The most jagged edges of President Donald Trump’s day-to-day rhetoric may be sanded at the edges Tuesday night. No speech is more carefully prepared than the State of the Union.
Even so, he’s prone to exaggeration and sometimes fiction. If his past speeches to Congress are prologue, buyer beware.
A look at some of the subjects likely to come up in the speech:
The best economy ever, isn’t. The biggest tax cuts ever, aren’t. The blue-collar “boom” that Trump has recently taken to talking about is a mixed bag.
In essence, any president would have things to crow about from this time of low unemployment, stock market records and the longest economic expansion in U.S. history. But Trump comes at the numbers and complexities of the economy with a crowbar.
By definition — and that math again — it is only the longest expansion because it has bridged two presidents. Growth that started with the end of the recession in Obama’s first term continued in his second term and now under Trump. Do not expect Trump to give a nod to Obama on Tuesday night.
The longest expansion does not mean the best one. The numbers tell the broad story.
Growth last year was 2.3%, far under a plausible if challenging White House benchmark of 3%. Trump has never achieved annual growth of 3% despite promising at times that he’d grow the economy by 4% a year, if not more. “I think you can go to 5% or 6%,” he said in a 2016 debate, a prediction thoroughly regarded as impossible at the time.
Trump has held out his tax cut — which actually was smaller than President Ronald Reagan’s 1981 reduction — as a boon to the economy. While most economists credit it with putting extra money in peoples’ pockets and fueling more consumer spending, it hasn’t spurred the boom in corporate investment in new equipment that the White House said it would. Its impact may already be fading.
Meantime Trump points to a new, preliminary trade pact with China and a revamped agreement with Canada and Mexico as giving American workers a leg up in international trade. But independent economists forecast the North American agreement will boost growth and hiring by a tiny amount and say the China trade deal will help mostly by reducing the uncertainty the president’s own trade war helped create.
Trump plays a rather ordinary fact for cheers at his rallies — more Americans are working than ever before. That’s mainly because there are ever more Americans: Call it people inflation.
As for a blue-collar boom, manufacturing has actually shrunk slightly as a proportion of the work force since Trump took office. There have, though, been gains in blue-collar wages. Some of those gains have faded as Trump’s trade war hurt manufacturing.
ENVIRONMENT and DEREGULATION
It’s been a big year for cutting regulations and more is coming.
One of Trump’s biggest boasts is his effort to “lift the burden” of environmental “overregulation” to cut costs, drive economic growth and benefit the everyday consumer, as he describes it. But he typically neglects the broader consequences to public health and misrepresents what he’s doing.
On one of his most far-reaching environmental rollbacks, slashing at federal protections for the nation’s creeks, gullies and wetlands, for instance, Trump likes to surround himself with farmers to say the goal is all about easing Obama administration rules that make it harder for farmers to work their fields.
Statistically at least, that’s not so.
The federal government’s own analysis shows that it’s mainly real-estate developers, builders and other non-farm industries — including oil and gas and mining — seeking federal permits allowing work that will contaminate or dry up waterways and wetlands. Of the more than 3,000 such permits that industries take out each year that require some sort of mitigation for impacting federally protected water bodies, farmers typically account for just eight of the permits, recent federal data shows.
Trump is also moving to roll back emissions and mileage standards for new cars and light trucks, toughened by Obama as one of his main efforts to slow climate change. Trump asserts that weaker standards will make cars both cheaper and safer. But his own Scientific Advisory Board called his claims on the mileage rollbacks “implausible.”
The big automakers, already adapting to the Obama standards, are split on what the federal standards should be. Years of lawsuits brought by opponents of Trump’s move are likely, leaving automakers to navigate the uncertainty as they design future years’ models.
It was a striking Trump claim on Twitter last month: He was “the person who saved preexisting conditions in your health care.”
Nowhere close. And he’s likely to keep repeating it.
People with preexisting medical problems have health insurance protections because of Obama’s health law, which Trump is trying to dismantle.
Trump and Republican lawmakers have vowed to protect coverage for people with medical problems, but at the same time his administration is supporting a lawsuit to strike down Obama’s entire law as unconstitutional. “Obamacare” codified protections against insurance discrimination based on a person’s medical history.
In his speech to Congress last year, Trump said insurance protections for preexisting conditions and lower drug prices should be the “next major priority” for Congress and him. The first mission is not accomplished. There’s been some progress on the second.
