Here we go again. Donald Trump’s official bid to get back to the White House had us at FactCheck.org feeling a bit of déjà vu. His Nov. 15 speech announcing his candidacy for 2024 featured assertions we’ve fact-checked before and several mainstays of his rallies leading up to the midterm elections.
- Claiming a double-standard with regard to the search of Mar-a-Lago, Trump wrongly said former President Barack Obama “took a lot of things with him” when he left office. The National Archives and Records Administration says it always controlled and managed Obama administration records after his tenure.
- Trump claimed that “Joe Biden has intentionally surrendered our energy independence,” but the U.S. was never 100% self-sufficient or not reliant on energy imports under Trump.
- Comparing gasoline prices during his administration to Biden’s, Trump cherry-picked the pandemic low during his administration and greatly exaggerated current prices. And in any case, experts say neither president was primarily responsible for the prices.
- Trump also falsely claimed to have “filled up” the U.S. Strategic Petroleum Reserve, which he said Biden has “virtually drained.” Neither is true.
- The former president wrongly said the southwest border was the “strongest ever” during his term and now is “open.” Apprehensions, a proxy for illegal immigration, were higher during Trump’s term than either of Obama’s terms. While they’ve increased considerably under President Joe Biden, well over 1 million, at least, have been expelled.
- Trump came up short of building the border wall he promised, despite his claim that he “completed” it.
- Trump downplayed the risk of climate change, incorrectly stating that sea level rise will be just “one-eighth of an inch over the next 200 to 300 years.” For U.S. coastlines, scientists project an increase of 10 to 12 inches in the next 30 years alone.
- He claimed that “drugs were coming into our country at the lowest level in many, many years” during his presidency. But the best available federal data suggest that overall drug smuggling may have been higher under Trump than Biden.
- He repeated his false talking point that his administration “built the greatest economy in the history of the world.” Annual real gross domestic product has exceeded Trump’s peak year 16 times.
- He claimed the U.S. “surrendered $85 billion” of military equipment when it withdrew troops from Afghanistan, a withdrawal that was initiated by his administration. That gross exaggeration is nearly the total amount spent on the Afghanistan Security Forces Fund since the war began in 2001.
- While talking about tariffs, Trump falsely claimed that “no president had ever sought or received $1 for our country from China until I came along.” Prior to his administration, the U.S. collected billions of dollars in tariffs on products imported from China.
- Trump falsely claimed the Department of Justice is going after parents “who object” at school board meetings to “indoctrinating our children.” U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland said “spirited debate” is constitutionally protected but not “threats of violence or efforts to intimidate individuals based on their views.”
Referencing the court-approved Aug. 8 search of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago home in which FBI agents took possession of numerous records labeled “classified” and “Top Secret,” Trump said federal authorities were out to “get Trump” in ways they never were with his predecessors.
“And I said, ‘Why didn’t you raid Bush’s place?’” Trump said. “Why didn’t you raid Clinton’s place? Why didn’t you do Obama, who took a lot of things with him.”
We’re not sure to which Bush Trump was referring, George H.W. Bush or his son George W. Bush, but as we’ve written, neither of them stored presidential documents in their private residences after they left office. Neither did former Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.
Trump has made similar claims before, and all of the examples he has cited were cases of the National Archives and Records Administration — not the former presidents themselves — storing documents in secure facilities while permanent presidential libraries were being built.
With regard to Obama, specifically, NARA released a statement on Sept. 23, contradicting Trump’s repeated misstatements. NARA said it always controlled and managed the records from the Obama administration.
The U.S. never stopped importing oil and other forms of energy from other countries when Trump was president. But he frequently claims that the U.S. became “energy independent” during his administration, which may give some people the false impression that the U.S. was 100% self-sufficient.
In his announcement speech, Trump claimed that “Joe Biden has intentionally surrendered our energy independence.”
Similarly, at his Florida rally, Trump said: “We are no longer energy independent or energy dominant, as we were just two short years ago. We are a nation that is begging Venezuela, Saudi Arabia and many other countries for oil.”
