President Donald Trump did a flurry of TV interviews and held a campaign-style rally to mark his first 100 days, and he left a trail of false, misleading and sometimes puzzling statements in his wake:
- Trump, who is seeking to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement, falsely claimed that the U.S. has a “$17 billion trade deficit with Canada.” In fact, the U.S. last year had an $8.1 billion trade surplus with Canada.
- Trump said President Andrew Jackson was “really angry” at “what was happening with regard to the Civil War,” and he claimed “people don’t ask the question, but why was there the Civil War?” Jackson died 16 years before the war started and, as one historian told us, “you could fill a library with books” on the Civil War.
- Trump speculated that negative media coverage of his administration is because “96 percent of journalists who made donations in the last election gave them to our opponent.” Only a fraction of journalists contributed to any presidential campaign, and none who covers the White House or national politics did so.
- Trump said that under his tax plan, he will “end up paying more than I pay right now.” There is no way to know that. Trump has not released his tax returns, and his one-page tax plan lacks the details needed to analyze its impact.
- Trump said that “the last time a new Supreme Court justice was confirmed in the first 100 days was 136 years ago in 1881.” That’s correct, but lacks context. Trump is the only president since 1900 who took office with a vacancy on the high court.
The president also repeated several false claims on job creation, the Affordable Care Act, Russia and China. For example, Trump claimed that China stopped manipulating its currency because of him, when in fact economists — including those at his own Treasury Department — have said China stopped doing so three years ago.
Trump marked his 100th day in office on April 29. A day earlier, Trump gave an interview to Fox News as part of a media blitz to mark the occasion. On April 29, he gave an interview to CBS’ “Face the Nation,” and spoke at a campaign-style rally in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. He also gave an interview May 1 to the Washington Examiner, among others.
North American Trade
In his interview with Fox News, Trump discussed his desire to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA. But in doing so he falsely claimed that the U.S. has a “$17 billion trade deficit with Canada.” In fact, the U.S. had a surplus in 2016.
Trump, April 28: The trade deficit with Mexico is close to $70 billion, even with Canada it’s $17 billion trade deficit with Canada.
Trump is close to accurate on Mexico. In 2016, the U.S. had a trade deficit in goods and services of nearly $62 billion, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. But Trump is way off on his Canada trade figure.
For the second year in a row, the U.S. had a trade surplus with Canada. In 2016, the U.S. had an $8.1 billion trade surplus in goods and services with Canada, up nearly 33 percent from the $6.1 billion surplus in 2015. The last time the U.S. had a deficit with Canada was 2014.
Typically, when referring to trade deficits, Trump counts only goods and not services. But, even if that were the case here, he would be overstating the U.S. trade deficit for goods with Canada.
The U.S. trade deficit for goods was $11.2 billion with Canada in 2016, so Trump would have overstated the trade deficit for goods by $5.8 billion, or more than half. Not only that, but the trade deficit for goods has dropped significantly over the last few decades. It was $78.3 billion in 2008. The $11.2 billion trade deficit in goods is the lowest it has been since 1993, when it was $10.8 billion.
Andrew Jackson and the Civil War
In the interview with the Washington Examiner, Trump flummoxed historians when he claimed that President Andrew Jackson was “really angry” at “what was happening with regard to the Civil War,” and then went on to proclaim that “people don’t ask the question, but why was there the Civil War?”
Trump, Washington Examiner, May 1: I mean, had Andrew Jackson been a little bit later you wouldn’t have had the Civil War. He was a very tough person but he had a big heart and he was really angry that he saw what was happening with regard to the Civil War. He said, “There’s no reason for this.”
People don’t realize, you know, the Civil War, if you think about it, why? People don’t ask that question, but why was there the Civil War? Why could that one not have been worked out?
Daniel Feller, director of The Papers of Andrew Jackson at the University of Tennessee, told us that Trump’s comments about Jackson are “empty of content.”
First of all, Jackson died in June 1845 — 16 years before the Civil War started in 1861. So Jackson did not see “what was happening with regard to the Civil War,” as Trump said.
It is true that concerns about preserving the union date to at least the Missouri Compromise of 1820, which admitted Missouri as a slave state and Maine as a free state. Jackson, who served as president from 1829 to 1837, was alive at that time and was among those who “did decry disunionism in any form,” Feller wrote to us in an email.
