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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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Supreme Court Begins Contentious New Term as Approval Rating Hits Historic Low

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The most volatile cases the court will consider involve affirmative action, voting rights, elections, and civil rights for the LGBTQ+ community.


High Court to Hear Numerous Controversial Cases

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday officially kicked off a new term that will be marked by a number of very contentious cases.

The justices, led by a conservative super-majority, will hear many matters that have enormous implications for the American people.

The first case the court will hear this term involves a major environmental dispute that will determine the scope of government authority under the Clean Water Act — a decision that could have a massive impact on U.S. water quality at a time when water crises’ have been heightened by climate change.

The case also comes amid increasing concerns about federal inaction regarding climate change, especially after the Supreme Court significantly limited the government’s power to act in this area at the end of its last term.

Cases Involving Race

Several of the most anticipated decisions also center around race, including a pair of cases that challenge affirmative action programs at Harvard University and the University of North Carolina.

For over four decades, the high court has repeatedly upheld that race can be a factor in college admissions to ensure a more equitable student body. Despite the fact that multiple challenges have been struck down in the past, the court’s conservative super majority could very well undo 40 years of precedent and undermine essential protections.

The high court will decide a legal battle that could significantly damage key voting protections for minorities set forth under the Voting Rights Act (VRA). The case in question stems from a lower court opinion that invalidated Alabama’s congressional map for violating a provision in the VRA prohibiting voting rules that discriminate on the basis of race.

Alabama had drawn its map so only one of its seven congressional districts was majority Black, despite the fact that nearly one in every three voting-age residents in the state are Black. 

States’ Power Over Elections 

Also on the topic of gerrymandering and elections, the justices will hear a case that could have a profound impact on the very nature of American democracy. The matter centers around a decision by the North Carolina Supreme Court to strike down the Republican-drawn congressional map on the grounds that it amounted to an illegal gerrymander that violated the state’s Constitution.

The North Carolina GOP appealed that decision to the Supreme Court, arguing that the U.S. Constitution’s Elections Clause gives state legislatures almost total control over how federal elections are carried out in their state under a theory called the independent state legislature doctrine.

“That argument, in its most extreme form, would mean that [sic] no state court and no state agency could interfere with the state legislature’s version of election rules, regardless of the rules set down in the state constitution,” NPR explained.

In other words, if the Supreme Court sides with the North Carolina Republicans, they would essentially be giving state legislatures unchecked power over how voting maps are designed and elections are administered.

LGBTQ+ Rights

Another notable decision the justices will make could have huge implications for the LGBTQ+ community and civil rights more broadly. That matter involved a web designer in Colorado named Lori Smith who refused to design websites for same-sex couples because she believed it violates her right to religious freedoms.

That belief, however, goes against a Colorado nondiscrimination law that bans businesses that serve the public from denying their services to customers based on sexual orientation or identity.

As a result, Smith argues that the Colorado law violates the right to free speech under the First Amendment. If the high court rules in her favor, it would undermine protections for the LGBTQ+ community in Colorado and likely other states with similar laws.

Experts also say such a ruling could go far beyond that. As Georgetown University’s Kelsi Corkran told NPR, “if Smith is correct that there’s a free speech right to selectively choose her customers based on the messages she wants to endorse,” the Colorado law would also allow white supremacists to deny services to people of color because that “would be a message of endorsement.”

Record-Low Approval Rating

The court’s high-stakes docket also comes at a time when its reputation has been marred by questions of legitimacy.

A new Gallup poll published last week found that the Supreme Court’s approval rating has sunk to a record low. Specifically, less than half of Americans said they have at least a “fair amount” of trust in the judicial branch — a 20% drop from just two years ago.

Beyond that, a record number of people also now say that the court is too conservative. Experts argue that these numbers are massively consequential, especially as the U.S. heads into yet another highly-contentious court term.

“The Supreme Court is at an important moment,” Julian Zelizer, a professor of history and public affairs told The Hill

“Trust in the institutions has vastly diminished, certainly among Democrats, and many have a close eye on how they rule on other vital matters. If decisions seem to keep coming from a very pointed political direction, frustration and calls for reform will only mount.”

See what others are saying: (The Hill) (CNN) (The Wall Street Journal)

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Biden Mistakenly Calls Out For Dead Lawmaker at White House Event

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The remarks prompted concerns about the mental state of the president, who previously mourned the congresswoman’s death in an official White House statement.


“Where’s Jackie?” 

Video of President Joe Biden publicly asking if a congresswoman who died last month was present at a White House event went viral Wednesday, giving rise to renewed questions about the leader’s mental acuity.

The remarks were made at the White House Conference on Food, Nutrition, and Health, which Rep. Jackie Walorski (R-In.) had helped convene and organize before her sudden death in a car accident.

The president thanked the group of bipartisan lawmakers who helped make the event happen, listing them off one by one, and appearing to look around in search of Rep. Walorski when he reached her name.

