Politics

Fact-checking the first night of the Republican National Convention

Donald Trump Jr. addresses the Republican National Convention from the Andrew W. Mellon Auditorium in Washington, D.C., on Monday, Aug. 24, 2020. Pete Marovich / The New York Times

ANALYSIS

The first night of the 2020 Republican National Convention was a fire hose of false or misleading claim, mostly drawn from President Donald Trump’s arsenal of falsehoods. Here are 19 claims that caught our attention.

As is our practice, we do not award Pinocchios for a roundup of statements made during convention events.

– – –

“The President quickly took action and shut down travel from China. Joe Biden and his Democrat allies called my father a racist and xenophobe for doing it.”

– Donald Trump Jr.

President Trump’s son overstates the impact of Trump’s actions. On Jan. 31, the president announced that, effective Feb. 2, non-U.S. citizens were barred from traveling from China, but there were 11 exceptions. Meanwhile, U.S. citizens and permanent residents could still travel from China but were subject to screening and a possible 14-day quarantine. Trump’s action did not take place in a vacuum. Many airlines were canceling flights, and by our count, at least 38 countries took similar action before or at the same time the U.S. restrictions were put in place.

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The president frequently claims he took bold action that was criticized. News reports say he was reluctant to impose the ban, citing his relationship with Chinese leader Xi Jinping, but the action was urged by his top health advisers. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar told reporters on Feb. 7: “The travel restrictions that we put in place in consultation with the president were very measured and incremental. These were the uniform recommendations of the career public health officials here at HHS.”

Whatever criticism there was was scattered and relatively muted. Trump points to a comment by former vice president Joe Biden – “This is no time for Donald Trump’s record of hysteria and xenophobia . . . and fearmongering to lead the way instead of science” – but the Democratic presidential nominee says that did not refer to the travel restrictions.

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The virus was already spreading through the United States, and there is little evidence that it saved lives, especially because the Trump administration did not rapidly set up an effective testing system like many other countries.

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“President Trump brought our economy back before, and he will bring it back again.”

– Former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley

Trump and his supporters often speak as if he took office in the middle of the Great Recession when, in fact, he inherited a pretty good economy. The United States added an average of more than 250,000 jobs each month in 2014 and 227,000 a month in 2015. It added 193,000 a month in 2016, as Trump barnstormed the country saying the economy was in crisis.

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In 2017, Trump’s first year in office, monthly job growth slowed to 179,000 per month. It jumped to 223,000 a month in 2018 – lower than under President Barack Obama in 2014 and 2015 – and fell back to 175,000 a month in 2019.

When Trump in 2018 proclaimed, twice in the same day, “an economic turnaround of historic proportions,” the United States had been adding jobs for 94 straight months, of which 18 were under Trump’s leadership.

– – –

“The failed Obama-Biden administration never could do and build the greatest economy our country has ever seen.”

– Trump Jr.

Before the coronavirus pandemic shuttered businesses and sent unemployment soaring, Trump’s supporters could certainly brag about the state of the economy in his first three years as president. But they run into trouble when they made a play to say it was the best economy in U.S. history.

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As we already noted, Trump inherited a thriving economy. By just about any important measure, the economy under Trump did not do as well as it did under Presidents Dwight Eisenhower, Lyndon Johnson or Bill Clinton.

The gross domestic product grew at an annual rate of 2.3% in 2019, slipping from 2.9% in 2018 and 2.4% in 2017. But in 1997, 1998 and 1999, GDP grew 4.5%, 4.5% and 4.7%, respectively. Yet even that period paled in comparison against the 1950s and 1960s. Growth between 1962 and 1966 ranged from 4.4% to 6.6%. In 1950 and 1951, it was 8.7% and 8%, respectively. Meanwhile, the unemployment rate reached a low of 3.5% under Trump, but it dipped as low as 2.5% in 1953.

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– – –

“Obama and Biden let North Korea threaten America. President Trump rejected that weakness, and we passed the toughest sanctions on North Korea in history.”

– Haley

Haley conveniently leaves out the rest of the story.

