The annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) event attracts college Republicans, populists, nationalists, some libertarians, and the occasional Revolutionary reenactor. For the past three years, it’s also attracted President Donald Trump.
While waiting more than half-an-hour (much of it on their feet) for Trump’s speech to begin, the CPAC audience was treated to a video montage of CPAC’s chairman Matt Schlapp arguing against journalists and media personalities on a pro-Trump spree – as event staff closed the doors and kept anyone from leaving.
When he finally showed up, Trump did not disappoint. He spoke for more than two hours, delivering the longest speech of his presidency to a wildly enthusiastic crowd. In what felt at times like a standup comedy special – “I’m in love, you’re in love and we’re all in love together,” Trump told the audience at one point – the President touched on favorite topics ranging from the Mueller investigation, North Korea, trade, and the Democrats’ Green New Deal.
Here are the facts.
In talking about trade and tariffs, Trump pulled out one of his favorite lines, telling the audience, “Billions of dollars right now are pouring into our Treasury.”
Facts First: Technically this is true. It’s just that the billions of dollars aren’t coming from foreign countries and companies, as Trump has suggested in the past. Instead, it’s American companies and consumers that are paying most of the cost of these tariffs.
We fact checked a similar statement from Trump during his speech in El Paso last month. Here’s what we found:
When Trump talks about tariffs, he often talks about the amount of money that is now pouring into the US Treasury. He tends to give the impression that money is being paid by foreign companies. But that’s not really what’s happening. Instead, most of those tariffs are being paid by US companies that import those foreign goods.
The real question is who bears the cost. Often, US companies will pass it on to the consumer by raising prices, while other times a company will reduce compensation or employment internally to offset these higher costs. In some instances, the Chinese supplier might take on the burden of the tariff by reducing its prices in order to maintain its price advantage in the US.
Trump is trying to realign trade so that US products become more competitive with their cheaper Chinese alternatives. That will likely require a long-term adjustment of the US industrial base. In the short term, US consumers and companies will most likely end up bearing the cost of the tariffs. The Tax Foundation said last year that it expects the tariffs to lower the gross domestic product and wages, and cost American jobs, hitting lower- and middle-income households the hardest.
Trump also went after the Russia probe, claiming that “13 Democrats” work on Robert Mueller’s team.
Facts First: According to several reports, 13 members of Mueller’s team have registered as Democrats in the past. The majority of them though have been longstanding Department of Justice employees.
As CNN has previously reported:
Mueller assembled a team that at its peak consisted of at least 17 lawyers and “dozens” of FBI agents to help with his investigation. Nine of the lawyers donated to Democratic candidates before 2017, according to federal records. Eight of those lawyers gave only to Democrats, while one has donated to Democrats and Republicans before.
It’s worth noting that making political donations is within the rules and is not itself a disqualification, as Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein (who appointed Mueller as special counsel) told Congress in 2017.
Asked by Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham whether political donations should prevent attorneys from working on the investigation, Rosenstein replied, “No, senator, it is not a disqualification. It is not.”
The Washington Post has reported that “13 of the 17 members of Mueller’s team have previously registered as Democrats.”
Mueller was a registered Republican as recently as 2017 and was appointed as FBI director under George W. Bush. Rosenstein is also a registered Republican.
Trump also claimed that one of the lawyers on Mueller’s team has been “involved with the Hillary Clinton Foundation, running it.”
Facts First: This is false. No one on Mueller’s team ever ran the Clinton Foundation.
Trump claimed that he brought back “600,000 beautiful manufacturing jobs that were never going to come back to our country.”
Facts First: While the pace of manufacturing job creation has increased since Trump took office in 2017, he is overstating the number by nearly 150,000. It’s also unclear how much credit any president deserves for the decisions made by manufacturing companies to hire more workers.
Based on current data, 454,000 manufacturing jobs were added since the beginning of 2017, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
We’ve also fact checked the idea that manufacturing jobs were not increasing before Trump took office, something he has suggested before:
By the time former President Barack Obama left office, there were some 190,000 fewer manufacturing jobs than existed at the start of his administration. But that doesn’t tell the whole story. The US was in a deep recession when Obama entered the White House in January 2009, and the manufacturing sector was shedding tens of thousands of jobs a month. But the losses stopped by early 2010. Over the next six-plus years, manufacturing jobs rose by more than 800,000.
Under Trump, the pace of growth is certainly faster. During his first two years in office, the economy has added more than 470,000 manufacturing jobs. (According to MarketWatch, the manufacturing job growth from August 2017 to August 2018 was “the best 12-month stretch in 23 years.”)
The reason for this result is likely multifaceted. Oil prices dropping, healthy job numbers nationwide, and deregulation are all often cited reasons for the uptick. However, the decline in vehicle sales paired with uncertainty around trade might harm these numbers.
