President Donald Trump made at least 11 false claims Wednesday while speaking with reporters for more than half an hour before leaving the White House for a speech and fundraiser in Kentucky.
Two of the false claims were about Greenland, which he has unsuccessfully offered to purchase from Denmark. One of them was an abbreviated version of a baseless story about Barack Obama he told three times in 2017.
Obama and the Philippines
Trump said that he will not allow foreign countries to disrespect him or the US. He said that things were different under Obama, who was treated “so badly,” and he cited an example: “President Obama: when they wouldn’t let him land in the Philippines.”
Facts First: Obama was never prevented from landing in the Philippines. Rather, Obama called off a planned meeting with President Rodrigo Duterte in 2016 after Duterte delivered a profane and insulting rant about him.
Trump could have accurately said that Obama was treated disrespectfully by Duterte, but there is no basis for the suggestion that Duterte stranded Obama in the sky.
Greenland and Denmark
Of his rejected proposal to acquire Greenland from Denmark, Trump said, “I think it is a good idea, because Denmark is losing $700 million a year with it. It doesn’t do them any good.”
Facts First: Denmark’s annual subsidy to Greenland, an autonomous territory of Denmark, is for less than $600 million.
According to a representative from Greenland’s Ministry of Finance, Head of Division Anders Fonnesbech-Wulff, the grant for 2019 is expected to amount to 3.86 billion Danish kroner (DKK), which is approximately $573 million. The amount has increased slightly over the years, from $547 million (3.68 billion DKK) in 2016 to $553 million (3.72 billion DKK) in 2017 to $568 million (3.82 billion DKK) in 2018. All US dollar amounts are based on the Tuesday exchange rate.
Greenland and Truman
Trump said that President Harry Truman wanted to buy Greenland from Denmark, which is true. But he also said, “President Truman said, ‘What about Greenland?’ And he talked about it very openly and it was a big deal at the time.”
Facts First: Truman was not open about his desire to purchase Greenland. As the Washington Post reported, Truman’s 1946 offer to Denmark, $100 million in gold, “didn’t become public knowledge until 1991, when a Copenhagen newspaper came across declassified documents in the National Archives.”
“Yesterday we had the strongest dollar in the history of our country. Yesterday we had the strongest dollar in the history of our country. Now in one way I’m honored by that, but in another way it makes it much harder to export goods, you understand. … It is much harder to compete. We had literally the strongest dollar in the history of our country,” Trump said.
Facts First: The dollar is not the strongest it has ever been against other currencies.
There are various ways to measure the strength of the dollar. The USDX dollar index, which compares the dollar to a group of other countries’ currencies, is hovering around its highest level since 2017 – but the dollar was stronger at various points in 2015, 2016 and 2017, plus several points in the 1980s and early 2000s. The Bloomberg Dollar Spot Index, which compares the dollar against another group of currencies, is around its highest level of the year, but it too was higher in multiple years past.
Trump might perhaps have been confused by the news earlier in the week that Bloomberg’s measure had hit a new 2019 peak.
“I am the one that kept the families together. OK? You remember that, right? Just remember I said it. And now it gets even better. President Obama and others brought the families apart. But I’m the one who kept the families together,” Trump said.
Facts First: Trump did not inherit an Obama policy of routinely separating migrant children from their parents. Separations were rare under Obama. Trump made them standard.
It is technically true that Trump ended the separation policy: in June 2018, he signed an executive order to detain families together. But he was ending his own policy, not Obama’s, and he only signed the order after a furious public outcry.
You can read a fuller fact check of this claim here.
The trade war
“Somebody said, ‘It’s Trump’s trade war.’ This isn’t my trade war. This is a trade war that should’ve taken place a long time ago by a lot of other presidents,” Trump said.
Facts First: This is nonsense. As is obvious, Trump initiated the trade war with China. He defended his decisions in this very exchange with reporters, saying the conflict needed to happen because China has long taken advantage of the United States.
Trump is free to argue that other presidents should have launched a trade war, but not to deny that he was the one who did.
“They had the worst year in 27 years, but I think it was actually 52 or 54 years. It was the worst year they’ve had in half a century,” Trump said while talking about China.
Facts First: China’s official second-quarter GDP growth rate, 6.2%, was the worst since 1992, 27 years ago. There is no basis for the “52 or 54 years” claim.
Trump has correctly cited this “27 years” statistic in the past without questioning it. This week, though, he has begun doubling it. He said Tuesday that “China has had the worst year they’ve had in 27 years” – then added, “And a lot of people are saying the worst year they’ve had in 54 years.”
Experts say China’s official statistics are unreliable, but there is no specific evidence for the “half a century” claim. Derek Scissors, an expert on US economic relations with Asia at the conservative American Enterprise Institute think tank, notes that going past 27 years ago skips over the 1989-to-1992 period in which China’s growth slowed significantly after its 1989 crackdown on protests in Tiananmen Square.
Trump also repeated these false claims he has made on multiple previous occasions:
- The trade deficit with China: He said the trade deficit with China has been $500 billion or more for years. (It has never been $500 billion; it was $381 billion last year when counting goods and services, $420 billion when counting goods alone.)
- His approval rating: He said he has a 94% approval rating among Republicans and the “highest of any Republican” in “history.” (His approval with Republicans is very high, regularly in the 80s and sometimes creeping into the 90s, but it has not been 94% in any recent poll. Trump’s Republican approval peak in Gallup polling ranks sixth out of seven post-World War II Republican presidents.)
- The border wall: He said “tremendous numbers of miles of wall” and “large sections of wall” are being built on the Mexican border. (No new miles have been built during Trump’s presidency, though about 50 miles of replacement barriers had been built as of July, the Washington Examiner reported.)
- Mexican troops on the border: He said, “I want to thank Mexico. They have 26,000 soldiers at our border, and they’re really stopping people from coming in.” (The approximately 26,000 troops are split between the US border and Mexico’s southern border. Trump himself said in late July that 6,000 of the troops were near Guatemala.)