On Nov. 7, 2017, speaking in South Korea, the president denounced leader Kim Jong Un’s regime, saying: “Citizens spy on fellow citizens, their homes are subject to search at any time, and their every action is subject to surveillance. In place of a vibrant society, the people of North Korea are bombarded by state propaganda practically every waking hour of the day. North Korea is a country ruled as a cult.”

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That’s the period of the sanctions cited by Haley.

Seven months later, Trump met with Kim in Singapore, the first time a U.S. president sat down with a North Korean leader. “His country does love him. His people, you see the fervor. They have a great fervor,” Trump said after the meeting.

Complex diplomatic initiatives usually work the opposite way: Lower-level officials reach a series of agreements over months or years of talks, resulting in a summit meeting to finalize the deal. Trump, eager for a made-for-television event, opted to go straight to the summit without substantial agreements in place.

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The problem with that approach is demonstrated by the document Trump and Kim signed in June 2018. It was remarkably vague, leaving much to interpretation and debate, especially compared with previous documents signed by North Korea. Pyongyang has a long history of making agreements and then not living up to their obligations, but apparently Trump was not aware that the language in earlier agreements was tougher.

Trump and Kim met twice more, in February and June 2019, when Trump stepped over the demilitarized zone to become the first U.S. president to set foot on North Korean soil. No further agreements were reached, but Trump continued to depict the relationship as a success even as experts said Pyongyang continued to improve its nuclear and missile programs. Trump even made excuses for Kim, dismissing the missile tests as “short-range,” not “ballistic missiles tests” and claiming that Kim was “not happy with the testing.”

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“North Korea has been building new missiles, new capabilities, new weapons as fast as anybody on the planet with the 115th-most powerful economy in the world,” Air Force Gen. John Hyten said in January 2020.

– – –

“Obama and Biden let Iran get away with murder and literally sent them a plane full of cash. President Trump did the right thing and ripped up the Iran nuclear deal.”

– Haley

That “plane full of cash” was related to the settlement of a decades-old claim between the two countries, not the Iran nuclear deal.

An initial payment of $400 million was handed over on Jan. 17, 2016, the day after Iran released four American detainees, including The Washington Post’s Jason Rezaian. The timing – which U.S. officials insisted was a coincidence – suggested the cash could be viewed as a ransom payment. But the initial cash payment was Iran’s money.

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In the 1970s, the then-pro-Western Iranian government under the shah paid $400 million for U.S. military equipment. But the equipment was never delivered because the two countries broke off relations after the seizure of American hostages at the U.S. Embassy in Tehran. Two other payments totaling $1.3 billion – a negotiated agreement on the interest owed on the $400 million – came weeks later.

State Department officials said the negotiations over the claims and detainees were not connected but came together at the same time, with the cash payment used as “leverage” to ensure the release of detainees.

Obama administration officials claimed that without a deal with Iran, the Hague tribunal might have imposed a higher interest penalty on the United States. (Experts agreed that that was likely.) U.S. officials said the transfer was made in cash, rather than by wire, as previous claims reached through the Hague tribunal were paid, to ease the impact of increasingly tough sanctions imposed on Iran.

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– – –

“The intelligence community recently assessed that the Chinese Communist Party favors Biden. They know he’ll weaken both economically and on a world stage.”

– Trump Jr.

This is missing context. U.S. intelligence officials have said China prefers Biden over Trump, but they have not linked China’s preference to Biden’s economic policies.

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) released a statement Aug. 7 saying: “We assess that China prefers that President Trump – whom Beijing sees as unpredictable – does not win reelection. China has been expanding its influence efforts ahead of November 2020 to shape the policy environment in the United States, pressure political figures it views as opposed to China’s interests, and deflect and counter criticism of China. Although China will continue to weigh the risks and benefits of aggressive action, its public rhetoric over the past few months has grown increasingly critical of the current Administration’s COVID-19 response, closure of China’s Houston Consulate, and actions on other issues.”

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The same statement says Russia is working to assist Trump, as it did in 2016. Trump Jr. left that out of his remarks.

