Trump’s fabrications about jobs, economy and other topics

President Donald Trump. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

Eager to dismiss his critics, President Donald Trump is fabricating the circumstances regarding jobs, the economy and the social safety net.

He insists that Social Security and Medicare are becoming stronger under his watch when the most recent government report shows the financial condition of both programs worsening. On the economy, his claims of spurring the strongest U.S. growth ever fall way short.

The statements were among varied misrepresentations from the White House and in hearings for his Supreme Court nominee, coming in a remarkable week after an anonymous senior official went public about an effort within the administration to thwart his agenda. Trump also faces the special counsel’s continuing Russia investigation, fewer than 60 days before November’s midterm elections.

A look at the rhetoric and how it compares with reality:

MEDICARE AND SOCIAL SECURITY

TRUMP: “We’re saving Social Security. The Democrats will destroy Social Security. We’re saving Medicare. The Democrats want to destroy Medicare. …We will keep it going. We’re making it stronger. We’re making Social Security stronger.” — remarks Wednesday.

TRUMP, promoting Montana Republican Matt Rosendale’s Senate campaign: “I’m going to protect your Social Security. We’re going to take care of your Social Security. Matt Rosendale is going to make sure we’re not touching your Social Security and your Medicare is only going one way. That’s stronger.” — Montana rally Thursday.

THE FACTS: Trump hasn’t made Medicare and Social Security stronger.

The government’s annual trustees reports on the programs released in June shows the financial condition of both worsening significantly since last year. The projected insolvency for Social Security stayed unchanged — in 2034 — but Medicare’s moved three years closer, to 2026.

Both programs also will start tapping their reserves this year, meaning that income from payroll taxes and interest earned by the Social Security and Medicare trust funds will no longer cover costs. That threshold was still a few years away in last year’s report. As a result, Social Security and Medicare will need a $416 billion transfer from the government’s general revenues this year, when the federal deficit is already rising.

Last year’s Republican tax bill, which cut taxes on Social Security benefits, helped exacerbate the shortfall. So did the Trump-supported repeal of the individual mandate in so-called Obamacare. The repeal promises to increase the number of people without health insurance and therefore Medicare payments for uncompensated medical care.

Trump campaigned on a promise not to cut Social Security or Medicare, but he hasn’t offered a blueprint for either program. Democrats want to expand the social safety net by spending more.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has argued that tax cuts, rolling back regulations and better trade agreements could boost economic growth and help stabilize Medicare and Social Security. But nonpartisan government experts who produced the annual Social Security assessment didn’t seem to accept that, forecasting “sustained moderate economic growth.”

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TRADE

TRUMP: “‘Ford has abruptly killed a plan to sell a Chinese-made small vehicle in the U.S. because of the prospect of higher U.S. Tariffs.’ CNBC. This is just the beginning. This car can now be BUILT IN THE U.S.A. and Ford will pay no tariffs!” — tweet Sunday.

THE FACTS: It’s not true that Trump’s taxes on Chinese imports will now mean the Focus Active can be built in the U.S.

Citing Trump’s new tariffs, Ford on Aug. 31 said it was dropping plans to ship the hatchback vehicle to the United States from China.

But Ford said in a statement Sunday “it would not be profitable to build the Focus Active in the U.S.,” given forecast yearly sales below 50,000. For now, that means Ford simply won’t sell the vehicle in the United States.

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ECONOMY

TRUMP: “We are breaking all Jobs and Economic Records.” — tweet Saturday.

TRUMP: “The Economy is booming like never before, Jobs are at Historic Highs.” — tweet Thursday.

THE FACTS: The economy, though healthy, has been in better shape at many times in the past.

Growth reached 4.2 percent at an annual rate in the second quarter. That’s the best in the past four years. So far, the economy is growing at a modest rate compared with previous economic expansions. In the late 1990s, growth topped 4 percent for four straight years, from 1997 through 2000. In the 1980s expansion, growth even reached 7.2 percent in 1984.

