President Donald Trump’s final campaign rally of 2019 was not only his longest ever but his most dishonest too.
Trump made 81 false claims in the week running from December 16 to December 22. He made almost half of them, 40, at his December 18 rally in Battle Creek, Michigan on the night he was impeached – a wild affair in which he spoke for two hours and one minute, nearly 20 minutes longer than his previous longest rally speech.
Trump’s dishonesty at the rally ran the gamut of subjects – from impeachment to the size of his crowds to how far Battle Creek residents need to drive to dispose of their fluorescent light bulbs.
Trump’s previous record for false claims in a rally speech was 36, in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania in 2018. His record for any kind of speech, 60 false claims, came in his longest address of any kind, an epic of two hours and two minutes at the Conservative Political Action Conference in March.
Trump’s total of 81 false claims the week of the rally was tied for the fifth-highest weekly total of the 25 weeks we have tracked at CNN since July 8.
Trump made just nine false claims in the week from December 23 through December 29, the lowest of any week we have counted. Trump has been in Florida since December 20, and he has made few public remarks and had little on his public schedule since a 15-false-claim speech to conservative student group Turning Point USA on December 21.
Trump made 1,540 false claims between July 8 and December 29, about nine per day.
The most egregious false claim: Dishwasher dishonesty
Okay, it sounds kind of comedic when the President of the United States complains extremely inaccurately about dishwashers. But as we explained when we called this the most notable Trump lie of December, it’s also serious stuff. Trump is using his false claim that modern dishwashers require more water and electricity than older dishwashers to try to sell an effort to weaken efficiency standards.
There is some possibility he is very confused rather than intentionally deceitful. But that would still be bad.
The most revealing false claim: Military planes
Trump makes false claims not only when trying to deceive low-information voters but when talking to people who are experts in the subject he is being inaccurate about.
During a Christmas Eve teleconference with members of the military, Trump told them that three years ago, before he was President, they had to use old planes, but that “now you have all brand new.”
Members of the military are well aware of how wrong this is. As of late 2017, the average age of an Air Force plane was 28.3 years. Trump’s administration has continued to order new planes since then, but “all brand new” remains false.
The most absurd false claim: The war on Christmas
Having promised in 2015 and 2016 that every store would use the phrase “Merry Christmas” again when he became President rather than “Happy Holidays” – since, according to him, “You don’t ever see the word ‘Christmas’ anymore’” – Trump, naturally, claimed this December that all department stores are now saying “Merry Christmas” again.
That is false. Just as it was false when he said they had all stopped referring to Christmas in the first place.
Here is the full list of 90 false claims from December 14 through December 27, starting with the ones we haven’t previously included in one of these roundups:
Democrats and steel
Trump said of Democrats: “They want to close up your steel mills. They don’t want your steel mills.” – December 18 campaign rally in Battle Creek, Michigan
Facts First: There may be some Democrats somewhere who want to shut down American steel mills, but this is not true of the party generally or of its leading presidential candidates.
Former Vice President Joe Biden, the leader in national polls of the Democratic presidential primary, says the federal government should use tariffs on low-cost “dumped” foreign steel in an effort to protect domestic steel producers. Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders is promising to create “union, family-wage jobs” in steel manufacturing. Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren has criticized the Trump administration for how it has granted exemptions to Trump’s own steel tariffs – complaining that the administration’s acts have undermined American steel producers. South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg is calling for “net-zero emissions from industry, including steel and concrete, manufacturing, and agriculture sectors,” by 2050 – so environmental improvements in steel production, not the end of steel production.
Trump’s unsubstantiated claims
Trump mocked journalists for calling it “unsubstantiated” when he says Joe Biden had told Ukrainian officials he would “refuse to give $1 billion of taxpayer money to Ukraine unless they get the prosecutor to stop looking at your son and your son’s company.” Trump said, “He’s on tape. He’s – if that were me, it’s the electric chair. They would bring the electric chair back. No, the guy’s on tape and they always say it’s unsubstantiated.” – December 18 campaign rally in Battle Creek, Michigan
Facts First: Trump’s claims are unsubstantiated – at best. There is no evidence Biden ever tried to get a Ukrainian prosecutor to stop investigating Burisma, the Ukrainian natural gas company where his son, Hunter Biden, had sat on the board of directors.
Rather, Joe Biden – carrying out the policy of the US government and its European allies – threatened to deny a $1 billion loan guarantee to Ukraine unless it fired a prosecutor, Viktor Shokin, who was widely seen as corrupt or ineffective; there is no sign Biden tried to thwart the Burisma case. Also, there is no evidence Hunter Biden was ever himself under investigation. And it is not even clear that Shokin was carrying out the investigation into Burisma or its owner, Mykola Zlochevsky, at the time Joe Biden applied the pressure; Shokin’s former deputy, Vitaliy Kasko, has said that the investigation was dormant at the time: “There was no pressure from anyone from the US to close cases against Zlochevsky. It was shelved by Ukrainian prosecutors in 2014 and through 2015.”
Joe Biden is “on tape” at a 2018 event telling the story of how he pushed for Shokin’s firing, not “on tape” admitting he tried to stop any investigation or to help his son.
“So Biden has this rally, like you know, they got 200 seats – but only a small number of people. So you know what they do? They set up a roundtable. So think of these people. They come in, they think they’re gonna listen to the speech; they end up sitting at a roundtable, discussing. They must have been happy, right?” – December 18 campaign rally in Battle Creek, Michigan
Facts First: We could not find any cases in which Biden was supposed to make a campaign speech but drew so few attendees that his campaign roped the people who did come into having a roundtable discussion with him instead. The Biden campaign told us this did not happen; the Trump campaign did not respond to a request to identify the event Trump was talking about.