In 2019, during Trump’s presidency, the U.S. began producing more energy than it consumed for the first time since 1957, according to the Energy Information Administration. The EIA also said the U.S. became a net total energy exporter in 2019 for the first time since 1952.
Then, in 2020, the U.S. became a total petroleum net exporter for the first time since 1949, the EIA said. Petroleum includes crude oil and refined products from crude oil, such as gasoline and other fuels.
None of those achievements means that the U.S. did not rely on foreign sources of energy. To some energy analysts, a scenario in which the U.S. consumes only the energy that it produces is not likely to happen anytime soon.
As Andrew Campbell, executive director of the Energy Institute at Haas, told Reuters Fact Check: “If a country produces all of the energy that it consumes, does not participate in international trade in energy, does not import energy-intensive products, and does not send energy-related pollution to its neighbors or the atmosphere, then I would consider it energy independent. I don’t think any country meets that definition.”
Even if “energy independence” was determined by being a net exporter or having more production than consumption, the country’s status has not changed under Biden. The U.S. had more exports than imports of total primary energy and petroleum in 2021, and is on pace to do the same in 2022. Also, since Biden took office, U.S. energy production has continued to exceed its energy consumption.
On the other hand, the U.S. has consistently been a net importer of crude oil since the 1940s. But, so far, total crude oil imports, as well as net imports of crude oil, have been lower under Biden than they were under Trump — except in 2020, when imports dropped significantly due to reduced demand at the start of the pandemic.
Contrasting his administration with Biden’s, Trump often cites gasoline prices, which spiked to just over $5 per gallon in mid-June. During his announcement speech, Trump cherry-picked and exaggerated both sides of that comparison, and regardless, experts say neither president’s policies are primarily responsible for the gasoline prices during their tenures.
“We were $1.87 a gallon for gasoline,” Trump said, “and now it’s hitting 5, 6, 7 and even $8 and it’s going to go really bad.”
Gasoline prices did dip to $1.87 in May 2020 when Trump was president, but that was during the pandemic when gasoline usage plummeted. Prices were the lowest in Trump’s presidency that month and the month before. Prices rose to $2.33 per gallon in January 2021, when Trump left office. That’s almost exactly the price of gasoline when Trump took office in January 2017, $2.35.
Trump is also exaggerating the price of gas now. Since the $5 per gallon high in June, the average price has dropped fairly steadily, and was at $3.80 the first week of November. (Trump claimed gas prices had reached their “highest levels in history,” but while the $5 per gallon peak is the highest in raw dollars, the price has been higher in inflation-adjusted dollars.)
In recent speeches, Trump has tied the $8 price to “parts of California.” But even that’s exaggerated. While it’s possible there were some gas stations in California where gas was selling for $8 a gallon when Trump made his statements, the average price of gas in the state — which is typically higher than any other state — was $5.46, according to AAA. And no county in California had an average price anywhere near $8 per gallon. So it is a classic case of cherry-picking. (We should note that Biden cherry-picks as well, like in September when he noted that regular gasoline in “some states” was under $3 per gallon, even though the national average that week was $3.71.)
The price of crude oil, which is refined into gasoline, is set on a global market. The low price of gasoline that Trump cited was the result of economic activity declining sharply in the U.S. and other countries early in the COVID-19 pandemic. It led to a decline in global demand for crude oil, which in turn led to a drop in the price of gasoline. It also resulted in oil companies spending and investing less. Then, as the global economy began to recover, and people began to resume their regular activities, including travel, global demand for crude oil increased rapidly while the global supply was not able to keep pace — and so gasoline prices rose.
The Russian invasion of Ukraine in late February also has contributed to higher gasoline prices, experts told us. In response to the attack, the U.S. and other nations put sanctions and bans on oil from Russia, one of the world’s largest oil exporters.While Republicans have blamed U.S. oil production, and Biden’s cancellation of the Keystone XL pipeline, experts told us those are not the reason for higher gasoline prices this year. U.S. oil production under Biden has increased a bit over 2020 production, and in its Short-Term Energy Outlook for October, the Energy Information Administration projected that crude oil production would average 11.7 million barrels per day in 2022, which would be more than every year but 2019.
