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FactChecking Trump’s CPAC Speech

President Donald Trump made a triumphant return to the annual Conservative Political Action Conference, the place where Trump says he gave his first major political speech and concluded, “I think I like this business.” But we found that Trump’s speech to his conservative “friends” at the conference contained a lot of the same false and misleading claims we’ve been fact-checking for months.

  • Trump said that media “shouldn’t be allowed to use sources unless they use somebody’s name,” but his own White House staff regularly holds “on background” conversations with reporters with the condition that officials’ names not be used.
  • The president claimed the media “make up sources,” citing one news story with nine anonymous sources as evidence. But the likely story in question — a Washington Post story on former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn’s discussions about sanctions with the Russian ambassador in December — was confirmed by the White House.
  • Trump doubled down on his exaggeration about crime in Sweden as a result of its liberal policy of accepting refugees from Syria and other Middle Eastern countries.
  • Trump made the curious claim that “Obamacare covers very few people,” despite the fact that the number of uninsured Americans has fallen by 20 million since the health care law was enacted.
  • Trump said that building the Keystone XL pipeline could lead to “somewhere around” 42,000 jobs. The State Department estimated that many “direct, indirect and induced” jobs could be created temporarily. But after construction, only 50 workers would be required to operate the pipeline.
  • He also repeated exaggerations about NAFTA’s impact on the economy, welfare, and the election’s impact on job growth — taking credit for recently announced investments.
  • Trump said that a Los Angeles Times poll “did a great job” predicting his election victory. Actually, the poll wrongly predicted that Trump would win the popular vote.

The Feb. 24 speech was Trump’s fifth appearance at the annual conference, but his first as president. Trump signaled his presidential aspirations in his first appearance at CPAC back in 2011, when he made headlines for questioning President Barack Obama’s birth certificate. And he built up his conservative following in subsequent appearances in 2013, 2014 and 2015.

On ‘Fake’ News and Anonymous Sources

Trump opined that media “shouldn’t be allowed to use sources unless they use somebody’s name,” but his own White House staff regularly holds “on background” conversations with reporters with the condition that officials’ names not be used.

In fact, just hours before Trump’s speech, the White House held a “background briefing by senior administration officials” (with the condition that those sources not be named) to push back against news reports that some members of Trump’s campaign had communicated with Russian officials during the campaign.

Trump: I’m against the people that make up stories and make up sources. They shouldn’t be allowed to use sources unless they use somebody’s name. Let their name be put out there. Let their name be put out. “A source says that Donald Trump is a horrible, horrible human being.” Let ’em say it to my face. Let there be no more sources.

The use of anonymous sources has long been debated in media circles. Some argue its necessity, while others warn of its risks to credibility, and caution against its overuse. Some newspapers eschew the practice entirely. Last year, the New York Times announced stricter guidelines for using anonymous sources, requiring the approval of a top editor.

So Trump is certainly entitled to his opinion. But we’d be remiss if we didn’t point out the hypocrisy of this stance. Trump administration officials regularly hold “on background” briefings with reporters on the condition that officials not be named (as did the Obama administration before it).

As ABC News Chief White House Correspondent Jonathan Karl pointed out, the same morning that Trump gave his CPAC speech, the White House gave some reporters a background briefing by senior administration officials on the condition that reporters couldn’t use the officials’ names. According to a press pool report filed by Dan Freedman of Hearst Newspapers, the officials provided “major pushback” on news reports that Trump campaign aides had repeated contacts with Russian intelligence officials during the campaign. The anonymous White House officials relayed purported details of private conversations between Reince Priebus, the White House chief of staff, and FBI Director James Comey and FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe.

At a press briefing after Trump’s speech, Press Secretary Sean Spicer noted that reporters had obtained permission to use some of his quotes on the record. Said Spicer: “There’s a big difference between making serious allegations, us coming back on the record, and reporters saying ‘well, we have five sources, that are unnamed, that say contrary to that.’ I think there’s a point at which there’s an obligation if you’re going to make a very serious allegation, and we’re willing to push back on the record, that there be somebody at the very least who’s willing to push back on this and say they’ll put their name attached to it.”

