Fact-checking Donald Trump’s 2020 State of the Union address
President Donald Trump delivered the 2020 State of the Union address in an atmosphere of intense partisanship, the day before an expected Senate vote to end impeachment, allowing Trump to stay in office and run for a second term.
Before he spoke, Trump ignored an extended hand from Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. There were cheers and jeers, with Republicans shouting “four more years!” and Democrats yelling at Trump to pass their bill on drug prices. More women lawmakers wore white, a symbol of the suffrage movement.
Trump’s speech boasted about the improved economy and included some false lines that he has repeated in campaign rallies. We fact-checked many of them for accuracy or additional context.
This story will be updated.
“I’ve also made an ironclad pledge to American families: We will also protect patients with pre-existing conditions.”
This repeated line is Pants on Fire. His administration is doing the opposite in court.
The protections for patients with pre-existing conditions come from the Affordable Care Act, which passed under then-President Barack Obama. The law says that health plans cannot charge people more for insurance because of their medical history, and is one of the ACA’s most popular provisions.
Trump has repeatedly sought and supported congressional efforts to repeal the ACA, though those efforts memorably fell flat in 2017. More recently, his administration has declined to defend the law in a pending court case, known as Texas vs. Azar. In that case, a group of Republican states’ attorneys generals is arguing that the entire law should be struck down — including the pre-existing condition protection. The case is expected to end up before the Supreme Court, though not before the 2020 election.
The administration’s stance — endorsing the lawsuit and declining to defend the law — is almost unprecedented, legal experts say.
Neither the president nor congressional Republicans has unveiled a replacement plan for the ACA. In the event the Supreme Court ultimately strikes down the health law, health plans would once again be allowed to charge people more if they have had any medical issues.
— Shefali Luthra, Kaiser Health News
“With unyielding commitment, we are curbing the opioid epidemic — drug overdose deaths declined for the first time in nearly 30 years.”
The number of overdoses did fall in 2018, but it’s not clear if it’s the beginning of a trend, and the death toll remains staggering.
U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data show 67,367 drug overdose deaths in the United States in 2018, a 4.1% decline from 2017. Overdose deaths have been steadily increasing in recent decades; in 1999, the number of deaths was 16,849.
A graphic in Science magazine compiled by researchers at the University of Pittsburgh and the CDC shows that the last decline in drug overdose deaths was in 1990, but it then climbed steadily up. The mortality rate was about 2 people per 100,000 in 1990 and rose to about 17 per 100,000 by 2016.
While the overall decline in drug overdose deaths is good news, overdoses from synthetic opioids other than methadone have been on the rise.
“Fentanyl is only now spreading to the western United States, and methamphetamine addiction is resurgent, both of which could prevent the 2018 drop of overdoses from becoming a longer-term trend,” said Keith Humphreys, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford University.
— Amy Sherman
“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.”
This needs clarification.
The 100-mile reference is mainly about the replacement of older, dilapidated barriers with new fencing. It doesn’t mean that the nearly 2,000-mile U.S.-Mexico border now has 100 more miles of barriers than it did before Trump became president.
The southwest border had 654 miles of primary barriers before Trump was elected. Three years into Trump’s term, that has increased by 1 mile, to 655 miles.
According to U.S. Customs and Border Protection, as of Jan. 24:
1 mile of barriers has been constructed where no barriers previously existed;
99 miles of barriers have been constructed to replace outdated or dilapidated designs that existed before Trump took office; and
10 miles of secondary barriers have been constructed to replace dilapidated fencing.
Customs and Border Protection said it’s identified about $11 billion from the Department of Homeland Security, Defense Department, and the Treasury Forfeiture Fund to build 576 miles worth of barriers (which includes the 110 miles already built). About half of the barriers would get new barriers to replace existing structures, and the rest would have barriers for the first time, according to the immigration agency.
— Miriam Valverde
“As a result of our unprecedented efforts, illegal crossings are down 75% since May, dropping eight months in a row.”
This accurately reflects southwest border apprehension data up to December 2019.
Border patrol apprehensions declined by about 75% from May to December. Apprehensions briefly increased by about 33% from April to May, though, so technically they have dropped seven months in a row.
Here are the numbers from Customs and Border Protection:
— Miriam Valverde
“Our military is completely rebuilt.”
