Fact Check: Trump’s Swerves on Economy, Guns and Migrants
A recap, also covering fuel economy standards and judges
President Donald Trump can't seem to get his facts straight when it comes to Barack Obama.
From the economy to veterans and immigration, Trump routinely claims achievements of the former president as fully his own or distorts the truth to undermine the Democrat's legacy. On problems uniquely his own, Trump deflects.
This past week was no different.
U.S. & World
Fresh off vacation in Bedminster, New Jersey, and mindful of the 2020 campaign, Trump insisted that economists don't believe his trade disputes with China could spur recession even though most analysts believe a downturn could start in the next two years. He also claimed progress on veterans' health care under his watch that didn't happen and blamed Obama for a policy of separating migrant children from their parents that he himself started.
Trump repeatedly pointed to mental illness, not access to guns, as a main culprit behind the recent mass shootings in Texas and Ohio. That's oversimplifying the issue.
A recap, also covering fuel economy standards and judges:
TRUMP: "I don't think we're having a recession. We're doing tremendously well ... And most economists actually say that we're not going to have a recession." — remarks Sunday to reporters in Morristown, New Jersey.
THE FACTS: Actually, most economists — about 74% — do expect a recession in the U.S. by the end of 2021.
The economists surveyed by the National Association for Business Economics mostly didn't share Trump's optimistic outlook for the economy. Thirty-four percent of the economists said they believe a slowing economy will tip into recession in 2021. That's compares with 25% in the February survey.
An additional 38% of those polled predicted that recession will occur next year, down slightly from 42% in February. An additional 2% of those polled expect a recession to begin this year.
The 226 economists responding work mainly for corporations and trade associations.
The economists have previously expressed concern that Trump's tariffs and higher budget deficits could eventually slow the economy.
The Trump administration has imposed tariffs on goods from many key U.S. trading partners, from China and Europe to Mexico and Canada. Officials maintain that the tariffs, which are taxes on imports, will help the administration gain more favorable terms of trade. But U.S. trading partners have also retaliated with tariffs of their own.
TRUMP: "The Economy is doing really well. The Federal Reserve can easily make it Record Setting! The question is being asked, why are we paying much more in interest than Germany and certain other countries?" — tweet Thursday.
TRUMP: "Germany sells 30 year bonds offering negative yields. Germany competes with the USA. Our Federal Reserve does not allow us to do what we must do. They put us at a disadvantage against our competition." — tweet Thursday.
THE FACTS: Trump misrepresents the impact of Federal Reserve policies and is mistaken about Germany's economy, suggesting that it enjoys some kind of advantage. In fact, the negative yields are a sign of that economy's weakness.
The German economy shrank in the previous quarter and there are expectations from investment banks that Germany soon could fall into a recession. Nor is the phenomenon isolated to Germany. Japan and much of Europe are also struggling with interest rates on government debt that are negative or close to negative.
Investors are betting that stimulus efforts by the European Central Bank will keep rates persistently low. But the negative interest rates on German bonds also reflect that government's aversion to issuing debt, even though the borrowing would allow it to spend more on roads and bridges to spur stronger economic growth.
By having even slightly positive interest rates compared to the rest of the world, the United States is in a better position to attract global investment.
TRUMP: "My administration has worked aggressively to boost veterans employment, and we're setting records. ... Veterans unemployment has reached the lowest level ever recorded." — remarks Wednesday at AMVETS convention in Louisville, Kentucky.
THE FACTS: It's true that the unemployment rate for veterans fell to 2.3% in April, matching the low set in May 2000 under President Bill Clinton. But this figure is volatile on a monthly basis, not adjusted for seasonal changes, and has since risen. The figure stood at 3.4% in July, according to the Labor Department.
Veterans' unemployment has fallen mostly for the same reasons that joblessness has dropped generally: strong hiring and steady economic growth over the past decade dating to the Obama administration.
TRUMP: "President Obama had separation. I'm the one that brought them together. This new rule will do even more to bring them together. But it was President Obama that had the separation." — remarks Wednesday to reporters.
THE FACTS: Trump is distorting the truth. The separation of thousands of migrant children from their parents resulted from his "zero tolerance" policy. Obama had no such policy. After a public outcry and a court order, Trump generally ceased the practice and largely reunited families his policy had driven apart.
