FactCheck.org is a project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania that aims to reduce the level of deception and confusion in U.S. politics. We will be featuring their work as part of our convention coverage.
The president headlined the night’s speeches, and a few of his boasts of his record headline our fact-checking report:
- President Barack Obama claimed that under his administration, “we finally began to wean ourselves off foreign oil,” but dependency on imported oil had begun to drop years before he took office.
- The president repeated a frequent boast that the U.S. “doubled our production of clean energy” during his tenure. Monthly renewable energy production has gone up 40 percent.
- Obama said deficits have “come down” under his administration. That’s true, but they are expected to rise again soon under his proposed budget.
- Vice presidential nominee Tim Kaine falsely referred to economist Mark Zandi as “John McCain’s chief economic adviser during the ’08 race,” in touting an estimate of job loss under Donald Trump’s proposals. In fact, Zandi is a Democrat.
- Rev. Jesse Jackson wrongly said “we have not lost a single job, a single month” since Obama became president, and he was also off in saying the U.S. trades “more with Mexico than we do with China.”
- Former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta falsely claimed that Trump “says he gets his foreign policy experience from … running the Miss Universe pageant.” Trump didn’t say that was his foreign policy experience.
- Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid claimed that the GOP ticket wanted to “gamble” Social Security “in the stock market.” But Trump’s campaign has called for making no changes to Social Security.
- Kaine claimed that Trump said he “wants to abandon” our NATO allies. Trump has said that he doesn’t want the U.S. to leave NATO, but has suggested he would not automatically defend NATO allies that do not pay their share of defense costs.
Note to Readers: This story was written with the help of the entire staff, including some of those based in Philadelphia who are at the convention site. As we did for the Republican National Convention, we intend to vet the major speeches at the Democratic National Convention for factual accuracy, applying the same standards to both.
Foreign Oil Dependency
President Obama made a misstep when he said, “After decades of talk, we finally began to wean ourselves off foreign oil” under his administration.
Actually, U.S. dependency on imported oil had already begun to decline years before Obama first took office.
According to official figures from the U.S. Energy Information Administration, dependency peaked in 2005, when the nation imported 60.3 percent of the crude oil it consumed. But that percentage dropped to 57 percent in 2008, the year before Obama was sworn in.
It’s true that U.S. dependency had continued to drop during Obama’s time — down to 24 percent last year.
But the fact is the decline “began” well before Obama entered the White House. Also, dependency has now begun to rise again due to low oil prices and reduced U.S. drilling. The U.S. imported 26.6 percent of its crude oil in the first half of 2016.
And Clean Energy Growth
Obama also repeated his frequent, and inflated, boast that during his time in office the U.S. “doubled our production of clean energy.”
Monthly renewable energy production has increased by about 40 percent from January 2009 to April 2016, far from the 100 percent increase Obama claimed. While it is true that wind and solar power have more than doubled since 2008 (they’ve nearly quadrupled, in fact), they represent only part of the renewable energy picture. Less than a third of renewable energy consumption in April came from wind and solar.
As we wrote back in 2012 when Obama made a similar claim, the largest category of renewable energy is biomass, such as ethanol that is blended in gasoline. And the second-biggest category is hydropower — electricity generated from dams. Together, hydroelectric power and biomass accounted for nearly 70 percent of renewable energy consumption in April.
Deficits to Rise Again
Boasting of his post-recession record, President Obama said that “we’ve seen deficits come down.” They have, but deficits will soon begin to rise again under the president's proposed budget unless his successor cuts spending or increases taxes, or both.
It’s true that annual federal deficits have declined since peaking at $1.4 trillion in fiscal year 2009 — a deficit Obama largely inherited from a budget signed into law by his predecessor, George W. Bush. The decline was slow at first with deficits stubbornly remaining above the $1 trillion mark for four straight years.
Since then, the yearly deficits have declined markedly. In fiscal year 2015, which ended last Sept. 30, the deficit was $438 billion, a drop of 69 percent from FY 2009.
In an analysis of Obama’s fiscal year 2017 budget, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office projects deficits will continue to fall for two more years. But it also warned about the return of growing deficits in the 10-year period covered by the analysis.