During his announcement, Trump also falsely claimed to have “filled up” the U.S. Strategic Petroleum Reserve, which he said Biden has “virtually drained in order to keep gasoline prices lower just prior to the election.”
Since October 2021, Biden has authorized the release of more than 200 million barrels of SPR oil in an attempt to increase the global supply of crude oil and bring down gasoline prices. Experts told us it’s hard to say how much the oil releases helped reduce prices.
The number of apprehensions of those trying to cross the U.S. southwest border has increased dramatically under Biden, but, again, Trump has made false and exaggerated claims in trying to draw a contrast between his term and now.
Echoing a claim he has made before, Trump falsely said the southwest border “was by far the strongest ever” during his administration. He also made the claim during midterm election rallies, such as a Nov. 7 event in Ohio in which he said the border was “the best ever,” adding, “There was nothing even close.”
Politicians and researchers use the number of apprehensions at the border as a measure of what’s happening with illegal immigration, and by that measure, the border wasn’t the “strongest” under Trump. In fact, the number of apprehensions was higher during Trump’s term than either of Obama’s four-year terms.
As we’ve written before, the number of apprehensions fluctuated wildly under Trump, dropping in 2017 but then rising the next two years. While apprehensions decreased in early 2020 with the COVID-19 pandemic, they picked up again the last half of that year and ended up being 14.7% higher in Trump’s final year in office compared with the last full year before he was sworn in.
Trump then claimed that under Biden, “our southern border has been erased and our country is being invaded by millions and millions of unknown people.” As he has said in his rallies, he also claimed the border was “open.” It’s not.
For one, the data we have on illegal immigration are figures on people U.S. Customs and Border Protection apprehend. Also, of the 2.2 million apprehended in fiscal year 2022, which ended Sept. 30, nearly half — 1 million — were expelled under Title 42, a public health law invoked during the pandemic that allows border officials to immediately return Mexican migrants caught trying to enter the country illegally. Biden has tried to end Title 42 , but a federal judge blocked the administration from terminating it.
Recidivism rates have also soared under Title 42, as more than a quarter of people caught at the border were already apprehended at least once before and returned to Mexico in fiscal years 2020 and 2021, according to Customs and Border Protection statistics.
“Millions” have been apprehended under Biden. In the most recent 12 months on record, apprehensions totaled 2,251,596, a 343% increase compared with Trump’s last year in office.
At one point in his announcement, Trump made the unfounded claim that “I believe it’s 10 million people coming in” through illegal immigration at the southern border. Ariel G. Ruiz Soto, a policy analyst at the Migration Policy Institute, told us the figure is “inaccurate and impossible,” based on the institute’s analysis of official CBP data.
“These data suggest that the true number of unauthorized migrants entering (even if temporarily) the United States is a fraction of the claimed 10 million figure,” Ruiz Soto said.
Not counting those expelled under Title 42, there have been 2.1 million apprehensions since January 2021 under what’s called Title 8, he said. These are apprehension events, so the number of unique people would be lower. But of the 2.1 million, “a significant number were allowed into the country to pursue asylum claims in immigration court or because they could not be deported to countries with limited U.S. relations (e.g., Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Cuba). But others, primarily from Mexico and Central America, were quickly removed through a process called expedited removal or had prior removal orders reactivated,” Ruiz Soto said.
In addition, the Department of Homeland Security estimates in fiscal year 2021, which would include nearly four months of Trump’s tenure, there were 389,000 so-called “gotaways,” which are migrants U.S. Border Patrol detected but could not apprehend. Ruiz Soto said DHS hasn’t released estimates for fiscal year 2022, but “some unconfirmed news reports suggest there were 599,000 ‘gotaways’ in FY 2022 and up to 64,000 in October 2022.”
So, even if we add together “all these estimated ‘gotaways’ and unrealistically assuming that all of the 2.1 million migrant apprehensions under Title 8 were allowed into the country, the number would be a maximum of 3.2 million migrant entries since January 2021—which is well short of the claimed 10 million entries,” Ruiz Soto said.
