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Trump’s Campaign Kickoff Claims


At a rally in Orlando on June 18, President Donald Trump officially launched his reelection campaign. Trump boasted that under his leadership, the country is “thriving, prospering and booming,” and he asked voters for four more years to “keep America great.”

“Nobody’s done what we have done in two and a half years,” he said. However, we found his speech was filled with many familiar false, misleading and exaggerated statements about his record on jobs, military spending, veterans, energy, trade and more.

Energy

During his speech, Trump twice took credit for the state of America’s energy production, citing milestones that were achieved years ago or long expected.

“We are, by the way, the number one producer of energy in the world because of what we’ve done right now,” the president said, early on in his remarks. About a half hour later, Trump returned to the theme, stating, “We’ve ended the last administration’s cruel and heartless war on American energy. What they were doing to our energy should never be forgotten. The United States is now the number one producer of oil and natural gas anywhere in the world.”

As we’ve explained before, citing data from the Energy Information Administration, the United States is the top producer of natural gas. But that’s a title the nation has held since 2009. The U.S. also produces the most petroleum — and has done so since 2013.

More recently, this past summer, the U.S. did take over as the leading producer of crude oil. Production of crude oil, however, had been ramping up for many years, and the milestone was expected.

According to the most recent EIA data, the United States is not the largest overall producer of energy. That award goes to China, which in 2016 produced 107 quadrillion Btus of total primary energy, a term that includes fossil fuels as well as nuclear and renewable sources.

In 2016, the U.S. was second worldwide, with 84 quadrillion Btus. Since then, the U.S. has increased its energy production to 95 quadrillion Btus in 2018. The agency doesn’t have more recent data for China, but U.S. production is still below China’s 2016 level.

Military Budget Not ‘Far More Than Ever’

Trump repeated his misleading claim that spending on defense is at a record high.

Trump: After past leaders slashed military budgets, we are rebuilding the U.S. armed forces with $700 billion last year and $716 billion this year, far more than ever before.

Trump got the dollar amounts right. The Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018, a two-year budget agreement that Trump signed into law on Feb. 9, 2018, set the budget authority for national defense at $700 billion in fiscal year 2018 and $716 billion in fiscal 2019.

Neither figure is “far more than ever before” in inflation-adjusted dollars.

When we reviewed this claim last year, Jacob Cohn, a research fellow at the nonpartisan Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, calculated the real, or inflation-adjusted, value of national defense outlays — actual spending in a fiscal year — dating to 1940, which covers World War II spending. Cohn adjusted past national defense spending (table 3.1based on the Office of Management and Budget’s deflators (table 10.1) from the president’s fiscal year 2019 budget. 

Cohn found that the most amount ever spent was in 1945, when the U.S. spent the equivalent of $950.1 billion (in 2019 dollars). More was also spent in 1943 and 1944, and in 2008 through 2012, which included the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

We also should note that the U.S. spent far more on defense as a percentage of the gross domestic product during World War II. The department’s fiscal 2019 budget request included a graph that shows defense spending as a percentage of GDP peaked in 1944 at 35.5 percent — far more than the 3.1 percent projected at the time for fiscal year 2019. WWII spending is an anomaly, but spending as a percentage of GDP has routinely been higher in the past than it is now.

Pointless Employment Boast

Trump again made a mostly meaningless claim about the number of U.S. workers, which he exaggerated in the process.

Trump: And today, right now, as we speak, almost 160 million people are working, that’s more than ever before, it’s the first time ever, the number of people is almost 160 million and we’re going to be breaking that number soon.

Total nonfarm employment was 151.1 million as of May, according to the most recent Bureau of Labor Statistics projections. That’s the most all-time, but still well short of 160 million.

But Trump’s claim still doesn’t mean much considering that the U.S. also has a larger population than ever before. U.S. employment isn’t at an all-time high according to other (also imperfect) measures that factor in population.

For those age 16 and over, the civilian labor force participation rate was 62.8 percent in May, and the employment-population ratio was 60.6 percent. Neither is the highest ever. BLS data also show the national unemployment rate — 3.6 percent in May, nearly a 50-year low — wasn’t the lowest in history.

Misleading Manufacturing Jobs Math

The president made a misleading comparison about manufacturing job growth before and after he took office.

