Trump offers fantasies, not facts, on border wall

President Donald Trump speaks about the partial government shutdown, immigration and border security in the Diplomatic Reception Room of the White House, in Washington, Saturday, Jan. 19, 2019.(AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

President Donald Trump made an untenable case Saturday that a Mexican border wall would be a magic bullet for America’s drug problem.

Drugs from Mexico are primarily smuggled into the U.S. at official border crossings, not remote lands that can be walled off. His proposal to end the government shutdown implicitly recognizes that reality by proposing money to improve drug-detection technology specifically at land ports of entry. Even so, Trump pitched a wall as a solution to drugs and crime.

A look at his remarks:

TRUMP: “If we build a powerful and fully designed see-through steel barrier on our southern border, the crime rate and drug problem in our country would be quickly and greatly reduced. Some say it could be cut in half.”

TRUMP, on the virtues of a wall: “We can stop heroin.”

THE FACTS: His argument flies in the face of findings by his government about how drugs get into the county. It also contradicts a multitude of studies that conclude people in the country illegally do not commit violent crime at a higher rate than other people.

The Drug Enforcement Administration says “only a small percentage” of heroin seized by U.S. authorities comes across on territory between ports of entry. It says the same is true of drugs overall.

In a report , the agency said the most common trafficking technique by transnational criminal organizations is to hide drugs in passenger vehicles or tractor-trailers as they drive into the U.S. though entry ports, where they are stopped and subject to inspection. They also use buses, cargo trains and tunnels, the report says, citing other smuggling methods that also would not be choked off by a border wall.

Even if a wall could stop all drugs from Mexico, America’s drug problem would be far from over.

The U.S. Centers on Disease Control and Prevention says about 40 percent of opioid deaths in 2016 involved prescription painkillers. Those drugs are made by pharmaceutical companies. Some feed the addiction of people who have prescriptions; others are stolen and sold on the black market. Moreover, illicit versions of powerful synthetic opioids such as fentanyl have come to the U.S. from China.

As well, many researchers have found that people in the U.S. illegally are less likely to commit crime than U.S. citizens and legal immigrants — except, that is, for the crime of being illegally in the country. A March study by the journal Criminology, for example, said states with larger shares of illegal immigration had lower crime rates between 1990 and 2014, and “undocumented immigration does not increase violence.”

The libertarian Cato Institute has reached similar conclusions in a series of studies. One found that people living illegally in Texas had 56 percent fewer criminal convictions than native-born Americans in the state, as a percentage of their respective populations.

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DEA report: https://www.dea.gov/documents/2018/10/02/2018-national-drug-threat-assessment-ndta

CATO report: https://www.cato.org/publications/immigration-research-policy-brief/their-numbers-demographics-countries-origin

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Copyright © 2019 Capitol Hill Blue

Copyright © 2019 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved

A review of Trump’s sitcom presidential year

President Donald Trump arrives to speak at a campaign rally Southaven, Miss. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

The stranger-than-sitcom American presidency opened 2018 with a big tease about mutual nuclear destruction from two leaders who then found “love” not war. It seems President Donald Trump and North Korea’s Kim Jong Un were just playing hard to get.

The presidency ends the year saturated in tumult, with the government in partial shutdown and Trump tweeting a video of himself warbling a parody of the theme song from “Green Acres,” a television sitcom from the 1960s, to mark his signing of a farm bill.

Throw in a beer-loving and very angry Supreme Court nominee, an unhappy departing defense secretary, Trump’s parallel universe of facts and his zillion tweets, and you can see that the president’s world this year was touched by the weird, the traumatic and the fantastical — also known as WTF.

There was no holding back the self-described “very stable genius” with the “very, very large brain.”

Some serious and relatively conventional things got done in 2018.

There was a midterm election. Many more Democrats are coming to Congress and not quite all of them plan to run for president. Divided government dawns in January when Democrats take control of the House; Republicans retain their grip on the Senate.

An overhaul of the criminal justice system was accomplished, and in an unusually bipartisan way, though it took a dash of reality TV’s Kim Kardashian West to move it along. Gun control actually was tightened a bit, with Trump’s unilateral banning of bump stocks.

Trump shocked allies and lost Defense Secretary Jim Mattis over a presidential decision to pull U.S. troops out of Syria, quickly following up with indications that up to half the troops in Afghanistan might be withdrawn, too.

Self-described “Tariff Man” started one trade war, with China, and headed off a second by tweaking the North American Free Trade Agreement and giving it an unpronounceable acronym, USMCA. He withdrew the U.S. from the Iran nuclear deal, putting action behind his Twitter shout: “WE ARE NO LONGER A COUNTRY THAT WILL STAND FOR YOUR DEMENTED WORDS OF VIOLENCE & DEATH.”

Trump placed his second justice on the Supreme Court in two years after Brett Kavanaugh, accused of alcohol-fueled sexual assault in his youth, raged against the allegations at a congressional hearing and acknowledged only: “I liked beer, I still like beer,” but “I never sexually assaulted anyone.”