“His belief in a permanent indivisible national Union ran deeper than anything else in his character or circumstances,” Feller said.
But, he added, Jackson “did not, as far as we know, speculate about or anticipate a civil war over slavery in particular.”
“Jackson was almost unique among politicians of his day in avoiding making any kind of public or even private statement about slavery as a general moral question. He was of course a slaveholder himself, though many such, including Thomas Jefferson and Henry Clay, held slaves while at least regretting the system in principle. Jackson did not,” Feller said. “He responded to slavery solely as a political issue, condemning both proslavery and antislavery agitators for threatening disruption of the Union and his own Democratic Party.”
In a phone interview, Feller also questioned what Trump meant when he said Jackson “had a big heart,” and expressed puzzlement by the president’s statements that “you wouldn’t have had the Civil War” if Jackson was president and that “[p]eople don’t ask that question, but why was there the Civil War?”
“I literally don’t know what that means,” Feller said about Trump’s description of Jackson as having “a big heart.”
“Magnanimous? Forgiving? Compassionate? That is not particularly true,” Feller said. “Who among our presidents has been known for that? The guy who coined the term ‘with malice toward none, with charity for all,’ and that would be Abraham Lincoln.”
Lincoln coined those words in his second inaugural address.
Trump “further says, ‘people don’t ask the question, but why was there the Civil War?'” Feller wrote in his email to us. “That is THE MOST ASKED question among American historians, and has been since the war itself.”
“In short, and not to mince words, it’s impossible to understand what someone is talking about when they have no idea themselves,” Feller said.
Trump on the Media’s First 100 Days
In a bit of table-turning, Trump purported to rate the performance of the media in his first 100 days at his rally in Harrisburg. But he cited a partisan study on negative news coverage of his administration and then misleadingly tied those findings to a study about journalists — none of whom cover national politics — contributing disproportionately to Hillary Clinton during the 2016 presidential campaign.
Trump, Harrisburg, April 29: According to Media Research Center, 89 percent of the media’s coverage of our administration has been negative and purposely negative, and perhaps that’s because, according to the Center for Public Integrity, 96 percent of journalists who made donations in the last election gave them to our opponent. Does anybody remember who our opponent was? Huh? That was some opponent.
The report from the Media Research Center did conclude that ABC, CBS and NBC evening news coverage between Jan. 20 and April 9 was 89 percent negative. Media Research Center is a conservative group whose mission is to “expose and neutralize the propaganda arm of the Left: the national news media,” according to its website.
An analysis by Media Tenor, an independent media research firm, looked at a shorter time period — Jan. 20 to Feb. 17 — and also tallied news it considered to be neutral. That study found that on NBC’s “Nightly News” and CBS’ “Evening News,” the majority of the news reports were neutral, but that a much higher percentage (43 percent) were negative than positive (3 percent). On Fox News’ “Special Report,” the analysis found, “25 percent of the reports about Trump were negative, compared with 12 percent positive and the remainder neutral. In other words, even the conservative-leaning Fox News featured twice as much bad press as good press.”
Trump said the Media Research Center’s findings about overwhelmingly negative coverage of his administration were “perhaps … because, according to the Center for Public Integrity, 96 percent of journalists who made donations in the last election gave them to our opponent.”
The analysis from the nonpartisan Center for Public Integrity found that about 430 people “who work in journalism” contributed about $382,000 to the Clinton campaign through August, compared with about 50 journalists who contributed $14,000 to Trump. Notably, however, the study did not find that any journalists responsible for covering the White House, Congress or national politics made political contributions of any kind.
Indeed, Dave Levinthal, co-author of the report from the Center for Public Integrity, told us that “the vast majority of journalists did not contribute to any presidential candidate, period.”
While Trump has called out the New York Times, Washington Post, ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN and MSNBC as purveyors of fake news to discredit him, none of the journalists covering him from those news organizations made any political contributions. In fact, among that media group, only one journalist from the New York Times, a Hong Kong-based videographer, was confirmed to have made a contribution — to Democrat Bernie Sanders — which was later returned.
While there were some journalists on the contributors list who covered local or state government — mostly for small newspapers — there was none on the list whose primary responsibility was covering Congress or the White House or national politics, Levinthal said. Most of the contributing journalists were doing other things. For example, one Clinton contributor was a restaurant critic for the Orange County Register and another was a television critic for the New Yorker.
