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AP FACT CHECK: Trump’s murky claims on weather, shutdown

January 21, 2019
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President Donald Trump walks on the South Lawn upon arrival at the White House in Washington, Saturday, Jan. 19, 2019, after attending the casualty return at Dover Air Force Base, Del., for the four Americans killed in a suicide bomb attack in Syria. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

WASHINGTON (AP) — There’s nothing like a cold snap to bring out the global-warming skepticism of President Donald Trump.

The fact that periods of extreme cold happen in a warming climate is well known by his government but Trump’s crack Sunday — “Wouldn’t be bad to have a little of that good old fashioned Global Warming right now!” — suggests that hasn’t sunk in for the president.

Over the past week and through the weekend, Trump and his team misstated the reality on myriad issues, many connected with the partial government shutdown, Trump’s proposed wall and the Russia investigation. Here’s a look:

RUSSIA

TRUMP: “Remember it was Buzzfeed that released the totally discredited ‘Dossier,’ paid for by Crooked Hillary Clinton and the Democrats (as opposition research), on which the entire Russian probe is based!” — tweet Friday.

THE FACTS: Trump’s claim that special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe is based on a “discredited dossier” is false. The FBI’s investigation actually began months before it received a dossier of anti-Trump research financed by the Democratic Party and Hillary Clinton’s campaign. The FBI probe’s origins were based on other evidence — not the existence of the dossier, which has not been discredited.

Last year, the Republican-controlled House Intelligence Committee found the Russia probe was initiated after the FBI received information related to Trump campaign foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos, not the dossier. The committee’s final report was praised by Trump.

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CLIMATE CHANGE

TRUMP: “Large parts of the Country are suffering from tremendous amounts of snow and near record setting cold. Amazing how big this system is. Wouldn’t be bad to have a little of that good old fashioned Global Warming right now!” — tweet Sunday.

THE FACTS: Trump is suggesting, as he has done before, that global warming can’t exist if it’s cold outside. But he is conflating weather and climate. Weather is like mood, which changes daily. Climate is like personality, which is long term.

The climate is warming, which still allows for intense cold spells.

While much of the United States was frigid Sunday, that is still less than 2 percent of the world. Earth on Sunday was about 0.9 degrees (0.5 Celsius) warmer than from 1979-2000, according to the University of Maine’s Climate Reanalyzer.

The White House in November produced the National Climate Assessment by scientists from 13 Trump administration agencies and outside scientists. It amounted to a slap in the face for those who question whether climate is changing.

“Climate change is transforming where and how we live and presents growing challenges to human health and quality of life, the economy, and the natural systems that support us,” the report says.

The White House report swept aside the idea, already discredited, that a particular plunge in temperatures can cast uncertainty on whether Earth is warming. It says more than 90 percent of current warming is caused by humans: “There are no credible alternative human or natural explanations supported by the observational evidence.”

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THE SHUTDOWN

TRUMP: “As a candidate for President, I promised I would fix this crisis, and I intend to keep that promise one way or the other. ...To physically secure our border, the plan includes $5.7 billion for a strategic deployment of physical barriers, or a wall. This is not a 2,000-mile concrete structure from sea to sea. These are steel barriers in high-priority locations.” — remarks Saturday.

THE FACTS: His campaign promise to build a concrete border wall continues to evolve.

During the 2016 campaign, Trump pledged to build a “big, beautiful wall” made of concrete, rebar and steel across the length of the southern border with Mexico. Back then, he lashed out at the suggestion that what he was proposing had anything in common with mere fencing.

“Jeb Bush just talked about my border proposal to build a ‘fence,’ he tweeted in 2015. “It’s not a fence, Jeb, it’s a WALL, and there’s a BIG difference!”

And as recently as Dec. 31, he tweeted, “An all concrete Wall was NEVER ABANDONED.”

He now commonly refers to the wall as “steel slats” and “steel barriers.”

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TRUMP: “If we build a powerful and fully designed see-through steel barrier on our southern border, the crime rate and drug problem in our country would be quickly and greatly reduced. Some say it could be cut in half.” — remarks from White House on Saturday.

TRUMP, on the virtues of a wall: “We can stop heroin.” — White House remarks Saturday.

THE FACTS: His comments fly in the face of findings by his government about how drugs get into the county. Drugs from Mexico are primarily smuggled into the U.S. at official border crossings, not remote lands that can be walled off. His proposal Saturday to end the government shutdown implicitly recognizes that reality by proposing money to improve drug-detection technology specifically at land ports of entry.

