President Donald Trump’s first year in office was mired in political scandal and Republican Party infighting. But on Tuesday night, in his first State of the Union, Trump described a prosperous and harmonious nation.
While it’s true his administration has had serious influence on the nation’s culture, regulatory policy, and legislative priorities, Trump took sweeping credit for massive improvements in the nation’s health care system, economy, and foreign affairs. Many of these claims were misleading, involved serious omissions, or were downright false.
Vox’s staff fact-checked seven of Trump’s biggest statements.
1) Trump tried to take credit for the black unemployment rate’s decline
Trump cited a statistic he was “very proud of” in his State of the Union speech Tuesday: “African-American unemployment stands at the lowest rate ever recorded.”
But as Vox’s Matthew Yglesias points out, “a simple eyeball of the African-American unemployment rate ... makes it clear that Trump has nothing to do with this trend.”
The African-American unemployment rate has been on the decline since 2011, long before Trump was in the White House.
Trump may be “proud” of the statistic, but African-American lawmakers in the House chamber Tuesday were less enthusiastic about Trump claiming credit. Many in the Congressional Black Caucus, group of roughly 49 African-American representatives and senators, boycotted the State of the Union.
After a year in which Trump failed to immediately denounce white supremacists and started a national campaign against black NFL players protesting racial injustice, among many other instances of racism, those who did attend said they were doing so to “stare racism in the face,” CBC Chair Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-LA) said in a news conference Tuesday, adding that Trump has made the country “less safe for people of color.”
2) Trump’s claims about repealing Obamacare’s individual mandate had a major omission
“We eliminated an especially cruel tax that fell mostly on Americans making less than $50,000 a year, forcing them to pay tremendous penalties simply because they could not afford government-ordered health plans,” Trump said in the House chamber during his speech. “We repealed the core of disastrous Obamacare. The individual mandate is now gone.”
Trump is right on the surface, of course: The mandate is gone, and it was originally considered core to the Affordable Care Act. But these days, most experts largely believe that the tax penalty for not having insurance was actually too low to have the desired effect, even as Trump cites its “tremendous” nature and that the law’s markets will survive — if imperfectly — without it.
But on the margins, the mandate’s elimination will likely lead to some bump in premiums and fewer Americans having health coverage over the long term. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that 13 million people would lose coverage if the individual mandate were repealed, and that premiums in the individual market would rise by an additional 10 percent. The mandate’s repeal could also drive some insurers out of the market, at a time when some parts of the country have already been at risk of having no insurers to sell plans through the ACA marketplaces.
3) Trump said his administration is committed to fighting the opioid crisis. They haven’t done much.
“My administration is committed to fighting the drug epidemic and helping get treatment for those in need,” Trump said Tuesday. “For those who have been so terribly hurt, the struggle will be long and it will be difficult. As Americans always do, in the end, we will succeed. We will prevail.”
If you listen to his words about the opioid epidemic, he seems to understand it’s an emergency. Yet in the past year, there has been no move by Trump’s administration to actually spend more money on the opioid crisis. Key positions in the administration remain unfilled, even without nominees in the case of the White House’s drug czar office and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). And although Trump’s emergency declaration was renewed this month, it has led to essentially no action since it was first signed — no significant new resources, no major new initiatives.
Taking action on the opioid epidemic could have been an easy win. It’s an issue that crosses partisan lines, with both Democrats and Republicans angling to do something about it. There’s evidence that it’s very relevant to Trump’s own base. While experts talk about needing as much as tens of billions of dollars for the crisis over the next few years, that’s actually not much in federal budget terms — a fraction of a percent for a government that spends trillions a year.
And yet the Trump administration has barely budged. Beyond declaring a public health emergency, the administration has done little to nothing to combat the crisis.
4) Trump’s abandoned promise to bring down drug prices
“One of my greatest priorities is to reduce the price of prescription drugs. In many other countries, these drugs cost far less than what we pay in the United States,” Trump said. “That is why I have directed my administration to make fixing the injustice of high drug prices one of our top priorities. Prices will come down.”
But one year into Trump’s presidency, he has more or less abandoned his outspoken pledges to bring down the cost of America’s medicines, the highest in the world.
