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Fact-checking the 2020 State of the Union

A day before the Senate votes on whether to convict or acquit him on two charges of impeachment, President Donald Trump gave his annual State of the Union speech in the House.

While Trump is known for his ad-libbed remarks rife with false claims, he tends to stick to the script for formal speeches such as the State of the Union. Nonetheless, here are the facts around what the President said in his third State of the Union.

Energy

Oil and gas production

Trump talked up the production of oil and gas in the US during his time in office.

“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,” Trump said.

Facts First: The US did not become the world’s top energy producer under Trump: It took the top spot under the Obama administration in 2012, according to the US government’s Energy Information Administration.

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.

Tara Subramaniam

Economy

Unemployment for disabled Americans

Trump claimed “the unemployment rate for disabled Americans has reached an all-time low” under his presidency.

Facts First: The unemployment rate for Americans with disabilities is lower than at any point in the Obama administration, but it did go up from 6.1 percent in September of last year to 7 percent in December. In addition, describing this as an “all-time low” obscures the fact that the government has only tracked this data since 2008.

— Sarah Westwood

Unemployment for African Americans, Hispanics and Asians

Trump said the unemployment rates for African Americans, Hispanics and Asians are at the lowest levels ever. “The unemployment rate for African-Americans, Hispanic-Americans, and Asian-Americans has reached the lowest levels in history,” Trump said in his speech.

Facts First: Trump is correct. The unemployment rate for each of these three groups is at a record low, at least since the government has been issuing data on them. (The data for African Americans and Hispanics goes back to the early 1970s, while data for Asians only goes back to 2000.)

Trump inherited a positive trend that has continued during his tenure. The unemployment rate for all three groups had fallen substantially under President Barack Obama from the recession-era levels of 2009.

The African-American unemployment rate was 5.9% in December 2019. That is an uptick from the 5.4% all-time low in August 2019, but it is still lower than the rate at any point under any other president for whom we have data.

The Hispanic unemployment rate was 4.2% in December 2019 — an uptick from the 3.9% all-time low in September 2019 but, again, lower than any point under any other president for whom we have data.

The Asian unemployment rate was 2.4% in December, an uptick from the 2.0% low of May 2018 but still a smidgen lower than the pre-Trump record — 2.6% in December 2016, Obama’s last full month in office.

— Donna Borak

Factories

Trump said that after losing 60,000 factories under the previous two administrations, America has now gained 12,000 new factories during his time in office.

Facts First: Both figures are correct, though it’s worth noting that the numbers include both large traditional factories and tiny facilities that produce goods with fewer than five employees.

There are different ways to measure the number of “manufacturing establishments” in the country. According to the Census Bureau’s Statistics of US Businesses data series, the number of manufacturing establishments in the US fell by 61,076 between 2001, the beginning of the George W. Bush administration — when there were 352,619 establishments— and 2016, the last full year of the Obama administration, when there were 291,543 establishments. That’s a reduction of about 17%.

Another government measure, the Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages, shows an increase of 12,074 in the number of manufacturing establishments between the first quarter of 2017 (343,972), when Trump took office, and the second quarter of 2019, the most recent data available (356,046).

Daniel Dale

Job creation

Trump said seven million new jobs have been created since his election, “more than government experts projected during the previous administration.”

Facts First: Trump is correct. Between November 2016, the month of his election, and December 2019, the last month for which we have data, the economy added 7.3 million jobs.

Between February 2017, Trump’s first full month in office, and December 2019, the economy added 6.7 million jobs, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Jobs added in January 2020 and the early days of this month likely took the total under Trump even closer to 7 million. The jobs report for January is due on Friday. But pre-election, Trump said he would create 25 million jobs. Regarding the projection it was not immediately clear what Trump was referring to.

Anneken Tappe

Food stamps

Trump touted how the strong economy has lifted people out of poverty, noting that fewer people are enrolled in food stamps.

“Under my administration, 7 million Americans have come off food stamps,” Trump said during Tuesday’s address.

Facts First: It’s true that fewer people receive food stamps than when Trump took office, but he exaggerates the figure.

Some 36.4 million people were enrolled in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP — the formal name for food stamps, in October 2019, according to data from the US Department of Agriculture.

