President Donald Trump has embarked on a string of political rallies around the country to support Republican candidates and tout his accomplishments as president. These speeches are often sprinkled with a regular roster of false and misleading claims. Here, we are highlighting more than a dozen familiar claims the president made at an August rally in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania.
- Trump claimed that a person who “killed nine people” could be sent to the U.S. through the Diversity Immigrant Visa Program. There is a screening process that would specifically bar entry to a convicted killer.
- He claimed the tax bill he championed “saved our family farms and our small businesses from the estate tax.” But only 80 small businesses or farms paid any estate tax in 2017, according to the Tax Policy Center.
- The president said that “nobody reports” that the “trade deficit just fell” by $52 billion during the second quarter of 2018. They shouldn’t, because the figure is $20 billion, according to the recent federal data on trade in goods and services.
- Trump claimed an Uzbekistan national charged with killing eight people in New York last year had “22 relatives” that he brought to the U.S. through “chain migration.” There’s no evidence of that, and it’s likely not possible.
- He said job growth since the election was “a number that nobody would have believed, and that I would have never said on the campaign trail.” The growth has been slightly slower than in the previous few years and is lagging the promise Trump did make during the campaign.
- Trump said that “U.S. Steel is opening up seven plants.” We found no evidence of that. A company spokeswoman said announcements of new plants are available on the company website.
And there’s more — on the Department of Veterans Affairs, NATO, infrastructure, support from women, health care and the Russia investigation.
In the Aug. 2 rally, Trump urged the crowd in Wilkes-Barre to vote for Rep. Lou Barletta, who is running for Senate against incumbent Sen. Bob Casey. But along the way, the president rattled off assertions that have become staples of his campaign events.
Trump continues to find new ways to mangle the facts about immigration policy, specifically about three programs or policies he seeks to eliminate or overhaul: the diversity visa lottery, chain migration and catch-and-release.
Diversity Visa Lottery
As he has done repeatedly, Trump wrongly suggested foreign governments decide who gets to enter into the Diversity Immigrant Visa Program, and that they use the system to offload their worst citizens. In this case, Trump went even further, wrongly posing a hypothetical in which a person convicted of multiple murders is sent to the U.S. through the lottery system. There is a screening process that would specifically bar entry to a convicted killer.
The Diversity Immigrant Visa Program, or DV program, uses a computer lottery system to randomly issue up to 50,000 immigrant visas each year to applicants from countries with low rates of immigration to the United States. Millions of applicants annually apply for the diversity visas.
Here’s what the president said in Wilkes-Barre.
Trump: We got to get rid of visa — how about that? — visa, visa lottery. You know what a lottery is? You pick it out of a hat. … “Ladies and gentlemen, our first lottery winner.” You know, they think we’re playing, like, a game show. “Our first lottery winner. Let’s see he has seven convictions for death. He’s killed nine people. And we’re getting him the hell out of our country and giving them to the stupid politicians that have been running the United States for many years. And we’re going to send him up there because he just won the lottery. Congratulations. Congratulations.” Yeah, that’s a beauty.
As we wrote when Trump claimed other countries are gaming the Diversity Immigrant Visa Program to offload “their worst” to the U.S., that’s now how the system works. It’s not at all like “a game show.”
Residents self-select to be considered for the lottery. And even if selected, they have to go through a background security vetting process. Criminal activity is one of more than a dozen grounds for inadmissibility. Needless to say, seven murder convictions would be a disqualifying factor.
Trump cast chain migration as a pathway for killers to bring in extended family to the U.S.
Trump: You have chain migration. You know what that is? A guy comes in — stone-cold killer in many cases. A guy comes in, and then you have to bring his aunt, his uncle, his father, his grandfather, his grandparents, his third niece by a different marriage.
Trump doesn’t say how this hypothetical immigrant came to the U.S., but in order to be eligible for so-called “chain migration,” he would have to have entered legally. Trump says this immigrant would be a “stone-cold killer in many cases.” As we have written, studies have shown legal immigrants commit crimes at a rate far lower than native-born Americans. And, we should note, a convicted killer would be denied entry to the U.S. via legal immigration.
