State of the Union fact check: What’s true and false in Trump’s address

State of the Union fact check: What’s true and false in Trump’s address

News Staff

President Donald Trump delivered his second State of the Union address on Tuesday, where he re-enforced his immigration agenda, slammed “ridiculous partisan investigations” and announced he would meet with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un for a second time later this month.

NBC News fact-checked his State of the Union address as it happened.

CLAIM: TRUMP’S ADMINISTRATION HAS CREATED 600,000 MANUFACTURING JOBS

Trump’s figure is close. The U.S. has added 454,000 manufacturing jobs since Trump took office in January 2017, some of the biggest gains in 20 years, according to jobs data. Trump’s numbers mark an acceleration of a trend that began in 2010 under President Barack Obama.

Still, after decades of automation and change to the industry in the U.S., manufacturing is a much smaller part of the country’s economy than it was decades ago. While 19.5 million people were employed in the manufacturing industry in 1979, there were 12.8 million Americans in the industry in late 2018.

CLAIM: TRUMP SAYS HE LAUNCHED AN ‘UNPRECEDENTED ECONOMIC BOOM’

“In just over two years since the election, we have launched an unprecedented economic boom — a boom that has rarely been seen before,” Trump said.

Trump took office amid a booming economy, and he’s been taking credit for it since day one. But there’s no evidence he created this boom. Some economists argue he boosted growth with tax cuts — turbocharging an already booming economy — while others argue the government shutdown, tariffs, and trade war have slowed growth.

Most can agree, however, that Trump’s economy — something he touts among his biggest successes — has been built upon the upward trajectory that began under Obama.

And while America’s economy is strong, it has grown at a faster rate in earlier years. In 1983, for example, the nation’s annual GDP was 7.9 percent. In the second quarter of 2018, the GDP was 4.2 percent.

CLAIM: TRUMP SAYS UNEMPLOYMENT IS AT ITS LOWEST RATE IN ‘HALF A CENTURY’

Trump’s figure is accurate, though it’s notably a continuation of a strong growth trend begun after the recession ended in 2010.

When unemployment ticked down to 3.7 percent in September 2018, that indeed marked the lowest jobless rate since December 1969, per the Bureau of Labor Statistics. But the jobless rate has since ticked back up to 4.0 In January, which is above the 3.8 percent achieved in the Clinton administration in April 2000.

It’s certainly true that the economy is in a much-improved place now than it was a decade ago. Joblessness has steadily declined since the end of the economic recession in 2010.

But it’s a fuzzier picture when it comes to whether Trump deserves credit for the low unemployment rate or whether he has continued a trend started by the Obama administration. In the 24 months since Trump has been in office, total non-farm employment has grown by nearly 4.9 million. Over the same period of time (24 months) at the end of Obama’s tenure, total non-farm employment grew by about 5.1 million.

CLAIM: TRUMP BOASTS OF ENERGY ‘REVOLUTION,’ SAYS U.S. IS NOW NO.1 PRODUCER OF OIL AND NATURAL GAS

Trump said Tuesday night that “we have unleashed a revolution in American energy — the United States is now the number-one producer of oil and natural gas in the world.”

While it’s true that U.S. is the leading producer of both oil and gas in the world, the president is claiming undue credit. That’s been the case since the middle of the Obama administration.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration found that in 2017, the United States produced the most petroleum and dry natural gas of any country in the world.

But that’s not a recent phenomenon, either. The U.S. has topped the production charts in both categories since 2013 (for petroleum) and 2011 (for natural gas).

CLAIM: TRUMP SAYS NOTHING CAN COMPETE WITH AMERICA’S ECONOMY

Trump said Tuesday night that “there’s nothing anywhere in the world that can compete with America,” before later saying the U.S. is experiencing an economic miracle.

While the U.S. economy has been strong overall, it’s not the fastest-growing economy in the world, and some argue that it’s not actually the biggest, either.

According to the International Monetary Fund’s most recent estimates in its World Economic Outlook, India is projected to have the highest rate of economic growth among major economies in 2019 and 2020, at somewhere around 7.5 to 7.7 percent GDP growth rate. China is projected around 6.2 percent growth in 2019 and 2020. The United States, meanwhile, clocks in at just a 2.5 percent rate in 2019 and 1.8 percent in 2020.

