FACT CHECK: Trump’s statements on monuments, economy

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A look at the veracity of claims by the U.S. president

The Associated Press

WASHINGTON — The orbit of odd political claims stretched from Utah canyons to crazy-as-usual Washington in recent days.

That’s what The Associated Press found when scrutinizing an assortment of statements from President Donald Trump this week.

A look at some of the statements:

TRUMP, surveying the crowd at his Pensacola rally Friday night: “Look at these guys, ‘blacks for Trump.’ I love you. I love you. By the way, now that you bring it up, black homeownership just hit the highest level it has ever been in the history of our country. Congratulations.”

THE FACTS: Not true or even close.

The U.S. Census finds that the black homeownership rate peaked during 2004, when 49.7 percent of black households owned homes. (The rate for all races that year reached 69.2 percent, also a modern record.) The black homeownership rate stayed in similar territory until the recession, when it dropped to the mid-40s.

This year: 42.7 percent in the first quarter, 42.3 percent in the second and 42 percent in the third. That’s an uptick from last year but far from a record. Quarterly rates this year for the total U.S. population: 63.6 percent, 63.7 percent and 63.9 percent.


TRUMP: “You know, we have factories pouring back into our country. Did you ever think you would hear that? I used to tell you, that’s going to happen.” — Pensacola rally.

THE FACTS: Factories are not pouring into the country, according to available data. Spending on the construction of factories has dropped 14 percent over the past 12 months. There has been a steady decline in spending on factory construction since the middle of 2015 — a trend Trump has yet to reverse despite his claims otherwise.

The existing manufacturing sector, though, has been doing a steady dose of hiring. This appears to reflect the synchronized global growth that has aided a rebound in manufacturing after setbacks in 2016 from a stronger dollar and low energy prices. In November, manufacturing added 31,000 jobs for a gain of 189,000 from a year earlier.


TRUMP: “So we’re at 3.3 percent GDP. I see no reason why we don’t go to 4 percent, 5 percent and even 6 percent.” Speaks of GDP “getting up to 4, 5, and even 6 percent, because I think that’s possible.” — Cabinet meeting Wednesday.

THE FACTS: Anything’s possible, but to get serious: There are no signs the economy is capable of delivering a phenomenal and rarely achieved growth rate in the order of 6 percent, or even 5. Or even 4.

Federal Reserve officials and most mainstream economists expect economic growth to hew closer to 2 percent. The economy last cleared the 6 percent hurdle in 1984 and only for that fleeting year, at 7.3 percent. This was a different time, when baby boomers were at prime working ages, instead of today when they’re starting to retire. The Federal Reserve had boosted growth by steadily slashing a key interest rate from its 1981 peak of 20 percent, while the Fed today is slowly increasing the same rate. Also, the national debt was much lower.

The tax cuts Trump may soon sign into law would probably max out at roughly $250 billion in 2020. Yet to generate growth of 6 percent, those cuts would have to spur a massive $1.2 trillion gain to the gross domestic product. His administration has failed to produce a single analysis showing how this would be possible, while outside analysts say the tax cuts are unlikely to generate anything close to what Trump has said.


TRUMP, on scaling back national monument lands in Utah: “We have seen how this tragic federal overreach prevents many Native Americans from having their rightful voice over the sacred land where they practice their most important ancestral and religious traditions. … We’ve seen many rural families stopped from enjoying their outdoor activities, and the fact that they’ve done it all their lives made no difference to the bureaucrats in Washington.” — remarks in Salt Lake City, Dec. 4.

THE FACTS: Native rights are generally enshrined on national monument lands. So are other existing public uses of the land. Native Americans say their voice on sacred land is imperiled by Trump’s move, not empowered.

Five tribes lobbied President Barack Obama to declare Bears Ears a national monument to preserve lands that are home to ancient cliff dwellings and an estimated 100,000 archaeological sites. Native Americans visit to perform ceremonies, collect herbs and wood for medicinal and spiritual purposes, and do healing rituals. The tribes sued Monday night challenging Trump’s move to shrink Bears Ears by 85 percent.

Environmental groups have filed a suit challenging Trump’s decision to shrink Grand Staircase-Escalante by nearly half. They say his move endangers a “Dinosaur Shangri-La” of fossils.

Public uses, such as hiking, ranching, hunting and fishing, are allowed on the monument lands. The central issue is whether the land should be opened to mining or other resource or commercial development.


