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May 31, 2020

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Fact-checking Trump’s State of the Union

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President Donald Trump delivers his State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2020, as Vice President Mike Pence ad House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of Calif., listen.
President Donald Trump delivers his State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2020, as Vice President Mike Pence ad House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of Calif., listen. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky) Photo Gallery

WASHINGTON — The “great American comeback” President Donald Trump claimed in his State of the Union speech drew on falsehoods about U.S. energy supremacy, health care and the economy as well as distortions about his predecessor’s record.

In arguing, in essence, that he has made America great again, Trump took credit for an energy boom that actually began under Barack Obama in an assertion he recycled from his last State of the Union address. He inflated manufacturing gains, misrepresented policy on migrant detention and glossed over a rate of economic growth that has yet to reach the scale he promised.

A look at some of his statements Tuesday night and how they compare with the facts:

IMMIGRATION

TRUMP: “Before I came into office, if you showed up illegally on our southern border and were arrested, you were simply released and allowed into our country, never to be seen again. My administration has ended catch-and-release. If you come illegally, you will now be promptly removed.”

THE FACTS: Not true. Under previous administrations, Mexicans were quickly returned back over the U.S.-Mexico border, while others were held in detention until they were deported. Some migrants from other countries were released into the interior of the United States to wait out their immigration cases.

And despite Trump’s claims that all migrants are now “promptly” removed, there is a 1 million immigration court case backlog, which means many migrants wait up to three years before a court hearing before a judge who will determine whether someone is deported. And after a judge rules a migrant deported, travel papers must be obtained, which often leads to further delays.

As for ending “catch and release,” Trump actually expanded that policy last year during a surge in migrants, releasing thousands of migrants who flooded shelters along the border. The surge has since passed, so fewer people are being held and fewer would need to be released. But an effort by immigration officials to detain children indefinitely was blocked by a judge, so children are still released into the country.

OIL AND GAS

TRUMP: “Thanks to our bold regulatory reduction campaign, the United States has become the number one producer of oil and natural gas, anywhere in the world, by far.”

THE FACTS: Trump is taking credit for a U.S. oil and gas production boom that started under Obama. The U.S. Energy Information Administration says the U.S. has been the world’s top natural gas producer since 2009, top petroleum hydrocarbon producer since 2013, and top crude oil producer since 2018.

That’s owing to a U.S. shale boom that has driven production up since 2011, not to deregulation or any other new effort by the Trump administration.

JOBS and ECONOMY

TRUMP: “In eight years under the last administration, over 300,000 working-age people dropped out of the workforce. In just three years of my administration, 3.5 million working-age people have joined the workforce.”

THE FACTS: Trump is being misleading with numbers to tarnish his predecessor’s record. It’s not clear what he means by “working-age.” But the total size of the U.S. labor force shows that the president is just wrong.

During the eight years of Barack Obama’s presidency, the labor force rose by 5.06 million, according to the Labor Department. The improvement reflected a rebounding economy from the Great Recession and population growth.

As the unemployment rate has fallen, more people are finding it attractive to work and joining the labor force. This has enabled the labor force to climb by an impressive 4.86 million in three years under Trump.

TRUMP: “The USMCA will create nearly 100,000 new high-paying American auto jobs, and massively boost exports for our farmers, ranchers and factory workers.”

THE FACTS: The president is exaggerating.

The U.S. International Trade Commission examined the deal with Canada and Mexico in an April report. The report estimated that the deal would add 28,000 auto industry jobs six years after the deal is implemented. Separately, government officials are quoted in the report saying they believe the sector would add 76,000 jobs based on their methodology.

It’s still not the 100,000 jobs claimed by Trump.

TRUMP: “From the instant I took office, I moved rapidly to revive the U.S. economy — slashing a record number of job killing-regulations, enacting historic and record-setting tax cuts, and fighting for fair and reciprocal trade agreements.

THE FACTS: The U.S. economy indeed is healthy, but it’s had plenty of hiccups during the Trump administration.

Trump never quite managed to achieve the liftoff he promised during the 2016 election. Instead, gains have largely followed along the same lines of an expansion that started more than a decade ago under Obama.

Total economic growth last year was 2.3 percent. That is roughly in line with the average gains achieved after the Great Recession — and a far cry from growth of as much 3 percent, 4 percent or more that Trump told voters he could deliver.

The tax cuts did temporarily boost growth in 2018 as deficit spending increased. But the administration claimed its tax plan would increase business investment in ways that could fuel lasting growth. For the past three quarters, business investment has instead declined.

It’s too soon to judge the impact of the updated trade agreement with Mexico and Canada as well as the pact with China. But Trump premised his economic policy on wiping out the trade gap. Instead, the trade deficit has worsened under Trump.

DRUG PRICES

TRUMP: “For the first time in 51 years, the cost of prescription drugs actually went down.”

THE FACTS: Prices for prescription drugs have edged down, but that is driven by declines for generics. Prices for brand-name medications are still going up, although more moderately.

Nonpartisan government experts at the Department of Health and Human Services reported last year that prices for pharmacy prescriptions went down by 1 percent in 2018, the first such price drop in 45 years.

The department said the last time retail prescription drug prices declined was in 1973, when they went down by 0.2 percent.

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