As he often does to bolster his argument against so-called chain migration, Trump wrongly used the example of Sayfullo Saipov — the Uzbekistan national who was charged with driving his truck into a crowd of pedestrians, bicyclists and joggers along the Hudson River in New York City on Oct. 31, 2017, killing eight and wounding many others.
Trump: So, this bad guy that ran over and killed eight people on the West Side Highway in New York City … And he came in through chain, and he has 22 relatives here that came in because he was here. He has his uncle and his aunt and he has his grandfather. So, we have to change this and we’re going to change it.
Saipov arrived in the United States through the Diversity Immigrant Visa Program in 2010, according to the Department of Homeland Security. But as we have written, there is no evidence that he brought in 22 family members, and it’s likely not even possible. The State Department’s Foreign Affairs Manual says that a person who enters the country on a diversity visa may bring only his or her spouse and children — not parents, grandparents and other relatives, as Trump said. A Princeton University demographer who studies this issue told us Trump’s 22 figure was “an implausible exaggeration given the current visa system.”
Trump: This is like for stupid people, catch and release. Somebody walks across the border, they put their foot on there, not even two feet, just one foot. And you might as well, “Welcome to the United States, we’ll never get you out of here,” OK? …
[T]hey want me to hire thousands of judges, thousands. … They want me to hire thousands. I said, “We don’t need judges. We need Border Patrol. We need Border Patrol.” …
So catch and release. You catch him, now you take his name and then you release him. And he’s supposed to show up to a court hearing.
The problem is, there’s thousands and thousands of people, we don’t have enough judges … So, they come back three or four years later but here’s the problem: They never come back. They don’t come back. Why the hell would they come back? So, a very tiny percentage comes back. So, you catch a stone-cold criminal, you take his name, you see he’s the criminal, you see he’s bad in many cases. Catch and release. You catch him and you then release him.
As we’ve written before, catch-and-release refers to the practice of allowing some immigrants caught in the U.S. without proper documentation to be released back into the U.S., pending an immigration court hearing, rather than detaining or immediately deporting them. There are court cases and laws that require some unaccompanied children, families and asylum-seekers to be released in the U.S., pending an immigration hearing.
The policy emerged years ago as the country faced a backlog of court cases involving people who illegally crossed the border and a shortage of space to hold them at immigration detention centers.
As Trump said, there is a backlog of cases, and some Republican senators — led by Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina — have proposed legislation to increase the number of immigration judges in an attempt to alleviate the backlog and expedite the immigration hearings. The U.S. has “approximately 350 immigration judges,” according to the Department of Justice, and Graham’s bill would authorize an additional 225 judges and “prioritize resolving the cases of children and families in family residential centers.”
Trump claims that among those released pending an immigration hearing, only “a very tiny percentage comes back,” but we recently wrote that the Justice Department’s FY2016 Statistics Yearbook reports that 25 percent of immigration cases were decided “in absentia” — meaning “when an alien fails to appear.” (See figure 23.) The report does not differentiate between those captured at the border for illegal crossing and those arrested in the interior of the country for other offenses.
Support from Women
Trump repeated the false claim that he got 52 percent support from women during the 2016 presidential campaign. That was the figure among white women. The figure among all women was 41 percent.
Trump: 52 percent. Oh, the women liked me, you know. They liked me. They liked me. … And we did great with the women. In fact, I remember, again, on election night they said, “How the hell did this happen?” Remember, they were giving you phony numbers on that, too.
Trump made a similar false claim during a rally in western Pennsylvania on March 10 (beginning at the 23:40 mark).
Trump, March 10: Hey, didn’t we surprise them with women during the election? Remember? ‘Women won’t like Donald Trump.’ I said, ‘Have I really had that kind of a problem?’ I don’t think so. But ‘Women won’t like Donald Trump. It will be a rough night for Donald Trump because the women won’t come out.’ We got 52 percent. Right? 52. Right. And I’m running against a woman. You know, that’s not that easy.
That’s not right. According to exit polling, Trump got 41 percent of the vote among women (and 52 percent with men). Trump did get 52 percent of the vote among white women. But he garnered just 25 percent of the vote among Latino women, and an abysmal 4 percent among black women.
The president’s support from women continues to lag that from men. According to a Quinnipiac poll released July 24, Trump enjoyed an approval rating of 38 percent. The breakdown was 31 percent among women, 45 percent among men.