There were frustrations and fulminations aplenty for the president, particularly about the steaming-ahead Russia-Trump campaign investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller (“special councel” in some Trump tweets).

Nor did he make much progress on his promised border wall (“boarder wall”), which he renamed “artistically designed steel slats” in December in what he regarded as a concession to wall-despising, concrete-cursing Democrats. The concession did not work: large parts of the government closed Saturday over the wall-induced budget impasse.

He took heat for a zero-tolerance policy that forced migrant children from their parents until he backed off, inaccurately blaming Democrats for “Child Seperation.”

It was a very good year for jobs. It was a check-your-smartphone-right-now, pass-the-smelling-salts year for the stock market. Trump, who assailed the unemployment rate as a phony measure when he was a candidate, couldn’t speak of it enough as Obama-era job growth continued on his watch. He went mum about the market, a prime subject for his boasting before it took a sustained dive.

Trump’s approval rating in polls was one of the few constants on this swiftly tilting planet: 42 percent approval and 56 percent disapproval in The Associated Press-NORC’s latest and 38 percent-57 percent via Gallup, neither much different than in January.

Through it all, the mainstreaming of the bizarre proceeded apace and North Korea’s Kim set that tone right on Jan. 1 with his New Year cheer to Americans across the ocean: “It’s not a mere threat but a reality that I have a nuclear button on the desk in my office. All of the mainland United States is within the range of our nuclear strike.”

Trump responded the next day with a tweet about size and performance. “I too have a Nuclear Button, but it is a much bigger & more powerful one than his, and my Button works!”

Once they got that out of their system, things quickly improved, helped along by Kim’s letters to Trump, which the U.S. president called “beautiful.” There was no more talk about Trump being a “mentally deranged dotard” or Kim being a “maniac,” the musty insults of an earlier time. In June, they held history’s first meeting between a North Korean leader and a current U.S. president. “We fell in love,” Trump later said at a West Virginia rally.

Kim had previously vowed to visit “fire and fury” on the U.S. but the “Fire and Fury” that made Trump livid early this year was the book of the same name, Michael Wolff’s insider account of the Trump White House. That was a different sort of missile. The president took particular exception to observations in the book by his former chief strategist, tweeting about “Sloppy Steve Bannon, who cried when he got fired and begged for his job. Now Sloppy Steve has been dumped like a dog by almost everyone. Too bad!”

They are said to be on better terms now.

Over the course of the year, Trump spoke at more than 40 campaign rallies, kept up his Twitter barrage (40,000 tweets since 2009 on his @realDonaldTrump account) and answered plenty of questions in infrequent but lengthy news conferences and sit-down interviews.

So what stands out in this blizzardy whiteout of unconventionality?

How about this farewell to his secretary of state, Rex Tillerson? “He was dumb as a rock and I couldn’t get rid of him fast enough. He was lazy as hell.” (The president usually reserves “dumb as a rock” for journalists.)

Or his description of Stormy Daniels, paid to stay quiet about their alleged affair, as “horseface?”

Or this description of his attorney general, Jeff Sessions, as “scared stiff and Missing in Action,” before Sessions was finally out in November?

Will history long remember that in 2018 the president called Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff “little Adam Schitt” on Twitter and nations in Africa “shithole countries” in a private meeting?

Or that he (correctly) predicted Hurricane Florence would be “tremendously wet” or told the AP: “I have a natural instinct for science?”

In July, Trump appeared to side with Russian President Vladimir Putin when he stood by Putin’s side at a Helsinki summit news conference and gave weight to Putin’s denial that Russia meddled in the 2016 election, despite the firm conclusion of U.S. intelligence agencies that it had. “I don’t see any reason why it would be” Russia, Trump said.

But while it’s been hardly noticed in a capital consumed by the shutdown drama, Mattis, Syria, steel slats and market convulsions, 2018 draws to a close as it started — with warnings of a nuclear Armageddon, this time from Putin.

Putin’s prompt was Trump’s intention to walk away from one arms control treaty and his reluctance to extend another.

That, said Putin, “could lead to the destruction of civilization as a whole and maybe even our planet.”

Maybe he’s just playing hard to get.

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AP polling director Emily Swanson, and AP writers Darlene Superville, Zeke Miller, Catherine Lucey, Jill Colvin, Jonathan Lemire and Nancy Benac contributed to this report.

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Copyright © 2018 Capitol Hill Blue

Copyright © 2018 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved

Trump tweets more lies about immigrants, GM

Cristian Mejia, of El Salvador, waits with others in line for food, outside of a shelter for members of the migrant caravan, in Tijuana, Mexico, Tuesday, Nov. 27, 2018. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

President Donald Trump is spreading a false claim from supporters that people who are in the United States illegally receive more in federal assistance than the average American gets in Social Security benefits.

Everything about the tweet he passed on to his 56 million listed Twitter followers Tuesday is wrong.

In a tweet of his own, Trump sketched an overly simplistic portrait of the auto industry in suggesting that General Motors plants slated for closure would be chugging along if foreign cars were heavily taxed in the U.S. market.

