Fact check: Trump's Tulsa rally littered with familiar false claims
Posted June 21, 2020 12:01 p.m. EDT
In his first rally in more than three months, President Donald Trump repeated a bunch of false claims he has made before. Trump's return to the rally circuit, in a Tulsa, Oklahoma, arena that was not full, featured familiar inaccurate accusations about Democratic opponent Joe Biden, about his handling of the coronavirus pandemic, about health care and a variety of other subjects.
In a speech that lasted for more than an hour and forty minutes, Trump also called for the burning of the US flag to be illegal, claimed victory over a recent loss in the Supreme Court, and spent 10 minutes on a story about walking down a ramp.
Here's a look at what Trump got wrong.
West Point ramp
Trump engaged in an extensive discussion of his recent speech at West Point on June 13, and his careful descent down a ramp afterward.
The President explained that the reason he was so careful walking down the ramp was that he was wearing "leather bottom shoes" and worried that he might slip due to the lack of traction.
At one point during his explanation Saturday night, Trump repeated the claim he made on Twitter June 13 that he ran down the ramp for the final 10 feet.
Facts First: It's not true that Trump ran for the final 10 feet of his descent down the ramp on June 13.
Video shows that Trump walked slowly for almost all of the descent, then slightly picked up the pace for the final three steps or so. (Ran is also a stretch, but we'll let that slide.) This all might appear trivial, but Trump's halting descent fueled questions about his health and it was yet another example of Trump trying to deceive Americans about facts they could see with their own eyes.
Trump said in Saturday's rally that the US will have "close to 300 federal judges appointed and approved" by the end of his first term as President.
Facts First: While we don't usually check promises, here's the context for Trump's claim.
According to Russell Wheeler, a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution who tracks judicial appointments, Trump had gotten 198 judges confirmed as of June 12. Wheeler told CNN: "If the Senate confirms all 43 pending nominees AND he nominates and the Senate confirms judges to the 30 current vacancies that have no nominees AND 29 additional vacancies occur by the end of the year and he submits nominees for all of them and the Senate confirms then, ONLY then" will he have appointed a record 300 judges.
Coronavirus travel restrictions
Trump said he shut down the United States to "all people from China" and later, "closed it down to Europe."
Facts First: Trump was exaggerating or speaking too broadly.
Trump never imposed a complete "ban" on European nationals or people traveling from Europe. Rather, he imposed restrictions on travel from most European countries -- but exempted other European countries. Furthermore, the travel restriction policy his administration announced January 31, which took effect February 2, was not a complete ban on China or a total border closure.
It prohibited most people who had been in China in the previous 14 days from entering the US, but it made significant exceptions -- for not only US citizens but permanent residents, many of the family members of citizens and permanent residents, and some other groups of people. The New York Times reported April 4 that nearly 40,000 people had flown to the US from China since the restrictions went into effect in early February.
And his restrictions on Europe did not apply to some people traveling from there: US citizens, permanent US residents, certain family members of both citizens and permanent residents, and some other groups of travelers. Trump's restrictions initially applied to the 26 countries in the Schengen Area, a European zone in which people can move freely across internal borders without being subjected to border checks. Trump later added the United Kingdom and Ireland. That still left out some European countries, including Croatia, Serbia, Romania, Ukraine and Russia.
The President claimed his administration was responsible for passing VA choice, which provided the Department of Veterans Affairs more resources to improve access for veterans and allow them to seek care from non-VA providers.
Trump later added to the falsehood, saying "for decades and decades they wanted to get it done."
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. In 2018, Trump signed the VA Mission Act, which expanded and changed the Choice program.
Trump feigned confusion about the timing of NFL commissioner Roger Goodell's June 5 video statement condemning racism, saying nobody was even asking for it.
Facts First: It's not true that nobody was asking Goodell to make such a statement; prominent NFL players, among others, had pressured him to do so. In fact, Goodell's statement included, word for word, two of the sentences that a group of players had said that they wanted to hear the NFL say: "We, the National Football League, condemn racism and the systematic oppression of black people" and "We, the National Football League, believe that black lives matter."