Democrats and refugees
“Every Democrat running for president wants to open the floodgates to unlimited refugees from all around the world, overwhelming your communities and putting our national security at grave risk.” – December 18 campaign rally in Battle Creek, Michigan
Facts First: Democratic presidential candidates do want to allow in a greater number of refugees than Trump has – Trump has set a cap of 18,000 refugees for the current fiscal year, a historic low – but it is not true that all of the candidates are proposing to allow “unlimited refugees.”
For example, Biden calls for “restoring refugee admissions in line with our historic practice under both Democratic and Republican Administrations”; his website says, “He will set the annual global refugee admissions cap to 125,000, and seek to raise it over time commensurate with our responsibility, our values, and the unprecedented global need.” Warren wrote in July, “I’ll welcome 125,000 refugees in my first year, and ramping up to at least 175,000 refugees per year by the end of my first term.”
Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ plan says he would “lift President Trump’s refugee caps” and does not include a specific desired number of refugees – Sanders’ campaign did not respond to a request for comment – so it is possible to argue that Sanders is calling for “unlimited refugees.” But that is not true of the entire field.
Michelle Obama, Bill Clinton and Michigan
Trump said that, on the last day of the 2016 election, “Hillary, Barack Obama, Michelle Obama, and Bill Clinton – they did an emergency trip. They did an emergency trip to Michigan at 6 o’clock.” – December 18 campaign rally in Battle Creek, Michigan
Facts First: Michelle Obama and Bill Clinton did not go to Michigan for Hillary Clinton’s rally in the state on the last day of the campaign, nor for President Barack Obama’s rally in the state that day. Both Bill Clinton, who campaigned in North Carolina that day, and Michelle Obama joined Hillary Clinton, along with Barack Obama, at a nighttime rally in Philadelphia.
Hillary Clinton’s final crowd in Michigan
Trump said that, at Hillary Clinton’s “emergency” rally in Michigan the day before the election, “She had 500 people.” – December 18 campaign rally in Battle Creek, Michigan
Facts First: Clinton had a capacity crowd of more than 4,000 people for her rally at Grand Valley State University, according to local media reports at the time. Grand Rapids’ Wood TV8 reported: “In addition to the about 4,600 inside the Fieldhouse for Clinton’s speech, there was an overflow crowd of several hundred more outside. People lined up hours beforehand to attend Clinton’s 4 p.m. rally.”
This was not a one-time slip; Trump has repeatedly put Clinton’s crowd at “500.”
An unfair “trial”
“Pelosi gives us the most unfair trial in the history of the U.S. Congress…” – December 23 tweet
Facts First: The House did not hold a “trial” at all. Under the Constitution, it is the Senate that has the sole power to try impeachments.
This is not merely a matter of semantics. During the House impeachment process, Republicans complained that Trump was being denied constitutional rights afforded to criminal defendants – wrongly suggesting to the public that the House process was tantamount to a trial.
The Constitution and impeachment
“Worse still, I have been deprived of basic Constitutional Due Process from the beginning of this impeachment scam right up until the present. I have been denied the most fundamental rights afforded by the Constitution, including the right to present evidence, to have my own counsel present, to confront accusers, and to call and cross-examine witnesses…” – December 17 anti-impeachment letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi
Facts First: The constitutional rights of criminal defendants do not apply to public officials in a House of Representatives impeachment process, though Trump is free to argue that they should. Trump’s counsel was denied the opportunity to participate in House Intelligence Committee impeachment hearings but was invited to participate in House Judiciary Committee hearings; Trump’s counsel declined that opportunity. House Republicans were allowed to have their lawyer question witnesses at the House Intelligence Committee.
The crowd in Battle Creek
Trump referred to people standing in the crowd, then added, “And I’m sorry we couldn’t get you seats – we didn’t have any room. And by the way, 20,000 people outside had to leave. You know it’s so cold outside we tell them, ‘Don’t worry about a screen. Go home, go home and watch.’” – December 18 campaign rally in Battle Creek, Michigan
Facts First: We do not know the exact number of Trump supporters who were stuck outside because they were unable to get into his rally in Battle Creek, Michigan, but it was nowhere close to “20,000.” (Trump has long exaggerated the number of people stuck outside his events.)
Battle Creek city spokesperson Jessica VanderKolk said in an email that the city’s “best guess” was that there were “about 1,000 people who were not allowed inside once the arena reached capacity.” Eric Greene, a former journalist and managing editor of the Battle Creek Enquirer newspaper who now works in public relations, wrote on Twitter: “Trump just said there were 20,000 people who had to leave because they couldn’t fit in the arena. This is blatantly FALSE. I know because I was outside the arena at the moment they closed the doors at approximately 5:45 p.m. At that time, a few hundred people quietly walked away.”
The Battle Creek arena had a capacity of about 5,500 for the Trump event, according to the city and local media. Brooks Hepp, a current Enquirer reporter, said in an email that he did not see the size of the overflow crowd at its peak, but he said “the overflow area could not hold anywhere near 20,000 people, so that number is likely inaccurate.” He said he would offer a rough guess of “probably 2,000-3,000 people at its peak and 1,000 by the time Trump started his speech.”
People leaving Trump rallies
Trump said nobody ever leaves his rally speeches: “I know they’re coming back, nobody ever leaves our speeches. Because is there a better place to be in the world than a Trump rally? Never. Nobody.” – December 18 campaign rally in Battle Creek, Michigan
Facts First: This is simply not true. People have been seen leaving multiple Trump rally speeches before he has finished speaking – including this very speech. The New York Times reported that “as the speech went on, supporters began leaving in significant numbers or in some cases, appeared to doze off in their seats.” Michigan television station WKZO reported: “Some supporters started to leave early as the rally ran past 9:45 p.m.”
