Fact check: Trump makes case that he inherited a mess
Washington — President Donald Trump on Thursday made a messy case that he “inherited a mess” from his predecessor. Economic stats and territorial losses of Islamic State insurgents don’t support his assertions about the problems handed to him on those fronts.
A look at some of his claims in a news conference Thursday and how they compare with the facts:
TRUMP: “To be honest I inherited a mess. It’s a mess. At home and abroad, a mess.”
THE FACTS: A mess is in the eye of the beholder. But by almost every economic measure, President Barack Obama inherited a far worse situation when he became president in 2009 than he left for Trump. He had to deal with the worst downturn since the Depression.
Unemployment was spiking, the stock market crashing, the auto industry failing and millions of Americans risked losing their homes to foreclosure when Obama took the oath of office. None of those statistics is as dire for Trump.
Unemployment is 4.8 percent, compared with a peak of 10 percent during Obama’s first year as president. The Dow Jones Industrial Average was cratering until March 2009, only to rebound roughly 200 percent over the rest of Obama’s term— gains that have continued under Trump on the promise of tax and regulatory cuts.
When Trump assumed office last month, a greater percentage of the country had health insurance, incomes were rising and the country was adding jobs.
The Trump administration has noted that a smaller proportion of the population is working or looking for jobs. But even this measure began to turn around toward the end of the Obama era.
Yet it’s true that jobs at factories and coal mines have been disappearing for more than three decades, while many Americans with only a high school diploma have seen their incomes fall after adjusting for inflation. The home ownership rate has slipped even as the economy has improved, leaving many pockets of the country feeling left out of a recovery that technically began more than seven years ago.
TRUMP: “ISIS has spread like cancer, another mess I inherited.”
THE FACTS: The Islamic State group began to lose ground before Trump took office, not just in Iraq and Syria but also in Libya. The gradual military progress achieved in Iraq during Obama’s final two years has pushed IS to the point of collapse in Mosul, its main Iraqi stronghold.
It remains a potent danger beyond its shrunken territory, encouraging adherents to stage acts of terrorism. The analogy with cancer is an echo of Obama’s last defense secretary, Ash Carter, who repeatedly cast Obama’s counter-IS campaign as an effort to reverse the extremists’ “metastasis” beyond the “parent tumor” in Iraq and Syria.
TRUMP: “I see stories of chaos. Chaos. Yet it is the exact opposite. This administration is running like a fine-tuned machine, despite the fact that I can’t get my Cabinet approved.
THE FACTS: Did he just say a “fine-tuned machine”?
Trump’s first month has been consumed by a series of missteps and firestorms, and produced far less significant legislation than Obama enacted during his first month.
Republican-led congressional committees will investigate the Trump team’s relations with Russians before he took office and the flood of leaks that altogether forced out his national security adviser in record time. His pick for labor secretary withdrew because he didn’t have enough Republican support.
By many measures, the administration is in near paralysis in its earliest days, leaving allies unsettled and many in Congress anxious about what Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., called the “constant disruption.” To many Republicans — never mind Democrats — the “fine-tuned machine” seems in danger of its wheels coming off.
In his first month, Obama signed a $787 billion stimulus package into law, as well as a law expanding health care for children and the Lilly Ledbetter bill on equal pay for women. Trump has vigorously produced executive orders, which don’t require congressional approval and typically have narrow effect. The one with far-reaching consequences — banning entry by refugees and by visitors from seven countries — has been blocked by courts.
Trump’s biggest initiatives, such as tax cuts and a replacement for Obama’s health care law, have not emerged. On Thursday he was signing into law a rollback of Obama-era regulations on mining near streams. Congress has sent him little else.
TRUMP, bragging again about his Electoral College vote total: “We got 306 because people came out and voted like they’ve never seen before, so that’s the way it goes. I guess it was the biggest Electoral College win since Ronald Reagan.”
THE FACTS: Not even close. In the seven previous elections, the winner of five of those contests won a larger Electoral College majority than Trump. They were George H.W. Bush in 1988, Bill Clinton in 1992 and 1996; and Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012.
When a reporter pointed out that Trump was overstating his winning margin, the president said: “Well, I don’t know, I was given that information.” He then called it “a very substantial victory.”
Trump actually ended up with 304 electoral votes because of the defection of two electors in December, but he had won enough states in November to get to 306.
TRUMP, saying the appeals court that blocked his selective travel ban “has been overturned at a record number.”
THE FACTS: Other appeals courts have seen their decisions overturned at a higher rate than the San Francisco-based 9th Circuit that froze his action on immigration.
In the most recent full term, the Supreme Court reversed 8 of the 11 cases from the 9th Circuit. But the Atlanta-based 11th Circuit went 0 for 3 — that is, the Supreme Court reversed all three cases it heard from that circuit. And over the past five years, five federal appeals courts were reversed at a higher rate than the 9th Circuit.
The 9th Circuit is by far the largest of the 13 federal courts of appeals. In raw numbers, more cases are heard and reversed from the 9th Circuit year in and year out. But as a percentage of cases the Supreme Court hears, the liberal-leaning circuit fares somewhat better, according to statistical compilations by Scotusblog.
Most cases decided by appeals courts aren’t appealed to the Supreme Court, and the high court only accepts for review a small percentage of those that are.
But the very act of the Supreme Court’s agreeing to hear a case means the odds are it will be overturned; the court reverses about two-thirds of the cases it hears.
Associated Press writers Robert Burns, Mark Sherman and Jim Drinkard contributed to this report.