Trump: In the eight years before I took office, on average, we lost 2,000 manufacturing jobs a month. Since my inauguration, we’ve added 16,000 manufacturing jobs a month. That didn’t happen by accident.

As of May, manufacturing employment had increased by an average of 17,000 jobs per month since Trump was inaugurated. Trump is also correct that the manufacturing sector suffered an average loss of 2,000 jobs per month under Obama. However, Trump is including 13 months at the beginning of Obama’s presidency that were during or immediately following the Great Recession that officially ended in June 2009. Manufacturing employment actually increased by an average of 11,000 jobs per month if tallied from when manufacturing job losses bottomed out in February 2010 until January 2017, when Obama left office.

This graph shows the manufacturing sector almost steadily gaining jobs in that time and since. Although, as of May, there were still 907,000 fewer people employed in manufacturing compared with December 2007, when the economic recession began.

The Wall

Trump said that he is well on his way to keeping his signature campaign promise to build a wall along the southern border. But most of the construction so far has been replacement of existing fencing. None of it is the type of solid wall that he once talked about during the campaign, nor is it anything like the prototypes Trump commissioned early in his presidency.

Trump: And we are building the wall. We’re going to have over 400 miles of wall built by the end of next year. It’s moving rapidly, moving very rapidly. … It’s beautiful, I changed the design, it’s stronger, bigger, better, and cheaper. Cheaper, a lot cheaper. You know sometimes when they don’t give you the money, you have to make it cheaper, not going to happen, but it’s going well.

In a White House meeting on June 12, when Trump asked how “the wall” is coming along, Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Kevin McAleenan said that by the end of next year, DHS will have completed construction of “over 400 miles, in partnership with DOD.”

But a couple caveats are in order. First, most of those 400 miles are replacement of existing wall. In May, U.S. Customs and Border Protection reported that since January 2017, when Trump took office, “approximately 205 miles of new and updated border barriers have been funded through the traditional appropriations process and via Treasury Forfeiture Funding, of which approximately 42 miles have been completed to date.”

CBP has identified $6.1 billion over the last three fiscal years to fund 336 miles of new and replacement barriers, according to the agency’s fact sheet. Of those 336 miles, 86 miles are “new primary wall,” and another 24 miles are “new levee wall.” But the majority — 226 miles — are “updated” barriers (either primary, secondary or vehicle barriers). Before Trump took office, there was already about 650 miles of fencing of various types along the border.

The type of steel bollard fencing now being erected is also a far different construction design than Trump once pursued. During the campaign, Trump talked about a solid wall of “precast planks.” And early in his presidency, Trump commissioned, and later toured, prototypes of solid-wall designs. However, Congress passed spending bills that specifically funded only fencing designs deployed as of May 2017, such as steel bollards, and thereby precluding any of the wall prototypes that Trump commissioned.

Trade Deficit with China

Trump packed two pieces of misinformation into one claim when he said, “we have never taken in 10 cents [in tariffs] from China, we would lose $500 billion a year with China.” The president, as he frequently does, exaggerates the trade deficit he inherited with China — a deficit that has increased under his leadership — and he ignores the billions the U.S. has been collecting in tariffs for years.

Trump: And remember this, and you know it as well as I do, we have never taken in 10 cents from China, we would lose $500 billion a year with China. We rebuilt China. They’ve done a great job, but they took us for suckers, and that includes Obama and Biden. We took — they took us for suckers. Five hundred billion, five hundred billion. Somebody said, “You mean five hundred million.” That’s a lot too, right? No, $500 billion, actually more than that, I don’t want to be too specific 507.

The trade deficit with China has never been $500 billion. Trump has been exaggerating it for years. The trade deficit in goods and services with China was $308.9 billion in 2016, Obama’s final year in office, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis. The highest yearly deficit under Obama hit $333.5 billion in 2015. But the trade deficit with China has climbed higher under Trump, reaching $380.8 billion in 2018, the highest annual figure dating back to 1999, according to BEA.

The total trade deficit in goods and services with all countries under Obama was $503 billion in 2016. That, too, has gone up under Trump, reaching $627.7 billion in 2018.

As we also have written, it’s not true that the U.S. has “never taken in 10 cents [in tariffs] from China.” Setting aside that tariffs on Chinese goods fall on U.S. importers, and ultimately largely result in U.S. consumers paying higher prices, prior to Trump becoming president, the U.S. collected $122.6 billion in customs duties from 2007 to 2016, or $12.3 billion a year on average, according to the U.S. International Trade Commission DataWeb. Last year, the U.S. collected nearly $23 billion — an increase that reflects the higher tariffs imposed on China by the Trump administration. 

