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State of the Union: Trump claims 'ridiculous partisan' probes may upset progress

By JULIE PACE and CATHERINE LUCEY/Associated Press • Feb 5, 2019 at 10:07 PM

WASHINGTON (AP) — Facing a divided Congress for the first time, President Donald Trump on Tuesday called on Washington to reject "the politics of revenge, resistance and retribution." He warned emboldened Democrats that "ridiculous partisan investigations" into his administration and businesses could hamper a surging American economy.

Trump's appeals for bipartisanship in his State of the Union address clashed with the rancorous atmosphere he has helped cultivate in the nation's capital — as well as the desire of most Democrats to block his agenda during his next two years in office. Their opposition was on vivid display as Democratic congresswomen in the audience formed a sea of white in a nod to early 20th-century suffragettes.

Trump spoke at a critical moment in his presidency, staring down a two-year stretch that will determine whether he is re-elected or leaves office in defeat. His speech sought to shore up Republican support that had eroded slightly during the recent government shutdown and previewed a fresh defense against Democrats as they ready a round of investigations into every aspect of his administration.

"If there is going to be peace and legislation, there cannot be war and investigation," he declared. Lawmakers in the cavernous House chamber sat largely silent.

Looming over the president's address was a fast-approaching Feb. 15 deadline to fund the government and avoid another shutdown. Democrats have refused to acquiesce to his demands for a border wall, and Republicans are increasingly unwilling to shut down the government to help him fulfill his signature campaign pledge. Nor does the GOP support the president's plan to declare a national emergency if Congress won't fund the wall.

Wary of publicly highlighting those intraparty divisions, Trump made no mention of an emergency declaration in his remarks, though he did offer a lengthy defense of his call for a border wall. But he delivered no ultimatums about what it would take for him to sign legislation to keep the government open.

"I am asking you to defend our very dangerous southern border out of love and devotion to our fellow citizens and to our country," he said.

Trump devoted much of his speech to foreign policy, another area where Republicans have increasingly distanced themselves from the White House. He announced details of a second meeting with North Korea's Kim Jong Un, outlining a summit on Feb. 27 and 28 in Vietnam. The two met last summer in Singapore, though that meeting only led to a vaguely worded commitment by the North to denuclearize.

As he stood before lawmakers, the president was surrounded by symbols of his emboldened political opposition. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who was praised by Democrats for her hard-line negotiating during the shutdown, sat behind Trump as he spoke. And several senators running for president were also in the audience, including Sens. Kamala Harris of California and Cory Booker of New Jersey.

Another Democratic star, Stacey Abrams, will deliver the party's response to Trump. Abrams narrowly lost her bid in November to become America's first black female governor, and party leaders are aggressively recruiting her to run for U.S. Senate from Georgia.

In excerpts released ahead of Abrams' remarks, she calls the shutdown a political stunt that "defied every tenet of fairness and abandoned not just our people, but our values."

Trump's address amounted to an opening argument for his re-election campaign. Polls show he has work to do, with his approval rating falling to just 34 percent after the shutdown, according to a recent survey conducted by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.

One bright spot for the president has been the economy, which has added jobs for 100 straight months. He said the U.S. has "the hottest economy anywhere in the world."

He said, "The only thing that can stop it are foolish wars, politics or ridiculous partisan investigations" an apparent swipe at the special counsel investigation into ties between Russia and Trump's 2016 campaign, as well as the upcoming congressional investigations.

The diverse Democratic caucus, which includes a bevy of women, sat silently for much of Trump's speech. But they leapt to their feet when he noted there are "more women in the workforce than ever before."

The increase is due to population growth — and not something Trump can credit to any of his policies.

Turning to foreign policy, another area where Republicans have increasingly been willing to distance themselves from the president, Trump defended his decisions to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria and Afghanistan.

"Great nations do not fight endless wars," he said, adding that the U.S. is working with allies to "destroy the remnants" of the Islamic State group and that he has "accelerated" efforts to reach a settlement in Afghanistan.

IS militants have lost territory since Trump's surprise announcement in December that he was pulling U.S. forces out, but military officials warn the fighters could regroup within six months to a year of the Americans leaving. Several leading GOP lawmakers have sharply criticized his plans to withdraw from Syria, as well as from Afghanistan.

Trump's guests for the speech include Anna Marie Johnson, a woman whose life sentence for drug offenses was commuted by the president, and Joshua Trump, a sixth-grade student from Wilmington, Delaware, who has been bullied over his last name. They sat with first lady Melania Trump during the address.

AP FACT CHECK: Trump's claims in his State of Union address

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Associated Press is fact-checking remarks from President Donald Trump's State of the Union speech. Here's a look at some of the claims we've examined:

BORDER WALL

TRUMP: "These (border) agents will tell you where walls go up, illegal crossings go way, way down ... San Diego used to have the most illegal border crossings in our country. In response, a strong security wall was put in place. This powerful barrier almost completely ended illegal crossings ... Simply put, walls work and walls save lives."