That compares to 42.7 million who received food stamps in January 2017, when Trump became President. That’s a difference of 6.3 million.

However, the October 2019 figure does not include data from North Carolina. Factoring in that data, the decline was closer to 5 million, according to the left-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

While much of the recent decline in food stamps is due to the stronger economy, experts said, the Trump administration is pushing policies that will kick millions more off the rolls.

Officials unveiled a rule in December that will require more food stamp recipients to work in order to receive benefits. The new requirement limits states’ ability to waive existing work mandates and could result in 688,000 people losing assistance, according to the Agriculture Department.

The move is one of three Trump administration efforts to overhaul SNAP. Another proposed regulation, which would tighten the rules governing who qualifies for aid, could end up stripping more than 3 million people of their benefits and leave nearly 500,000 children without access to free school meals. The third proposal would change how allowances for utility expenses are calculated, which would have a mixed impact. The agency is still working on the latter two proposals.

Together, the proposed regulations would have decreased the number of people on food stamps by 3.7 million had they been implemented last year, according to a November report from the Urban Institute.

Tami Luhby

Immigration and the border

US-Mexico border

Trump said his administration has taken an “unprecedented effort” to secure the US-Mexico border.

Facts First: While it’s unclear what measures Trump is specifically referencing when he says “unprecedented effort,” his administration has taken some steps previous administrations haven’t and officials have credited those measures with having reduced the influx of migrants into the US.

Still, crossings at the southern border remain and many of the policies put forth by the Trump administration have resulted in prolonged court challenges.

In the last fiscal year, Border Patrol arrested more than 851,000 people trying to cross the southern border, leading to overcrowding in border facilities and straining the administration’s resources. Since then, border arrests have declined, but they remain high. Last December, for example, Border Patrol arrested 32,858 people.

Over the last year, the Trump administration has rolled out a series of policies to curtail the flow of asylum seekers to the border, such as the so-called “remain in Mexico policy.” Forcing migrants, many of whom are from Central America, to Mexico marks an unprecedented shift in US asylum policy. Instead of living in the US as they work their way through the immigration court process, migrants are required to stay in Mexico, under the policy formally known as the Migrant Protection Protocols.

Despite ongoing legal challenges, a federal appeals court allowed the policy to continue. Department of Homeland Security spokeswoman Heather Swift has called the policy “an effective tool to address the ongoing crisis at the southwest border,” echoing similar praise from other administration officials.

— Priscilla Alvarez

Border wall

Trump claimed to have built “over 100 miles” of a “long, tall and very powerful” border wall.

Facts First: US Customs and Border Protection said that, as of January 31, 115 miles of “new border wall system” had been built. The overwhelming majority has replaced dilapidated barriers with a new, enhanced wall system. Around one mile has been built where there was no previous barrier.

The Trump administration calls all miles “new,” arguing that it is all a major improvement on what was there before. Critics scoff at the inclusion of replacement and reinforcement barriers in the “new” category, yet administration officials have stood by their classification.

“One thing I want to emphasize is that every inch of the 100 miles that we have constructed is new border wall system,” acting DHS chief Chad Wolf said in January. “It’s not so-called replacement wall, as some of our critics claimed. It is new wall.”

Daniel Dale and Priscilla Alvarez

Catch and release

Trump repeated a concern he’s voiced previously about the so-called catch and release practice, claiming migrants who were released never showed up for their assigned court date.

“Before I came into office,” Trump said Tuesday, “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.”

Facts First: This is not true. Government data shows that, as of 2017, a majority of asylum seekers show up for their court hearings.

According to data from the Department of Justice, the rate of asylum seekers who did not appear for their court hearings rose from 9% in 2016 to 11% in 2017, meaning that roughly 90% of those actually do show up for their court hearings.

Tara Subramaniam

Illegal crossings

Trump, touting his efforts to curb illegal migration, said that “as a result of our unprecedented efforts, illegal crossings are down 75% since May — dropping eight straight months in a row.”

Facts First: Trump is correct about the recent decline, but he’s cherry-picking the most favorable possible starting point: May 2019 was the month with the largest number of illegal crossings at any point in his presidency. The total number of illegal crossings under Trump has increased, not decreased, from the late Obama era.