Even so, Trump pitched a wall as a solution to drugs and crime.

The Drug Enforcement Administration says “only a small percentage” of heroin seized by U.S. authorities comes across on territory between ports of entry. It says the same is true of drugs overall.

Even if a wall could stop all drugs from Mexico, America’s drug problem would be far from over. For example, the government says about 40 percent of opioid deaths in 2016 involved prescription painkillers, made by pharmaceutical companies. Some feed the addiction of people who have prescriptions; others are stolen and sold on the black market. Moreover, illicit versions of powerful synthetic opioids such as fentanyl have come to the U.S. from China.

On crime, many researchers have found that people in the U.S. illegally are less likely to commit violence than U.S. citizens.

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TRUMP: “Nancy Pelosi’s in Hawaii over the holidays, now she’s in Puerto Rico with a bunch of Democrats and lobbyists, you know, enjoying the sun and partying down there.” — Fox News interview on Jan. 12.

TRUMP: “I’d rather see the Democrats come back from their vacation and act. ... I’m in the White House, and most of them are in different locations. They’re watching a certain musical in a very nice location.” — Fox News interview.

TRUMP: “A lot of the Democrats were in Puerto Rico celebrating something. I don’t know, maybe they’re celebrating the shutdown.” — comments Jan. 14.

THE FACTS: Far from “enjoying the sun” in Puerto Rico, Pelosi stayed in Washington, which got a big snowfall. She spent that weekend working at the Capitol, said Drew Hammill, her deputy chief of staff.

Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer did not go to Puerto Rico, either. The senator from New York spent that weekend in New York, said spokesman Justin Goodman.

Most Democratic lawmakers were somewhere other than Puerto Rico. Most who went are members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. They attended the annual winter retreat of the caucus’s political and fundraising arm.

Some attended “Hamilton” as the musical opened a two-week run in Puerto Rico expected to raise millions of dollars for artists and cultural groups struggling in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. Referring to Democrats at the fundraising performance in his Fox News interview, Trump called it “frankly, ridiculous.”

During the trip, lawmakers indeed met political contributors but also made several visits to local and federal institutions, said Marieli Padro, spokeswoman for Puerto Rico Resident Commissioner Jenniffer Gonzalez. Last Saturday, a small group visited the veterans’ hospital to learn about its needs post-hurricane, while another group met U.S. Coast Guard officials.

Trump is correct that Pelosi visited Hawaii over the Christmas holiday.

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TRUMP: “We need strong barriers and walls. Nothing else is going to work.” — remarks Thursday at the Pentagon.

TRUMP: “You can have all the people you want dressed in military. You can have ICE. You can have Border Patrol. If you don’t have that barrier, there’s not a thing you can do. You know, they all say, ‘We like technology.’ I like technology, too. But we can have all the drones in the world flying around; we can have all the sensors in the world, but if you don’t have a strong steel or concrete barrier, there’s no way you’re going to stop these people from rushing.” — remarks Jan. 14 in New Orleans.

THE FACTS: The evidence is inconclusive on the effectiveness of border walls or other barriers.

The Government Accountability Office, Congress’ auditing arm, reported in 2017 that the government does not have a way to measure how well barriers work to deter illegal immigration from Mexico. Despite $2.3 billion spent by the government on such construction from 2007 to 2015, GAO found that authorities “cannot measure the contribution of fencing to border security operations along the southwest border because it has not developed metrics for this assessment.”

Few people dispute that fences contributed to a sharp drop in crossings in cities such as San Diego and El Paso, Texas. Before fences were built in San Diego, crossers played soccer on U.S. soil as vendors hawked tamales, waiting until night fell to overwhelm agents. But those barriers also pushed people into more remote and less-patrolled areas such as in Arizona, where thousands of migrants have perished in extreme heat.

When barriers were built in the Border Patrol’s Yuma, Arizona, sector in the mid-2000s, arrests for illegal crossings plummeted 94 percent in three years to 8,363 from 138,438. When barriers were built in San Diego in the 1990s and early 2000s, arrests fell 80 percent over seven years from 524,231 in 1995 to 100,681 in 2002. But both areas also saw sharp increases in Border Patrol staffing during that time, making it difficult to pinpoint why illegal crossings fell so dramatically.

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KEVIN HASSETT, Trump economic adviser: “You know as soon as it’s resolved, then people get their paychecks and the government will go back to acting normal and the economy will go back to the 3 percent growth that President Trump’s policies have delivered.” — interview Tuesday with Fox Business Network.

