EDITOR’S NOTE — A look at the veracity of claims by political figures
WASHINGTON: On the offensive about his record and the defensive about the Russia investigation, President Donald Trump sought in a week’s worth of rhetoric to show that he is outdoing his predecessor, if not all of history. This made for inflated claims.
His speech to the Conservative Political Action Conference on Friday marked his spirited return to a big stage after days of dealing with the national trauma of the Parkland, Florida, school massacre.
In his remarks, Trump mischaracterized the Paris climate accord and his record on several fronts. This, after he exhibited defiance during the week about the special counsel’s investigation of Russian activities in the U.S. election, stating on thin evidence that he’s been tougher on Moscow for its meddling than President Barack Obama ever was.
A look at some of his statements to conservatives and the Twitter world:
TRUMP on the Obama-era mandate to buy health insurance or pay a fine: “That’s gone.” — CPAC speech.
THE FACTS: It’s not gone. People still risk fines this year if they go without health insurance. Under a law that has been enacted, the fines will disappear in 2019.
TRUMP on coal: “And West Virginia, now, is doing great. You look at what’s happening in West Virginia, you look at what’s happening in Pennsylvania, you look at what’s happening in Ohio and you look at what’s happening in Wyoming — you look at what’s happening all over — it’s like a — it’s like a different world.” — CPAC speech.
THE FACTS: Coal has not come roaring back and West Virginia’s economy, in particular, still struggles.
Nationwide, coal mining has added just 1,100 jobs in Trump’s first year and the industry now employs 51,800. That reverses five years of declines, but back in 2013 coal mining employed 78,400. Abundant natural gas has become a cheaper alternative to coal for many power plants and is a key reason for the coal industry’s long-term struggle.
West Virginia’s unemployment rate was 5.5 percent in December, the latest data available, compared with 4.5 percent in May and little changed from when Trump took office in January 2017.
The national unemployment rate has fallen since May and was 4.1 percent in December. West Virginia has added just 1,500 jobs since Trump’s inauguration, a 0.2 percent gain. That’s below the nationwide increase of 1.3 percent.
Wyoming hasn’t gained any jobs since January 2017. Its unemployment rate has fallen from 4.8 percent to 4.2 percent, partly because fewer people are looking for work and are no longer counted as unemployed.
Pennsylvania has added jobs and its unemployment rate has fallen in the past year. But coal doesn’t appear to have much to do with it. The biggest job gains were in professional and business services, which include engineering, accountants and architects, and a separate category mostly made up of hotel and restaurant jobs.
Ohio has also improved overall: Its unemployment rate has fallen to 4.7 percent in December from 5 percent when Trump took office. The state added 35,000 jobs, a 0.6 percent gain, also below the national average. Its job gains were mostly in education and health care, hotels and restaurants, and manufacturing.
TRUMP: “We passed the biggest tax cuts in the history of our country.” — CPAC speech.
THE FACTS: Trump’s tax cuts are not the largest in history, despite his frequent claims that they are.
In comparisons using 2012 inflation-adjusted dollars, his cuts average about $130 billion a year, compared with $208 billion a year for President Ronald Reagan’s 1981 tax cut package, according to an analysis by the nonpartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget of the Senate proposal that shaped the final overhaul. Obama cut taxes by a larger average than Trump, in 2010 and 2013, when he made permanent the temporary cuts enacted by President George W. Bush.
Analyses of earlier versions of Trump’s tax cut proposals, when they were considerably larger than they eventually became, found that his package lagged Reagan’s, post-World War II tax cuts and at least several others when measured as a percentage of the gross domestic product. That’s another common yardstick used by economists for historical comparisons.
TRUMP on the Paris climate accord, which he has announced the U.S. will leave: “Basically, it said, ‘you have a lot of oil and gas’ ... and basically, they were saying, ‘Don’t use it. You can’t use it.”’ He added: “They called India a developing nation. They call China a developing nation. But the United States? We’re developed. We can pay.” — CPAC speech.
THE FACTS: That’s a misrepresentation of the accord on several fronts. First, emission targets in the accord are voluntary, determined by individual nations, and they can be made stronger or weaker by each country. So while the agreement is aimed at achieving more clean energy, nothing in it stops the U.S. from exploiting its petroleum reserves.
Second, Trump is stating a distinction between developed and developing nations that was relevant in the decades-old Kyoto Protocol on global warming but is largely meaningless in the Paris agreement.
Such differential treatment “has nothing to do with the Paris Agreement,” said Henry “Jake” Jacoby, founding co-director of MIT’s Joint Center on the Science and Policy of Global Change, in an email. “The Paris Agreement does NOT ... impose specific differential action among countries regarding greenhouse emissions abatement.”