CBO, March: Under the President’s proposals, CBO estimates, the deficit would total $529 billion in 2016. It would fall to $433 billion in 2017, fall further to $383 billion in 2018, and then increase in most subsequent years, eventually growing to $972 billion in 2026.
In its analysis of the presidential budget proposal, the bipartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget said the plan would “stabilize the debt as a share of the economy,” but it “does not go far enough” to reduce the debt “from its current record-high levels.”
The CBO analysis showed that federal debt owed to the public was 73.6 percent of GDP in 2015, and will creep up under the budget plan to 77.4 percent by 2026.
Kaine Wrong on McCain Adviser
Vice presidential nominee Tim Kaine repeated a shopworn Democratic falsehood when he referred to economist Mark Zandi as “John McCain’s chief economic adviser.”
Kaine: John McCain’s chief economic adviser during the ’08 race … estimates that Trump’s promises would cause America to lose 3.5 million jobs.
It’s true that Moody’s Analytics, where Zandi is chief economist, issued a report last month concluding that the combined effects of Trump’s policy proposals on taxes, government spending, immigration and international trade — if fully implemented — would cause “a decline of 3.4 million jobs” during the four years of a Trump presidency.
Zandi was lead author of that study, and he’s a well-respected business economist. But he wasn’t the 2008 GOP nominee’s “chief” economic adviser. He’s not even a Republican. Kaine and other Democrats have adopted the bad habit of referring to him that way in the hope that it will give added weight to whatever Zandi says that’s critical of Republican policy.
Kaine is a serial offender in this bit of petty deceit. Nearly six years ago, in September 2010, Kaine described Zandi that way in a Sunday talk show, when Kaine was chairman of the Democratic National Committee. What we wrote then still goes:
FactCheck.org, Sept. 7, 2010: Kaine got it wrong when he called economist Mark Zandi “John McCain’s chief economics adviser.” … It’s true that Zandi was one of those who offered advice to McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign. But as we’ve reported before, he says he’s a registered Democrat, and he was just one of several economists who advised McCain. His chief economic adviser was Douglas Holtz-Eakin.
What we reported prior to that was that Zandi said in a 2009 interview: “I’m a registered Democrat.” Zandi said in that same 2009 Washington Post interview that he had agreed to advise McCain at the request of an old friend, McCain’s chief economic adviser, Douglas Holtz-Eakin. Zandi also advises Democrats.
And last year, Zandi gave $2,700 — the legal maximum — to Hillary Clinton’s primary campaign.
Jesse Jackson, Off-Script
Rev. Jesse Jackson — departing from his prepared remarks — made two false claims, about trade and about Obama’s record on jobs.
Jobs: Jackson said: “He came in office, we lost 800,000 jobs. We have not lost a single job, a single month since Barack has been president.”
That’s off by a mile.
It’s true that the U.S. was losing jobs at the rate of hundreds of thousands per month at the time Obama first took office, but that hemorrhaging continued for months afterward as well.
The loss in total nonfarm employment, officially measured by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, was 769,000 in November 2008, 695,000 in December and 791,000 in January 2009.
Every month of Obama’s first year in office showed losses, and there were five months in 2010 that also showed losses. In all, the U.S. lost close to 4.4 million jobs in the months before Obama took office, but it lost a little more than 4.3 million more in the opening months of Obama’s term — not hitting bottom until February 2010.
Trade: Jackson said, “We trade more with Mexico than we do with China and Japan every day.”
Not so. It’s true that the U.S. trades more with Mexico than with Japan — but not more than it trades with China.
Total trade in goods (the value of all exports plus the value of all imports) between Mexico and the U.S. was $214 billion in the first five months of this year, according to the U.S Census Bureau. That’s a bit less than the $216 billion total trade with China.
And that’s been true for years. Trade in goods with China has exceeded that with Mexico for all of 2015, and for all of 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011 and 2010 as well. We had to go back more than a decade, to 2005, to find a year in which trade with Mexico exceeded that with China.
Foreign Policy and Pageants
Former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta falsely claimed that “Donald Trump says he gets his foreign policy experience from … running the Miss Universe pageant.”
Panetta was referring to a Trump interview with Fox News anchor Bret Baier in May. Aswe’ve written before, Baier asked Trump whether he had talked to Russian President Vladimir Putin. Trump refused to answer, and went on to say that “I know Russia well” because “I had a major event in Russia two or three years ago,” referring to the 2013 pageant.
