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AP FACT CHECK: Trump’s falsehoods on health plan protections

October 1, 2018
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President Donald Trump speaks at a rally in Wheeling, W.Va., Saturday, Sept. 29, 2018. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump isn’t playing it straight when it comes to his campaign pledge not to undercut health coverage for people with pre-existing medical conditions.

Five weeks before midterm elections, he is telling voters that those provisions “are safe,” even as his Justice Department is arguing in court that those protections in the Affordable Care Act should fall. The short-term health plans Trump often promotes as a bargain alternative to “Obamacare” offer no guarantee of covering pre-existing conditions.

On the economy, the president exaggerates his role in boosting jobs for black Americans and falsely claims a retooled trade agreement with South Korea will help U.S. farmers. He offers a head-scratching response after the Federal Reserve acted to raise interest rates. Reliving the 2016 election, yet again, Trump also wrongly states he won the women’s vote.

The misrepresentations came in a memorable week in which all eyes were on Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh and his accuser.

In the strange mix of Senate posturing and a prosecutor’s dispassionate questioning, Kavanaugh and his Senate supporters jumped to a conclusion that was not supported by the testimony over whether he sexually assaulted Christine Blasey Ford when she was 15 and he was 17. They said, accurately, that Ford has not produced witnesses who corroborate her allegations. They also said, wrongly, that witness statements entered into the record exonerated him.

President Donald Trump says he'll leave it to the Senate to determine when it will vote on his Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, but he expressed optimism, saying: "I'm sure it will all be very good." (Sept. 28)

A look at the rhetoric and the facts behind it:

PRE-EXISTING CONDITIONS

TRUMP: “I will always fight for and always protect patients with pre-existing conditions ... We’ll do it the right way, too. Pre-existing conditions are safe, OK? Just remember that.” — West Virginia rally Saturday.

THE FACTS: That’s not what his Justice Department says. Government attorneys told a court in June that they will no longer defend key parts of Obamacare, including provisions that guarantee access to health insurance regardless of any medical conditions. Attorney General Jeff Sessions explained in a letter to Congress that Trump, who campaigned on repealing the law and nearly did so his first year in office, approved the legal strategy.

The decision was a rare departure from DOJ’s custom of defending federal laws in court, even if the administration in power does not like them. It came after Texas and other Republican-led states sued to strike down the entire law because Congress repealed a provision that people without health insurance must pay a fine. Texas says that without the fine in place the individual mandate is unconstitutional and that the entire law should be struck down.

The Trump administration said it won’t defend the individual mandate or provisions shielding people with medical conditions from being denied coverage or charged higher premiums. But it said the rest of the law, including Medicaid expansion, can remain.

Obamacare requires insurers to take all applicants, regardless of medical history, and patients with health problems pay the same standard premiums as healthy ones. Bills supported last year by Trump and congressional Republicans to repeal the law could have pushed up costs for people with pre-existing conditions.

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BLACK UNEMPLOYMENT

TRUMP: “So if African-American unemployment is now at the lowest number in history, median income the highest, and you then add all of the other things I have done, how do Democrats, who have done NOTHING for African-Americans but TALK, win the Black Vote? And it will only get better!” — tweet Sunday.

THE FACTS: Trump is taking credit he doesn’t deserve for job growth. He’s also wrong to say Democrats have done “NOTHING” to improve the economic situation for African-Americans.

Black unemployment did reach a record low, 5.9 percent, in May. But that figure is volatile on a monthly basis. That rate has since edged up to 6.3 percent in August. Meanwhile, the median income last year for an African-American household was $40,258, according to the Census Bureau. That’s below a 2000 peak of $42,348.

Many economists view the continued economic growth since the middle of 2009, when Democratic President Barack Obama was in office, as the primary explanation for recent hiring. More important, there are multiple signs that the racial wealth gap is now worsening and the administration appears to have done little, if anything, to specifically address this challenge.

The most dramatic drop in black unemployment came under Obama, when it fell from a recession high of 16.8 percent in March 2010 to 7.8 percent in January 2017.

