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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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Feds Investigate Classified Files Found in Biden’s Former Office

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The documents reportedly include U.S. intelligence memos and briefing materials that covered topics such as Ukraine, Iran, and the United Kingdom


What Was in the Files?

President Biden’s legal team discovered about 10 classified files in his former office at the Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement in Washington D.C., the White House revealed Monday.

The Department of Justice has concluded an initial inquiry into the matter and will determine whether to open a criminal investigation.

According to a source familiar with the matter who spoke to CNN, they include U.S. intelligence memos and briefing materials that covered topics such as Ukraine, Iran, and the United Kingdom.

A source also told CBS News the batch did not contain nuclear secrets and had been contained in a folder in a box with other unclassified papers.

The documents are reportedly from Biden’s time as vice president, but it remains unclear what level of classification they are and how they ended up in his office.

Biden kept an office in the. Penn Biden Center, a think tank about a mile from the White House, between 2017 and 2020, when he was elected president.

On Nov. 2, his lawyers claim, they discovered the documents as they were clearing out the space to vacate it.

They immediately notified the National Archives, which retrieved the files the next morning, according to the White House.

What Happens Next?

Attorney General Merrick Garland must decide whether to open a criminal investigation into Biden’s alleged mishandling of the documents. To that end, he appointed John Lausch Jr., the U.S. attorney in Chicago and a Trump appointee, to conduct an initial inquiry.

Garland reportedly picked him for the role despite him being in a different jurisdiction to avoid appearing partial.

Lausch has reportedly finished the initial part of his inquiry and provided a preliminary report to Garland.

If a criminal investigation is opened, Garland will likely appoint an independent special counsel to lead it.

The case mirrors a similar DoJ special counsel investigation into former President Donald Trump’s alleged mishandling of classified materials and obstruction of efforts to properly retrieve them.

On Nov. 18, Garland appointed Jack Smith to investigate over 300 classified documents found at Trump’s Florida residence, Mar-a-Lago.

Trump resisted multiple National Archives requests for the documents for months leading up to the FBI’s raid on his property, then handed over 15 boxes of files only for even more to be found still at Mar-a-Lago.

“When is the FBI going to raid the many houses of Joe Biden, perhaps even the White House?” Trump wrote on Truth Social Monday. “These documents were definitely not declassified.”

Rep. James Comer (R-KY), the new chairman of the House Oversight Committee, told reporters he will investigate the Biden files.

Republicans have been quick to pounce on the news and compare it to Trump’s classified files, but Democrats have pointed out differences in the small number of documents and Biden’s willingness to cooperate with the National Archives.

The White House has yet to explain why, if the files were first discovered six days before the midterm elections, the White House waited two months to reveal the news to the public.

See what others are saying: (CNN) (The New York Times) (BBC)

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Lawmakers Propose Bill to Protect Fertility Treatments Amid Post-Roe Threats

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The move comes as a number of states are considering anti-abortion bills that could threaten or ban fertility treatments by redefining embryos or fetuses as “unborn human beings” without exceptions for IVF.


The Right To Build Families Act of 2022

A group of Democratic lawmakers introduced a bill Thursday that would codify the right to use assisted reproductive technologies like in-vitro fertility (IVF) treatments into federal law.

The legislation, dubbed the Right To Build Families Act of 2022, was brought forward by Sens. Tammy Duckworth (D-Il) and Patty Murray (D-Wa.) alongside Rep. Susan Wild (D- Pa.). The measure would bar any limits on seeking or receiving IVF treatments and prohibit regulations on a person’s ability to retain their “reproductive genetic materials.” 

The bill would also protect physicians who provide these reproductive services and allow the Justice Department to take civil action against any states that try to limit access to fertility treatments.

The lawmakers argue it is necessary to protect IVF because a number of states have been discussing and proposing legislation that could jeopardize or even ban access to the treatments in the wake of the Roe v. Wade reversal. 

“IVF advocates in this country today are publicly telling us, ‘We need this kind of legislation to be able to protect this,’” Murray told HuffPost. “And here we are after the Dobbs decision where states are enacting laws and we have [anti-abortion] advocates who are now starting to talk, especially behind closed doors, about stopping the right for women and men to have IVF procedures done.”

Fertility Treatments Under Treat

The state-level efforts in question are being proposed by Republican lawmakers who wish to further limit abortions by redefining when life begins. Some of the proposals would define embryos or fetuses as “unborn human beings” without exceptions for those that are created through IVF, where an egg is fertilized by a sperm outside the body and then implanted in a uterus.

For example, a bill has already been pre-filed in Virginia for the 2023 legislative session that explicitly says life begins at fertilization and does not have any specific language that exempts embryos made through IVF.