Trump’s Wall Not Finished
Trump came up short of building the border wall he promised on the campaign trail in 2016, or what his administration initially proposed. But he has continued to falsely claim otherwise.
“We built the wall. We completed the wall and then we said, ‘Let’s do more,’ and we did a lot more,” Trump said in his announcement. “And as we were doing it we had an election that came up, and when they came in, they had three more weeks to complete the additions to the wall, which would have been great and they said no, no, we’re not going to do that.”
That’s wrong. As we’ve reported, when he was a candidate, Trump repeatedly talked about wanting 1,000 miles of a border wall. Once in office, he started moving the goal posts. The administration never released a master plan for the project. In early 2018, CNN obtained Customs and Border Protection documents asking for $18 billion over 10 years to build 722 miles of border wall, including “about 316 new miles of primary structure and about 407 miles of replacement and secondary wall.”
In the end, 458 miles of “border wall system” was built during Trump’s term, according to a CBP status report on Jan. 22, 2021. There were 52 miles of new primary wall and 33 miles of secondary wall where no barriers had been before. The rest, 373 miles, was replacement barriers for primary or secondary fencing that was dilapidated or outdated.
That’s a lot of construction. But the new fencing covers about 20% of the 1,954-mile land border. Including the fencing that existed before Trump took office, there are now about 706 miles of barriers.
False Climate Change Claim
Trump downplayed the threat of climate change when he attempted to argue that people, presumably Democrats, were ignoring the risk of nuclear weapons to focus solely on climate change.
“The Green New Deal and the environment, which they say may affect us in 300 years … is all that is talked about, yet nuclear weapons which would destroy the world immediately are never even discussed as a major threat,” he said. “They say the ocean will rise one-eighth of an inch over the next 200 to 300 years.”
Projections for future sea level rise are well above that figure, which Trump has previously used. Rather than increasing one-eighth of an inch over centuries, global sea level is already rising that much per year, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
“Roads, bridges, subways, water supplies, oil and gas wells, power plants, sewage treatment plants, landfills—virtually all human infrastructure—is at risk from sea level rise,” NOAA says on its website.
In the next 30 years alone, sea level along the U.S. coast is projected to rise 10 to 12 inches, according to the U.S. government’s 2022 Sea Level Rise Technical Report.
“Sea level rise will create a profound shift in coastal flooding over the next 30 years by causing tide and storm surge heights to increase and reach further inland,” a website for the report explains. “By 2050, ‘moderate’ (typically damaging) flooding is expected to occur, on average, more than 10 times as often as it does today, and can be intensified by local factors.”
By 2100, scientists project between nearly 2 feet to more than 7 feet of sea level rise and between 2.6 feet and 12.8 feet by 2150 in the U.S. relative to the level in 2000.
“Failing to curb future emissions could cause an additional 1.5 – 5 feet (0.5 – 1.5 meters) of rise for a total of 3.5 – 7 feet (1.1 – 2.1 meters) by the end of this century,” the website notes.
Trump is also wrong to suggest that the environment or Americans have yet to be affected by climate change. Not only has the sea level already risen, but temperatures are higher and weather patterns have changed, which has impacted human health as well as plants and animals.
In his speech from Mar-a-Lago, Trump claimed that “because the border was so tight” during his administration, “drugs were coming into our country at the lowest level in many, many years.” He later said that, under Biden, “hundreds of thousands of pounds of deadly drugs, including very lethal fentanyl, are flooding across the now open and totally porous southern border.”
He made a similar claim in Ohio, saying: “The drugs were down the lowest they were in 32 years. And now the drugs are seven times to 10 times higher than when we had it only two years ago. Think of it, the drugs are pouring in.”
We don’t know the source of Trump’s statistics, as comprehensive data on the total quantity of illicit drugs smuggled into the U.S. do not exist. The best data available is for the amount of drugs seized by federal border officials — most of which comes through legal ports of entry, not via illegal immigration between those ports.
Some use the drug-seizures data as a proxy for how much enters the country undetected. But if that’s what Trump is doing, the figures don’t back up his claims. If more seizures indicates that more drugs — not less — are getting into the U.S., then there was a bigger drug problem under Trump.
