SOTU 2020: Check the Facts

It’s time to Break It Down!

Last night, over the course of seventy-eight minutes, Donald Trump gave his third State of the Union (SOTU) Address. As is his wont, he mangled numerous facts. Thanks to him, fact checking has evolved into an entire industry unto itself. As reported in the Chicago Tribune, “President Donald Trump’s portrayal of American renewal Tuesday drew on falsehoods about American energy supremacy and the economy as well as distortions about his predecessor’s record.”

Here are a few instances, culled from CNN and the Chicago Tribune, buttressed by my own thoughts, highlighting seven instances during which he blatantly deviated from selected data-driven provable facts, while he clumsily skewed others.

Oil and gas production

The claim: According to 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.”

Not exactly. The facts: “The US did not become the world’s top energy producer under Trump: It took the top spot under the Obama administration in 2012, according to the US government’s Energy Information Administration. 

The US became the top producer of crude oil in particular during Trump’s tenure. “The United States has been the world’s top producer of natural gas since 2009, when US natural gas production surpassed that of Russia, and it has been the world’s top producer of petroleum hydrocarbons since 2013, when its production exceeded Saudi Arabia’s,” the Energy Information Administration says.

Unemployment for disabled Americans

The claim: Trump asserted “the unemployment rate for disabled Americans has reached an all-time low” under his presidency.

That’s debatable. The facts: The unemployment rate for Americans with disabilities is lower than at any point in the Obama administration (probably all that really matter to Trump), but it did go up from 6.1 percent in September of last year to 7 percent in December. In addition, describing this as an “all-time low” obscures the fact that the government has only tracked this data since 2008.

Unemployment for African Americans, Hispanics and Asians

The claim: Trump said the unemployment rates for African Americans, Hispanics and Asians are at the lowest levels ever. “The unemployment rate for African-Americans, Hispanic-Americans, and Asian-Americans has reached the lowest levels in history,” Trump said in his speech.

Sorta, maybe, not exactly. The facts: Trump is correct in a manner of speaking. The unemployment rate for each of these three groups is at a record low, at least since the government has been issuing data on them. (The data for African Americans and Hispanics goes back to the early 1970s, while data for Asians only goes back to 2000.) 

Trump inherited a positive trend that has continued during his tenure. The unemployment rate for all three groups had fallen substantially under President Barack Obama from the recession-era levels of 2009.

The African American unemployment rate was 5.9% in December 2019. That is an uptick from the 5.4% all-time low in August 2019, but it is still lower than the rate at any point under any other president for whom we have data.

The Hispanic unemployment rate was 4.2% in December 2019 — an uptick from the 3.9% all-time low in September 2019 but, again, lower than any point under any other president for whom we have data.

The Asian unemployment rate was 2.4% in December, an uptick from the 2.0% low of May 2018 but still a smidgen lower than the pre-Trump record — 2.6% in December 2016, Obama’s last full month in office.

The distinction between on record and in history is subtle, but not indecipherable. African Americans and Hispanics, for example have history in this country that started long before the 1970’s. Both groups were primary sources of labor, albeit free, in the case of most African Americans, and underemployed wage-wise, dating back to their earliest time in this country. Similarly, many of the earliest Asians, unlike contemporary trends, were laborers. The likelihood is that all three groups were fully employed for significant stretches of their time here in this country. Of course, it is often convenient, and always easy to overlook those by-gone eras.

Pre-existing conditions

The claim. Trump has repeatedly promised to protect those with pre-existing conditions, even as he has sought to kill the Affordable Care Act, which greatly expanded those safeguards.

“I’ve also made an ironclad pledge to American families. We will also protect patients with pre-existing conditions,” he said during Tuesday’s State of the Union address.

Nope. The facts: Trump’s claim about protecting those with pre-existing conditions is false. Though Trump says he would do this, his administration has consistently taken steps to undermine the Affordable Care Act — including joining a lawsuit aimed at striking down the law — without presenting alternative plans that would offer similar benefits. 

The Affordable Care Act barred insurers in the individual market from denying people coverage or charging them higher premiums because of their health histories. Also, carriers had to provide comprehensive coverage — offering 10 essential health benefits, including maternity, mental health and prescription drugs.

Trump has worked to undermine the Affordable Care Act from his first day in office, when he issued an executive order directing agencies to interpret its regulations as loosely as possible. He championed congressional Republicans’ bills in 2017 that would have weakened the law’s protections.

And his Justice Department is siding with a coalition of Republican states that are fighting in federal court to invalidate the Affordable Care Act. An appellate panel in December upheld a lower court ruling that found Obamacare’s individual mandate unconstitutional but sent the case back to the lower court to decide whether the entire law must fall.

The President has said repeatedly that he would roll out a new health care plan that would protect those with pre-existing conditions, but he has yet to do so. Last April, he backed away from pushing for a vote on a replacement plan until after the 2020 election.

Meanwhile, he issued another executive order in late 2017 that would make it easier for Americans to buy alternatives to the Affordable Care Act that are cheaper, but offer fewer protections, such as short-term health plans. The law’s defenders, however, fear that such plans could siphon off younger and healthier people, which could cause premiums to rise for those left buying policies in the Obamacare exchanges.

Trump’s administration is also allowing states to make major changes to their Obamacare markets, which could also leave low-income, older or sicker residents with few choices and higher costs. Few states have taken the federal government up on this offer so far.


The Claim: 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.”

No mas. 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.

Jobs and economy

The claim: 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 only 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.

The claim: 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 just three years under Trump.

The claim: 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%. That is roughly in line with the average gains achieved after the Great Recession — and a far cry from growth of as much 3%, 4% 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 way 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.


The Claim: TRUMP: “We are restoring our nation’s manufacturing might, even though predictions were that this could never be done. After losing 60,000 factories under the previous two administrations, America has now gained 12,000 new factories under my administration.”

THE FACTS: Not quite.

Manufacturing has slumped in the past year, after having advanced in the prior two years. The president’s tariffs regime and slower growth worldwide hurt the sector in ways that suggest that Trump’s policies robbed it of some of its previous strength.

Factory output fell 1.3% over the past 12 months, according to the Federal Reserve. Manufacturing job gains went from more than 260,000 at the end of 2018 to a paltry 46,000 for the 12 months ended in December, according to the Labor Department. Manufacturers lost jobs last year in Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — the older industrial states where Trump had promised a renaissance.

That’s a few of the key issues about which Mr. Trump used his apparent silver tongue, at least to the ears of his followers, to spin a narrative that frequently looked the fact path straight in the eye…and then scurried to take an alternative route. SOTU 2020: Check the Facts!”

I’m done; holla back!

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