Fact Checking Trump’s State of the Union

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President Trump delivered his first State of the Union address Tuesday night, arguing his administration is responsible for an economic upswing and heralding a “new American moment” marked by deregulation, tax cuts and new immigration restrictions.

Mr. Trump hoped to project a sense of unity in his address before an audience of lawmakers who remain bitterly divided over issues like immigration, trade and infrastructure. He spoke for about an hour and 20 minutes, touching on subjects ranging from drug abuse and opioid addiction to North Korea and terrorism.

He relied on figures and statistics to bolster his case. How accurate were those figures? Did they stretch the truth, or accurately reflect reality?

We fact-checked Mr. Trump’s speech below over the course of the night. Find all of CBS News’ coverage of Mr. Trump’s first State of the Union here.

 

Tax cuts

“Just as I promised the American people from this podium 11 months ago, we enacted the biggest tax cuts and reforms in American history.”

FACT CHECK: FALSE

In fact, the Trump tax cuts are the eighth largest in history.

This claim has been fact-checked in the past. The Washington Post deemed it a 4-Pinocchio whopper.

The Post measured the tax cut as a percentage of the gross domestic product (GDP), in order to take inflation adjustments out of the equation. Assuming the growth that Mr. Trump anticipates, the Post calculated that the tax cut would be 0.9 percent of GDP.

That puts his tax cut squarely behind President Barack Obama’s 2010 tax cut, which was 1.31 percent of GDP. Ronald Reagan’s 1981 tax cut was the biggest at 2.89 percent of GDP. — Kate Rydell

 

Stock market

Since the election, Mr. Trump claimed, “The stock market has smashed one record after another, gaining $8 trillion in value. That is great news for Americans’ 401k, retirement, pension, and college savings accounts.”

FACT CHECK: CLOSE, BUT NOT QUITE. 

According to Howard Silverblatt, a senior analyst for Standard & Poor’s, who is known for his in-depth market data, the market value added between Election Day and the market close on Friday, Jan. 26 is $7.18 trillion. But that wealth won’t affect nearly half of Americans who aren’t invested in the stock market. A 2016 Federal Reserve report found that only 52 percent of Americans were invested in retirement accounts.

— Irina Ivanova and Katiana Krawchenko

 

Immigration

“The first pillar of our framework generously offers a path to citizenship for 1.8 million illegal immigrants who were brought here by their parents at a young age. That covers almost three times more people than the previous administration covered. Under our plan, those who meet education and work requirements, and show good moral character, will be able to become full citizens of the United States over a 12-year period.”

FACT CHECK: TRUE, AS FAR AS CAN BE DETERMINED

It’s unclear exactly how many immigrants Mr. Trump’s proposed immigration framework would affect, so his claim is impossible to rate with certainty.

The White House has said his proposal to provide a pathway to citizenship to immigrants brought to the U.S. illegally as children by their parents amounts to 1.8 million. If that figure is correct — and it’s virtually impossible to say if it is — then Mr. Trump’s claim is true.

U.S Citizenship and Immigration Services said that as of Sept. 4, 2017, there were 689,800 recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which former President Barack Obama established in 2012. Three times that figure would amount to a little more than 2 million individuals, and Mr. Trump said “almost.” — Kathryn Watson

 

Drugs and the border

For decades, open borders have allowed drugs and gangs to pour into our most vulnerable communities. They’ve allowed millions of low-wage workers to compete for jobs and wages against the poorest Americans. Most tragically, they have caused the loss of many innocent lives.”

FACT CHECK: PARTLY TRUE, INCONCLUSIVE

The president has been making versions of this statement since his campaign. On the claim about illegal immigrants causing the loss of “many” innocent lives, PolitiFact has pointed out that the statement is so vague that sure, it’s bound to be true, but it doesn’t really say much. University of California, Irvine criminology professor Charis Kubrin points out that it’s about as accurate as saying “thousands of Americans have been killed by men.”

It is true that drugs are coming in through the southern border, though. Politifact says that even though Asia is the source of heroin for most of the rest of the world, “nearly all the heroin available in the United States comes from Mexico and South America.”