Experts say these kinds of laws are concerning for a number of reasons. In the IVF process, it is typical to fertilize multiple eggs, but some are discarded. If a person becomes pregnant and does not want to keep the rest of their eggs. It is also normal that not all fertilized eggs will be viable, so physicians will get rid of those.

Sometimes doctors will also implant multiple fertilized eggs to increase the likelihood of pregnancy, but that can result in multiple eggs being fertilized. In order to prevent having multiple babies at once and improve the chance of a healthy pregnancy, people can get a fetal reduction and lower the number of fetuses.

All of those actions could become illegal under proposals that do not provide exemptions. 

“In my case, I had five fertilized eggs, and we discarded three because they were not viable. That is now potentially manslaughter in some of these states,” said Duckworth, who had both of her daughters using IVF.

“I also have a fertilized egg that’s frozen. My husband and I haven’t decided what we will do with it, but the head of the Texas Right to Life organization that wrote the bounty law for Texas has come out and specifically said he’s going after IVF next, and he wants control of the embryos,” Duckworth added.

In a hearing after Roe was overturned, Murray also raised concerns about “whether parents and providers could be punished if an embryo doesn’t survive being thawed for implantation, or for disposing unused embryos.”

Experts have said that even if anti-abortion laws defining when life begins do provide exceptions, it would be contradictory and confusing, so providers would likely err on the side of caution and not provide services out of fear of prosecution.

“[Abortion bans] are forcing women to stay pregnant against their will and are, at the very same time, threatening Americans’ ability to build a family through services like IVF,” Murray said in a statement to Axios. “It’s hard to comprehend, and it’s just plain wrong.”

The federal legislation to combat these efforts faces an uphill battle. It is unlikely it will be passed in the last few days of lame duck session, and with control of Congress being handed to Republicans come January, movement in the lower chamber will be hard fought.

Duckworth, however, told Axios that she will keep introducing the legislation “until we can get it passed.” 

See what others are saying: (Axios) (HuffPost) (USA Today)

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Hundreds of Oath Keepers Claim to Be Current or Former DHS Employees

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The revelation came just weeks after the militia’s founder, Stewart Rhodes, was convicted on seditious conspiracy charges for his involvement in the Jan. 6 insurrection.


An Agency Crawling With Extremists

Over 300 members of the far-right Oath Keepers militia group claim to be current or former employees at the Department of Homeland Security, the Project on Government Oversight (POGO) reported Monday.

The review appears to be the first significant public examination of the group’s leaked membership list to focus on the DHS.

The agencies implicated include Border Patrol, Coast Guard, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and the Secret Service.

“I am currently a 20 year Special Agent with the United States Secret Service. I have been on President Clinton and President Bush’s protective detail. I was a member and instructor on the Presidential Protective Division’s Counter Assault Team (CAT),” one person on the list wrote.

POGO stated that the details he provided the Oath Keepers match those he made in a sworn affidavit filed in federal court.

The finding came just weeks after Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes was convicted on seditious conspiracy charges for his involvement in the Jan. 6 insurrection.

“Law enforcement agents who have associations with groups that seek to undermine democratic governance pose a heightened threat because they can compromise probes, misdirecting investigations or leaking confidential investigative information to those groups,” POGO said in its report.

In March, the DHS published an internal study finding that “the Department has significant gaps that have impeded its ability to comprehensively prevent, detect, and respond to potential threats related to domestic violent extremism within DHS.”

Some experts have suggested the DHS may be especially prone to extremist sentiments because of its role in policing immigration. In 2016, the ICE union officially endorsed then-candidate Donald Trump for president, making the first such endorsement in the agency’s history.

The U.S. Government has a White Supremacy Problem

Copious academic research and news reports have shown that far-right extremists have infiltrated local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies.

In May, a Reuters investigation found at least 15 self-identified law enforcement trainers and dozens of retired instructors listed in a database of Oath Keepers.

In 2019, Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting found that almost 400 current or former law enforcement officials belonged to Confederate, anti-Islam, misogynistic or anti-government militia Facebook groups.

The Pentagon has long struggled with its own extremism problem, which appears to have particularly festered in the wake of the U.S. invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan.

Nearly one in four active-duty service members said in a 2017 Military Times poll that they had observed white nationalism among the troops, and over 40% of non-white service members said the same.

The prevalence of racism in the armed forces is not surprising given that many of the top figures among right-wing extremist groups hailed from the military and those same groups are known to deliberately target disgruntled, returning veterans for recruitment.

Brandon Russell, the founder of the neo-Nazi group AtomWaffen, served in the military, as did George Lincoln Rockwell, commander of the American Nazi Party, Louis Beam, leader of the KKK, and Richard Butler, founder of the Aryan Nation.

In January, NPR reported that one in five people charged in federal or D.C. courts for their involvement in the Capitol insurrection were current or former military service members.

See what others are saying: (Project on Government Oversight) (Business Insider)

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