Fact check: Cabinet members go rogue on science
Washington — Some of Donald Trump’s boasts from the first weeks of his presidency were dashed by developments in recent days. For example, builders of the Keystone XL pipeline were let off the hook from a buy-American requirement that Trump had promised.
On another front, though, there’s now some substance behind his cherry-picking claims that jobs are growing under his watch. A robust jobs report gave him a fresh load of cherries.
Over the past week, Trump took credit when it was not always due and assigned blame that was misplaced. Two of his Cabinet members went rogue on science and history: One dismissed the consensus on the leading cause of global warming, and the other lumped slaves together with immigrants.
A look at some of those recent claims by Trump and his team:
Trump, in a tweet Tuesday: “122 vicious prisoners, released by the Obama Administration from Gitmo, have returned to the battlefield. Just another terrible decision!”
The facts: Wrong administration, for the most part.
A national intelligence report says 122 men who were held at Guantanamo Bay, the U.S. base in Cuba, were confirmed to have re-engaged in hostilities after their release. But 113 of them were freed during George W. Bush’s presidency and only nine during Obama’s. The report said an additional 86 released prisoners were suspected of returning to militant activities; nearly all of those prisoners were let go under Bush.
Sean Spicer: Trump press secretary, in a tweet Friday: “Great news for American workers: economy added 235,000 new jobs, unemployment rate drops to 4.7% in first report for @POTUS Trump.”
The facts: Spicer accurately cited the official unemployment rate, a statistic his boss repeatedly denounced as bogus when it reflected favorably on Obama.
During the campaign and again after his election, as Obama-era unemployment dropped to and hovered at healthier levels, Trump claimed the real jobless rate was on the order of 40 percent or more. He got that number by counting people who could conceivably work, including millions who don’t want to because they are retirees, students or otherwise out of the workforce by choice. “The unemployment number, as you know, is totally fiction,” Trump said in December after his victory.
Now, the 4.7 unemployment rate for February — down from 4.8 percent — is being hailed as evidence of Trump’s employment revival. Challenged about the inconsistency, Spicer cracked that Trump had specifically told him in reference to the unemployment reports: “They may have been phony in the past, but it’s very real now.”
There was more good news for Trump’s first full month in office: gains in pay as well as the addition of 235,000 jobs.
Trump, in a video Monday about Exxon Mobil investments in the Gulf region: “This is something that was done to a large extent because of our policies and the policies of this new administration. I said we’re bringing back jobs. This is one big example of it.”
The facts: That’s a big stretch because the company’s “Growing the Gulf” program involves investments that started in 2013 and are continuing until 2022 at least. The company’s announcement added details to its plan to spend $20 billion over 10 years on refineries, chemical and liquefied natural gas plants along the Gulf Coast. It was latest in a string of corporate announcements about jobs and spending that date back to plans made when Obama was president.
Spicer, at a briefing Wednesday: “If you’re looking at the CBO for accuracy, you’re looking in the wrong place.” He added: “I mean they were way, way off the last time in every aspect of how they scored and projected Obamacare.”
The facts: Though no projection can be flawless, the Congressional Budget Office is the best place to look for accurate, nonpartisan forecasts of the impact of legislation, according to many Republicans, Democrats and independent analysts whose high esteem for the office is a rare point of consensus in politically charged Washington.
The congressional scorekeepers were largely right on most broad points about Obama’s health care law, not way off on “every aspect.” They correctly predicted that insurance coverage would expand substantially and that employer-sponsored coverage would not plunge.
Spicer accurately called them out on one front: CBO forecasters thought 23 million people would be enrolled in the law’s exchanges last year, and the number proved to be about 12 million. Experts said CBO was off on that estimate in part because it overestimated the extent to which the individual mandate, which penalizes uninsured people, would prompt them to buy coverage.
The office will be scoring the expected impact of a Trump-backed plan to “repeal and replace” Obama’s law. Spicer’s criticism appeared designed to soften the ground if the CBO predicts the new plan would result in widespread loss of health coverage.
Ben Carson, housing and urban affairs secretary, in a speech Monday to his staff: “There were other immigrants who came here on the bottom of slave ships, worked even longer, even harder for less.”
The facts: In history’s eyes, that statement was at least a faux pas, because slaves are not considered immigrants.
Carson, the only black Cabinet member, later amended his comment, calling slaves “involuntary immigrants.”
Rana Hogarth, a history professor and expert on American slavery at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, said comparing slaves to immigrants was “inappropriate and wildly inaccurate.” She said immigration “suggests a desire of a person to make the journey.”
Sarah Huckabee Sanders, White House spokeswoman, on why Trump’s directive on the use of U.S. steel and pipe does not apply to the Keystone XL project, March 3: “It’s specific to new pipelines or those that are being repaired” and since “the steel is already literally sitting there, it would be hard to go back.”
The facts: With that explanation, Trump’s story about demanding U.S. content in two pipeline projects vaporized. Keystone XL would not be subjected to the requirement. Nor would the Dakota Access pipeline, because it’s all but complete.
Trump had earlier described “getting ready to sign Keystone and Dakota” directives reviving both projects and coming up with the idea of inserting a clause ensuring “we’re gonna make that pipe right here in America.” The material “comes from the United States or we’re not building it.”
No such clause was inserted. Instead, he signed an executive action calling for pipelines to be made from U.S. materials “to the maximum extent possible and to the extent permitted by law.” That’s short of a mandate and, in any event, excludes the two pipelines.
Trump, in one of a series of tweets March 4: “How low has President Obama gone to tapp my phones during the very sacred election process. This is Nixon/Watergate. Bad (or sick) guy!”
The facts: Trump’s startling accusation that Obama tapped his phones during the campaign was presented without evidence when he made it and nothing has emerged in the week since to support it.
FBI Director James Comey privately asked the Justice Department to dispute the claim because he believed it to be untrue, lawmakers from both parties were baffled by it and Trump’s aides could not explain the basis of it.
As if to explain the Obama administration’s taste for snooping generally, Spicer asserted that Fox News Channel reporter James Rosen “had his phones, multiple phones, tapped,” by the Obama administration. That’s not what happened, as far as is known. Eric Holder, then the attorney general, got a judge’s permission to look through records of Rosen’s phone calls and emails from 2009 as the government sought to identify the leaker for a Rosen story about North Korea. That tells who was on a call and when, but not what was discussed.
Scott Pruitt, EPA administrator, in a CNBC interview Thursday, on the impact of carbon dioxide, or human activity, on global warming: “No, I would not agree that it’s a primary contributor to the global warming that we see.”
The Facts: That’s contrary to a scientific consensus and the conclusions of a variety of U.S. government agencies, including his own.
Pruitt was asked specifically about carbon dioxide as a cause for global warming. He answered more generally, saying there is “tremendous uncertainty” about the impact of human-generated heat-trapping gases.
In either case, he’s swimming against a tide of research.
All man-made greenhouse gases— carbon dioxide, methane, halocarbons and nitrogen oxide — are responsible for about 60 times more added warming than natural causes, according to calculations from the Nobel Prize winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change organized by the United Nations. Just carbon dioxide alone contributes 33 times more added warming than natural causes.