Zero tolerance meant that U.S. authorities would criminally prosecute all adults caught crossing into the U.S. illegally. Doing so meant detention for adults and the removal of their children while their parents were in custody. During the Obama administration, such family separations were the exception. They became the practice under Trump's policy, which he suspended a year ago.
His administration is now moving to end an agreement limiting how long migrant children can be kept in detention. The new rules being adopted by the Homeland Security Department seek to keep families together by holding children in detention longer than the generally held limit of 20 days set by a federal court settlement.
Before Trump's zero-tolerance policy, migrant families caught illegally entering the U.S. were usually referred for civil deportation proceedings, not requiring separation, unless they were known to have a criminal record. Then and now, immigration officials may take a child from a parent in certain cases, such as serious criminal charges against a parent, concerns over the health and welfare of a child or medical concerns.
TRUMP, on prospects for gun control after mass shootings in Texas and Ohio: "We have very, very strong background checks right now. ... And we're looking at different things. And I have to tell you that it is a mental problem. And I've said it a hundred times: It's not the gun that pulls the trigger; it's the person that pulls the trigger." — remarks Tuesday with Romania's president.
TRUMP: "I don't want people to forget that this is a mental health problem. ... Just remember this: Big mental problem, and we do have a lot of background checks right now." — remarks Sunday to reporters in Morristown, New Jersey.
THE FACTS: He's oversimplifying the role of mental illness in public mass shootings and playing down the ease with which Americans can get firearms.
Most people with mental illness are not violent and they are far more likely to be victims of violent crime than perpetrators, according to mental health experts. They say that access to firearms actually is a big part of the problem.
Arthur Evans, chief executive officer of the American Psychological Association, said that red flag laws urged by Trump, which are also known as extreme risk protection orders, are a worthwhile step. Seventeen states and the District of Columbia have such laws, according to the nonprofit Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence; some have used the laws to temporarily disarm people who have threatened violence.
But Evans and others said assigning too much blame to those with mental illness adds to stigma that keeps people from getting treatment.
A country's rate of gun ownership is a far better predictor of public mass shootings than indicators of mental illness, said Adam Lankford, a University of Alabama criminologist who published a 2016 analysis of data from 171 countries.
"The key of what's going on here is access to guns for people who are dangerous or disturbed," Lankford said. Red flag laws make it easier to disarm people believed to be a danger to themselves or others, "but sometimes there are not clear warning signs or those signs are not reported to the authorities until after an attack," he said.
Last month, the U.S. Secret Service released a report on mass public attacks in 2018, finding that "no single profile" can be used "to predict who will engage in targeted violence" and "mental illness, alone, is not a risk factor."
TRUMP: "The Legendary Henry Ford and Alfred P. Sloan, the Founders of Ford Motor Company and General Motors, are 'rolling over' at the weakness of current car company executives." — tweet Wednesday.
THE FACTS: He's wrong that Sloan is the founder of General Motors.
William Durant started GM in 1908, combining several companies that produced Buick, Oldsmobile, Cadillac and other vehicles. Sloan was a longtime president, CEO and chairman of GM, leading the company from the 1920s to the 1950s.
TRUMP: "My proposal to the politically correct Automobile Companies would lower the average price of a car to consumers by more than $3000, while at the same time making the cars substantially safer. Engines would run smoother. Very little impact on the environment! Foolish executives!" — tweet Wednesday.
THE FACTS: Trump is inflating the projected savings to consumers under his plan to freeze Obama-era fuel economy requirements at 2021 levels. He's also minimizing the potential environmental harm and may be exaggerating the safety benefits.
His administration, in documents proposing to freeze the standards, puts the cost of meeting the Obama-era requirements at around $2,700 per vehicle. It claims buyers would save that much by 2025, over standards in place in 2016. But that number is disputed by environmental groups and is more than double the estimates from the Obama administration.
Trump's tweet also is ignoring money that consumers would save at the gas pump if cars get better mileage. A study released Aug. 7 by Consumer Reports found that the owner of a 2026 vehicle will pay over $3,300 more for gasoline during the life of a vehicle if the standards are frozen at 2021 levels. The administration's proposed freeze would hold the average fuel economy for the new-vehicle fleet at 29.1 mpg in real-world driving, while the Obama-era standards would raise it to 37.5 mpg by 2026, according to Consumer Reports.
Trump claims his proposal would cause little environmental harm, but documents from his administration say that U.S. fuel consumption would increase by about 500,000 barrels per day, a 2% to 3% increase. Environmental groups predict even more fuel consumed, resulting in higher pollution.
