The Audacity of Hype
By Jim Drinkard and
Wire Service Correspondents
WASHINGTON (AP) — In the Washington week that wasn’t, President Donald Trump’s new administration whirred like a “fine-tuned machine,” piling on big-league accomplishments at a pace never before seen.
Immigration agents newly empowered by Trump’s call to secure borders sent hordes of bad foreigners back home, validating a president who won the most lopsided Electoral College victory since Ronald Reagan.
That’s what the audacity of hype looks like.
In the Washington week that actually was, Trump fired his national security adviser for misleading the vice president, was rebuffed by his next choice, saw a Cabinet nominee’s prospects flame out, and stirred anxiety among some fellow Republicans over the tumult holding up Trump’s agenda. Immigration officials announced a sizable but routine roundup of people living in the country illegally, which resulted in fewer arrests than raids mounted under President Barack Obama almost two years earlier.
Trump was called out on his latest of many boasts about the Electoral College, which handed him one of the narrowest victories since Reagan – sixth out of eight – and not one of the biggest.
A look at some of his statements in the past week:
TRUMP: “I see stories of chaos. Chaos. Yet it is the exact opposite. This administration is running like a fine-tuned machine, despite the fact that I can’t get my Cabinet approved.”
“This last month has represented an unprecedented degree of action on behalf of the great citizens of our country. Again, I say it. There has never been a presidency that’s done so much in such a short period of time.”
THE FACTS: Trump’s first month has been consumed by a series of missteps and firestorms and produced less legislation of significance than Obama enacted during his first month.
Republican-led congressional committees will investigate the Trump team’s relations with Russians before he took office and the flood of leaks that altogether forced out his national security adviser in record time. His pick for labor secretary withdrew because he didn’t have enough Republican support.
By many measures, the administration is in near paralysis in its earliest days, leaving allies unsettled and many in Congress anxious about what Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., called the “constant disruption.” To many Republicans – never mind Democrats – the machine seems in danger of its wheels coming off.
In his first month, Obama signed a $787 billion stimulus package into law, as well as a law expanding health care for children and the Lilly Ledbetter bill on equal pay for women. Trump has vigorously produced executive orders, which don’t require congressional approval and typically have narrow effect. The one with far-reaching consequences – banning entry by refugees and by visitors from seven countries – has been blocked by courts.
Trump’s biggest initiatives, such as tax cuts and a replacement for Obama’s health care law, have not emerged. On Thursday he signed into law a rollback of Obama-era regulations on mining near streams. Congress has sent him little else.
TRUMP: “To be honest I inherited a mess. It’s a mess. At home and abroad, a mess.”
THE FACTS: A mess is in the eye of the beholder. But by almost every economic measure, Obama inherited a far worse situation when he became president in 2009 than he left for Trump. He had to deal with the worst downturn since the Depression.
Unemployment was spiking, the stock market crashing, the auto industry failing and millions of Americans risked losing their homes to foreclosure when Obama took the oath of office. None of those statistics is as dire for Trump.
Unemployment is 4.8 percent, compared with a peak of 10 percent during Obama’s first year as president. The Dow Jones Industrial Average was cratering until March 2009, only to rebound roughly 200 percent over the rest of Obama’s term, and those gains have continued under Trump on the promise of tax and regulatory cuts.
When Trump assumed office last month, a greater percentage of the country had health insurance, incomes were rising and the country was adding jobs.
The Trump administration has noted that a smaller proportion of the population is working or looking for jobs. But even this measure began to turn around toward the end of the Obama era.
Yet it’s true that jobs at factories and coal mines have been disappearing for more than three decades, while many people with only a high school diploma have seen their incomes fall after adjusting for inflation. The home ownership rate has slipped even as the economy has improved, leaving many pockets of the country feeling left out of a recovery that technically began more than seven years ago.
TRUMP: “ISIS has spread like cancer, another mess I inherited.”
THE FACTS: The Islamic State group began to lose ground before Trump took office, not just in Iraq and Syria but also in Libya. The gradual military progress achieved in Iraq during Obama’s final two years has pushed IS to the point of collapse in Mosul, its main Iraqi stronghold.
It remains a potent danger beyond its shrunken territory, encouraging adherents to stage acts of terrorism. The analogy with cancer is an echo of Obama’s last defense secretary, Ash Carter, who repeatedly cast Obama’s counter-IS campaign as an effort to reverse the extremists’ “metastasis” beyond the “parent tumor” in Iraq and Syria.
TRUMP, bragging again about his Electoral College vote total: “We got 306 because people came out and voted like they’ve never seen before, so that’s the way it goes. I guess it was the biggest Electoral College win since Ronald Reagan.”
