Fact check: What Trump said (and didn't) during his State of the Union address

  • In Business
  • 2019-02-06 04:04:06Z

WASHINGTON - President Donald Trump used his second State of the Union address on Tuesday to push the familiar themes of his administration - urging a wall along the border with Mexico, pressing for an end to foreign wars and claiming credit for an expanding economy - using familiar arguments. Not all of them were true.

Trump told lawmakers he wanted them to build a border wall, suggested they had already voted to do it, and argued it would cut crime. He said the U.S. economy was growing at a record rate, and claimed progress with foreign adversaries and allies alike. The speech largely built on claims Trump and his administration have been making for months, some true, some exaggerated and some simply false.

Some of his claims were not specific - that the U.S. economy is the "hottest economy anywhere in the world" and that he had achieved "impossible" manufacturing job growth - but others were more specific. Here's how his biggest claims stack up:

Immigration and the border wall

Trump said the "lawless state of our southern border" is a threat to Americans' safety and well being. He said he was asking lawmakers to "defend our very dangerous" border.

Still, studies have found that immigrants (legal and undocumented) commit crimes at a lower rate than native-born Americans.

Similarly, Trump sought to rally support for a border wall by noting that a barrier "immediately" changed El Paso, Texas, from one of the most dangerous in the country to one of the safest. The city's crime rate actually plummeted before the wall was built there, with violent crime dropping 62 percent from 1993 to 2007 - a year before construction of the fence began there.

Trump introduced a new claim during his speech, saying he wants immigrants to come to the country "in the largest numbers ever" so long as they do so legally. But his administration has tried to cut off many avenues of legal immigration, reduced the overall number of immigrants the United States accepts, and administration sought to put new limits on immigrants' ability to claim asylum in the U.S.

In Trump's first two years in office, his administration admitted 52,320 refugees compared to 99,183 refugees admitted during President Barack Obama's final year in office alone, according to State Department data. During Trump's tenure, fewer foreigners have received visas and been approved for legal permanent residency. And just last week, the American Immigration Lawyers Association released a report that found a 46 percent increase in the time it takes U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to process requests for visas, citizenship, work authorization, and humanitarian protection, an increase deemed "crisis level" according to the nonpartisan group.

Trump also lamented the toll illegal drugs have taken in the United States. He correctly noted that the majority of illegal drugs enter the United States across the border with Mexico. But he left out the fact that most of those drugs enter through ports of entry, not the vast stretches in between where he wants to build a border wall.

To deal with that, he called on Congress to build a wall along the border, and suggested lawmakers had already voted to do so. Trump said Congress approved a border wall, but claimed it "never got built." The Secure Fence Act of 2006 called for 700 miles of fencing and more than 650 miles of that was erected, according to the Government Accountability Office.

The economy

Trump began his speech by touting the strength of the national economy. While many parts of the economy are stronger than he took office - more people have jobs and their wages are higher - some of the claims were exaggerated.

Overall, Trump said the economy is growing almost twice as fast as when he took office. It's expected to grow about 3 percent this year compared to 1.6 percent in 2016.

Trump characterized that growth as an unprecedented economic boom. It's not. The U.S. economy is estimated to have grown about 3 percent this year. That's the most only since 2005. And it was generated by a tax cut and government spending that's swelling the deficit - a rare stimulus during a strong economy.

Nor was U.S. economic growth the world's fastest. Last year, it did grow faster than other advanced economies, such as Europe and Japan. But emerging markets grew faster. China grew 6.5 percent last year.

Similarly, Trump said the economy had generated 5.3 million new jobs. Since January 2017, 4.9 million nonfarm jobs have been created. And he said his administration had helped create 600,000 new manufacturing jobs, "something which almost everyone said was impossible to do." In fact, since January 2017, the economy has added about 454,000 manufacturing jobs, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The overall job gains nonetheless rival those during those in the last two years of Obama's administration, but they come at a time when unemployment is lower and there are fewer qualified workers available. And the manufacturing job gains represent the strongest two-year advance since the 1980s.

Trump said more people are working than at any time in history - 157 million. The number he cited is correct, but it's partly the result of population growth. The share of Americans in the labor force is 63.2 percent, down from about 67 percent in 2000.

Trump hailed the benefits of an expanding economy. He pointed out, correctly, that more women are in the workforce now than ever before, with 76.7 million by January, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. But part of that growth follows general population growth. The participation of women in the workforce has dropped in recent years, to about 57.5 percent, compared to about 60 percent in 2000.

And Trump said unemployment has reached the lowest rate in half a century. It did for most of the second half of last year, hitting 3.7 percent, though it ticked up to 4 percent in January, largely as a result of the partial shutdown of the federal government.

Trump also said wages are rising at the fastest pace in decades. The 3.1 percent annual average wage increase in January is the fastest since 2009.

And Trump urged lawmakers to approve overhauled trade agreements. He said the U.S. Treasury is taking in billions in tariffs from China. Much of those $250 billion in tariffs, however, is being absorbed by American companies or passed to American consumers.

Foreign affairs

Trump reprised complaints that members of the NATO alliance had been treating the United States unfairly by not paying enough for the defense pact. He took credit for getting NATO allies "to pay their fair share" and said his administration had secured a $100 billion increase in defense spending from NATO allies. NATO's secretary general has said member countries would spend an additional $100 billion on defense by the end of next year. The pressure on NATO members began before Trump took office, in 2014, when NATO members agreed to increase their defense spending to 2 percent of their gross domestic product over 10 years.

Trump said North Korea has stopped nuclear tests and has not launched a missile in 15 months. That's correct. North Korea last launched an intercontinental ballistic missile in November 2017 and conducted its sixth nuclear test in September 2017. Some experts say the regime no longer needs to conduct such tests because of advances in its nuclear weapons program.

And Trump said he is pursuing negotiations to end the war in Afghanistan, one of the "endless" wars he said have cost the United States $7 trillion. He did not say what time period that figure covers. A 2018 PolitiFact analysis concluded the U.S. had spent closer to $2 trillion on wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

At the same time, he took credit for military gains in Iraq and Syria. Trump said ISIS controlled more than 20,000 square miles in Iraq and Syria when he took office and that virtually all that territory has now been liberated. The extremist group only controls a sliver of land, but it still commands thousands of fighters in Iraq and Syria, and has a broad network of supporters around the world. Trump has continued a global campaign to fight ISIS started in the Obama administration.

Trump also said his decision to withdraw from an agreement with Iran meant to limit its nuclear program would ensure that "this corrupt dictatorship never acquires nuclear weapons." But Iran's ongoing compliance with that agreement, despite the U.S. withdrawal, is what's keeping Iran pursuing a nuclear weapon - for now. U.S. intelligence agencies concluded in a public assessment this year that "Iran is not currently undertaking the key nuclear weapons-development activities we judge necessary to produce a nuclear device."

Veterans issues

Trump took credit "historic VA reforms." A law allowing veterans to go to private doctors if the VA couldn't meet their needs or if they had to wait too long was passed in 2014, during the Obama administration. The president signed a new version of the law expanding the program and making it permanent in 2018.

Trump also said he signed a law allowing the VA to terminate employees who mistreat veterans. He signed a law in 2017 making it easier to fire VA employees. GAO found last year that VA previously had "not consistently ensured" that senior officials were held accountable

Contributing: Paul Davidson, Alan Gomez, Brad Heath, Bart Jansen, Deirdre Shesgreen and Donovan Slack of USA TODAY; Daniel Gonzalez, Michael Squires, Josh Susong and Dennis Wagner of The Arizona Republic.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Fact check: What Trump said (and didn't) during his State of the Union address


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