President Donald Trump is stretching the truth in his legally questionable bid to get a citizenship question added to the 2020 census.
Brushing aside a Supreme Court ruling against him and his agencies saying it’s probably too late, Trump is ordering that the question somehow be included anyway, insisting that it’s “almost always” been asked on the census.
That’s wrong. Over the nation’s history, the citizenship question has been left off the census questionnaire more times than not.
Meanwhile, anticipating the 2020 presidential race, Trump is distorting his record in his increasing attacks on the Obama administration, when Democratic candidate Joe Biden served as vice president. Trump falsely asserts that President Barack Obama made it a policy to separate migrant children from their parents when families were caught crossing the border illegally. The president also mangles the facts on tariffs and NATO in accusing Obama and Biden of getting bilked by China and European countries.
The mistruths came in a week in which Trump roused a political tempest when he decided to plant himself squarely in Independence Day observances with a speech from the Lincoln Memorial. The words from that speech ultimately proved measured but caused some befuddlement over American military history.
A look at recent claims, also covering veterans, the economy and more:
TRUMP: “Think of it: 15 to 20 billion dollars, and you’re not allowed to ask them, ‘Are you a citizen?’ And, by the way, if you look at the history of our country, it’s almost always been asked. … Citizenship has been on that thing most of the time for many, many years. So it’s very shocking that, after spending $15 billion, it’s not on.” — remarks to reporters Friday at the White House.
KEN CUCCINELLI, acting director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services: “I think that if you look at what we’ve asked over the years, including, of course, the citizenship question, famously — asked many, many times through our history — we ask a lot of other information as well.” — interview on “Fox News Sunday.”
THE FACTS: Trump and his administration are incorrect in suggesting that citizenship status has been a default question in the census, having been “almost always” asked on the form.
The Census Bureau hasn’t included a citizenship question in its once-a-decade survey sent to all U.S. households since 1950, before the Civil Rights era and passage of a 1965 law designed to help ensure minority groups in the count are fully represented. The nation’s count is based on the total resident population — both citizens and noncitizens — and used to determine how many U.S. representatives each state gets in the U.S. House.
According to January 2018 calculations by the Census Bureau, adding a citizenship question to the decennial census would cause lower response rates among noncitizens, leading to an increased cost to the government of at least $27.5 million for additional phone calls, visits and other follow-up efforts to reach an estimated 630,000 missed households — or more than 1 million people. The Constitution requires a count every 10 years of “the whole number of persons in each state,” long understood to include all residents of the U.S.
The Trump administration had argued that the question was being added to aid in enforcement of the Voting Rights Act, which protects minority voters’ access to the ballot box. But a majority of the Supreme Court said last week that reasoning was “contrived.” The Justice Department had never previously sought a citizenship question in the 54-year history of the landmark voting rights law.
The high court left open the possibility that the administration could try again in adding the question if it can provide a better explanation, but little time remains due to deadlines in printing the census forms.
From 1970 to 2000, the question was included only in the long-form section of the census survey, which is sent to a portion of U.S. households, not as part of the official count of all U.S. residents. After 2000, the question has been asked on the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, a separate poll sent only to a sample of U.S. households.
The first U.S. census was conducted in 1790, and a citizenship question was added in 1820. Still, between 1820 and 1950, the question wasn’t asked in four censuses — 1840, 1850, 1860 or 1880.
That means out of the 23 censuses conducted in the U.S. since 1790, a citizenship question has only been asked 10 times — or 43% of the time.
That hardly amounts to “almost always.”
TRUMP: “Under President Obama, we had separation. … They had a separation policy. Right? I ended it.” — remarks June 29 in Japan.
TRUMP: “Well, as you know, President Obama had separation.” — remarks Friday to reporters.
THE FACTS: He’s wrong. The separation of thousands of migrant children from their parents resulted from Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy. Obama had no such policy. After a public outcry and a court order, Trump generally ceased the practice.
Zero tolerance meant that U.S. authorities would criminally prosecute all adults caught crossing into the U.S. illegally. Doing so meant detention for adults and the removal of their children while their parents were in custody. During the Obama administration, such family separations were the exception. They became the practice under Trump’s policy.
Before Trump’s zero-tolerance policy, migrant families caught illegally entering the U.S. were usually referred for civil deportation proceedings, not requiring separation, unless they were known to have a criminal record. Then and now, immigration officials may take a child from a parent in certain cases, such as serious criminal charges against a parent, concerns over the health and welfare of a child or medical concerns.
