President Donald Trump held his first solo press conference on February 16 where he launched an extraordinary denunciation of his critics, complaining most of all for all the “Fake News” [according to him] that constantly link stories of him and Russia. This article will be factchecking Trump’s News conference, one that where he held court during an hour and fifteen minutes, displaying a sense of anger and grievance rarely vented by a President in public — let alone one who has been in office for just four weeks.
In this press conference, President Donald Trump offered his spin on the first weeks of his administration, and made some familiar false claims:
- The president praised his administration’s implementation of his anti-terrorism executive order, which has been largely blocked by the courts. “The rollout was perfect,” he said. But the order caused confusion at the nation’s airports, including for green-card holders and dual citizens.
- Trump said that the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which unanimously decided not to reinstate Trump’s travel ban, has had its rulings overturned by the Supreme Court “at a record number.” Not true.
- Trump wrongly said that Hillary Clinton “gave” Russia 20 percent of the uranium in the United States. Clinton was one of nine votes approving the deal. She alone couldn’t have stopped the deal, which involved 20 percent of U.S. production capacity, not stocks, and the uranium can’t go to Russia without export licenses.
- The president claimed his November victory was “the biggest Electoral College win since Ronald Reagan.” It wasn’t. Three presidents since Reagan captured a larger share of electoral votes than Trump did, including Republican George H.W. Bush.
- Trump said “jobs have already started to surge” since his election, citing investments by Ford, Fiat Chrysler and Intel. But the investments, much of which were in the works before the election, were largely market driven.
- Contrary to the president’s claim that “nobody mentions that Hillary received the questions to the debates,” there was plenty of press coverage in October when it was revealed that former CNN contributor Donna Brazile shared several questions with the Clinton campaign during the primary election.
- Trump said he thought the media had “a lower approval rate than Congress.” No — the public’s approval of Congress is lower than its trust in the media.
‘Perfect’ Executive Order Rollout?
Trump described his administration as “a fine-tuned machine,” and in particular praised its implementation of his anti-terrorism executive order, which has been largely blocked by the courts.
“The rollout was perfect,” Trump said.
Of course, that is his opinion. But there are some facts that suggest it was less than perfect.
The order included a 90-day travel ban on citizens from seven predominately Muslim countries. It was signed on Jan. 27, and caused confusion and sparked protests at international airports.
For example, the order did not say — and the administration failed to immediately clarify — whether lawful permanent residents of the U.S., known as green-card holders, would be barred from reentering the U.S., if they are citizens of the seven banned countries.
On Jan. 28, CNN reported that green-card holders from the affected seven countries would need a waiver to enter the country, citing unnamed administration sources. A day later, Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly issued a statement confirming that green-card holders would be allowed into the U.S. on a case-by-case basis. Three days later, the administration issued an update on Feb. 1 declaring green-card holders would not need a waiver.
“They no longer need a waiver because if they are a legal permanent resident they won’t need it anymore,” White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said at a Feb. 1 briefing.
It also was unclear how the order affected dual citizens. For example, that caused confusion for dual-citizen Canadians who held citizenship in one of the banned countries. The Toronto Star reported that the Trump administration informed Canada late on Jan. 28 that dual citizenship holders traveling from Canada would not be affected by the order.
“The word from National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, relayed to the media by Canada’s Washington embassy, ended a day of confusion and turmoil over a vaguely worded Trump policy that had appeared to ensnare tens of thousands of Canadian citizens and abandon 150 years of border tradition,” the Star wrote.
On Feb. 3, a week after Trump signed the order, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection issued a definitive statement “to clarify the classes of aliens affected by the 90-day temporary pause on travel.” It also now provides an FAQ page that answers more than two dozen questions about the order.
Trump and other administration officials sought to downplay the impact of the temporary travel ban. The president tweeted on Jan. 30 that “only 109 out of 350,000 were detained and held for questioning.” But, as we wrote, the order affected tens of thousands of people. The State Department has estimated that about 60,000 visa holders were affected by the travel ban, and the United Nations estimated that about 20,000 refugees would be affected by the 120-day suspension of the U.S. refugee program.
Not a Record on Reversals
Trump also wrongly said that the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which unanimously decided on Feb. 9 not to reinstate Trump’s travel ban, has had its rulings overturned by the Supreme Court “at a record number.”