The most recent data from U.S. Customs and Border Protection show that federal authorities interdicted nearly 656,000 pounds of drugs in fiscal year 2022 and more than 913,000 pounds in fiscal 2021, which included three and a half months when Trump was president. Both figures are lower than the 1.06 million pounds seized in fiscal 2020, Trump’s last full fiscal cycle as president. Prior to the pandemic, 901,000 pounds of drugs were seized by border officials in fiscal 2019.
However, seizures of certain drugs, such as fentanyl, have increased under Biden.
Dozens of ads in the midterm elections mentioned fentanyl, which is a synthetic opioid many times stronger than morphine and heroin. Illicit fentanyl can be fatal in very small doses and has contributed to an increasing number of overdose deaths in the U.S. – sometimes when people unknowingly consume illegally manufactured drugs that contain fentanyl.
Federal border officials seized approximately 14,700 pounds of fentanyl in fiscal 2022. That was up more than 206% from the almost 4,800 pounds seized in fiscal 2020, which was about 71% more than the amount confiscated in fiscal 2019.
Trump, whose administration negotiated an agreement with the Taliban to withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan by May 1, 2021, criticized Biden for the chaotic withdrawal.
“The United States has been embarrassed, humiliated and weakened for all to see,” Trump said. “The disasters in Afghanistan — perhaps the most embarrassing moment in the history of our country — where we lost lives, left Americans behind and surrendered $85 billion worth of the finest military equipment anywhere in the world.”
The former president is right that the withdrawal from Afghanistan was chaotic, and it cost the lives of 13 U.S. service members who were ambushed outside the Kabul airport. He is also right, as we have written, that some U.S. citizens were left behind when the last U.S. soldier left the country.
But Trump grossly exaggerates when he claims the U.S. left $85 billion worth of military equipment in Afghanistan, and ignores his administration’s role in contributing to what he called the disaster in Afghanistan. On other occasions, Trump has said Biden “surrendered in Afghanistan,” which he said in Florida on Nov. 6 at one of his MAGA rallies in the final days of the midterm elections.
“We are a nation that surrendered in Afghanistan, leaving behind dead soldiers, American citizens and $85 billion worth of the finest military equipment in the world,” Trump said at the Florida rally.
The Trump administration in February 2020 negotiated a withdrawal agreement with the Taliban that excluded the Afghan government, freed 5,000 imprisoned Taliban soldiers and set a date of May 1, 2021, for the final withdrawal. The Trump administration kept to the pact, even though the Taliban did not, and reduced U.S. troop levels from about 13,000 to 2,500, against the advice of U.S. military leaders, before he left office.
During House testimony on Sept. 29, 2021, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chair Gen. Mark Milley said that based on his advice and “the advice of the commanders at the time,” then-Secretary of Defense Mark Esper submitted a memorandum to the White House on Nov. 9, 2020, “recommending that we maintain the US forces, which were then at about 4,500 in Afghanistan, until conditions were met for further reductions.”
The Taliban repeatedly failed to meet conditions required in the withdrawal agreement. It continued to attack Afghan government forces and welcomed al-Qaeda terrorists into the Taliban leadership, even as Trump continued to press for troop reductions.
“In the fall of 2020 my analysis was that an accelerated withdrawal without meeting specific and necessary conditions risks losing the substantial gains made in Afghanistan, damaging U.S. worldwide credibility, and could precipitate a general collapse of the ANSF [Afghan National Security Forces] and the Afghan government resulting in a complete Taliban takeover or general civil war,” Milley said in Senate testimony on Sept. 28, 2021. “That was a year ago. My assessment remained consistent throughout.”
Nonetheless, the Trump administration reduced troop levels to 2,500 by Jan. 15, 2021.
Biden delayed the May 1, 2021, withdrawal date that he inherited from Trump. But his administration pushed ahead with a plan to withdraw by Aug. 31, 2021 — also against the advice of U.S. military leaders.
