FACT CHECK: Trump on trade, guns, White House morale
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WASHINGTON — Despite grappling with unparalleled staff departures, President Donald Trump painted a rosy picture of a smoothly functioning administration getting things done, pushing along gun restrictions and bringing jobs to the United States. It made for another series of grandiose claims this past week.
Speaking at Cabinet meeting, Trump falsely proclaimed background checks were moving through Congress in response to the Florida school shooting and wrongly insisted that NATO countries were “delinquent” by not paying their fair share in a military alliance with the U.S.
All of that helped cap a week in which he misrepresented his effort to create jobs for American workers as part of an announcement on new trade penalties and deflected blame onto former President Barack Obama for Russian activities in the U.S. election.
A look at the rhetoric:
Trump: “Background checks are moving along in Congress, and, I think, moving along pretty well.” — Cabinet meeting Thursday.
The facts: There’s been plenty of talk of gun restrictions, but legislation is far from moving along “pretty well.” Action on background checks is stalled due in part to Trump’s shifting positions. After the school shooting, Trump called for stricter gun laws and hinted at support for a more sweeping background check bill backed by Sens. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., and Joe Manchin, D-W.Va. But after Trump met with the National Rifle Association, the White House said Trump backs narrower background checks.
Trump’s changing views have left Republicans divided in the Senate, where the party maintains a 51-49 majority. Without a clear path forward, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has shelved the gun debate for now. He had been preparing to push ahead with the narrower measure proposed by Sens. John Cornyn, R-Texas, and Chris Murphy, D-Conn., to strengthen the existing background check system. That bill has stalled amid objections from some Republicans who view it as an infringement on gun owners’ rights and Democrats, led by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York, who say the bill does not go far enough.
Trump, on NATO countries: “Some owe billions and billions of dollars of money. They owe billions and billions from past years. Never paid it, and that’s not fair. They want us to protect, and they want us to be a good partner. And then they’re delinquent on payment or they haven’t made payments. Or they haven’t made payments which are fair.” — Cabinet meeting Thursday.
The facts: Most of that is flat wrong. NATO countries do not owe anything to the alliance. They’re not delinquent on payments. There’s no dispute about “payments.”
The issue is how much NATO countries spend on their own armed forces. Trump wants them to increase their military budgets to relieve some of the burden of collective defense borne by the U.S., which spends more on its armed forces than other NATO members combined. So a case can be made that those countries have not contributed a “fair” share.
Although he takes credit for persuading NATO partners to spend more, the results are not yet clear. They agreed in 2014, well before he became president, to stop cutting military spending, and have honored that. They also agreed then to a goal of moving “toward” spending 2 percent of their gross domestic product on their own defense by 2024. Most are short of that and the target is not ironclad.
Trump: “You know, I read where, ‘Oh, gee, maybe people don’t want to work for Trump.’ And believe me, everybody wants to work in the White House. They all want a piece of that Oval Office; they want a piece of the West Wing. And not only in terms of it looks great on their resume; it’s just a great place to work. …I have a choice of anybody.” — remarks Tuesday in news conference with Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven.
The facts: No, not compared with previous presidents. In Trump’s first year, the turnover rate among his administration’s upper-level officials was 34 percent. That’s higher than any other president in the past 40 years, according to an analysis by Kathryn Dunn-Tenpas of the Brookings Institution. The turnover rate in the first year for the top staff of Presidents Bill Clinton and Obama, for instance, were three times lower than Trump’s, at 11 percent and 9 percent, respectively.
Trump’s turnover rate for top staff has since gone up from his one-year mark because of recent departures. It’s 43 percent as of Wednesday, according to Brookings. Among the latest departures: economic adviser Gary Cohn, deputy communications director Josh Raffel and communications director Hope Hicks, the third person to hold that post in the Trump administration.
Trump: “You see it — the other day, Chrysler announced they’re leaving Mexico, they’re coming back into Michigan with a big plant. You haven’t seen that in a long time, folks.” — remarks Thursday announcing steep new tariffs on steel and aluminum imports to U.S.
The facts: This oft-repeated claim by Trump to suggest he is bringing jobs back to the U.S. is not entirely true. Chrysler did announce it will move production of heavy-duty pickup trucks from Mexico to Michigan, but the plant is not closing in Mexico. That plant will start producing other commercial vehicles for global sales and no change in its workforce is anticipated.