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INTEREST RATES

TRUMP: “Unfortunately, they just raised interest rates a little bit, because we are doing so well. ... I am not happy about it. I’d rather pay down debt or do other things, create more jobs. So I’m worried about the fact that they seem to like raising interest rates. We can do other things with the money.” — news conference Wednesday.

TRUMP: ”(Obama) was playing with zero-interest money. He was playing with funny money, that’s easy. I’m playing with fairly expensive money — so when he does that the people that benefit are people that actually, in their whole life they would save 10, 15, 20 percent of their salary — those people got killed. Because they put their money in the bank they’re going to live off the interest, and there was no interest.” — news conference Wednesday.

THE FACTS: This is an odd and contradictory assessment of the Fed and interest rates.

He decried the Fed’s rate increase, yet several minutes later criticized the near-zero rates from 2008 to 2015 as hurting people with savings accounts.

What does seem clear is that Trump misrepresented the Fed’s basic mission of keeping prices stable.

With the unemployment rate at a low 3.9 percent, Fed officials voted unanimously on Wednesday to increase a key short term rate for the third time this year. They did so to limit the risk that inflation could accelerate to levels that would destabilize the economy and cause a downturn. The president didn’t directly acknowledge this risk.

Trump said he’d rather the Fed spur job growth or pay down the debt, though these options were not fundamental choices before the U.S. central bank.

Fed officials don’t see a rate increase as imperiling job growth. Despite previous increases, “job gains have been strong, on average,” they said in a statement. Trump has repeated similar claims at his rallies about solid job growth.

Trump also suggested that the Fed could somehow reduce the national debt. It’s not clear how it would’ve done so Wednesday. Budget deficits come from the fiscal policy set by Congress and the president. A president who wants to reduce debt could cut spending or raise taxes. Trump has done neither and the Congressional Budget Office expects government debt loads to climb.

The Fed can buy Treasury notes, which it did after the 2008 financial crisis, to reduce borrowing costs for the government, companies and consumers, and to spur growth. The risk is that higher inflation could occur given the relative health of the economy. In fact, congressional Republicans said in a 2010 letter that Fed policies would sink the economy through surging inflation. That didn’t happen, in part because the unemployment rate was then 9.8 percent and the economy still showed signs of needing a boost.

Did the low rates hurt savers? Probably some. But that case is probably overstated.

In 2017 congressional testimony, Harvard University economist Karen Dynan, a former Treasury Department official, said savings accounts, checking accounts and similar holdings are just 5 percent of overall household assets. More people’s net worth depends on homeownership and the stock market, both of which benefited from the lower Fed rates.

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SEXUAL MISCONDUCT ALLEGATIONS

KAVANAUGH: “Dr. Ford’s allegations are not merely uncorroborated, it’s refuted by the very people she says were there.” — Senate testimony Thursday.

REPUBLICAN SEN. CHUCK GRASSLEY, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, contending the sum of statements by three witnesses “refutes Dr. Ford’s version of the facts.” — Friday.

REPUBLICAN SEN. TED CRUZ of Texas: “All three of those fact witnesses have stated on the record under penalty of perjury that they do not recall what she is alleging happening. They have not only not, not corroborated her charges, they have explicitly refuted her charges.” — hearing Thursday.

THE FACTS: The witness statements in question do not refute Ford’s allegations that Kavanaugh assaulted her at a party when they were in their teenagers. They leave open the possibility that people at the gathering forgot about it or were not in position to witness an assault.

Even Mark Judge, who Ford says was in the bedroom when Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her, has not denied that such an episode took place. His statement to the committee says “I have no memory of this alleged incident,” ″do not recall the party” and “never saw Brett act in the manner Dr. Ford describes.”

In another statement, Patrick J. Smyth, identified by Ford as being among those downstairs at the party, says “I have no knowledge of the party in question; nor do I have any knowledge of the allegations of improper conduct she has leveled against Brett Kavanaugh.’”

The lawyer for Ford’s friend Leland Ingham Keyser said in a statement: “Ms. Keyser does not know Mr. Kavanaugh and she has no recollection of ever being at a party or gathering where he was present, with, without, Dr. Ford.”