This hasn’t happened. The Trump administration has increased military spending, but rebuilding the military would require new equipment that can take years to build and develop.
Only a portion of the Trump administration’s military spending has gone toward what would be considered a rebuild under any reasonable definition of the term.
The administration’s spending has helped make troops and equipment more ready for combat, said Michael O’Hanlon, a senior fellow in foreign policy at the Brookings Institution. But overall, Trump’s claim of a total rebuild is “hyperbole.”
“Most weapons are the same as before,” O’Hanlon told us. “There is more continuity than change in defense policy from Obama to Trump.”
— Bill McCarthy
“Soleimani was the Iranian regime’s most ruthless butcher, a monster who murdered or wounded thousands of American service members in Iraq.”
Soleimani, through his leadership as commander of Iran’s Quds Force, was Iran’s man in Iraq, and the militias he backed wounded or killed many American soldiers.
The last Pentagon estimate of U.S. deaths by Iranian-backed militias was 603, not thousands. The high-end estimate of total war fatalities in Iraq is about 208,000. That number includes the civilian and combatant victims from both the American-led attack in 2003 and sectarian violence by both Sunni and Shiite forces.
At Soleimani’s direction, Iran became a source of arms, funding and political guidance for Iraqi Shiite militias following the American-led invasion that toppled Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.
These militias used a range of weapons against American and Iraqi forces, including small arms, mortars, rocket-propelled grenades and roadside bombs. Improvised explosive devices, often packaged in the form of roadside bombs, were behind nearly half of all deaths.
Trump invited Kelli and Gage Hake, the widow and son of the late Army Staff Sgt. Christopher Hake, who was killed by a roadside bomb in Iraq, to the State of the Union.
— Bill McCarthy, Jon Greenberg
Says he enacted “historic and record-setting tax cuts.”
False. In inflation-adjusted dollars, the recent tax bill is the fourth-largest since 1940. And as a percentage of GDP, it ranks seventh.
— Louis Jacobson
“Since my election, we have created 7 million new jobs.”
This is accurate, though he breaks the 7 million barrier by counting two months of Obama’s presidency. During his own presidency, the number of non-farm jobs rose from almost 146 million in January 2017 to a little over 152 million in December 2019, which is an increase of almost 6.7 million directly on Trump’s watch.
No president deserves all the credit for job gains, or all the blame for job losses. Such factors as business patterns, technological change, and the international economic climate can play major roles as well.
— Louis Jacobson
“African-American poverty has declined to the lowest rate ever recorded.”
That’s correct. The African American poverty rate was 20.8 percent in 2018 — an all-time low since data was first kept consistently in 1966.
— Louis Jacobson
“America has now GAINED 12,000 NEW factories under my Administration.”
This leaves out some important context. The number of manufacturing jobs for production and nonsupervisory workers fell by 12,000 last year. It is one thing to see the number of plants and mills grow, but that doesn’t automatically mean that the number of jobs will also increase.
Also, the growing number of manufacturing facilities has been underway for many years.
The upswing started in 2013 and has continued at a steady clip ever since. The pace accelerated a bit under Trump, but the trend started four years before he took office.
— Jon Greenberg
“In eight years under the last administration, over 300,000 working-age people dropped out of the workforce. In just three years of my administration, 3.5 million working-age people have joined the workforce.”
Trump has the general trend right, but he leaves out some context. Obama took office during the Great Recession. Once the worst of the recession had passed, it started climbing, at roughly the same pace as it has under Trump, as the following chart shows.
Looking at the number of Americans in the civilian labor force, the number fell under Obama by more than Trump said, declining by 1.5 million. It rose by a smaller amount under Trump than he said — 2.46 million.
— Louis Jacobson
“Thanks to our bold regulatory reduction campaign, the United States has become the number one producer of oil and gas anywhere in the world, by far.”
The United States has been the world’s largest oil producer since 2012 and the top natural gas producer for years. Both achievements happened before Trump took over the White House, but that hasn’t stopped Trump and his allies from giving him the credit.
— Bill McCarthy
“The unemployment rate for women reached the lowest level in almost 70 years.”
This is accurate. The current unemployment rate for women is 3.5%. The last time it was lower than that — 3.4% — was in September 1953, which was more than 66 years ago. The women’s unemployment rate began falling under Obama, not only under Trump.
— Louis Jacobson