“I’ve had crowds over the last couple of weeks – we went to different, Pennsylvania, Florida, but – I mean, thousands and thousands of people can’t get into these, you know, NBA arenas, right, big arenas. And we set records at every one, because we use the floor…But we use the floor, right, the basketball court. So we set records at every arena. They never even mentioned the crowds. They never mention the crowds, it’s sort of amazing.” – December 18 campaign rally in Battle Creek, Michigan
Facts First: Trump does sometimes hold rallies at NBA arenas, or at least NBA-sized arenas, but many of his venues are much smaller than that. Even when he has spoken in actual NBA arenas, it is not true that he has set a record every time. And it’s not true that the media never mentions his crowds. To the contrary, his crowds are a regular subject of media attention.
Before he spoke at this Battle Creek, Michigan venue with an approximate capacity of 5,500 people, he spoke at a Hershey, Pennsylvania venue with an approximate capacity of 10,500; neither of them was an NBA venue. His venue before that was an NBA-sized venue in Sunrise, Florida – the home of the Florida Panthers NHL team, with an approximate capacity of 20,000.
Trump does not set an attendance record each time he holds a rally in an NBA arena. The last actual NBA arena he spoke in was the American Airlines Center in Dallas. Jason Evans, a spokesman for the Dallas Fire-Rescue Department, told CNN that the fire department and the arena calculated an attendance of 18,500. The Dallas Mavericks, who play in the arena, had an average announced attendance of 20,013 per game last season, among the highest in the NBA, according to ESPN data.
It is obviously false that the media never even mentions Trump’s crowds. The response of the crowd to his rhetoric is a regular part of media coverage of his rallies; media outlets regularly mention when a rally venue was filled to capacity; their stories regularly include quotes from people in the crowd.
Trade with Europe
Speaking of “Europe” supposedly taking advantage of the US on trade, Trump said, “They don’t take your product. They don’t take your cars. They don’t take your farm product. They don’t take your medical machines. We do a big business, they sell us, we don’t sell them, because they put restrictions. We have better equipment than them, but they make it so that our equipment doesn’t qualify. You know, it’s called artificial barriers or non-monetary barriers. It’s brutal.” – December 18 campaign rally in Battle Creek, Michigan
Facts First: While the European Union does have non-tariff barriers that make it costly or difficult for US businesses to export products there – you can read here, for example, about some of the requirements the EU imposes on pork products – it is a major exaggeration to say EU countries simply “don’t take” US farm products, cars or medical devices.
As for farm products, the Office of the US Trade Representative says on its website: “U.S. domestic exports of agricultural products to the EU totaled $13.5 billion in 2018. The EU countries together would rank 3rd as an Ag Export Market for the United States.” The same website says the US exported $27.7 billion worth of optical and medical instruments to the EU in 2018.
According to a European Automobile Manufacturers’ Association report earlier this year, “Today, the US is the fourth biggest exporter of cars to the European Union: 19% of the total value of US car exports heads for the EU, representing 12% of EU car imports by value.” The EU’s Eurostat statistical office says that car imports from the US grew from 4 billion euros in 2002 to a peak of 7 billion euros in 2016, then fell to 6 billion euros in 2018.
Henry Ford and the assembly line
“This is the state where Henry Ford invented the assembly line.” – December 18 campaign rally in Battle Creek, Michigan
Facts First: It is a popular belief that Ford invented the assembly line, but it is not correct. While Ford was the first to use a moving assembly line for the production of an automobile, Ransom Eli Olds was the first to use an auto assembly line of any kind; he used one to build his Oldsmobile Curved Dash cars at the beginning of the 1900s. (Olds’ production also happened in Michigan.)
Olds’ pioneering version of the assembly line was “not a moving conveyor, as Henry Ford would install a decade later, but a parade of partially-completed cars swiveling from one work station to another on dollies,” the National Museum of American History explains.
Inaccurate quotes from television
A Ben Domenech quote
“‘This is political malpractice. This is a horrible judgement call on the part of the Speaker. You put your members in Trump friendly districts in a very difficult spot. It’s only going to extend it out further. This looks like the joke that it actually is.’ Ben Domenech.” – December 19 tweet
Facts First: Trump omitted a significant part of this quote – in which Domenech said on Fox News that he was referring specifically to Democrats in Trump-friendly districts “who voted for the impeachment.” Trump’s omission erased the fact that members in Trump-friendly districts voted against him.
We give Trump significant latitude to make errors when quoting people on television, but we call it a false claim when he alters the meaning of the quote with major changes or omissions.
An Andy McCarthy quote
“‘In the end here, nothing happened. We don’t approach anything like the egregious conduct that should be necessary before a President should be removed from office. I believe that a President can’t be removed from office if there is no reasonable possibility that the Senate won’t convict and remove the President - Then the House should not be Impeaching the President in the first place. If this is the new standard, every President from here on out is impeachable.’ Andy McCarthy @FoxNews So well stated. Thank you!” – December 18 tweet
Facts First: Trump omitted a significant part of this quote on Fox News, too.
In between the second-to-last sentence in Trump’s rendition of the quote (“the House should not be Impeaching the President in the first place”) and the last sentence in Trump’s rendition (“If this is the new standard, every President from here on out is impeachable”), McCarthy said: “To go back to Brett Baier’s point earlier about the historic nature of today, yes, President Trump will in the history books from after today, from here on out, be remembered as one of the few presidents in history who are impeached. But I think history also has to be looked at in terms of what does this mean for the history of the United States. I don’t think the President for long is going to be one of the handful of Presidents who is impeached, because…”
In other words, Trump omitted the fact that a friendly pundit said he would go down in history for being impeached.
A Ken Starr quote
“‘The evidence has to be overwhelming, and it is not. It’s not even close.’ Ken Starr, Former Independent Counsel.” – December 18 tweet
Facts First: Trump exaggerated Starr’s comments. While Starr said on Fox News that it is “just not the case” that the evidence against Trump is “overwhelming,” Starr did not say “it’s not even close.”
Here’s what Starr actually said: “The evidence, whether it’s circumstantial or direct – and I think it’s virtually entirely circumstantial – has to be overwhelming; not just beyond a reasonable doubt, overwhelming to the American people who aren’t sitting in a courtroom and listening to every witness testify and drawing inferences and so forth. When you read the abuse of power article in the Nixon impeachment, a fair-minded person looks at that, reads it, hears it and says he had got to go. That’s just not the case here.”