“Jackie, are you here? Where’s Jackie?” he called. “I think she wasn’t going to be here to help make this a reality.” 

The incident flummoxed many, especially because Biden had even acknowledged her work on the conference in an official White House statement following her death last month.

“Jill and I are shocked and saddened by the death of Congresswoman Jackie Walorski of Indiana along with two members of her staff in a car accident today in Indiana,” the statement read.

“I appreciated her partnership as we plan for a historic White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health this fall that will be marked by her deep care for the needs of rural America.”

The Age Maximum Question

Numerous social media users and news outlets presented the mishap as evidence that Biden, who is 79, does not have the mental capacity to serve as president. Others, meanwhile, raised the possibility of imposing an age maximum for the presidency.

Most of the comments against the president came from the right, which has regularly questioned his mental stability. However, the idea of an age limit goes beyond Biden and touches on concerns about America’s most important leaders being too old.

While Biden is the oldest president in history, former President Donald Trump — who is 76 and has also had his mental state continually questioned — would have likewise held that title if he had won re-election in 2020.

These concerns extend outside the presidency as well: the current session of Congress is the oldest on average of any Congress in recent history, and the median ages are fairly similar among Republicans and Democrats when separated by chambers.

There is also a higher percentage of federal lawmakers who are older than the median age. Nearly 1 out of every 4 members are over the age of 70.

Source: Business Insider

What’s more, some of the people in the highest leadership positions are among the oldest members. Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Ca.), is the oldest-ever House Speaker at 82, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) — the president pro tempore of the Senate and third person in line for the presidency — is the same age, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is 80.

As a result, it is unsurprising that a recent Insider/Morning Consult poll found that 3 in 4 Americans support an age max for members of Congress, and more than 40% say they view the ages of political leaders as a “major” problem.

Those who support the regulations argue that age limits are standard practice in many industries, including for airplane pilots and the military, and thus should be imposed on those who have incredible amounts of power over the country.

However, setting age boundaries on Congress and the President would almost certainly necessitate changes to the Constitution, and because such a move would require federal lawmakers to curtail their own power, there is little political will.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (Business Insider) (NBC News)

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Churches Protected Loophole in Abuse Reporting for 20 years, Report Finds

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In some cases, Clergy members failed to report abuse among their congregation, but state laws protected them from that responsibility.


A Nationwide Campaign to Hide Abuse

More than 130 bills seeking to create or amend child sexual abuse reporting laws have been neutered or killed due to religious opposition over the past two decades, according to a review by the Associated Press.

Many states have laws requiring professionals such as physicians, teachers, and psychotherapists to report any information pertaining to alleged child sexual abuse to authorities. In 33 states, however, clergy are exempt from those requirements if they deem the information privileged.

All of the reform bills reviewed either targeted this loophole and failed or amended the mandatory reporting statute without touching the loophole.

“The Roman Catholic Church has used its well-funded lobbying infrastructure and deep influence among lawmakers in some states to protect the privilege,” the AP stated. “Influential members of the Mormon church and Jehovah’s witnesses have also worked in statehouses and courts to preserve it in areas where their membership is high.”

“This loophole has resulted in an unknown number of predators being allowed to continue abusing children for years despite having confessed the behavior to religious officials,” the report continued.

“They believe they’re on a divine mission that justifies keeping the name and the reputation of their institution pristine,” David Finkelhor, director of the Crimes Against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire, told the outlet. “So the leadership has a strong disincentive to involve the authorities, police or child protection people.”

Abuses Go Unreported

Last month, another AP investigation discovered that a Mormon bishop acting under the direction of church leaders in Arizona failed to report a church member who had confessed to sexually abusing his five-year-old daughter.

Merrill Nelson, a church lawyer and Republican lawmaker in Utah, reportedly advised the bishop against making the report because of Arizona’s clergy loophole, effectively allowing the father to allegedly rape and abuse three of his children for years.

Democratic State Sen. Victoria Steele proposed three bills in response to the case to close the loophole but told the AP that key Mormon legislators thwarted her efforts.

In Montana, a woman who was abused by a member of the Jehovah’s Witnesses won a $35 million jury verdict against the church because it failed to report her abuse, but in 2020 the state supreme court reversed the judgment, citing the state’s reporting exemption for clergy.

In 2013, a former Idaho police officer turned himself in for abusing children after having told 15 members of the Mormon church, but prosecutors declined to charge the institution for not reporting him because it was protected under the clergy loophole.

The Mormon church said in a written statement to the AP that a member who confesses child sex abuse “has come seeking an opportunity to reconcile with God and to seek forgiveness for their actions. … That confession is considered sacred, and in most states, is regarded as a protected religious conversation owned by the confessor.”

See what others are saying: (Associated Press) (Deseret) (Standard Examiner)

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