WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump isn’t always bringing genuine statistics to the fight as he goes after China on trade.
Trump stretched credulity on a variety of subjects over the past week, trade among them. He mangled comments from 2016 presidential rival Hillary Clinton, inflated expectations of an overhaul in health services for veterans and gave his administration too much credit for defeating the Islamic State. Here’s a look at some of his recent statements.
TRUMP: “Last year we lost $500 billion on trade with China. We can’t let that happen.” — comments at the White House on Friday.
THE FACTS: That didn’t happen. Last year, Americans bought about $506 billion in goods from China. That’s not “lost” money but purchases of products that Americans wanted. And it’s only part of the equation. China bought more than $130 billion in goods from the U.S. So the actual trade deficit in goods was $375 billion.
Factor in trade in services and the actual U.S trade deficit with China was $337 billion.
TRUMP: “On terrorism, in Iraq and Syria, we’ve taken back almost 100 percent, in a very short period of time, of the land that they took. And it all took place since our election. We’ve taken back close to 100 percent.” — National Republican Congressional Committee dinner Tuesday. Comments Friday: “We’ve gotten just about 100 percent of our land back from ISIS.”
THE FACTS: It’s not true that progress against the Islamic State group “all took place” since the election. The Obama administration said IS had lost more than 40 percent of its territory by the time the last president left office.
IS was pushed to the point of collapse in Mosul, its main Iraqi stronghold, before Trump took office. In 2016, Iraqi military forces, supported by the U.S.-led coalition, waged successful battles to oust IS from Fallujah, Ramadi, eastern Mosul and a number of smaller towns along the Tigris River. They also established logistical hubs for the push that began in February 2017 to retake western Mosul.
It’s true that advances since then have decimated IS as a territorial force. Those advances came on many fronts from multiple foes of the Islamic State, including U.S.-backed Iraqi forces and fighters of Syrian President Bashar Assad, supported by Russia. The assertion that “we’ve taken back close to 100 percent” is only supportable if “we” means the various groups, often hostile to one another, that have been battling IS.
TRUMP, on Clinton: “I would say her last statement about women — they have to get approval from their husbands, their sons, and their male bosses to vote for Trump. That was not a good statement. Not good.” — Republican dinner Tuesday.
THE FACTS: That’s not what she said. In remarks this month in India, Clinton advanced the theory that a slim majority of white women voted for Trump because of “ongoing pressure to vote the way that your husband, your boss, your son, whoever, believes you should.” She did not say women felt they needed approval from men to vote for Trump — but rather that they faced pressure from them to side with Trump instead of her.
TRUMP: “Republicans also repealed one of the nation’s cruelest and most unfair taxes ever: the Obamacare individual mandate. And the mandate is gone forever. And that’s a beauty. You pay a lot of money not to have to pay and not to get health care. So you’re paying not to have health care. I mean, that wasn’t so good. But we got rid of it.” — Republican dinner Tuesday.
THE FACTS: The mandate is not gone. Fines for going without health insurance coverage are still in effect this year. They disappear next year under the repeal law he signed.
TRUMP on a marketing campaign against opioid abuse: “That’s the least expensive thing we can do, where you scare them from ending up like the people in the commercials. And we’ll make them very, very bad commercials. We’ll make them pretty unsavory situations.” — speech in New Hampshire, March 19.
THE FACTS: This “scared straight” advertising was neither inexpensive nor particularly effective the last time it was tried and researched. There is some evidence, though, that anti-drug messages focused on teenagers’ need for independence can help discourage drug use.
Between 1998 and 2004, the U.S. government spent nearly $1 billion on a national campaign to persuade young people to avoid illegal drugs, particularly marijuana. A 2008 follow-up study funded by the National Institutes of Health found the campaign “had no favorable effects on youths’ behavior” and may actually have prompted some to experiment with drugs — an unintended “boomerang” effect.
TRUMP: “Choice is coming. Choice — where the veterans can actually, instead of waiting on line for weeks and weeks and weeks, they can actually go and see a doctor and have it taken care of, and we pay. And that’s going to be the big one.” — Republican dinner Tuesday.
THE FACTS: A long-term plan along these lines doesn’t appear to be coming any time soon. It’s stalled in Congress and delays experienced in the program so far mean it won’t be fully implemented until 2019 or later.
A choice program was put in place after a 2014 wait-time scandal that was discovered at the Phoenix VA hospital and elsewhere throughout the country. It allows veterans to go to private doctors if they endure long waits for VA appointments. According to the Government Accountability Office, Congress’ investigative arm, people using the program suffer wait times potentially as long as 81 days. Last summer, an unexpected budget shortfall in the program forced VA to limit outside referrals, leading to additional delays in medical care.
VA Secretary David Shulkin said last month VA care is “often 40 percent better in terms of wait times” compared with the private sector.
He hoped a long-term overhaul would be approved by Congress in December, but proposals have stalled due to disagreements over cost and how much access veterans should have to private doctors.
DEMOCRATIC SEN. PATTY MURRAY, questioning VA Secretary David Shulkin: “I was really concerned to see your budget asks for a large decrease in the Office of Inspector General … . I want to know why this budget doesn’t provide the OIG with the full funding that they need.” — Senate hearing Wednesday on VA budget.
SHULKIN: “We are supportive of the role of the OIG as well. And in fact this budget actually does provide them the resources. …They do have the staffing they need.” — Senate hearing Wednesday.
THE FACTS: Neither is entirely correct.
The Trump administration’s proposed budget would provide $172 million to VA’s internal watchdog office for the budget year beginning Oct. 1. That’s technically an increase from the administration’s $159 million budget level in 2018, but a decline from the office’s actual spending of roughly $174 million due to increased demands to investigate problems at VA. The inspector general’s office used leftover money from previous years to fill the gap, cash that is now largely gone.
To maintain current staffing levels, the IG’s office is seeking $181 million for the next budget year, or $9 million above what the Trump administration is proposing. Without that money, it says it will have to cut the equivalent of 30 full-time staff positions, most of them directly involved with the IG’s core criminal investigations, auditing and health inspections work.
The IG office, with about 850 full-time staff, is charged with keeping watch over the government’s second largest department, whose 360,000 employees provide medical care and other benefits to 9 million military veterans. In recent months, the watchdog has put out blistering reports concluding that Shulkin violated ethics rules during an 11-day trip to Europe and that systemic leadership problems at VA put patients at risk. Shulkin is now being investigated over allegations that he used his security detail to run personal errands for him; he has denied wrongdoing.
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Associated Press writers Matthew Perrone, Bradley Klapper and Christopher Rugaber in Washington and Carla K. Johnson in Seattle contributed to this report.
EDITOR’S NOTE _ A look at the veracity of claims by political figures