A Doug Collins quote
“‘They just wanted to get at the President. They had no intention of having a proper investigation. They couldn’t find any crimes so they did a vague abuse of power and abuse of Congress, which every administration from the beginning has done.’ @RepDougCollins @foxandfriends” – December 18 tweet
Facts First: As the Washington Post and New York Times both noted, Trump misquoted Collins – adding in significant words that Collins did not utter.
Collins didn’t say that “every administration from the beginning” had committed “abuse of power and abuse of Congress.” He said: “So they said, ‘At the end of the day, we can’t form any crimes. We’re going to do a vague abuse of power. And while we’re at it, let’s just throw in abuse of – obstruction of Congress, because we didn’t get our way.’”
Environment, energy and regulation
Trump compared modern dishwashers unfavorably to older dishwashers, saying he was proposing to change federal regulations. He said that, in the past, “you press it, boom,” and the dishwasher cycle would run and be finished in five minutes; “now, you press it 12 times. Women tell me.” He added, “By the way, by the time they press it 10 times, you spend more on water and electric. Don’t forget. The whole thing is worse because you’re spending all that money on electric.” – December 18 campaign rally in Battle Creek, Michigan
Facts First: Trump’s claims were comprehensively inaccurate. Energy-efficient modern dishwashers do not require people to press buttons 10 times or 12 times to start them. More importantly, those modern dishwashers use less water and electricity than older dishwashers, not more.
The federal government’s website for the Energy Star energy efficiency program notes that Energy Star-certified dishwashers cut people’s electricity bills and save water: “A new ENERGY STAR certified dishwasher will save, on average, 3,870 gallons of water over its lifetime.” Consumer Reports wrote in October: “Today’s dishwashers use about half the water and energy that dishwashers used 20 years ago. Thanks to tougher federal efficiency standards, water usage is down to about 4 to 6 gallons per load – and less water means less energy required to heat the water.”
It is possible that Trump was confused. Some conservative and industry groups have made a push to get the government to roll back efficiency standards for dishwashers. They argue that modern dishwashers take too long to finish. Trump might have thought that the longer run times mean more water and electricity use, but that is not true.
The disposal of fluorescent light bulbs in Battle Creek, Michigan
“When a light bulb is out, you’ve got to bring it to a dump. So let’s say over here in Battle Creek, where’s your nearest dump?” [Trump appears to hear a response from a member of the crowd.] “OK, that’s what, a couple of hundred miles away. So every time you lose, drive a couple of hundred miles.” – December 18 campaign rally in Battle Creek, Michigan
Facts First: It is not true that people in Battle Creek, Michigan need to drive “a couple of hundred miles” to dispose of fluorescent light bulbs. A spokesperson for the city of Battle Creek, Jessica VanderKolk, said there are two collection events per year in Battle Creek itself where people can turn in such bulbs, plus two more collection events per year in the county seat about 11 miles away.
In addition, major store chains, such as Home Depot and Lowe’s, allow people to drop off fluorescent bulbs there for free recycling. (We confirmed with the Home Depot and Lowe’s stores in the Battle Creek area that people can do so at those locations.)
An environmental “fine” to San Francisco or Los Angeles
Alleging environmental violations related to San Francisco’s population of homeless people and people who inject drugs, Trump said, “And we fined San Francisco – and Los Angeles and San Francisco. But we’ve just sent them a tremendous dollar fine for what they’re doing.” – December 18 campaign rally in Battle Creek, Michigan
Facts First: There is no evidence that either San Francisco or Los Angeles has been fined. Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency sent San Francisco a “notice of violation” in October, but that notice merely mentioned the potential for fines in the future. Will Reisman, spokesperson for the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, the entity to which the EPA notice was sent, told CNN, “We have not received any fines from the EPA.” The office of Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said Los Angeles had not been fined either.
The EPA would not respond directly when asked if Trump’s claim was correct. A spokesman told CNN to ask the White House, saying in an email: “…EPA has issued [a notice of violation] to San Francisco for failing to protect water quality. For details on the Presidents remarks, please reach out to the WH. EPA does not discuss ongoing enforcement actions.” The White House declined to comment.
Penalties for killing bald eagles
Complaining that “windmills” (his word for wind turbines) kill birds in California, Trump said that, by contrast, “If you shoot a bald eagle, they want to put you in jail for 10 years.” – December 21 speech to Turning Point USA Student Action Summit
Facts First: Penalties for shooting a bald eagle are much shorter than 10 years. It wasn’t clear whether Trump was talking about federal law or California law, but he was wrong either way.
The relevant federal laws do not include penalties nearly that long for killing a bald eagle, the National Audubon Society, a nonprofit that works to protect birds, told the Toronto Star in May, when Trump made a “five years” version of this claim; the penalties are up to two years under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, if someone knowingly shoots a bald eagle with intent to sell or barter it, and up to two years under the Bald and Gold Eagle Protection Act, the National Audubon Society noted. (As the federal government’s Fish and Wildlife Service notes on its website, the maximum two-year penalty under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act is for a second conviction; a first conviction has a maximum penalty of one year.)
Patrick Foy, a captain in the law enforcement division for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, sent CNN the relevant section from the state’s Fish and Game Code, which sets out the maximum state penalty for killing a bald eagle at a fine of $5,000, imprisonment in a county jail for a year or less, or both.
“A windmill will kill many bald eagles. It’s true. And you know what? After a certain number, they make you turn the windmill off. That’s true, by the way. ” – December 21 speech to Turning Point USA Student Action Summit
Facts First: While wind turbine operators are exempted from penalties only for a certain number of eagle deaths the federal government agrees to authorize, they are not forced to shut down if they exceed that number.