THE FACTS: Not even close. In the seven previous elections, the winner of five of those contests won a larger Electoral College majority than Trump. They were George H.W. Bush in 1988, Bill Clinton in 1992 and 1996; and Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012.
When a reporter pointed out that Trump was overstating his winning margin, the president said: “Well, I don’t know, I was given that information.” He then called it “a very substantial victory.”
Trump actually ended up with 304 electoral votes because of the defection of two electors in December, but he had won enough states in November to get to 306.
TRUMP: “We want products made in America, made by American hands. You probably saw the Keystone pipeline I approved recently.”
THE FACTS: He hasn’t approved the Keystone XL pipeline, though he seems to want to.
Trump has signed an order asking the TransCanada pipeline company to “resubmit its application” for a permit to build the project, which it has done.
There’s still a regulatory process to go through and negotiations to be done. Trump has said he’d renegotiate some of the terms and is insisting that the pipeline be built with U.S. steel. TransCanada has said it would need time to review how any buy-American plan from Washington will impact the company.
Late in his presidency, Barack Obama rejected Keystone XL on environmental grounds.
Trump’s order directs the State Department and other agencies to make a decision within 60 days of the application.
TRUMP: “We’re actually taking people that are criminals, very, very, hardened criminals in some cases … with a tremendous track record of abuse and problems, and we’re getting them out and that’s what I said I would do. … And I said at the beginning, we are going to get the bad ones, the really bad ones, we’re getting them out and that’s exactly what we’re doing.”
THE FACTS: Officials said an operation that resulted in the arrest of more than 680 immigrants in various cities was a routine enforcement action like those undertaken during the presidency of Obama, who deported an unprecedented number of people as president.
More specifically, David Marin, Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s field office director for enforcement and removal operations in greater Los Angeles, said the agency carries out such large-scale operations two or three times a year in his region. The California operation was in the planning stages “before the administration came out with their current executive orders,” he said. More than 100 of the arrests were in the Los Angeles area.
The notion that raids have been stepped up under Trump has been advanced both by the White House, to show that Trump is keeping a promise, and by advocates of those who have been targeted, to illustrate what they call the new president’s heavy-handed tactics. But statistical evidence has not come in to show that enforcement has surged under the new Trump administration or that actual deportations are up. A similar series of raids under Obama in March 2015 resulted in the arrest of more than 2,000 criminals, the government said at the time.
Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly said: “ICE conducts these kind of targeted enforcement operations regularly and has for many years. The focus of these enforcement operations is consistent with the routine, targeted arrests carried out by ICE’s Fugitive Operations teams on a daily basis.”
It’s possible, however, that the latest raids went beyond Obama’s actions in arresting people without serious criminal records. Kelly said 75 percent of those arrested had been convicted of crimes. That still leaves many who were taken into detention without such records.
TRUMP, saying the appeals court that blocked his selective travel ban “has been overturned at a record number.”
THE FACTS: Other appeals courts have seen their decisions overturned at a higher rate than the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that froze his action on immigration.
In the most recent full term, the Supreme Court reversed 8 of the 11 cases from the 9th Circuit. But the Atlanta-based 11th Circuit went 0 for 3; that is, the Supreme Court reversed all three cases it heard from that circuit. Over the past five years, five federal appeals courts were reversed at a higher rate than the 9th Circuit.
The 9th Circuit is by far the largest of the 13 federal courts of appeals. In raw numbers, more cases are heard and reversed from the 9th Circuit year in and year out. But as a percentage of cases the Supreme Court hears, the liberal-leaning circuit fares somewhat better, according to statistical compilations by Scotusblog.
Most cases decided by appeals courts aren’t appealed to the Supreme Court, and the high court only accepts for review a small percentage of those that are.
But the very act of the Supreme Court’s agreeing to hear a case means the odds are it will be overturned; the court reverses about two-thirds of the cases it hears.
TRUMP on childhood autism: “Tremendous increases … really a horrible thing to watch the tremendous amount of increase.”
THE FACTS: About 1 in 68 school-age children has autism or related disorders, a rate that has stayed about the same for two years, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported in March.
That’s far more than in 2000, when the CDC estimated that about 1 in 150 children had autism. But the increase is explained in large part by more awareness of the developmental disorder and changes in practice that broadened the definition for an autism diagnosis.
Labeling also is an issue, as parents became more likely to seek out the increasing services for autism and related disorders that are available in schools and other settings. Still, the CDC says that a true increase in the number of people with autism cannot be ruled out.
An accurate estimate of the prevalence of autism is important because those who attribute autism to vaccination seize upon any rising numbers as an argument against vaccination. That has proved worrisome to public health officials because it could divert money away from things that should be a higher priority.
Trump in the past has subscribed to theories unsupported by scientific evidence linking vaccines to autism.