THE FACTS: It's a lot more complicated than that.

Yes, Border Patrol arrests in the San Diego sector plummeted 96 percent from nearly 630,000 in 1986 to barely 26,000 in 2017, a period during which walls were built. But the crackdown pushed illegal crossings to less-patrolled and more remote Arizona deserts, where thousands died in the heat. Arrests in Tucson in 2000 nearly matched San Diego's peak.

Critics say the "water-balloon effect" — build a wall in one spot and migrants will find an opening elsewhere — undermines Trump's argument, though proponents say it only demonstrates that walls should be extended.

The Government Accountability Office reported in 2017 that the U.S. has not developed metrics that demonstrate how barriers have contributed to border security.

TARIFFS

TRUMP: "We recently imposed tariffs on $250 billion of Chinese goods — and now our treasury is receiving billions of dollars."

THE FACTS: This is misleading. Yes, money from tariffs is going into the federal treasury, but it's largely coming from U.S. businesses and consumers. It's not foreign countries that are paying these import taxes by cutting a check to the government.

His reference to money coming into the treasury "now" belies the fact that tariffs go back to the founding of the country. This revenue did not start with his increased tariffs on some goods from China.

Tariffs did produce $41.3 billion in tax revenues in the last budget year, according to the Treasury Department. But that is a small fraction of a federal budget that exceeds $4.1 trillion.

The tariffs paid by U.S. companies also tend to result in higher prices for consumers, which is what happened for washing machines after the Trump administration imposed import taxes.

TRADE-NAFTA

TRUMP: "Our new U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement — or USMCA — will replace NAFTA and deliver for American workers: bringing back our manufacturing jobs, expanding American agriculture, protecting intellectual property, and ensuring that more cars are proudly stamped with the four beautiful words: MADE IN THE USA."

THE FACTS: It's unlikely to do all those things, since the new agreement largely preserves the structure and substance of NAFTA.

In one new feature, the deal requires that 40 percent of cars' contents eventually be made in countries that pay autoworkers at least $16 an hour — that is, in the United States, or Canada, but not in Mexico. It also requires Mexico to pursue an overhaul of labor law to encourage independent unions that will bargain for higher wages and better working conditions for Mexicans.

Still, just before the agreement was signed, General Motors announced that it would lay off 14,000 workers and close five plants in the United States and Canada.

Philip Levy, senior fellow at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs and a trade official in Republican President George W. Bush's White House, says: "President Trump has seriously overhyped this agreement."

DRUG PRICING

TRUMP: "Already, as a result of my administration's efforts, in 2018 drug prices experienced their single largest decline in 46 years."

THE FACTS: Trump is selectively citing statistics to exaggerate what seems to be a slowdown in prices. A broader look at the data shows that drug prices are still rising, but more moderately. Some independent experts say criticism from Trump and congressional Democrats may be causing pharmaceutical companies to show restraint.

The Consumer Price Index for prescription drugs shows a O.6 percent reduction in prices in December 2018 when compared with December 2017, the biggest drop in nearly 50 years. The government index tracks a set of medications including brand drugs and generics.

However, that same index showed a 1.6 percent increase when comparing the full 12 months of 2018 with the entire previous year.

"The annualized number gives you a better picture," said economist Paul Hughes-Cromwick of Altarum, a nonprofit research organization. "It could be that something quirky happened in December."

Separately, an analysis of brand-name drug prices by The Associated Press shows there were 2,712 price increases in the first half of this January, as compared with 3,327 increases during the same period last year.

The size of this year's increases was not as pronounced. Both this year and last, the number of price cuts was minuscule. The information for the analysis was provided by the health data firm Elsevier.

WAGES

TRUMP: "Wages are rising at the fastest pace in decades, and growing for blue collar workers, who I promised to fight for, they're growing faster than anyone else thought possible."

THE FACTS: This is an unsupported statement because the data on hourly wages for private workers only go back to 2006, not decades.

But data on wages for production workers date back to 1939 — and Trump's claim appears to be unfounded.

Average hourly earnings for production and non-supervisory workers are up 3.4 percent over the past year, according to the Labor Department. Those wage gains were higher as recently as early 2009. And they were averaging roughly 4 percent before the start of the Great Recession in late 2007.

There are other ways to track wage gains — and those don't work in Trump's favor, either.

Adjusted for inflation, median weekly wages rose just 0.6 percent in 2018. The gains in weekly wages were 2.1 percent in 2015.

MINORITY UNEMPLOYMENT

TRUMP: "African-American, Hispanic-American and Asian-American unemployment have all reached their lowest levels ever recorded."

THE FACTS: What he's not saying is that the unemployment rates for all three groups have gone up since reaching record low levels.

Black unemployment reached a record low, 5.9 percent, in May, but rose to 6.8 percent in January.

Latino unemployment fell to 4.4 percent, its lowest ever, last October, and Asian unemployment fell to a record low of 2.2 percent in May. But Latino and Asian unemployment also have increased, in part because of the government shutdown, which elevated unemployment last month.