Wind turbine operators, like other entities whose activities accidentally kill birds, can apply for a permit of up to 30 years to kill a specified number of eagles without facing punishment. But companies whose operations have killed an unauthorized number of eagles are not forced to close; they may be compelled by the federal government to pay fines, make changes to their operations or try to find ways to reduce their impact on birds.
“It’s not necessarily true that somebody’s going to walk in the door and shut it down,” Joel Merriman, director of the Bird-Smart Wind Energy Campaign at the American Bird Conservancy, told CNN.
For example, in 2016, the Fish and Wildlife Service touted four civil settlements over the previous 18 months that resulted in commitments from wind companies to pay $55,000 in penalties and to spend a minimum of $1.86 million over three years “on research and development of avian detection and deterrent technologies.” Duke Energy agreed in a 2013 plea agreement with the Justice Department to pay $1 million in fines to conservation groups and to come up with a plan to avoid bird deaths in the future.
Trump might perhaps have been thinking of the well-known saga of the company Altamont Winds, which announced in 2015 that it would shut down its turbines in California’s Altamont Pass. The turbines had been the subject of numerous complaints from bird advocates, but the shutdown was the company’s own decision.
Sen. Mazie Hirono and the Green New Deal
“How about the senator from Hawaii? Nasty…She wants the Green New Deal, and then they informed her that that does not include airplanes. And you’re the senator from Hawaii. So they said, ‘What are you going to do?’ And then they talked about building a train to Hawaii, can you believe it? No, no, she wants it, even though you can’t – you’ll never get to Hawaii again. Say goodbye to Hawaii. No, it’s crazy, isn’t it, though?” – December 21 speech to Turning Point USA Student Action Summit
Facts First: It is not true that Hawaii Sen. Mazie Hirono decided to support the Green New Deal and then was informed afterward that the deal “does not include airplanes,” nor that she later started talking about building a train to Hawaii. Trump was mischaracterizing an exchange Hirono had with a reporter in February.
Here is what actually happened. When told by a reporter that the Green New Deal would try to eliminate air travel and move to high-speed rail across the country, Hirono said that would be “pretty hard for Hawaii,” then laughed. She did not explain her laughter at that moment, but as she explained later, the Green New Deal resolution Hirono had endorsed does not actually call for the elimination of air travel.
Rather, the resolution calls for “overhauling transportation systems in the United States to remove pollution and greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector as much as is technologically feasible, including through investment in zero-emission vehicle infrastructure and manufacturing; clean, affordable, and accessible public transit; and high-speed rail.” That is not a call to completely eliminate air travel.
So where did the reporter get his premise? Possibly from a controversial “FAQ” page posted by a leading Green New Deal proponent, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, which had urged the government to “build out high-speed rail at a scale where air travel stops becoming necessary.” But other Democrats did not endorse the FAQ, just the official resolution, and Ocasio-Cortez’s office quickly deleted it.
When Trump made a similar claim about Hirono, the Green New Deal and air travel in February, Hirono told HawaiiNewsNow: “As usual, climate change denier Donald Trump makes things up and doesn’t know what he’s talking about. While the Green New Deal is an ambitious plan to combat climate change, it does not call for the elimination of air travel. I will continue to fight against this president’s lies.”
Democrats and factories
“And what they want to do is they want to get rid of all petroleum product. That means you basically won’t have any factories in the United States.” – December 21 speech to Turning Point USA Student Action Summit
Facts First: It is true that some prominent Democratic candidates want the US to end the use of fossil fuels over time, but achieving an end to American petroleum use would not mean there would be no American factories.
Joshua Busby, an associate professor of public affairs at the University of Texas who studies energy and environmental policy, noted that manufacturers who simply require electricity to power their factories could get that electricity from renewable sources. “Solar and wind are cost competitive across much of the United States with natural gas, and the lowest cost option in a number of locations,” Busby said. And he noted that most US petroleum use is in transportation – motor gasoline alone made up 46% of US petroleum use in 2018, according to the federal government – not in industrial production; the use of vehicles that run without using petroleum could be greatly expanded. Some heavy industries “will be difficult sectors to fully decarbonize and move to 100% renewables, but nobody is proposing to do that overnight,” Busby said.
“187 new Federal Judges have been confirmed under the Trump Administration, including two great new United States Supreme Court Justices. We are shattering every record!” – December 24 tweet
Facts First: Trump has set at least one important record on judicial appointments – he has appointed more appeals court judges than any other president at this point in a term – but not “every record.” Notably, the statistic he cited in this tweet, 187 total judges confirmed, is not a record, according to Russell Wheeler, a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution who tracks judicial appointments.
President Jimmy Carter had appointed 197 people to federal courts by December 20 of his third year in office, Wheeler said. If you go by the percentage of the judiciary appointed, both Carter (29%) and President Richard Nixon (31%) had Trump (21%) beat, according to data Wheeler provided to CNN.
Trump had appointed 50 people to the federal appeals courts as of December 20, according to Wheeler’s data and recent news reports. Carter had appointed 48 by the same point of his own presidency.
“And did you notice that everybody is saying Merry Christmas again? Did you notice? Saying Merry Christmas.” – December 18 campaign rally in Battle Creek, Michigan
“And let me begin by wishing you a beautiful – look, do you remember this? Do you remember they were trying to take ‘Christmas’ out of Christmas? Do you remember? They didn’t want to let you say ‘Merry Christmas.’ You would go around, you’d see department stores that have everything – red, snow, beautiful ribbons, bows. Everything was there, but they wouldn’t say ‘Merry Christmas.’ They’re all saying ‘Merry Christmas’ again. You remember? I went through that, during the campaign: ‘They going to say Merry Christmas again.’ And they are.” – December 21 speech to Turning Point USA Student Action Summit
Facts First: There is no evidence that people are now saying “Merry Christmas” any more frequently than they did under previous presidents, nor that all stores that declined to use the phrase before Trump’s presidency have changed their policies.