The number of apprehensions and people deemed inadmissible at the southwest border, used as a proxy for the number of illegal crossings, was 144,116 in May. The number dropped every month through December, when it was 40,620 — a decline of 72%. There was another decline in January, according to data obtained by CNN and not yet published by the government.

But the total number of people apprehended or deemed inadmissible for the 2019 fiscal year was 977,509. That’s the highest number since 2007 and 77% higher than the 553,378 figure for the 2016 fiscal year, President Barack Obama’s last full fiscal year in office.

— Daniel Dale

Health

Pre-existing conditions

Trump has repeatedly promised to protect those with pre-existing conditions, even as he has sought to kill the Affordable Care Act, which greatly expanded those safeguards.

“I’ve also made an ironclad pledge to American families. We will also protect patients with pre-existing conditions,” he said during Tuesday’s State of the Union address.

Facts First: Trump’s claim about protecting those with pre-existing conditions is false. Though Trump says he would do this, his administration has consistently taken steps to undermine the Affordable Care Act — including joining a lawsuit aimed at striking down the law — without presenting alternative plans that would offer similar benefits.

The Affordable Care Act barred insurers in the individual market from denying people coverage or charging them higher premiums because of their health histories. Also, carriers had to provide comprehensive coverage — offering 10 essential health benefits, including maternity, mental health and prescription drugs.

Trump has worked to undermine the Affordable Care Act from his first day in office, when he issued an executive order directing agencies to interpret its regulations as loosely as possible. He championed congressional Republicans’ bills in 2017 that would have weakened the law’s protections.

And his Justice Department is siding with a coalition of Republican states that are fighting in federal court to invalidate the Affordable Care Act. An appellate panel in December upheld a lower court ruling that found Obamacare’s individual mandate unconstitutional but sent the case back to the lower court to decide whether the entire law must fall.

The President has said repeatedly that he would roll out a new health care plan that would protect those with pre-existing conditions, but he has yet to do so. Last April, he backed away from pushing for a vote on a replacement plan until after the 2020 election.

Meanwhile, he issued another executive order in late 2017 that would make it easier for Americans to buy alternatives to the Affordable Care Act that are cheaper, but offer fewer protections, such as short-term health plans. The law’s defenders, however, fear that such plans could siphon off younger and healthier people, which could cause premiums to rise for those left buying policies in the Obamacare exchanges.

Trump’s administration is also allowing states to make major changes to their Obamacare markets, which could also leave low-income, older or sicker residents with few choices and higher costs. Few states have taken the federal government up on this offer so far.

— Tami Luhby

Drug overdose deaths

“With unyielding commitment, we are curbing the opioid epidemic — drug overdose deaths declined for the first time in nearly 30 years. Among the states hardest hit, Ohio is down 22%, Pennsylvania is down 18%, Wisconsin is down 10% — and we will not quit until we have beaten the opioid epidemic once and for all,” Trump said during his speech.

Facts First: Trump’s claim is correct, but it needs context. Drug overdose deaths declined in 2018 for the first time since 1990, 28 years prior. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that there were 67,367 drug overdose deaths in the United States in 2018, a 4.1% decline from 70,237 deaths in 2017.

Several states that were hardest hit did see a decrease, but others did not. While Pennsylvania and Ohio saw a decrease in overdose deaths in 2018, they were still among the top five states with the highest drug overdose death rate in the nation.

The CDC found that the drug overdose death rate was lower in 2018 than in 2017 in 14 states and the District of Columbia. But the 2018 overdose death rate was also higher than in 2017 in five states — California, Delaware, Missouri, New Jersey and South Carolina.

And while the 2018 death rate due to heroin, methadone, and natural and semisynthetic opioids overdoses was lower or stayed the about the same as 2017, overdose deaths due to synthetic opioids, such as fentanyl, continued to rise in 2018. Cocaine and psychostimulant overdose deaths also increased in 2018.

Maegan Vasquez

Prescription drug prices

Tackling the high cost of prescription drugs was one of Trump’s key campaign promises in 2016. And it’s been a main focus of his administration, though little has actually been done.

Recent statistics show a continued rise in drug prices, so Trump harkened back to a data point he mentioned at last year’s State of the Union.

“And I was pleased to announce last year that for the first time in 51 years, the cost of prescription drugs actually went down,” Trump said during his State of the Union address.

