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Thursday, 8 November 2018

Fact-checking Trump's combative press conference






The day after the midterm elections, President Donald Trump held a lengthy press conference at the White House. Despite Democrats winning enough seats to take control of the House of Representatives, the President struck an upbeat and at times combative tone, highlighting a handful of Republican victories in the Senate and touting the role he played in helping pull Republicans over the finish line in a few key races. Over the course of nearly 90 minutes, the President made a series of claims about the Democrats, his support among African-Americans, and the Mueller investigation. We checked the veracity of several of them.


The President touted Republican wins in the midterm election, including adding to the GOP majority in the Senate

Claim: Midterms were "very close to a complete victory"
Fact check: Putting the best possible spin on the election
The President exaggerated the extent to which the midterms were a win for him and Republicans. While Republicans expanded their majority in the Senate, flipping several Democratic-held seats, Democrats won a majority in the House of Representatives, gaining back key oversight powers. And Republicans lost several other key contests in states Trump won in 2016.
What Trump seemed most pleased with however was the performance of a handful of Republicans he stumped for, including two Florida candidates -- Ron DeSantis, who is leading the state's gubernatorial election, and Rick Scott, who is ahead of incumbent Democratic Senator Bill Nelson in a race that appears likely to be subject to a recount given the narrow margin. Trump also held a last-minute rally in Missouri for Josh Hawley, who defeated Democratic incumbent Senator Claire McCaskill.

The President took issue with a question about whether he was emboldening white nationalists.

Claim: "I have among the highest poll numbers with African-Americans"
Fact check: This is false.
It's not clear to whom Trump is comparing his African-American approval rating when he calls it "among the highest," but his approval rating among African-Americans remains very low compared to other demographics. Trump won just 8% of the black vote in 2016 and reputable polls in recent months have shown that the overwhelming majority of African-Americans disapprove of his job as President. A Reuters poll showed Trump with 16% of black Americans approving of his job as President at the end of October.
By comparison, the most recent Republican president, George W. Bush, saw his approval among African Americans fluctuate, from 32% in 2003, to 16% in 2005, according to Gallup polls.

The President was asked whether he would be willing to trade a fix on DACA for a larger deal on immigration with Congress

Claim: "We could have done some pretty good work on DACA, but a judge ruled that DACA was OK. Had the judge not ruled that way, I think we would have made a deal."
Fact check: It is hard to say this is false since no one can say what would have happened without that ruling. Here is what we do know.
A federal judge in August ruled to preserve DACA protections for undocumented immigrants who came to the US as children. And while the ruling did kill some of the sense of urgency to forge a legislative solution, negotiations over a DACA deal had already fallen apart months earlier. While Trump several times seemed open to accepting Democratic offers for a deal that would include border security funding, he ultimately rejected all their offers and countered with hardline demands for restricting legal immigration as part of a package.

The President was asked whether he'd be willing to shutdown the government in order to secure funding for his border wall

Claim: Democrats' "whole agenda has been to try not giving me anything for the wall."
Fact check: Mostly false
Yes, Democrats have largely been extremely critical of Trump's proposal to build a wall on the southern border., but it's inaccurate to say it's been their whole agenda to oppose it. Democrats have also been open to compromise. A bipartisan group of lawmakers presented Trump with a DACA compromise in January that would offer a year of border wall funding, which he rejected. Later that month, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer offered Trump upwards of $20 billion in border wall funding as part of a DACA deal. Republicans in Congress haven't exactly full supported Trump's wall either. The President also failed to mention that the Republican-held Congress passed an omnibus spending bill in March (which he signed) that did not include funding for the border wall.

The President was asked whether he'd consider removing Robert Mueller

Claim: "I could have ended (Mueller investigation) anytime I wanted."
Fact check: Mostly true
Most legal scholars agree that President Donald Trump has the authority to fire special counsel Robert Mueller and bring his investigation to a close. But he would also have to do so through Mueller's direct superior, which until Wednesday afternoon, was the Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. Sessions' former chief of staff Matthew Whitaker is now the acting attorney general, and unless he recuses himself, he now has oversight of Mueller. But the President also knows that doing so would open him up to allegations of obstruction of justice, with Democrats and Republicans alike warning Trump against interfering with Mueller's investigation.

Asked about healing the divisions in the country, Trump brought up the economy and tariffs on Chinese goods

Claim: "Billions of dollars will soon be pouring into our Treasury from taxes that China is paying for us."
Fact-Check: False
It's true that billions of dollars in tariffs are being collected and sent to the US Treasury Department, but that money isn't being paid by China; it's being paid by US companies that import those foreign goods subject to tariffs.

The President was asked about shuttering a program to counter domestic terrorist groups

Claim: "We have given funding for that-- a lot of funding."
Fact-Check: This is true, but slightly misleading.
When the Trump administration took office, DHS put a pause on its grant funding designated to community groups to combat violent extremism. The program was re-worked under then Sec. John Kelly and eventually $10 million in grants were offered to 25 grants programs. Funding for these two-year grants is set to run out next September.
It's true that the Department of Homeland Security has no immediate plan in place to extend its funding of community groups that work to combat violent extremism. Additionally, the office now known as the "Office of Terrorism Prevention Partnerships," was cut down in size under the current administration.
However, the DHS continues to operate in different ways to prevent domestic extremism, along with additional federal law enforcement efforts.
As of now, Congress has not appropriated additional funds to extend or re-issue the grants. When asked if DHS requested Congress to fund the grants past 2019, a DHS official, that was not authorized to speak on the record, said, "it is not actually in our funding for FY '19."
"But I do expect with further proof that some of these grants are working, that's something that could be reassessed very quickly in the coming months and certainly by this end of this fiscal year," added the official.
According to the official, of the 25 current grants, 16 of them can be used to address all forms of violent extremism, including both domestic terrorism movements and foreign influence.

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