AP FACT CHECK: Trump on military death, and taxes
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump’s boast that he surpasses his predecessors in consoling families of the fallen proved empty this past week as many stepped forward to say they’d never heard from him after losing their loved ones in military service. The suddenly fraught and politically charged subject overshadowed other misfires from the president, on taxes, hurricane relief and more.
A look back:
TRUMP: “I think I’ve called every family of someone who’s died.” — interview with Fox News radio, Tuesday.
THE FACTS: He hasn’t. The Associated Press contacted relatives of more than 20 of the 43 people who died in military service since Trump took office in January. Relatives of at least 10 of the fallen said they did not get a call. Some also didn’t get a letter.
TRUMP, on how past presidents dealt with family members who lost loved ones in military service: “Most of them didn’t make calls.” President Barack Obama might have done so on occasion but “other presidents did not call.” — news conference Monday.
THE FACTS: The recent record is clear: Obama and President George W. Bush made painstaking efforts to contact bereaved military families, and they had many more to deal with than Trump so far in his presidency.
Bush, even at the height of two wars, “wrote all the families of the fallen,” said Freddy Ford, spokesman for the ex-president. Ford said Bush also called or met “hundreds, if not thousands” of family members of the war dead.
Obama, too, paid plenty of attention to families of the fallen, visiting Dover Air Force Base in Delaware on some occasions when the remains of the dead were brought back to the U.S., inviting Gold Star families to the White House, and meeting, calling or writing to others.
Veterans groups said neither president shortchanged bereaved military families in offering condolences personally.
TRUMP tweet Friday: “Just out report: ‘United Kingdom crime rises 13% annually amid spread of Radical Islamic terror.’ Not good, we must keep America safe!”
THE FACTS: Trump misstates the statistics and the reason crime has gone up.
The 13 percent increase cited by Trump refers to crime in England and Wales, not the entire U.K., which also includes Scotland and Northern Ireland.
The biggest jump in crime reports came from car thefts and shoplifting. Homicides slightly dropped, even with deadly terrorist attacks in London and Manchester.
TRUMP on Hurricane Maria’s effect on Puerto Rico: “They got hit dead center — if you look at those maps — by a Category 5. Nobody’s ever heard of a 5 hitting land. Usually by that time it’s dissipated. It hit right through — and kept to a 5 — it hit right through the middle of the island, right through the middle of Puerto Rico.” — comments Thursday after a White House meeting with Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello.
THE FACTS: No, it made landfall as a strong Category 4 hurricane, not 5. Though devastating, Maria also did not rake across the island as a Category 5. It weakened, and left the island some seven hours later as barely a Category 3.
TRUMP: “We keep being given credit. You know, it’s very nice that the gentleman who worked for Bill Clinton, when he was president, gave us an A-plus. And that included Puerto Rico. Gave us an A-plus. And I thought that was really very nice. And I think — I really believe he’s correct. We have done a really great job.” — comments after Rossello meeting.
THE FACTS: No, Trump he did not get an A-plus for his Puerto Rico response from the Clinton-era administration emergency chief cited by Trump, James Lee Witt. But it’s understandable that he thought so. Published reports suggested Witt had given the Trump administration top grades for its actions in all three monster storms — Harvey, Irma and Maria.
But Witt told AP he did not assign a grade to the Maria response because it’s too soon. It could end up being an A, F or grade in between, he said.
TRUMP: “The Fake News is going crazy with wacky Congresswoman Wilson(D), who was SECRETLY on a very personal call, and gave a total lie on content!” — tweet Thursday
CHIEF OF STAFF JOHN KELLY: “It stuns me that a member of Congress would have listened in on that conversation. Absolutely stuns me. And I thought at least that was sacred.” — briefing Thursday.
THE FACTS: The suggestion that Florida Rep. Frederica Wilson eavesdropped for nefarious purposes on Trump’s call to a war widow is problematic, at best.
She’s indeed been scathing about Trump’s behavior on the phone with Myeshia Johnson, wife of Sgt. La David Johnson, killed early this month in an ambush in Niger. Three other U.S. soldiers also died.
What Trump said — and how he said it — is in dispute. But Wilson is a friend of the family and was with the widow and the aunt and uncle who raised the soldier as a boy when the call arrived. The family members and Wilson were in a car and the call was placed on speakerphone. Meantime, Kelly and several others at the White listened from their end to what Trump said was a “very personal call.”
KELLY, on a 2015 building dedication ceremony at which he said Wilson stood and talked about herself: “And a congresswoman stood up, and in a long tradition of empty barrels making the most noise, stood up there in all of that and talked about how she was instrumental in getting the funding for that building, and how she took care of her constituents because she got the money, and she just called up President Obama, and on that phone call, he gave the money, the $20 million, to build the building, and she sat down. And we were stunned, stunned that she’d done it.” — briefing Thursday.