Facts First: That’s not quite true. The President was citing the 12-month change in the consumer price index for prescription drugs for December 2018, when it dropped 0.6%. That was the largest (but not the first) decrease since April 1973, not in 51 years. At last year’s State of the Union he said drug prices experienced their single largest decline in 46 years.

More importantly, recent data shows that drug prices have continued to rise by several measures.

The list price of brand name drugs rose 3.2%, on average, over the 12 months ending in September 2019, after adjusting for inflation, according to SSR Health, a consulting firm that captures about 90% of these medications sold in the US.

That’s similar to the increase for drugs sold at the pharmacy and through mail order. The annual change in the consumer price index for prescription drugs was 3% in December, the third straight positive reading and its highest rate since June 2018, according to Altarum, a nonprofit research and consulting firm. The CPI, however, varies widely month to month.

Though the Trump administration rolled out a 44-page blueprint on how to lower drug prices in 2018, few of the President’s proposals have gone into effect. A district court judge last year blocked the administration’s effort to require drug companies to include list prices in TV ads.

Administration officials last year dropped plans to effectively ban drug makers from providing rebates to pharmacy benefit managers and insurers because it would have increased Medicare premiums.

And the administration’s idea to set the Medicare reimbursement level for certain drugs based on their cost in other countries has yet to be rolled out formally.

One effort that is moving forward — amid much controversy — is allowing states to import certain drugs from Canada. Several states, led by Florida, have expressed interest in doing this. Canada, however, hasn’t been so eager to participate, and experts question whether it would be effective since Canada’s prescription drug supply is small compared to the US market.

Drug companies, however, do appear to have slowed the rate of price increases, perhaps in part because of Trump’s Twitter bully pulpit. Pfizer temporarily walked back hikes in mid-2018 after Trump tweeted that it should be “ashamed” for raising prices and taking advantage of the poor. Pfizer ended up raising them the following January.

“Everyone has pulled in their horns. It’s not worth getting into a Twitter war with the President,” said Richard Evans, founder of SSR Health.

Tami Luhby

Trade

USMCA

Trump claimed that the new US-Mexico-Canada Agreement, which replaces the North American Free Trade Agreement, “will create nearly 100,000 new high-paying American auto jobs.”

Facts First: Trump is inflating his administration’s own estimate of job creation under the new trade deal — which is even higher than an estimate from an independent agency.

It’s difficult to predict what will happen in the future. But a report from the Trump Administration’s own Office of US Trade Representative put the number at 76,000 jobs over five years.

The US International Trade Commission, an agency that is part of the federal government but conducts its analysis independently of the administration, estimated an increase of 29,700 jobs in auto parts production because of the USMCA, but a decline of 1,600 jobs in vehicle production.

— Katie Lobosco

Courts

Judicial appointments

Touting his record of appointing conservative judges, Trump said, “We have confirmed a record number of 187 new federal judges to uphold our constitution as written.”

Facts First: Trump does not have the overall record for judges confirmed at this point in a presidential term. But he does hold the record for appeals court judges confirmed, according to Russell Wheeler, a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution who tracks judicial appointments.

The 187 judges Trump has appointed falls short of the 197 President Jimmy Carter appointed at the same point in his term.

The 50 appeals court judges appointed by Trump thus far beats the 48 Carter had appointed, though Carter was operating with a smaller judiciary.

Trump has confirmed 21% of judgeships. For Carter, it was 29%, and for President Richard Nixon it was 32%.

— Curt Devine

Democratic response

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said in the Democratic response to Trump’s State of the Union that “American workers are hurting” and wages have stagnated. “In my own state. Our neighbors in Wisconsin. And Ohio. And Pennsylvania. All over the country. Wages have stagnated, while CEO pay has skyrocketed.”

Facts First: It is unclear what numbers Whitmer is citing, but the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ latest jobs report doesn’t support her claim.

Average hourly earnings rose 2.9% in 2019, the report says. Consumer price inflation meanwhile stood at 2.3% over the 12 months ending in December, leaving average hourly earnings slightly higher for the year.

According to the same wage measure, paychecks also rose in the states Whitmer cited — Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania.

Anneken Tappe

This story is being updated

CNN