Trump claimed the tax bill he championed “saved our family farms and our small businesses from the estate tax, also known as the death tax.” But very few small business or farms paid the estate tax under the old law. According to an analysis by the Tax Policy Center, only 80 small businesses or farms paid any estate tax in 2017.
Trump: And very importantly, we saved our family farms and our small businesses from the estate tax, also known as the death tax. No longer the death tax. No longer will they pay the estate tax, our family farmers.
As we have written before, the estate tax affects very few farms or small businesses. A study published last year, and updated in June, by the Economic Research Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimated that 37,994 farms would become part of estates in 2017. Of those, only 0.8 percent — around 300 estates — would owe any estate tax at all.
An analysis by the Tax Policy Center found the number of small businesses and farms affected by the estate tax was even lower — just 80 in 2017.
Primarily, the estate tax affects very few, very wealthy people. According to the Tax Policy Center, 5,460 estates had to pay estate taxes in 2017, and nearly 90 percent of those taxes were paid by those in the top 10 percent of income earners; the richest 0.1 percent paid over a quarter of the estate taxes.
Trump was also wrong to say that because of the tax bill the estate tax is “no longer.” The tax bill increased the threshold for exemption from the estate tax from $5.49 million (nearly $11 million for couples) to $11.2 million ($22.4 million for couples).
But as we wrote in December, while fewer people would have to pay it, revenue from estate taxes is expected to be cut by only a third over the next eight years. And then the changes would expire at the end of 2025 unless they are extended.
Trump likes to say that job growth since the election has been so rapid that no one would have believed it if he had predicted it during the campaign. In fact, job growth — while brisk — has been slightly slower under Trump than it was during the previous few years, and it is lagging what Trump did actually promise on the campaign trail.
Trump: Since the election, we’ve added a number that nobody would have believed, and that I would have never said on the campaign trail — I wouldn’t have said it, because they would have done a big number on me — 3.7 million new jobs, including close to 400,000 jobs in the manufacturing world.
Before we get to the job numbers, let’s look back at what Trump promised during the campaign, when he vowed he would be “the greatest jobs president that God ever created.” At times, he was more specific. For example, during a speech in New York on Sept. 15, 2016, Trump said, “Over the next ten years, our economic team estimates that under our plan the economy will average 3.5% growth and create a total of 25 million new jobs.” After he was elected, Trump repeated that promise on the White House website. “To get the economy back on track, President Trump has outlined a bold plan to create 25 million new American jobs in the next decade and return to 4 percent annual economic growth,” the site stated early in Trump’s presidency. (The claim is no longer on the White House website.)
But the job growth so far is not keeping pace with that campaign promise. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the economy has added 3.4 million jobs in the 18 months since January 2017, when Trump took office. That’s a bit short (about 18,000 jobs per month short) of the pace needed to create 25 million jobs over 10 years. It’s also fewer jobs than the 3.7 million jobs created in the 18 months prior to Trump taking office.
As he often does, Trump starts the jobs clock at the election rather than his inauguration. By that count, the economy has added nearly 3.9 million jobs. But that’s still below what’s needed to keep pace with the promise to create 25 million jobs over 10 years, and it is fewer jobs than were created over the preceding 20 months.
Nor has job growth kept up with the president’s stated goal of becoming the greatest jobs president in history. Assuming the current pace, and assuming Trump serves for eight years, the economy would add about 18 million jobs. That would be historically high — higher than the number of jobs created by recent two-term Presidents Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush and Barack Obama. But it would not be as many as the 22.9 million new jobs created under President Bill Clinton.
Trump said that U.S. Steel is planning to open “seven” new manufacturing plants. But there’s no evidence to support that claim.
Trump used the example to bolster his claim that due to his policies, “We’re putting our steel workers back to work at clips that nobody would believe.”
Trump: U.S. Steel is opening up seven plants. Nucor is opening up a brand new $250 million plant in Florida.
U.S. Steel spokeswoman Meghan Cox told the Associated Press this month that any new plants are “publicly announced” and “made available on our website.”
We checked the “newsroom” section of the U.S. Steel website and didn’t find announcements about the opening of seven plants. Other fact-checking organizations also came up empty.