But the White House has done these background briefings before. (See these recent examples here, here and here.)

And Trump has cited anonymous sources himself, as he did in his CPAC speech when he quoted a “very, very substantial guy” who told him “Paris is no longer Paris” due to the influx of immigrants. CNBC’s Steve Kopack also pointed out this 2012 tweet from Trump:

Trump also quibbled with the fact that many media outlets reported on his tweet that the “FAKE NEWS media … is the enemy of the American people” without noting his qualifier of “fake” news.

Trump: They’re very dishonest people. In fact, in covering my comments, the dishonest media did not explain that I called the fake news the enemy of the people. The fake news. They dropped off the word “fake.” And all of a sudden the story became the media is the enemy. They take the word “fake” out. And now I’m saying, “Oh no, this is no good.” But that’s the way they are.

It’s true that Trump — who once cited the National Enquirer as a credible news source worthy of a Pulitzer to back up his bogus conspiracy theory of Ted Cruz’s father being linked to Lee Harvey Oswald — added the “FAKE” qualifier to his comment. But he cast a wide net when explaining which news outlets he considered to be “fake news,” including the New York Times, NBC News, ABC News, CBS News and CNN.

That’s a wide swath of the mainstream media. We should note that fact-checkers also have been denounced by Trump as “dishonest scum.” Trump lobbed that insult during a speech in Florida in October, in which he said “so-called fact-checkers” are “really crooked as hell themselves.”

A ‘Fake News’ Story with ‘Nine Sources’?

Trump also accused the media of making up sources, in particular criticizing one story that contained nine sources. He said, “There’re no nine people. I don’t believe there was one or two people.”

Trump: A few days ago I called the fake news the enemy of the people. And they are. They are the enemy of the people. Because they have no sources, they just make ’em up when there are none. I saw one story recently where they said, “Nine people have confirmed.” There’re no nine people. I don’t believe there was one or two people. Nine people. And I said, “Give me a break.” Because I know the people, I know who they talk to. There were no nine people. But they say “nine people.” And somebody reads it and they think, “Oh, nine people. They have nine sources.” They make up sources. They’re very dishonest people.

We asked the White House to identify the story, but we did not receive a response. There was one recent story that had nine sources, and it turned out to be accurate, not “fake” at all. That was the Washington Post story on Feb. 9 that broke the news that then-National Security Advisor Michael Flynn “privately discussed U.S. sanctions against Russia with that country’s ambassador to the United States during the month before President Trump took office, contrary to public assertions by Trump officials.”

That story said, “Nine current and former officials, who were in senior positions at multiple agencies at the time of the calls, spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence matters.”

Trump knew “for a few weeks” — since January — that Flynn spoke to the Russian ambassador about sanctions even though Flynn told Vice President Mike Pence that he did not, White House spokesman Sean Spicer confirmed at his Feb. 14 briefing. But Flynn did not resign — at Trump’s request — until a few days after the Post broke the story.

In his Feb. 14 resignation letter, Flynn acknowledged that he “inadvertently briefed the Vice President Elect and others with incomplete information regarding my phone calls with the Russian Ambassador.”

After Flynn resigned, Trump criticized the “fake media” for treating Flynn “very, very unfairly.” But, as we wrote, the White House confirmed media reports on Flynn’s call with the Russian ambassador, so the stories — including the one by the Post based on the nine sources — was not fake at all.

Marty Baron, the executive editor of the Washington Post, issued a statement that said, “Everything we published regarding Gen. Flynn was true, as confirmed by subsequent events and on-the-record statements from administration officials themselves. The story led directly to the general’s dismissal as national security adviser. Calling press reports fake doesn’t make them so.”

