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Fact-Checking Trump’s 2020 State of the Union Address

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  • Donald Trump gave his State of the Union address Tuesday night. Some of his claims were true, while others were misleading or false.

State of the Union

President Donald Trump delivered his third State of the Union Tuesday, in front of a bitterly divided Congress and their guests.

Amid partisan tensions just one day before the president was acquitted in the Senate impeachment trial, Trump touted his accomplishments on the economy, health care, immigration, and more.

Some of his claims were true, some were false, and others fell somewhere in between. Here is a fact check of some of the president’s remarks.

Tax Cuts

“From the instant I took office, I moved rapidly to revive the U.S. economy — slashing a record number of job-killing regulations, enacting historic and record-setting tax cuts and fighting for fair and reciprocal trade agreements.”

There are a lot of different things Trump mentions in this quote, but the line we are going to focus on first is Trump’s claim that he implemented “historic and record-setting tax cuts.”

That claim is not true. 

First of all, as The Washington Post explains, the best way to look at tax cuts comparatively is to measure them as a percentage of the economy.

According to Treasury Department data, Trump’s tax cut is about 0.9% of GDP while the actual largest tax cut was Ronald Reagan’s 1981 plan, which was 2.89% of GDP.

Second, according to the Treasury Department, when Trump’s tax cuts are measured as a share of the U.S. economy, they rank as the eighth-largest in the last 100 years in the top 10,  but still not record-breaking.

Jobs and Unemployment

“Since my election, we have created 7 million new jobs, 5 million more than government experts projected during the previous administration. The unemployment rate is the lowest in half a century. And the average unemployment under my administration is lower than any administration in the history of our country. If we hadn’t reversed the failed economic policies of the previous administration, the world would not now be witnessing this great economic success.” 

There are a few things to pick apart here. 

First, let’s look at the jobs number and the claim that we would not be seeing this success if Trump had not reversed former President Barack Obama’s “failed economic policies.”

Starting off, the 7 million number is falsely inflated. Trump is using the numbers from when he was elected, not from when he actually took office.

When we look at the numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics starting in February 2017, we see that there have been about 6.7 million jobs created. 

In contrast, going back to the last administration, Obama created 8 million jobs in the last three years of his presidency. And when we look at monthly averages, we see that job creation in Obama’s last three years averaged 227,000 a month, while under Trump, it’s averaging 191,000 a month.

Additionally, the idea that the economy would not be where it is now is also misleading, especially when it comes to jobs.

According to the Los Angeles Times, the U.S. has experienced 110 months of job growth, two-thirds of which were under Obama.

As for Trump’s claims about unemployment, it is true that unemployment is currently at a 50-year low of 3.5%. It is also true that the jobless rate has fallen 1.2% since Trump took office. 

However, it is misleading to say that the average unemployment is the lowest in any administration in history. While technically that is true, Trump has also only been president for three years, and he is comparing himself to many presidents who served for 8 years.

For example, according to the Post, “the unemployment rate average was lower in Lyndon B. Johnson’s second term than it has been under Trump. But when Johnson’s first term is factored in, Trump gains the edge.”

Trade

“Six days ago I replaced NAFTA and signed a brand new U.S. Mexico Canada agreement into law. The USMCA will create nearly 100,000 new high-paying American auto jobs and massively boost exports for our farmers, ranchers and factory workers.”

This claim is not true at all.

According to estimates from the nonpartisan International Trade Commission (USITC), the USMCA would create around 28,000 jobs in the auto sector. 

Even Trump’s own trade representative estimates that the deal would create 76,000 new jobs in the auto in the next five years— a bigger estimate than the USITC, but still a lot lower than what Trump said.

In general, experts have said that USMCA would have a pretty minor economic impact.

For example, the USITC estimated that the deal would raise the U.S. GDP by $68.2 billion— about 0.35%, and employment by 176,000 jobs— about 0.12%.

Healthcare

“I’ve also made an ironclad pledge to American families, we will always protect patients with preexisting conditions.” 

For some context, the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, ensures that people with preexisting conditions have health care access. 

In response to this assertion from the president, many people pointed to Trump’s questionable record on this subject.