Trump: In fact, we had to go quicker than we thought because of the bad decision we received from a circuit that has been overturned at a record number. I have heard 80 percent, I find that hard to believe, that is just a number I heard, that they are overturned 80 percent of the time. I think that circuit is — that circuit is in chaos and that circuit is frankly in turmoil. But we are appealing that, and we are going further.
In 2015, the most recent year for available data, the 9th Circuit did have a reversal rate of 80 percent, but the 11th Circuit had a reversal rate of 100 percent. And the year before that, the 9th Circuit had a reversal rate of 63 percent, when four other circuits had 100 percent of their rulings overturned.
And over a longer period of time, between 1999 and 2008, the 9th Circuit, at 80 percent, had the second highest reversal rate, according to a 2010 report from the American Bar Association. The highest rate, 83.3 percent, belonged to the Federal Circuit. The ABA wrote that the “common perception” that the 9th Circuit is the “rogue circuit” is not true.
The ABA noted that the Supreme Court overturns most circuit court decisions that it reviews, but reviews less than 1 percent of all circuit court rulings.
Trump repeated his misleading claim that Hillary Clinton “gave” Russia one-fifth of all U.S. uranium.
Trump: You know, they say I’m close to Russia. Hillary Clinton gave away 20 percent of the uranium in the United States. She’s close to Russia.
He’s wrong on several counts. The deal Clinton had a role in approving gave Russia ownership of 20 percent of U.S. production capacity — not existing stocks of uranium. Furthermore, Clinton alone could not have stopped the deal; only the president could have done that with a finding that national security would be endangered. Lastly, none of the uranium goes to Russia. That would require export licenses.
Trump was referring to Clinton’s role in the 2010 purchase by Russia’s nuclear agency of Uranium One, a Toronto-based company with mining operations in Kazakhstan, Tanzania and the United States, where the company’s operations amount to about 20 percent of annual U.S. production capacity.
The fact is — as we reported nearly two years ago — Clinton had no veto power to stop that deal. She was one of nine voting members on the foreign investments committee that unanimously approved it, a panel that also includes the secretaries of the treasury, defense, homeland security, commerce and energy, the attorney general, and representatives from two White House offices — the United States Trade Representative and the Office of Science and Technology Policy. (Separately, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission needed to approve (and did approve) the transfer of two uranium recovery licenses as part of the sale.)
Only the president could have stopped the sale, and only if at least one member of the foreign investment committee had objected. And even then, the president cannot prohibit a transaction without finding “credible evidence” that the “foreign interest exercising control might take action that threatens to impair the national security,” according to the federal regulation that governs such matters.
Finally, Russia may own the mines, but the uranium coming out of them stays in the U.S. As the Nuclear Regulatory Commission noted when it approved the sale, “no uranium produced at either facility may be exported.”
Trump made the same claim in slightly different words three times during his news conference. It’s a replay of a bogus accusation he made during last year’s campaign, when it was debunked by us and other independent fact-checking sites. But constant repetition doesn’t make a false statement true.
No Electoral Bragging Rights
Trump claimed that “we got 306” electoral votes “because people came out and voted like they’ve never seen before so that’s the way it goes. I guess it was the biggest Electoral College win since Ronald Reagan.”
Also, as we’ve written before, Trump’s Electoral College victory margin ranks 46th out of 58 presidential elections, based on Trump’s share of the 538 electoral votes. Trump received 56.5 percent of the electoral vote.
Since President Reagan’s victories in 1980 and 1984, three presidents have captured a larger share of the electoral vote than Trump did in 2016. President George H.W. Bush won 79.18 percent in 1988; President Bill Clinton won 68.77 percent in 1992 and 70.45 percent in 1996, and President Barack Obama won 67.84 percent in 2008 and 61.71 percent in 2012.
Later in the press conference, a reporter pointed out that Obama and other presidents since Reagan had received more electoral votes than Trump did. The president clarified that he was talking about just Republicans, but he’s wrong about that too, as the reporter pointed out.
“I was given that information, I don’t know,” Trump responded. “I was just given it. We had a very, very big margin.”
