AP FACT CHECK: Trump’s week of faulty claims: MS-13, Russia
WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump isn’t willing to embrace the truth when it comes to immigration, violence and MS-13 gangs.
In speech after speech, he links weak border enforcement to pervasive crime and the “vile gang MS-13,” with his administration suggesting MS-13 is surging.
The MS-13 gang hasn’t been increasing in number. And much of the recent violence attributed to MS-13 appears to have been committed by U.S. citizens, not those who entered the country illegally.
His statements came during a week of hyped rhetoric, fabricated history and sometimes-dubious claims of campaign promises fulfilled.
On other issues, Trump repeated Russia’s questionable claim that it didn’t meddle in the 2016 election, glossed over the benefits of a popular provision of an Obama-era health care law in touting its repeal, and didn’t tell the full story in angry tweets about Harley-Davidson.
A look at the claims:
TRUMP: “We’ve eliminated horrible policies that burdened young Americans. You were burdened by things that were really, in some cases, insurmountable, including the individual mandate in Obamacare. A disaster. That’s where you pay a lot of money for the privilege of not buying health insurance. Right? One of the worst things. It’s gone.” – remarks Wednesday to college students at the White House.
TRUMP: “Obamacare is largely gone now.” – remarks Thursday in Mt. Pleasant, Wisconsin.
THE FACTS: Trump’s suggestion that the sweeping Obama-era health law has wholly burdened young Americans is misleading.
Federal studies have found the Affordable Care Act’s popular provision requiring employers and insurers to keep young adults on parental coverage until age 26 has helped millions of young people transitioning from school to work, or trying to start a career. Previously, the age at which insurance companies often forced children from their parents’ plans was 19.
Since 2010, when the new provision went into effect, the number of those 19-25 who were uninsured fell by more than half, to 4.5 million last year.
Regarding the individual mandate, while Congress did repeal the requirement that most Americans carry insurance or risk a tax penalty, that doesn’t take effect until next year. People who go without insurance this year are still subject to fines.
Other major parts of the Obama-era overhaul remain in place, including its Medicaid expansion, protections for people with pre-existing conditions, guaranteed “essential” health benefits, and subsidized private health insurance for people with modest incomes.
TRUMP: “Crime, crime, crime happens automatically when you have those open borders. The Democrats want to let the country be overrun. Just take a look at what’s going on, everybody comes in including the vile gang MS-13.” – remarks Wednesday in Fargo, North Dakota.
TRUMP: “The Democrats are in Turmoil! Open Borders and unchecked Crime a certain way to lose elections. Republicans are for Strong Borders, NO Crime!”– tweet Tuesday.
JUSTICE DEPARTMENT: “Without this action by Congress, lawlessness at the border will continue, which will only lead to predictable results – more heroin and fentanyl pushed by Mexican cartels plaguing our communities, a surge in MS-13 gang members, and an increase in the number of human trafficking prosecutions.” – statement Wednesday arguing for legislation to address border enforcement.
THE FACTS: It’s inaccurate for Trump and his administration to assert that weak immigration enforcement is leading to “unchecked” crime, including from the “vile gang MS-13.” Nor is there evidence of a “surge” in MS-13.
The group is unquestionably violent but its overall numbers are somewhat limited. The Justice Department has said there are about 10,000 MS-13 members in the U.S., the same number as more than a decade ago. MS-13 accounts for less than 1 percent of total U.S. gang membership.
Formed in Los Angeles in the 1980s by El Salvador refugees and more recently expanded in Central America, the group is indeed linked to a high number of homicides in certain parts of the U.S. Even so, an FBI report put the group well behind other gangs for crimes on the southwest border – seventh of 12 – with the Surenos, Barrio Azteca and Tango Blast ranked in the top three.
Trump suggests that weak border enforcement is contributing to crime committed by MS-13. But the gang actually has many U.S.-born members at this point – people who by virtue of U.S. citizenship can’t be denied entry based on their nationality, or deported. The government has not said recently how many members it thinks are citizens and immigrants. In notable raids on MS-13 in 2015 and 2016, most of the people caught were found to be U.S. citizens.
More broadly, Trump overgeneralizes about people who arrive illegally in the U.S. Several studies have shown that immigration does not lead to increased crime.
TRUMP: “Russia continues to say they had nothing to do with Meddling in our Election! Where is the DNC Server, and why didn’t Shady James Comey and the now disgraced FBI agents take and closely examine it? Why isn’t Hillary/Russia being looked at? So many questions, so much corruption!” – tweet Thursday.
TRUMP: “When is Bob Mueller going to list his Conflicts of Interest? Why has it taken so long? Will they be listed at the top of his $22,000,000 Report…And what about the 13 Angry Democrats, will they list their conflicts with Crooked H?” – tweet Thursday.
THE FACTS: Trump repeats Russia’s denial that it had meddled in the 2016 election, even though the U.S. intelligence community determined that Russia had indeed intervened to help Trump. Many Republicans and Democrats have said they accept the findings of that intelligence assessment, including Trump’s own Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who has warned that Russia will likely try to interfere in the 2018 midterm elections.
