FACT CHECK: 5 Claims From Trump’s 2020 State Of The Union Address
President Donald Trump delivered his third State of the Union address before a joint session of Congress Tuesday night.
Here are five checks on his claims.
Claim 1: “Illegal crossings are down 75 percent since May, dropping eight straight months in a row.”
Border Patrol agents at the southern border with Mexico apprehended approximately 36,000 people in January, including migrants who crossed illegally or were declared inadmissible at a port of entry, a Homeland Security official told The Associated Press. An official tally hasn’t been released yet, but that figure, if proven true, would mark the eighth straight month in which such apprehensions have dropped. That would mean a roughly 75 percent decrease from the 144,116 apprehensions Customs and Border Protection reported in May 2019.
The overall decline from May can be partially attributed to seasonal fluctuations. Border arrest numbers typically peak in the spring, when the weather is most favorable for crossings, and bottom out in the summer and winter, when temperatures are more extreme.
The Trump administration has implemented, among other policies aimed at curbing illegal border crossings, the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) program. That initiative, commonly referred to as Remain in Mexico, requires asylum seekers to go back to Mexico while their claims are processed in the U.S. immigration court system. Immigration think tanks and Trump administration officials have cited the MPP program as a significant factor in reducing the number of illegal border crossings.
Claim 2: “After losing 60,000 factories under the previous two administrations, America has now gained 12,000 new factories under my administration.”
According to the Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages, the U.S. has gained roughly 12,000 “manufacturing establishments” between the first quarter of 2017, when Trump took office, and the second quarter of 2019, the most recent available data.
The number of “manufacturing establishments” dropped to 345,287 in the last quarter of 2016, the end of Barack Obama’s two-term presidency, from 398,952 in the first quarter of 2001, the beginning of George W. Bush’s presidency, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). That equates to a decrease in “manufacturing establishments” of 53,665 across those administrations.
It is worth noting that the datasets count small “manufacturing establishments” that employ five people or fewer.
Claim 3: “And I was pleased to announce last year that for the first time in 51 years, the cost of prescription drugs actually went down.”
Trump was likely referring to the consumer price index (CPI) for prescription drugs that the BLS uses to measure “price changes of drugs purchased with a prescription at a retail, mail order, or Internet pharmacy.” The CPI for prescription drugs went down for part of 2019 but has since gone up again, according to The New York Times. It went down 0.6 percent in calendar year 2018, marking the first calendar-year decline in 46 years, according to BLS data.
The Washington Post notes that it’s somewhat arbitrary to measure changes in the CPI for prescription drugs in calendar years because, as a monthly index, the percent change varies by whichever 12-month period it’s measured. For instance, the CPI for prescription drugs declined 0.2 percent for the year ending in July 2013, which would make the president’s record go down to roughly 5.5 years.
Matthew Fiedler, a health care expert with the Brookings Institution, told the Washington Post that the CPI for prescription drugs is a “highly imperfect measure” that does not take “rebates that drug manufacturers pay to insurers and pharmacy benefit managers” into account.
“Thus, the CPI essentially measures the list prices of prescription drugs, not true net prices,” said Fiedler. “Rebates are frequently large, so trends in net prices can differ materially from trends in list prices.”
Claim 4: “In the Senate, we have confirmed a record number of 187 new federal judges.”
Trump doesn’t hold the overall record for federal judge confirmations at this point in a presidential term (at the time of the address). By late January of his first term’s fourth year, former President Jimmy Carter saw 197 federal judges confirmed, and former President Bill Clinton, who ranked third behind Trump, saw 186 confirmed, according to the Brookings Institution. Meanwhile, the Heritage Foundation puts Clinton ahead of Trump at 188 federal judge confirmations on Feb. 5 of his first term’s fourth year.
But Trump does have the record over other presidents for total appeals court judges confirmed at the time of the address. Trump’s 50 federal appellate judge confirmations beat out by just two judges the 48 appeals court judges confirmed under Carter, the president with the second highest number at this point in their respective presidencies, according to the Brookings Institution.
Claim 5: “The USMCA will create nearly 100,000 new high-paying American auto jobs.”
The U.S. International Trade Commission examined the impact that the new trade deal with Canada and Mexico would have on jobs in the automobile industry in April. That report estimated the USMCA would only net an employment increase of approximately 28,000 jobs in the sector six years after its implementation. Robert Lighthizer, the current U.S. trade representative, offered a slightly higher estimate in an April 14 statement, putting the increase at 76,000 auto jobs over a five-year period, but it still doesn’t come close to Trump’s 100,000 figure.
Brad Sylvester, Trevor Schakohl, Elias Atienza, Matt Noel and Jonathan Fonti contributed to this report.