It’s hard to measure this stuff, but one metric is the socially conservative American Family Association’s annual list of retailers that it considers “naughty” or “nice” when it comes to its willingness to use the word “Christmas” in promotional materials. Not one of the 17 “naughty” companies the AFA listed in a press release in December 2015, the year Trump launched his presidential campaign, had been promoted to “nice” on the 2019 list, though two had moved from “naughty” to “marginal.”
“So we spent a lot of money on brand-new airplanes, as you know. We were – three years ago, you didn’t have brand-new airplanes. You were not doing well. And now you have all brand new.” – December 24 teleconference with members of the military
Facts First: This was a major exaggeration. While Trump’s administration has invested in new military planes, it is not even close to true that the planes currently in use are “all brand new.”
In December 2018, the Congressional Budget Office reported that the average Air Force plane in 2017 was 28.3 years old: “They range widely in age from the 75 new aircraft that entered service in 2017 to the 21 60-year-old KC-135 tankers that entered service in 1958. The largest share of the fleet is 26–30 years old.” The average age for fighter and attack planes was 26.4 years, for bombers 42.0 years, for tankers 53.7 years.
In addition, “The military was buying new aircraft all throughout the Obama administration, like the F-35,” said Todd Harrison, director of the Aerospace Security Project and director of Defense Budget Analysis at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a think tank.
Roger Stone’s involvement in the Trump campaign
“You know, Roger Stone was not involved in my campaign in any way – other than the very, very beginning, before I – I think, I – long before I announced – a little bit.” And: “And again, Roger Stone was not a part of it – the campaign. He was somebody I’ve known over the years, but not a part of the campaign. Very, very, very early on – long before I – I think long before I even announced, he was involved in a minor way.” – December 24 exchange with reporters after teleconference with members of the military
Facts First: Stone was involved in Trump’s campaign after Trump announced his candidacy, not merely before. Trump announced his run in June 2015; Stone either resigned or was fired – there is a dispute about what happened – in August 2015, more than a month and a half into the campaign.
Prosecutors at Stone’s trial this year – which resulted in his conviction on charges of lying to Congress, witness tampering and obstructing a congressional committee proceeding – introduced as evidence phone records that suggested Stone and Trump also spoke in 2016, after Stone’s official role with the campaign ended.
The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals
“…how about the Ninth Circuit? Do you know that, as of next week – do you know that we’re going to be even on the Ninth Circuit? This was a disaster. We put a lot of judges on the Ninth Circuit.” – December 21 speech to Turning Point USA Student Action Summit
Facts First: While Trump has made 10 appointments to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, whose decisions he has previously complained about, it was not true at the time he spoke that the 29-member court was going to be “even” by “next week” between judges appointed by Republicans and Democrats (“Next week” has now passed.) The margin at the time was 16 Democratic appointees to 13 Republican appointees, and there were no additional vacancies for Trump to fill.
“Although it is true that President Trump has ‘put a lot of judges on the Ninth Circuit,’ there is no chance that it will be tied by ‘next week.’ In fact, it probably won’t be tied by next year,” said Arthur Hellman, a professor at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law and an expert on the Ninth Circuit. “To get a tie (or better), two Democratic appointees would have to retire. All nine of the active judges appointed by President Clinton are eligible to retire, but I doubt that any of them will do so before the November election. Unless Democratic appointees retire or leave the bench (or Congress adds new judgeships), there can’t be a Republican majority or even a tie.”
The Commission on Presidential Debates
“…3 years ago they were forced to publicly apologize for modulating my microphone in the first debate against Crooked Hillary.” – December 16 tweet
Facts First: The Commission on Presidential Debates did not publicly apologize for Trump’s microphone issue at the first debate between Trump and Hillary Clinton three years ago. (It also did not acknowledge any deliberate manipulation of Trump’s microphone.) It issued a one-line statement that said: “Regarding the first debate, there were issues regarding Donald Trump’s audio that affected the sound level in the debate hall.”
Here are the claims Trump made over these two weeks that we have previously fact checked in one of these weekly roundups:
Foreign and military affairs
The US share of NATO
Trump said the United States used to pay for “100% of NATO.” – December 18 campaign rally in Battle Creek, Michigan
Facts First: According to the most recent official NATO figures, released in November 2019, US military spending represented between about 71% and about 73% of NATO members’ total military spending in 2014, 2015 and 2016. That is a hefty percentage, but “100%” is an exaggeration. (The US share of NATO military expenditures has declined to about 69% per year under Trump.)
Previous presidents and NATO
Trump said previous presidents had not demanded military spending increases from NATO members: “President Obama would go down to make a speech. ‘I’d like to thank everybody for being here, thanks a lot, great job, sayonara, bye.’ Bush, they all did. Nobody ever asked for money.” – December 18 campaign rally in Battle Creek, Michigan
Facts First: It’s not true that Obama and Bush never asked NATO members to increase their military spending. Obama and Bush both did so, though their public language was less confrontational than Trump’s has been.
Obama repeatedly urged NATO allies to spend more. “If we’ve got a collective defense, it means that everybody’s got to chip in, and I’ve had some concerns about a diminished level of defense spending among some of our partners in NATO,” Obama said in 2014. “The situation in Ukraine reminds us that our freedom isn’t free and we’ve got to be willing to pay for the assets, the personnel, the training that’s required to make sure that we have a credible NATO force and an effective deterrent force.”
At Bush’s final NATO summit, in 2008, Bush called on NATO allies to “increase their defense investments to support both NATO and EU operations.”
The Coast Guard and Hurricane Harvey
“You know, the Coast Guard, with the work they’ve done during hurricane season, two years ago, in Texas – in particular, Texas – because they saved 16,000 lives. Nobody understands what that means – 16,000. Even me – I heard that number, and I said, ‘Can that be possible? Sixteen thousand.’ They served 16,000 lives – and saved.” – December 24 teleconference with members of the military
Facts First: The Coast Guard says the correct number is 11,022 people rescued. (This was not a one-time slip; Trump has regularly said “16,000.”)