The unemployment rate of 3.9 percent is strong but it’s not at the best point ever. It is near an 18-year low. The all-time low came in 1953, when unemployment fell to 2.5 percent during the Korean War. Meanwhile, a greater percentage of Americans held jobs in 2000 than now.

As a whole, the economy is in its 10th year of growth, a recovery that began under President Barack Obama, who inherited the Great Recession. The data show that the falling unemployment rate and gains in home values reflect the duration of the recovery, rather than any major changes made since 2017 by the Trump administration.

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2016 ELECTION

TRUMP: “The Dems have tried every trick in the playbook-call me everything under the sun. But if I’m all of those terrible things, how come I beat them so badly, 306-223?” — tweet Saturday.

THE FACTS: For the record, Trump misstates the Electoral College vote in his 2016 presidential race against Democrat Hillary Clinton. The official count was 304 to 227, according to an Associated Press tally of the electoral votes in every state.

Clinton won the popular vote, receiving nearly 2.9 million more votes than Trump after racking up more lopsided victories in big states such as New York and California, according to election data compiled by AP. But she lost the presidency due to Trump’s winning margin in the Electoral College, which came after he narrowly won less populous Midwestern states including Michigan and Wisconsin.

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‘FAKE NEWS’ MEDIA

TRUMP: “Isn’t it a shame that someone can write an article or book, totally make up stories and form a picture of a person that is literally the exact opposite of the fact, and get away with it without retribution or cost. Don’t know why Washington politicians don’t change libel laws?” — tweet Wednesday.

TRUMP, addressing GOP Sens. John Thune and Mike Rounds of South Dakota: “We have lousy libel laws… ‘Hey Mike and John, could you do me a favor? Create some libel laws, that when people say stuff bad about you, you can sue them and if you’re right, you win.’” — remarks Friday at fundraising event in South Dakota.

THE FACTS: He misstates libel law in claiming that someone can “totally make up stories” or freely write “fake news” without penalty.

Under defamation laws, people can bring a lawsuit for slander or libel if they believe someone’s statements have injured their reputation. For public officials such as Trump, they must meet a higher legal bar than ordinary people due to First Amendment guarantees of a free press and show the statements were made with “actual malice.” That means a publication is at risk by acting with reckless disregard for the truth.

Trump often pledges to make it easier for people to sue for defamation, typically after the publication of books or news articles that present an unflattering portrait of the White House. But he has little influence to change the laws.

Libel laws are set at the state level, which the president and Congress do not have authority to change. Any attempt to loosen the laws would likely run afoul of the First Amendment, barring a successful Supreme Court challenge or constitutional amendment.

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TREASON

TRUMP, questioning whether one of his senior officials acted illegally about an administration effort to thwart his agenda: “TREASON?” — tweet Wednesday.

THE FACTS: Not treason. The official who wrote anonymously in The New York Times about the “quiet resistance” against Trump is surely disloyal to the president but not a traitor in the legal sense.

Treason occurs when a U.S. citizen, or a noncitizen on U.S. territory, wages war against the country or provides material support, not just sympathy, to a declared enemy of the United States.

For instance, in the Cold War case of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, who were executed for giving atomic secrets to Russia, the Rosenbergs were convicted of espionage, not treason, because the U.S. and Russia were not officially at war. No one has been convicted of treason since the aftermath of World War II, few have been through history and no one has been executed for that crime, says Carlton F.W. Larson, a University of California law professor who has a book coming on treason.

In 2006, the Bush administration brought a treason indictment against Adam Gadahn, an American who authorities say became an operative and spokesman for al-Qaida abroad. The Obama administration said he was killed in a 2015 counterterrorism operation in the Pakistan-Afghanistan border region.

Treason is addressed in the Constitution as part of an effort by the framers to prevent the government from using it as a reason to suppress political speech, said J. Richard Broughton, associate dean at University of Detroit Mercy and a member of the Republican National Lawyers Association. Congress has little if any power to change the definition and the executive branch can only bring charges in extremely limited cases.