Prescription drug prices dropped 1% in 2018, according to nonpartisan economic experts at U.S. Health and Human Services. That was the first such decline in 45 years, driven by generic drugs. Prices continued to rise for brand-name drugs, although at a more moderate pace.
As a candidate, Trump promised to “negotiate like crazy” over drug prices, but he’s slamming a Democratic bill passed by the House that would authorize Medicare to do just that. Instead he supports a bipartisan Senate bill to cut costs for seniors and restrain price increases, but it’s unclear that enough Republican senators are willing to vote for it.
Trump offered this signature promise during the 2016 campaign: he would build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border and Mexico would pay for it. Trump repeatedly says he’s fulfilling it.
To be clear, Mexico is not paying for the wall. He’s made some progress building it, for the most part replacing existing but flimsy fencing with a more imposing barrier, but the money is coming from U.S. taxpayers.
Trump has argued that the updated trade agreement with Canada and Mexico will pay for the wall because of economic benefits he predicts will come from the deal. Nothing in the trade agreement would cover or refund the construction cost or require a payment from Mexico.
Instead, he is assuming a wide variety of economic benefits that can’t be quantified or counted on. For example, he has said the deal will dissuade some U.S. companies from moving operations to Mexico and he credits that possibility as a payment by Mexico. The agreement preserves the existing liberalized environment of low or no tariffs among the U.S., Mexico and Canada, with certain improvements for each country.
As well, he likes to describe Central Americans trying to get into the U.S. as a horde of beefy men with ill intent, “some of the roughest people you’ve ever seen.”
But figures from his own administration reveal migrants who are increasingly families and children. Among them are thousands who get a chance for a life in America because they make a compelling case that they risk persecution in their home countries. In several years previously, unaccompanied children made up the majority of Central Americans seeking asylum at the border.
Trump likes to say he knows more about defense and foreign policy than his own generals and national security experts. But on Iran, North Korea, NATO — not to mention his now well-known hold on congressionally-approved military aid to Ukraine — his statements are often at odds with the facts.
To Trump, it’s all about the greatest deal ever. Rarely is the achievement so lofty.
He’s insisted that his Mideast peace plan to solve the long-running conflict between Israel and the Palestinians will gain support because it’s “win-win” for both sides. In fact, Trump’s plan favors Israel on key contentious issues and attaches nearly impossible conditions for granting the Palestinians their hoped-for state. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas dismissed the plan as “nonsense.”
On North Korea, Trump talks about how he’s met three times with leader Kim Jong Un and became the first U.S. president ever to step into the country, resulting in a “personal relationship” with Kim that no one else “in the world” has. “We have peace,” Trump said at a NATO summit in London in December.
Despite the meetings and photo opportunities, no plan has been presented that would lead to the goal of Trump and Kim’s first summit in Singapore in June 2018 of North Korea’s “denuclearization.”
Trump often describes getting the U.S. out of the “horrible” Iran nuclear deal with a claim that Obama gave Iran more than $150 billion when it signed the agreement. That’s false.
There was no $150 billion payout from the U.S. treasury or other countries as part of the 2015 pact. When Iran signed the multinational deal to restrain its nuclear development in return for being freed from sanctions, it regained access to its own assets, which had been frozen abroad. Iran was allowed to get its money back. The U.S. made a separate payment of roughly $1.8 billion to cover a decades-old IOU.
Trump also talks up how his “America First” policy has yielded groundbreaking results.
He likes to say money now is pouring in from NATO members, as if they’re cutting a big check to the U.S. or to the alliance. That’s false. Occasionally he casts the issue more accurately — they are increasing their own domestic military spending, which indirectly eases reliance on U.S. spending to support the alliance’s goal.
It’s true that they are increasing their military budgets and that Trump has pressed them to do so. What he does not say is that NATO members pledged before he took office to do just that.
It is de rigueur for the commander-in-chief to praise the troops in a State of the Union address. His words on the troops bear watching.
In the ramblings and rages of his Twitter account and rallies, Trump has falsified the record on veterans health care, claiming he gave veterans the option of seeking private care at public expense under certain conditions. Obama’s law did that; Trump expanded the conditions.
Many of the lawmakers who will be in his audience Tuesday know this. They passed the legislation that Obama signed. It was perhaps notable that Trump did not make the claim — one of his most persistent — in last year’s speech. Instead he exaggerated the impact of a law he actually did sign, to make it easier to fire under-performing Department of Veterans Affairs employees.
Associated Press writers Deb Riechmann, Ellen Knickmeyer, Christopher Rugaber, Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar and Colleen Long contributed to this report.
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