TRUMP: “As many of you know, past administrations have severely abused the purpose, spirit and intent of a century-old law known as the Antiquities Act. This law requires that only the smallest necessary area be set aside for special protection as national monuments.” — in Salt Lake City, Dec. 4.

THE FACTS: That’s not exactly what Teddy Roosevelt’s 1906 preservation law says. It states, in essence, that the federal government should not bite off more than it can chew when a president designates an area for protection. It doesn’t demand that such land be kept to a minimum. Such protected land “shall be confined to the smallest area compatible with proper care and management of the objects to be protected,” it says.


TRUMP: “Working with Republicans in Congress, we’ve already signed 88 pieces of legislation. We get no credit. They always say, well, President Trump really needs this tax bill because he hasn’t passed any legislation. Well, so far in 10 months we’ve passed more during this period of time than any other president in the history of our country and the second — let’s call runner up — is Harry Truman, was second.” — Pensacola rally.

THE FACTS: Trump’s first-year legislative record pales next to that of a variety of presidents (Franklin Roosevelt, with his New Deal, signed 14 historic laws in his first 100 days). The tax package Trump may soon sign would mark his first major legislative achievement after months of false starts and frustrations on health care and more. His promised infrastructure initiative got sidelined but appears in the offing.

Trump signed a law strengthening accountability at the Veterans Affairs Department, used executive orders to roll back Obama-era regulations and policies and, perhaps most significantly, won confirmation of a conservative Supreme Court justice, Neil Gorsuch. But legislatively, his record is thin, despite having Republican majorities in Congress.

All presidents sign plenty of bills that have little consequence; most don’t make so much of it. Among Trump’s routine signings: naming a Veterans Affairs health clinic in Butler County, Pennsylvania, after Bataan Death March survivor Abie Abraham, appointing a regent at the Smithsonian Institution and naming a federal building and courthouse in Nashville, Tennessee, after late Sen. Fred Thompson.


TRUMP on a conversation with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau about trade: “He said, ‘I’m telling you that Canada has a deficit with the United States.’ I told my people, in front of a lot of people, I said, go out and check — and he was right. Except he forgot two categories — lumber, timber and energy. Other than that, he was right. When you add them altogether we actually have a $17 billion deficit with Canada, right? So, he forgot a couple of categories that he didn’t want to mention.” — Pensacola rally.

THE FACTS: Trump’s accounting is puzzling and at odds with U.S. trade statistics.

Trudeau is right that the U.S. has a trade surplus with Canada, according to those numbers.

“Exports were $320.1 billion; imports were $307.6 billion,” says the U.S. trade representative’s office. “The U.S. goods and services trade surplus with Canada was $12.5 billion in 2016.”

The U.S. ran a $12.1 billion deficit with Canada in trade on goods. That was offset by a $24.6 billion surplus in trade of services.

Trump may have been ignoring services — half of the equation on trade — but if so his numbers still don’t match his government’s.


TRUMP on his critics in Washington: “They will lie and leak and smear because they don’t want to accept the results of an election where we won by a landslide.” — Pensacola rally.

THE FACTS: His win was far from a landslide.

His winning margin in the Electoral College is far closer to the narrowest win in history than to the widest.

The final Electoral College margin was Trump 306, Hillary Clinton 232, for a winning percentage of just under 57 percent. That ranks the 2016 election as the 13th closest of the 58 presidential elections in U.S. history, according to a tally by Claremont McKenna College political scientist John Pitney. Obama won both of his presidential elections with bigger Electoral College margins: 61 percent in 2008 and 62 percent in 2012. Trump’s margin was narrower than all but two of the last 10 presidential elections — those of George W. Bush in 2000 and 2004.

As well, he lost the popular vote to Clinton.


TRUMP: “By the way, wages — starting to go up. First time in 20 years — starting to go up. That’s all going to happen.” — Pensacola rally.

THE FACTS: It’s not true that wages haven’t gone up for 20 years.

The latest jobs report shows average hourly earnings up 2.5 percent over the past 12 months, roughly the same pace of growth as the year before, when Obama was president. Wages were rising faster in December 2016, up by 2.9 percent. Average hourly wage figures are volatile, but they don’t show an upward trend under Trump.

The last time unemployment was this low — in 2000 — that figure was rising at 4 percent.

Inflation-adjusted median household incomes, meantime, have barely budged for several decades.

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