TRUMP: “Tell Biden that NATO has taken total advantage of him and President Obama. They took it — we were paying for almost all of NATO. We’re protecting countries. Those countries have to protect themselves with us. They have to make a contribution. …Europe kills us on trade, which we’re changing, and Europe then kills us because we defend Europe. And we lose a tremendous amount of money.” — remarks Friday to reporters.
THE FACTS: It’s not true that the U.S. was paying “almost all” the price of protecting Europe.
NATO has a shared budget to which each member makes contributions based on the size of its economy. The United States, with the biggest economy, pays the biggest share, about 22%.
Four European members — Germany, France, Britain and Italy — combined pay nearly 44% of the total. The money, about $3 billion, runs NATO’s headquarters and covers certain other civilian and military costs.
Defending Europe involves far more than that fund. The primary cost of doing so would come from each member country’s military budget, as the alliance operates under a mutual defense treaty.
The U.S. is the largest military spender but others in the alliance obviously have armed forces, too. The notion that almost all costs would fall to the U.S. is false. In fact, NATO’s Article 5, calling for allies to act if one is attacked, has only been invoked once, and it was on behalf of the U.S., after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
ECONOMY and TRADE
TRUMP: “You look at what Joe Biden has done with China. We’ve lost our shirts with China and now China is dying to make a deal. So — and we’re taking, by the way, billions and billions of dollars in tariffs are coming in — and China is paying for it, not our people.” — remarks Friday to reporters.
THE FACTS: Actually, Americans are paying for it.
Trump refuses to recognize a reality that his own chief economic adviser, Larry Kudlow, has acknowledged. Tariffs are mainly if not entirely paid by companies and consumers in the country that imposes them. China is not sending billions of dollars to the U.S. treasury.
In a study in May , the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, with Princeton and Columbia universities, estimated that tariffs from Trump’s trade dispute with China were costing $831 per U.S. household on an annual basis. And that was based on the situation in 2018, before tariffs escalated. Analysts also found that the burden of Trump’s tariffs falls entirely on U.S. consumers and businesses that buy imported products.
TRUMP: “The Economy is the BEST IT HAS EVER BEEN!” — tweet Tuesday.
THE FACTS: The economy is not one of the best in the country’s history. It expanded at an annual rate of 3.2 percent in the first quarter of this year. That growth was the highest in just four years for the first quarter.
In the late 1990s, growth topped 4 percent for four straight years, a level it has not yet reached on an annual basis under Trump. Growth even reached 7.2 percent in 1984.
In fact, there are many signs that growth is slowing, partly because of Trump’s trade fights with China and Europe. Factory activity has decelerated for three straight months as global growth has slowed and companies are reining in their spending on large equipment.
Most economists forecast the economy will expand at just a 2% annual rate in the April-June period.
Trump is pushing the Federal Reserve chairman, Jerome Powell, to cut short-term interest rates to shore up the economy. That isn’t something a president would do amid the strongest economy in history.
Economists mostly expect the Fed will cut rates, either at its next meeting in July or in September . Lower rates make it easier for people to borrow and buy new homes and cars.
Powell said last week the economy is facing growing uncertainties and he indicated the Fed would take the necessary steps to sustain the expansion, a sign that the Fed could cut rates soon.
The economy is now in its 121st month of growth, making it the longest expansion in history. But most of that took place under Obama.
The economy grew 2.9% in 2018 — the same pace it reached in 2015 under Obama — and simply hasn’t hit historically high growth rates.
TRUMP: “Someday soon, we will plant the American flag on Mars.” — July 4 speech.
THE FACTS: This is not happening soon; almost certainly not while he is president even if he wins a second term.
The Trump administration has a placed a priority on the moon over Mars for human exploration (Obama favored Mars) and hopes to accelerate NASA’s plan for returning people to the lunar surface. It has asked Congress to approve enough money to make a moon mission possible by 2024, instead of 2028. But even if that happens, Mars would come years after that.
International space agencies have made aspirational statements about possibly landing humans on Mars during the 2030s.
Trump’s speech was almost entirely free of exaggerations about his agenda; this was an exception.