Also, while the number of manufacturing jobs continues to increase, the total is stil below its pre-recession level.
Trump repeated the claim that “more people are working today in the United States than ever before in our country.”
Facts First: This is true but needs context.
In a way, this is the equivalent of Trump taking credit for a growing population. The more relevant statistic is the percentage of people who are participating in the labor force. That number, which is up recently, still remains below pre-recession levels.
Here’s what we found when Trump made the same claim during his State of the Union address:
According to the most recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the total number of people employed in the US stands at 156,694,000. That works out to an employment-population ratio of 60.7 percent, according to data from the Federal Reserve, which is below the 64.7 percent ratio from April 2000. That figure from 2000 is the highest-ratio since 1948, when the Fed began mapping the data.
The President repeated the claim that one in three women are assaulted on the journey to the US southern border.
Facts First: This appears to be somewhat true though there are reasons to be skeptical of the data it’s based on.
Trump made a similar claim during a speech on immigration in January. “One in three women are sexually assaulted on the dangerous trek up through Mexico. Women and children are the biggest victims by far of our broken system,” he said. “This is the tragic reality of illegal immigration on our southern border.”
Here’s what we found at the time:
Indeed, the trek to the US-Mexico border has been reported to be violent. According to data from Doctors Without Borders, 68.3% of migrants and refugees “entering Mexico reported being victims of violence during their transit toward the United States,” and nearly one-third of women said they’d been sexually abused. But this very violence is also why women have chosen to travel in caravans.
This data from Doctors Without Borders, however, is measuring a small group of migrant women and more data is needed to accurately assess the number of women that are assaulted, physically or sexually.
Touting the decrease in food stamp recipients, more manufacturing jobs and other successes, Trump said that if Hillary Clinton had won in 2016 the stock market would have gone down 50%, claiming that it “was heading down” before he took office. Was it really going down?
Facts First: No.
CNN Business reported at the end of 2016 that the “Dow closed 2016 more than 4,300 points above its January low of 15,451,” finishing out the year with a 13.4% gain.
All three major indexes saw gains in 2016, with the NASDAQ up 7.5% and the S&P 500 gaining 9.5%.
Obama’s tenure saw a near tripling of the S&P 500, mostly due to very low interest rates and recovery from the recession.
Trump’s claim that the stock markets were “heading down” is not correct.
California forest management
Trump also poked fun at California’s canceled bullet train, said he liked Democratic California Gov. Gavin Newsom and claimed that the forest fires in California had been caused, at least in part, by a lack of forest management.
“When I’m with (Newsom) face-to-face, nice guy. When he speaks about me, not so nice, but face-to-face he loves me,” Trump said before suggesting that California needs some “forest money.” “I think they need some forest money because, honestly,” said Trump, “the management of the forest is very bad and that’s one of the problems they have.”
“Gotta clean it up. It’s called management. When a tree falls you can’t let the environmentalists say you can’t take that tree out. Becomes like a matchstick, that tree. It hits a flame, it goes up. The leaves, every once in a while, you have to remove the leaves.”
Facts First: This is claim is more nuanced than Trump’s previous statements on forest management, but it still overstated. He also misses what is involved in “forest management.”
Experts do cite a lack of forest management among a list of reasons some California wildfires have been so large. However, Trump is overemphasizing this factor. The primary reason these fires have been so devastating is windy and extremely dry conditions. And not all of these fires – like the Woolsey Fire – were in forest areas.
Additionally, almost 60% of the forests in California are managed by the federal government, not California’s government. The majority of the remainder is privately owned.
Lastly, forest management is much more complicated than removing dead leaves and fallen branches as Trump claimed. Often it involves tree-thinning and the removal of smaller trees – but there are many different methods of forest management based on the terrain type, among other factors.
Invoking the recent story of the “Covington kids” (where video of high school students approached by Native American activists created a media firestorm) CPAC chairman Matt Schlapp claimed on Saturday that New York and Virginia governors supported post-birth abortions.
“How many of you followed this Covington story?” Schlapp asked the CPAC audience Saturday. “Do you know why they came to the nation’s capital? They came to the nation’s capital to march against what the governor of Virginia and the governor of New York want to see happen, which is literally post-birth abortions.”
Facts First: Recent legislation introduced in Virginia and New York has sought to ease restrictions on certain third-trimester abortions. Much of the current controversy stems from a radio interview Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam gave, in which he made some odd claims on proposed abortion legislation that created confusion around the bill. But Schlapp’s characterization of the legislation in New York and Virginia is not accurate.
Trump made a similar claim regarding New York and Virginia during his State of the Union address. Here’s what we found in our SOTU fact check:
The Reproductive Health Act, signed into law by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo in January, allows for abortions after 24 weeks if an authorized health care practitioner determines that “the abortion is necessary to protect the patient’s life or health” or if “there is an absence of fetal viability.”