Trump: “From Bush 1 to present, our Country has lost more than 55,000 factories, 6,000,000 manufacturing jobs and accumulated Trade Deficits of more than 12 Trillion Dollars. Last year we had a Trade Deficit of almost 800 Billion Dollars. Bad Policies & Leadership. Must WIN again!” — tweet Wednesday.
The facts: Trump persistently misrepresents the trade balance. The U.S. trade deficit last year was $566 billion, not almost $800 billion. He cites only the deficit in goods, ignoring the surplus in services.
The U.S. in 2017 bought $810 billion more in foreign goods than other countries bought from the U.S., says the Census Bureau. That deficit in goods was offset by a $244 billion trade surplus in services such as transportation, computer and financial services, royalties and military and government contracts.
As for manufacturing, Trump leaves out what is widely regarded as the main reason for the decline in factory jobs — automation and other efficiencies. Trade is certainly a factor as well.
He’s in the ballpark when referring to how many factory jobs have been lost since January 1989, when George H.W. Bush became president: 5.5 million, according to the Labor Department. What he doesn’t say is that despite the loss of those 5.5 million factory jobs, the U.S. economy overall has added a net total of about 40.6 million jobs in that time.
Trump: “If the E.U. wants to further increase their already massive tariffs and barriers on U.S. companies doing business there, we will simply apply a Tax on their Cars which freely pour into the U.S. They make it impossible for our cars (and more) to sell there. Big trade imbalance!” — tweet March 3.
The facts: He’s wrong that automakers can’t sell U.S.-made cars in Europe while European cars come into the U.S. “freely.” He’s right about a big imbalance, but exaggerating. The EU applies a 10 percent duty on cars made in the U.S. The U.S. applies a 2.5 percent duty on cars made in Europe. The U.S. Census Bureau shows $13.8 billion in U.S. auto and parts exports last year to four leading markets in Europe while the U.S. imported $51.3 billion in vehicles and from five countries in Europe.
Trump: “Why did the Obama Administration start an investigation into the Trump Campaign (with zero proof of wrongdoing) long before the Election in November? Wanted to discredit so Crooked H would win. Unprecedented. Bigger than Watergate!” — tweet Monday.
The facts: Despite his conspiratorial tone, it’s not unusual for investigations to start without proof. They tend to start with suspicions.
Criminal charges brought in the past six months suggest that by July 2016, when the FBI opened its counterintelligence investigation into Russia and the Trump campaign, there were indeed reasons for law enforcement to be concerned.
By that point, for instance, a foreign policy adviser to the Trump campaign, George Papadopoulos, had learned that the Russians believed they had “dirt” on Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton in the form of thousands of emails. Papadopoulos has pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his contacts with people who claimed a relationship with Russian officials.
No evidence has emerged that Obama used this matter to try to help Clinton in the election. Obama has actually been faulted — by some Democrats and by Trump himself in this same tweet — for not doing enough about the level of Russian interference he was being briefed about.
For example, the FBI did not disclose the Russia-Trump campaign investigation before the election. If it had, that might have played to the advantage of Clinton, while exposing Obama to accusations of manipulation. Trump is accusing him of that anyway.
Trump: “Plus, Obama did NOTHING about Russian meddling.” — same tweet, Monday.
The facts: Not so. Obama appears to have done more about Russian meddling than Trump has done.
Before the election, Obama made public the discovery that emails of the Democratic National Committee and Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta had been hacked by Russian-linked players and he warned about the risk of compromised balloting in the November election.
After the election, Obama expelled 35 Russian diplomats suspected of being intelligence officers and seized two Russian country estates, in Maryland and New York, that the State Department said were used for intelligence activities.
The Trump administration has not yet penalized any Russian officials for interfering in the 2016 election. Trump has only fitfully acknowledged Russian meddling. Mike Rogers, director of the National Security Agency and the U.S. Cyber Command, recently told lawmakers that he had yet to be given authority to strike at Moscow’s cyber operations as this year’s U.S. midterm elections approach.
Associated Press writers Christopher Rugaber, Josh Boak and Eric Tucker in Washington and Tom Krisher in Detroit contributed to this report.