TRUMP: “The Continental Army suffered a bitter winter of Valley Forge, found glory across the waters of the Delaware and seized victory from Cornwallis of Yorktown. Our army manned the air (unintelligible), it rammed the ramparts. It took over the airports. It did everything it had to do. And at Fort McHenry, under the rockets’ red glare, it had nothing but victory. And when dawn came, their star-spangled banner waved defiant.” — July 4 speech.
THE FACTS: Trump said the teleprompter stopped working during this passage: “I knew the speech very well so I was able to do it without a teleprompter.”
There were, of course, no airplanes during the War of Independence, and the Battle of Fort McHenry took place during the War of 1812, not the revolution. Trump segued from colonial times to modern times and back to the War of 1812 so fast that it seemed he was conflating wars and misstating aviation history. But the confusion apparently came from his need to wing it when the script went down.
TRUMP, on North Korea’s help in returning the remains of U.S. troops from the Korean War: “The remains are coming back as they get them, as they find them. The remains of our great heroes from the war. And we really appreciate that.” — remarks June 30 to Korean business leaders in Seoul.
TRUMP: “We’re very happy about the remains having come back. And they’re bringing back — in fact, we were notified they have additional remains of our great heroes from many years ago.” — remarks June 28 in Japan.
THE FACTS: His account is at odds with developments.
No remains of U.S. service members have been returned since last summer and the U.S. suspended efforts in May to get negotiations on the remains back on track in time to have more repatriated this year. It hopes more remains may be brought home next year.
The Pentagon’s Defense POW-MIA Accounting Agency, which is the outfit responsible for recovering U.S. war remains and returning them to families, “has not received any new information from (North Korean) officials regarding the turn over or recovery of remains,” spokesman Charles Prichard said Wednesday.
He said his agency is “still working to communicate” with the North Korean army “as it is our intent to find common ground on resuming recovery missions” in 2020.
Last summer, in line with the first summit between Trump and North Korea’s Kim Jong Un that June, the North turned over 55 boxes of what it said were the remains of an undetermined number of U.S service members killed in the North during the 1950-53 war. So far, six Americans have been identified from the 55 boxes.
U.S. officials have said the North has suggested in recent years that it holds perhaps 200 sets of American war remains. Thousands more are unrecovered from battlefields and former POW camps.
The Pentagon estimates that 5,300 Americans were lost in North Korea.
TRUMP, on approving private-sector health care for veterans: “I actually came up with the idea. I said, ‘Why don’t we just have the veterans go out and see a private doctor and we’ll pay the cost of the doctor and that will solve the problem?’ Some veterans were waiting for two weeks, three weeks, four weeks, they couldn’t get any service at all. I said, ‘We’ll just send them out.’ And what I thought it was a genius idea, brilliant idea. I came back and met with the board and a lot of the people that handled the VA. … They said, ‘Actually sir, we’ve been trying to get that passed for 40 years, and we haven’t been able to get it.’ I’m good at getting things done. … It’s really cut down big on the waits.” — call on June 25 with military veterans.
TRUMP: “We passed VA Choice and VA Accountability to give our veterans the care that they deserve and they have been trying to pass these things for 45 years.” — Montoursville, Pennsylvania, rally on May 20.
THE FACTS: Trump did not invent the idea of giving veterans the option to see private doctors outside the Department of Veterans Affairs medical system at government expense. Nor is he the first president in 40 years to pass the program.
Congress approved the private-sector Veterans Choice health program in 2014 and Obama signed it into law. Trump expanded it.
Under the expansion which took effect last month, veterans still may have to wait weeks to see a doctor. They program allows veterans to see a private doctor if their VA wait is 20 days (28 for specialty care) or their drive is only 30 minutes.
Indeed, the VA says it does not expect a major increase in veterans seeking care outside the VA under Trump’s expanded program, partly because wait times in the private sector are typically longer than at VA. “The care in the private sector, nine times out of 10, is probably not as good as care in VA,” VA Secretary Robert Wilkie told Congress in March.
TRUMP: “On average, 20 veterans and members take their own lives every day. … We’re working very very hard on that. In fact, the first time I heard the number was 23, and now it’s down somewhat. But it’s such an unacceptable number.” — call on June 25 with military veterans.
THE FACTS: Trump incorrectly suggests that he helped reduce veterans’ suicide, noting that his administration was working “very, very hard” on the problem and that in fact the figure had come down. But no decline has been registered during his administration. There was a drop during the Obama administration but that might be due to the way veterans’ suicides are counted.