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IMMIGRATION

TRUMP’s retweet: “Illegals can get up to $3,874 a month under Federal Assistance program. Our social security checks are on average $1200 a month. RT (retweet) if you agree: If you weren’t born in the United States, you should receive $0 assistance.”

THE FACTS: Wrong country, wrong numbers, wrong description of legal status of the recipients. Besides that, immigrants who are in the U.S. illegally do not qualify for most federal benefits, even when they’re paying taxes, and those with legal status make up a small portion of those who use public benefits.

The $3,874 refers to a payment made in Canada, not the U.S., to a legally admitted family of refugees. It was largely a one-time resettlement payment under Canada’s refugee program, not monthly assistance in perpetuity, the fact-checking site Snopes found a year ago in debunking a Facebook post that misrepresented Canada’s policy. A document cited in the Facebook post, showing aid for food, transportation and other basics needs, applied to a family of five.

Apart from confusing Canada with the United States, the tweet distributed by the president misstated how much Americans get from Social Security on average — $1,419 a month for retired workers, not $1,200.

Overall, low-income immigrants who are not yet U.S. citizens use Medicaid, food aid, cash assistance and Supplemental Security Income aid at a lower rate than comparable U.S.-born adults, according to an Associated Press analysis of census data. Noncitizen immigrants make up only 6.5 percent of all those participating in Medicaid, for example.

Despite that, the administration wants to redefine the rules for immigrants to further restrict who can receive benefits and for how long.

A retweet is not necessarily an endorsement of the opinion it contains, but Trump does not populate his Twitter feed with views that are contrary to his own.

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GM

TRUMP: “The reason that the small truck business in the U.S. is such a go to favorite is that, for many years, Tariffs of 25% have been put on small trucks coming into our country. It is called the ‘chicken tax.’ If we did that with cars coming in, many more cars would be built here … and G.M. would not be closing their plants in Ohio, Michigan & Maryland. Get smart Congress. Also, the countries that send us cars have taken advantage of the U.S. for decades. The President has great power on this issue – Because of the G.M. event, it is being studied now!”

THE FACTS: It’s a stretch to conclude that the plants General Motors plans to close would be spared if foreign-made cars were subject to hefty duties. Tariffs could indeed be an incentive to build cars in the U.S., but the overarching problem for GM is that people aren’t buying cars like they used to. More want SUVs or trucks now.

The 25 percent tariff on pickup trucks imported into the U.S. was put in place years ago to protect the Detroit Three’s major profit centers from imported pickups. It does not apply to trucks imported from Canada or Mexico at present. So GM, for instance, builds pickups in Mexico and exports them to the U.S. without such a tariff. Fiat Chrysler also builds heavy-duty Ram pickups in Mexico, although it plans to move that production to the U.S. next year.

Japanese automakers, mainly Toyota and Nissan, use U.S. plants to build nearly all of the pickups that they sell in the country. Honda switched production from Canada to Alabama. Toyota does sell a small number of Mexican-built Tacoma pickups in the U.S., but most are built in Texas.

So there are grounds to believe car duties could make a difference, but it’s not that straightforward.

Six years ago cars were 49 percent of new-vehicle sales in the U.S., while trucks and SUVs were 51 percent. Through October of this year, it’s 68 percent trucks and 32 percent cars. All the factories GM wants to close make cars that aren’t selling well. The Commerce Department has been studying whether it can use national security reasons to justify putting tariffs on imported cars but has yet to make a decision.

Most automakers, including those based in Detroit, import vehicles from abroad that would be affected by any tariffs. And U.S. car exports would probably be subject to new or higher tariffs overseas.

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Associated Press writers Colleen Long in Washington and Tom Krisher in Detroit contributed to this report.

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Copyright © 2018 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved

Trump lies about his federal judge appointments

President Donald Trump at rally in Houston for Sen. Ted Cruz. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

President Donald Trump overreached Monday night when he boasted that he’s seated more federal judges than any president except George Washington. By various measures, he trails others.

A look at his claim at his Texas rally:

TRUMP: “We’re after George Washington” in federal judicial appointments.

THE FACTS: Trump is not No. 2.

Trump has appointed 84 judges who have been confirmed. That translates to about 10 percent of the total federal judgeships at the 21-month mark in his presidency. That lags at least two other presidents in terms of both raw numbers and percentages, said Russell Wheeler, a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution and expert on judicial appointments.

Wheeler, a former deputy director of the Federal Judicial Center, analyzed historical data from the center and the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts. He found that Trump trails Democratic presidents John F. Kennedy (110) and Bill Clinton (128) at comparable points in their presidencies in the number of judges seated.

Wheeler also put together a ranking based on the number of appointees in 21 months as a percentage of “authorized judgeships,” or the total seats created by Congress. Trump lags more than a dozen other presidents, including Washington, who as the first president appointed 100 percent of the federal judges. At the 21-month mark, for instance, Kennedy appointees occupied roughly 28 percent of the judicial seats then authorized by Congress, far higher than Trump’s 10 percent.

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Copyright © 2018 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved