AP FACT CHECK: The Democratic debates and Trump counterpunch
WASHINGTON (AP) — In his typically boastful rally this past week, Donald Trump placed himself too high in the pantheon of presidents when it comes to getting his judicial picks on federal courts. He's been having a good run on that front but he's not where he said he is — ranking right under George Washington, no less.
Much of the week was filled with the cacophony of Democratic presidential candidates having their say on the debate stage. Their pronouncements did not always fit with the facts. They skewed reality on climate science, immigration policy, the auto industry and more.
TRUMP, on his record of filling federal judicial appointments: "There's only one person ... who percentage-wise has done better than me with judges." — Cincinnati rally Thursday.
THE FACTS: No, at least four have done better.
Trump is properly ceding first place to George Washington, who had a judiciary entirely made up of his choices simply because he was the first president. But he's not acknowledging that at least three modern presidents had a better record than Trump of getting their judicial choices on the courts. Russell Wheeler, a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution and former deputy director of the Federal Judicial Center, has been keeping track.
He found that Trump's confirmed judges make up 17% of total federal judgeships. At this point in their presidencies, John Kennedy had filled 30% of the federal judiciary, Bill Clinton had filled 20% and Nixon had filled 25%.
BETO O'ROURKE, former U.S. representative from Texas, on global warming: "I listen to scientists on this and they're very clear: We don't have more than 10 years to get this right. And we won't meet that challenge with half-steps, half-measures or only half the country." — Democratic debate Tuesday.
PETE BUTTIGIEG, mayor of South Bend, Indiana: "Science tells us we have 12 years before we reach the horizon of our catastrophe when it comes to our climate." — Democratic debate Tuesday.
ANDREW YANG, entrepreneur: "This is going to be a tough truth, but we are too late. We are 10 years too late." — Democratic debate Wednesday.
THE FACTS: These statements are out of step with science. Climate scientists don't agree on an approximate time frame, let alone an exact number of years, for how much time we have left to stave off the deadliest extremes of climate change. Nor do they think it's too late already.
A report by the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, drawn from the work of hundreds of scientists, uses 2030 as a prominent benchmark because signatories to the Paris climate change agreement have pledged emission cuts by then. But it's not a last-chance, hard deadline for action, as O'Rourke, Buttigieg and others have interpreted it.
"The hotter it gets, the worse it gets, but there is no cliff edge," James Skea, co-chairman of the report, told The Associated Press.
Climate scientists certainly see the necessity for broad and immediate action to address global warming, but they do not agree that 2030 is a "point of no return," as Buttigieg put it.
"This has been a persistent source of confusion," agreed Kristie L. Ebi, director of the Center for Health and the Global Environment at the University of Washington in Seattle. "The report never said we only have 12 years left."
KAMALA HARRIS, senator from California: "We've got a person who has put babies in cages and separated children from their parents." — Democratic debate Wednesday.
MICHAEL BENNET, senator from Colorado, in a message directed at Trump: "Kids belong in classrooms not cages." — Democratic debate Wednesday.
TRUMP: "The cages for kids were built by the Obama Administration in 2014. He had the policy of child separation. I ended it even as I realized that more families would then come to the Border!" — tweet Wednesday.
THE FACTS: There's deception on both sides here.
Family separations as a matter of routine came about because of Trump's "zero tolerance" enforcement policy. President Barack Obama had no such policy and Trump's repeated attempts to pin one on him flies in the face of reality. Trump only ended — or suspended — what Trump had started, and that was after a judge ordered that the practice be sharply curtailed and as an international uproar grew.
Moreover, the American Civil Liberties Union now says in a legal challenge that more than 900 children were separated from their parents at the border in the year after the judge's order.
The Obama administration also separated migrant children from families when a child's safety appeared at risk with the adults or in other limited circumstances. But the ACLU says children have been removed after the judge's order for minor transgressions by the adults, like traffic offenses, or for unfounded suspicions of wrongdoing.
Trump, though, is correct in noting that the "cages" — chain-link enclosures inside border facilities where migrants have been temporarily housed, separated by sex and age — were built and used by the Obama administration. Democrats routinely ignore that fact when they assail Trump for what they call the cruelty of putting "babies in cages." The Trump administration has been using the same facilities as the Obama administration.
JOE BIDEN, former vice president, on Obama's approach to people who came to the U.S. illegally as children: "The president came along and he's the guy that came up with the idea, first time ever, of dealing with the Dreamers. He put that in the law." — Democratic debate Wednesday.
THE FACTS: He's wrong that Obama achieved a law protecting those young immigrants. He notably failed on that front. Instead he circumvented Congress and used his executive authority to extend temporary protection, letting them stay in the country if they met certain conditions. The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, as its name implies, merely defers deportations.
Trump, also with executive action, tried to end the program but the effort has been tied up in courts, so the protection continues for now.
CORY BOOKER, senator from New Jersey, on decriminalizing illegal entry at the border: "Doing it through the civil courts means you won't need these awful detention centers that I've been to." — Democratic debate Wednesday.
THE FACTS: Not exactly. It's true that there could be reduced immigration detention at the border if there were no criminal charge for illegal entry. But border officers would still need to process people coming over the border and that could lead to temporary holding, such as the so-called cages that Democrats call inhumane.
Also, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement uses detention to hold people awaiting deportation who have been accused or convicted of crimes more serious than illegal entry.
For example, in December 2018, ICE detained 47,486 people, according to an analysis at Syracuse University. Of those, 29,753 had no conviction, and those people probably would not be in detention if illegal entry were a civil issue. But 6,186 had serious crime convictions, 2,237 had other convictions and 9,310 had minor violations, and those people could still be held, according to the analysis.
BILL DE BLASIO, mayor of New York City, on why he hasn't fired the police officer who used a chokehold on Eric Garner: "For the first time, we are not waiting on the federal Justice Department, which told the city of New York that we could not proceed because the Justice Department was pursuing their prosecution, and years went by and a lot of pain accrued." — Democratic debate Wednesday.
THE FACTS: This is false. The Justice Department did not stop the city from moving forward on the matter. The New York Police Department decided to delay disciplinary proceedings for Officer Daniel Pantaleo on its own accord.
While local officials sometimes defer their investigation as federal prosecutors conduct criminal probes, there was no requirement for the police department to wait for the federal civil rights investigation in weighing a decision about whether to fire Pantaleo. Police Commissioner James O'Neill, who reports to de Blasio, could have fired him at any time.
The Justice Department announced last month that it would not bring any charges in connection with Garner's death. After an internal departmental trial, an administrative judge on Friday recommended that Pantaleo be fired. The officer was suspended pending a decision on whether O'Neill will oust him.
JULIAN CASTRO, former Obama administration housing secretary: "We need to ensure we have a national use of force standard and that we end qualified immunity for police officers so that we can hold them accountable for using excessive force." — Democratic debate Wednesday.
THE FACTS: Castro is correct that qualified immunity, a legal protection shielding public servants from lawsuits for actions they take in the course of their jobs, is a barrier toward holding police officers accountable in court for acts of excessive force.
But officers can nonetheless be criminally prosecuted by state and federal authorities for excessive force.
And qualified immunity is hardly the only hurdle for accountability: sometimes it's the tall burden of proof that stands in the way. The Justice Department brings criminal charges against police officers in cases when it can prove that the officer intentionally violated someone's civil rights by using more force than the law allows. Department officials said they could not make such a case in the investigation Castro and other Democrats were discussing — the 2014 chokehold death in New York of Eric Garner.
ECONOMY and WAGES
TRUMP: "The facts speak far louder than words! The Democrats always play the Race Card, when in fact they have done so little for our Nation's great African American people. Now, lowest unemployment in U.S. history, and only getting better." — tweet on July 28.
THE FACTS: Trump is seeking credit he doesn't deserve for black job growth. He's also wrong to assert that Democrats haven't done anything to improve the economic situation for African Americans.
It's true that black unemployment did reach a record low during the Trump administration: 5.9 percent in May 2018. It currently stands at 6 percent.
But many economists view the continued economic growth since the middle of 2009, when Obama was in office, as the primary explanation for hiring. More important, there are multiple signs that the racial wealth gap is now worsening and the administration appears to have done little, if anything, to specifically address this challenge.
African Americans also had higher income prior to the Trump administration. A black household earned median income of $40,258 in 2017, the latest data available. That's below a 2000 peak of $42,348, according to the Census Bureau.
The most dramatic drop in black unemployment came under Obama, when it fell from a recession high of 16.8 percent in March 2010 to 7.8 percent in January 2017.
BERNIE SANDERS, Vermont senator: "49 percent of all new income is going to the top 1 percent." — Democratic debate Tuesday.
THE FACTS: That is surely exaggerated. The figure comes from a short paper by Emmanuel Saez, an economist at the University of California, Berkeley, and leading researcher on inequality, and doesn't include the value of fringe benefits, such as health insurance, or the effects of taxes and government benefit programs such as Social Security.
But Saez and another Berkeley economist, Gabriel Zucman, have recently compiled a broader data set that does include those items and finds the top 1% has captured roughly 25% of the income growth since the recession ended. That's certainly a lot lower but still a substantial share. Income inequality has sharply increased in the past four decades, but since the recession, data from the Congressional Budget Office shows that it has actually narrowed slightly.
TIM RYAN, U.S. representative from Ohio: "The economic system that used to create 30, 40, 50 dollar-an-hour jobs that you could have a good solid middle-class living now forces us to have two or three jobs just to get by." — Democratic debate Tuesday.
THE FACTS: Most Americans, by far, only work one job, and the numbers who juggle more than one have declined over a quarter century.
In the mid-1990s, the percentage of workers holding multiple jobs peaked at 6.5%. The rate dropped significantly, even during the Great Recession, and has been hovering for a nearly a decade at about 5% or a little lower. In the latest monthly figures, from June, 5.2% of workers were holding more than one job.
Hispanic and Asian workers are consistently less likely than white and black workers to be holding multiple jobs. Women are more likely to be doing so than men.
HARRIS: "Autoworkers we expect, perhaps, hundreds of thousands will be out of jobs by the end of the year." — Wednesday debate.
THE FACTS: This dire prediction is faulty. The auto industry is not facing the imminent risk of such a collapse.
That might have happened — as a worst-case scenario — if Trump had followed through on threats to enact new tariffs and policies that would have hurt the auto industry. But he didn't.
Harris has been citing the Center for Automotive Research's 2018 study , which examined hypothetical job losses across all U.S. industries touched by the auto business — not just the nation's nearly 1 million autoworkers — if Trump introduced certain tariffs and policies.
The study gave a wide range of possible job losses, from 82,000 to 750,000. The findings were later revised in February to a worst-case scenario of 367,000 across all industries by the end of this year. Those hypothetical job losses would be spread across car and parts makers, dealers, restaurants, retail stores and any business that benefits from the auto industry.
The impact on the auto industry was further minimized when the Trump administration lifted tariffs on steels and aluminum products coming from Canada and Mexico.
After a record sales year of 17.55 million in 2016, demand has fallen to an expected 16.8 million new vehicle sales this year. But the industry is still posting strong numbers and is not heading off a cliff.
HARRIS: "Right now in America, we have seniors who every day — millions of seniors — are going into the Medicare system." — Wednesday debate.
THE FACTS: It's more like 10,000 people a day who turn 65 and become eligible for Medicare, which offers coverage for hospitalization, doctor visits, prescription drugs and other services.
Medicare covers more than 60 million people, including disabled people of any age.
BIDEN: "We should put some of these insurance executives who totally oppose my plan in jail for the 9 billion opioids they sell out there." — Wednesday debate.
THE FACTS: Biden must have meant drug company executives, since insurance companies pay for medications — they don't sell them.
HARRIS: "Even though we spend more, we have failed to insure nearly 30 million Americans, and the problem has gotten worse under Donald Trump. Seven million people have lost their health insurance under his presidency." — Medium article published Monday introducing her "Medicare for All" plan.
THE FACTS: Harris is selectively marshaling her evidence, citing a survey that has found a significant increase in the number of uninsured adults under Trump while ignoring others that show coverage basically holding steady.
Under Trump, the U.S. has not advanced in reducing the number of uninsured, but major studies differ on whether there's been significant backsliding, as Harris asserts.
Harris' numbers come from the Gallup National Health and Well-Being Index, which found the uninsured rate among adults has gone up. Gallup reported that nearly 14% of adults were uninsured in the last three months of 2018. That translates to about 7 million more uninsured adults since 2016, the last full year of Obama's tenure. Gallup measured adults only.
However, there's been no major slippage in an ongoing survey from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
CDC estimated that 30.4 million Americans of all ages were uninsured last year, or 9.4% of the population. That compares with 28.6 million uninsured, or 9% of the population, in 2016. CDC says those changes reflected in the National Health Interview Survey are not statistically significant because such surveys are not precise enough to measure differences that small.
An estimate by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office finds an increase of 1.4 million uninsured people under age 65 from 2016 to 2018.
A private study tracks with the government's findings. The Commonwealth Fund's Biennial Health Insurance Survey found no statistically significant change in the uninsured rate among adults ages 19 to 64 from 2016 to 2018, at about 12%.
The picture may get clearer by the time Americans elect their next president. The previous Republican-led Congress repealed "Obamacare" fines on people who remain uninsured. That change took effect this year, and experts believe it will prompt some people to drop coverage. The uninsured rate may well go up, but Harris will have to wait for a definitive ruling.
Associated Press writers Colleen Long, Christopher Rugaber, Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar, Michael Balsamo, Eric Tucker and Ellen Knickmeyer in Washington and Amanda Seitz in Chicago contributed to this report.
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