An April 2017 Pew Research Center report says the U.S. civilian workforce includes 8 million unauthorized immigrants, accounting for 5 percent of those who were working or were unemployed and looking for work, according to separate Pew Research Center estimates. With so many millions, the New York Times points out there’s a range in which that’s the case — they are both taking the jobs nobody wants, as their defenders would have you believe, and they are taking American jobs and resources, as the White House and Republican hardliners believe. — Katiana Krawchenko

 

Family immigration

“Under the current broken system, a single immigrant can bring in virtually unlimited numbers of distant relatives.”

FACT CHECK: FALSE

According to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, a U.S citizen can petition for a spouse; unmarried children under 21; sons and daughters, married and/or over 21; parents, if you are 21 and over; and siblings, if you are 21 and over. A green card holder can petition for spouses, unmarried children under 21, and an unmarried son or daughter of any age. — Ellee Watson

 

Regulations

“In our drive to make Washington accountable, we have eliminated more regulations in our first year than any administration in the history of our country.”

FACT CHECK: PARTIALLY TRUE, BUT INCOMPLETE METRIC 

The Washington Post has taken a look at this claim, which the president has made before.

“Trump may have grounds to brag,” the Post found, “but his claim cannot be easily verified. There is no reliable metric on which to judge his claim — or to compare him to previous presidents.”

The modern regulatory state didn’t really begin until Nixon, and since the 1970s, the Post points out that there have been periods when entire segments of the economy were deregulated — airline and trucking, for instance, in the 1970s and 1980s. And those acts had greater impact on the economy than rolling back individual rules.

But on the number of regulations withdrawn, Mr. Trump’s claim can be determined using figures from an OMB database for President Trump, Barack Obama, George W. Bush and five years of Bill Clinton’s presidency. Over the course of these presidencies, the database shows the following numbers for withdrawn regulations:

  • Clinton: 1,824
  • Bush: 2,632
  • Obama: 1,814
  • Trump: 469

Of course, Mr. Trump’s presidency has barely begun. Narrowing the range to what he suggests– “in our first year” — his claim adds up:

  • Bush: 181
  • Obama: 156
  • Trump: 469

— Katiana Krawchenko

 

Health care

“We repealed the core of the disastrous Obamacare. The individual mandate is now gone. Thank heaven.”

FACT CHECK: FALSE

The individual penalty of $695 is still in effect for the uninsured in 2018. The mandate dies in 2019. — Maggie Dore

 

Employee bonuses

“Since we passed tax cuts, roughly 3 million workers have already gotten tax cut bonuses — many of them thousands and thousands of dollars per worker. And it’s getting more every month, every week.”

FACT CHECK: TRUE, BUT… 

Americans for Tax Reform, a pro-GOP group, has been keeping track of this by aggregating a bunch of companies’ press releases. The group claims 285 companies and at least 3 million Americans are receiving special tax reform bonuses.

But Obama economic adviser Larry Summers has thrown cold water on this methodology, arguing that firms are raising wages because the labor market is tight. He called it “a gimmick” in an interview a few days ago on CNBC’s “Squawk Alley.”

“That’s a very common device. If you want to give somebody some money but you don’t want to promise it to them on a continuing basis, you frame it as a bonus,” Summers  said. “Look, the corporate tax cuts are going to be forever. If the firms really believe this had to do with corporate tax cuts, why aren’t they committing to bonuses forever?” — Maggie Dore and Katiana Krawchenko

 

Pharmaceutical drugs

“To speed access to breakthrough cures and affordable generic drugs, last year the FDA approved more new and generic drugs and medical devices than ever before in our country’s history.”

FACT CHECK: TRUE, BUT THIS HAS BEEN A TREND FOR THE LAST FEW YEARS

For the full year of 2017, according to the FDA commissioner, the FDA approved a record number of generic drugs. Fortune magazine has tracked drug approvals, and reported earlier this month that U.S. drug approvals hit a 21-year high last year. Forty-six novel medicines were greenlighted, Fortune noted, which was twice the number of the previous year.

But the rapid rate of generic drug and medical device approvals is not new and has on the rise for a couple of years, going back to at least 2015, during the Obama administration. — Allyson Ross Taylor

 

Guantanamo Bay and terrorism

“In the past, we have foolishly released hundreds and hundreds of dangerous terrorists, only to meet them again on the battlefield — including the ISIS leader, al-Baghdadi, who we captured, who we had, who we released.”

