Trump made 21 false claims last week
President Donald Trump made 21 false claims last week, well below his recent weekly tallies, as he stayed largely quiet in the wake of the massacres in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio.
The pace of the President’s dishonesty is strongly correlated with the total amount of time he spends talking. According to Factba.se, a website that tracks his utterances, Trump spoke for just 56 minutes last week, his lowest total for any week since a week in late January.
Trump averaged about six false claims per day when we were counting at the Toronto Star between his inauguration and the beginning of June. His record low for a week was two false claims, in March 2017.
Top categories: Trump made seven false claims last week about Democrats, five about China and trade, and four on North Korea or South Korea.
Where he made them: Trump made 12 false claims in exchanges with reporters, six on Twitter, three in remarks during his visit to El Paso.
The most egregious false claim: Fallen soldiers
Trump could have joined Vice President Mike Pence in truthfully touting good news last week about Korean War soldiers’ remains returned from North Korea. As Pence announced, 25 more US service-members have been identified from the remains North Korea delivered last year.
Trump, though, didn’t mention that. Instead, he falsely claimed, again, that remains continue to be returned “as we speak” — that “they’re coming back into and through Hawaii.”
No remains have come through Hawaii since last year. The Pentagon announced in May that North Korea has stopped cooperating with the remains recovery initiative and that the effort has been suspended for this year.
Trump has repeatedly deceived the families of lost soldiers about what is happening.
The most revealing false claim: China’s woes
Trump accurately said two weeks ago that China had just posted its worst economic growth in 27 years. Last week, he appeared to decide that this was insufficiently impressive.
“Now, China has had their worst year in 35 years now. It was in 26 years, but now it’s in 35 years,” he told reporters.
Nothing had changed since the previous tweet. There was no basis for the “now it’s in 35 years.” But as we’ve discussed before, Trump does not stick to accurate numbers even when the accurate numbers make his point.
The most absurd false claim: O’Rourke’s crowd
Trump took time during a visit to an El Paso hospital to not only boast about the size of his crowd during a rally on a night six months ago and to mock former Texas congressman Beto O’Rourke’s crowd size that same night, but he also made up a fictional number for O’Rourke’s crowd — “like 400 people” — that wasn’t even close to accurate.
Here is this week’s full list of 21:
North Korea and South Korea
Remains from North Korea
“We got back, and we’re getting back, as we speak, we’re getting back a lot of our fallen heroes. You know that. They’re coming back into and through Hawaii.” — August 9 exchange with reporters
Facts First: While North Korea returned some remains last year, it is no longer doing so. The US military announced in May that the remains program had been suspended for the rest of the 2019 fiscal year because North Korea had stopped communicating with the US agency responsible for the effort.
Trump could accurately tout the return of remains in the past tense: North Korea returned 55 cases of possible remains in the summer of 2018. But the remains are no longer being returned. The Pentagon’s Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency said in May that no more remains would be coming back this fiscal year. The agency said North Korea had not spoken with the agency at all since the Hanoi summit in February between Trump and Kim Jong Un, which ended abruptly.
Trump could have correctly said that there has been recent progress in identifying remains from the cases returned last year. The week before Trump made these remarks, Vice President Mike Pence and the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency announced that 25 additional service members had been identified. Seven identifications had previously been announced.
North Korea’s missile testing
“…I say it again: There have been no nuclear tests. The missile tests have all been short-range. No ballistic missile tests. No long-range missiles.” — August 9 exchange with reporters
Facts First: North Korea has been testing ballistic missiles, though they have indeed been short-range.
Trump, perhaps confused, appeared to be suggesting that only long-range missiles are “ballistic.” That is not true. The two short-range missiles it tested the week of Trump’s remarks were also ballistic missiles, as were the missiles it tested in late July.
Troops in South Korea
“As you know, we’ve got 32,000 soldiers on South Korean soil, and we’ve been helping them for about 82 years.” — August 7 exchange with reporters
Facts First: There were 29,048 US defense personnel in South Korea as of March, 25,884 of them active-duty personnel, according to the latest update from the military’s Defense Manpower Data Center.
It was not clear what Trump meant by “82 years.” Korea was a unified country until the end of World War II in 1945, 74 years ago.
