FactChecking Trump’s Farewell Remarks
By Lori Robertson, Eugene Kiely, Robert Farley and D'Angelo Gore
Posted on January 20, 2021
In a video farewell address on Jan. 19 and in remarks at Joint Base Andrews before leaving for Florida on Jan. 20, outgoing President Donald Trump distorted the facts on the economy, his tax cuts, veterans, the military, drug prices and more.
Trump, Jan. 19: We also built the greatest economy in the history of the world.
In his farewell speech, Trump pointed to the stock market — as he often does — as a measure of the nation’s economic success. But economists generally measure a nation’s health by the growth of its real (inflation-adjusted) gross domestic product. The U.S. rate of growth was 2.3% in 2017, 3.0% in 2018 and 2.2% in 2019, according to revised figures from the Bureau of Economic Analysis. Over the last 39 years — dating to Ronald Reagan’s presidency — the nation’s real economic growth has exceeded Trump’s peak year of 3.0% 17 times, including most recently under then-President Barack Obama in 2015.
Trump, Jan. 19: When the virus took its brutal toll on the world’s economy, we launched the fastest economic recovery our country has ever seen. We passed nearly $4 trillion in economic relief, saved or supported over 50 million jobs, and slashed the unemployment rate in half. These are numbers that our country has never seen before.
Trump is spinning the facts when he speaks of saving jobs, spurring the “fastest economic recovery” and cutting the unemployment rate in half. The unemployment rate peaked at 14.8% in April, when the economy was largely shutdown because of COVID-19. But even at 6.7% — which is where it stood last month — the unemployment rate is well above the historical norm of 5.6% since 1948, as we wrote in “What President Biden Inherits.”
There also is no independent evidence that the economic relief provided by Congress and Trump have “saved or supported over 50 million jobs.”
The Trump administration claimed the Paycheck Protection Program, which was created by legislation approved in March, saved 51 million jobs. However, in December, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said that the “PPP was projected to save 106 million job-weeks in 2020 (a job-week is one week of work for an average worker whose job had been lost due to the pandemic).” Saving a “job-week” is very different than saving a job.
Also, in a survey of economists, Reuters found that the PPP saved “only a fraction of 51 million – ranging between one million and 14 million.” A July 22, 2020, paper co-authored by economists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Department of Economics and the Federal Reserve Board of Governors, using data from the payroll processing firm ADP, estimated that the PPP through the first week of June had “an aggregate employment effect of about 2.31 million workers.”
As of December, the number of Americans employed was 9.8 million below the pre-recession peak in February, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Trump, Jan. 19: We also unlocked our energy resources and became the world’s number one producer of oil and natural gas by far.
Trump takes undue credit for the U.S. becoming the world’s top producer of oil and natural gas. Before he took office, the U.S. was already the world’s top producer of total natural gas (since 2009) and petroleum hydrocarbons (since 2013). “Total petroleum production is made up of several different types of liquid fuels, including crude oil and lease condensate, tight oil, extra-heavy oil, and bitumen,” according to the Energy Information Administration.
The U.S. did become the number one producer of crude oil in 2018, but as we have reported that was long expected to happen. The International Energy Agency’s 2012 energy outlook, for example, predicted that the U.S. would become the largest crude oil producer by 2020, primarily because of “profound” advances in hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, technology.
Trump, Jan. 19: We passed the largest package of tax cuts and reforms in American history.
It was perhaps fitting that Trump included this false claim in both farewell speeches — in his speech at Joint Base Andrews, Trump added that the tax cuts were the largest in history “by far.” It is one of his most frequent exaggerations. By the Washington Post’s count, it was the 295th time Trump has said it.
As we have written — and written and written and written — there were more expensive tax laws in terms of percentage of gross domestic product and inflation-adjusted dollars than the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act championed by Trump. The Trump cuts will reduce tax revenues by nearly $1.5 trillion over 10 years, which still ranks it eighth or fourth place, as measured by a percentage of GDP or in inflation-adjusted dollars, respectively. The largest tax cut in history, as a percentage of GDP, came under President Ronald Reagan in 1981, according to the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget.
Trump, Jan. 20: And our beautiful vets, they were very badly treated before we came along. And, as you know, we get them great service, and we pick up the bill, and they can go out, and they can see a doctor if they have to wait long periods of time. We got it so that we can, sadly, get rid of people that don’t treat our vets properly. We had — we didn’t have any of those rights before when I came on.
He described the Veterans Choice Program, which allows veterans to get care from eligible non-Veterans Affairs health care providers if they face travel burdens or can’t get timely appointments at the VA. That program was created by the 2014 bipartisan Veterans Access, Choice, and Accountability Act, signed by then-President Barack Obama. Trump continued the program and expanded it by signing the bipartisan VA MISSION Act in 2018, which called for consolidating Veterans Choice and other private-care options into a new Veterans Community Care Program.
As for his claim about getting “rid of people that don’t treat our vets properly,” Trump signed legislation in his first year in office to make it easier for the VA secretary to fire employees — the bipartisan Department of Veterans Affairs Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act. But it’s not true that the VA couldn’t fire people before.
As we’ve written, going back to 2006, the VA fired more than 2,000 employees each year before Trump was inaugurated, according to data the agency reported to the Office of Personnel Management.
Trump, Jan. 20: We just got 75 million votes. And that’s a record, in the history of … sitting presidents. That’s an all-time record by a lot, by many millions, in the history of sitting presidents.