THE FACTS: That’s not what happened. In video of the ceremony, the Democratic congresswoman never takes credit for getting the government to pay for the building. The project was approved before she came to Congress. She spent up to three minutes of her nine-minute remarks talking about her drive to have the building named after two slain FBI agents, and about the Republican lawmakers and others who rallied to that cause and made it happen quickly.
Kelly, who lost his Marine son Robert in Afghanistan in 2010, was furious about Wilson’s criticisms of Trump’s phone call.
TRUMP, on his judicial nominees: “The Democrats are holding them up beyond anything. Beyond comprehension, they’re holding them up.” — news conference Monday
THE FACTS: Not “beyond anything.” He’s had more judges confirmed than Barack Obama did in the same period as his presidency, and his numbers aren’t far off those of other recent presidents.
He actually has a leg up in the process because in 2013, then-majority Democrats changed Senate rules so judicial nominations for trial and appeals courts can be approved with only 51 Senate votes, a simple majority. Republicans currently hold 52 seats.
Seven of Trump’s judicial nominees have been confirmed by the Senate. According to federal statistics, Obama had three judicial nominees confirmed at the same point of his presidency, just shy of nine months. President George H.W. Bush had four confirmed. Other recent presidents had more confirmed: eight for George W. Bush, nine for Clinton, 13 for Ronald Reagan.
TRUMP: “I won’t do anything to enrich the insurance companies because right now the insurance companies are being enriched. They’ve been enriched by Obamacare like nothing anybody’s ever seen before.” — comments to reporters Wednesday. Tweet: “I can never support bailing out ins co’s who have made a fortune w/ O’Care.”
THE FACTS: This justification for ceasing certain government payments to insurance companies misses the point of those payments. They go to insurance companies to bring down deductibles and copayments for many people in the individual health insurance market.
But what of his broader point that the Affordable Care Act is enriching that industry?
Health insurance is indeed profitable but Obama’s law does not contribute much to that.
Big companies such as Aetna and the Blue Cross-Blue Shield insurer Anthem have actually pulled back from many of the law’s insurance marketplaces, citing either steep losses or uncertainty over government money. The largest insurer, UnitedHealth Group, slashed its marketplace participation to only three states this year. Yet it still earned nearly $2.49 billion in the recently concluded third quarter.
Insurers have gained customers from the subsidized marketplaces and expansion of Medicaid. But they’ve also had to deal with an additional tax imposed by the health overhaul and cuts for Medicare Advantage plans, which are privately-run versions of the federal Medicare program for the elderly.
Insurers usually pull most of their profits from some combination of employer-sponsored coverage and government programs such as Medicaid and Medicare. They were making money long before the Obama health law came along.
TRUMP: “We’re the highest taxed nation in the world.” — news conference Monday
THE FACTS: Far from it. The overall tax burden in the United States is among the lowest in the developed world.
Taxes made up 26.4 percent of the total U.S. economy in 2015, according to Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. That’s far below Denmark’s tax burden of 46.6 percent, Britain’s 32.5 percent or Germany’s 36.9 percent. Just four OECD countries, out of 32 developed and large emerging-market economies tracked, had a lower tax bite than the U.S.: South Korea, Ireland, Chile and Mexico.
Trump sometimes casts his claim more narrowly, as he did last week when he said that “when it comes to the business tax, we are now dead last among developed nations.” That’s closer to right, but still misleading. The U.S. does have the highest statutory corporate tax rate, but other countries with lower corporate taxes also charge a separate tax on consumption, known as a Value Added Tax. That lets them keep corporate rates lower.
TRUMP calls his tax overhaul the “largest tax cut in the history of our nation.” — news conference Monday
THE FACTS: His tax plan is, at most, fifth largest in its estimated cost, says Marc Goldwein of the nonpartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget. It could end up being even lower on the ladder historically.
The estimated cost of the tax plan has dropped by half or more since the spring, when only the contours were known. In an analysis in April, Goldwein’s group found that the $5.5 trillion plan that was then expected would have been the third largest since 1940 as a share of gross domestic product, behind Reagan’s package in 1981 and tax cuts enacted in 1945 to phase out revenue generated for World War II. But, citing estimated costs of $1.5 trillion to $2.5 trillion for Trump’s plan now, Goldwein said several other historically significant tax cuts also would surpass Trump’s: from 2013 and 1964.
Associated Press writers Josh Boak, Jessica Gresko and Seth Borenstein in Washington, Danica Kirka in London and Tom Murphy in Indianapolis contributed to this report.
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