Still Not the Biggest Tax Cut

Trump falsely said that he and congressional Republicans enacted “the largest package of tax cuts and reforms in American history.” Earlier in his speech, he called it “the biggest tax cut in history.”

Days before Trump signed the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act into law in December 2017, the nonpartisan Joint Committee on Taxation estimated that it would reduce tax revenues by $1.46 trillion over 10 years.

The nonpartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget said that an even more expensive plan Trump proposed before that one would have been only the eighth largest tax cut as a percentage of gross domestic product, and it would have been the fourth largest cut in inflation-adjusted dollars.

The tax bill that Trump signed needed to cost roughly $6.8 trillion over 10 years to beat the 1981 tax cut under President Reagan, which was 2.9 percent of GDP, according to CRFB.

Obama and Judges

Trump inherited a large number of federal judge vacancies, which he often wrongly describes as an (inept) gift from Obama. He did so again in his campaign kickoff speech, saying Obama “was very nice to us” and “didn’t fill the positions.” In fact, the high number of vacancies left for Trump was due to a Republican-controlled Senate blocking Obama’s late-term picks.

Trump: I will soon have appointed my 145th judge. President Obama was very nice to us. He didn’t fill the positions. I get there the first day. “How many judges do I have to appoint?” They said, “Sir, 139.” Now it’s 145 and we’ve just finished number 107, already approved sitting on the bench, how about that?

When Trump took office, in January 2017, there were 112 federal judicial vacancies. By the end of the year, that number had grown to 144. It was at 131 as of June 19. But the high number of vacancies left for Trump was not the result of complacency by Obama, but rather opposition to Obama’s judicial nominations from Senate Republicans who took over a majority during the last two years of Obama’s presidency. Experts told us Senate Republicans confirmed far fewer judicial nominees in Obama’s last two years than had been confirmed in the last two years of previous presidents. As a result, in early January 2017, just before Trump took office, there were 59 federal court nominees pending. That’s why Trump inherited so many vacancies.

Russia Investigation

In referring to the special counsel investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, Trump claimed, “They appointed 18 very angry Democrats to try to take down our incredible movement.” As we’ve written before, among the 17 investigators, 13 had previously registered as Democrats, according to the Washington PostSpecial Counsel Robert Mueller, meanwhile, was described as a registered Republican by the Post when then-President George W. Bush appointed him FBI director in 2001.

Trump also used an unconfirmed figure for the cost of the investigation, putting it at “$40 million, probably a hell of a lot more than that.” So far, we know the investigation cost $25.2 million as of Sept. 30, according to the special counsel’s expenditure statements. That figure includes $12.9 million for Department of Justice “components that support” the special counsel’s office and were “expenditures the components would have incurred for the investigations irrespective of the existence of the SCO.”

The investigation continued for nearly another six months, ending in late March. If the expenses then were similar to the expenses reported for the previous six months, total spending would be about $34 million. But we don’t yet have a publicly released final amount.

It’s worth noting that the investigation also resulted in former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort agreeing to forfeit assets, including real estate properties and bank accounts worth an estimated $42 million to $46 million.

Trump also went too far in claiming that his predecessor “did nothing” about Russian interference in the 2016 election.

Trump: And in September, just before the election, the FBI told President Obama about possible Russian interference and he did nothing because he thought that Hillary Clinton, Crooked Hillary was going to win, that’s why he did nothing. He did nothing.

As we’ve written before, some Democrats have said Obama should have done more. But it’s not the case that he “did nothing.” Obama spoke to Russian President Vladimir Putin about the issue in September 2016, and his administration worked with state officials from mid-August that year until Election Day to prevent voting systems from being hacked. Also, on Oct. 7, 2016, the Department of Homeland Security and Office of the Director of National Intelligence issued a public statement that said the U.S. intelligence community is “confident” that “Russia’s senior most officials” were behind the computer hacking of the Democratic Party email systems. 

Veterans Choice Launched Under Obama

The president repeated his false boast that “we passed VA choice” after politicians have been “trying to get that passed also for about 44 years.” Obama signed the bipartisan Veterans Access, Choice, and Accountability Act, which created the Veterans Choice Program, on Aug. 7, 2014.