Trump's statement that cars would be substantially safer also is in dispute. His administration argues that lower-cost vehicles would allow more people to buy new ones that are safer, cutting roadway deaths by 12,700 lives through the 2029 model year. But Consumer Reports says any safety impact from changes in gas mileage standards are small and won't vary much from zero.
And there's little basis for Trump's claim that engines would run more smoothly. Early versions of cars with more fuel-efficient transmissions, turbochargers and technology that stops engines at red lights were rough, but those have been refined. "The automakers have figured out how to use this technology and make the cars smoother driving, too," said Jake Fisher, Consumer Reports director of auto testing.
TRUMP: "We are modernizing your medical records to begin a seamless transition from the Department of Defense into the VA — something that they just said they couldn't do. You know that, right? They said, 'We can't do it. It's just too complicated.' We did it." — AMVETS convention.
THE FACTS: No, it's not done. The Department of Veterans Affairs last year signed a $10 billion contract with Cerner Corp., the same company that is overhauling the Pentagon's electronic health records; some $6 billion more will be needed for IT upgrades and program staff. But a full rollout of the new VA health records is expected to take 10 years.
The aim of the new system is to provide veterans easy access to their health records upon leaving active-duty service and when they receive medical treatment at a VA facility or a private doctor referred under the VA's Choice private-sector program.
The contract, one of the largest in VA's history, has drawn concern from lawmakers that it could be plagued with problems and ultimately prove ineffective.
TRUMP: "The VA is now providing same-day emergency mental health care and mental health screenings to every patient that walks through the door." — AMVETS convention.
THE FACTS: Same-day mental health service started at VA before Trump took office in January 2017.
VA's effort to provide same-day primary and mental-health care when medically necessary at every VA medical center was publicized in April 2016, during the Obama administration. By late 2016, the department's blog announced that goal would be achieved by year's end.
A Dec. 23, 2016, article in the Harvard Business Review cites new same-day services at all VA hospitals as evidence of notable progress at the department. Former VA Secretary David Shulkin told Congress in late January 2017 the services already were fully in place.
TRUMP: "Veterans Choice, as you've been trying to get that for 44 years, they say — 44 years. I guess it's longer than that; probably earlier than that. But for 44 years, at least, that we know of. And you got it." — AMVETS convention.
THE FACTS: You wouldn't know from Trump's boasting that it was Obama who won passage of the Veterans Choice program, which gives veterans the option to see private doctors outside the VA medical system at government expense. Congress approved the program in 2014, and Obama signed it into law. Trump expanded it. Its ultimate scope remains uncertain, in part because of questions of money.
TRUMP: "We will have, within another 90 days, 179 federal judges. And I say, 'Thank you very much, President Obama.' Because he was unable to get them filled. I don't know what happened to him, but he was unable. So, President Obama did not do his job." — remarks Sunday to reporters in Morristown, New Jersey.
TRUMP: "Within about two months, we'll be at 179 federal judges and two Supreme Court judges." — AMVETS convention on Wednesday.
THE FACTS: Trump does have a stronger record than Obama so far in picking federal judges, but it isn't due to complacency from the Obama administration. Instead, unprecedented lack of action by the Republican-controlled Senate on Obama's judicial nominees in his last two years in office left Trump more vacancies to fill.
Of the 71 people whom Obama nominated to the district courts and courts of appeals in 2015 and 2016, only 20 were voted on and confirmed, said Russell Wheeler, an expert on judicial nominees at the Brookings Institution. Trump entered office in January 2017 with more than 100 vacancies on the federal bench, about double the number Obama had in 2009. Trump has since been aided by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who has pushed through Trump's nominations of appeals court judges in particular.
Wheeler said Trump has had 146 judges confirmed and seated — a pace that is solid but not extraordinary . At least four other presidents — Clinton, John Kennedy and Richard Nixon in modern times as well as George Washington — surpassed him at comparable points in their terms in the number of appointees as a percentage of "authorized judgeships," or the total judicial seats created by Congress.
Wheeler doesn't put much stock in Trump's claim of reaching 179 federal judges within two months. Twenty-five nominees have had their Senate hearings and may be ready to be voted on soon, but that doesn't mean it will happen. "It's a moving target," he said.
Associated Press writers Colleen Long, Tom Krisher and Carla K. Johnson contributed to this report.