FACT CHECK: TRUE

The director of National Intelligence (DNI) reported that as of Jan. 15, 2017, 208 people released from Guantanamo Bay are confirmed or suspected of re-engaging in terrorist activity. The vast majority were released under the Bush administration.

Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the head of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, was detained at a U.S.-run facility during the height of the Iraq War before he founded the terrorist group. al-Baghdadi was never held in Guantanamo Bay, however.

One-hundred and twenty-one detainees released from Guantanamo Bay are confirmed to have re-engaged in terrorist activity, and 87 other Guantanamo detainees who were released are suspected of doing so. — Andy Triay

 

ISIS

“One year later, I’m proud to report that the coalition to defeat ISIS has liberated very close to 100 percent of the territory just recently held by these killers in Iraq and Syria and in other locations, as well. But there is much more work to be done. We will continue our fight until ISIS is defeated.”

FACT CHECK: TRUE,

This claim is accurate as of Jan. 1, 2018, according to the Defense Department.

Army Lt. Gen. Paul E. Funk II, who is the commanding general on the Combined Joint Task Force Operation Inherent Resolve for the campaign against ISIS, said “more than 98 percent of the land once claimed by the terrorist group has been returned to the people.” — Jack Turman

 

America’s standing abroad

“As we rebuild America’s strength and confidence at home, we are also restoring our strength and standing abroad.”

FACT CHECK: DEBATABLE

In terms of strength, America certainly projected military might abroad, dropping the largest bomb in its arsenal for the first time in 2017 on a target in Afghanistan, and launching missile attacks on military targets in Syria.

However, the State Department also issued a worldwide safety warning to American citizens in December after Mr. Trump’s announcement that the U.S. would recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. It was the first time such a warning had been issued since the beginning of the Iraq war in 2003.

In terms of standing abroad, the 2018 edition of Edelman’s annual trust barometer showed trust in the U.S. declining by 9 percentage points since their 2017 report, the steepest decline ever measured. By way of contrast, trust in China increased by the biggest proportion globally. — Markham Nolan

 

Opioid addiction

“These reforms will also support our response to the terrible crisis of opioid and drug addiction. Never before has it been like it is now. It is terrible. We have to do something about it. In 2016, we lost 64,000 Americans to drug overdoses — 174 deaths per day; 7 per hour. We must get much tougher on drug dealers and pushers if we are going to succeed in stopping this scourge.” 

FACT CHECK: PARTLY TRUE

Yes, 64,000 Americans died in 2016 from opioid overdoses according to the CDC.

But what the president doesn’t mention is that since he took office, the number of deaths has continued to rise. From June 2016 to June 2017 the number of overdose deaths increased by 16 percent, to 66,817.

While the president refers to drug pushers and drug dealers, 80 percent of  heroin users developed their addiction because of a previous addiction to prescription opioids, according to the federal government.

There has been no movement so far by the federal government on any major funding for drug treatment. — Laura Strickler

 

Judges

“Working with the Senate, we are appointing judges who will interpret the Constitution as written, including a great new Supreme Court Justice, and more circuit court judges than any new administration in the history of our country.”

FACT CHECK: TRUE

Mr. Trump has nominated 12 circuit court judges who have been successfully confirmed by the Senate, more than any other president since circuit courts were created in 1891. Barack Obama got three through the Senate in his first year. — Gaby Ake

 

The VA

“Last year, Congress also passed, and I signed, the landmark VA Accountability Act. Since its passage, my administration has already removed more than 1,500 VA employees who failed to give our veterans the care they deserve. And we are hiring talented people who love our vets as much as we do.”

FACT CHECK: TRUE

The VA says 1,470 employees were dismissed in 2017, with another 526 so far in 2018. — Maggie Dore

 

Tax savings

“A typical family of four making $75,000 will see their tax bill reduced by $2,000, slashing their tax bill in half.”

FACT CHECK: TRUE, FOR NOW

Business Insider estimated the tax savings for a family of four with an annual income of  $75,000 will save $2,244. Under the previous law, they would have paid $3,983.