On Sweden

Trump doubled down on his exaggeration about crime in Sweden as a result of its liberal policy of accepting refugees from Syria and other Middle Eastern countries. As we wrote when Trump first cited Sweden as an example of problems associated with immigration, statistics show there has been an uptick in some crime categories since the country took in 160,000 asylum-seekers in 2015. But experts said there is no evidence of a major crime wave.

Trump: I took a lot of heat on Sweden. And then a day later, I said has anybody reported what’s going on? And it turned out that they didn’t — not too many of them did. Take a look at what happened in Sweden. I love Sweden, great country, great people, I love Sweden. But they understand. The people over there understand I’m right. Take a look at what’s happening in Sweden.

Trump may have been referring to riots that broke out in a predominantly immigrant neighborhood of Stockholm on Feb. 20, which included rock throwing at police, looting and 10 cars being torched. (Contrary to Trump’s claim, though, it was widely reported.)

And Trump may have a point that a substantial portion of the Swedish public may perceive a crime problem due to refugees. A Pew Research Center survey in early 2016 found that 46 percent of Swedes believe “refugees in our country are more to blame for crime than other groups.”

However, Swedish experts we spoke to said official crime statistics do not support Trump’s earlier claims. Overall, crime is relatively low in Sweden, and has generally been on the decline for decades. There has been an uptick in some categories of crimes over the last two years, but Swedish authorities and academic researchers say there is little evidence of a crime surge, or that immigrants are more prone to crime.

“Obviously [it is] difficult to know” how the influx of refugees has impacted crime in Sweden, Felipe Estrada Dörner, a criminology professor at Stockholm University, told us via email. “What we do know is that the amount of resources that the police have coded as directly connected to the refugee situation is below 1 percent.”

For more on this issue, see our Feb. 20 story, “Trump Exaggerates Swedish Crime.”

Obamacare by the Numbers

The number of Americans lacking health insurance has fallen by 20 million since the Affordable Care Act was enacted, according to the National Health Interview Survey, published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But Trump claimed the law covered “very few people.”

Trump: Obamacare covers very few people — and remember, deduct from the number all of the people that had great health care that they loved that was taken away from them — it was taken away from them.

There are several ways to measure the change in insurance coverage under the ACA, and they all show a reduction in the uninsured in the millions. There’s no need to “deduct” anyone who lost insurance; the figures from the CDC show the total net numbers for the insured and uninsured in the country, as we wrote when Trump made a similar claim last month.

The latest CDC report, released in February, on the National Health Interview Survey — a survey of about 35,000 households conducted by the Census Bureau — shows that the number of uninsured Americans of all ages decreased from 48.6 million in 2010, the year the ACA was enacted, to 28.2 million for January through September 2016.

The country now has the lowest uninsured rate on record — 8.8 percent. The rate was 16 percent in 2010, and it has been declining every year since. (Historical data are here.)

Since 2012, the year before the ACA federal and state marketplaces launched, the number of the uninsured has declined by 17.3 million.

And we could look only at those who gained coverage through those ACA marketplaces, as some refer to the insurance marketplaces themselves as “Obamacare.” The number who selected an insurance plan through HealthCare.gov during the open enrollment period that ended January 31 was 9.2 million, and another 2.8 million signed up on the 12 state-based marketplaces as of December 24, 2016, according to reports from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.

CMS said it would release a final report in March. It’s likely that not everyone who selected a plan will pay their premium. In the first half of 2016, 10.4 million Americans had signed up and paid for insurance, with 84 percent of them getting tax credits to reduce their out-of-pocket premium costs.

And then there’s the expansion of Medicaid under the ACA, which 31 states plus Washington, D.C., have implemented. “Studies show that Medicaid expansion results in significant coverage gains and reductions in uninsured rates,” said a February review by the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation of more than 100 studies on the topic.