South Korea’s payments
“South Korea has agreed to pay substantially more money to the United States in order to defend itself from North Korea. Over the past many decades, the U.S. has been paid very little by South Korea, but last year, at the request of President Trump, South Korea paid $990,000,000.” — August 7 tweet
Facts First: While South Korea did agree earlier this year to pay more toward the expense of having US troops stationed there, Trump’s $990 million figure is inaccurate for both this year and last year.
In February, South Korea and the US signed a one-year deal for South Korea to pay 1.04 trillion won, or approximately $854 million US at Monday exchange rates, toward the cost of maintaining a US military presence in the country, an increase of approximately 8% from the previous annual amount. (The 1.04 trillion won was worth about $925 million US at exchange rates as of February.)
Negotiations over the division of costs for 2020 have yet to formally commence.
Influence over the House of Representatives
Question: “Mr. President, you expressed support for background checks after Parkland. Why is now different?” Trump: “Time goes by. I don’t think I’m different, but I think the Senate is different. I think other people in the House are different. I think that people that maybe had their arm up a couple of years ago, maybe they feel differently. I don’t think I feel any differently. I think with a lot of success that we have, I think I have a greater influence now over the Senate and over the House.” — August 9 exchange with reporters
Facts First: We give Trump wide latitude to express opinions, but this one is simply inaccurate. He does not have greater influence over the House of Representatives today, while it is under Democratic control, than he did in early 2018, while it was under Republican control.
Approval among Republicans
“I mean, I’m very fortunate. In the Republican Party, I’m at 94% approval rating, so that helps.” — August 9 exchange with reporters
Facts First: Trump is extremely popular with Republicans, but 94% is an exaggeration. We could not find a single recent poll where his approval rating with Republicans was 94% or higher.
Trump was at 89% with Republicans in a Gallup poll conducted from July 15 to July 31, 86% in an Ipsos poll conducted for Reuters from August 1 to 5, and 90% in a Quinnipiac University poll conducted July 25 to 28.
The “94%” figure has also been an exaggeration when he has made it in previous months.
China, trade and tariffs
“Now, China has had their worst year in 35 years now. It was in 26 years, but now it’s in 35 years.” — August 9 exchange with reporters
Facts First: China’s growth rate did not suddenly go from the worst in 26 years to the worst in 35 years. As was widely reported in July, its official GDP growth rate in the second quarter of 2019 was the worst in 27 years.
China’s official rate for the quarter, posted in July, was 6.2%, the lowest since 1992. Official Chinese figures are often inaccurate, but there is no evidence that “now it’s in 35 years.”
Derek Scissors, an expert on US economic relations with Asia at the conservative American Enterprise Institute think tank, said, “Twenty-six years is a reasonable claim by the President, 35 years isn’t.” He noted that the claim of 35 years skips over the 1989-to-1992 period in which China’s growth slowed after its 1989 crackdown on protests in Tiananmen Square.
China and currency manipulation
“So, we’re doing very well with China. We’re talking to China. We’re not ready to make a deal, but we’ll see what happens. But, you know, we’ve been hurt by China for 25, 30 years. Nobody has done anything about it. And we have no choice but to do what we’re doing. It’s working out very well, as you know. We called them on manipulation and they brought their numbers back, and they brought them back rapidly. And they were able to do that because they manipulate.” — August 9 exchange with reporters
Facts First: While the value of the Chinese yuan did not depreciate much further after the Trump administration designated it a currency manipulator last Monday, China did not bring the yuan “back” — at the time of Trump’s remarks, it was still trading lower than it was prior to the initial depreciation.
Last Monday, the yuan depreciated past the point of seven per US dollar for the first time since 2008. On Friday, the day of Trump’s remarks here, the official midpoint set by China’s central bank was still weaker than the 7-per-dollar level, though stronger than analysts had anticipated, CNBC reported.
Brad Setser, senior fellow for international economics at the Council on Foreign Relations, called Trump’s claim “inaccurate.” He said, “It’s true that the move (last) Monday wasn’t really replicated later in the week. A lot of people would say that’s because China didn’t intend for it to move down in a rapid way.”
