Fact Check: A Look at Trump’s Loud Claims at SOTU Address

Donald Trump took credit for a lot of things in his first State of the Union address. Do his claims add up?

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President Donald Trump delivers his State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington on 31 January.
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US President Donald Trump delivered his first State of the Union address on 31 January, where he credited himself for making the maximum reforms American society and policies.

Here's a fact-check of some of the claims he’s made:

Auto Industry

TRUMP: Many car companies are now building and expanding plants in the United States — something we have not seen for decades.

THE FACTS: He's wrong about recent decades. The auto industry has regularly been opening and expanding factories since before became president. Toyota opened its Mississippi factory in 2011. Hyundai's plant in Alabama dates to 2005. In 2010, Tesla fully acquired and updated an old factory to produce its electric vehicles.

Trump also declared that "Chrysler is moving a major plant from Mexico to Michigan." That's not exactly the case, either. Chrysler announced it will move production of heavy-duty pickup trucks from Mexico to Michigan, but the plant is not closing in Mexico. It will start producing other vehicles for global sales and no change in its workforce is anticipated.

ISIS

TRUMP: Last year I pledged that we would work with our allies to extinguish ISIS from the face of the earth. One year later, I'm proud to report that the coalition to defeat ISIS has liberated almost 100 percent of the territory once held by these killers in Iraq and Syria. But there is much more work to be done. We will continue our fight until ISIS is defeated.

THE FACTS: Although it's true that the Islamic State has lost nearly 100 percent of the territory it held in Syria and Iraq when the US began airstrikes in both countries in 2014, Syria remains wracked by civil war, with much of that country controlled by the government of Russian ally Syrian President Bashar Assad and not by U.S.-allied groups. The Iraqi government has declared itself fully liberated from IS.

The progress cited by Trump did not start with his presidency. The U.S.-led coalition recaptured much land, including several key cities in Iraq, before he took office. And the assault on Mosul, which was the extremists' main stronghold in northern Iraq, was begun during the Obama administration. But in the past year the counter-ISIS campaign has accelerated, based largely on the approach Trump inherited.

He's right that more remains to be done to eliminate IS as an extremist threat, even after it has been defeated militarily. The group is still able to inspire attacks in the West based on its ideology, and it is trying to make inroads in places like Afghanistan and Libya.

Middle-Class Taxes

TRUMP: Our massive tax cuts provide tremendous relief for the middle class and small businesses.

THE FACTS: That depends on how you define "tremendous." The biggest beneficiaries from the tax law are wealthy Americans and corporations.

Most Americans will pay less in taxes this year. The nonpartisan Tax Policy Center estimates that about 80 percent of US households will get a tax cut, with about 15 percent seeing little change and 5 percent paying more.

Middle-class households — defined as those making between roughly $49,000 and $86,000 a year — will see their tax bills drop by about $930, the Tax Policy Center calculates. That will lift their after-tax incomes by 1.6 percent.

The richest 1 percent, meanwhile, will save $51,140, lifting their after-tax incomes by 3.4 percent, or more than twice as much as the middle class.

Tax Cuts

TRUMP: We enacted the biggest tax cuts and reform in American history.

THE FACTS: No truer now than in the countless other times he has said the same. The December tax overhaul ranks behind Ronald Reagan's in the early 1980s, post-World War II tax cuts and at least several more.

An analysis by the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget in the fall put Trump's package as the eighth biggest since 1918. As a percentage of the total economy, Reagan's 1981 cut is the biggest followed by the 1945 rollback of taxes that financed World War II.

Valued at $1.5 trillion over 10 years, the plan is indeed large and expensive. But it's much smaller than originally intended. Back in the spring, it was shaping up as a $5.5 trillion package. Even then it would have only been the third largest since 1940 as a share of gross domestic product.

Rising Wages

TRUMP: After years and years of wage stagnation, we are finally seeing rising wages.

THE FACTS: Actually, they are not rising any faster than they have before. Average hourly pay rose 2.5 percent in 2017, slightly slower than the 2.9 percent increase recorded in 2016.

Most economists say wages should increase at a faster rate as the unemployment rate drops. The unemployment rate stands at a 17-year low of 4.1 percent, but that has done little so far to spark rising wages.

The last time unemployment was this low, in the late 1990s, average hourly pay was rising at a 4 percent pace.

Energy Exports

TRUMP: We are now an exporter of energy to the world.

THE FACTS: There's nothing new in that: The US has long exported all sorts of energy, while importing even more. If Trump meant that the US has become a net exporter of energy, he's rushing things along. The US Energy Information Agency projects that the U.S. will become a net energy exporter in the next decade, primarily because of a boom in oil and gas production that began before Trump's presidency. The Trump White House has predicted that could happen sooner, by 2020. But that's not "now."

Worker Bonuses

TRUMP: Since we passed tax cuts, roughly 3 million workers have already gotten tax cut bonuses — many of them thousands of dollars per worker.

THE FACTS: This appears to be true, but may not be as impressive as it sounds. According to a tally of public announcements by Americans for Tax Reform, a conservative group that supported the tax law, about 3 million workers have gotten bonuses, raises or larger payments to their retirement accounts since the tax law was signed.