Trump claimed in Saturday's rally that Biden apologized for criticizing Trump's travel restrictions on China.
"When I took early and decisive action to ban travel from China and protect Americans from the virus," Trump said. "Joe Biden opposed my decision and called it hysteria. Xenophobia. He doesn't know what the word means. Xenophobia. And fear mongering. And then he apologized a month later. He said he was wrong. But he didn't say it."
Facts First: Biden's campaign announced in early April that he supports Trump's travel restrictions on China. But neither Biden nor his campaign apologized for any previous criticism of Trump. The campaign says that the Biden comments Trump has described as criticism of the China restrictions -- in which Biden said Trump has a record of "hysterical xenophobia" and "fear mongering" -- were not about the travel restrictions at all.
The campaign says Biden did not know about the China restrictions at the time of the January 31 speech in which he made these remarks, since his campaign event in Iowa started shortly after the briefing during which the China restrictions were revealed by Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar. Given the timing of the Biden remarks, it's not unreasonable for the Trump campaign to infer that Biden was talking about the travel restrictions.
But Biden never took an explicit position on the restrictions until his April declaration of support -- and whether or not you accept his campaign's argument that the "xenophobia" claim was not about the restrictions, he certainly hasn't apologized.
Democrats and borders
Trump claimed Biden and the Democrats "want open borders."
Facts First: Prominent Democrats, including presumptive presidential nominee Joe Biden, do not support completely unrestricted migration, as Trump suggests.
While Biden has proposed a liberalization of immigration policy, including a moratorium on deportations for his first 100 days in office and taking in more refugees, he is not proposing to allow people to walk across the borders unfettered. His immigration plan says, "Like every nation, the U.S. has a right and a duty to secure our borders and protect our people against threats." In 2019, Biden explicitly opposed Democratic opponents' proposals to decriminalize the act of crossing the border illegally, saying, "It's a crime."
Though the Democratic majority in the House opposes Trump's signature proposal for a border wall, congressional Democrats have long supported other border security measures.
During the rally, Trump told the crowd that his administration would protect those with pre-existing health conditions."We'll always protect patients with pre-existing conditions always, always," Trump said.
Facts First: Trump's claim about protecting those with pre-existing conditions is misleading. Though Trump says he would do this, his administration has consistently taken steps to undermine the Affordable Care Act -- including joining a lawsuit aimed at striking down the law -- without presenting alternative plans that would offer similar benefits.
Iran and the $150 billion
Trump also claimed Saturday that Obama "gave [Iran] $150 billion dollars" and "$1.8 billion in green cash."
"President Obama gave them 150 billion dollars for nothing, and almost more incredibly, he gave him $1.8 billion in green cash. Beautiful cash. And now they're not doing so well, are they? They're not doing so well," Trump said.
Facts First: The Iran Deal unlocked Iranian assets that were previously frozen due to sanctions, but it's unclear how much those assets were worth -- $150 billion is the highest estimate provided by US officials, and it's thought that Iran could not have accessed all of that money because much of it was tied up in projects overseas. The Obama administration did transfer $1.7 billion to Iran in two cash payments in 2016.
At the time, the US Treasury Department estimated that the usable liquid assets Iran would be able to access would equal "a little more than $50 billion," Adam Szubin, then acting Under Secretary of Treasury, said during a 2015 hearing to the Senate Banking Committee.
And Trump's assertion that Obama "gave" Iran this money is not quite accurate. As part of the deal (which multiple countries were involved in), Iranian assets that existed in banks and financial institutions across the world were unfrozen.
As to Trump's claim that Obama gave Iran "$1.8 billion in green cash," that's roughly true. As part of a settlement, Obama transferred $1.7 billion in cash to Iran in 2016. The administration also used the money to pressure Iran to release several American prisoners.
The Obama administration maintained that the payments were made as a reimbursement to Iran for military equipment that the country had purchased from the US in the late 1970s but the US never delivered on. The entire $1.7 billion, given in two separate payments of $400 million and $1.3 billion, was provided in cash. The timing of the first payment corresponded with Iran's release of the American prisoners, which occurred the same day.