However, the Joint Committee on Taxation says down the road, by 2027, families making $50,000 to $75,000 per year will be paying more in taxes. Meanwhile, households earning $1 million per year would see their average tax rate decline to 30.4 percent in 2019, and they’d still be better off than they are now by 2027, paying an average rate of 31.7 percent, rather than the 32.1 percent under current law. — Kate Rydell

 

Apple investments

“Apple has just announced it plans to invest a total of $350 billion in America, and hire another 20,000 workers.”

FACT CHECK: TRUE

Apple announced on Jan. 17 that it will build a second corporate campus and hire 20,000 workers in a $350 billion, five-year commitment. — Kate Rydell

 

Energy

“We have ended the war on American energy, and we have ended the war on beautiful clean coal. We are now very proudly an exporter of energy to the world.”

FACT CHECK: PARTIALLY TRUE

Mr. Trump has made a similar claim before. If by “now” he means the U.S. has only now just begun exporting energy, that is false. The U.S. has been exporting coal, and it is true that the U.S. is a net exporter of coal — that is, that it exports more coal to other countries than it imports. By the end of 2017, the U.S. had also become a net exporter of natural gas, according to the Energy Information Administration (EIA).

But the U.S. is not yet a net exporter of energy sources overall. The EIA projects the U.S. could become a net exporter of energy around 2026. — Julia Kimani Burnham

 

Iran

“When the people of Iran rose up against the crimes of their corrupt dictatorship, I did not stay silent.”

FACT CHECK: MOSTLY TRUE

While thousands of protesters took to the streets in Iran a few weeks ago, Mr. Trump tweeted, and the White House released a paper statement. There was, however, not an on-camera statement.

The Treasury Department issued related sanctions, and the State Department made strong comments but basically did nothing. Still, this is arguably more than Obama publicly did in 2009 when protesters were shot in streets of Tehran. — Margaret Brennan and Gaby Ake

 

American ingenuity

“America is a nation of builders. We built the Empire State Building in just one year. Isn’t it a disgrace that it can now take 10 years just to get a minor permit approved for the building of a simple road?”

FACT CHECK: MOSTLY TRUE

The Empire State Building was structurally complete 410 days after demolition began on the Waldorf Astoria, which previously occupied the site on which it now stands. There were 577 days between the beginning of demolition and the official opening date.

Mr. Trump’s claims about it taking 10 years to get a permit approved for a simple road suffers from a lack of data, and the Washington Post has also critiqued previous comparisons of this nature, pointing out that previous comparisons of this nature do not compare like with like. Mr Trump is contrasting the swift construction time of a pre-planned project which may have taken years to come to fruition with the planning time it takes to bring a project to the construction phase. — Markham Nolan

 

Exxon’s U.S. investment

In touting a $50 billion investment in the U.S. by ExxonMobil (XOM), President Donald Trump in his State of the Union address cast the oil company’s announcement as one of many positive results of recently enacted tax legislation. While the assertion regarding Exxon’s five-year spending plan is true, it’s less impressive than it may initially appear.

“Since we passed tax cuts, roughly 3 million workers have already gotten tax cut bonuses — many of them thousands and thousands of dollars per worker. And it’s getting more every month, every week. Apple has just announced it plans to invest a total of $350 billion in America, and hire another 20,000 workers. And just a little while ago, ExxonMobil announced a $50 billion investment in the United States, just a little while ago.”

FACT CHECK: TRUE, BUT LESS IMPRESSIVE THAN IT SOUNDS

Mr. Trump is correct in saying that Exxon recently committed to invest at least $50 billion in the U.S. over the next five years. In a post this week on the energy company’s corporate blog, CEO Darren Woods said that will “create thousands of jobs, strengthen the U.S. economy and enhance energy security.”

What the president glossed over is that Exxon’s planned expenditures, while a significant investment by one of the biggest companies in the world, actually marks a decline in its U.S. spending over the previous five years. Citing Exxon’s financial filings, the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy says Exxon spent about $58 billion on capital and exploration in the U.S. from 2011 through 2015.

The non-partisan think tank, which works on tax policy issues, also takes issue with Mr. Trump’s suggestion that tax cuts enacted by Congress in December are a driver for Exxon’s expenditures, finding the price of oil to be a more likely factor. — Kate Gibson

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