Military pay increases
“But this Christmas, I hope that every member of our military will feel the overwhelming love and gratitude of our nation for your faithful service. Starting January 1st, you’ll be getting your largest pay raise in more than a decade.” And: “…it will be largest in over a decade, and you very much earned it. – December 24 teleconference with members of the military
Facts First: Trump was exaggerating slightly when he said the troops will get their largest increase in “more than” and “over” a decade. Both the 2019 pay increase of 2.6% and the planned 2020 increase of 3.1% are the largest since 2010, so nine years and 10 years ago respectively.
(We know this is a minor stretch, but Trump has relentlessly embellished accurate numbers by adding words like “over” and “more than,” so it’s a pattern of little dishonesty rather than a one-time error.)
NATO spending increases
“Over the last period of just two years. I raised – not from us, nothing from us – $130 billion, but that’s nothing. And over a short period of time, they will be paying $530 billion more, all of those countries.” And: “They have to pay – $530 billion and the fake news doesn’t want to even talk about it. They don’t want to talk about it.’” – December 18 campaign rally in Battle Creek, Michigan
Facts First: Trump’s math was wrong: the $130 billion current increase in military spending by non-US NATO members (over 2016 levels) cannot be added to the $400 billion increase expected by 2024; the $400 billion figure includes the $130 billion.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg explained during a meeting with Trump on December 3 that non-US NATO members have added a total of $130 billion to their defense budgets since 2016. By 2024, Stoltenberg said, “this number will increase to $400 billion.”
The history of NATO spending
Trump said of military spending by NATO members before he took office: “I’m telling you, if you look, it’s like 15 years, just down.” He drew a downward-sloping line in the air with his hand. – December 18 campaign rally in Battle Creek, Michigan
Facts First: Military spending by NATO members had increased for two years prior to Trump’s presidency. According to the latest NATO figures, released in November, spending increased by 1.7% in 2015 and 3.0% in 2016.
Trump said three times that he was the one who got the Veterans Choice program passed. He said once that people had been trying to do so for “44 years,” twice that people had been trying for almost “50 years.”
Facts First: The Choice bill, a bipartisan initiative led by senators Bernie Sanders and the late John McCain, was signed into law by Barack Obama in 2014. In 2018, Trump signed the VA Mission Act, which expanded and changed the program.
Trump said twice that the US military has spent $2.5 trillion during his presidency.
Facts First: Trump was exaggerating. Defense spending for fiscal years 2017, 2018 and 2019 was $2.05 trillion, and that includes more than three-and-a-half months of Obama’s tenure, since the 2017 fiscal year began in October 2016.
Todd Harrison, director of defense budget analysis at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said he thinks Trump must have been including military funding for the 2020 fiscal year to get to the “$2.5 trillion” figure – but the 2020 fiscal year just started on October 1, and Harrison noted that the defense appropriation has not yet been approved by Congress.
Economy and trade
“As you know, we’re now getting along very well with China and trade. In fact, they just took tariffs off more than 800 products, where they were charging us tariffs. And now those tariffs are gone.” – December 24 teleconference with members of the military
Facts First: “Gone” was an exaggeration. China announced the day prior that it will lower, not eliminate, tariffs on more than 850 US products starting on January 1.
“Well, we’ve got 600,000 manufacturing jobs and you’re going to see a big, big increase.” – December 18 campaign rally in Battle Creek, Michigan
Facts First: Trump was exaggerating. The economy added 497,000 manufacturing jobs between January 2017, when Trump took office, and November 2019, official data shows. The number is 524,000 jobs added if you go back to November 2016, the month of Trump’s election, as Trump often likes to do.
Hillary Clinton and the trade agreement with South Korea
“…the people that made these trade deals, it’s like, where did they come? Like the one in Korea, that was a Hillary Clinton special. She said this will produce 250,000 new jobs, and I said, well, what happened? He said, well, she was right except it was for South Korea, not for us. So it produced 250,000 jobs for South Korea.” – December 18 campaign rally in Battle Creek, Michigan
Facts First: There is no record of Hillary Clinton projecting an increase of 250,000 jobs because of the United States-Korea Free Trade Agreement (KORUS). President Barack Obama said the deal would “support at least 70,000 American jobs.”
Obama said in 2009 that increasing the US share of trade with Asia from 9% to 10% “could mean 250,000, 300,000 jobs,” but he was not specifically attributing that estimate to the potential effects of a trade deal with South Korea. Republican Rep. Kevin Brady later used an estimate of “about 250,000 new jobs” from trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia and Panama combined, not just the one with South Korea.
Pelosi and USMCA
“The great USMCA Trade Deal (Mexico & Canada) has been sitting on Nancy Pelosi’s desk for 8 months, she doesn’t even know what it says, & today, after passing by a wide margin in the House, Pelosi tried to take credit for it…” – December 19 tweet
Facts First: The United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement was not been sitting on Pelosi’s desk for “8 months” before she agreed in December to have the Democrat-controlled House to pass it. Though the Trump administration had pushed Pelosi to persuade the House to quickly pass the agreement, it had not sent her any implementing legislation.
In fact, the President’s trade team chose to negotiate with her to address the concerns of Democrats rather than immediately sending her a bill to which some of her party’s caucus might have had significant objections.
Household income gains
“Total income gains for median households will reach $10,000 a family. I’ll give you a couple of quick numbers. So under President Bush, for eight years, you saved $450, meaning you took in $450. OK, fine. Under President Obama, you took in $975. Under President Trump, including the energy savings and the regulation savings and the tax cuts savings, it’s more than $10,000 in less than three years. Pretty good, right? So for two eight years, you had a $400, $450 and a $975. That’s eight years, $450. In less than three years, you had more than $10,000. That goes right into your pockets.” – December 18 campaign rally in Battle Creek, Michigan
Facts First: We can’t fact check Trump’s prediction that household income gains under him “will” reach $10,000 a family, but his claim that the number has already hit $10,000 in less than three years is inaccurate. A firm called Sentier Research has found pre-tax income gains of more than $5,00 between January 2017 and October 2019, but any gains from cuts to regulations or in reductions in energy prices would be included in this amount, not added on top of it. Also, it is entirely unclear what Trump is referring to when he talks about “energy savings”; household energy costs have increased since Trump took office, as have gasoline costs. (Gasoline costs are lower than they were for most of Obama’s presidency, but higher than they were in 2016.)