Trump’s opponents have used “treason” loosely as the special counsel investigates contacts between the Trump campaign and Russia, and it is thrown around widely in the public discourse by all sides.

Trump is using the word loosely now.

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KAVANAUGH HEARINGS

DEMOCRATIC SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR of Minnesota, asking about Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh’s views on the scope of a president’s executive power: “I’m asking about your position that you stated in this law review article that a president should be not subject to investigations while in office. You’re only saying that they should be subject to investigation as part of an impeachment (proceeding by Congress) and that there’s no other investigation that could occur? Is that fair?” — Senate hearing Wednesday.

KAVANAUGH: “No. … On criminal investigation and prosecution, I did not take a position on the constitutionality. Period.”

THE FACTS: His claim is highly questionable, based on his past writings.

In a 2009 Minnesota Law Review article, Kavanaugh cast doubt on whether a president should be subject to what he described as “time-consuming” criminal investigations, cautioning that it could distract the nation’s chief executive from doing the job. He wrote in a footnote that “a serious constitutional question exists regarding whether a President can be criminally indicted and tried while in office.”

A decade earlier, Kavanaugh wrote that the Constitution seems to dictate that “congressional investigation must take place in lieu of criminal investigation when the President is the subject of investigation, and that criminal prosecution can occur only after the President has left office.”

Special counsel Robert Mueller has been investigating whether the Trump campaign coordinated with Russia during the 2016 campaign to tip the election in his favor, and whether Trump obstructed justice such as by firing FBI director James Comey.

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DEMOCRATIC SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN of California: “In the 1950s and 60s, the two decades before Roe, deaths from illegal abortions in this country ran between 200,000 and 1.2 million. That’s according to the Guttmacher Institute.” — Senate hearing Wednesday.

THE FACTS: That’s wrong, and she corrected herself Friday. Known deaths from illegal abortion were much smaller. The California senator conflated the estimated number of women who had an illegal abortion with the number who died from it, according to the research she cites.

The Guttmacher Institute, which supports abortion rights, cites estimates in a 2003 report that 200,000 to 1.2 million illegal abortions were performed in the 1950s and 1960s in the U.S. The report says the number of deaths from illegal abortion dropped from just under 1,700 in 1940 to just over 300 by 1950 and a little under 200 by 1965. The Supreme Court established a constitutional right to abortion in the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision.

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RUSSIA INVESTIGATION

TRUMP ATTORNEY RUDY GIULIANI, citing a “60 day run-up to 2018 elections”: “If Mueller wants to show he’s not partisan, then issue a report on collusion and obstruction. They will show President Trump did nothing wrong.” — tweet Aug. 25.

THE FACTS: He’s wrong in suggesting there is a 60-day cutoff date before the Nov. 6 midterm elections, which came Friday, for Mueller to wrap up the Russia investigation.

Trump and his allies including Giulani often cite a Justice Department policy on the issue. But in fact, no written policy setting a deadline exists and Mueller can continue the probe and issue new indictments. He also has no time constraints regarding finishing or releasing the findings of his investigation.

The only thing that’s changed is that Labor Day kicked off high election season in the battle for control of the House and Senate. So any action by Mueller between now and the Nov. 6 voting risks being seen as an effort to affect the outcome.

The Justice Department does have guidelines about investigations in advance of an election, which have been interpreted over the past decade to mean that investigators, if possible, should avoid taking specific actions — such as indicting candidates or raiding their office — in the run-up to an election.

“Law enforcement officers and prosecutors may never select the timing of investigative steps or criminal charges for the purpose of affecting any election, or for the purpose of giving an advantage or disadvantage to any candidate or political party,” one such memo from 2012 states.

But the policy does not impose a specific cutoff date for investigations before an election.

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Associated Press writers Paul Wiseman, Christopher Rugaber, Josh Boak, Cal Woodward, Eric Tucker and Laurie Kellman contributed to this report.

