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FACT CHECK: President Trump's False Claims On Migrant Caravan, Tax Cuts

Oct 23, 2018
Originally published on October 23, 2018 6:00 pm

Updated at 5:22 p.m. ET

President Trump is campaigning hard with just two weeks to go until the midterm elections, and he is keeping the fact-checkers busy.

Never a stickler for the truth, Trump has introduced a number of fresh falsehoods during the wide-ranging monologues he has been offering to adoring crowds in packed arenas around the country.

Here's a look at some of the the president's latest false claims.

Migrant caravan

With conservative news outlets glued to a caravan of Central American migrants making their way north through Mexico toward the U.S. border, Trump suggested there is something more sinister than desperately poor families looking for a better life.

"Criminals and unknown Middle Easterners are mixed in," Trump tweeted on Monday.

Later, he repeated that unsubstantiated claim, telling White House reporters "you're going to find MS-13, you're going to find Middle Eastern. You're going to find everything. And guess what? We're not allowing them in our country. We want safety."

Reporters traveling with the caravan and the migrants themselves say they haven't seen any Middle Easterners in the group.

While it's not unheard of for people from the Middle East to try to cross the border illegally from Mexico, it is extremely rare. Of more than 300,000 people apprehended last year trying to cross the Southern border illegally, fewer than 100 came from countries in the Middle East, according to data gathered by Customs and Border Protection.

Tuesday afternoon the president acknowledged, after some back-and-forth with a reporter, that he had no proof there are Middle Easterners in the Central American caravan.

"There's no proof of anything," Trump said. But he insisted the migrants and illegal immigration in general pose a serious threat to the country.

"Certainly you have people coming up through the Southern border from the Middle East and other places that are not appropriate for our country," Trump said. "And I'm not letting them in."

Trump has promised to focus on hot-button issues like illegal immigration and the Supreme Court in the homestretch of this year's campaign season.

"This will be the election of the caravan, Kavanaugh, tax cuts, law and order, and common sense. That's what it is," Trump told supporters in Houston Monday night.

Tax cuts

Many mainstream Republicans thought they would be running this year on the strength of the big tax cut that Congress passed in 2017. But as time has passed, that tax cut has not worn very well. Maybe people aren't seeing a bump in their own take-home pay. Or perhaps they're worried about the federal deficit, which has ballooned as corporate tax revenues fell. Approval for the tax cut is hovering around 40 percent.

The president has been offering supporters a fix for this: another tax cut, this time directed at the middle class rather than those at the top of the income ladder.

"We're going to be putting in a 10 percent tax cut for middle-income families," Trump told supporters in Houston Monday. "It's going to be put in next week."

Whatever you might think of the merits of another tax cut, it's not going to happen next week as the president suggested. Congress is not even in session until after the election. Moreover, no one outside the White House seems to have much of an idea of what the president is talking about.

Rep. Kevin Brady, R-Texas, who heads the tax-writing committee in the House, just smiled at reporters and offered a thumbs-up in Houston. Brady later issued a statement saying, "We will continue to work with the White House and Treasury over the coming weeks to develop an additional 10 percent tax cut."

Larry Kudlow, who directs the president's National Economic Council, conceded on Tuesday morning that Trump's timetable of acting next week may be overly ambitious.

"It may not surface for a while, but that's his goal," Kudlow said. "That's his policy intent. And I don't see anything wrong with that."

Trump — a political novice — has a history of promising quick results, then missing deadlines. The 10 percent tax cut appears to be a bit of political vaporware timed for the election and a tacit admission the actual tax cut Republicans passed last year isn't selling very well.

Mobs and jobs

The battle for Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh energized Republicans, many of whom were offended by the outspoken protesters who repeatedly interrupted his confirmation hearings.

Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, complained the hearings had degenerated into "mob rule," and Trump has gleefully picked up that language.

"Democrats produce mobs. Republicans produce jobs," Trump told supporters on Monday.

This is a distillation of the president's exaggerated complaint that Democrats favor open borders, lawlessness and Venezuelan-style socialism.

While Senate Democrats almost unanimously opposed Kavanaugh's nomination, some — including the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, Dianne Feinsten — seemed as frustrated by the protesters as were their Republican counterparts.