The United States does have the highest nominal GDP of any country in the world, per the IMF. That measure does not take into account cost of living in various countries, so many economists use also a measure called purchasing power parity, which adjusts gross domestic product for lower consumer prices and standards of living. Using that measure, China surpassed the United States as the biggest economy in the world back in 2014.

CLAIM: TRUMP TAKES CREDIT FOR CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM

“Both parties united for criminal justice reform. They said it couldn’t be done,” Trump said Tuesday night.

Trump is correct that he signed the first major overhaul of prison sentencing in decades. That legislation, the First Step Act, includes provisions for sentencing reform such as shortening some mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug offenses and addressing racial disparities in the federal prison system.

It’s also true that lawmakers tried and failed to pass a similar package of reforms during Obama’s second term, but it was Republicans who blocked that bill despite general bipartisan support for the measure.

That consensus legislation was introduced by Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., in 2015. It had the support of then-Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, the Koch brothers, and President Barack Obama.

But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was reluctant to bring the issue up for a vote during the tumultuous 2016 election, and a handful of GOP lawmakers — including Sens. Tom Cotton of Arkansas and Jeff Sessions of Alabama — led the charge to argue that the bill would result in the release of violent criminals. The bill never saw a vote during Obama’s presidency as a result.

In 2018, however, Trump — with significant lobbying from his son-in-law Jared Kushner — backed the bill, prompting McConnell to agree to bring the bill to the floor.

Some advocates, while still supportive of the effort, argued that it does not go far enough.

For starters, the bill only addresses the federal prison population, which only makes up about 12 percent of incarcerated individuals in the U.S.

CLAIM: TRUMP SAYS ‘WEALTHY POLITICIANS AND DONORS PUSH FOR OPEN BORDERS’

Trump underscored his pitch to address illegal immigration by claiming that “wealthy politicians and donors push for open borders while living their lives behind walls and gates and guards.”

Many Democrats have called for reforming immigration enforcement — in particular, some have called for abolishing and rethinking Immigration and Customs Enforcement — but no prominent lawmakers have pushed for open borders. Democratic leaders, amid the recent government spending fight that led to the longest shutdown in U.S. history, consistently rejected Trump’s wall while still advocating for border security in general.

“We all agree we need to secure our borders, while honoring our values: we can build the infrastructure and roads at our ports of entry; we can install new technology to scan cars and trucks for drugs coming into our nation; we can hire the personnel we need to facilitate trade and immigration at the border; we can fund more innovation to detect unauthorized crossings,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said in January.

And while a meme shared by conservatives on social media alleged there is a wall around Pelosi’s California home — and the president has asserted there is a wall around former President Barack Obama’s Washington home — there is no wall encircling either. The front of the Obamas’ home is easily visible in photos, and the walled-off house pictured in the meme is not actually Pelosi’s, PolitiFact reported, rating the claim “pants on fire.”

According to The Washington Post, the Obamas did add fencing and a guard booth. Former presidents have Secret Service protection for life.

CLAIM: TRUMP SAYS THE STATE OF THE SOUTHERN BORDER IS ‘LAWLESS,’ THREATENING THE SECURITY OF ALL AMERICANS

America’s immigration system is broken — that’s something experts, advocates and politicians across the spectrum can agree on — but there’s little evidence the southern border is experiencing a new state of emergency. Violence isn’t spilling over the border, and terrorists aren’t being caught in droves trying to cross it. Illegal drugs largely come through legal ports of entry, not unguarded parts of the border, according to border authorities.

Illegal border crossings have been dropping for years, and while border apprehensions have risen in recent months, they are still markedly lower than they were twenty years ago, Customs and Border Protection data shows.

And though Trump has focused on the border, illegal immigration in the U.S. is being driven by another factor: people who overstay their visas. More than 701,900 people overstayed their visas during fiscal year 2017, according to the Department of Homeland Security. People who overstay their visas usually enter the country through an airport, not from the border.

CLAIM: TRUMP SAYS DEMOCRATS VOTED FOR BORDER BARRIERS IN THE PAST

This is true, but Trump dismissed the wall legislation Democrats supported as inadequate.