We did come across a press release from September 2017 about the construction of a new continuous galvanizing line at PRO-TEC Coating Company, a subsidiary in Leipsic, Ohio. “This line, which will utilize a proprietary process, will be capable of coating steel that will help automakers manufacture economically lightweight vehicles to meet increasing fuel efficiency requirements while maintaining exceptionally high safety standards,” the press release said.
There were also subsequent announcements in March and June about the restarting of operations at two blast furnaces and steel-making facilities at an existing plant in Granite City, Illinois.
We have reached out to Cox about the president’s claim and will update this item if she responds.
Trump was right about Charlotte-based Nucor Corporation, though. In March, the company, which produces steel and other products, announced that it was putting $240 million into constructing its second rebar micro mill, which will be located in Frostproof, Florida.
Update, Aug. 7: Cox emailed us the following response: “All of our operational changes have been publicly announced and all information shared with the federal government has been properly disclosed and made available on our website. We have shared with the government our asset revitalization investments, construction of the new CGL line at our PRO-TEC joint venture in Ohio, and updates on the restart of Granite City Works’ two blast furnaces and multiple related steelmaking facilities. As the President noted in his speech at our Granite City Works facility, a number of other American steelmakers have also made announcements on new investments and capacity.”
Firing VA Employees
The president falsely suggested that the Department of Veterans Affairs couldn’t fire neglectful employees until he signed a VA accountability law last year.
Trump: We just passed the landmark VA accountability law. Now if a bad government worker mistreats or neglects or steals, does anything bad to our great veterans, we turn to them and we say, “You’re fired, get the hell out of here.”
But it was already possible to fire employees at the Department of Veterans Affairs for misconduct or performance-related issues, as we have written.
Going back to 2006, the VA terminated more than 2,000 employees each year before Trump took office, according to data kept by the Office of Personnel Management.
It’s true that the bipartisan Veterans Affairs Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act intends to make it easier for the VA secretary to remove employees by, among other things, shortening the firing process and expediting the appeals process for senior executives. But making it less complicated to remove employees who behave poorly or under-perform does not mean it couldn’t previously be done.
Biggest Tax Cuts
Trump continues to label a 2017 tax bill he made law the nation’s “biggest” tax cut. That’s not at all the case.
Trump: Republicans just passed the biggest tax cuts in the history of our country.
The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act is not close to being the “biggest” tax cut ever.
That distinction belongs to the 1981 tax cut under President Ronald Reagan, which was 2.9 percent of GDP, according to the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget.
“If President Trump wanted to pass a tax cut that exceeds the record 2.9 percent of the economy in 1981, it would cost roughly $6.8 trillion over ten years,” CRFB wrote.
Last year, the Joint Committee on Taxation estimated that the law Trump enacted would cost nearly $1.46 trillion between 2018 and 2027. Even a more recent projection by the Congressional Budget Office put the 10-year cost at just under $1.9 trillion.
Trade Deficit Decline
The president falsely claimed that the trade deficit dropped $52 billion in the second quarter of 2018. The correct figure is less than half that amount.
Trump: In the numbers that were just released — the reporters didn’t cover this one; to me it was maybe more important than the 4.1 [GDP growth], because we’re going to be doing a lot better than 4.1 as things go — for the first time maybe ever, the trade deficit just fell — think of that — by, for the quarter, $52 billion. Nobody reports it.
We wouldn’t recommend anyone report that bogus figure as the second quarter decline in the trade deficit.
Trump got his number from the trade components of the Bureau of Economic Analysis’ estimate of gross domestic product released July 27. The GDP trade figures closely parallel the more commonly used “trade in goods and services” figures from BEA, but the GDP trade figures are stated as annual rates, not as the actual value of imports and exports during the quarter. Trump also referred to data in table 3b, which gives the figures for net exports of goods and services in 2012 dollars, not current dollars.
Correcting for Trump’s mistakes shows a drop in the second-quarter trade deficit of $21.7 billion from the previous quarter. We checked our calculations with two economists, who agreed.
In fact, the June figures for trade in goods and services BEA released on Aug. 3 show that the trade deficit went down by $20 billion from the first quarter of 2018 to the second quarter (see Exhibit 1).