Trump referred to people who had their “health care … taken away from them.” In 2013, some Americans received cancellation notices for their specific individual market plans that no longer met minimum benefit requirements under the ACA. An Urban Institute study and survey from December 2013 estimated the number getting such notices at 2.6 million. A RAND Corporation study from 2015 found that “the vast majority of those with individual market insurance in 2013 remained insured in 2015, which suggests that even among those who had their individual market policies canceled, most found coverage through an alternative source.”

Keystone Job Estimates

Trump said that building the Keystone XL pipeline could create “somewhere around” 42,000 jobs in the U.S. Yes, but only 16,000 direct jobs would be created temporarily during construction of the pipeline. The rest would be “indirect and induced jobs” resulting from money spent on goods and services by the construction contractors and employees.

Trump: But with the Keystone … Bottom line, Obama didn’t sign it, right? Could be 42,000 jobs, somewhere around there — a lot of jobs.

As we have written before, the U.S. State Department’s 2014 analysis says that construction of the pipeline could lead to 42,100 direct, indirect and induced jobs. They wouldn’t last long, though.

Of the 16,100 direct jobs, the State Department says “approximately 3,900 (or 1,950 per year if construction took 2 years) would comprise a direct, temporary, construction workforce in the proposed Project area” of Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska and Kansas. The other 26,000 jobs are based on “indirect” work for companies supplying goods and services for the pipeline, as well as “induced” jobs resulting from money spent by workers and suppliers.

And, again, these are temporary jobs, lasting one to two years while the pipeline is constructed. After that, “the proposed Project would generate approximately 50 jobs during operations,” according to the State Department’s analysis. That would include “35 permanent employees and 15 temporary contractors,” the report says.

More Repeats

Jobs: Trump again boasted that “jobs are already starting to pour back into our country” and that “because of the election result” companies such as Ford, Fiat Chrysler, General Motors, Intel and others are “expanding production and hiring more workers.” But as we have reported repeatedly, many of the investments announced by those companies were in the works before the election and were largely market driven. Executives of those companies praised Trump’s plan to cut corporate taxes and reduce regulation, but several of them said the recently announced investments would have been made no matter who was elected president. We won’t know how Trump is doing on jobs until the Bureau of Labor Statistics comes out with its monthly figures for February, and it may take many more months or even years, to fully evaluate Trump’s impact on jobs.

Welfare: Trump said, “It’s time for all Americans to get off of welfare and get back to work.” As we have written, the welfare rolls have dropped precipitously since President Clinton signed legislation in 1996 instituting work requirements and time limits. That legislation created the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, or TANF, which replaced the Aid to Families With Dependent Children program. The average monthly number of individuals on TANF has declined by about 75 percent, from 10.9 million recipients in fiscal 1997 to 2.8 million recipients in fiscal 2016.

NAFTA: Trump called NAFTA “one of the worst deals ever made by any country” and labeled it “economy un-development, as far as our country is concerned.” There has been a 27 percent drop in manufacturing jobs from December 1993, the month before NAFTA took effect, to January of this year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. But as we have noted in the past, many factors, beyond the 1994 trade agreement, impact jobs and the economy. And as we have written before, economists have debated the effects of the trade agreement. But overall, economists have found the net effect on jobs from NAFTA has been small, because trade with Canada and Mexico account for a small part of the GDP. A 2015 report from the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service called the net overall effect of NAFTA “relatively modest.”

About That L.A. Times Poll

Finally, Trump said that a poll conducted by the University of Southern California and the Los Angeles Times was one of a few to correctly predict a Trump victory over Hillary Clinton.

“A couple of polls got it right. I must say Los Angeles Times did a great job, shocking because, you know, they did a great job,” Trump said.

But as the Times’ own Washington bureau chief, David Lauter, pointed out, the poll actually got the popular vote forecast wrong.

“The Daybreak poll, like any other survey, tries to forecast the actual vote,” Lauter wrote. “Its final national forecast had Trump winning 47%-44%. In reality, he lost the nationwide vote, 48%-46%. So instead of winning by 3 percentage points, he lost by 2, which made the poll less accurate than a number of other surveys.”