Those statements, by people who were not summoned to answer questions, are not helpful to Ford’s case. But they don’t disprove it.

Despite saying she hadn’t met Kavanaugh and doesn’t remember the party, Keyser told The Washington Post she believes Ford.

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TRUMP: “I was accused by four or five women who got paid a lot of money to make up stories about me...There were four women, and maybe more.” — news conference Wednesday.

THE FACTS: Actually, more than a dozen women came forward during the 2016 presidential campaign, claiming they were assaulted, groped or kissed without consent by Trump. There is no evidence most were paid.

He was also caught on tape in 2005 boasting of grabbing women by their genitals and kissing them without permission.

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TRADE DEALS

TRUMP, on signing a trade agreement with South Korea: “These outcomes give the finest American-made automobiles, innovative medicines, and agricultural crops much better access to Korean markets. I think our farmers are going to be extremely happy. It was very limited as to what they could do and what they could send. And now it’s (an) open market, and they’re going to be sending a lot more farm products.” — remarks Sept. 24.

THE FACTS: He’s wrong in regards to the effect on U.S. farmers. The revamped free trade agreement that Trump signed Monday did nothing to further open the South Korean agricultural market, focusing instead on auto manufacturing, pharmaceuticals and other industries. “Agriculture was excluded from the talks at South Korea’s insistence,” said Troy Stangarone, senior director of congressional affairs and trade at the Korea Economic Institute of America.

The National Pork Producers Council, in fact, expressed relief that the new deal would have “little impact on agriculture.” The council noted that the original 2012 U.S.-South Korea trade agreement — the one Trump insisted on rewriting — had eliminated most South Korean tariffs on pork.

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TRUMP: “We have also secured increased access to America’s auto industry. South Korea will double the annual number of American cars sold within. In other words, we used to sell a maximum of 25 (he meant 25,000), and we wouldn’t even get to that number, and now we’re going to 50,000. We’re doubling it, per manufacturer... So that’s a doubling of the cars per manufacturer that can enter its market, meeting U.S. safety standards.” — remarks Sept. 24.

THE FACTS: He’s glossing over the limited impact. Analysts aren’t expecting any surge in U.S. auto exports to South Korea. The new agreement does double to 50,000 the number of cars each U.S. automaker can export annually to South Korea under U.S. safety standards that are less stringent than South Korea’s. But, as Trump said, the car makers weren’t using up the 25,000 annual quotas anyway; altogether, the United States last year exported fewer than 53,000 cars and light trucks to South Korea.

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JUDGES

TRUMP: “I have 145 judges I will be picking by the end of a fairly short period of time, because President Obama wasn’t big on picking judges. When I got there I said, how is this possible? I have 145, including Court of Appeals judges. And they just didn’t do it, you know why? They got tired, they got complacent — something happened.” — news conference Wednesday.

THE FACTS: Trump does have a stronger record than Obama so far in picking federal judges, but it isn’t because the Obama administration got “tired” and “complacent.” Instead, lack of action by the Republican-controlled Senate on Obama’s judicial nominees in his last two years in office left Trump more vacancies to fill.

Of the 71 people whom Obama nominated to the district courts and courts of appeals in 2015 and 2016, only 20 were voted on and confirmed, said Russell Wheeler, an expert on judicial nominees at the Brookings Institution. Trump entered office in January 2017 with more than 100 vacancies on the federal bench, about double the number Obama had in 2009.

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2016 ELECTION

TRUMP: “You know, I got 52 percent with women. Everyone said, ‘This couldn’t happen — 52 percent.’” — news conference Wednesday.

THE FACTS: No, Trump did not win the women’s vote in the 2016 presidential election. About 54 percent nationally voted for Democrat Hillary Clinton, according to exit polls, compared with Trump’s 41 percent. He won 52 percent of white women, according to those polls.

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Associated Press writers Josh Boak, Paul Wiseman, Chloe Kim and Jill Colvin contributed to this report.

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