The African-American rate is still nearly double the jobless rate for whites, at 3.5 percent.

The most dramatic drop in black unemployment came under President Barack Obama, when it fell from a recession high of 16.8 percent in March 2010 to 7.8 percent in January 2017.

HUMAN TRAFFICKING

TRUMP: "Human traffickers and sex traffickers take advantage of the wide open areas between our ports of entry to smuggle thousands of young girls and women into the United States and to sell them into prostitution and modern-day slavery."

THE FACTS: His administration has not supplied evidence that women and girls are smuggled by the "thousands" across remote areas of the border for these purposes. What has been established is nearly 80 percent of international trafficking victims cross through legal ports of entry, a flow that would not be stopped by a border wall.

Trump distorts how often trafficking victims come from the southern border, according the Counter-Trafficking Data Collaborative , a global hub for trafficking statistics with data contributed by organizations from around the world.

The National Human Trafficking Hotline, a venture supported by federal money and operated by the anti-trafficking group Polaris , began tracking individual victim records in 2015. From January through June 31, 2018, it tracked 35,000 potential victims. Of those, there was a near equal distribution between foreigners on one hand and U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents on the other.

Most of the labor trafficking victims were foreign, and most of the sex trafficking victims were U.S. citizens. Of foreign nationals, Mexico had the most frequently trafficked.

ECONOMY

TRUMP: "In just over two years since the election, we have launched an unprecedented economic boom — a boom that has rarely been seen before. There's been nothing like it. ... An economic miracle is taking place in the United States."

THE FACTS: The president is vastly exaggerating what has been a mild improvement in growth and hiring. The economy is healthy but not nearly one of the best in U.S. history.

The economy expanded at an annual rate of 3.8 percent last spring and summer, a solid pace. But it was just the fastest in four years. In the late 1990s, growth topped 4 percent for four straight years, a level it has not yet reached under Trump. And growth even reached 7.2 percent in 1984.

Almost all independent economists expect slower growth this year as the effect of the Trump administration's tax cuts fade, trade tensions and slower global growth hold back exports, and higher interest rates make it more expensive to borrow to buy cars and homes.

WOMEN IN WORKFORCE

TRUMP: "All Americans can be proud that we have more women in the workforce than ever before."

THE FACTS: Of course, there are more women working than ever before. But that's due to population growth — and not something that Trump can credit to any his policies.

The big question is whether a greater percentage of women is working or searching for a job than at any point in history. And on this count, women have enjoyed better times.

Women's labor force participation rate right now is 57.5 percent, according to the Labor Department. The rate has ticked up recently, but it was higher in 2012 and peaked in 2000 at roughly 60 percent.

ENERGY

TRUMP: "We have unleashed a revolution in American energy - the United States is now the number one producer of oil and natural gas in the world."

THE FACTS: True, if "we" means Trump and his recent predecessors. It's not all to Trump's credit. The government says the U.S. became the world's top natural gas producer in 2013, under Barack Obama's administration.

The U.S. now leads the world in oil production, too, under Trump. That's largely because of a boom in production from shale oil, which also began under Obama.

Contributed by Associated Press writers Cal Woodward, Colleen Long, Christopher Rugaber, Josh Boak, Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar and Ellen Knickmeyer in Washington and Elliot Spagat in San Diego.

Huizenga’s statement on the State of the Union

WASHINGTON – Congressman Bill Huizenga, R-Zeeland, released the following statement late Tuesday regarding President Trump's State of the Union address:

"Tonight, the President gave a strong address outlining the strength of our economy, the need to secure our southern border, and promote a national culture that defends the unborn and respects life. I believe the President also laid out several areas where bipartisan cooperation can deliver solutions to the challenges facing our nation such as rebuilding infrastructure, developing life-saving medical treatments, and lowering the cost of prescription drugs. I look forward to working with Democrats, Republicans, and the President on these pressing issues."

Peters’ statement on the State of the Union

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Gary Peters, D-Michigan, issued the following statement after President Trump delivered his State of the Union address:

“Moving forward, I hope that Democrats and Republicans will work together on several critical issues: growing our economy in a way that helps Michigan workers and families, repairing and modernizing our crumbling infrastructure, and securing our nation’s Northern and Southern borders in the most efficient and cost-effective way. I’m also committed to helping close the skills gap, a challenge I hear about constantly from businesses across Michigan. That’s why I brought incoming Grand Valley State University President, Dr. Philomena Mantella, who will continue efforts that are so important at our universities to prepare students to succeed in today’s workforce.”

Stabenow’s statement on State of the Union

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Michigan, released a statement following President Trump’s State of the Union address:

“I am deeply concerned about the direction of our country reflected in the President’s address this evening. We need to come together and find bipartisan solutions on issues important to Michigan like fixing our nation’s infrastructure, lowering the cost of health care, and keeping jobs in the United States.”

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