You can read a longer fact check here.
Japanese automakers and Michigan
“But Michigan’s had the best year it’s ever had. Best year it’s ever had. And that’s because we have auto companies expanding and thriving and they’re coming in from Japan and they’re coming in from a lot of other places.” – December 18 campaign rally in Battle Creek, Michigan
Facts First: Japanese automakers have announced just two new US plants during Trump’s presidency, and neither is to be built in Michigan.
Toyota and Mazda announced a joint venture in 2018 to build a plant in Alabama. Kristin Dziczek, vice president for industry, labor and economics at the Center for Automotive Research, said in November there had been only one other Japanese announcement of a new auto plant under Trump: Hino Motors’ 2017 decision to move its West Virginia truck assembly operations to a bigger West Virginia location.
Prescription drug prices
“Our drug price is down for the first time in 51 years, drug prices came down…” – December 18 campaign rally in Battle Creek, Michigan
Facts First: Trump was exaggerating. The Consumer Price Index for prescription drugs showed a 0.6% decline between December 2017 and December 2018, which was the first calendar-year decline since 1972 – the first decline in 46 years, not the first one in “more than 50 years.” (As the Washington Post pointed out in its own fact check, some experts say the Consumer Price Index is a flawed measure of trends in drug prices, since it doesn’t include rebates that drug companies pay to insurers. The IQVIA Institute for Human Data Science, which studies drug prices, found that “net drug prices in the United States increased at an estimated 1.5% in 2018.
Obama and manufacturing
“Remember the statement by President Obama, ‘You’d have to wave a magic wand.’ Remember, the magic wand, because manufacturing. And I said, you know, that sounds strange. What do you do if you don’t have manufacturing? How do you make things, right? ‘Manufacturing jobs won’t happen.’” – December 18 campaign rally in Battle Creek, Michigan
Facts First: Trump’s “magic wand” comment was a reference to a remark President Barack Obama made at a PBS town hall in 2016 – but he was inaccurately describing what Obama said. Obama scoffed at Trump’s promises to bring back what Obama called “jobs of the past” without providing specifics on how he would do so. Contrary to Trump’s claims, though, Obama didn’t say manufacturing was dead or that new manufacturing jobs could not be created; Obama boasted of how many manufacturing jobs were being created during his presidency, saying, “We actually make more stuff, have a bigger manufacturing base today than we’ve had in most of our history.”
November jobs estimates
Trump boasted of the 266,000 jobs added in November, then said, “And you know they said – if you’re a business watcher, which I am. I love watching business, but they said they were guessing: could be 70,000, could be 80,000, maybe 90, maybe 110, somebody said.” – December 18 campaign rally in Battle Creek, Michigan
Facts First: While the number of jobs added by the US economy in November, 266,000, did exceed analysts’ expectations, those expectations were much higher than Trump claimed. The median estimate from economists surveyed by Reuters was 180,000 jobs added – and the lowest of the economists’ estimates was 120,000 jobs added.
Trump did not specify who he was talking about when he repeatedly referred to an unnamed “they” and “somebody”; it is certainly plausible that somebody somewhere thought that a mere 70,000, 80,000 or 90,000 jobs would be added. (His last number, 110,000, wasn’t too far off from reality.) But Trump created the impression that he was talking about the expectations of economic experts.
Unemployment for women
Trump said twice that the unemployment rate for women was the best or lowest in “71 years.”
Facts First: It had been 66 years, not 71 years, since the women’s unemployment rate has been as low as it was in November, 3.5%. (That’s if you ignore the 3.4% in September and April.)
Trump said three times that he had “ended the war on American energy,” and “the United States is now the number one producer of oil and natural gas.” On a third occasion, he touted “becoming the world’s top energy producer” as one of his accomplishments in office.
Facts First: The US has not just “now” become the world’s top energy producer: it took the top spot in 2012, according to the US government’s Energy Information Administration – under the very Obama administration Trump is accusing of perpetrating a “war” on the industry.
The US became the top producer of crude oil in particular during Trump’s tenure. “The United States has been the world’s top producer of natural gas since 2009, when US natural gas production surpassed that of Russia, and it has been the world’s top producer of petroleum hydrocarbons since 2013, when its production exceeded Saudi Arabia’s,” the Energy Information Administration says.
Revenue from tariffs on China
“And you know, China’s paying us billions and billions of dollars a year. They never gave us 10 cents.” – December 18 campaign rally in Battle Creek, Michigan
Facts First: Americans make the actual tariff payments, and a bevy of economic studies, including a report in late November from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, have found that Americans are bearing the overwhelming majority of the tariff costs, Aside from the question of who is paying, it’s not true that the Treasury has never received “10 cents” from tariffs on China. The US has had tariffs on China for more than two centuries; FactCheck.org reported that the US generated an “average of $12.3 billion in custom duties a year from 2007 to 2016, according to the U.S. International Trade Commission DataWeb.”
Trump’s claim also ignores China’s hundreds of billions of dollars in purchases of US goods – more than $300 billion during Trump’s presidency alone.
The Mueller investigation
“Dirty cops” at the FBI
Trump referred four times to former FBI director James Comey as a “dirty cop.”
Facts First: We give Trump wide latitude to express opinions about public figures, but the December report from Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz presented no evidence that Comey was corrupt in any way. Horowitz found significant errors in FBI work connected to the Russia investigation, and