Fact check: Misfires in Hillary Clinton’s speech
Washington — In her speech accepting the Democratic nomination, Hillary Clinton wrongly implied Donald Trump has proposed banning Islam in America and sketched out a plan for defeating Islamic State militants that merely mirrors what the U.S. is already trying to do.
Clinton spoke Thursday night to the largest TV audience she is likely to have until the presidential debates, meaning many Americans were probably hearing of her agenda for the first time. Although she brings plenty of policy detail when stacked against the broad-brush ideas of her Republican rival, in some cases there’s less than meets the eye to what she says she will do.
A college education, for example, might not end up as debt-free for everyone as she suggested.
For his part, Trump spun a story about the Iran nuclear deal that was more fiction than fact at an Iowa rally that preceded Clinton’s convention speech.
A look at some of the claims from the political maelstrom:
CLINTON: “I’ve laid out my strategy for defeating ISIS. We will strike their sanctuaries from the air, and support local forces taking them out on the ground. We will surge our intelligence so that we detect and prevent attacks before they happen. We will disrupt their efforts online to reach and radicalize young people in our country. It won’t be easy or quick, but make no mistake - we will prevail.”
THE FACTS: Clinton might as well have said she laid out President Barack Obama’s strategy for defeating Islamic State militants. Everything she mentioned, the Obama administration already is trying to do.
CLINTON: “Bernie Sanders and I will work together to make college tuition-free for the middle class and debt-free for all.”
THE FACTS: Tuition-free for students who go to an in-state public college or university. Debt-free is a harder lift.
Clinton has adopted parts of Sanders’ plans to defray some of the costs of higher education. Under her proposal, the government would pay for tuition at in-state colleges and universities for students from families earning less than $125,000 a year. That would leave students still bearing the cost of room and board, which makes up more than half of the average $18,943 sticker price at a four-year public university, according to the College Board.
Experts worry about other impacts: Will colleges raise tuition once the government starts paying, increasing the cost to taxpayers? Will more students flock to public colleges because of the subsidy, also raising costs?
CLINTON: “In my first 100 days, we will work with both parties to pass the biggest investment in new, good-paying jobs since World War II.”
THE FACTS: It would be the biggest since World War II only if you don’t count Obama’s $814 billion 2009 stimulus. Clinton doesn’t have price tags on all her proposals, but the bulk of the investment appears to be her plan to spend $275 billion over five years on roads, bridges and other infrastructure. Obama’s stimulus included infrastructure as well as tax cuts and aid to state and local governments, all intended to boost the economy and hiring.
CLINTON: “We will not ban a religion.”
THE FACTS: Trump never proposed banning Islam in the U.S., as Clinton seems to suggest. He proposed a freeze on the entry of all foreign Muslims into the U.S., then adapted the idea with several iterations. Recently he said he’d stop immigration from any country compromised by terrorism, or impose “extreme vetting” on people coming from places with a history of terrorism. He’s also spoken in support of surveillance on mosques in the U.S. As contentious as his thinking has been on the subject, it hasn’t extended to outlawing a religion.
TRUMP, boasting about how he would have conducted talks with Iran over reducing its nuclear weapons capabilities: “I would have said sorry, we can’t give you the $150 billion back. We want to give you the money back, but we don’t have it. It’s not there.”
THE FACTS: The Iranians immediately would have called Trump’s bluff. That’s because the U.S. never had $150 billion to give back in the first place.
Iran had foreign assets spread across numerous banks and countries before it struck a deal with the U.S. and other countries to limit its nuclear program in exchange for the lifting of international sanctions. The sanctions meant Tehran couldn’t access these funds abroad. But Iran’s government knew very well where its money was.
Much of the revenue came from Iran’s oil sales to China, India, Japan and South Korea. These countries were able to purchase Iranian petroleum before the July 2015 nuclear agreement, but U.S. financial restrictions made it all but impossible to facilitate payments. So the money mainly sat in escrow in those countries, instead. These were not funds within the grasp of a U.S. president.
Trump’s comment also doesn’t reflect how banks work. Money is fungible. If you have a bank account, it doesn’t mean specific bills of currency or bars of gold are sitting in a box waiting for you to pick them up. The can’t-find-your-money argument doesn’t work.
Trump got the sum wrong, too. Iranian and U.S. officials agree that the amount of frozen funds totaled about $100 billion.
CLINTON, on taxing the wealthy and corporations: “Because when more than 90 percent of the gains have gone to the top 1 percent, that’s where the money is.”
THE FACTS: While vague, Clinton’s claim probably relies on outdated figures and exaggerates inequality.
Her assertion echoes similar claims made by Sanders during the primary campaign, though it’s not clear if she is referring to income or wealth or over what time frame. According to Emmanuel Saez, the University of California at Berkeley economist whose research on the wealthiest 1 percent helped spark the Occupy Wall Street protests, income gains have been more widely shared in recent years.
The top 1 percent captured 52 percent of the growth in incomes from 2009 through 2015, still a hefty amount. But that’s down from the 2009 through 2012 period, when the top 1 percent captured 91 percent of the growth.
CLINTON: “In Atlantic City, 60 miles from here, you’ll find contractors and small businesses who lost everything because Donald Trump refused to pay his bills. People who did the work and needed the money, and didn’t get it - not because he couldn’t pay them, but because he wouldn’t pay them.”
