FACT CHECK: GOP taps distortions to heap praise on Trump
An AP Fact Check finds that important context was missing when Republicans stepped up to praise President Donald Trump for his judgment on world affairs and handling of the economy at their convention Tuesday night.
WASHINGTON — Eric Trump echoed falsehoods of his father, Melania Trump credited her husband with a dubious religious first, and the president’s economic adviser wholly distorted the conditions Donald Trump inherited as Republicans stepped up to praise him at their national convention Tuesday.
Crucial context was missing at various parts of the evening, as when Secretary of State Mike Pompeo addressed Trump’s jousting with China and North Korea and others weighed in on Trump’s judgment in world affairs.
A look at rhetoric from the second night of the virtual Republican National Convention:
MELANIA TRUMP: “He’s the first president to address a special session of the United Nations General Assembly to call upon countries across the world to end religious persecution and honor the right of every person to worship as they choose.”
CISSIE GRAHAM LYNCH, evangelist and granddaughter of Billy Graham: “On the world stage, President Trump became the first president to talk about the importance of religious freedom at the United Nations, giving hope to people of faith around the world.”
THE FACTS: No, Trump is certainly not the first U.S. president to address the United Nations General Assembly about religious freedom. President Barack Obama did so, discussing religious tolerance and liberty during a speech to the assembly Sept. 25, 2012. Several predecessors did so as well.
“We not only respect the freedom of religion, we have laws that protect individuals from being harmed because of how they look or what they believe,” Obama said in his remarks, which focused on an anti-Muslim film that had touched off violent protests in the Middle East. “Like me, the majority of Americans are Christian and yet we do not ban blasphemy against our most sacred beliefs.”
Last year Trump was host for a U.N. meeting devoted to religious freedom, and boasted at the time that he was the first to convene such a meeting at the U.N. But contrary to the impression created by the first lady and the evangelist, he was not at all the first American president to make a case for religious liberty to the General Assembly.
LARRY KUDLOW, Trump economic adviser: Trump was ”inheriting a stagnant economy on the front end of recession,” and under the president, “the economy was rebuilt in three years.”
THE FACTS: This is false. The economy was healthy when Trump arrived at the White House.
Even if the recovery from the 2008 financial crisis was agonizingly slow, Trump took office with unemployment at a low 4.7%, steady job growth and a falling federal budget deficit. The longest expansion in U.S. history began in the middle of 2009 and continued until the start of the year, spanning both the Barack Obama and Trump presidencies.
The U.S. economy did benefit from Trump’s 2017 tax cuts with a jump in growth in 2018, but the budget deficit began to climb as a result of the tax breaks that favored companies and the wealthy in hopes of permanently expanding the economy.
Annual growth during Obama’s second term averaged about 2.3%. Trump notched a slightly better 2.5% during his first three years, but the country swung into recession this year because of the coronavirus and will probably leave Trump with an inferior track record to his predecessor over four years.
MIKE POMPEO, Secretary of State: “The president has held China accountable for covering up the China virus and allowing it to spread death and economic destruction in America and around the world.”
THE FACTS: That’s misleading. In his videotaped remarks from Israel, Pompeo failed to mention Trump’s initial personal affinity and repeated praise for Chinese leader Xi Jinping as he publicly extolled the country’s handling of the coronavirus early on.
In a CNBC interview on Jan. 22, for instance, Trump was asked if he trusted information from China about the coronavirus. “I do,” Trump said. “I have a great relationship with President Xi.”
Two days later, he was even more effusive. “China has been working very hard to contain the Coronavirus,” he tweeted. “The United States greatly appreciates their efforts and transparency. It will all work out well. …I want to thank President Xi!”
Trump kept up the compliments when asked several times in February about whether data from China, where the virus originated, can be trusted. He called Xi “extremely capable” and said he’s “doing a very good job with a very, very tough situation.”
His praise only faded when the pandemic hit hard in the U.S. and his administration’s response stumbled. He then became quick to blame China for what he started calling the “China virus.”
POMPEO: “He has ended ridiculously unfair trade deals with China that punched a hole in our economy.”
THE FACTS: That, too, is misleading. Whatever the weaknesses of the trade deals Trump inherited, it’s become clear that what he negotiated instead is not a gamechanger.
The trade war that Trump escalated with China caused several self-inflicted wounds. Farmers and factories were part of the collateral damage from the volley of tariffs as the two largest countries in the world jockeyed for an edge.
It’s still too soon to judge the limited agreement reached by Trump as a triumph or a flop.
China committed to buy an additional $200 billion in American goods above 2017 levels by the end of 2021 in what was initially a truce against further aggression. Yet the deal lacked meaningful progress on support that China gives its state-owned companies, a key problem for the United States. The global pandemic also means that trade volumes have fallen, making it harder for China to meet its target for American-made goods. “It appears that President Trump accepted an IOU as a declaration of victory,” analysts at the Brookings Institution concluded.
SEN. RAND PAUL: “Joe Biden voted for the Iraq war, which President Trump has long called the worst geopolitical mistake of our generation.”
THE FACTS: Trump had no more foresight on this matter than Biden. Neither was against it when it started.
When asked during a Sept. 11, 2002, radio interview if he would support an Iraq invasion, Trump responded, “Yeah, I guess so.” The next month, Biden as a senator voted to authorize George W. Bush to use force in Iraq.
The next March, just days after the U.S. launched its invasion, Trump said it “looks like a tremendous success from a military standpoint.”
It wasn’t until September 2003 that Trump first publicly raised doubts about the invasion, saying “a lot of people (are) questioning the whole concept of going in in the first place.” In November 2005, Biden called his Senate vote to authorize force a mistake.
ERIC TRUMP: “My father rebuilt the mighty American military — added new jets, aircraft carriers.”