Dozens of Democrats, including Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York, did vote for the Secure Fence Act of 2006, which authorized building a fence along about 700 miles of the border between the United States and Mexico.Trump derided that fencing in 2016 as “such a little wall, such a nothing wall.”

CLAIM: WE’RE TAKING IN BILLIONS OFF CHINESE GOODS WITH TARIFFS

Trump vowed to right “calamitous” trade policies, and said he is “making it clear to China [that] the theft of American jobs and wealth has come to an end.”

He continued: “Therefore, we recently imposed tariffs on $250 billion of Chinese goods — and now our Treasury is receiving billions of dollars.”

The president portrays this as an American victory over foreign companies. And while the U.S. government is taking in billions of dollars in tariffs, it’s not the Chinese who are paying the bulk of these — it’s American consumers.

Experts told NBC News in December that Trump was misunderstanding tariffs, the fee charged on foreign goods when they are imported. American consumers typically end up footing the bill for those taxes, not foreign companies. While one expert said there is some evidence that Chinese corporations may be reducing prices to absorb a fraction of the tariffs to stay more competitive in American markets, consumers are expected to absorb the bulk of the fee.

CLAIM: SAN DIEGO PROVES WALLS WORK TO COMBAT ILLEGAL IMMIGRATION, TRUMP SAYS

When Trump argues that the United States needs a wall along the southern border, he likes to point to San Diego’s success. “San Diego used to have the most illegal border crossing in the country,” Trump said Tuesday night. “In response, a strong security wall was put in place. This powerful barrier almost completely ended illegal crossings.”

The militarized border touching the communities of Imperial Beach, San Ysidro and Otay Mesa contributed to a 75 percent decline in crossings in the years immediately after fencing was installed in the 1990s, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection data.

There, double and triple barriers fortify the westernmost stretch of the nearly 2,000-mile U.S.-Mexico border as U.S. Border Patrol agents drive SUVs along frontage roads and hover overhead in helicopters.

The hardened border, however, pushed migrants to remote areas that are more dangerous, those experts contended. Arizona has become a hotbed of crossings, but migrants often die of dehydration. The mountains east of San Diego have also become a crossing zone, where migrants have died from hypothermia.

CLAIM: TRUMP SAYS DRUG PRICES HAVE DECLINED IN 2018

“Already, as a result of my administration’s efforts, in 2018 drug prices experienced their single largest decline in 46 years,” Trump said on Tuesday.

The president first said drug prices would start dropping in May, but an Associated Press investigation of drug prices in the first half of the year found that overall prices are still on the rise. Over the first seven months of 2018, the AP found that there were 96 price hikes for every price cut.

There were fewer price increases from January through July 2018 than during comparable time frames in years past, but companies still hiked prices significantly more than they cut them. At the end of May, the president announced that drug companies would be voluntarily slashing prices within two weeks. In the two months after that, there were 395 price increases and 24 decreases.

In an interview with the AP at the time, Health Secretary Alex Azar said that it would be awhile before drug prices actually fall. He credited the complexity of the medicine market and incentives for drugmakers to boost prices in order to boost profits.

CLAIM: NAFTA WAS A ‘HISTORIC BLUNDER’ FOR AMERICA

Trump, in urging Congress to support his new trade agreement, said he had met men and women across the country whose “dreams were shattered by NAFTA.”

There are many estimates for job losses due to the Clinton-era North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) but “millions” is higher than the number calculated by most groups from across the ideological spectrum.

Robert E. Scott of the pro-labor Economic Policy Institute found that about 851,700 U.S. jobs were displaced by the U.S. trade deficit with Mexico between 1993 (shortly before NAFTA was implemented) and 2014. That’s a data point that was cited by Bernie Sanders during his 2016 campaign, when he frequently decried job losses due to NAFTA.

A 2014 Peterson Institute for International Economics study foundthat while NAFTA has caused about 203,000 jobs to be displaced by NAFTA-related imports annually, imports support 188,000 new jobs, leading to a net loss of only about 15,000 annually.

And the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service wrote in 2017 that “in reality, NAFTA did not cause the huge job losses feared by the critics or the large economic gains predicted by supporters. The net overall effect of NAFTA on the U.S. economy appears to have been relatively modest, primarily because trade with Canada and Mexico accounts for a small percentage of U.S. GDP.”

