would arrange to handle his business affairs while he is president. Trump will take the oath of office on Jan. 20.

But the Republican president-elect was asked a variety of questions on a host of issues, including Russian hacking, the Affordable Care Act and his cabinet appointments. In several cases, Trump repeated some of the same claims that he had made during the campaign.

Trump on Jobs

Trump wrongly claimed, once again, that there are “96 million really wanting a job and they can’t get [one].” There are roughly 96 million people “not in the labor force,” but only 5.5 million of them “currently want a job,” according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Trump cited the statistic in the context of a border tax on “these companies that are leaving [the U.S.] and getting away with murder.”

Trump, Jan. 11: And if our politicians had what it takes, they would have done this years ago. And you’d have millions more workers right now in the United States that are — 96 million really wanting a job and they can’t get. You know that story. The real number — that’s the real number.

According to the latest figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 95.8 million people “not in the labor force” in December. But Trump is wrong to lump them all in as “really wanting a job.” According to BLS, only 5.5 million of them “currently want a job.” Those not looking for a job include millions of retirees, teenagers and stay-at-home parents. For example, there were 18.3 million people age 75 and older who were not in the workforce in December, BLS says.

Throughout the presidential campaign, Trump argued that the “real” unemployment rate was higher than the official one, because he said it did not include those so frustrated by the labor market that they simply gave up looking for work. Indeed, the labor force participation rate has been on the decline, and the Congressional Budget Office attributed some of that recent decline to workers so discouraged by the slow recovery from the recession that they stopped looking for work. But CBO estimated about half of the decline was due to long-term structural trends, mainly aging baby boomers reaching retirement age.

The Tax Returns, Again

Trump said that “you learn very little” from a tax return and that “the only one that cares about my tax returns are the reporters.”

But experts told us there’s plenty of information to be gleaned from tax returns — such as potential conflicts of interest, charitable giving habits and effective tax rates. And polls show that a majority of Americans say Trump should release his tax returns.

Trump was asked if he would release his tax returns to prove that he has no business dealings in Russia. He responded: “I’m not releasing the tax returns because as you know, they’re under audit.” That was Trump’s stance during the campaign as well.

Also during the campaign, when he was facing questions about releasing his returns — something many 2016 presidential candidates and every major party nominee since the late 1970s had done — Trump claimed that “there’s nothing to learn” from his tax returns. He repeated a version of that claim in his press conference, claiming, “you learn very little [from] a tax return.”

When we wrote about this in May, experts cited several details voters could learn from a candidate’s tax returns, including sources of income, deductions taken, potential conflicts, overseas income and how a candidate’s tax proposals could affect his or her personal tax situation.

Joseph J. Thorndike, director of the Tax Analysts’ Tax History Project, wrote in a May 12 blog post on taxnotes.com that “[r]eturns can shed light on the way a candidate lives his life. It can tell us about charitable giving as well as personal borrowing and investment activity. Returns can also illuminate the complicated business arrangements that often provide the bulk of a candidate’s income, especially for a real estate mogul like Trump.”

And the returns “tell us a lot about how candidates conduct themselves in the gray areas of the tax law,” Thorndike wrote.

Trump also claimed in his press conference that reporters were the only ones that cared about his tax returns. A reporter followed up: “You don’t think the American public is concerned about it?”

Trump replied: “No I don’t think so. I won, when I became president. No, I don’t think they care at all. I don’t think they care at all.”

Polls show that, in fact, the American public does care. A Pew Research Center poll, conducted Jan. 4-9, found 60 percent of respondents said Trump has a responsibility to release his tax returns.

Those who identified as Democrats or leaning Democratic more strongly supported this view: Seventy-nine percent said Trump had a responsibility to release the returns, while 38 percent of Republicans or those learning Republican had that view.

Other polls have shown similar results. A CBS News poll conducted Dec. 9-13, 2016, asked whether it was “necessary” for Trump to release his tax returns. Sixty percent responded that it was necessary. A Quinnipiac University poll taken Aug. 18-24, 2016, asked likely voters: “Do you think Donald Trump should publicly release his tax returns, or not?” Seventy-four percent said he should release them, including a majority (62 percent) of Republicans.

Premium Cherry-Picking

Trump claimed that under the Affordable Care Act, “some states have over a hundred percent increase” in premiums. Actually, only one state has an average increase in exchange premiums that high: Arizona.

Premiums on the ACA exchanges — for individuals who buy their own insurance — have jumped up an average 25 percent from 2016 to 2017 among the 38 HealthCare.gov states, and that’s substantially higher than the 7.2 percent average increase from 2015 to 2016.

The variation in the change in premiums among states, and even within states from county to county, is also substantial, with Arizona, at the high end, seeing a 116 percent average increase, while Indiana, at the other extreme, has an average 3 percent decrease. The median increase is 16 percent.

These figures, which do not include subsidies available to lower-income individuals, are for the average second lowest-cost silver “benchmark” plans for a 27-year-old, and they’re part of a report released by the Department of Health and Human Services in October.

As the chart below shows, some states had average premium changes in the single digits, others in double digits, and Arizona had the distinction of a triple-digit average increase. As we wrote before, the wide disparity on the numbers makes the report ripe for cherry-picking.

At least one county had a nearly 100 percent increase (see Table 13 of the report). In Medina County, Texas, the average increase is 99 percent, from an average $201 monthly premium to $399. Texas overall, however, had an 18 percent average increase.

