BY CALVIN WOODWARD AND HOPE YEN
Size matters to President Donald Trump. So much that he exaggerates continually, sometimes spectacularly, the size of what he does.
Just as his tax cuts are far from the biggest in history, the economy isn’t the best ever and his election victory in 2016 was no landslide of historic proportions, Trump’s two trade deals don’t stand atop the field of presidential endeavors. One is a partial settlement of trade grievances with China; the other is a refresh of what past presidents created for North America.
The opening of the Senate impeachment trial stirred other fabrications from the president this past week while Democratic presidential contenders engaged in their final debate before the first votes of the 2020 campaign, in Iowa.
A sampling from a week in political rhetoric:
TRUMP on his trade agreement with China: “This is the biggest deal there is, anywhere in the world by far.’’ — remarks Wednesday at the signing.
TRUMP on the China deal and his updated North American trade agreement: “So we’ve done two of the biggest trade deals. They are the two biggest trade deals in the world ever done.” — remarks at the White House on Thursday.
THE FACTS: Neither claim is true.
The China agreement is not nearly as big as the U.S.-Mexico-Canada agreement, so it’s not the largest ever, much less “by far.” The deal with Canada and Mexico was an update of the long-standing North American Free Trade Agreement worked out by Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton.
The North American agreement also is not the largest ever.
For instance, 123 countries signed the Uruguay Round agreement that liberalized trade and produced the World Trade Organization in 1994. The organization’s initial membership accounted for more than 90% of global economic output, the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston found, and that was before China joined the organization.
Also bigger: the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which would have joined North America with Pacific Rim countries in freer trade. Trump took the U.S. out after the deal was negotiated and before the U.S. ratified it. The European Union was formed from a giant deal.
The China deal leaves tariffs in place on about $360 billion in imports from China and pushes substantial remaining disputes ahead to a second phase of negotiations.
TRUMP: “’We demand fairness’ shouts Pelosi and the Do Nothing Democrats, yet the Dems in the House wouldn’t let us have 1 witness, no lawyers or even ask questions.” — tweet Monday, referring to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.
THE FACTS: Not true. The House Judiciary Committee, which produced the articles of impeachment, invited Trump or his legal team to come. He declined.
Absent White House representation, the hearings proceeded as things in Congress routinely do: Time is split between Democratic and Republican lawmakers to ask questions and engage in the debate. Lawyers for Democrats and Republicans on the committee presented the case for and against the impeachment articles and members questioned witnesses, among them an academic called forward by Republicans.
The first round of hearings was by the House Intelligence Committee and resembled the investigative phase of criminal cases, conducted without the participation of the subject of the investigation. Trump cried foul then at the lack of representation, then rejected representation when the next committee offered it.
His lawyers will participate in the Senate’s impeachment trial.
TRUMP: “You had a fake whistleblower that wrote a report that bore no relationship to what was said. Everything was false.” — remarks Thursday.
THE FACTS: Trump’s statement is false. The whistleblower’s account of a phone call between Trump and Ukraine’s leader in July closely resembled what was said, judging by the rough transcript released later by the White House itself and by the testimony of officials who listened in on the call.
Witnesses in the impeachment hearings and other sources also verified the whistleblower’s description of events before and after the call as Trump and his aides pressed Ukraine to investigate one of Trump’s political rivals, Democrat Joe Biden. The Senate impeachment trial will explore whether Trump abused his power.
TRUMP: “More than 300,000 people under Obama, 300,000 people, left the workforce. Under just three years of my administration, 3.5 million people have joined the workforce.” — Milwaukee rally.
THE FACTS: Trump is wrong about Barack Obama’s record.
More than 5 million people joined the U.S. labor force during Obama’s presidency, according to Labor Department figures. These gains reflect the recovery from the Great Recession as well as population growth. More than 4.8 million people have joined the labor force in three years of Trump’s presidency.
TRUMP: “Under the Trump economy, the lowest-paid earners are reaping the biggest, fastest and largest gains. … Earnings for the bottom 10% are rising faster than earnings for the top 10%, proportionally.” — Milwaukee rally.
THE FACTS: Actually, the top 10% of earners saw the biggest raises of any income bracket over the past year. Their usual weekly earnings jumped 8% or $168, according to the Labor Department. The bottom 10% saw weekly incomes grow 7% or $30.
Over a broader range — the top and bottom 25% — weekly earnings also grew at faster rate for the wealthier group.
TRUMP: “We’ve created 7 million jobs since the election including more than 1 million manufacturing and construction jobs. Nobody thought that was possible.” — Milwaukee rally.
THE FACTS: His numbers are roughly right, though they are less impressive than Trump claims.