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Fact Check: Trump’s false claims on jobs, race

President Donald Trump arrives on Air Force One at Andrews Air Force Base. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

President Donald Trump is taking unjustified credit for recent job gains by black Americans even as he defends himself against claims of racism.

Trump and his administration argue he’s done more to help the economic well-being of minorities than Barack Obama, the country’s first and only black president.

The implication is that Obama struggled to create jobs for his fellow minorities, while Trump has a sterling jobs record.

Trump has also frequently touted that black unemployment is at a record low. But that figure is volatile on a monthly basis. After achieving a record low of 5.9 percent in May, it has since jumped back up to 6.6 percent.

Trump is taking credit he doesn’t deserve for job growth, according to many economists who view the continued growth since the middle of 2009 as the primary explanation for the recent hiring. More important, there are multiple signs that the racial wealth gap is now worsening and the administration appears to have done little, if anything, to specifically address this challenge.

“To identify a single indicator of employment as an indicator of economic health is, at best, incomplete,” said Darrick Hamilton, a professor of economics at the New School in New York City. “It is intentionally deceptive to focus only on that indicator.”

Government data show troubling economic disparities for black Americans:

— The median net worth of a black household is just $17,200, according to the Federal Reserve. The median net worth of a white household is 10 times higher. Back in 2004, the median net worth for whites was only seven times higher.

— The homeownership rate for black Americans has fallen since Trump became president to 41.6 percent, according to the Census Bureau. The gap between white homeownership and black homeownership is now the widest since 1995.

— Census figures show the average income for a black college graduate is $64,486, about $13,000 less than what a white college graduate earns.

— The average student debt for someone who is black is $32,047, almost double the average for someone who is white, according to a 2016 study by the Urban Institute.

Hamilton has examined Trump’s $1.5 trillion worth of tax cuts over the next decade. While deficit-financed cuts might boost growth in the near-term, Hamilton found that the changes engineered to the tax code by the administration could worsen the racial wealth gap.

In a report released in May by the liberal Roosevelt Institute, he said the new tax law primarily helps high-income households and rewards people with existing wealth. He said it could increase local fees and fines that are generally a burden on minorities, and the loss of tax revenues could lead to layoffs for public employees, who are disproportionately black.

White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders initially quoted false job figures on Tuesday to make the case that Trump was helping minorities.

Her statement came as the White House faces heat for Trump’s racially divisive comments about former White House aide Omarosa Manigault-Newman, NFL players, basketball star LeBron James, immigrants and even Merck CEO Kenneth Frazier, whose grandfather was born into slavery. Trump’s approval rating with black Americans is a lowly 13 percent, according to the polling firm Gallup.

Sanders initially said Obama had only added 195,000 jobs for black Americans during his tenure compared with Trump’s 700,000 new jobs in just two years. The U.S. economy actually added about 3 million jobs for black workers during Obama’s tenure, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

But after a cursory apology and correction on Twitter, the administration doubled down on its claims by stripping the jobs figures of one crucial piece of context: Obama inherited an economy in the worst tailspin since the Great Depression began in 1929, while Trump came into office after seven years of economic growth.

Aaron Sojourner, a professor of economics at the University of Minnesota and a former senior economist at the White House Council of Economic Advisers for Obama and Trump, said this context was the key difference between the two presidents’ records.

“The administration was born on third base and wants to make us think they hit a triple,” he said.

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Associated Press writer Anne Flaherty contributed to this report.

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Trump touts tariffs in Illinois, where many workers lose

enior melt operator Randy Feltmeyer watches a giant ladle as it backs away after pouring its contents of red-hot iron into a vessel in the basic oxygen furnace as part of the process of producing steel at the U.S. Steel Granite City Works facility in Granite City, Ill. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

Steelworkers in Granite City, Illinois, threw a street party — complete with hot dogs, cold beer and a singer in red, white and blue — when U.S. Steel announced earlier this year it was bringing hundreds of laid-off employees back to work at the local mill.