CLAIM: TRUMP SAYS NEW YORK ALLOWS ABORTION ‘MOMENTS BEFORE BIRTH’

“There could be no greater contrast to the beautiful image of a mother holding her infant child than the chilling displays our nation saw in recent days,” Trump said, speaking out against abortion that occurs later in pregnancy. “Lawmakers in New York cheered with delight upon the passage of legislation that would allow a baby to be ripped from the mother’s womb moments before birth.”

This is false.

The state recently passed a law loosening restrictions on abortions in the state, allowing abortions after 24 weeks if the fetus is not viable or when it’s necessary to protect the life of the mother. The president paints the picture of a healthy mother and child, but an abortion would not be legal in that scenario after 24 weeks in New York state.

Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo has pushed back at critics, noting that it is “just a mirror of the federal law” — the abortion rights enshrined in the Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade.

What’s more, abortions later in pregnancy are exceedingly rare; the Centers for Disease Control reports that just 1.3 percent of abortions in the U.S. in 2015 took place in or after the 21st week.

CLAIM: VIRGINIA GOV. RALPH NORTHAM STATED HE ‘WOULD EXECUTE A BABY AFTER BIRTH’

Speaking about abortion, Trump said, “we had the case of Governor of Virginia where he stated he would execute a baby after birth.”

A spokesman for the governor, Ralph Northam, disputed this characterization of confusing remarks he made days ago — and it should be noted that Northam was discussing a hypothetical procedure that would occur only in cases of severe deformities or nonviable pregnancy.

Nonetheless, Northam caused a firestorm when he responded to a hypothetical question related to a proposed state law that would have made it somewhat easier for a woman to obtain an abortion later in a pregnancy for medical reasons.

Asked on a radio program what happens when a woman who is going into labor desires a third-trimester abortion, Northam noted that this kind of procedure only occurs in cases of severe deformities or a nonviable pregnancy. He said that in this scenario, “the infant would be resuscitated if that’s what the mother and the family desired, and then a discussion would ensue between the physicians and the mother.”

It’s worth noting that the proposed Virginia law — which failed to pass the Republican-controlled legislature — wasn’t proposing legalizing abortions in the third trimester; that is already legal in the state. The bill proposed changing the number of physicians required for that kind of abortion’s approval — from three to one doctor. It also proposed broadening the list of health concerns that would allow a woman to seek approval for such an abortion.

CLAIM: ‘OVER THE LAST TWO YEARS, WE HAVE BEGUN TO FULLY REBUILD THE UNITED STATES MILITARY’

Despite Trump’s frequent discussion of “restoring” and “rebuilding” America’s military might, the most recent legislation he signed to fund national defense came in at less than an Obama-signed bill in 2011.

For fiscal year 2019, Trump has signed into law National Defense Authorization legislation that provides $716 billion for national defense operations, including $639 billion for the Pentagon.

That’s a smaller dollar number than the $726 billion provided by the 2011 National Defense Authorization Act.

It’s not clear yet what Trump will ultimately propose for defense spending in fiscal year 2020.

In a tweet on Dec. 4, he appeared to decry the amount of spending on defense, saying, “The U.S. spent 716 Billion Dollars this year. Crazy!” (He’s referring to the same bill he signed into law).

But days after reports that he wanted to slash future spending to $700 billion, the administration signaled that Trump would instead agree to a request from then-Defense Secretary Jim Mattis to boost that number to $740 billion.

CLAIM: TRUMP SAYS VENEZUELA’S COLLAPSE IS A RESULT OF ‘SOCIALIST POLICIES’

Since the swearing-in of President Nicolás Maduro — whom much of the international community has called illegitimate —many conservative critics have blamed the country’s “21st century socialism” for the unrest and protests in the country. Trump on Tuesday night said that Maduro’s “socialist policies have turned that nation from being the wealthiest in South America into a state of abject poverty and despair.”

But it’s a more complicated picture than just the s-word. The corruption of Venezuelan leaders and the country’s near-complete dependence on oil are also important components of the country’s downfall.

