Home alone no more, U.S. President Donald Trump had a lot to share when he convened a rambling Cabinet meeting on Day 12 of the government shutdown.
The president, eager for company after a lonely stretch in a near-empty White House, zigzagged for more than 90 minutes from his demands for a southern border wall to his thoughts on Kanye West and his decision to pull troops out of Syria — all while a mock movie poster with his photograph and the words “SANCTIONS ARE COMING, NOVEMBER 4” sat, without explanation, in the middle of the grand Cabinet Room table.
Trump lies about ‘firing Mattis’
Trump claimed he fired Jim Mattis as defense secretary. But the retired Marine general actually resigned in protest over Trump’s decision to pull U.S. troops from Syria.
Mattis announced on Dec. 20 that he was stepping down, but would stay on the job until the end of February. Three days later, Trump said he was replacing Mattis with the second-ranking defense official, Pat Shanahan, on New Year’s Day.
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At a Cabinet meeting Wednesday, Trump said Mattis “couldn’t believe” how much federal money Trump had helped secure for the military.
Trump then asked rhetorically “What’s he done for me?”
Trump also said he wasn’t happy with Mattis’ work in Afghanistan. Trump says the U.S. should let the Taliban and Islamic State militants fight each other there.
Trump added in one of his more bizarre rants, "Why isn't Russia there? Why isn't India there? Why isn't Pakistan there? Why are we there? We're 6,000 miles away? But I don't mind... I think I would have been a good general."
Syria, ISIS, Iran and Russia
Trump's lengthy ramble about Syria: "We want to protect the Kurds, nevertheless, we want to protect the Kurds. But I don’t want to be in Syria forever. It's sand and it's death. And when we kill ISIS, if we don't – oh then everyone says then they'll come to our country, well that's possibly true of a very small percentage but you know where else they're going? To Iran, who hates ISIS more than we do. They're going to Russia, who hates ISIS more than we do. So we're killing and then I read when we pull out, Russia's thrilled. Russia's not happy. You know why they're not happy? Because they like it when we're killing ISIS because we're killing them for them. And we're killing them for Assad. And we're killing ISIS also for Iran. And just while we're on Iran, because, you know, people don't like the way, the facts.
Iran is a much different country than it was I became president. Iran, when I became president, I had a meeting at the pentagon, with lots of generals, they were like from a movie, better looking than Tom Cruise and stronger, and I had more generals than I've ever seen and we were at the bottom of this incredible room. I said this is the greatest room I've ever seen.
I saw more computer boards than I think they make today. And every part of the Middle East and other places that was under attack was under attack because of Iran. And I said to myself, wow, you look at Yemen, you look at Syria, you look at every place, Saudi Arabia was under siege, they were all – I mean they wanted Yemen because of a long border with Saudi Arabia, that's why they're there, right. But every place was under siege. And I actually asked a question – how do you stop these people?
They're all over the place. They have plenty of money, President Obama had just given them 150 billion dollars, he just gave 1.8 billion in cash, I'm still trying to figure that one out, plane loads of cash, I mean cash, from five different countries. You know why from five different countries? Because we didn't have enough cash."
Trump says he could 'run for any office' in Europe if he wanted
“I'll be honest with you, it's just not in my DNA. I don't know how people allowed that in my position, allowed these things to happen. And we're not allowing it to happen anymore.
I could be the most popular person in Europe. I could be, I could run for any office if I wanted to. But I don't want to. I want people to treat us fairly and they're not.
And it's not, there's no angles "
AP Fact Check on Immigration and the Border Wall:
TRUMP, on the number of immigrants living in the U.S. illegally: “I used to hear 11 million all the time. It would always stay right at 11. I said, ‘Does it ever increase or go down?’ ‘No, it’s 11.’ Nobody knows. It’s probably 30, 35 million people. They would flow in, mostly from the southern border, they’d come in and nobody would talk about it, nobody would do anything about it.” — Cabinet meeting.
THE FACTS: It’s nowhere close to 30 million to 35 million, according to his own Homeland Security secretary as well as independent estimates.
The nonpartisan Pew Research Center estimates there were 10.7 million immigrants in the U.S. illegally in 2016, the most recent data available. Advocacy groups on both sides of the immigration issue have similar estimates.