THE FACTS: That’s an exaggeration.
It’s true that his administration has accelerated a sharp buildup in defense spending, including a respite from what the U.S. military considered to be crippling spending limits under budget sequestration.
But a number of new Pentagon weapons programs, such as the F-35 fighter jet, were started years before the Trump administration. And it will take years for freshly ordered tanks, planes and other weapons to be built, delivered and put to use.
The Air Force’s Minuteman 3 missiles, a key part of the U.S. nuclear force, for instance, have been operating since the early 1970s and the modernization was begun under the Obama administration. They are due to be replaced with a new version, but not until later this decade.
ERIC TRUMP, on his father: “He increased wages for our incredible men and women in uniform.”
THE FACTS: Yes, but military pay has been raised every year for decades, and the raises under Trump have been smaller compared with past years.
ERIC TRUMP: “Biden has pledged to defund the police.”
THE FACTS: False. Biden has made no such pledge.
He’s rejected calls from some on the left to defund the police, proposing more money for departments to improve their practices. His agenda includes federal money for training to “avert tragic, unjustifiable deaths” and hiring more officers to ensure police departments reflect the populations they serve. He’s proposed $300 million in federal community policing grants.
KENTUCKY ATTORNEY GENERAL DANIEL CAMERON: “On the economy: Joe Biden couldn’t do it, but President Trump did build an economy that worked for everyone, especially minorities.”
THE FACTS: Not accurate.
Republicans can talk successfully about the decline in unemployment rates for Black and Hispanic workers. But that’s just one gauge — and plenty of troubles and inequalities abound for minorities. Minority groups still lagged behind white people with regard to incomes, wealth and home ownership before the pandemic. But when the disease struck, it became clear that the economy did not work well for everybody as the job losses and infections disproportionately hit minorities.
Black unemployment now stands at 14.6%. Hispanic unemployment is 12.9%. The white unemployment rate is 9.2%. For every dollar of total wealth held by white households, Blacks have just 5 cents, according to the Federal Reserve. It’s 4 cents for Hispanics.
ERIC TRUMP: The president slashed taxes and “wages went through the roof.”
THE FACTS: Not quite. Wage growth did improve, but there is clearly still a roof on workers’ incomes.
The 2017 tax cuts appear unlikely to deliver on their promised pay increases. White House economists argued that incomes would surge by at least $4,000 because of the lower corporate tax rate. That has yet to occur and seems unlikely given the current recession.
But average hourly wages did improve to a 3.5% annual gain by February 2019, much better than the 2.7% annual gain in December 2016 before Trump became president. The problem was that wage growth then began to slip through the end of last year despite the steady hiring. Wage gains only accelerated again with the pandemic and layoffs of millions of poor workers that artificially raised average wages.
What workers have yet to see is a meaningful change in the distribution of income. More than half of total household income goes to the top 20% of earners, according to the Census Bureau. Their share has increased slightly under Trump with data that is current through 2018. The bottom 20% of earners get just 3.1% of total income, just as they did before Trump’s presidency.
POMPEO: “The president lowered the temperature and, against all odds, got North Korean leadership to the table. No nuclear tests, no long range missile tests and Americans held captive in North Korea came home to their families, as did the precious remains of scores of our heroes who fought in Korea.”
THE FACTS: This statement leaves out the fact that Trump helped raise the temperature before he helped lower it.
Trump has often told the story that his predecessor, President Barack Obama, warned him North Korea was the gravest immediate threat to the country. Indeed in the early months of Trump’s presidency, North Korea was heightening tensions with nuclear and long-range missile tests. Trump responded by dialing up belligerent rhetoric, threatening North Korea with “fire and fury” and nicknaming North Korean leader Kim Jong Un “little rocket man.”
Tensions grew to such extremes that at points some experts were actually concerned about tit-for-tat nuclear strikes if not all-out war.
The temperature began to cool when Pompeo became secretary of state, the North released three American prisoners, agreed to repatriate the remains of U.S. servicemen killed during the Korean war and the first of Trump’s three meetings with Kim was held in Singapore.
But while the North has not resumed nuclear or long-range missile tests, it has stepped up activity at its atomic facilities. Negotiations with the U.S. on its weapons programs have been stalled since October.
POMPEO: “Today, because of the president’s determination and leadership, the ISIS caliphate is wiped out.”
THE FACTS: His claim of a 100% defeat is misleading as the Islamic State group still poses a threat.
IS was defeated in Iraq in 2017, then lost the last of its land holdings in Syria in March 2019, marking the end of the extremists’ self-declared caliphate. Still, extremist sleeper cells have continued to launch attacks in Iraq and Syria in recent weeks and are believed to be responsible for targeted killings against local officials and members of the Syrian Democratic Forces.
The recent resurgence of attacks is a sign that the militant group is taking advantage of governments otherwise focused on the pandemic and the ensuing slide into economic chaos. The virus is compounding longtime concerns among security and U.N. experts that the group will stage a comeback.
Defense Secretary Mark Esper has said the U.S. fight against the group was continuing.
CRIS PETERSON, from a Wisconsin dairy family: “Our entire economy and dairy farming are once again roaring back. One person deserves the credit and our vote, President Donald J. Trump.”
THE FACTS: Not everyone in the dairy industry views it as booming, especially as larger operations are putting smaller family farms out of business.
The Agriculture Department reported this summer that “dairy herds fell by more than half between 2002 and 2019, with an accelerating rate of decline in 2018 and 2019, even as milk production continued to grow.”
Part of the problem is that smaller farms face higher production costs. Farms with more than 2,000 cattle are more likely for their sales to exceed their total costs, while smaller farms are more likely to operate at a loss by this metric, according to government figures.