President Donald Trump had stunningly good jobs data to talk about on Friday. Instead of rising, as expected, the US unemployment rate surprisingly fell to 13.3% in May, as the economy gained 2.5 million jobs.
It was the largest monthly gain in new jobs since the Bureau of Labor Statistics started tracking the data series in 1939.
While Trump did accurately tout these numbers, he also made his usual assortment of lies and exaggerations – delivering a rambling Rose Garden monologue in which he misled Americans about a variety of subjects on which he has been regularly dishonest.
No, Trump wasn’t the one who got the Veterans Choice program created. No, Trump wasn’t left empty ventilator shelves. No, Trump didn’t completely ban travel from China or Europe. No, China isn’t paying for Trump’s tariffs. No, Wuhan wasn’t the only part of China affected by the virus. No, this isn’t the first time the US has lost so many people in a pandemic.
And no, Trump certainly hasn’t done more for black Americans than any other person in the country’s history.
Here is a fact check roundup of Trump’s claims during a supposed “news conference” in which he did not take questions.
Equating the jobs number to racial healing
Trump invoked Floyd’s memory to tout the jobs report, which showed a drop in overall unemployment but also highlighted lingering racial disparities in the US economy.
“Hopefully, George is looking down right now and saying, ‘There’s a great thing that’s happening for our country,’” Trump said on Friday. “There’s a great day for him. It’s a great day for everybody. There’s a great day for everybody. This is a great, great day in terms of equality.”
Trump later suggested his work on the economy was the centerpiece of his efforts to address racial inequality, though he didn’t offer specifics about how he’d rein in abuses by law enforcement, which is the key issue fueling peaceful protests and violent unrest across the nation.
Facts First: Trump’s comment about “equality” is out of sync with reality – the jobs report says white unemployment dropped, but black unemployment ticked up slightly, and was already at a disproportionately high level. As for Trump’s comments regarding Floyd having a “great day,” activists and pundits have already begun weighing in on the wisdom and propriety of that comment. Floyd died on May 25, killed in police custody in what has been ruled a homicide.
Trump’s victory lap came after the Bureau of Labor Statistics announced that 2.5 million jobs were created in May, clawing back some of the 20.7 million jobs that were lost in April. But the job gains weren’t spread proportionately across races. While the white unemployment rate fell from 14.2% to 12.4%, unemployment among blacks essentially remained steady at 16.8%.
About the jobs figures, CNN political correspondent Abby Phillip pointed out on Twitter, “The trend continues: black Americans are the first to lose their jobs and the last to regain them.” CNN Business analyzed the data, which shows that white and Hispanic Americans are starting to feel the recovery, while many African Americans are joining the labor force but not getting hired.
Friends have said Floyd was one of the millions of black Americans whose livelihood was hurt by the coronavirus pandemic. According to the Associated Press, he lost his job as a bouncer at a Minneapolis restaurant and nightclub after the state’s stay-at-home orders forced the establishment to temporarily close.
Later during his Rose Garden appearance, Trump shushed a black reporter who asked why he hasn’t rolled out a plan to deal with systemic racism in America. “You are something,” Trump retorted, adding to the string of fights he has had with PBS reporter Yamiche Alcindor.
Trump insisted that his efforts on the economy would improve race relations, and that African Americans would benefit from the law he signed Friday to ease limits on federal small business loans. He ignored questions about what he would do specifically to address systemic racism.
“What’s happened to our country, and what you now see has been happening, is the greatest thing that can happen for race relations, for the African American community, the Asian American, for the Hispanic American community, for women, for everything,” Trump later said during the bill-signing. “Because our country is so strong — and that’s what my plan is.”
It wasn’t the first time Trump was asked if he has a plan to deal with systemic abuses by law enforcement. He hasn’t articulated any specific proposals or initiatives that he supports, and has simply said, “the police departments (have) to do better.” Trump has deflected these questions by attacking political opponents and spreading misleading claims about peaceful protesters.
The pandemic death toll
Trump said the economic news was especially good because the pandemic was one of the worst things ever to happen in the country. “Our country has never lost 105,000 people,” he said, citing the lower death tolls in the 2001 attack on the World Trade Center and the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor.
“We’ve never lost anything close to this,” he continued.
