Fact Check: Trump's fiction in his goodbye to Washington
Published Wednesday, January 20, 2021 11:20AM EST Last Updated Wednesday, January 20, 2021 2:44PM EST
WASHINGTON -- In his final remarks as president, Donald Trump tried to take credit for accomplishments of his predecessor and even those to come under President Joe Biden.
Falsehoods suffused his farewell remarks Wednesday morning and the night before, though he was spot on with this: "We were not a regular administration."
As well, in noting Americans were "horrified" by the storming of the Capitol this month, he brushed past the encouragement he had given to the mob in advance -- by falsely claiming widespread voting fraud -- and his praise of the attackers as "very special" people while they were still ransacking the seat of power.
"There is truth and there are lies -- lies told for power and for profit," Biden said after he took the helm as president. "Each of us has a duty and a responsibility as citizens, as Americans and especially as leaders ... to defend the truth and defeat the lies."
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A look at some of Trump's statements to well-wishers at Joint Base Andrews en route to Florida on Wednesday and in his videotaped address Tuesday:
TRUMP, boasting of his accomplishments for the U.S.: "Again, we put it in a position like it's never been before, despite the worst plague to hit since I'd guess you say 1917, over a 100 years ago." -- remarks Wednesday before leaving Washington.
THE FACTS: He got the year wrong for the Spanish flu that hit in 1918 and completely ignored the role his handling of the coronavirus pandemic played in the surging infections and deaths that beset the nation.
The U.S. in fact remains in a perilous position when it comes to COVID-19, surpassing 400,000 deaths this week.
The Spanish flu pandemic Trump referred to spread from early 1918 to late 1920.
After COVID-19 first appeared in the U.S., Trump repeatedly dismissed the virus as less of a danger than the common flu and something that would disappear soon enough. He ignored the advice of government public health officials that people should wear masks, and mocked Biden for doing so.
Although his administration shepherded the delivery of two highly successful vaccines, getting shots into the arms of Americans has been frustratingly slow with about 50% of the doses delivered to states actually administered. That followed a debacle with coronavirus testing last year.
As infections and deaths grew, Trump, who was hospitalized with COVID-19 himself, falsely asserted that the nation was "rounding the turn" on the virus and he continued to shun wearing a mask and to hold campaign rallies at which face masks were not required.
The U.S. has now surged past 24.2 million infections.
Biden planned on his first day in office to sign orders putting in place a mask mandate on federal property and creating a White House office to co-ordinate the national response to the virus.
TRUMP: "We got the vaccine developed in nine months instead of nine years or five years or 10 years, a long time. It was supposed to take a long time. ... We have two out, we have another one coming almost immediately." -- remarks Wednesday.
TRUMP: "Another administration would have taken three, four, five, maybe even up to 10 years to develop a vaccine. We did in nine months." -- address Tuesday.
THE FACTS: Actually, the administration didn't develop any vaccines. Pharmaceutical companies did. And one of the two U.S. companies that have come out with vaccines now in use did not take development money from the government.
Trump's contention that a vaccine would have taken years under a different administration stretches credulity. COVID-19 vaccines were indeed remarkably fast, but other countries have been developing them, too. A vaccine for the coronavirus is not a singular achievement of the United States, much less the Trump administration.
U.S. drugmaker Pfizer developed its vaccine in partnership with Germany's BioNTech, eschewing federal money for development, though benefitting from an advance commitment from Washington to buy large quantities if the vaccine succeeded. A vaccine by Moderna, from the U.S., is also in widespread use.
But Britain's AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine is being administered in several countries, and vaccines from China and Russia are also in limited use. More than a dozen potential vaccines are in late stages of testing worldwide.
TRUMP: "We passed VA Choice." -- address Tuesday.
THE FACTS: No, he did not get the Choice program passed. President Barack Obama did. Trump expanded it. The program allows veterans to get medical care outside the Veterans Affairs system under certain conditions. Trump has tried to take credit for Obama's achievement scores of times.
TRUMP: "We also got tax cuts, the largest tax cut and reform in the history of our country by far." -- remarks Wednesday.
TRUMP: "We passed the largest package of tax cuts and reforms in American history." -- address Tuesday.
THE FACTS: His tax cuts are not close to the biggest in U.S. history.
It's a US$1.5 trillion tax cut over 10 years. As a share of the total economy, a tax cut of that size ranks 12th, according to the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget. President Ronald Reagan's 1981 cut is the biggest, followed by the 1945 rollback of taxes that had financed World War II.
Post-Reagan tax cuts also stand among the historically significant: President George W. Bush's cuts in the early 2000s and Obama's renewal of them a decade later.
TRUMP: "We have the greatest economy in the world." -- remarks Wednesday.
TRUMP: "We also built the greatest economy in the history of the world." -- address Tuesday.
THE FACTS: No, the numbers show it wasn't the greatest in U.S. history. And he is the first president since Herbert Hoover in the Depression to leave office with fewer jobs than when he started.