Experts say that in the first year of Trump’s presidency, the drug industry has gained the upper hand in the lobbying campaign against its foes in the health care industry.
Under Trump, drug companies have undertaken a concerted campaign to shift the discussion about drug prices to a conversation about out-of-pocket costs, in which health insurers and pharmacy benefits managers are under the microscope.
The companies’ campaign appears to have borne fruit, judging by regulatory changes being pursued by the Trump administration on Medicare. Trump has also filled the executive branch with officials closely tied to the drug industry; his new pick to lead Health and Human Services, Alex Azar, was most recently a top executive at Eli Lilly.
5) Trump took credit for defeating ISIS that he doesn’t deserve
In his State of the Union address, President Trump claimed a very clear policy accomplishment: the military defeat of ISIS.
“Last year, I pledged that we would work with our allies to extinguish ISIS from the face of the earth,” he said. “One year later, I’m proud to report that the coalition to defeat ISIS has liberated very close to 100 percent of the territory just recently held by these killers in Iraq and in Syria.”
There’s real truth here. The amount of territory controlled by ISIS declined by 60 percent between January and October 2017, according to a count by IHS Markit, a strategic intelligence firm. The group lost control over both Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, and Raqqa, which served as the de facto capital of ISIS’s so-called caliphate; it now no longer controls a major populated city in either country.
Yet Trump’s comment implies that nearly all of ISIS-held territory was liberated in the past year. This isn’t true. In fact, it’s not clear that Trump deserves much credit for these developments — if any. His counter-ISIS strategy has, for the most part, been a continuation of the one the Obama administration began back in 2014, which had already been steadily chipping away at the group’s territory.
So while it’s true that ISIS lost a lot of territory under Trump’s watch, there’s little evidence to suggest that he can count it as his accomplishment.
6) Trump repeats untruths about the nation’s immigration system
Trump has been making speeches about the need to protect America from nefarious immigrants for his entire (extremely brief) political career. He has never been terribly closely fettered to facts on the issue. His first State of the Union was no exception.
Trump spent most of the immigration section of his speech attacking the Salvadoran-American street gang MS-13 — and claiming, bizarrely and with absolutely no substantiation, that his administration has put “thousands and thousands and thousands” of MS-13 members in prison or on deportation flights. (There’s no data to support this claim; in general, numbers of Immigration and Customs Enforcement arrests of convicted criminals in the interior of the US are comparable to past years, though arrests of noncriminals rose sharply from the final years of the Obama administration.)
His attempts to show compassion were equally innumerate. Trump bragged that his White House asks Congress to create a path to citizenship for three times as many immigrants (1.8 million) as President Obama did; Obama, of course, supported a plan to legalize most of the 11 million unauthorized immigrants in the US, and the DACA program to which Trump appears to be referring (which protected 690,000 immigrants) had no path to citizenship.
When it came to legal immigration, Trump’s failings were qualitative. He claimed falsely, again, that immigrants selected in the “visa lottery” are randomly given green cards with no thought to security — when in fact, after being selected in the lottery, immigrants are vetted just as much as any other immigrant to the US. And he repeated a fantasy about immigrants bringing “nearly unlimited numbers of distant relatives” to the US via “chain migration” — a fantasy that’s led many Republicans to call for a ban on sponsoring grandparents, uncles, aunts, or cousins, none of whom can be sponsored under existing law either.
7) Trump claims to have ended the “war on coal.” There was no war to begin with.
“We have ended the war on American energy — and we have ended the war on beautiful, clean coal,” he said. “We are now very proudly an exporter of energy to the world.”
These statements are misleading on several counts. President Obama didn’t wage a “war on coal,” as Trump has often claimed. (Read David Roberts’s in-depth explainer on this.) Trump hasn’t made the US an energy exporter. He also doesn’t seem to have a good grasp of what “clean coal” is.
The United States has exported coal, oil, natural gas, and energy technology for decades, and in recent years, the amount of energy the country is exporting has started to catch up to the amount of energy the United States brings in.
Automation in coal mining and competition from other energy sources like natural gas and renewables have caused the sector’s decline; regulations have played only a small role. Coal production and its share of the electricity mix is falling too, largely coinciding with the shale gas boom. Trump’s administration has done little to stop that decline.