The program enabled veterans facing long waits or travel distances to VA facilities to receive care from non-VA providers.

Trump has continued the program, and in June 2018, he signed the bipartisan VA MISSION Act, which provided funding to keep the Veterans Choice program for one more year and then consolidate it and other programs into a new Veterans Community Care Program.

VA Accountability

Trump falsely claimed that the VA “couldn’t do anything” about employees who mistreated veterans, prior to him signing accountability legislation.

Trump: And we also passed VA accountability so that when somebody does bad things or mistreats, our wonderful veterans, we couldn’t do anything with them. They were protected between civil service unions and all of the problems, it didn’t matter, you couldn’t do anything. Now, you can just say, “You’re fired, get out, get out, get out.”

Trump signed the Veterans Affairs Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act in June 2017, and it does aim to make it easier to remove employees based on performance or misconduct. But it was already possible for the VA to fire employees for cause prior to that law. The VA fired more than 2,000 employees each year going back to 2006 for discipline and performance reasons before Trump took office, according to data the department reported to the Office of Personnel Management.

Environment

The president touched on one of his favorite subjects: the cleanliness of the nation’s air and water.

Trump: And something I want to make clear to the media, we have among the cleanest and sharpest, crystal-clean, you’ve heard me say it, I want crystal-clean air and water, anywhere on Earth. We are creating a future of American energy independence and yet our air and water are the cleanest they’ve ever been by far.

We’ve written about these sorts of claims repeatedly, most recently when Piers Morgan interviewed Trump during the president’s visit to the U.K. Over the decades, the U.S. has generally made progress on reducing pollution. But there is little evidence to suggest that America’s water and air have substantially improved since Trump took office.

On air quality, for example, the existing Environmental Protection Agency data is mixed at best. The average national air pollutant concentrations for sulfur dioxide and ozone got a bit better between 2016 and 2017, but particulate matter got worse. The number of days with unhealthy levels of air pollutants for sensitive groups also increased, from 701 days in 2016 to 729 days in 2017, and was well above 2014’s low of 599 days. With so few data points, and lacking 2018 data, which is not yet available, it’s difficult to make much of these trends. But they do not indicate that the air is the cleanest it’s “ever been by far.”

In terms of rankings, the most recent Environmental Performance Index put the U.S. in 10th for air quality, and 29th for water and sanitation, although for drinking water, America tied for first with nine other nations. On wastewater treatment, which the EPI website explains can have impacts on human health and the ecosystem, the U.S. came in at number 39, behind most of the Western world.

Clinton’s Emails

Trump repeated a well-worn claim from the 2016 campaign, claiming that his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton, “decide[d] that they’re not going to give” 33,000 emails after receiving a subpoena and “deleted and acid washed” them, “which is very expensive.” Trump is referring to 31,830 emails that Clinton’s lawyers had deemed personal and, per State Department policy, did not have to be turned over to the government.

The emails were deleted in 2015 by an employee of the server management company after Clinton received a subpoena related to a Republican investigation into the 2012 deaths of four Americans in Benghazi. There’s no evidence that Clinton knew that the emails were deleted after the subpoena was issued.

Trump: If you want to know how the system is rigged, just compare how they came after us for three years with everything they have, versus the free pass they gave to Hillary and her aides after they set up an illegal server, destroyed evidence deleted and acid washed 33,000 e-mails, exposed classified information, and turned the State Department into a pay-for-play cash machine. … [T]he simplest thing, they get a subpoena from the United States Congress and they decide that they’re not going to give it so Lindsey Graham, they delete and they acid wash, which is very expensive. … Nobody does it, they acid wash those emails, never to be seen again, but we may find them somewhere deep in the State Department.

As we’ve written before, in December 2014, Clinton gave the State Department 30,490 work-related emails. According to FBI notes of its investigation, a Clinton attorney in 2014 told Platte River Networks, the company managing Clinton’s private server, that Clinton had preserved her work-related emails and “decided she no longer needed access to any of her e-mails older than 60 days.” But a PRN employee didn’t delete the other 31,830 emails from the server until March 2015, after the Republican-led committee subpoena.

The FBI said that PRN used BleachBit, a free software program, to delete the emails, not a “very expensive” process, as Trump claims.