At a House hearing last month, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen acknowledged the number was “somewhere” between 11 million and 22 million, significantly lower than Trump’s claim of 35 million.
According to Pew, the number of immigrants in the U.S. illegally had reached a height of 12.2 million in 2007, representing about 4 percent of the U.S. population, before declining in part because of a weakening U.S. economy.
TRUMP: “The coyotes are using children to gain access into this country. They’re using these children. They’re not with families. They’re using the children. They’re taking the children. And then they dispose of the children after they’re done. This has been going on for years. This isn’t unique to us. But we want to stop it.” — Cabinet meeting.
THE FACTS: This does happen, though it’s not as common as Trump suggests by talking about it so often.
He is referring to adults who come with children they falsely claim to be theirs, so that they won’t be detained under a no-child-separation policy.
But such cases of fraud are rare. According to the Homeland Security Department, about 500 immigrants were found to be not a “legitimate family unit” and thus separated upon detention from April 19 to Sept. 30 of last year. That’s a small fraction of the 107,000 families apprehended in the last budget year, which ended Sept. 30.
TRUMP: “I think you’re going to see a tremendous reduction in drug prices.” — Cabinet meeting.
THE FACTS: Prices continue to rise. Administration policies announced last year and currently being completed don’t seem to have shifted that trend.
Figures on U.S. prescription drug price changes compiled by health data company Elsevier show that from Dec. 20 through Jan. 2, there were 1,179 product price changes. Of those, 30 were price cuts and the remaining 1,149 were price increases, with 328 of them between 9 percent and 10 percent. All but one of the rest were by lower percentages. Elsevier spokesman Chris Capot said more companies will be announcing price increases this month.
Separately, a data firm whose software can help patients find the most cost-effective medications says its information shows price increases on many commonly used drugs for conditions such as high blood pressure and diabetes.
“In the first two days of January, prices have increased on more than 250 different products,” said Michael Rea, CEO of Rx Savings Solutions. The average increase is about 6 percent, he added.
TRUMP: “Mexico is paying for the Wall through the new USMCA Trade Deal. Much of the Wall has already been fully renovated or built. We have done a lot of work. $5.6 Billion Dollars that House has approved is very little in comparison to the benefits of National Security. Quick payback!” — tweet.
THE FACTS: Mexico isn’t paying. It’s also not true that there’s been much construction beyond fencing erected during previous administrations; some renovation of the existing barrier has been achieved.
Trump is arguing, in essence, that the updated trade pact with Mexico and Canada, known as the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Trade Agreement, will yield economic benefits to the U.S. that, years from now, will cover the unrelated costs of the wall today. That assertion doesn’t hold water even with those who support his push for a wall. He went further at a Cabinet meeting Wednesday, contending the wall will pay for itself on a “monthly basis.”
The new trade deal won’t change that much from the previous North American Free Trade Agreement. The three countries would continue trading in an environment of mainly low or no tariffs, with certain improvements for all three partners from the terms of NAFTA. Moreover, the new deal isn’t in effect. It’s awaiting ratification from legislative bodies in each country, and that is not assured.
There is no credible way for Trump to forecast additional growth covering costs that are being charged to U.S. taxpayers if the wall is built. Trade balances depend on too many factors — consumer tastes, exchange rates, overall economic performance and the choices of thousands of companies, for example — and some are well outside any government’s control. Trump specifically promised in his 2016 campaign that Mexico would pay for the wall. It is not doing so.
Trump’s case is also built on a mischaracterization of trade balances. Unlike economists and governments, he considers a trade deficit to be a payment to the exporting country. By that argument, if a trade deficit shrinks, the U.S. is saving money. But that’s not how trade works. Consumers create a trade deficit by buying products made abroad. They get value for their purchase — the products — and are not giving money away.
Trump’s claim that much of the “Wall has already been fully renovated or built” is only supported when counting work done by past administrations and ignoring the fact that fences are not the towering walls he promised. The 2006 Secure Fence Act has resulted in about 650 miles (1,050 kilometers) of border barrier. Money approved by Congress in March 2018 is to pay for 84 miles (135 km), but that work is not done.
Trump’s point that the national security benefits would outweigh the economic cost is a legitimate one to debate. But the notion that U.S. taxpayers would not be covering the cost is baseless.