Trump and his administration have made several different efforts to weaken and repeal Obamacare, through legislation he has supported, regulations imposed by his administration, and a lawsuit the Justice Department is litigating that could make Obamacare unconstitutional. 

Outlawing Obamacare would also be scrapping that guarantee of coverage for preexisting conditions, at least for the time being, and Trump has not announced a plan to fill those gaps.

“I’m calling for bipartisan legislation that achieves the goal of dramatically lowering prescription drug prices. Get a bill on my desk and I will sign it into law immediately.” 

In response to this claim, a number of Democrats stood up and started chanting “HR3.” HR3 is a sweeping bill passed by the Democrat-controlled House that would lower the price of prescription drugs.

While the House has already passed a bill, the bipartisan effort in the Senate has not gotten movement from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and has become one of the bills in McConnells “graveyard.”

Notably, even within his own party, McConnell has been accused of “sabotaging” a bipartisan drug pricing bill proposed by Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA).

Immigration

“As we speak, a long, tall, and very powerful wall is being built. We have now completed over 100 miles and have over 500 miles fully completed in a very short period of time. Early next year, we will have substantially more than 500 miles completed.” 

Trump has promised that the U.S. southern border will see an additional 500 miles of fencing by “early next year.”

However, the Department of Homeland Security has tried to downplay the president’s promises by saying it will have that much built or “under construction” within that timeframe.

But meeting Trump’s goals on the wall, a central campaign promise, would require doubling the current pace of construction.

There is also an issue of private lands. In Texas, a lot of the land Trump wants to build the wall on is privately owned, and the process of the government acquiring that land could take months or even years.

The effectiveness and strength of the border wall has also been called into question.

According to recent reports, immigrants have used power tools to cut through the wall and makeshift ladders to scale it.

“Last year, our brave ICE officers arrested more than 120,000 criminal aliens charged with nearly 10,000 burglaries, 5,000 sexual assaults, 45,000 violent assaults and 2,000 murders.”

These numbers are technically accurate, but the way Trump used them is misleading.

It is true ICE arrested more than 120,000 illegal immigrants last year. However, most of those immigrants were only ever convicted of illegally immigrating to the U.S. or other nonviolent offenses. 

But the numbers Trump gave for violent crimes are just the number of charges filed— not the number of crimes per person. One person could be charged with multiple crimes, seemingly inflating those numbers.

Additionally, the numbers Trump provided are just charges and not convictions, meaning some of them might have eventually been cleared.

Middle East & Terrorism

“Three years ago, the barbarians of ISIS held over 20,000 square miles of territory in Iraq and Syria. Today, the ISIS territorial caliphate has been 100 percent destroyed, and the founder and leader of ISIS — the bloodthirsty killer known as Al‑Baghdadi — is dead!”

It is true that in Jan. 2017, the Islamic State controlled about 23,000 square miles in Iraq and Syria, but in March 2019, it was pushed out of its last patch of territory in Syria. 

But even after the leader of ISIS in the Levant Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi died, the U.S. military warned that the Islamic State remained a dangerous threat and that his death did not damage the group’s capability.

In fact, in a recent report, the military said that ISIS, “remain[s] cohesive, with an intact command and control structure, urban clandestine networks, and an insurgent presence in much of rural Syria.”

See what others are saying: (NPR) (The Los Angeles Times) (The Washington Post)

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House Panel Approves Commission To Study Reparations

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  • In a 25 to 17 vote along party lines, the House Judiciary Committee approved legislation Wednesday that would establish a commission to study slavery reparations for Black Americans.
  • Republicans objected to the plan, arguing that it will cost too much money and that it is unfair to make all American taxpayers responsible for the consequences of slavery.
  • Democrats pushed back, claiming the modern oppression of Black people still holds roots in slavery, and noting that the bill just creates a commission to study reparations, not implement them.
  • While the proposal faces steep odds in the Senate, Wednesday’s historic vote will move the measure to the House floor for a full vote for the first time since it was introduced over three decades ago. 

Reparation Commission Achieves First Approval

The House Judiciary Committee voted for the first time on Wednesday to advance a bill that will create a commission to consider paying slavery reparations for Black Americans.