Massachusetts, which has a state-based exchange (not the federally run HealthCare.gov), saw an average 3 percent decrease, while Minnesota’s state-based exchange had an average 59 percent increase — again, showing the contrast across the country. Adding in four state-based marketplaces plus the District of Columbia’s — for which HHS had data — brings the nationwide average increase down to 22 percent.

The vast majority of Americans who buy coverage through the exchanges get tax credits, which shelter them from these premium increases. The credits cap the amount a person must contribute toward a benchmark plan based on income. The HHS report says 84 percent of the 10.4 million Americans with marketplace coverage in the first half of 2016 received tax credits, and that 77 percent of current enrollees can find plans for $100 or less, after factoring in tax credits. An estimated 7 million Americans buy their own insurance but do so outside of the exchanges.

Trump on Obama Creating ISIS

Trump continues to oversimplify the situation by placing the entirety of the blame for the creation of ISIS on Obama’s decision to withdraw troops from Iraq.

Trump, Jan. 11: I mean if you look, this administration created ISIS by leaving at the wrong time. The void was created, ISIS was formed.

This is yet another variation on Trump’s campaign claim that Obama “founded ISIS,” and Clinton was a “co-founder.”

Back when we wrote about that false claim in August, experts told us the expansion of the Islamic State can’t be pinned on the troop withdrawal alone — if at all. Blaming Obama for the timing of the troop withdrawal also ignores that President George W. Bush had signed the agreement and set the date for that withdrawal.

Trump himself supported withdrawing troops from Iraq as early as 2007, telling CNN in a March 16, 2007, interview that the U.S. should “declare victory and leave, because I’ll tell you, this country is just going to get further bogged down. … [T]his is a total catastrophe and you might as well get out now, because you just are wasting time.”

Experts have pointed to a variety of actions that could have contributed to the rise of ISIS, including: the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003; the decisions by the U.S.-led provisional coalition government in 2003 to disband the Iraqi army and dissolve and ban the Baath Party, which drove Sunnis into militant groups; the rule of Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, whose Shia government further ostracized Sunnis; the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq by Dec. 31, 2011; the weakening of the Iraqi army, which abandoned posts in 2014 rather than fight ISIS; and the Syrian civil war, which began in 2011.

Debate Questions

Trump claimed that “nobody even talked about it” when WikiLeaks released emails from the Clinton campaign showing that “Hillary Clinton got the questions to the debate and didn’t report it.”

Not so. There was plenty of press coverage in October when emails allegedly obtained from the account of Clinton’s campaign chairman, John Podesta, revealed that former CNN contributor Donna Brazile shared several town hall and debate questions with members of Clinton’s campaign.

According to the emails, Brazile sent multiple questions to the Clinton campaign before a CNN town hall in mid-March last year, and she sent at least one question to Clinton’s campaign prior to a Democratic debate earlier that month.

However, there is no evidence that Clinton herself received any questions.

Trump: We talk about the hacking and hacking’s bad and it shouldn’t be done. But look at the things that were hacked, look at what was learned from that hacking.

That Hillary Clinton got the questions to the debate and didn’t report it? That’s a horrible thing. That’s a horrible thing.

Can you imagine that if Donald Trump got the questions to the debate — it would’ve been the biggest story in the history of stories. And they would’ve said immediately, “You have to get out of the race.” Nobody even talked about it. It’s a very terrible thing.

Politico and others reported that the hacked emails showed that Brazile sent an email on March 12, 2016, to Clinton campaign Communications Director Jennifer Palmieri with the subject line, “From time to time, I get the questions in advance.”

In the email, Brazile wrote “here’s one that worries me about HRC,” referring to Clinton. She then provided the text of a question about the death penalty. Clinton was later asked a similar question by an audience member introduced by TV One host Roland Martin, who was the co-moderator of the CNN town hall on March 13.

The emails show that Brazile wrote that she would “send a few more” questions to the campaign, which she did. According to Politico, an additional email shows that Brazile forwarded the campaign at least two more town hall questions — one about unions and another about income inequality. Clinton was asked the question about unions, and Sen. Bernie Sanders was asked about income inequality in the town hall.

There were also multiple news reports on another instance of Brazile tipping off the Clinton campaign to a potential question the day before a Democratic debate between Clinton and Sanders on March 6 in Flint, Michigan. In that email, Brazile tells Podesta and Palmieri that “one of the questions directed to HRC tomorrow is from a woman with a rash.” Brazile added: “She will ask what, if anything, will Hillary do as president to help the ppl of Flint.”

During the debate, Lee-Anne Walters, whose children experienced health problems after exposure to contaminated water in Flint, asked Clinton and Sanders “will you make a personal promise to me right now that, as president, in your first 100 days in office, you will make it a requirement that all public water systems must remove all lead service lines throughout the entire United States, and notification made to the — the citizens that have said service lines.”

What we don’t know is whether Clinton, herself, was ever made aware of the questions, as Trump claimed.

In her reply to Brazile’s email about the question on the death penalty, Palmieri indicated that that was a question that Clinton was already prepared to answer because she had heard it before.

“Hi. Yes, it is one she gets asked about. Not everyone likes her answer but can share it,” Palmieri wrote. She then asked another campaign official to forward to Brazile Clinton’s standard response on the death penalty.

CNN cut all ties with Brazile, the acting DNC chair, on Oct. 14, three days after the first press reports on the controversy.

“We are completely uncomfortable with what we have learned about her interactions with the Clinton campaign while she was a CNN contributor,” a CNN spokeswoman said in a statement.