Trump’s Jobs Record
Trump claimed that “jobs have already started to surge” since his election, citing investments by Ford, Fiat Chrysler and Intel in new U.S. plants. But much of the U.S. expansion was in the works before Trump was elected, and the investments were largely market driven.
While many corporate leaders — including at those companies mentioned by Trump — have praised the president’s plan to cut regulations and corporate taxes, it is too early to tell how those changes have or will affect the job market overall.
Let’s deal with some of the specific claims one at a time.
Trump: Jobs have already started to surge. Since my election, Ford announced it will abandon its plans to build a new factory in Mexico, and will instead invest $700 million in Michigan, creating many, many jobs.
As we wrote when Trump boasted in a tweet two days prior to his inauguration that jobs at Ford and other companies are coming back to the U.S. “because of me,” Trump is giving himself too much credit with Ford.
Ford announced on Jan. 3 that it was cancelling its plan to build a $1.6 billion plant in Mexico, and that it planned to invest $4.5 billion over the next five years to ramp up production of electric cars, including an investment of $700 million at its plant in Flat Rock, Michigan, to manufacture two of them.
The decision not to build the plant in Mexico, where Ford had planned to build the next generation Ford Focus, was scrapped because “we’ve seen decreasing demand here in North America for small cars, and we simply don’t need the capacity anymore,” Ford CEO Mark Fields said on Fox Business News. Instead, he said, Ford will build the Focus in an existing facility in Mexico.
As for the investment in electric vehicles, Fields said in announcing the plan that it was a reaction to the reality that “the era of electric vehicles is dawning,” adding that he expected to see production of electric cars exceed traditional gas-powered ones in the next 15 years.
Host Neil Cavuto asked if any of the decisions were based on Trump’s criticisms during the campaign.
“Well, we’re doing this based on what’s right for our business,” Fields said. Fields added that Ford is anticipating “more positive U.S. manufacturing business environment under Trump,” and he said the company welcomes some of the “pro-growth policies” such as regulation and business tax changes that Trump talked about during the campaign. Fields said Ford’s announcement was a “vote of confidence” that the president will deliver on these things.
Fields noted that the 700 new jobs were in addition to the 28,000 the company has added over the last five years. The company also has invested $12 billion in U.S. plants over the same period.
“Would you have done this [the moves announced] if Donald Trump were not elected president?” Cavuto asked.
“Yes, absolutely,” Fields said.
Trump: Fiat Chrysler announced it will invest $1 billion in Ohio and Michigan, creating 2,000 new American jobs.
Fiat Chrysler announced on Jan. 8 a $1 billion investment in plants in Michigan and Ohio, and the addition of 2,000 new American jobs. The company said the investment was part of an ongoing “commitment to strengthening its U.S. manufacturing base,” which has included commitments to invest more than $9.6 billion in its U.S. manufacturing facilities, and the creation of 25,000 new jobs to date, since 2009.
In comments the day after the announcement, Fiat Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne told reporters the announced investments were in the works for more than a year and had nothing to do with Trump or his policy ideas, USA Today reported.
Rather, he said, “It has been part of the discussion going back to 2015″ negotiations with the United Auto Workers.
Trump: Intel just announced that it will move ahead with a new plant in Arizona that probably was never going to move ahead with. And that will result in at least 10,000 American jobs.
Trump has a stronger case with this example, though the history is a bit complex.
While Intel’s CEO credited Trump’s pro-business platform for the recent announcement of a $7 billion investment in a new factory in Arizona that will make semiconductor chips — which he said will result in 10,000 direct and indirect jobs in the state — this is actually the second announcement for the facility.
Back in 2011, Intel announced a $5 billion investment in the same facility, which Obama touted in an early 2012 visit to Arizona.
Intel began building the shell of that facility several years ago, but the project was left uncompleted because of a lack of “general demand for the product,” a company spokesman told CNN Money.
“We’re making this investment now to meet demand that we now expect,” Intel spokesman William Moss said. “That said, we certainly join other companies in supporting the administration’s pro business and pro investment goals.”
That praise was echoed by Intel CEO Brian Krzanich in an announcement at the White House on Feb. 8 that the project would be moving forward. He credited Trump’s pro-business platform as the impetus to move forward.