The legislation was first proposed over 30 years ago, and if signed into law, it would create a 13-member commission that would study the effects of slavery and racial discrimination in the U.S. and then give Congress a recommendation for “appropriate remedies” to best compensate Black Americans.

The measure passed the committee 25 to 17 along party lines, as expected, with objections from Republicans, who claimed reparations will cost too much and that they are unfair to Americans who have no history of enslavers in their families.

Democrats pushed back against those assertions, arguing that the federal government does have enough money to take some kind of action. They also noted that the commission will not actually implement any reparations, but rather just look into the options and then make a non-binding recommendation.

There are a lot of different ideas for what reparations could look like. While some support direct cash payments of various sizes, others have argued there are different proposals that might be more realistic to put into law, like no-interest loans for Black homeowners or free college tuition.

“I ask my friends on the other side of the aisle, do not cancel us tonight. Do not ignore the pain, the history and the reasonableness of this commission,” Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Tx.), the lead sponsor of the bill, said Wednesday.

Others also condemned the argument that some Americans, particularly those whose ancestors did not directly benefit from owning slaves, should not bear responsibility. They said that this line of thinking ignores both generational wealth, which vastly benefits white Americans over all others, as well as how Black Americans are hurt by modern-day discrimination and oppression that has roots in slavery.

“Slavery was indeed ended 150 years ago but racism never took a day off and is alive and well in America,” Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.) said in committee Wednesday. 

“You can ask the family members of Daunte Wright, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery or George Floyd. Black folks in this country cannot keep living and dying like this. But we’ll be forced to do so if White folks in America continue to refuse to look back at history.”

Uphill Battle

While many have described the legislation as a flexible first step, any further congressional action will almost certainly be an uphill battle. The committee vote is just the very first step: the proposal still has to go to a vote by the full House, where it is unclear if it will even garner enough support among the House Democrats’ slim majority. 

If it were to pass the lower chamber, the bill faces almost insurmountable odds in the 50-50 split Senate, where ten Republicans would have to join all Democrats to break the legislative filibuster.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) has said that he will start considering when to schedule the vote, though it is unlikely to be considered soon. Hoyer also urged President Joe Biden to use his executive power to create the commission if the legislation fails.

The White House has said that Biden supports the commission, but administration officials have not confirmed whether he would act unilaterally on the subject.

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (USA Today) (Vox)

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Biden To Pull All U.S. Troops From Afghanistan by Sept. 11

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  • President Biden declared Wednesday that he will pull all U.S. troops out of Afghanistan by Sept. 11, which also marks the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.
  • The Afghanistan war is the longest war the U.S. has ever been in. It has resulted in the deaths of 2,400 American troops, injured and killed almost 100,000 civilians, and cost about $2 trillion.
  • Some praised the decision as a key step to address seemingly endless wars and promote diplomacy.
  • Many experts and defense officials, however, have warned the withdrawal could undermine American goals in the region and embolden the Taliban, which is currently the strongest it has been since the U.S. invasion removed the group from power in 2001.

Biden Announces Troop Removal Amid Growing Violence

President Joe Biden announced Wednesday that he will withdraw all American troops from Afghanistan by Sept. 11, the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks that drew the U.S. into its longest war in history.

“We went to Afghanistan because of a horrific attack that happened 20 years ago. That cannot explain why we should remain there in 2021,” Biden said in an afternoon speech. “It’s time to end America’s longest war. It’s time for America’s troops to come home.’’

The decision comes as Biden nears the May 1 deadline set under a February 2020 peace deal by the administration of former President Donald Trump to bring the troops home from the war, which has killed nearly 2,400 troops, injured and killed nearly 100,000 civilians, and cost about $2 trillion.

Biden had previously said that it would be hard to meet the date after taking office, but even with the extended timeline, many experts and defense officials have warned against the move.

The U.S. first entered the war to oust the Taliban government, which was harboring al-Qaeda militants involved in planning the 9/11 attacks. The Taliban was removed within months, but the group still had support in parts of the country and steadily regained territory and strength.

Now, almost two decades later, the group is the strongest it has been since the 2001 invasion, and according to reports, controls or has influence over half the country. The situation has also escalated in the months after Trump, during his last week in office, reduced the official number of troops in Afghanistan to 2,500, which is the lowest level since 2001.