Ultimately, the Taliban took advantage of a weakened United States and took control of the country sooner than Biden’s Aug. 31, 2021, withdrawal date. Taliban fighters entered the Afghan capital Kabul on Aug. 15, 2021, as the Afghan president fled the country and the U.S. evacuated diplomats. (For more, see our article “Timeline of U.S. Withdrawal from Afghanistan.”)
So both administrations bear responsibility for what Trump called the disaster in Afghanistan.
As for the U.S. military equipment left behind, Trump’s $85 billion figure — actually $82.9 billion — was the total amount spent on the Afghanistan Security Forces Fund since the war began in 2001. But it wasn’t all for military equipment, and most of the U.S. equipment purchased in those two decades had become inoperable, or had been moved out of the country or “decommisioned” or destroyed.
As we wrote, the biggest chunk of the Afghanistan Security Forces Fund, about half, was for what is called “sustainment,” and most of that went for Afghan army and national police salaries.
CNN reported in April that a Department of Defense report said $7.12 billion of military equipment the U.S. had given to the Afghan government was in Afghanistan after the U.S. withdrawal.
“Nearly all equipment used by U.S. military forces in Afghanistan was either retrograded or destroyed prior to our withdrawal and is not part of the ‘$7.12 billion’ figure cited in the report,” a spokesperson for the Defense Department, Army Maj. Rob Lodewick, said, according to CNN.
Not ‘Greatest Economy’ in History
He cited the stock market at one point in his speech, but economists generally measure a nation’s health by the growth of its inflation-adjusted gross domestic product. And dating back to Ronald Reagan’s presidency, the real GDP exceeded Trump’s peak year of 2.9% 16 times. The GDP also hit 5.9% under Biden in 2021.
Trump repeated his false claim that no president before him had collected tariffs on Chinese products exported to the U.S.
“China was paying billions and billions of dollars in taxes and tariffs,” Trump said in his Nov. 15 remarks. “No president had ever sought or received $1 for our country from China until I came along.”
As we’ve written before, prior to Trump becoming president, the U.S. collected $122.6 billion in customs duties on Chinese goods from 2007 to 2016, or $12.3 billion a year on average, according to data available though the U.S. International Trade Commission DataWeb.
Furthermore, the tariffs collected are not paid by China, as we’ve also noted before. The tariffs are paid by U.S. importers in the form of customs duties, and to some extent by U.S. consumers in the form of higher prices.
Department of Justice Not Going After Parents Who ‘Object’
Trump revived a false Republican talking point about the Department of Justice going after parents “who object” at school board meetings.
“Joe Biden has also proven that he is committed to indoctrinating our children, even using the Department of Justice against parents who object,” Trump said in his announcement speech.
This is a version of the false claim made by several Republicans that U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland labelled parents who complain at school board meetings “domestic terrorists” and that he instructed the Department of Justice to target such parents.
As we wrote back in April, the Justice Department did not label parents “domestic terrorists.” Rather, a Sept. 29, 2021, letter sent by the National School Boards Association to the White House argued that some violent threats against school officials “could be the equivalent to a form of domestic terrorism.” The association asked for federal assistance to stop what it said was a growing number of threats and acts of violence against public school board members and other public school district officials — mainly over the issues of mask mandates and “propaganda purporting the false inclusion of critical race theory within classroom instruction and curricula.” (Critical race theory is the study of institutional racism as a means to better understand and address racial inequality. It has become a hot-button political issue among Republicans who oppose it being taught in public schools.)
Garland did not use NSBA’s “terrorism” language, for which the group later apologized. Although Garland directed his agency to review strategies to address violent threats and harassment against school boards, the policy was never targeted at parents who simply “object,” as Trump put it.
In fact, Garland issued a memo on Oct. 4, 2021, stating that “spirited debate about policy matters is protected under our Constitution.” He added, however, that “that protection does not extend to threats of violence or efforts to intimidate individuals based on their views.”
“I want to be clear, the Justice Department supports and defends the First Amendment right of parents to complain as vociferously as they wish about the education of their children, about the curriculum taught in the schools,” Garland said two weeks later at a House Judiciary Committee hearing.
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