Job gains under Trump over the past three years were lower than during the final three years of Obama’s presidency. More than 8 million jobs were added during that period under Obama, including 1.2 million combined in manufacturing and construction. What these figures suggest is that much of the job growth under Trump reflects the momentum from a recovery that officially began in the middle of 2009.
TRUMP: “We have loopholes. Like a visa lottery. We put things in the lottery, and they come in — they become American citizens. Do you think these countries are giving us their finest? Oh, let’s give them our best citizens.” — Milwaukee rally.
THE FACTS: This is a perpetual falsehood from the president. Countries don’t nominate their citizens for the program. They don’t get to select people they’d like to get rid of.
Foreigners apply for the visas on their own. Under the program, citizens of countries named by the U.S. can bid for visas if they have enough education or work experience in desired fields. Out of that pool of qualified applicants, the State Department randomly selects a much smaller pool of tentative winners. Not all winners will have visas approved because they still must compete for a smaller number of slots by getting their applications in quickly.
Those who are ultimately offered visas still need to go through background checks, like other immigrants.
Who’s paying for the wall? Not Mexico.
TRUMP: “Mexico’s paying for the wall. … You know that. It’s all worked out.” — Milwaukee rally.
THE FACTS: Mexico isn’t paying for Trump’s long-promised border wall.
Trump has argued that the updated trade agreement with Canada and Mexico will pay for the wall because of economic benefits he predicts will come from the deal. Nothing in the trade agreement would cover or refund the construction cost or require a payment from Mexico.
Health care reform
TRUMP: “I was the person who saved Pre-Existing Conditions in your Healthcare, you have it now.” — tweet Monday.
THE FACTS: That’s false. People with preexisting medical problems have health insurance protections because of Obama’s health care law, which Trump is trying to dismantle.
One of Trump’s major alternatives to Obama’s law — short-term health insurance, already in place — doesn’t have to cover preexisting conditions. Another alternative is association health plans, which are oriented to small businesses and sole proprietors and do cover preexisting conditions.
Meanwhile, Trump’s administration has been pressing in court for full repeal of the Obama-era law, including provisions that protect people with preexisting conditions from health insurance discrimination.
With “Obamacare” still in place, insurers in the individual marketplace must take all applicants, regardless of medical history, and charge the same standard premiums to healthy people and those who have poor health or past medical problems. Before Obama’s law, any insurer could deny coverage or charge more to anyone with a preexisting condition who was seeking to buy an individual policy.
BERNIE SANDERS: “’Medicare for All’ … will cost substantially less than the status quo.” — Democratic debate.
THE FACTS: There’s no guarantee of that.
The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said in a report last year that total spending under a single-payer system like the Vermont senator and Democratic presidential candidate favors “might be higher or lower than under the current system depending on the key features of the new system.”
Those features have to do with the design of the system, questions such as payment rates for hospitals and doctors, and whether patients are required to pay part of the cost of their care. Sanders says his plan would require no cost-sharing from patients, no copays and no deductibles. But completely free care could trigger a surge in demand for medical services, raising costs. Other countries that provide coverage for all do use cost-sharing to help keep spending in check.
A research report last year by the nonprofit Rand think tank estimated that a Medicare for All plan similar to what Sanders wants would modestly raise total U.S. health spending.
TRUMP, on killing Iran Gen. Qassem Soleimani: “The Democrats and the Fake News are trying to make terrorist Soleimani into a wonderful guy.” — tweet Monday.
TRUMP: “You know what bothers me? When I see a Nancy Pelosi trying to defend this monster from Iran … When Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats want to defend him, I think that’s a very bad thing for this country.” — remarks on Jan. 9 at event on environmental regulations.
THE FACTS: That’s a fabrication. Democrats did not praise or defend the Iranian general. They criticized the action Trump took.
Pelosi called the U.S. missile strike “provocative and disproportionate” while branding Soleimani a “terrible person.” Similarly, Democratic presidential candidates criticized Trump’s strategy and the fact he didn’t notify or consult Congress in advance, while making clear they considered Soleimani anything but “wonderful.”
The Iranian was “a murderer, responsible for the deaths of thousands, including hundreds of Americans,” said Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren.
Even so, Republican Rep. Doug Collins of Georgia asserted Democrats were “in love with terrorists” then retracted the statement and apologized.
“I left parts of my body in Iraq fighting terrorists,” Democratic Sen. Tammy Duckworth of Ilinois, a former Army pilot who lost both her legs while serving in Iraq, told CNN after hearing Collins’ initial remarks. “I don’t need to justify myself to anyone.”
Associated Press writers Josh Boak, Paul Wiseman, Robert Burns, Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar, Lisa Mascaro, Deb Riechmann, Jill Colvin, Colleen Long and Kevin Freking in Washington and Amanda Seitz in Chicago contributed to this report.