AP FACT CHECK: Trump on the wall, drugs, Russia, vets
...WASHINGTON (AP) — It was a week of half-truths, changed stories and outright fabrications in President Donald Trump’s Washington.
Trump assailed Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., for playing on the beach in Puerto Rico, though she never went. His vice president echoed Trump’s declaration of victory against the Islamic State group despite a deadly suicide bombing for which the militants claimed responsibility. Trump overstated what he’s done for veterans.
A look at some of the rhetoric from Trump and his team as the president faced intensifying pressure over the partial government shutdown and scrutiny from Democrats over his dealings with Russia:
THE FACTS: His comments fly in the face of findings by his government about how drugs get into the county. Drugs from Mexico are primarily smuggled into the U.S. at official border crossings, not remote lands that can be walled off. His proposal Saturday to end the government shutdown implicitly recognizes that reality by proposing money to improve drug-detection technology specifically at land ports of entry.
Even so, Trump pitched a wall as a solution to drugs and crime.
The Drug Enforcement Administration says “only a small percentage” of heroin seized by U.S. authorities comes across on territory between ports of entry. It says the same is true of drugs overall.
Even if a wall could stop all drugs from Mexico, America’s drug problem would be far from over. For example, the government says about 40 percent of opioid deaths in 2016 involved prescription painkillers, made by pharmaceutical companies. Some feed the addiction of people who have prescriptions; others are stolen and sold on the black market. Moreover, illicit versions of powerful synthetic opioids such as fentanyl have come to the U.S. from China.
On crime, many researchers have found that people in the U.S. illegally are less likely to commit violence than U.S. citizens.
...THE FACTS: Far from “enjoying the sun” in Puerto Rico, Pelosi stayed in Washington, which got a big snowfall. She spent that weekend working at the Capitol, said Drew Hammill, her deputy chief of staff.
Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer did not go to Puerto Rico, either. The senator from New York spent that weekend in New York, said spokesman Justin Goodman.
Most Democratic lawmakers were somewhere other than Puerto Rico. Most who went are members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. They attended the annual winter retreat of the caucus’s political and fundraising arm.
Some attended “Hamilton” as the musical opened a two-week run in Puerto Rico expected to raise millions of dollars for artists and cultural groups struggling in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. Referring to Democrats at the fundraising performance in his Fox News interview, Trump called it “frankly, ridiculous.”
During the trip, lawmakers indeed met political contributors but also made several visits to local and federal institutions, said Marieli Padro, spokeswoman for Puerto Rico Resident Commissioner Jenniffer Gonzalez. Last Saturday, a small group visited the veterans’ hospital to learn about its needs post-hurricane, while another group met U.S. Coast Guard officials.
Trump is correct that Pelosi visited Hawaii over the Christmas holiday.
...THE FACTS: The evidence is inconclusive on the effectiveness of border walls or other barriers.
Congress’ main watchdog reported in 2017 that the government does not have a way to measure how well barriers work to deter immigrants crossing illegally from Mexico. Despite $2.3 billion spent by the government on such construction from 2007 to 2015, the Government Accountability Office found that authorities “cannot measure the contribution of fencing to border security operations along the southwest border because it has not developed metrics for this assessment.”
Few people dispute that fences contributed to a sharp drop in crossings in cities such as San Diego and El Paso, Texas. Before fences were built in San Diego, crossers played soccer on U.S. soil as vendors hawked tamales, waiting until night fell to overwhelm agents. But those barriers also pushed people into more remote and less-patrolled areas such as in Arizona, where thousands of migrants have perished in extreme heat.
When barriers were built in the Border Patrol’s Yuma, Arizona, sector in the mid-2000s, arrests for illegal crossings plummeted 94 percent in three years to 8,363 from 138,438. When barriers were built in San Diego in the 1990s and early 2000s, arrests fell 80 percent over seven years from 524,231 in 1995 to 100,681 in 2002. But both areas also saw sharp increases in Border Patrol staffing during that time, making it difficult to pinpoint why illegal crossings fell so dramatically.
...THE FACTS: Trump is wrong in terms of up-to-date monthly data, right when measuring veterans’ unemployment over a longer term.
It is true that the average veterans’ unemployment rate for 2018 was 3.5 percent, the lowest annual figure since 2000, when it was 2.9 percent.
On a monthly basis, the rate is more volatile. The lowest vets’ unemployment rate under Trump was 2.7 percent in October 2017, and it has risen a bit since then to 3.2 percent in December, the latest data available. In the 18 years that the government has tracked veterans’ unemployment data, the lowest monthly rate was 2.3 percent in May 2000.
Veterans’ unemployment has fallen mostly for the same reasons that joblessness has dropped generally: strong hiring and steady economic growth for the past eight years.
THE FACTS: No, he is not the first president in “decades and decades” to get Congress to pass a private-sector health program for veterans. Congress first approved the Veterans Choice program in 2014 during the Obama administration.
The program was approved after some veterans died while waiting months for appointments at the Phoenix VA medical center. It allows veterans to see doctors outside the VA system if they must wait more than 30 days for an appointment or drive more than 40 miles to a VA facility.
Trump did sign legislation in June to expand the Choice program, part of his campaign promise to give veterans greater access to private care at government expense. The exact scope of that new program will be subject to yet-to-be-completed rules that will determine veterans’ eligibility as well as federal funding. The VA has yet to resolve long-term financing due to congressional budget caps that could put money for VA or other domestic programs at risk later this year.