Facts First: The US coronavirus death toll at the time Trump spoke was over 108,000, according to Johns Hopkins University tracking – and this is not the first time the US has lost so many people, even to a pandemic in particular. An estimated 675,000 Americans were killed in the 1918-1919 flu pandemic, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. More than 600,000 soldiers are estimated to have died in the Civil War, including more than 300,000 from the United States side.
China and the coronavirus
Trump claimed the coronavirus spread from the Chinese city of Wuhan to the world, but not to the rest of China: “How come, at Wuhan, where it started – and they were very badly, were in bad trouble – but it didn’t go to any other parts, it didn’t go to Beijing, it didn’t go to other parts of China.”
Facts First: It’s not true that the virus didn’t spread to other parts of China beyond Wuhan. By late January, at least 14 Chinese provinces had 100 or more confirmed cases, NPR reported then. In May, a cluster of new cases in China’s northeast, more than a thousand miles from Wuhan, prompted China to impose lockdown measures there. There have been hundreds of confirmed cases in Beijing.
While discussing working with governors, Trump claimed that the National Guard was “barely used” in response to the recent protests across the US.
Facts First: Though it’s unclear what Trump meant by “barely used,” as of Friday, more than 41,500 members of the National Guard have been deployed across 33 states and DC in response to protests and civil unrest across the nation.
The National Guard has played a supporting role in responding to the protests, with state and local law enforcement agencies taking responsibility for security.
Combined with the approximately 37,400 members responding to the coronavirus pandemic, this is the largest number of National Guard members ever deployed domestically according to the National Guard Bureau. The previous high was in response to Hurricane Katrina, when about 51,000 members were activated to assist New Orleans residents.
Trump and African Americans
Trump said, “Nobody has ever done for the black community what President Trump has done.” He cited various professed accomplishments, including the criminal justice reform bill he signed, funding he approved for historically black colleges and universities, and the Opportunity Zones tax-break program that was part of his 2017 tax law.
Facts First: We give Trump broad leeway to express opinions, but this opinion is objectively inaccurate even if he is only comparing himself to previous presidents – as a variety of historians pointed out recently to the Washington Post. President Abraham Lincoln emancipated the slaves and won the Civil War. President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act, monumental bills whose impact dwarfed the impact of anything Trump has signed.
When Trump made another version of this boast in a Wednesday tweet, he conceded that there is a “possible exception” for Lincoln. This time, he did not make any such concession.
Most black people evidently do not agree that Trump has been their greatest-ever champion. In a June 2-3 NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll, for example, Trump had 12% approval with African Americans, while 85% disapproved.
Trump also repeated multiple false claims he has made before:
On the economy
Trump said he had created “up to 600,000” manufacturing jobs before the coronavirus pandemic.
Facts First: Trump was exaggerating. The economy added 483,000 manufacturing jobs between January 2017, when Trump took office, and February 2020, the highest point for manufacturing jobs this year before the coronavirus-related collapse began, official data shows. It’s also worth noting that by the end of last year, the manufacturing sector had already tipped into recession. You can read more here.
About US coronavirus response
Trump claimed he stopped people from coming into the US from China “very early on.”
Facts First: Trump continued to allow travel from China during the pandemic. The travel restriction policy the administration announced January 31 prohibited most people who had been in China in the previous 14 days from entering the US, but made several significant exceptions – for citizens, permanent residents, many of the family members of citizens and permanent residents, and some others.) You can read a longer fact check here.
Trump also claimed he closed the US to Europe.
Facts First: Trump imposed restrictions on travel from most European countries – but exempted several, including Ukraine, Croatia, Romania and Russia. He also exempted citizens, permanent residents, and many family members.
When it came to medical resources like ventilators, Trump claimed, “The previous administration left us empty cupboards.”
Facts First: It’s not true that the Trump administration was left no ventilators or entirely empty shelves of other supplies, though it did have depleted stocks of some supplies like masks. You can read more here.
On his administration’s accomplishments
Trump said he got “Choice approved for our vets” after others had tried for decades.
Facts First: The Veterans Choice bill, a bipartisan initiative led by senators Bernie Sanders and the late John McCain, was signed into law by President Barack Obama in 2014. Trump signed a different law, the VA MISSION Act, that modified and expanded the Choice program.
Trump claimed the US had received tens of billions of dollars in tariff revenue that China, not Americans, paid for.
Trump said the US had given China $500 billion a year.
Facts First: There has never been a $500 billion trade deficit with China. The 2018 deficit was $381 billion when counting goods and services, $420 billion when counting goods alone.
This story has been updated.