The president said “we may find [the deleted emails] somewhere deep in the State Department.” In fact, the FBI recovered about 14,900 emails that weren’t part of the work-related emails Clinton turned over. On Sept. 7, 2016, government officials said 30 of those emails were related to Benghazi, but only one had been previously undisclosed. Then-FBI Director James Comey said the FBI “found no evidence that any of the additional work-related emails were intentionally deleted in an effort to conceal them in some way.”

Opioids

Trump touted some unsubstantiated statistics when discussing his administration’s progress on addressing the opioid epidemic.

Trump, June 18: We are boldly confronting the opioid and drug addiction, and you know what’s happening, drug addiction is the [scourge] of our country and many other countries, and we have made so much progress, so much progress. Opioid down 17, 18, 19, and 21 percent in some places.

It’s not clear which specific statistic Trump is highlighting — “opioid” could refer to the number of opioid prescriptions, abuse rates or opioid-related deaths, among a variety of measures. Nevertheless, similar figures were presented to Trump at an opioid meeting on June 12, so we suspect Trump is thinking of overdose deaths. Those numbers, however, were for all drug overdose deaths, not just those involving opioids.

In that meeting, Assistant Secretary for Health Brett Giroir presented the latest Centers for Disease Control and Prevention figures for overdose deaths from any drug, which compared the past year’s predicted tally of drug overdose deaths as of November 2018 to the same figure in November 2017.

Giroir, June 12: Nationwide, overdose deaths have now fallen 4.4 percent over the past year. And let’s look at some specific states. In New Hampshire, where you first announced your initiative, drug overdose deaths are down 4.8 percent. Florida — 8.1 percent. West Virginia — 10.3 percent. Iowa — 18.2 percent. Pennsylvania — 18.5 percent. And Ohio — down 23.3 percent.

Giroir’s numbers match those that appear on the CDC’s website, which includes a color-coded interactive map with the declines or increases marked for each state. But there is no equivalent map — nor a complete set of state data — for opioid-related overdose deaths.

Only 16 states and two other jurisdictions provide opioid-specific information. Of these, nearly all show a decline in opioid-related deaths, but only two are as large as the president suggests. Oklahoma saw a 24 percent drop, while Washington, D.C., saw a 17.5 percent decrease. The next closest is the state of New York, which had an 11.2 percent decline.

Nationally, when calculated the same way as the 4.4 percent decline in total overdose deaths, the drop in opioid-related deaths is 2.1 percent.

It’s possible more locales have experienced significant drops in opioid-related overdose deaths, and that those figures might more closely match what Trump emphasized in his speech, but we are unaware of such data. We reached out to the White House to find the source for Trump’s numbers and did not receive a reply.

Medicare for All

Trump said that the Democrats who are co-sponsors of “Medicare for All” legislation in Congress “want to end Medicare as we know it and terminate the private health insurance of 180 million Americans who love their health insurance.” The bills call for expanding Medicare into a national health insurance program that covers everyone. So, the plan would “end Medicare as we know it,” but by expanding benefits — adding dental, hearing and vision coverage and instituting no premiums or copays, except for prescription drugs — and expanding coverage. Private insurance, which does cover nearly 180 million people now, would be eliminated under the plan introduced by Sen. Bernie Sanders, with the exception of possibly limited private insurance to cover the few benefits that the new universal system wouldn’t, and those policyholders would instead have health coverage under a new national Medicare program.

Preexisting Conditions

Trump vowed: “And we will always protect patients with preexisting conditions. Always, always.” But he, and Republicans in Congress, has not supported protections that go as far as those in the Affordable Care Act.

Under the ACA, insurers can’t deny coverage or charge more based on health status. Republican health care bills debated in 2017 offered some preexisting condition provisions, but not such a blanket protection. For instance, as we’ve written before, the House Republican bill said states could get a waiver to allow insurers to charge higher premiums based on health status for one year for those who had a lapse in their insurance coverage.

The Trump administration also has sided with the plaintiffs in a Texas lawsuit seeking to find the ACA unconstitutional. Last summer, then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions said that if the lawsuit were successful, the provisions in the law prohibiting insurers from denying coverage or charging premiums based on health status would have to be eliminated. The administration now fully agrees with the plaintiffs that the entire law should be struck down.

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“We are, by the way, the number one producer of energy in the world because of what we’ve done right now."
Orlando, Florida
Tuesday, June 18, 2019