It merely affirms a “moral” obligation for richer countries to help poorer ones achieve a cleaner energy future, he said.
Nigel Purvis, an international law expert who was a State Department climate negotiator both in the Clinton and George W. Bush administrations, said no country is obligated to make financial payments to any other country under the Paris accord. “That is exactly what the Bush administration and Congress said they wanted instead of the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which did have different obligations for developed and developing nations,” he said.
TRUMP on the Paris accord: “You know, China — their agreement didn’t kick in until 2030. Right? Our agreement kicks in immediately.”
THE FACTS: No. The accord already affects China, which pledged to peak its emissions by 2030, not to wait until then to take action.
“That means gradual slowdown in the growth of their emissions between now and then,” said John Sterman, director of the Sloan Sustainability Initiative at the MIT Sloan School of Management. “To reach an emissions peak by 2030 China must deploy policies to reduce coal use and promote renewables now — and has been.”
The U.S., before Trump, pledged to cut its emissions by 25 percent to 28 percent, below 2005 levels, by 2025.
TRUMP: “I have been much tougher on Russia than Obama, just look at the facts. Total Fake News!” — tweet Tuesday.
THE FACTS: The Trump administration actually lags the Obama administration on this front, by all public evidence. During the 2016 campaign, Obama called out Russia for political interference when much less was known about it and followed up after the election by expelling 35 Russian diplomats suspected of being intelligence officers. Obama also seized two Russian “dachas” or country estates, in Maryland and New York, that the State Department said were used for intelligence activities.
The Trump administration has not yet penalized any Russian officials for interfering in the 2016 election, arguing the threat of sanctions has been enough of a deterrent. Meanwhile, Trump’s own officials warn that Russia is already acting to subvert this year’s U.S. midterm elections after having judged its efforts in 2016 a success.
The administration in late January released a public report listing Russians who have gained wealth or power under President Vladimir Putin. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said the report would lead to new sanctions against Russia, but none has been issued.
Trump’s national intelligence director, Dan Coats, recently told senators Russia took “sophisticated advantage of social media” in the 2016 campaign and interfered broadly, in “pervasive” fashion. That conclusion was followed by special counsel Robert Mueller’s indictment against 13 Russians and three Russian companies accused of plotting to meddle in that election, ultimately aiming to benefit Trump over Democrat Hillary Clinton.
But Trump has not responded to that with “tough” words against Russia, lashing out instead against Democrats, other critics and his FBI. Trump has not forcefully asserted that Russia meddled in the 2016 election, famously suggesting that interference could have come from Russia, China, another country or “somebody sitting on their bed that weighs 400 pounds.”
TRUMP: “Question: If all of the Russian meddling took place during the Obama Administration, right up to January 20th, why aren’t they the subject of the investigation? Why didn’t Obama do something about the meddling? Why aren’t Dem crimes under investigation? Ask Jeff Sessions!” — tweet Wednesday.
THE FACTS: Trump is presuming to know what is and isn’t being investigated. The Mueller investigation is a wide-ranging probe of Russian interference and could go anywhere. But no evidence has emerged of Democrats potentially being in cahoots with Russia during the campaign. Trump associates are under scrutiny because they are known to have had contacts with Russian interests.
Russians promoted Trump and disparaged Democrat Hillary Clinton in propaganda and field operations in the U.S. as part of a broader effort to subvert the 2016 election, according to Mueller’s indictment last week of 13 Russians. Additionally, it became known in 2016 that Russians hacked the email accounts of Democrats.
Trump has already claimed the investigation has vindicated him on the question of whether his team colluded with Russia. But that matter is not settled.
No collusion charges have been brought, and the indictment last week did not accuse Trump associates of knowingly being part of Russian machinations. But the investigation is not complete.
To date four men who were Trump campaign aides have been charged, with three of them pleading guilty to lying to the FBI about their foreign contacts. The three are Rick Gates, George Papadopoulos and Michael Flynn, who briefly became Trump’s national security adviser in the White House. The fourth aide, Paul Manafort, is contesting the charges against him.
Gates also pleaded guilty to conspiracy.
Historical tax cut analysis: https://tinyurl.com/y8ktlfn3
Coal jobs: https://www.bls.gov/news.release/pdf/empsit.pdf
State jobless rates: https://www.bls.gov/news.release/pdf/laus.pdf
Primer on Paris accord: https://tinyurl.com/ybtokzcd
Associated Press writers Josh Boak, Seth Borenstein, Ken Thomas, Chad Day and Eric Tucker contributed to this report.
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AP FACT CHECK: Trump sees himself outperforming history
EDITOR’S NOTE — A look at the veracity of claims by political figures