After Maduro’s predecessor, Hugo Chávez, became president in 1999, he worked to use oil revenues from the then-booming industry to fund national programs. But when oil prices began to collapse in 2014, shortly after Chávez died and Maduro took over, the country lacked funds for those programs.

U.S. sanctions on the oil industry, a result of charges of corruption and human rights abuses by Venezuelan leaders, have been another blow to the economy. Francisco Toro, a Venezuelan journalist and an official with the Latin American business organization Group of 50, wrote in a Washington Post opinion article last year that “all Venezuela demonstrates is that if you leave implementation to the very worst, most anti-intellectual, callous, authoritarian and criminal people in society, socialism can have genuinely horrendous consequences.”

Toro and others have pointed out that other countries with leftist or socialist-leaning governments — like Denmark or Sweden — have not experienced similar unrest.

CLAIM: NORTH KOREA HASN’T TESTED A MISSILE IN 15 MONTHS

“Our hostages have come home, nuclear testing has stopped, and there has not been a missile launch in 15 months… Much work remains to be done, but my relationship with Kim Jong Un is a good one,” Trump said.

While Trump is correct that North Korea has not launched a missile in 15 months, there’s ample evidence that North Korea is seeking to retain and hide their nuclear capabilities — contradicting the president’s past claims that he’s made great progress in getting Pyongyang to give up their nuclear weapons.

Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats said last week that it’s “unlikely” North Korea will try to denuclearize.

And the regime appears to be working to hide their efforts. As NBC News reported on Jan. 21, researchers funded by the defense think tank Center for Strategic and International Studies have discovered an undisclosed secret ballistic missile base in North Korea — and that there could be as many as 20.

North Korea has also refused to provide a detailed list of its nuclear and missile facilities, despite the U.S. calls for it to do so.

A former senior U.S. official who has been briefed on the negotiations told NBC News that “I can’t find anybody in the U.S. who thinks the North Koreans are denuclearizing.”

Vice President Mike Pence conceded earlier this month that the U.S. is still “await[ing] concrete steps by North Korea to dismantle the nuclear weapons that threaten our people and our allies in the region.”

CLAIM: TRUMP SAYS U.S. HAS LIBERATED ‘VIRTUALLY ALL’ OF IRAQ AND SYRIA FROM ISIS

It’s accurate for Trump to say that ISIS can claim just a fraction of the territory it once did.

All but about 1 percent of the territory that ISIS once controlled is now gone, according to Brett McGurk, the now-former special presidential envoy to the coalition to defeat ISIS in Syria and Iraq.

But the Center for Strategic and International Studies estimates that “while Islamic State territorial control has been reduced to minor pockets of rural Iraq, the group was still carrying out an average of 75 attacks per month in 2018.”

And in the annual “Worldwide Threat Assessment,” released in January, U.S. intelligence officials concluded that “ISIS still commands thousands of fighters in Iraq and Syria, and it maintains eight branches, more than a dozen networks, and thousands of dispersed supporters around the world, despite significant leadership and territorial losses.”

One such attack is particularly raw: Four Americans were among those killed by an explosion in Manbij, Syria, on January 16. ISIS claimed responsibility for that attack.

Additionally, military officials have warned that — without sustained pressure from the U.S. — ISIS could regain that lost territory.

In January, NBC News reported on a draft Pentagon report warning that ISIS is intent on reconstituting a physical caliphate and that the terror group could retake lost land in six to 12 months if there is no military pressure preventing them from doing so.

“Nobody is declaring mission accomplished” in the fight against ISIS, McGurk said in early December. Then, after Trump announced on Dec. 19 that U.S. troops would withdraw from Syria, tweeting that ISIS had been “defeated,” McGurk resigned. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis also resigned in the wake of that decision.

CLAIM: 1 IN 3 WOMEN IS SEXUALLY ASSAULTED ON THE JOURNEY TO AMERICA

While it’s difficult to estimate the rates at which it occurs, it’s true that sexual violence is a reality for many female migrants. One Amnesty International publication in 2010 reported that it is the “widely held view” of non-profit and medical workers that as many as six in 10 migrant women are raped.

Trump’s estimate appears to be based on a May 2017 report by Doctors Without Borders, which found that about one-third of female migrants (out of a survey of 467 migrants total) had experienced sexual abuse during their journey.