Trump frequently criticizes what other members of NATO spend on defense, and he often inaccurately describes that spending. This time, he said nations that don’t spend 2 percent of their GDP on defense are “not paying their bills,” and he repeated a false claim that defense spending by non-U.S. alliance members “was going down” prior to 2017.
Trump: Now, NATO — in all fairness, 29 countries including us, NATO has been ripping us. We’ve been defending Europe and they’re not paying their bills. So I went in and I said, “Folks, you got to pay up. You’re delinquent.” They’ll be paying $200 billion. It took me one hour, but it was a rough hour.
The head of NATO, Secretary General Stoltenberg, said to the press — they don’t report it, they only make up stories. They only make up.
So what happened, he said, last year alone, because of what I did the previous year, we took in $44 billion more. You have to understand, this is money to guard against Russia. I wouldn’t say Putin’s thrilled about that. Not thrilled.
Now, they will be taking in over a period — short period of years $200 billion, $200 billion. … So I raised 44 billion last year. And, you know — I don’t know if you know, NATO funding was going down.
It’s not accurate to say that countries that don’t spend 2 percent of GDP on defense are “delinquent” or “not paying their bills.”
Members of NATO determine their own national spending needs, and for the majority of the countries, there is no requirement to meet that suggested benchmark.
When NATO leaders originally committed in 2006 to try to spend that much on their own defense, a NATO spokesman made it clear that “this is not a hard commitment that they will do it. … But it is a commitment to work towards it.” At a summit in Wales in 2014, countries again agreed to either “aim to continue” spending that amount or “aim to move towards the 2% guideline within a decade,” according to a press release.
NATO says, as of 2018, only four members of the alliance “have either national laws or political agreements which call for at least 2% of GDP to be spent on defence annually.” They are Latvia, Poland, Lithuania and Romania.
It’s true that NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has partly credited Trump with getting more countries to develop national plans to increase spending. During a joint press conference with Trump in July, Stoltenberg said that NATO estimates that European allies and Canada will spend an additional $266 billion on defense from now until 2024.
But Trump was wrong to claim that “NATO funding was going down” prior to last year.
As this chart from a July 10 report shows, Canada and NATO Europe allies began increasing defense spending in 2015 and 2016.
And this chart from the same report shows those countries increased their defense spending by $14 billion, or 5 percent, from 2014 to 2016.
A Hoax or Not?
Trump continued to muddle his message about whether or not he is convinced that Russians meddled in the 2016 presidential election to help his election chances.
The president said his recent face-to-face private meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin went “great ” and that the two “got along really well.” That’s “a really good thing,” Trump said, adding however, “Now, we’re being hindered by the Russian hoax. It’s a hoax, OK? I’ll tell you what: Russia’s very unhappy that Trump won, that I can tell you.”
Less than three weeks ago, Trump tweeted his thanks to Fox News for airing a montage on July 19 that he said showed “Trump recognized Russian Meddling MANY TIMES.” But, as we wrote, the video also shows Trump equivocating on the issue, saying, “I think it was probably other people and/or countries.” And he has made other comments questioning whether Russia interfered in the 2016 elections.
Just a few days after that tweet, Trump tweeted that the Russia investigation was “all a big hoax.” In a press conference, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said Trump’s “hoax” comment was “referencing the collusion component,” not the Russia investigation in general. Said Sanders: “As the President has said many times, and stated over and over again — as have I, as have a number of other administration officials — we maintain that Russia interfered in the elections. The President, however, very much so, and has repeatedly — as, again, have the rest of us — that his campaign colluding in that process is a total hoax.”
But his comment in Wilkes-Barre is yet another example of Trump blurring that message, and appearing to dismiss the entire investigation into Russian interference as a hoax. Trump followed up his “hoax” comment by saying, “I’ll tell you what: Russia’s very unhappy that Trump won.” It’s possible the president was referring to his actions counter to Russian interests since he was elected. But as for the election itself, U.S. intelligence agencies concluded that “Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the US presidential election” and that Russia’s efforts — including hacking the Democratic National Committee computer network — were designed “to help President-elect Trump’s election chances.” And when Putin himself was asked during a joint press conference on July 16 if he wanted Trump to win the election, Putin responded, “Yes, I did. Yes, I did. Because he talked about bringing the U.S.-Russia relationship back to normal.”