The VA estimated in 2013 that 22 veterans were taking their lives each day on average (not 23, as Trump put it). The estimate was based on data submitted from fewer than half the states. In 2016, VA released an estimate of 20 suicides per day, based on 2014 data from all 50 states as well as the Pentagon.
The estimated average has not budged since.
Trump has pledged additional money for suicide prevention and created in March a Cabinet-level task force that will seek to develop a national roadmap for suicide prevention, part of a campaign pledge to improve health care for veterans.
Still, a report by the Government Accountability Office in December found that the VA had left millions of dollars unspent that were available for suicide prevention efforts. The report said the VA had spent just $57,000 out of $6.2 million available for paid media, such as social-media postings, due in part to leadership turmoil at the agency.
TRUMP: “You also got very nice pay raises for the last couple of years. Congratulations. Oh, you care about that. They care about that. I didn’t think you noticed. Yeah, you were entitled. You know, it was close to 10 years before you had an increase. Ten years. And we said, ‘It’s time.’ And you got a couple of good ones, big ones, nice ones.” — remarks June 30 to service members at Osan Air Base, South Korea.
THE FACTS: He’s been spreading this falsehood for more than a year, soaking up cheers from crowds for something he didn’t do. In May 2018, for example, he declared to graduates of the United States Naval Academy: “We just got you a big pay raise. First time in 10 years.”
U.S. military members have received a pay raise every year for decades .
Trump also boasts about the size of the military pay raises under his administration, but there’s nothing extraordinary about them.
Several raises in the past decade have been larger than service members are getting under Trump — 2.6% this year, 2.4% last year, 2.1% in 2017.
Raises in 2008, 2009 and 2010, for example, were all 3.4% or more.
Pay increases shrank after that because of congressionally mandated budget caps. Trump and Congress did break a trend that began in 2011 of pay raises that hovered between 1% and 2%.
TRUMP: “We have many, many companies that left our country and they’re now coming back. Especially the automobile business. We have auto plants being built all over the country. We went decades and no plant was built. No plant was even expanded.” — remarks July 1 in Oval Office.
THE FACTS: There’s no evidence that car companies are flooding back to the U.S. He’s also incorrect in saying that auto plants haven’t been built in decades. A number of automakers — Toyota, BMW, Honda, Hyundai, Mercedes-Benz and Volkswagen among them — opened plants in recent decades, mostly in the South.
Government statistics show that jobs in auto and parts manufacturing grew at a slower rate in the two-plus years since Trump took office than in the two prior years.
Between January of 2017, when Trump was inaugurated, and May of this year, the latest figures available, U.S. auto and parts makers added 44,000 jobs, or a 4.6 percent increase, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. But in the two years before Trump took office, the industry added 63,600 manufacturing jobs, a 7.1 percent increase.
The only automaker announcing plans to reopen a plant in Michigan is Fiat Chrysler, which is restarting an old engine plant to build three-row SUVs. It’s been planning to do so since before Trump was elected. GM is even closing two Detroit-area factories: One builds cars and the other builds transmissions. Toyota is building a new factory in Alabama with Mazda, and Volvo opened a plant in South Carolina last year, but in each case, that was in the works before Trump took office.
Automakers have made announcements about new models being built in Michigan, but no other factories have been reopened. Ford stopped building the Focus compact car in the Detroit suburb of Wayne last year, but it’s being replaced by the manufacture of a small pickup and a new SUV. That announcement was made in December 2016, before Trump took office.
GM, meantime, is closing factories in Ohio and Maryland.
TRUMP: “Robert Mueller is being asked to testify yet again. He said he could only stick to the Report, & that is what he would and must do. After so much testimony & total transparency, this Witch Hunt must now end. No more Do Overs.” — tweet Tuesday.
THE FACTS: It’s highly questionable to say Trump was fully cooperative in the Russia investigation.
Trump declined to sit for an interview with the special counsel’s team, gave written answers that investigators described as “inadequate” and “incomplete,” said more than 30 times that he could not remember something he was asked about in writing, and — according to the report — tried to get aides to fire Mueller or otherwise shut or limit the inquiry.
In the end, the Mueller report found no criminal conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia but left open the question of whether Trump obstructed justice.
According to the report, Mueller’s team declined to make a prosecutorial judgment on whether to charge partly because of a Justice Department legal opinion that said sitting presidents shouldn’t be indicted. The report instead factually laid out instances in which Trump might have obstructed justice, specifically leaving it open for Congress to take up the matter.