There were very few journalists at all from the top 50 news organizations, Levinthal said, noting that most of those news organizations have strict policies prohibiting participation in political campaigns, including making contributions to candidates.
“As a statement of fact,” Levinthal said, “effectively no one covering the White House or the presidential campaign was making contributions to Hillary Clinton or any other candidate in 2016.”
The president flatly stated in his Fox News interview that under his tax proposal he will “end up paying more than I pay right now in taxes.” But he provides no evidence to support that.
Trump, Fox News, April 28: I’m going to end up paying more than I pay right now in taxes, all right? I will pay more than I pay right now. The reason I’m going to pay more is because I lose all the deductions. They have deductions on top of the deductions, they have hundreds and hundreds of pages of deductions.
We would need two things in order to analyze the impact of Trump’s tax plan on the president’s personal taxes: Trump’s tax returns filed this year and details of how his tax plan would work. We have neither.
“We can’t tell how the plan would affect Trump’s taxes,” said Roberton Williams, a senior fellow at the Tax Policy Center, which analyzes the impact of tax policy changes. “If we knew more about his taxes, we might be able to say something, even without knowing precise details for the plan, but knowing so little about Trump, we’d be hard pressed to say much even with the plan’s details.”
The president went through the entire 2016 campaign without releasing his tax returns — the first major party presidential candidate to not release his tax returns since Richard Nixon. In an April 29 interview for “Face the Nation,” Trump repeated that he will not release his tax returns because “I’m under audit.”
Also, the Trump administration has provided only a one-page summary of his tax plan that was bereft of details. For example, the plan calls for reducing the number of tax brackets from seven to three, but it does not provide the income thresholds for each bracket. “Because the Administration summary was, um, short, it is impossible to know what the president really wants to do, and what it would mean for taxpayers,” Howard Gleckman, a senior fellow at the Tax Policy Center, wrote.
We do know that Trump’s plan calls for abolishing the alternative minimum tax, which is designed to ensure that the most wealthy taxpayers pay a minimum tax. We also know that Trump paid $38 million in federal taxes in 2005. A New York Times analysis of how Trump’s tax plan would have affected his 2005 tax return showed that the president would have saved $31 million alone from the repeal of the AMT. The paper also said that Trump would lose millions of dollars worth of tax deductions, as the president told Fox News, but Trump on net could have saved “tens of millions of dollars” in taxes.
However, Williams at the Tax Policy Center told us the New York Times analysis “assumes no other changes to the tax law.”
“If the AMT were repealed AND we got rid of tax loopholes that benefited Trump, he might have paid enough more regular tax to make up much of (or even more than) the AMT tax he would have saved,” Williams said in an email. “But we don’t know without more details.”
What is pretty clear, he said, is that Trump’s plan “would save high-income people in general a lot of money.”
“The combination of lower rates, no AMT, no estate tax, and a 15% tax rate on corporate and pass-through income would disproportionately benefit the rich,” he said. “It’s hard to believe that getting rid of most tax loopholes would reverse the effects of those provisions.”
Supreme Court Confirmation
In his Harrisburg speech, Trump made the accurate, but meaningless, claim that “the last time a new Supreme Court justice was confirmed in the first 100 days was 136 years ago in 1881.”
Justice Neil Gorsuch, whom Trump nominated on Jan. 31, was confirmed as the late Justice Antonin Scalia’s replacement on April 7. That was Trump’s 78th day as president.
Prior to that, Chester Arthur, in 1881, was the last president to have a Supreme Court nominee confirmed in his first 100 days.
But the fact is no president since 1900 other than Trump took office with a vacancy on the high court.
According to a 2010 report from the Congressional Research Service, only three presidents since 1900 have had a vacancy on the Supreme Court to fill during their first 100 days. Those presidents were Warren Harding, Harry Truman and Bill Clinton. But unlike Trump, none of them had the full 100 days to get a nominee confirmed.
Harding had a vacancy 77 days into his presidency when Justice Edward White died, and Truman and Clinton both received resignation letters from justices 80 days and 59 days into their respective presidencies. All three presidents had their replacement nominees confirmed after their 100th day in office.
Richard Nixon was the only other modern-era president who could have potentially accomplished the feat that Trump touted.
In June 1968, Chief Justice Earl Warren submitted a resignation letter to President Lyndon Johnson, who was unable to get Justice Abe Fortas confirmed as his replacement. Warren agreed to remain on the court until Nixon, who took office in January 1969, could have a replacement nominee confirmed. However, Nixon decided to wait until May — when the 1968 court term was almost over — to nominate a replacement for Warren.