THE FACTS: It’s true the economy probably will get a boost once the shutdown ends, but few independent economists think that boost will be sustained. The economy is facing other headwinds that make it unlikely growth will return to 2018′s pace. Before the shutdown, most independent economists already were forecasting that growth would slow this year as the impact of President Trump’s tax credit fades and trade tensions and slowing global growth take a toll.

Even if the government shutdown ends up being a wash in economic terms, with strong growth in the second quarter offsetting weakness in the first, the economy is likely to be weaker this year than last. Scott Anderson, an economist at Bank of the West, expects last year’s stock market drop will cause many wealthier households to pull back on spending, a drag on growth this year.

He’s not alone. A group of 15 economists at major U.S. banks earlier this month projected that growth would slow to just a 2.1 percent pace in 2019, down from roughly 3 percent in 2018.

The economy’s current health is difficult to gauge because the partial shutdown means many economic statistics aren’t being released. Recent signs are mixed: The job market is strong, with few layoffs in sight, and manufacturing output rose in December. But higher interest rates have also caused home prices and sales to fall.

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SYRIA

VICE PRESIDENT MIKE PENCE: “The caliphate has crumbled, and ISIS has been defeated.” — remarks Wednesday at State Department.

THE FACTS: Pence’s remark followed the deadly suicide bombing claimed by IS, which demonstrated the extremist group, however weakened, has not been vanquished. The bombing underscored Pentagon assertions that IS still poses a threat and is capable of deadly attacks.

The attack killed at least 16 people in Syria, including two U.S. service members and two American civilians. It was the deadliest assault on U.S. troops in Syria since American forces went into the country in 2015.

A tweet Wednesday morning by Pence’s press secretary, Alyssa Farah, indicated the vice president had been briefed on the attacks before he delivered his remarks claiming the defeat of IS. Pence later released a statement acknowledging the fatalities and IS “remnants” but reaffirming Trump’s plan to withdraw troops.

“We will never allow the remnants of ISIS to re-establish their evil and murderous caliphate,” he said.

Trump, in a Dec. 19 tweet, announced the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Syria. He said: “We have defeated ISIS in Syria, my only reason for being there during the Trump Presidency.” He said the troops would begin coming home “now.” That plan triggered immediate pushback from military leaders and the resignation of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis.

Over the past month, however, Trump and others have appeared to adjust the timeline, and U.S. officials have suggested it will probably take several months to withdraw American forces from Syria safely.

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VETERANS

TRUMP: “Just announced that Veterans unemployment has reached an 18 year low, really good news for our Vets and their families. Will soon be an all time low! Do you think the media will report on this and all of the other great economic news? — tweet Tuesday.

THE FACTS: Trump is wrong in terms of up-to-date monthly data, right when measuring veterans’ unemployment over a longer term.

It is true that the average veterans’ unemployment rate for 2018 was 3.5 percent, the lowest annual figure since 2000, when it was 2.9 percent.

On a monthly basis, the rate is more volatile. The lowest vets’ unemployment rate under Trump was 2.7 percent in October 2017, and it has risen a bit since then to 3.2 percent in December, the latest data available. In the 18 years that the government has tracked veterans’ unemployment data, the lowest monthly rate was 2.3 percent in May 2000.

Veterans’ unemployment has fallen mostly for the same reasons that joblessness has dropped generally: strong hiring and steady economic growth for the past eight years.

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TRUMP: “We got Veterans Choice. We got Veterans Choice approved, which is pretty amazing. They’ve been trying to get that for years and years — decades and decades.” — remarks Jan. 14 in New Orleans.

THE FACTS: No, he is not the first president in “decades and decades” to get Congress to pass a private-sector health program for veterans. Congress first approved the Veterans Choice program in 2014 during the Obama administration.

The program was approved after some veterans died while waiting months for appointments at the Phoenix VA medical center. It allows veterans to see doctors outside the VA system if they must wait more than 30 days for an appointment or drive more than 40 miles to a VA facility.

Trump did sign legislation in June to expand the Choice program, part of his campaign promise to give veterans greater access to private care at government expense. The exact scope of that new program will be subject to yet-to-be-completed rules that will determine veterans’ eligibility as well as federal funding. The VA has yet to resolve long-term financing due to congressional budget caps that could put money for VA or other domestic programs at risk later this year.

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Associated Press writers Eric Tucker, Christopher Rugaber, Seth Borenstein and Jill Colvin in Washington and Danica Coto in San Juan, Puerto Rico, contributed to this report.

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