As the U.S. has scaled down its operations, the Taliban has taken control of major highways and tried to cut off cities and towns in surges that have exhausted Afghan security forces. Violence has also ramped up in recent months.

According to a U.N. report released Wednesday, nearly 1,800 civilians were killed or wounded in the first three months of the year, a nearly 30% increase from the same period last year.

Notably, U.S. intelligence agencies have said that they do not believe Al Qaeda or other terrorist organizations present an immediate threat to strike the U.S. from Afghanistan, an assessment that reportedly played a big role in Biden’s decision to withdraw U.S. forces.

However, many experts are more concerned about how the move will impact Afghanistan and its citizens. 

Concerns Over Withdrawal

The Pentagon has warned against removing American troops from the region until Afghan security forces can effectively fight back against the Taliban.

As a result, critics of the plan have argued that withdrawal will leave the forces  — which have limited capacities and until now have been funded and trained by the U.S. — entirely in the dust

Beyond that, many also worry that the move could undermine the entire goal of the 2001 invasion by empowering al-Qaeda operates that remains in the country and who could become emboldened once the U.S. troops left.

Some experts and Afghan politicians have said that withdrawing from the country without a solid peace deal in place could end in concentrating more power in the hands of the Taliban. After a long delay following the U.S. agreement in February of last year, peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban finally started up in September.

But those talks have since stalled, partly due to Biden’s win and the anticipation of a possible change in policy under the new administration.

While other countries have recently made moves to restart the talks, and there are a number of possible options on the table, nothing is set in stone. American commanders, who have long said a peace deal with the Taliban is the best security measure for the U.S., have argued that the U.S. will need to use the promise of withdrawing their forces as a condition for a good deal.

Now, the U.S. has taken a major bargaining chip off the table, causing concerns that if a deal is struck, the already weakened Afghan government will make key concessions to the Taliban. Many Afghan citizens who oppose the Taliban worry that if the group secures a role in a power-sharing agreement, it could eventually take over the government and re-impose the harsh rule it imposed before the U.S. removed it in 2001. The leadership was particularly tough on women, who were largely barred from public life.

Politicians Respond

Biden’s decision has sparked a divided front from both political parities, though Republicans have largely remained united against the move.

“It is insane to withdraw at this time given the conditions that exist on the ground in Afghanistan,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said Tuesday. “A full withdrawal from Afghanistan is dumber than dirt and devilishly dangerous. President Biden will have, in essence, canceled an insurance policy against another 9/11.”

Many Democrats, however, have argued that U.S. presence in the region is not helping the U.S. achieve its foreign policy goals, and that if withdrawal is based on conditional approaches, the troops will never be able to leave. 

Others have also applauded the plan as a careful solution and will still emphasize diplomatic efforts in the region while simultaneously removing the U.S. from a highly unpopular and expensive war.

“The President doesn’t want endless wars. I don’t want endless wars. And neither do the American people. ” Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Wednesday. “It’s refreshing to have a thought-out plan with a set timetable instead of the President waking up one morning getting out of bed, saying what just pops into his head and then having the generals having walked it back.”

In a series of tweets Wednesday, Afghanistan’s president, Ashraf Ghani, said had spoken to Biden, and emphasized that the two nations would continue to work together.

“’Afghanistan’s proud security and defense forces are fully capable of defending its people and country, which they have been doing all along,” he wrote.

The Taliban, for its part, has focused more on the fact that the initial timeline had been delayed.

“We are not agreeing with delay after May 1,” a spokesperson said on television Tuesday. “Any delay after May 1 is not acceptable for us.”

