Fact check: True to form, Trump makes multiple false claims in his final comments in office
Posted January 20, 2021 4:07 p.m. EST
CNN — President Donald Trump made false claims from the first hours of his term to the last.
Trump repeated some of his favorite falsehoods in both his farewell video address, which was released on Tuesday, and in his final speech on Wednesday morning at Joint Base Andrews.
One more time, here is a fact check roundup.
In the video address, Trump said he appointed "nearly 300 federal judges." In his final speech, similarly, Trump said he got "almost 300 federal judges and three great Supreme Court justices." He added in the speech: "That's a record-setting number."
Facts First: Trump was incorrect, both with his number and with his claim to have set a record. He got 234 total judges confirmed to the Supreme Court, district courts and appeals courts, according to figures from Brookings Institution visiting fellow Russell Wheeler; even if you round generously, that doesn't qualify as almost 300. And President Jimmy Carter appointed 261 total judges, according to Wheeler -- 39% of the judgeships available at the time compared to Trump's 27%.
Trump claimed in the video address, for more than the 160th time as President, that he is the one responsible for the creation of the Veterans Choice health care program: "We passed VA Choice." (He made a less explicit version of the claim in his final speech.)
Facts First: Trump was wrong again. Former President Barack Obama signed the Veterans Choice program into law in 2014. What Trump signed was a 2018 law, the VA MISSION Act, that modified and expanded the eligibility criteria of the Choice program.
The 2014 law Obama signed, which allowed certain veterans to be covered by the government for health care provided by doctors outside the VA system, was a bipartisan initiative spearheaded by two senators Trump repeatedly criticized, Bernie Sanders of Vermont and the late John McCain of Arizona.
We've called Trump's claim that he got Veterans Choice one of his 15 most notable lies in office.
Oil and gas production
Trump claimed in the video address: "We also unlocked our energy resources and became the world's No. 1 producer of oil and natural gas by far."
Facts First: While US energy production did indeed increase under Trump, Trump does not deserve credit for the US reaching the number-one spot in overall energy production. The US actually became the world's top total producer of oil and natural gas under President Barack Obama in 2012, according to data published by the government's Energy Information Administration. It was crude oil in particular in which the US became the world's top producer during Trump's tenure.
"The United States has been the world's top producer of natural gas since 2009, when US natural gas production surpassed that of Russia, and it has been the world's top producer of petroleum hydrocarbons since 2013, when its production exceeded Saudi Arabia's," the Energy Information Administration says.
The border wall
Trump claimed in the video address that, under him, the US had built "more than 450 miles of powerful new wall."
Facts First: This needs context. It is true that more than 450 miles of border barriers were built under Trump -- 453 miles as of January 8, 2021, according to official US Customs and Border Protection statistics provided to CNN's Priscilla Alvarez. However, just 47 of these 453 miles were erected where no barriers had existed before.
Of the other 406 miles: 351 miles replaced previously existing primary barriers that the government describes as dilapidated or outdated; 22 miles replaced previously existing dilapidated or outdated secondary barriers; 33 miles were new secondary barriers where there had previously been only primary barriers.
We shouldn't dismiss the significance of even replacement barriers, since many of the Trump-era barriers are significantly bigger, more expensive and more controversial than the barriers they replaced. But it's worth noting that Trump did not put 450 miles of barriers on terrain that previously had no defenses whatsoever.
Trump's 2020 vote total
Trump claimed in his final speech that "we just got 75 million votes," a record for a sitting president.
Facts First: This is another little exaggeration. Trump received 74.2 million votes in the 2020 election, which does not round to 75 million. Trump's total is indeed a record for a sitting president, but Trump also did not acknowledge that Joe Biden got over 7 million more votes than he did.
- Tara Subramaniam
Trump boasted in the video address that he "achieved record low unemployment for African Americans, Hispanic Americans, Asian Americans, women..."
Facts First: There are two inaccuracies here. First, the unemployment rate for women never hit a record low under Trump. (Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, it was among the lowest in US history but not the very lowest.) Second, the unemployment rates for all of these groups are no longer anywhere near record levels; Trump's boast ignores the fact that unemployment rates skyrocketed early in the pandemic and remain elevated today.
The December 2020 unemployment rate for African Americans was 9.9%. That is well above the 8.0% of Trump's first full month in office, February 2017, and the record 5.2% of August 2019.
The December 2020 unemployment rate for Hispanic Americans was 9.3%. That is well above the 5.6% of February 2017 and the record 4.0% of September 2019.
The December 2020 unemployment rate for women was 6.7%. That is well above the 4.6% of February 2017 and the record 2.7% of May 1953.
The December 2020 unemployment rate for Asian Americans was 5.8%. (This rate is not seasonally adjusted; the rates for the other groups in this fact check are seasonally adjusted.) That is well above the 3.5% of February 2017 and the record 2.0% of May 2018.
Trump's jobs record
In his final speech, Trump boasted about his record on jobs, saying that we "have such good -- and have had -- such good job numbers. The job numbers have been absolutely incredible." He continued: "When we started, had we not been hit by the pandemic, we would have had numbers that would never have been seen -- already our numbers are the best ever."
Facts First: Trump's grammar makes this claim a little hard to fact check -- he seemed to go back and forth from boasting about the past to boasting about the present -- but he obviously does not "already" have the best jobs record of any president. In fact, thanks to the steep job losses of the pandemic era, he leaves office with the US at about 3 million fewer jobs than when he took office. No other president in the post-World War II era, the period for which we have good official data, has had a negative jobs record.
Trump's record on jobs creation lagged behind that of several other presidents even before the pandemic.
Trump's tax cuts
Trump claimed in both the farewell video and his final speech to have passed the largest tax cuts in US history.
Facts First: Trump's 2017 tax cuts were not the largest in American history. There have been bigger tax cuts whether you measure in inflation-adjusted dollars or as a share of the national economy.
Tax cuts in 1981, 2010, and 2013 were larger, both in inflation-adjusted dollars or as a share of the economy. As a share of the economy, there were even others that were bigger, according to the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, a think tank focused on fiscal policies.
The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, passed in 2017 under Trump, provided for cuts that are among the largest in nominal terms, but even then they are still smaller than tax cuts passed in 2013.
- Katie Lobosco