This story will be updated as the speech continues
WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump used his second State of the Union address on Tuesday to push the familiar themes of his administration – claiming credit for an expanding economy and urging a wall along the border with Mexico – using familiar arguments. Not all of them were true.
Trump told lawmakers he wanted to focus an agenda that would benefit middle-class Americans, touted what he described as a booming economy and said the country needed to crack down on its “very dangerous” southern border.
Some of his claims were not specific – that the U.S. economy is the “hottest economy anywhere in the world” and that he had achieved “impossible” manufacturing job growth – but others were more specific.
Immigration and the border wall
Trump said the “lawless state of our southern border” is a threat to Americans’ safety and well being. He said he was asking lawmakers to “defend our very dangerous” border.
Still, studies have found that immigrants (legal and undocumented) commit crimes at a lower rate than native-born Americans.
Similarly, Trump sought to rally support for a border wall by noting that a barrier “immediately” changed El Paso, Texas, from one of the most dangerous in the country to one of the safest. The city’s crime rate actually plummeted before the wall was built there, with violent crime dropping 62 percent from 1993 to 2007 – a year before construction of the fence began there.
Trump also said he wants immigrants to come to the country “in the largest numbers ever” so long as they do so legally, but his administration has tried to cut off many avenues of legal immigration and reduce the overall number of immigrants the United States accepts. The administration has sought to put new limits on immigrants’ ability to claim asylum in the United States.
And Trump lamented the toll illegal drugs have taken in the United States. He correctly noted that the majority of illegal drugs enter the United States across the border with Mexico. But he left out the fact that most of those drugs enter through ports of entry, not the vast stretches in between where he wants to build a border wall.
To deal with that, he called on Congress to build a wall along the border, and suggested lawmakers had already voted to do so. Trump said Congress approved a border wall, but claimed it “never got built.” The Secure Fence Act of 2006 called for 700 miles of fencing and more than 650 miles of that was erected, according to the Government Accountability Office.
Trump began his speech by touting the strength of the national economy. While many parts of the economy are stronger than he took office – more people have jobs and their wages are higher – some of the claims were exaggerated.
Overall, Trump said the economy is growing almost twice as fast as when he took office. It’s expected to grow about 3 percent this year compared to 1.6 percent in 2016.
Trump characterized that growth as an unprecedented economic boom. It’s not. The U.S. economy is estimated to have grown about 3 percent this year. That’s the most only since 2005. And it was generated by a tax cut and government spending that’s swelling the deficit – a rare stimulus during a strong economy.
Nor was U.S. economic growth the world’s fastest. Last year, it did grow faster than other advanced economies, such as Europe and Japan. But emerging markets grew faster. China grew 6.5% last year.
Similarly, Trump claimed the economy had generated 5.3 million new jobs. Since January 2017, 4.9 million non-farm jobs have been created. And he said his administration had helped create 600,000 new manufacturing jobs, “something which almost everyone said was impossible to do.” In fact, since January 2017, the economy has added about 454,000 manufacturing jobs, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Trump said more people are working than at any time in history – 157 million. The number he cited is correct, but it’s partly the result of population growth. The share of Americans in the labor force is 63.2 percent, down from about 67 percent in 2000.
And Trump said unemployment has reached the lowest rate in half a century. It did for most of the second half of last year, hitting 3.7 percent, though it ticked up to 4 percent in January, largely as a result of the partial shutdown of the federal government.
Trump also said wages are rising at the fastest pace in decades. The 3.1 percent annual average wage increase in January is the fastest since 2009.
Trump took credit “historic VA reforms.” A law allowing veterans to go to private doctors if the VA couldn’t meet their needs or if they had to wait too long was passed in 2014, during the Obama administration. The president signed a new version of the law expanding the program and making it permanent in 2018.
Trump also said he signed a law allowing the VA to terminate employees who mistreat veterans. He signed a law in 2017 making it easier to fire VA employees. GAO found last year that VA previously had “not consistently ensured” that senior officials were held accountable
Contributing: Paul Davidson, Alan Gomez, Brad Heath, Bart Jansen, Deirdre Shesgreen and Donovan Slack of USA TODAY; Daniel Gonzalez, Michael Squires, Josh Susong and Dennis Wagner of The Arizona Republic.