That's about 2 percent of the more than 154 million Americans with jobs. The Labor Department said before the tax package was signed into law that 38 percent of workers would likely get some form of bonus in 2017.

Few companies have granted across-the-board pay raises, which Trump and GOP leaders promised would result from the cut in corporate tax rates included in the overhaul. Many, such as Walmart and BB&T Bank, said they will raise their minimum wages. Walmart made similar announcements in 2015 and 2016.

Energy Production

TRUMP: We have ended the war on American energy - and we have ended the war on clean coal.

THE FACTS: Energy production was unleashed in past administrations, particularly Barack Obama's, making accusations of a "war on energy" hard to sustain. Advances in hydraulic fracturing before Trump became president made it economical to tap vast reserves of natural gas. Oil production also greatly increased, reducing imports.

Before the 2016 presidential election, the US for the first time in decades was getting more energy domestically than it imports. Before Obama, George W Bush was no adversary of the energy industry.

One of Trump's consequential actions as president on this front was to approve the Keystone XL pipeline — a source of foreign oil, from Canada.

Immigration

TRUMP: For decades, open borders have allowed drugs and gangs to pour into our most vulnerable communities.

THE FACTS: "Open borders" is an exaggeration. Border arrests, a useful if imperfect gauge of illegal crossings, have dropped sharply over the last decade.

The government under Presidents George W Bush and Barack Obama roughly doubled the ranks of the Border Patrol, and Bush extended fencing to cover nearly one-third of the border during his final years in office. The Obama administration deported more than 2 million immigrants during the eight years he was in office, more than in previous administrations.

Studies over several years have found immigrants are less likely to commit crimes than people born in the United States.

Obama’s Health Law

TRUMP: We repealed the core of the disastrous Obamacare — the individual mandate is now gone.

THE FACTS: No, it's not gone. It's going, in 2019. People who go without insurance this year are still subject to fines.

Congress did repeal the unpopular requirement that most Americans carry insurance or risk a tax penalty but that takes effect next year.

It's a far cry from what Trump and the GOP-led Congress set out to do last year, which was to scrap most of the sweeping Obama-era health law and replace it with a Republican alternative. The GOP blueprint would have left millions more Americans uninsured, making it even more unpopular than "Obamacare."

Other major parts of the overhaul remain in place, including its Medicaid expansion, protections for people with pre-existing conditions, guaranteed "essential" health benefits, and subsidised private health insurance for people with modest incomes.

Border Security

TRUMP: For decades, open borders have allowed drugs and gangs to pour into our most vulnerable communities.

THE FACTS: "Open borders" is an exaggeration. Border arrests, a useful if imperfect gauge of illegal crossings, have dropped sharply over the last decade.

The government under Presidents George W Bush and Barack Obama roughly doubled the ranks of the Border Patrol, and Bush extended fencing to cover nearly one-third of the border during his final years in office. The Obama administration deported more than 2 million immigrants during the eight years he was in office, more than in previous administrations.

Studies over several years have found immigrants are less likely to commit crimes than people born in the United States.

Family Immigration

TRUMP: Under the current broken system, a single immigrant can bring in virtually unlimited numbers of distant relatives.

THE FACTS: It's not happening because the waiting list is so long.

There is currently no wait for US citizens to bring spouses, children under 21 and parents. But citizens must petition for siblings and adult children, and green-card card holders must do the same for spouses and children.

On 1 November, there were 4 million people in line for family-based visas, according to the State Department. The waits are longest for China, India, Mexico and the Philippines. In January, Mexican siblings of US children who applied in November 1997 were getting called, a wait of more than 20 years.

Terrorists

TRUMP: In the past, we have foolishly released hundreds and hundreds of dangerous terrorists only to meet them again on the battlefield, including the ISIS leader, (Abu Bakr) al-Baghdadi, who we captured, who we had, who we released.

THE FACTS: Trump is correct that al-Baghdadi had been released after being detained at Abu Ghraib and Camp Bucca, US detention facilities in Iraq. But Trump made his comment while announcing that he had signed an executive order to keep open the controversial US detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. If he meant that "hundreds and hundreds" of Guantanamo detainees had been released only to return to the battlefield, his math is off.

The office of the Director of National Intelligence said this summer in its most recent report on the subject that of the 728 detainees who have been released from Guantanamo, 122 are "confirmed" and 90 are "suspected" of re-engaging in hostile activities.

Diversity Visas

TRUMP: The third pillar (of my immigration plan) ends the visa lottery — a program that randomly hands out green cards without any regard to skill, merit or the safety of our people.

THE FACTS: That's a highly misleading characterisation. The program is not nearly that random and it does address skills, merit and safety.

The diversity visa program awards up to 50,000 green cards a year to people from underrepresented countries, largely in Africa. It requires applicants to have completed a high school education or have at least two years of experience in the last five years in a selection of fields identified by the Labor Department.

Winners are then randomly selected by computer from that pool of applicants who met the pre-conditions. Winners must submit to extensive background checks, just like any other immigrant.

(This article has been edited for length)

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