Tariff aid payments to farmers
“Look, as I said, our people are not paying for these billions and billions of dollars that came in, $16 billion of which I gave to the farmers because they were targeted by China. And that’s just a small fraction of what we’ve taken in.” — August 9 exchange with reporters
Facts First: Trump’s aid for farmers affected by his tariff battle with China does not amount to a mere “small fraction” of the tariff revenue — revenue that, again, is coming from Americans. In fact, his $28 billion pledge to farmers exceeds the total tariff revenues as of last month.
The New York Times reported on July 15 that Trump’s tariffs on China had generated about $21 billion as of July 10. As Trump noted on August 2, he has promised a total of $28 billion in aid to farmers over the last two years; the $16 billion he was referring to here was the second of two announcements.
Who’s paying for Trump’s tariffs on China
“Based on the historic currency manipulation by China, it is now even more obvious to everyone that Americans are not paying for the Tariffs — they are being paid for compliments of China, and the U.S. is taking in tens of Billions of Dollars!” — August 5 tweet
“And I said, the American taxpayer is not paying for it. We had a big day in the stock market yesterday, but the American taxpayer is not paying for it.” — August 9 exchange with reporters
Facts First: American importers make the actual tariff payments, and economic studies have found that Americans, not people and companies in China, have borne most of the cost.
A March paper from economists at Columbia, Princeton and the New York Federal Reserve found that the “full incidence” of Trump’s tariffs have fallen on domestic companies and consumers, costing them $3 billion a month by the end of 2018. The paper also found that the tariffs led to a reduction in US income by $1.4 billion a month.
A separate academic paper also found that the tariffs led to higher consumer prices. It estimated that the tariffs will result in a $7.8 billion per year decline in income.
The White House’s Economic Report of the President also acknowledged that American consumers do pay some of the cost of these tariffs. Domestic producers, according to the report, benefit from price increases from the tariffs, but “offsetting these benefits are the costs paid by consumers in the form of higher prices and reduced consumption.”
Some Chinese suppliers might take on some of the burden of the tariff by reducing their prices to maintain a market in the United States, but these studies show that the burden heavily falls on US consumers and companies.
Asian American unemployment
“And I am the least racist person. Black, Hispanic and Asian Unemployment is the lowest (BEST) in the history of the United States!” — August 6 tweet
Facts First: Trump was accurate about the black and Hispanic unemployment rates, but not the rate for Asians.
We’ll ignore Trump’s subjective suggestion that low unemployment rates are a valid rebuttal against accusations that he has been racist in words and actions unrelated to the economy.
Black and Hispanic Americans are at roughly their lowest unemployment rates since the government began tracking employment statistics for them using its current methodology (in the early 1970s for black and Hispanic Americans, 2000 for Asians). Both were slightly lower earlier in Trump’s term, but he can still accurately say they have not been lower under a previous president.
“…Our problem is a Federal Reserve that is too proud to admit their mistake of acting too fast and tightening too much (and that I was right!). They must Cut Rates bigger and faster, and stop their ridiculous quantitative tightening NOW.” — August 7 tweet
“If they would stop quantitative tightening, we have a rocket ship. I mean, we’re doing well without it, but we’re being handcuffed by the Federal Reserve. If they would stop that, it would be incredible.” — August 9 exchange with reporters
Facts First: The Federal Reserve had already stopped the process of quantitative tightening at the time of Trump’s tweet and comments.
The Fed announced July 31 that it would stop shrinking its balance sheet as of August 1, two months ahead of schedule. Trump himself hailed this decision in a tweet on July 31: “As usual, (Chairman Jerome) Powell let us down, but at least he is ending quantitative tightening, which shouldn’t have started in the first place – no inflation.”
Former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s sentence
“I thought he was treated unbelievably unfairly. He was given close to 18 years in prison. And a lot of people thought it was unfair, like a lot of other things. ” And: “They put him in jail for 18 years, and he has many years left. And I think it’s very unfair.” — August 7 exchange with reporters
Facts First: Blagojevich was sentenced to 14 years in prison for corruption offenses, not 18 years.
Sentences for drug dealers
“So Rod Blagojevich — I am thinking very seriously about commuting his sentence so that he can go home to his family after seven years. You have drug dealers that get not even 30 days, and they’ve killed 25 people.” — August 7 exchange with reporters
Facts First: We could not find recent examples in which drug dealers who contributed to the deaths of numerous people were sentenced to fewer than 30 days in prison.