This is true — or nearly so; he got 74.2 million popular votes. But his opponent, Joe Biden, got nearly 81.3 million votes. That’s a 4.5 percentage point advantage for Biden in the popular vote. Of course, elections are won not through popular vote totals but by Electoral College votes. By that measure, Biden won 306-232, the same margin by which Trump defeated Hillary Clinton in 2016.
In his speech at the “Save America” rally on Jan. 6, which immediately preceded an attack on the Capitol by his supporters, Trump cited his vote total to make the case that the election was “stolen.”
“Almost 75 million people voted for our campaign, the most of any incumbent president by far in the history of our country, 12 million more people than four years ago,” Trump said. “I was told by the real pollsters … if I went from 63 million, which we had four years ago to 66 million, there was no chance of losing. Well, we didn’t go to 66. We went to 75 million and they say we lost. We didn’t lose.” Trump’s loss was possible because, despite Trump’s vote total increase from 2016, voter turnout was the highest in 120 years. And as we have written repeatedly, contrary to Trump’s claims, there has been no evidence of widespread voter fraud.
Trump, Jan. 19: We … stood up to big pharma in so many ways, but especially in our effort to get favored nations clauses added, which will give us the lowest prescription drug prices anywhere in the world.
Late in his first term, Trump signed several executive orders on drug prices, but, as we explained, it remains to be seen how the orders will be implemented and whether they will result in large price reductions. As for Trump’s reference to “favored nations,” that updated executive order, signed Sept. 13, hasn’t had any impact.
It called on the secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services to test payment models to tie Medicare drug prices to the lowest price among comparable countries that are members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.
On Nov. 27, HHS’ Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services issued an interim final rule to launch a seven-year model, slated to begin on Jan. 1, to test the idea with Medicare Part B drugs, which are those administered by doctors, such as intravenous or injectible drugs. But a month later, U.S. District Judge Catherine C. Blake issued an injunction blocking CMS from launching the model.
The lawsuit was filed by health care provider and drug manufacturing groups, including the Association of Community Cancer Centers and the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America. Blake wrote in her order that the plaintiffs “have demonstrated they are likely to prevail on the merits” of the case, which argues CMS skipped over legal requirements in federal rule-making procedures.
“The court is not unsympathetic to CMS’s desire to test a new model to rein in Medicare Part B drug costs,” Blake wrote. “But an agency may not dispense with notice and comment procedures merely because it wishes to implement what it sees as a beneficial regulation immediately.”
Trump, Jan. 19: And perhaps most importantly of all, with nearly $3 trillion, we fully rebuilt the American military, all made in the USA.
Trump’s figure is the total for defense budgets from 2017 to 2020, not the amount spent on U.S.-made military equipment, as he suggested and has often claimed. But the figure isn’t unusual.
As we’ve explained, the Defense Department budgets passed under Trump have totaled $2.9 trillion. That’s larger, in inflation-adjusted dollars, than the $2.7 trillion budgeted in the last four years under Obama, but the budgets in Obama’s first four years were nearly $3.3 trillion.
Over the summer, Trump described the defense budgets under his term as an investment of “$2.5 trillion in all of the greatest equipment in the world.” But the cost of purchasing new military equipment was 20% of Trump’s 2017-2020 budgets.
World Opinion of the U.S.
Trump, Jan. 19: We restored American strength at home and American leadership abroad. The world respects us again. Please don’t lose that respect.
We’re not aware of a survey that measures “respect,” but a 13-nation Pew Research Center survey from September found that U.S. favorability ratings in the vast majority of those countries were down significantly from 2016, the last year before Trump was inaugurated.
In fact, Pew noted: “In several countries, the share of the public with a favorable view of the U.S. is as low as it has been at any point since the Center began polling on this topic nearly two decades ago.” The countries with record-low percentages of their residents with a favorable opinion of the U.S. in 2020 were Japan (41%), the United Kingdom (41%), Canada (35%), Australia (33%), Sweden (33%), France (31%) and the Netherlands (30%).
In addition to those seven nations — which all saw declines of 20 percentage points or more compared with 2016 — U.S. favorability was also down 27 points in Italy (45%), down 31 points in Germany (26%) and down 19 points in Spain (40%).
As for the other three countries with residents who were polled: U.S. favorability in South Korea was 59% in 2020, the lowest rating of Trump’s presidency and down 25 points from 2015 — the last year for data in that country before Trump took office. And in Denmark and Belgium, respectively, 34% and 24% of residents had a favorable view of the U.S. in 2020, the first year for ratings in either country.
Trump, Jan. 19: I am especially proud to be the first president in decades who has started no new wars.
As our fact-checking colleagues at the Washington Post wrote, this claim, resting on the idea that Jimmy Carter was the last president who didn’t start a new war, is “highly debatable.” What counts as a “new war”?
Under President Barack Obama, the U.S. armed rebels and launched airstrikes in Syria against the Islamic State. But the Islamic State grew out of the Iraq War, which began under President George W. Bush. Obama also authorized drone strikes in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia. But do those count as wars?
Trump ordered an airstrike in Iraq that killed Iranian military commander Qasem Soleimani. But the administration’s national security adviser, Robert O’Brien, told reporters that was authorized under a 2002 resolution giving the president the authority to take actions against “the continuing threat posed by Iraq.”
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