“We assess that Russia is using a range of measures to primarily denigrate former Vice President Biden and what it sees as an anti-Russia ‘establishment,’ ” the ODNI statement says. “This is consistent with Moscow’s public criticism of him when he was Vice President for his role in the Obama Administration’s policies on Ukraine and its support for the anti-Putin opposition inside Russia. For example, pro-Russia Ukrainian parliamentarian Andriy Derkach is spreading claims about corruption – including through publicizing leaked phone calls – to undermine former Vice President Biden’s candidacy and the Democratic Party. Some Kremlin-linked actors are also seeking to boost President Trump’s candidacy on social media and Russian television.”

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– – –

“Job gains are outpacing what the so-called experts expected.”

-Trump Jr.

Trump and his allies would sometimes note, before the coronavirus pandemic began, that job creation was exceeding some projections from analysts at the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. But those projections are outdated and it’s misleading to leave that out in a prime-time address.

The coronavirus pandemic disrupted the economy and made old economic projections obsolete. Employers have been adding jobs quickly in recent months, not because economic growth is beating old projections, but because the coronavirus caused millions of job losses and the economy has begun to bounce back from its pandemic slowdown.

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– – –

“Democrats claim to be for workers, but they’ve spent the entire pandemic trying to sneak a tax break for millionaires in Democrat states into the covid relief bill. Then they attacked my father for suspending the payroll tax for middle-class workers.”

-Trump Jr.

Democrats have been trying to restore the state and local tax deduction since Trump and Republicans capped it at $10,000 as part of a tax law, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, that took effect in 2018. Overall, the Republican tax cuts mostly benefited wealthy individuals and corporations. Most of the impact of capping the SALT deduction, but not all, was felt by states with relatively high taxes and residents with high incomes and high home values. Many of them are governed by Democrats, but the effect is also felt in Republican-run states such as Indiana, according to the Tax Foundation.

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“While the new SALT cap increases federal taxable income for high-income taxpayers, these taxpayers benefited from other tax changes,” the Tax Foundation said. “The new lower tax rates, expanded child tax credit, and limiting of the AMT, among others, all benefited taxpayers now impacted by the SALT cap. On net, even many taxpayers limited by the new SALT deduction had their taxes lowered in 2018.”

– – –

Biden “supported the worst trade deals in the history of the planet. He voted for the NAFTA nightmare. Down the tubes went our auto industry. He pushed TPP. Goodbye manufacturing jobs.”

-Trump Jr.

Millions of manufacturing jobs and thousands of U.S. manufacturing establishments have disappeared since NAFTA took effect in 1994, but it’s difficult to isolate how much of that was because of NAFTA and not other factors such as automation.

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The studies we reviewed indicate that NAFTA had a modest effect on the U.S. economy. Auto industry representatives and independent analysts seem to agree the NAFTA dynamics have helped rather than hindered automakers with U.S. operations.Trump and his allies often claim that he significantly overhauled the NAFTA with the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA). It’s not a total trade revolution, as Trump promised, but USMCA does make changes to modernize trade rules in effect from 1994 to 2020, and it gives some wins to U.S. farmers and blue-collar workers in the auto sector. Economists and auto experts think USMCA is going to cause car prices in the United States to rise and the selection to go down. Some elements of the deal were borrowed from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the trade deal Trump scrapped at the start of his term, and that his son is now deriding in this speech.

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– – –

“Raising taxes on 82% of Americans is not nice.”

– Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel

McDaniel has a basis to make this statement, but as framed the impact is overstated. Biden says he plans to roll back Trump’s tax cuts on households making above the $400,000 threshold and on corporations. Trump’s tax law reduced the income tax on the richest Americans from 39.6% to 37%, and the corporate tax rate from 35% to 21% in 2017; Biden has vowed to raise the corporate tax rate to 28%.

The Tax Policy Center estimates that three-quarters of the tax increases would be paid by the top 1% of households. But there would be some impact on households in even the lowest-income households for a largely technical reason, the nonpartisan group said: “Nearly all of the increase in tax burden for the bottom four income quintiles would be because of the indirect effects of increased corporate income taxes.” Still, it would be enough to offset the impact of tax credits for low- and middle-income taxpayers proposed by Biden.

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So that’s how McDaniel can claim more than 80% of Americans would face higher taxes, even though the richest 1 percent would bear much of the burden.

– – –

“Policies that . . . allow abortion up until the point of birth are not nice.”