The Senate intelligence committee said last month it had uncovered no reason to dispute the conclusions of the intelligence assessment released in 2017. Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., chairman of the committee, said his staff spent 14 months “reviewing the sources, tradecraft and analytic work” conducted by the intelligence agencies in accepting its conclusion.
Trump also refers to special counsel Robert Mueller’s team as “13 angry Democrats,” but Mueller is a Republican and some others on his team owe their jobs largely to Republican presidents. Some have indeed given money to Democratic candidates over the years. But Mueller could not have barred them from serving on that basis because regulations prohibit the consideration of political affiliation for personnel actions involving career attorneys. Mueller reports to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, a Trump appointee.
TRUMP, on the 2016 election: “When we won the state of Wisconsin, it hadn’t been won by a Republican since Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1952. Did you know that? And I won Wisconsin … And Ronald Reagan, remember, Wisconsin was the state that Ronald Reagan did not win.” – remarks Thursday in Mt. Pleasant, Wisconsin.
THE FACTS: He’s wrong. Eisenhower won the Badger State, in 1952 as well as 1956, but so did Reagan in the 1980 and 1984 presidential elections. Wisconsin also helped elect Republican Richard Nixon to the White House in 1968 and 1972, and gave him its backing as well in 1960, when Democrat John F. Kennedy won the presidency.
TRUMP, on reducing wait times for veterans seeking medical care: “The vets would be in line for 13 days, 18 days, 3 weeks, 7 days and they’d start off and they wouldn’t be in bad shape. And sometimes it would take so long before seeing a doctor that they would be terminally ill….Why don’t they just go to a doctor – local – that’s looking for the business? …We got it done. I signed it.” – remarks at Wednesday’s rally in Fargo, North Dakota.
THE FACTS: No, fulfilling his campaign promise of reducing wait times by giving veterans access to private-sector care is not done.
Trump signed into law earlier this month a bill that would ease restrictions on private care. But its success in significantly reducing wait times for appointments depends in large part on an overhaul of VA’s electronic medical records to allow for a seamless sharing of records with private physicians. That overhaul will take at least 10 years to be complete.
Currently, only veterans who endure waits of at least 30 days – not “13 days, 18 days, 3 weeks, 7 days” – for an appointment at a VA facility are eligible to receive care from private doctors at government expense. Under a newly expanded Choice program that will take at least a year to implement, veterans will still have to meet certain criteria before they can see a private physician.
A recent Government Accountability Report found that despite the Choice program’s guarantee of providing an appointment within 30 days, veterans waited an average of 51 to 64 days. Pressed at his confirmation hearing Wednesday, VA secretary nominee Robert Wilkie declined to commit the VA to meeting the 30-day standard. He pledged to push interim fixes and better training for VA schedulers to help speed appointments.
TRUMP: “Hiring many thousands of judges, and going through a long and complicated legal process, is not the way to go - will always be disfunctional (sic). People must simply be stopped at the Border and told they cannot come into the U.S. illegally.” – tweet Monday.
THE FACTS: The U.S. is not hiring many thousands of judges. The Justice Department’s immigration courts division has about 335 judges on staff nationwide, with the budget for 150 additional judges.
Funding for immigration courts has increased modestly in recent years despite a growing caseload of refugees waiting for a judicial hearing after illegally crossing the U.S.-Mexico border. With a backlog of 700,000, each judge would have to take on more than 2,000 cases to clear the docket. Under Trump’s “zero-tolerance” policy, all adults caught crossing the border illegally are criminally prosecuted.
TRUMP: “Early this year Harley-Davidson said they would move much of their plant operations in Kansas City to Thailand. That was long before Tariffs were announced. Hence, they were just using Tariffs/Trade War as an excuse. Shows how unbalanced & unfair trade is, but we will fix it…..” – tweet Tuesday.
THE FACTS: He’s incorrect about what Harley-Davidson said. The company said in January that it would close its motorcycle plant in Kansas City, Missouri, in a cost-cutting move and shift those operations to its plant in York, Pennsylvania. The company did not say it was moving any Kansas City operations to Thailand.
In May 2017, the company did announce plans to build a plant in Thailand to make motorcycles for Asian markets. But that was months before it announced the closure of the Kansas City plant. Harley officials denied when they announced the Kansas City closure that it was because of the plant in Thailand.
The company has more recently cited Trump’s decision to pull the U.S. out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership for building the Thai plant, which is expected to open later this year. But Harley’s announcement Monday did not say where it will build the motorcycles that it will sell in European Union countries. Michael Pflughoeft, a spokesman, said in an email to The Associated Press only that it would be at the company’s “existing international facilities.”
TRUMP: “….When I had Harley-Davidson officials over to the White House, I chided them about tariffs in other countries, like India, being too high. Companies are now coming back to America. Harley must know that they won’t be able to sell back into U.S. without paying a big tax!” – tweet Tuesday.
THE FACTS: Pflughoeft said Harleys sold in the U.S. will continue to be made in the U.S.
—Associated Press writers Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar in Washington and Steve Karnowski in Minneapolis contributed to this report.