The ‘great Amer­i­can come­back’ ex­ag­ger­ated


WASH­ING­TON — The “great Amer­i­can come­back” Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump claimed in his State of the Union speech drew on false­hoods about U.S. en­ergy supremacy, health care and the econ­omy as well as dis­tor­tions about his pre­de­ces­sor’s record.

In ar­gu­ing, in essence, that he has made Amer­ica great again, Trump took credit for an en­ergy boom that ac­tu­ally be­gan un­der Barack Obama in an as­ser­tion he re­cy­cled from his last State of the Union ad­dress. He in­flated man­u­fac­tur­ing gains, mis­rep­re­sented pol­icy on mi­grant de­ten­tion and glossed over a rate of eco­nomic growth that has yet to reach the scale he promised.

A look at some of his state­ments Tues­day night and how they com­pare with the facts:


Trump: “Be­fore I came into of­fice, if you showed up il­le­gally on our south­ern bor­der and were ar­rested, you were sim­ply re­leased and al­lowed into our coun­try, never to be seen again. My ad­min­is­tra­tion has ended catch-and-re­lease.”

The facts: Not true. Un­der pre­vi­ous ad­min­is­tra­tions, Mex­i­cans were quickly re­turned back over the U.S.-Mex­ico bor­der, while oth­ers were held in de­ten­tion un­til they were de­ported. Some mi­grants from other coun­tries were re­leased into the in­te­rior of the United States to wait out their im­mi­gra­tion cases.

And de­spite Trump’s claims that all mi­grants are now “promptly” re­moved, there is a 1 mil­lion im­mi­gra­tion court case back­log, which means many mi­grants wait up to three years be­fore a court hear­ing be­fore a judge who will de­ter­mine whether some­one is de­ported. As for end­ing “catch and re­lease,” Trump ac­tu­ally ex­panded that pol­icy last year dur­ing a surge in mi­grants, re­leas­ing thou­sands of mi­grants who flooded shel­ters along the bor­der.

Oil and gas

Trump: “Thanks to our bold reg­u­la­tory re­duc­tion cam­paign, the United States has be­come the num­ber one pro­ducer of oil and nat­u­ral gas, any­where in the world, by far.”

The facts: Trump is tak­ing credit for a U.S. oil and gas pro­duc­tion boom that started un­der Obama. The U.S. En­ergy In­for­ma­tion Ad­min­is­tra­tion

says the U.S. has been the world’s top nat­u­ral gas pro­ducer since 2009, top pe­tro­leum hy­dro­car­bon pro­ducer since 2013, and top crude oil pro­ducer since 2018.

Jobs and econ­omy

Trump: “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.”

The facts: Trump is be­ing mis­lead­ing with num­bers to tar­nish his pre­de­ces­sor’s record. It’s not clear what he means by “work­ing-age.” But the to­tal size of the U.S. la­bor force shows that the pres­i­dent is just wrong.

Dur­ing the eight years of Barack Obama’s pres­i­dency, the la­bor force rose by 5.06 mil­lion, ac­cord­ing to the La­bor De­part­ment. The im­prove­ment re­flected a re­bound­ing econ­omy from the Great Re­ces­sion and pop­u­la­tion growth.

As the un­em­ploy­ment rate has fallen, more peo­ple are find­ing it at­trac­tive to work and join­ing the la­bor force. This has en­abled the la­bor force to climb by an im­pres­sive 4.86 mil­lion in just three years un­der Trump.

Trump: “From the in­stant I took of­fice, I moved rapidly to re­vive the U.S. econ­omy — slash­ing a record num­ber of job killing-reg­u­la­tions, en­act­ing his­toric and record-set­ting tax cuts, and fight­ing for fair and re­cip­ro­cal trade agree­ments.

The facts: The U.S. econ­omy in­deed is healthy, but it’s had plenty of hic­cups dur­ing the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion.

Trump never quite man­aged to achieve the liftoff he promised dur­ing the 2016 elec­tion. In­stead, gains have largely fol­lowed along the same lines of an ex­pan­sion that started more than a decade ago un­der Obama.

To­tal eco­nomic growth last year was 2.3%. That is roughly in line with the av­er­age gains achieved af­ter the Great Re­ces­sion — and a far cry from growth of as much 3%, 4% or more that Trump told vot­ers he could de­liver.

The tax cuts did tem­po­rar­ily boost growth in 2018 as deficit spend­ing in­creased. But the ad­min­is­tra­tion claimed its tax plan would in­crease busi­ness in­vest­ment in ways that could fuel last­ing growth. For the past three quar­ters, busi­ness in­vest­ment has in­stead de­clined.

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