– McDaniel

This is misleading, and we gave an identical claim Three Pinocchios when Trump included it in speeches this year. Most abortions are performed in the earlier stages of pregnancy. About 1% happen after the fetus reaches the point of viability. In short, McDaniel and the president are describing something that rarely happens and that no Democrat is calling for anyway.

Sens. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and some others who competed in the Democratic presidential primary, said they favored having no restrictions on abortion.

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Biden does not take such a sweeping position; he supports abortion rights and says he would codify in statute the Supreme Court’s landmark ruling in Roe v. Wade and related precedents.

Experts told us that support for abortion rights doesn’t mean Democrats support “extreme late-term abortions.” “That’s like saying everyone who ‘supports’ the Second Amendment ‘supports’ school shootings,” Katie Watson, a professor at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, previously told The Fact Checker. ” ‘Abortion until the moment of birth’ does not exist – it’s a boogeyman abortion opponents have created to frighten voters and derail rational conversation about constitutional rights,” Watson said. “Nobody ‘supports’ it, and nobody does it. No patient ever asks a physician to end her pregnancy ‘the moment before birth,’ and no physician would agree to do it.”

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– – –

“[Democrats] want to abolish the suburbs altogether by ending single-family-home zoning. This forced rezoning would bring crime, lawlessness and low quality apartments and a now thriving suburban neighborhoods.”

– Patty McCloskey

The Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule (AFFH) does not aim to bulldoze the suburbs, as Trump often claims. Rather, the rule is the latest attempt to push the Department of Housing and Urban Development to do more to enforce and implement a section of the Fair Housing Act of 1968 requiring the government to “affirmatively further fair housing.”

The rule, which was finalized in July 2015 and has been in limbo since Obama left office, is designed to push “meaningful actions, in addition to combating discrimination, that overcome patterns of segregation and foster inclusive communities free from barriers that restrict access to opportunity based on protected characteristics.” It was designed to help state and local officials provide better access to opportunity, following the original 1968 guideline.

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For evidence of the bleak future, Trump points to his own experience “watching this for years.” But he goes on to bungle the facts, suggesting that following the AFFH would lead to “housing values [dropping] like a rock.” Most research suggests that the proximity of affordable housing does not depress property values.

The president ought to be familiar with fair-housing rules. The government charged Trump, along with his father and their company, with violating the Fair Housing Act in 1973 for not renting to Black people. The Trumps eventually signed a consent decree in 1975, which they were accused of violating just three years later.

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– – –

“He delivered historic criminal justice reform. He ended – once and for all – the policy of mass incarceration of Black people, which has decimated our communities, caused by no other than Joe Biden. Democrats couldn’t do it. Obama didn’t want to do it. Joe Biden and Kamala Harris definitely wouldn’t do it.”

– Georgia Rep. Vernon Jones, a Democrat

“While Joe Biden made hollow promises when he chaired the Senate Judiciary Committee, Donald Trump took action, and delivered criminal justice reform.”

– House Minority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La.

Trump signed the First Step Act in 2018, and it was described as historic criminal justice reform. But one of the biggest pieces of the First Step Act – a provision that reduced sentences for crack cocaine offenses – was an extension of Obama’s efforts in 2010.

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A Washington Post investigation found that Trump’s Justice Department is working to limit the number of inmates who might benefit from the First Step Act. Federal prosecutors are arguing in hundreds of cases that inmates who have applied for this type of relief are ineligible, according to a review of court records and interviews with defense attorneys. In at least half a dozen cases, prosecutors are seeking to reincarcerate offenders who have been released under the First Step Act.

Biden’s campaign previously told The Post that one part of Trump’s First Step Act, a “safety valve” provision, which allows judges more discretion on sentencing, first appeared in a 1994 crime law Biden sponsored. Trump expanded the safety valve to cover more types of offenders, the Biden campaign said. Biden also sponsored the Second Chance Act in 2007 with Sen. Pat Leahy, D-Vt., and takes some credit for the Obama administration’s reduction in sentences for crack offenses.

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– – –

“President Trump built the most inclusive economy ever, 7 million jobs created, pre-covid-19. And two-thirds of them went to women, African-Americans, and Hispanics.”

– Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C.

