WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump struck a variety of false notes in his big speech to Congress this past week and followed up with a curious coda – a plain-as-your-face exaggeration about the TV audience that tuned in for it.
A look at some of Trump’s recent statements, from his State of the Union address and beyond:
Trump: “Thank you for all of the nice compliments and reviews on the State of the Union speech. 45.6 million people watched, the highest number in history.” – tweet Wednesday.
The Facts: Not the highest in history. Trump’s TV viewership as measured by Nielsen (45.6 million, as he said) trailed that for first State of the Union speeches by Barack Obama (48 million), George W. Bush (51.7 million) and Bill Clinton (46.8 million).
Trump also got more TV viewers in his first speech to Congress a year ago (47.7 million) than in his first State of the Union address Tuesday night.
There is no reliable measure for how many people watched Tuesday on their computers or phones, a slice of viewership that is not counted by Nielsen. But Trump was not factoring in those viewers in his false claim. He cited the Nielsen number only.
Trump: “We’ve signed into law the biggest tax cuts and reforms in American history.” – remarks Thursday to Republican lawmakers’ retreat.
The Facts: No. The December tax overhaul ranks behind Ronald Reagan’s in the early 1980s, post-World War II tax cuts and at least several more. He made the same claim Tuesday night and countless times before that.
An analysis by the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget in the fall put Trump’s package as the eighth biggest since 1918. As a percentage of the total economy, Reagan’s 1981 cut is the biggest followed by the 1945 rollback of taxes that financed World War II.
Valued at USD$1.5 trillion over 10 years, Trump’s plan is indeed large and expensive. But it’s much smaller than originally intended. Back in the spring, it was shaping up as a USD$5.5 trillion package. Even then it would have only been the third largest since 1940 as a share of gross domestic product.
State of the Union Speech
Trump: “The third pillar (of my immigration plan) ends the visa lottery – a program that randomly hands out green cards without any regard to skill, merit or the safety of our people.”
The Facts: The program is not nearly that random and it does address skills, merit and safety.
The diversity visa program awards up to 50,000 green cards a year to people from underrepresented countries, largely in Africa. It requires applicants to have completed a high school education or have at least two years of experience in the past five years in a selection of fields identified by the Labor Department.
Winners are then randomly selected by computer, from that pool of applicants who met the pre-conditions. Winners must submit to extensive background checks, just like any other immigrant.
Trump: “We have ended the war on American energy.”
The Facts: What war? Energy production was unleashed in past administrations, particularly Obama’s. Advances in hydraulic fracturing before Trump became president made it economical to tap vast reserves of natural gas. Oil production also greatly increased, reducing imports.
Before the 2016 presidential election, the U.S. for the first time in decades was getting more energy domestically than it imports. Before Obama, George W. Bush was no adversary of the energy industry.
One of Trump’s consequential actions as president on this front was to approve the Keystone XL pipeline – a source of foreign oil, from Canada.
Trump: “We are now very proudly an exporter of energy to the world.”
The Facts: There’s nothing new in that. The U.S. has long exported all sorts of energy, while importing even more. If Trump meant that the U.S. has become a net exporter of energy, he’s rushing things along. The U.S. Energy Information Administration projects that the U.S. will become a net energy exporter in the next decade, primarily because of a boom in oil and gas production that began before Trump’s presidency. The Trump White House has predicted that could happen sooner, by 2020. But that’s not “now.”
Trump: “For decades, open borders have allowed drugs and gangs to pour into our most vulnerable communities.”
The Facts: The borders were far from open before his presidency, however imperfectly they may have been guarded.
The government under George W. Bush and Obama roughly doubled the ranks of the Border Patrol, and Bush extended fencing to cover nearly one-third of the border during his final years in office. The Obama administration deported more than 2 million immigrants during the eight years he was in office, more than in previous administrations.
Border arrests, a useful if imperfect gauge of illegal crossings, have dropped sharply over the past decade.
Trump: “Many car companies are now building and expanding plants in the United States, something we haven’t seen for decades.”
The Facts: He’s wrong about recent decades. The auto industry has regularly been opening and expanding factories since before Trump became president. Toyota opened its Mississippi factory in 2011. Hyundai’s plant in Alabama dates to 2005. In 2010, Tesla fully acquired and updated an old factory to produce its electric vehicles.
Trump also declared that “Chrysler is moving a major plant from Mexico to Michigan.” That’s not exactly the case, either. Chrysler announced it will move production of heavy-duty pickup trucks from Mexico to Michigan, but the plant is not closing in Mexico. It will start producing other vehicles for global sales and no change in its workforce is anticipated.
Trump: “We repealed the core of the disastrous Obamacare – the individual mandate is now gone.”
The Facts: No, it’s not gone. It’s going, in 2019. People who go without insurance this year are still subject to fines.
Congress did repeal the unpopular requirement that most Americans carry insurance or risk a tax penalty, but that takes effect next year.
Trump: “We have sent thousands and thousands and thousands of MS-13 horrible people out of this country or into our prisons.”
The Facts: That’s an exaggeration and goes beyond how even Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the administration’s most aggressive anti-gang enforcer, characterizes the scope of the effort.
Sessions said in speeches this past week that federal authorities had secured the convictions of nearly 500 human traffickers and 1,200 gang members, “and worked with our international allies to arrest or charge more than 4,000 MS-13 members.” On other occasions, the attorney general has specifically said the 4,000 number reflects work done with “our partners in Central America.”
That suggests that at least some of the MS-13 members Trump is referring to weren’t actually in the U.S when they were arrested, and aren’t now in U.S. prisons.
Trump: “We have ended the war on beautiful clean coal.”
The Facts: Coal is not clean. According to the Energy Department, more than 83 percent of all major air pollutants – sulfur dioxide, carbon dioxide, toxic mercury and dangerous soot particles – from power plants are from coal, even though coal makes up only 43 percent of the power generation. Power plants are the No. 1 source of those pollutants.
Coal produces nearly twice as much heat-trapping carbon dioxide per energy created as natural gas, the department says.
In 2011, coal burning emitted more than 6 million tons of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides versus 430,000 tons from other energy sources combined.
Story: Calvin Woodward, Christopher Rugaber