Open Borders/Abolish ICE
As he often does during rallies, Trump accused Democrats of wanting open borders and advocating for abolishing Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Because the president was stumping in Pennsylvania for Republican Senate candidate Lou Barletta, Trump’s comments this time were directed specifically toward incumbent Democratic Sen. Bob Casey.
“Bob Casey is for open borders,” Trump said. “Bob Casey wants to fire the incredible men and women of ICE. He wants to abolish ICE, because he’s weak.”
Trump has frequently accused various Democrats, and Democrats in general, of supporting open borders. But we aren’t aware of any elected Democrats who have staked such a drastic position.
Every Democrat in the Senate — including Casey — voted for the 2013 Senate immigration bill, the so-called Gang of Eight bill, which, in addition to providing a path to earned citizenship for those then in the country illegally, would have included significant investments in border security. The bill would have doubled the number of border patrol agents along the Mexican border, added 350 miles of new fencing, and added a host of security and technologies to prevent illegal immigration. Casey recently said he favors an immigration approach similar to that of the 2013 bill.
As for abolishing ICE, as we wrote on July 3, there are a small number of Democrats in Congress calling for the end of ICE, though Casey is not one of them. All of those Democrats who have called to end ICE have said they would like to have many of ICE’s functions redistributed to other, existing government agencies. None has called for abandoning border enforcement.
As PennLive reported on July 23, Casey told a crowd at a Pennsylvania Press Club luncheon that he does not support calls from some in the more liberal wing of the party to abolish ICE.
“ICE abolished? No, for sure,” Casey said, according to PennLive, adding that “doesn’t mean like that, for any public agency, they shouldn’t be subject to reviews in the appropriations process. I hope we have ICE focused on bad guys instead of current policy where they are dealing with families and kids at the border. I don’t agree with the call to eliminate it.”
Trump claimed that he had reduced the highway construction approval time from 21 years to two years. But the available data don’t support that.
Trump: We had regulations that made it impossible to do business in this country. Highways would take 21 years to get approved. We have it down to two years, and it’s going to be one year very shortly. Very shortly.
Federal Highway Administration figures show it took a median 3.7 years in fiscal 2016 and 3.75 years in fiscal 2015 for projects requiring environmental impact statements to complete the process, required by the National Environmental Policy Act. It took 3.8 years in fiscal 2017. As the New York Times recently wrote, the wait times ranged from three to six years from 1999 to 2016 — while these are median figures, they’re nowhere close to 21 years.
In January, an administration official said the average permit wait time was 4.7 years, according to the Wall Street Journal. The paper reported in January that Alexander Herrgott, who serves on the White House’s Council on Environmental Quality, said at a conference that month: “I think one of the most important things this administration can do is take permit delivery times from what is now an average of 4.7 years down to two years.”
In fact, Trump signed an executive order in August 2017 setting a “goal of completing all Federal environmental reviews and authorization decisions for major infrastructure projects within 2 years.”
Data for fiscal 2018, which ends Sept. 30, isn’t yet available. We reached out to the White House press office to get support for the president’s claim, but we haven’t received a response.
Association Health Plans
The president said that association health plans would provide “much better health care for a fraction of the cost.” The plans are likely to cost less, but that’s because they could cover fewer benefits than other plans sold on the individual and small-group market.
Trump: The association health plans are giving us and allowing Americans to join forces to buy much better health care for a fraction of the cost. And you can go cross state lines and negotiate with everybody you want to negotiate with.
Whether a cheaper plan with fewer benefits better suits an individual purchaser is a matter of opinion, but calling it “better health care” implies it’s more robust.
Association health plans, as we’ve written before, are created by a group of employers, such as those in a similar industry. In June, the Labor Department issued its final federal rule designed to expand and change the regulation of these plans, and the rule will begin applying to association plans on Sept. 1.
Under the rule, associations could form for those in the same trade or industry, or for businesses in the same state or metropolitan area. The insurance plans they offer couldn’t charge more based on health status, but prices could be based on age, gender or occupation. The plans won’t have to cover the 10 essential health benefits the Affordable Care Act requires of plans on the small-group market or individual market.
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