Repeats: Obamacare, China and Russia
Job creation: In his speech in Harrisburg, Trump again inflated the job growth that has occurred under his tenure by including jobs that were added in January before he was inaugurated, and then generously rounding up.
Trump, April 29: In just these first few months, we’ve created 99,000 new construction jobs, 49,000 new manufacturing jobs, and 27,000 new mining jobs. Who are the miners here? The miners, finally. We’re taking care of our miners. We love our miners. And we have over 600,000 new jobs.
A total of 317,000 jobs have been added during Trump’s presidency, in February and March, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That’s a far cry from “over 600,000,” a figure that’s 89 percent higher than the one Trump should be using.
Trump is counting the jobs that were created in January, which occurred during the last days of the Obama administration. The BLS payroll survey measures jobs as of the pay period containing the 12th day of the month, and Trump took office on Jan. 20.
Even if we add in jobs created in January, the total would be 533,000 — not “over 600,000.”
His figures for construction, manufacturing and mining jobs also wrongly include January. The actual figures for Trump’s tenure are: construction jobs, 65,000; manufacturing jobs, 37,000; mining jobs, 21,300.
The nation has now experienced positive job growth for 78 straight months, with 76 of those under Trump’s predecessor.
Obamacare: Trump once again declared the Affordable Care Act “dead.” He said, “Places like Tennessee have already lost half of their state with the insurance companies.”
He’s wrong about Tennessee and exaggerates the condition of the Affordable Care Act.
As we have written, all eight of Tennessee’s insurance rating areas have at least one carrier offering Affordable Care Act policies in 2017, and three of them have two. Furthermore, insurers offer multiple ACA plans — such as bronze, silver and gold — which offer different coverage plans at different prices, and some companies offer more than one of each level. For example, Cigna sells three bronze plans, four silver plans and one gold plan in greater Nashville, according to the state’s rating plan.
It’s true that Humana has announced it will not sell insurance on the ACA marketplace next year. “[I]f another insurance company does not enter the market, there will be no Obamacare exchange” in one of the eight ratings area, the greater Knoxville area, as reported by the Tennessean.
As for Obamacare being “dead,” the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said in its analysis of a House bill to replace the ACA that the individual health insurance market “would probably be stable in most areas under either current law or the [GOP replacement] legislation.” We wrote about that here.
China Currency: Trump again took undue credit for ending China’s currency manipulation. “Number one, they — as soon as I got elected, they stopped,” he said. “They’re not — it’s not going down anymore, their currency.”
As we have written, economists — including in Trump’s own Treasury Department — say China has not been holding down the value of its currency since 2014 or 2015.
Russia/Uranium: Revisiting a talking point from the 2016 campaign, Trump said, “Hillary [Clinton] did a uranium deal with Russia. Nobody ever talks about that.”
Trump badly distorts the facts of a transaction between Rosatom, the Russian nuclear energy agency, and Uranium One, a Toronto-based company with mining operations in the United States.
As a member of the Committee on Foreign Investments in the United States, which is required to review all U.S. transactions that involve a company owned or controlled by a foreign government, Clinton was one of nine voting members to approve Rosatom’s purchase of Uranium One. As we have written, Clinton alone couldn’t have stopped the deal. The committee can approve a sale, but it cannot stop a sale. “Only the President has the authority to suspend or prohibit a covered transaction,” according to Treasury Department guidelines governing the committee.
Russia/Hacking: Trump once again challenged the U.S. intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia was behind the computer hacks of the Democratic National Committee’s computer networks. He said that “if you don’t catch a hacker, okay, in the act, it’s very hard to say who did the hacking. With that being said, I’ll go along with Russia. Could’ve been China, could’ve been a lot of different groups.”
The Office of the Director of National Intelligence on Jan. 6 released a declassified intelligence report that said it had “high confidence” that Russian President Vladimir Putin “ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the US presidential election.” Russian intelligence services gained access to Democratic National Committee computers from July 2015 to June 2016, and released hacked material to WikiLeaks and other media outlets “to help President-elect Trump’s election chances,” the report said.
Correction, Oct. 27: There were 76 straight months of job growth under Obama — not 75 as we originally wrote — and 78 straight months of growth through March.
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