It is currently unclear how that stance might affect the situation, especially when it comes to peace deal negotiations.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (The Washington Post) (TIME)

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Matt Gaetz Reportedly Venmo’d Accused Sex Trafficker, Who Then Sent Money To Teen

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  • A report published by The Daily Beast Thursday alleges that Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fl.) sent $900 through Venmo to accused sex trafficker Joel Greenberg, who then used the funds to pay three young women, including one teenager.
  • Gaetz is currently under federal investigation as part of a broader inquiry into Greenberg, a former politician who has been charged with 33 counts, including sex trafficking an underage girl.
  • Investigators are reportedly looking into the involvement of politicians with women who were recruited online for sex and paid in cash, as well as whether Gaetz had sex with a 17-year-old girl and violated sex trafficking laws by paying for her to travel with him.
  • Greenberg’s lawyer did not comment on the new allegations but said Thursday his client would soon enter a plea deal and implied that Greenberg would testify as a witness against Gaetz. Meanwhile, Gaetz has accused The Daily Beast of spreading “rumors, gossip and self-serving misstatements.”

Gaetz’s Alleged Venmo Payments 

Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fl.) allegedly sent money via Venmo to accused sex trafficker Joel Greenberg, who then used the money to pay three young women, including at least one teenage girl, according to a new report from The Daily Beast.

Greenberg, a former local Flordia politician and an associate of Gaetz, was indicted last summer on 33 counts, including sex trafficking a 17-year-old girl. He initially pleaded not guilty to the charges, but his lawyers said in court Thursday that he would plead guilty as part of a plea deal.

Legal experts say the move almost certainly indicates that Greenberg plans to cooperate as a witness against Gaetz, who is currently under investigation by the Justice Department as part of a broader probe into Greenberg.

According to The New York Times, among other things, the DOJ inquiry is looking into their involvement with multiple women who were recruited online for sex and paid cash, as well as whether Gaetz had a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old girl and paid for her to travel with him in violation of sex trafficking laws.

Investigators reportedly believe that Greenberg met the women through a website for people willing to go on dates in exchange for gifts and money, and then arranged for them to meet with himself and associates including Gaetz, The Times reported.

The new report from The Daily Beast, published Thursday, appears to support this narrative. According to the outlet, which viewed the transactions before they were made private this week, Gaetz sent Greenberg two late-night Venmo payments totaling $900 in May 2018. 

In the text field of the first payment, Gaetz wrote “Test.” In the second, he asked Greenberg to “hit up” a teenager who he allegedly referred to by her nickname. The Daily Beast did not publish the name of the girl “because the teenager had only turned 18 less than six months before.”

The next morning, Greenberg transferred a total of $900 to three different young women using the same app.

One of the transfers was titled “Tuition,” and the other two were both listed as “School.” The Daily Beast also said it was able to obtain “partial records” of Greenbergs Venmo, which is not publicly available.

Those records, the outlet reported, show that the two men are connected through Venmo to at least one other woman who Greenberg paid with a government-funded credit card, and at least two other women who received payments from Greenberg.

Ongoing Investigation

Gaetz, for his part, has not directly addressed the latest allegations. A representative from the Logan Circle Group, an outside PR firm, provided The Daily Beast with a statement from the congressman.

“The rumors, gossip and self-serving misstatements of others will be addressed in due course by my legal team,” the statement said, with the firm also informing the outlet that their lawyers would be “closely monitoring your coverage.”

Greenberg’s defense attorney, Fritz Scheller, also declined requests to comment, but during a press conference Thursday, he implied that the plea deal his client is expected to accept spelled trouble for Gaetz.

“I’m sure Matt Gaetz is not feeling very comfortable today,” Scheller said.

The Daily Beast story also comes amid reports that that the FBI has widened its probe of Gaetz. According to The Times, sources familiar with the inquiry have said investigators are also looking into a trip he took to the Bahamas with other Florida Republicans and several women.

Sources said the trip took place shortly after Gaetz was elected to Congress in 2016, and that the FBI has already questioned witnesses about whether the women had sex with the men in exchange for money and free travel.

It is illegal to trade sex for something of value if prosecutors can provide the exchange involved force, fraud, or coercion.

The Times also reported that investigators are now additionally looking into Gaetz’s alleged involvement in discussions to run a third-party candidate in a State Senate race to make it easier for an associate of his who was running for the seat to win.

The act of recruiting so-called “ghost candidates” who run for office purely to divert votes from one candidate is not usually illegal. However, paying a ghost candidate is normally considered a violation of campaign finance laws.

See what others are saying: (The Daily Beast) (The New York Times) (The Hill)

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