But Trump didn’t go so far as to say that the pageant was an example of his foreign-policy experience, and Baier never asked him that question.
Hillary Clinton has made similar claims, saying that Trump “says he’s qualified to be commander in chief because he took Miss Universe to Moscow.”
Reid’s Outdated Social Security Claim
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid dredged up an old Democratic talking point in claiming that, “Donald Trump and Mike Pence want to gamble with your retirement benefits in the stock market.” But Trump has said he wants to “leave [Social Security] the way it is.”
Pence supported a plan more than a decade ago that would have allowed younger workers to voluntarily invest part of their Social Security taxes in private mutual funds. Trump advocated something like that 16 years ago, but not now.
We’ve seen Reid’s claim over and over again, and it usually refers to a lawmaker’s support for President George W. Bush’s 2005 proposal for private accounts. And, in fact, Pence, then a congressman, did back Bush’s plan. But that called for voluntary private accounts and limiting how much workers could put into them — plus the accounts would have been government-approved mutual funds. The plan wouldn’t have forced anyone to have their Social Security taxes “gamble[d]” on the stock market.
Trump, however, hasn’t called for any such thing in this campaign. In fact, he said in a March GOP debate, “I will do everything within my power not to touch Social Security, to leave it the way it is.” And in response to an AARP request for information on his stance, Trump said, “The key to preserving Social Security and other programs that benefit AARP members is to have an economy that is robust and growing.” He went on to talk about “tax reform” and “immigration reform.” He didn’t outline any changes to Social Security.
Back in 2000, Trump did advocate private Social Security accounts, writing in his book “The America We Deserve”: “The solution to the Great Social Security Crisis couldn’t be more obvious: Allow every American to dedicate some portion of their payroll taxes to a personal Social Security account that they could own and invest in stocks and bonds.”
But 16 years later, that’s not a plan he has pushed on the campaign trail.
Kaine said that Trump said he “wants to abandon” our NATO allies. Trump has said that he doesn’t want the U.S. to leave the international security alliance. However, he has recently suggested that he would not automatically defend NATO allies that do not pay their share of defense costs.
Kaine: I want to start off thanking my wife, Anne, and my three beautiful children, Nat, Woody and Annella. … You know, my son, Nat, deployed with his Marine battalion just two days ago. He deployed overseas to protect and defend the very NATO allies that Donald Trump says he now wants to abandon.
Trump’s most recent comments on NATO came during a July interview with David E. Sanger and Maggie Haberman of the New York Times. Trump said that he would be willing to defend fellow NATO members, “if they fulfill their obligations to us.”
Sanger, July 21: My point here is, Can the members of NATO, including the new members in the Baltics, count on the United States to come to their military aid if they were attacked by Russia? And count on us fulfilling our obligations.
Trump: Have they fulfilled their obligations to us? If they fulfill their obligations to us, the answer is yes.
Haberman: And if not?
Trump: Well, I’m not saying if not. I’m saying, right now there are many countries that have not fulfilled their obligations to us.
Throughout his campaign, Trump has been critical of NATO, which was established in 1949 by the U.S., Canada and 10 Western European nations to defend against the former Soviet Union. One of Trump’s main criticisms of NATO, which now has 28 member nations, is that it is too costly to the U.S., which pays about 22 percent of direct spending by NATO, and an even larger share of indirect costs, according to budget information. In addition, only five member nations, including the U.S., spend the 2 percent of gross domestic product on defense called for by NATO guidelines, according to a CNN Money analysis.
But Trump didn’t actually tell the Times reporters that “he wants to abandon” allies that don’t make the required payments. He declined to say what he would do if countries had not fulfilled their financial obligations.
And as we wrote in May, Trump, despite his criticisms of NATO, has said that he doesn’t want the U.S. to leave the NATO alliance. Although, he also said that he would “certainly look at” doing so. But in his more recent interview with the Times, Trump at least suggested that he’s open to not defending those nations that don’t pay more.
— Eugene Kiely, with Brooks Jackson, Lori Robertson, Robert Farley, D’Angelo Gore and Zachary Gross
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