Krzanich was asked if there was “something that President Trump did or said that made you want to announce this here and now.”
Said Krzanich: “It’s really in support of the tax and regulatory policies that we see the administration pushing forward that really make it advantageous to do manufacturing in the U.S.”
In the bigger picture, Trump claimed that he “inherited a mess” with “jobs pouring out of the country” when he took office. But as we noted in our Jan. 20 story “What Trump Inherits,” the economy added nearly 2.2 million jobs in the 12 months before Trump took office. It has gained jobs for 75 straight months – the longest streak on record.
The number of job openings also has continued to hold at near record levels for the last two years. And the unemployment rate, at 4.8 percent in January, is well below the historical norm. We won’t know how Trump is doing on jobs until the Bureau of Labor Statistics comes out with its monthly figures for February, and it may take many more months or even years, to fully evaluate Trump’s impact on jobs.
No Question on Debate Coverage
Trump said that “nobody mentions that Hillary [Clinton] received the questions to the debates.” As we have written before, there was plenty of press coverage when it was revealed that former CNN contributor Donna Brazile shared questions with Clinton’s campaign during the primary election.
Trump: Now, when WikiLeaks, which I had nothing to do with, comes out and happens to give, they’re not giving classified information. They’re giving stuff — what was said at an office about Hillary cheating on the debates. Which, by the way, nobody mentions. Nobody mentions that Hillary received the questions to the debates.
Perhaps no one mentions it now because the election was over three months ago. But there was plenty of press coverage back in October when emails allegedly obtained from the account of Clinton’s campaign chairman, John Podesta, revealed that former CNN contributor Brazile shared several town hall and primary debate questions with members of Clinton’s campaign.
According to the emails, Brazile sent multiple questions to the Clinton campaign before a CNN town hall in mid-March last year, and she sent at least one question to Clinton’s campaign prior to a Democratic debate earlier that month.
Politico and others reported that the hacked emails showed that Brazile sent a town hall question about the death penalty in an email on March 12, 2016, to Clinton’s communications director, Jennifer Palmieri, with the subject line, “From time to time, I get the questions in advance.”
Politico also reported that an additional email showed that Brazile forwarded the campaign other town hall questions — one about unions and another about income inequality. Clinton was asked the question about unions, and Sen. Bernie Sanders was asked about income inequality in the town hall.
There were also multiple news reports that another email showed that Brazile tipped off the Clinton campaign to a potential question the day before a Democratic debate between Clinton and Sanders on March 6 in Flint, Michigan. In that email, Brazile tells Podesta and Palmieri that “one of the questions directed to HRC tomorrow is from a woman with a rash” who will ask “what if anything will Hillary do as president to help the ppl of Flint.”
CNN, which was among those that reported on the emails, accepted the resignation of Brazile, the acting DNC chair, on Oct. 14, three days after the first press reports on the controversy.
However, there is no evidence that Clinton herself directly received any questions.
And though the alleged Clinton campaign emails that WikiLeaks published did not contain classified information, the organization has made classified information public before. For example, in 2010, WikiLeaks published hundreds of thousands of classified documents pertaining to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that it had obtained from Chelsea Manning, a transgender woman and former Army intelligence officer.
Manning was convicted of violating the Espionage Act and other counts in August 2013 and sentenced to 35 years in prison. But she is scheduled to be released on May 17, after then-President Obama commuted her sentence in mid-January.
Trump also stumbled over the facts when he taunted the reporters questioning him by saying, “People — I mean, you have a lower approval rate than Congress. I think that’s right. I don’t know.”
No, that’s not right.
It’s true that Americans’ trust in the mass media “to report the news fully, accurately and fairly” had dropped to its lowest level since the Gallup organization began asking the question in 1972, as of Gallup’s most recent annual report on the subject last September.
And Trump would have been correct to say that trust in the media is even lower than approval of himself. According to Gallup, Trump’s approval rating stood at 41 percent, as of the week ending Feb. 12, while the public’s trust in the media was down to 32 percent.
But even fewer people say they approve of the way Congress is doing its job. As of January, only 19 percent said they approve, while 76 percent disapproved, according to Gallup.
FactChecking Trump’s News Conference has been a special report by FactCheck.Org, a project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center.