THE FACTS: Indeed, Trump casinos failed on several occasions. During the bankruptcy of the Taj Mahal Casino in the early 1990s, some contractors who’d helped Trump build the property went bust because Trump’s company didn’t pay what it owed them. Trump himself was short on cash at the time, though his bankers did give him a $450,000-a-month allowance to maintain his lifestyle while his debts were renegotiated.
DEMOCRATIC CONVENTION VIDEO, narrated by Morgan Freeman: “She could have joined a big law firm, been a corporate bigwig. Instead she chose the Children’s Defense Fund. There, she went door-to-door gathering stories to help children with disabilities over denied schooling.”
THE FACTS: She had a “bigwig” path in her legal career, too.
Although Clinton did devote her early career years to the Children’s Defense Fund, she also worked at the Rose Law Firm, a prestigious Little Rock, Arkansas, firm and the third oldest in the United States. Clinton became its first female partner when her husband, Bill, was the state attorney general and then governor. Among the firm’s clients were Tyson Foods, Wal-Mart and several brokerage houses. It became well-known during the Whitewater scandal, when investigators probed real estate deals between the Clintons and a Rose client, Jim McDougal.
CLINTON: “Donald Trump says he wants to make America great again - well, he could start by actually making things in America again.”
THE FACTS: Trump has regularly sourced his branded products from overseas, including his menswear line and products for his hotels. Trump has defended himself on the grounds that as a private businessman his priority is to make money. But in stump speeches, Trump has regularly shamed companies like Apple for doing the same and manufacturing products elsewhere.
TRUMP: “We pick up 73 percent of the cost of NATO. We’re paying to protect them. Wouldn’t it be nice if people would pay, and we could do things properly? … That’s got to change.”
THE FACTS: No, the U.S. picks up just over 22 percent of the cost of NATO operations, based on last year’s figures. Trump’s figure of 73 percent is based on the U.S. share of overall military spending by NATO member countries, not of the money devoted to the alliance.
Because of high spending and unique military resources possessed by the U.S., the alliance acknowledges that it is over-reliant on Washington in areas such as intelligence, surveillance, in-flight refueling, ballistic missile defense and airborne electronic warfare. NATO asks member nations to spend at least 2 percent of their gross domestic product on defense. Of the 28 NATO nations, only five — the U.S., Britain, Estonia, Greece and Poland — meet or exceed that percentage.
TRUMP: “We’re fighting in Yemen.”
THE FACTS: Only a small number of U.S. special operations troops are in Yemen and they’ve not been near the fighting. In Yemen, Houthi rebels backed by Iran are fighting government forces backed by Saudi Arabia. The United States has provided logistical and intelligence support to longtime ally Saudi Arabia. Separately, the Pentagon has provided military support, intelligence, ships and a small contingent of special operations forces to help fight al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, as part of the ongoing counter-terrorism fight.
U.S. officials have acknowledged that U.S. special operations forces have advised the Yemeni and Emirati forces in the region, but they are working at the headquarters level, not near the conflict.
TRUMP: “We’re right now the highest-taxed nation in the world.” He acknowledged his numerous past assertions of this have been questioned, and added, “OK, we’re one of the highest taxed.”
THE FACTS: Closer, but still wrong. The U.S. tax burden is actually one of the lowest among the 34 developed and large emerging-market economies that make up the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Taxes made up 26 percent of the total U.S. economy in 2014, according to the OECD. That’s far below Sweden’s tax burden of 42.7 percent, Britain’s 32.6 percent or Germany’s 36.1 percent. Only three OECD members had a lower tax bite than the U.S.: Chile, South Korea and Mexico.
TRUMP: “Religion’s voice has been taken away. It was taken away by Lyndon Johnson in the 1970s because of a dispute he had, I think, with the church. And this was his way of silencing the church.”
THE FACTS: Trump was two decades off on the timing, and stretching in saying religion’s voice in politics was silenced by LBJ. Churches still have a loud political voice.
Before his years as president (1963-1969), Johnson as a senator in the 1950s achieved a law that prohibits religious groups and certain other tax-exempt organizations from endorsing or opposing political candidates. The potential penalty for doing so is the loss of tax exemption.
As Trump noted, the GOP platform calls for the repeal of that law so that religious groups could engage more directly in partisan politics. Opponents say that would clash with the constitutional separation of church and state.
Since the law’s enactment the rise of the religious right, the continuing influence of evangelical conservatives, the clout of the Roman Catholic church on social issues of the left and right and advocacy by liberal religious organizations are evidence that religion has not been silenced in politics.
TRUMP: “Median household income is down for the middle class since Obama took office.” — tweet.
THE FACTS: True, if using the latest official data. More recent, though unofficial, estimates suggest that household income has gone up marginally on Obama’s watch. Either way, it’s a weak spot in Obama’s economic record.
Median household income declined by 3 percent from 2008 through 2014, according to U.S. Census data.
According to more current estimates by Sentier Research, a private firm whose founders include former Census officials, median household income increased in 2015 and into 2016. That would mean median household income has risen 2 percent from June 2009, when the recession ended, to $57,206 in June 2016, Sentier says.