Many Democrats object to the president's get-tough border security and criminal justice policies as counterproductive. But they would reject the labels Trump tries to attach to them.

Finally, while job creation during Trump's first 20 months in office has been strong, it still trails the level of job creation during former President Barack Obama's last 20 months in office.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

President Trump is campaigning hard with just two weeks to go till the midterm elections, and he's keeping the fact-checkers busy. We're going to take a look now at some of the president's latest claims with NPR's Scott Horsley. Hey there, Scott.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Hi, Audie.

CORNISH: First let's talk about the caravan of Central American migrants. The president has been talking a fair bit about that. They're making their way through Mexico in hopes of reaching the U.S. border. Now, President Trump has suggested that they're not just families looking for a better life. What is he saying instead?

HORSLEY: The president tweeted this week without offering any evidence that, quote, "criminals and an unknown Middle Easterners are mixed in with this caravan." He was pressed on that in the Oval Office today and conceded there's no proof to that claim. But he continues to insist the caravan and illegal immigration more generally pose a serious threat to the country.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Certainly you have people coming up through the southern border from the Middle East and other places that are not appropriate for our country. And I'm not letting them in.

HORSLEY: Now, it's not unheard of for people from the Middle East to try to cross the border illegally from Mexico, but it is extremely rare, Audie. Out of more than 300,000 people who were apprehended along the southern border last year, only about 80 were for - were from countries in the Middle East. And reporters who have been traveling with the caravan say they have not seen any Middle Easterners in that group.

CORNISH: There is no evidence then of Middle Eastern infiltration. The president has not presented any. Why is he talking about it?

HORSLEY: Illegal immigration and the threat of terrorism have been potent rhetorical weapons for Donald Trump since he first launched his White House campaign more than three years ago. He believes - and there is some polling data to support this - that illegal immigration is an important issue for Republicans. He has been very clear on his plans to harp on hot-button issues like immigration and the Supreme Court in the homestretch of the midterm campaign.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TRUMP: This will be the election of the caravan, Kavanaugh, law and order, tax cuts and common sense. That's what it is - common sense.

CORNISH: All right, so third on that list was tax cuts, which I think a lot of mainstream Republicans thought would be the first thing, right? That's the tax cut they passed in 2017. But we haven't been hearing too much about it. What's going on?

HORSLEY: The GOP tax cut has not worn terribly well. Right now it's polling at about 40 percent approval. A lot of people maybe don't feel like they've seen a big jump in their own take-home pay. There's also been some renewed attention paid to the federal deficit, which has ballooned as corporate tax revenues shrank. The president believes he has a fix for this, though, and it's another tax cut. I want to play a piece of tape from his rally in Houston last night, Audie. But I have to warn you. Take this message with a big grain of salt.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TRUMP: We're going to be putting in a 10 percent tax cut for middle-income families. It's going to be put in next week.

HORSLEY: Now, whatever you might think about the merits of another tax cut, Congress certainly is not going to be taking any action on that next week. They're not even in session until after the election. And what's more, nobody outside the White House seems to know what the president is talking about. The head of the House Ways and Means Committee belatedly put out a statement this afternoon saying he's willing to work with the president over the coming weeks. But this appears to be a bit of political vaporware that's just time for the election and a tacit admission that the actual tax cut that Republicans passed last year isn't selling very well.

CORNISH: So this middle-class tax cut is, I guess, aspirational. But critics of the president are saying that he's doing something very specific on the campaign trail, that he is playing on people's fears. Help us understand what they're talking about.

HORSLEY: The president believes that fear works as a get-out-the-vote message, and he's been focusing a lot on kind of a grim, American-carnage-type rhetoric. Take the Kavanaugh confirmation. There are certainly a lot of Republicans who were delighted to have another conservative justice on the high court, but many were also offended by the vocal protesters that disrupted Kavanaugh's confirmation hearings. And the president's been playing off that. Take a listen.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TRUMP: Democrats produce mobs. Republicans produce jobs.

HORSLEY: That's kind of a distillation of the president's exaggerated complaint that Democrats stand for lawlessness while the GOP stands for order. Obviously lots of Democrats would contest that characterization. And we should point out that while the president's job record is good, former President Obama's job record was even better.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Scott Horsley. Scott, thank you.

HORSLEY: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.