On Thursday they’ll celebrate again, this time with President Donald Trump.

U.S. Steel credited Trump’s plan to impose tariffs on imported steel and aluminum when the company announced in March it was firing up a furnace at Granite City Works that had been idled for more than two years. Since then, Trump has pointed to the community east of St. Louis as an example of how his “America First” approach to trade will help U.S. workers — a case he’ll make again Thursday before a crowd of employees and local residents who say this steel town has come alive again.

“Our community is excited to have the president come, and we’re especially excited to see jobs coming back to Granite City,” said James Amos, the city’s economic development director. “To have the president of the United States visit your city feels like, maybe, icing on the cake.”

But not everyone is in a partying mood. Others in Illinois and the Midwest, from farmers to manufacturers and technology companies, warn a global trade war and retaliatory tariffs from countries such as China, Mexico and Canada are causing job losses. The new tariffs threaten more than $3.8 billion in Illinois exports, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce says, and major Illinois-based companies including Caterpillar and Boeing already have been negatively affected.

“While we’re happy Granite City has those jobs coming back, it’s a lot harder to see the jobs that are lost or not created in the rest of the state because of the tariffs,” said Illinois Chamber of Commerce President Todd Maisch. He described the administration’s policies as “really negative” for most of Illinois, the nation’s fifth-largest economy.

Richard Guebert, a farmer and president of the Illinois Farm Bureau, said he told Vice President Mike Pence during a meeting last week that there’s “a lot of angst” among farmers after several tough years and with another strong crop likely to lower prices this year. He worries particularly about whether young farmers will be able to keep going in a state where one of every four rows of soybeans is exported to China.

“Older, more seasoned farmers have a better asset base. They can weather storms like this,” Guebert said. “The young farmers are having a definite challenge.”

A $12 billion aid package the administration announced Tuesday to help farmers hurt by the trade disputes is “a start,” Guebert said, but “won’t make farmers whole in the face of continued trade tensions.”

Factories around the region also have been hurt. Mid Continent Nail Corp. in Poplar Bluff, Missouri, has shuttered a multimillion-dollar plant and is “on the brink of extinction.”

The company, which says it’s the nation’s largest nail manufacturer, employed 510 workers before Trump raised tariffs on June 1 but has since slashed its workforce to 370, spokesman James Glassman said. The tariffs led to a big jump in the price of steel wire, the raw material Mid Continent imports from Mexico to make nails. When Mid Continent raised its prices 25 percent, customers turned to cheaper foreign-made nails.

“This is a county that went 79 percent for Trump so people are certainly willing to give him the benefit of the doubt,” Glassman said. “But their jobs are at stake because of this misguided tariff.”

Trump will travel to Granite City with Republican U.S. Rep. Mike Bost, whose southern Illinois district includes the steel mill as well as many farmers. The seat is one of Democrats’ top targets as they look to regain control of the House this fall.

Bost, who’s being challenged by St. Clair County State’s Attorney Brendan Kelly, could get a boost from the Trump visit. While Illinois went heavily for Hillary Clinton in 2016 thanks to large support from the Chicago area, most of Southern Illinois backed Trump.

The more than 2,000 workers laid off from Granite City Works got the notice just before Thanksgiving 2015. U.S. Steel cited low oil prices — because the mill produces steel for oil refineries and the auto industry — as well as the availability of cheap, imported steel.

Granite City Works is now near its 2015 employment level of 2,100, with a second blast furnace to be operating by this fall. Jobs there mean dozens more at steel-processing plants throughout the city that bend or cut or coat or reshape the raw product, Amos said.

“There’s no question we’re thankful for what’s happened and we’re not afraid to say that the president and Congressman Bost did something we’re thankful for,” he said.

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Associated Press reporters John O’Connor in Springfield, Illinois, and Jim Salter in St. Louis contributed. Burnett reported from Chicago.

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