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FACT CHECK: President Trump's Duluth Rally Claims

Jun 21, 2018

President Trump addressed a large and enthusiastic crowd of supporters from Minnesota's Iron Range in Duluth on Wednesday. He touted the accomplishments of his first 17 months in office and called for the election of more Republicans in November's midterm elections.

Some of the president's comments were exaggerated, lacked context or were downright false. Here's a roundup:

Immigration

"So the Democrats want open borders. Let everybody come in. Let everybody pour in. We don't care. Let them come in from the Middle East. Let them come in from all over the place. We don't care. We're not going to let it happen. And by the way, today I signed an executive order. We're going to keep families together, but the border is going to be just as tough as it's been."

On Wednesday, when the president reversed his policy of separating children and parents who cross the border illegally, Vice President Pence said, "We believe it's a false choice between whether we are a country of law and order — a country with borders — and a country that demonstrates the compassion and the heart of the American people and respect for families."

But in Minnesota, Trump continued to frame the immigration debate in precisely those false-choice terms. Although the family separation policy was criticized by people across the political spectrum, none of those critics advocated open borders or an end to immigration enforcement. The bipartisan immigration overhaul passed by the Senate in 2013 (but never considered by the House) would have substantially increased border enforcement.

North Korea

"I just got back, as you know, from Singapore where I met Kim Jong Un. And we had a great meeting, great chemistry. We got along really well. ... It was an incredible success. And they said, 'The president gave away so much. He met with them.' I said, 'What else? What am I supposed to do? I have to meet, right?' 'He met!' Now sentence one says a total denuclearization of North Korea. ... We got back our hostages. And I didn't pay $1.8 billion to get back our hostages, paid. We got back our great, fallen heroes, the remains. In fact today already 200 have been sent back. They stopped shooting missiles over Japan. They stopped all nuclear testing. They stopped nuclear research. They stopped rocketry. They stopped everything that you'd want them to stop. And they blew up sites where they test and do the testing. ... Let me tell you this: A year and a half ago, nobody thought that was possible. In fact, before I was elected, everybody assumed we were going to war. It would be a vicious war. ... You know what I gave away? A meeting."

At the Singapore summit, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un did restate his commitment to denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula, but there is no explanation in the Trump-Kim agreement of what that means, no timetable, and no process spelled out for verification. Those details were left for future negotiations.

Kim has suspended nuclear and missile tests and made a show of destroying a nuclear test site. But there is no evidence North Korea has halted research or other aspects of its nuclear program. And while Trump said he secured a promise that Kim would destroy a missile engine test site, that was not included in the written agreement. North Korea has a long history of cheating on pledges to end its nuclear program, and many analysts are skeptical Pyongyang will willingly surrender a program that has been three generations in the making.

While Trump minimizes what Kim received in exchange for his promises, sharing the stage with a U.S. president was a major victory for the dictator — one that eluded his father and grandfather. In addition, the diplomatic outreach is likely to make it difficult to sustain international sanctions against North Korea. Trump himself acknowledged in his Singapore news conference that China has already begun relaxing its trade restrictions with Pyongyang. And Trump voluntarily halted joint military exercises with South Korea, something North Korea has long demanded.

While analysts have worried for years about North Korea's growing nuclear capability, it was not widely assumed before Trump's election that war was likely. In fact, fears of a shooting war only increased with Trump's own bellicose rhetoric in 2017.

North Korea has begun the process of repatriating the remains of U.S. service members killed in the Korean War. A spokesman for U.S. forces in Korea told the Washington Post Wednesday that the transfer could take place in the coming days.

Justice Department's inspector general's report

"Have you been watching what's been going on with the Inspector General's report? What a scam this whole thing is? Okay? How guilty is she? With Peter [Strzok] and his lover, Lisa Page? I don't think their wife and husband are too happy about that, what do you think? I don't think so. No. But have you been seeing this whole scam? Do you believe what you're seeing? No matter what [Hillary Clinton] did, no matter how many crimes she committed, which were numerous, they wanted her to be innocent. With me, nothing. No collusion, no nothing. And they just wanted to take all of us. They wanted to put us in trouble. And it's not working too well, I'll tell you. Disgusting. Called the phony witch hunt."

The Justice Department's inspector general released a report last week criticizing former FBI Director James Comey and others for their handling of the 2016 probe into Hillary Clinton's use of a private email server when she was secretary of state. The report details text messages between FBI agent Peter Strzok and former FBI attorney Lisa Page showing hostility to then-candidate Trump. However, the inspector general found no evidence that political bias colored the bureau's ultimate decision not to charge Clinton. And the report does not address the subsequent probe of Russian interference in the 2016 election and possible collusion with the Trump campaign.

Trade

"[We] want fair and reciprocal trade. We don't want stupid trade like we had for so long. Stupid trade. Right? Remember the word reciprocal. We have been ripped off by almost every country on Earth. Our friends and our enemies. And I hate to say it, our friends do a bigger and better job than the enemies. But those days are over. Those days are over. And even before we finish off with the trade deals, and we will finish off with the trade deals — people don't realize we have the cards, because we're the piggy bank that everybody was robbing for 30 years. We're like the piggy bank. Let's go get some more. You look at the European Union. They put up barriers so that we can't sell our farm products in. And yet they sell Mercedes and BMW, and the cars by the millions. And we hardly tax them at all. They don't take our cars and if they do, the tax is massive."

Trump has ordered stiff tariffs on imported steel and aluminum and is weighing possible tariffs on imported cars. The steel tariffs are designed to boost the domestic steel industry, which would be a boon to the iron mines of northeastern Minnesota. But the tariffs also raise prices for the more numerous companies that use steel. And trading partners such as Canada and the European Union have responded with tariffs of their own on U.S. exports, including agricultural products.

Trump is correct that trade barriers in Europe tend to be higher than those in the U.S. However, he overlooks the fact that many "import" auto companies, including Mercedes and BMW, also manufacture cars in the United States.

Economy

"We've created 3.4 million new jobs since election day. 3.4. And I've said before, if I would have said that to you during the campaign, those very dishonest people back there, the fake news — very dishonest — they would have said he's exaggerating."

"For the first time in 20 years, wages are rising."

"Nobody has seen growth like we have right now."

Trump actually understates the number of jobs the U.S. has added since Election Day. The correct figure is 3.6 million. However, no one would have suspected Trump of exaggerating the potential for job growth, since U.S. employers added even more jobs — 4.1 million — in the comparable period before the election.

Trump is incorrect that wages are rising for the first time in 20 years. Wages have been rising, albeit slowly, for several years. There is considerable variation in wage gains among different classes of workers.

Late last year, as Congress was preparing to pass the GOP tax cut, Trump predicted it would boost economic growth to "4, 5, maybe even 6 percent." Although the economy grew at a subdued pace of 2.2 percent in the first quarter of this year, forecasters expect a sharp rebound in the current quarter, with estimated growth of 4.5 percent or even higher. That would represent the strongest quarterly growth since 2014.

The big question is how long such rapid growth will last. The administration argues tax cuts and deregulation will usher in a period of sustained growth of 3 percent or higher. Others, like the Congressional Budget Office, warn that we're witnessing a temporary "sugar high" and that growth will slow to 2 percent or less in a year or two, once the effects of the tax cut and increased government spending wear off.

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