As of March, nearly 6.7 million jobs had been added to the economy since Trump took office. Job growth under Trump in his first three years was no better than Obama’s last three years. But the country saw historic job loss after states implemented stay-home orders to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus.

A September 2019 Washington Post analysis found that according to data collected by the government since the 1970s, most new hires of prime working age (25 to 54) were minorities, and minority women were predominantly driving the trend. That is not the same as saying minorities and women (of all races and ethnicities) account for most of the new hires of prime working age. One big reason for this trend has nothing to do with Trump; it’s because United States is becoming less White and because prime-age Americans of color, in particular women, are a growing share of the prime-age overall and nonemployed populations.

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– – –

Biden “believes in war without winning, war without end. President Trump doesn’t want us in distant deserts. He wants to fight to save America here and now.”

– Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla.

Despite Gaetz’s claim, the proof is in the troop numbers. Trump has not made much of a dent in the status quo despite a 2016 campaign promise to withdraw the United States from foreign conflicts. As The Post reported, the nearly 200,000 American military personnel who were overseas when Trump took office in 2017 was already the smallest number in many decades.

In countries such as Afghanistan, U.S. troops are merely serving as “police,” Trump has argued, while Germany, South Korea and others that could afford to defend themselves are getting U.S. protection on the cheap at taxpayer expense.

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But Trump has been stymied at virtually every turn. While there have been some relatively minor shifts in distribution – and since 2017, the Defense Department no longer includes troops in Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq in its unclassified, published tallies – the overall total of those serving abroad is believed to have slightly increased since Barack Obama left office.

– – –

“President Trump recognized the threat this virus presented for all Americans early on, and made rapid policy changes. And as a result, telehealth services are now accessible to more than 71 million Americans, including 35 million children.”

– Nurse Amy Johnson Ford

Blink and you’ll miss it. In this carefully written line, the key word is “accessible.” But it doesn’t mean Trump extended telehealth services to more than 71 million people with “rapid policy changes.”

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The 71 million figure (including 35 million children) is a theoretical maximum. It depends on all states taking up a series of recommendations from the Trump administration. The numbers simply reflect total enrollment in Medicaid and CHIP programs jointly run by states and the federal government.

“Under President Trump’s leadership, CMS has taken numerous steps to ensure that Americans can access the health care services they need through electronic and virtual means,” according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). “Swift actions in Medicare have ensured that the nation’s health coverage program for seniors is able to pay for telehealth services delivered nationwide and in any setting, with recent steps expanding Medicare payment for 80 additional telehealth services. Building on those actions, CMS is providing this toolkit for states to take similar steps. Medicaid and CHIP programs are jointly administered by the state and federal governments, and together provide health coverage for over 71 million Americans, including 35 million children.”

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– – –

“I watched him as the owner of a professional football team. Right after he bought the team, he set out to learn. He learned about the history of the team, the players, the coaches. Every detail. Then he used what he learned to make the team better.”

– Former NFL player Herschel Walker

Trump’s foray into the world of sports began and ended in the 1980s. He bought the New Jersey Generals, a United States Football League team, and pushed his fellow owners to move the league games to the fall instead of spring, so they could compete on television with the NFL. The league tried it in 1986.

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“Trump is widely blamed for the demise of the USFL,” ESPN reported.

– – –

“Biden knows failure. His own defense secretary said, ‘Biden has been wrong on every major foreign policy and national security decision for nearly four decades.’ “

-Gaetz

Gaetz was referring to a famous quote by Robert Gates, a Republican who served as defense secretary under George W. Bush and Barack Obama. In his 2014 memoir, Gates wrote: “I think he has been wrong on nearly every major foreign policy and national security issue over the past four decades.”

But in a June interview with NPR, Gates indicated that he supported Biden for president. “What I will say is, I wrote in my book ‘Duty’ in 2014, that I thought Joe Biden had been wrong on almost every major foreign policy issue over the preceding 40 years,” he said. “I wrote on the same page, though, that I regarded Joe Biden as a man of great integrity, a very decent human being, as somebody that if you had a personal problem or an issue, Joe Biden would be there to help you. So although I’ve got a lot of policy disagreements with the former vice president, he is a decent person. . . . I think that what the country needs is somebody who will try to bring us together.”

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