There might be a case somewhere in which exceptional circumstances produced an extremely short sentence for a prolific drug dealer, but we could not find any. A sentence of less than a month would be well outside of the norm even for a dealer not accused of contributing to two dozen deaths.
The website of the Drug Enforcement Administration lists recent sentences ranging from the dozens of months to many years for people convicted of trafficking heroin, fentanyl and other drugs.
The DEA doesn’t list every drug case around the country, but its list offers a rough idea of the kinds of sentences that are standard.
Blagojevich was convicted of corruption offenses in federal court. Many federal drug defendants — 45% in 2016 — are subject to mandatory minimum sentences. The average sentence for a drug defendant convicted in 2016 of an offense carrying a mandatory minimum was 94 months in prison. For drug offenders not convicted of an offense carrying a mandatory minimum penalty, it was 42 months.
Sherrod Brown, Nan Whaley and the hospital visit
“Just left Dayton, Ohio, where I met with the Victims & families, Law Enforcement, Medical Staff & First Responders. It was a warm & wonderful visit. Tremendous enthusiasm & even Love. Then I saw failed Presidential Candidate (0%) Sherrod Brown & Mayor Whaley totally misrepresenting what took place inside of the hospital. Their news conference after I left for El Paso was a fraud. It bore no resemblance to what took place with those incredible people that I was so lucky to meet and spend time with. They were all amazing!” — August 7 tweet
“The entire hospital — no different than what we had in El Paso — the entire hospital was — I mean, everybody was so proud of the job they did because they did a great job. They did a great job here. And then I said goodbye. I took them in, at their request. We made the tour. They couldn’t believe it. She (Whaley) said it to people. He (Brown) said it to people. I get on Air Force One, where they do have a lot of televisions. I turn on the television, and there they are, saying, ‘Well, I don’t know if it was appropriate for the President to be in…’ You know, et cetera, et cetera. You know, the same old line. And they’re very dishonest people…” — August 7 remarks before meeting with law enforcement personnel in El Paso
Facts First: Neither Brown nor Whaley said it was “inappropriate” for Trump to visit the hospital. They said Trump was respectfully and warmly received by patients and first responders.
In a joint press conference with Brown shortly after the hospital visit, Whaley did say it was good Trump was not visiting the district where the mass shooting happened, since people there were angry with him. And both Whaley and Brown criticized Trump’s past rhetoric, with Whaley calling it “divisive” and Brown calling it “racist.”
But they did not criticize anything about the hospital visit itself.
Our full article on this claim is here.
Sherrod Brown and the presidency
“Then I saw failed Presidential Candidate (0%) Sherrod Brown…” — August 7 tweet
“…He got, I think, about 0% and he failed as a presidential candidate” — August 7 remarks before meeting with law enforcement personnel in El Paso
Facts First: Brown has never been a candidate for president.
Brown, a Democratic senator for Ohio, did consider a presidential run, and he conducted a “listening tour” of key primary states in January and February, but he announced in March that he had decided against launching a campaign.
Beto O’Rourke’s crowd
“I was here three months ago, we made a speech…That place was packed, right?…That was some crowd…And then you had this crazy Beto. Beto had like 400 people in a parking lot, and they said his crowd was wonderful.” — August 7 remarks to medical staff at University Medical Center of El Paso
Facts First: Trump’s rally speech in El Paso was just under six months prior to these remarks, not three months prior. Also, well over 400 people attended O’Rourke’s competing speech on the same night.
We don’t have precise attendance numbers for O’Rourke’s speech on February 11, but it was clear from photos and videos that Trump’s “400” figure is not close to accurate. The Texas Tribune reported that “about 7,000 people went to see O’Rourke speak at the park, according to an aide, who cited law enforcement.”
We won’t take the unnamed aide’s word as gospel, but the real number was certainly higher than Trump’s estimate. PolitiFact reached the same conclusion: Trump grossly underestimated the turnout for O’Rourke.
O’Rourke also participated in an anti-Trump March for Truth before his speech, in which thousands participated. Jennifer Epstein of Bloomberg News reported at the time: “El Paso police estimate a crowd of 10,000 to 15,000 for the anti-Trump, anti-wall, pro-O’Rourke march and rally tonight.”
Trump had a capacity crowd of 6,500 at his El Paso rally, plus a large crowd outside.