Fact-checking Trump’s speech declaring a national emergency
President Donald Trump on Friday signed a national emergency declaration to address “an invasion of our country with drugs, with human traffickers, with all types of criminals and gangs.” He also spoke about a wide variety of issues, including trade with China and the national debt.
Here’s a partial rundown of the President’s statements and the context:
Trump: “I built a lot of wall. I have a lot of money and I built a lot of wall.”
As of Friday, no new miles of wall have been constructed during Trump’s tenure, but preparations are underway.
Customs and Border Protection has awarded contracts for around 14 miles of new wall. Construction in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas is expected to begin this month. Site preparations have already begun, according to a senior CBP official.
However, replacement projects have been constructed during Trump’s time in office. A number of contracts have been awarded, funded by appropriations from Congress for the 2017 and 2018 fiscal years. Among them: Nearly $300 million to build 40 miles of replacement structures in multiple locations. As of December, 35 of those 40 miles had been completed, according to Andrew Meehan, CBP’s assistant commissioner for public affairs.
— Geneva Sands
Trump: “A big majority of the big drugs, the big drug loads don’t go through ports of entry”
It’s unclear what exactly Trump is claiming here regarding “big drug loads,” but the majority of hard narcotics seized at the border are coming through ports of entry, not between them as the President continues to claim.
The majority of hard narcotics seized by Customs and Border Protection come through ports of entry either in packages, cargo or with people who attempt to enter the US legally. The only drug that is smuggled in higher numbers between legal entry points is marijuana, according to CBP and the Drug Enforcement Administration.
For example, the majority of the heroin on the southern border flows into the US through privately owned vehicles at legal ports of entry, followed by tractor-trailers, where the heroin is co-mingled with legal goods, according to the DEA’s 2018 annual drug threat assessment. Ninety percent of heroin seized at the border in fiscal year 2018 was apprehended at ports of entry.
The majority of meth, too, is detained at the border. In fiscal year 2018, Customs and Border Protection seized 67,292 pounds of methamphetamine at legal ports of entry, compared with 10,382 pounds by Border Patrol agents in between ports, based on available data.
— Holmes Lybrand and Priscilla Alvarez
Trump: “President Obama put on more debt on this country than every president in the history of our country combined.”
This is false.
From fiscal year 2009 through fiscal year 2017, the national debt — which includes both the money the US government owes to others as well as the money it owes to itself — grew from $11.9 trillion to $20.2 trillion. That’s an addition of about $8.3 trillion, which is less than the debt outstanding when President Barack Obama took office, when President George W. Bush had already begun spending billions of dollars in order to cushion a deepening recession.
Adjusting for inflation, the amount Obama added is even smaller. As a share of gross domestic product, it is far smaller, especially compared to the enormous spike during World War II.
Trump was responding to a question about his own contribution to the national debt, which this week topped $22 trillion for the first time.
— Lydia DePillis
Trump: “China is paying us billions in tariffs.”
The President has made this claim again and again, but this not really what’s happening.
When Trump talks about tariffs, he often talks about the amount of money that is now pouring into the US Treasury. He tends to give the impression that money is being paid by foreign companies. However, most of those tariffs are being paid by US companies that import those foreign goods. The real question is who bears the cost. Often, US companies will pass it on to the consumer by raising prices, while other times a company will reduce compensation or employment internally to offset these higher costs. In some instances, the Chinese supplier might take on the burden of the tariff by reducing its prices in order to maintain its price advantage in the US.
Trump is trying to realign trade so that US products become more competitive with their cheaper Chinese alternatives. That will likely require a long-term adjustment of the US industrial base. In the short term, US consumers and companies will most likely end up bearing the cost of the tariffs. The Tax Foundation said last year that it expects the tariffs to lower the gross domestic product and wages, and cost American jobs, hitting lower- and middle-income households the hardest.
— Holmes Lybrand
Trump: “Two weeks ago, 26 were killed in a gunfight on the border a mile away from where I went.”
The President visited McAllen, Texas, in January, but CNN has found no reports of 26 people killed in a gunfight within a mile of the area Trump visited.
A day earlier, Mexican authorities described a scene as a gang clash: at least 20 bodies, many of them burned, and military-style bullets, according to Irving Barrios Mojica, the attorney general of Tamaulipas. The bodies were found near the Mexican town of Miguel Aleman. The day after Trump’s visit, the Associated Press reported local authorities raised the number killed to 24.
Miguel Aleman is located nearly 130 miles northwest from McAllen as the crow flies, according to Google Maps.
— Gregory Wallace
Trump: “In fact, (Obama) told me he was so close to starting a big war with North Korea.”
While we don’t know what was said during their November 2016 Oval Office meeting, two former Obama administration officials have rebutted Trump’s assertion that Obama was on the verge of starting a war with North Korea.
Trump made this claim when asked about his relationship with North Korea and the progress he felt he’d gained. The conversation between Trump and Obama, which included a warning from Obama about the seriousness of the North Korea situation, was widely covered at the time. But this claim from Trump was not part of that reporting.
Ben Rhodes, Obama’s deputy national security adviser for strategic communications, rebutted Trump’s claim on Twitter, writing that “we were not on the brink of war with North Korea in 2016. Highlighting the longstanding and widely known threat of North Korea’s nuclear program is very different from saying you’re about to start a big war.”
Former CIA Director John Brennan concurred, telling MSNBC that “President Obama was never on the verge of starting any war with North Korea, large or small.”
— Holmes Lybrand
Trump: “We had certain funds that are being used at the discretion of generals, at the discretion of the military. … Some of them haven’t been allocated yet. And some of the generals think that this is more important. I was speaking to a couple of them. They think this is far more important than what they were going to use it for.”
The President did not indicate who he was speaking to and is skipping over an important point about how the military is responding to the request to find money to support building the wall.
The Pentagon says it has sought to protect spending on combat operations and military families and has worked to ensure that the more than $3 billion in military construction funds will be drawn from the lowest priority projects that have not yet been awarded. However, it is hard to assess how “important” or not those projects are as the Pentagon has never publicly listed which projects would be reallocated. Defense officials say identifying the particular allocations has just begun.
— Ryan Browne
Trump: “We will have a national emergency, and we will then be sued, and they will sue us in the 9th Circuit, even though it shouldn’t be there and we’ll possibly get a bad ruling, and then we’ll get another bad ruling and then we’ll end up at the Supreme Court, and hopefully we’ll get a fair shake.”
He’s not wrong to expect lawsuits. House Democrats have been discussing legal options, as have other groups. And it likely will end up at the Supreme Court.
The process would likely go as follows: The case would first go before a federal district judge, then could be appealed to the circuit court and eventually the Supreme Court.
The courts in which these cases would land depend on who is bringing the challenge and where they’re located.
Trump has frequently railed against the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals, which oversees Western states, as “very unfair.” The 9th Circuit ruled against Trump’s travel ban in 2017, a third version of which was eventually taken up to the Supreme Court, which upheld it in 2018.
— Priscilla Alvarez