Did the U.S. have the most jobs on record before the pandemic? Sure, the population had grown. The 3.5% unemployment rate before the recession was at a half-century low, but the percentage of people working or searching for jobs was still below a 2000 peak.
Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Romer looked at Trump's economic growth record. Growth under Trump averaged 2.48% annually before the pandemic, only slightly better than the 2.41% gains achieved during Obama's second term. By contrast, the economic expansion that began in 1982 during Reagan's presidency averaged 4.2% a year.
TRUMP, on the economy after the pandemic: "It's a rocket ship up." -- remarks Wednesday.
THE FACTS: Not so.
There's been no dramatic, V-shaped economic recovery under Trump. Employers cut jobs during his final December in office. But economists say the additional aid approved in December and the prospect of more from Biden could cause the strongest growth this year in more than two decades.
TRUMP: "We reignited America's job creation and achieved record-low unemployment for African Americans, Hispanic Americans, Asian Americans, women -- almost everyone." -- address Tuesday.
THE FACTS: Not an ignition. Job creation actually slowed in 2017, Trump's first year in office, to about 2 million, compared with nearly 2.5 million in 2016, Obama's last year in office.
The low unemployment rates refer to a pre-pandemic economy that is no more. The pandemic has cost the U.S. economy 10 million jobs and has made Trump the first president since Hoover to oversee a net loss of jobs. The U.S. has about 2.8 million fewer jobs now than when Trump was inaugurated, and lost 140,000 just in December. And the job losses have fallen disproportionately on Black Americans, Hispanics and women.
TRUMP: "We rebuilt the American manufacturing base, opened up thousands of new factories, and brought back the beautiful phrase Made in the USA." -- address Tuesday.
THE FACTS: That's a stretch. There are now 60,000 fewer manufacturing jobs in the U.S. than when Trump took office. Despite gains before the pandemic, the manufacturing base had not exactly been "rebuilt."
Before the coronavirus, nearly 500,000 manufacturing jobs were added under Trump, somewhat better than the nearly 400,000 gained during Obama's second term. Still, even before the pandemic, the U.S. had 4.3 million fewer factory jobs than it did in 2001, the year China joined the World Trade Organization and a flood of cheaper imports from that country entered the U.S.
TRUMP: "All Americans were horrified by the assault on our Capitol. Political violence is an attack on everything we cherish as Americans. It can never be tolerated." -- address Tuesday.
THE FACTS: That may sum up the reaction of most Americans but it ignores his own part in stirring the anger of his supporters before they staged the violent melee.
For months, Trump falsely claimed the November election was stolen, then invited supporters to Washington and sent them off to the Capitol with the exhortation to "fight like hell."
With the uprising still underway and the velocity of the attack apparent from video and reports from the scene, Trump released a video telling them "to go home now" while repeating "this was a fraudulent election" and adding: "We love you. You're very special."
The House impeached Trump, accusing him of inciting an insurrection. Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, a Trump political ally for four years, said Tuesday the Trump supporters were "fed lies" and "provoked by the president and other powerful people."
TRUMP: "We rebuilt the United States military." -- remarks Wednesday.
THE FACTS: That's an exaggeration.
It's true that his administration accelerated a sharp buildup in defence spending, including a respite from what the U.S. military considered to be crippling spending limits under budget sequestration.
But a number of new Pentagon weapons programs, such as the F-35 fighter jet, were started years before the Trump administration. And it will take years for freshly ordered tanks, planes and other weapons to be built, delivered and put to use.
The Air Force's Minuteman 3 missiles, a key part of the U.S. nuclear force, for instance, have been operating since the early 1970s and the modernization was begun under the Obama administration. They are due to be replaced with a new version, but not until later this decade.
TRUMP: "We obliterated the ISIS caliphate." -- address Tuesday.
THE FACTS: His suggestion of a 100% defeat is misleading as the Islamic State group still poses a threat.
IS was defeated in Iraq in 2017, then lost the last of its land holdings in Syria in March 2019, marking the end of the extremists' self-declared caliphate. Still, extremist sleeper cells have continued to launch attacks in Iraq and Syria in recent weeks and are believed to be responsible for targeted killings against local officials and members of the Syrian Democratic Forces.
The continued attacks are a sign that the militant group is taking advantage of governments otherwise focused on the pandemic and the ensuing slide into economic chaos. The virus is compounding longtime concerns among security and U.N. experts that the group will stage a comeback.
TRUMP: "We imposed historic and monumental tariffs on China. ... Our trade relationship was rapidly changing, billions and billions of dollars were pouring into the U.S., but the virus forced us to go in a different direction." -- address Tuesday.
THE FACTS: That's a familiar assertion, false to the core.
It's false to suggest the U.S. never collected tariffs on Chinese goods before he took action. Tariffs on Chinese goods are simply higher in some cases than they were before. It's also wrong to suggest that the tariffs are being paid by China.
Tariff money coming into the government's coffers is mainly from U.S. businesses and consumers, not from China. Tariffs are primarily if not entirely a tax paid domestically.
Associated Press writers Josh Boak, Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar, Robert Burns and Lolita C. Baldor contributed to this report.