Fact-checking Donald Trump's rally in Wheeling, W.Va.

President Donald Trump holds a rally in Wheeling, W.Va., on Sept. 29, 2018.
President Donald Trump holds a rally in Wheeling, W.Va., on Sept. 29, 2018.

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- For the second time in two months, President Donald Trump traveled to friendly territory in West Virginia to hold one of his signature campaign rallies.

At the rally, in Wheeling, W.Va., Trump boosted the candidacy of Patrick Morrisey, who is challenging U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, a Democrat.

Trump repeated many of his favorite applause lines from previous rallies, including praise for the state of the economy and shots at Democrats over immigration policy, gun control and his tax law.

Here are some of the lines from his speech, fact-checked.

"We’re opening up steel mills."

This is more accurate than previous statements by Trump in which he’s repeatedly exaggerated the scale of U.S. Steel’s expansion. The company is restarting two shuttered mills, but it is not building multiple new plant complexes, as he’s said in the past. As we’ve noted, between restarts, new mills and expansions, the steel industry has seen significant investment this year.

Democrats believe in "open borders."

During the 2016 presidential election, Trump charged Democrat Hillary Clinton with favoring open borders. As we have reported, experts say that making it easier for undocumented immigrants to obtain legal status is not the same as getting rid of enforcement and allowing open borders.

There actually is a long history to "open borders." The United States essentially had them for 85 years, the libertarian Cato Institute has said. "From 1790 to 1875," the institute says, any "immigrant from any country could legally enter, live and work in the United States."

There "are no members of Congress who support ‘open borders’ or anything that even approaches it," Cato analyst Alex Nowrasteh has told us.

Edward Alden, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations who authored a 2008 book on federal actions to tighten U.S. borders after 9/11, added that he sees it as "a derogatory term that doesn’t have a whole lot of analytical meaning. It’s not even in the conversation in Washington," where the focus since the 1990s has been on strengthening border security.

In West Virginia, "they did a poll, just came out -- overall total support for (Supreme Court nominee Brett) Kavanaugh, 58 percent, total opposed, 28 percent."

Trump is accurate about the poll findings, but it’s worth mentioning that the survey is not exactly a neutral one. It was conducted by Public Opinion Strategies, a Republican firm, on behalf of the Judicial Crisis Network, a key group that’s promoting Kavanaugh’s confirmation. (The name of the website where it’s posted is "confirmkavanaugh.com.") It polled 722 voters in West Virginia after the testimonies of Kavanaugh and his accuser, Christine Blasey Ford, on Sept. 27, and it has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.65 percentage points.

"We’ve built a lot of wall already. We’ve fixed a lot of wall."

This is an exaggeration.

There are projects underway to replace fencing along the border in San Diego and further east in Calexico. Those call for new and taller, bollard-style barriers, which include a comb-like array of steel posts that border patrol agents can see through, some of which were planned long before Trump ran for office.

A recent appropriation by Congress of $1.6 billion allows for the replacement of the old fencing, but not for the construction of any sort of concrete wall prototype as Trump requested.

"First and foremost, this isn’t Trump’s wall," Jonathan Pacheco, a spokesman for the Border Patrol’s El Centro Sector, which includes Calexico, told the Los Angeles Times in March 2018. "This isn’t the infrastructure that Trump is trying to bring in. … This new wall replacement has absolutely nothing to do with the prototypes that were shown over in the San Diego area."

Plans for the Calexico project, which also include a bollard-style structure, began in 2009 under the Obama administration and were funded in 2017, under Trump, according to the Times.

"When you see ‘Democratic Party,’ it’s wrong. There’s no name, ‘Democratic Party.’"

This is false. While critics, mostly Republicans, have long made a point of referring to the party as the "Democrat Party," the official party organization is the "Democratic National Committee" and party members almost always use "Democratic" unless they happen to slip up on the wording.

"The Democrat Party is radical socialism."

Socialism refers to the government owning, or at least controlling, the means of production. This is not in the Democratic platform or something any Democrat takes to the campaign trail.

Referring to recent Republican charges that U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., is a "socialist," Philip J. Williams, professor at the Center for Latin American studies at the University of Florida, told PolitiFact that the notion is "ludicrous. His stances in opposition to the tax cut bill and in support of Medicaid expansion are mainstream Democratic positions. Even some Republican governors have supported Medicaid expansion."

While some might describe Medicare or Medicaid as socialism because the government is providing health insurance to citizens, the health industry remains in private hands, said Sean D. Ehrlich, a Florida State University political science professor.

"The government doesn’t control the production of health care," Ehrlich said. "They merely regulate some elements and reimburse providers and consumers for their health care costs."

"I will always fight for and always protect patients with pre-existing conditions … Some people think that’s not a Republican thing to do, I don’t care. All the Republicans are coming into that position, too. Pre-existing conditions are safe."

Trump’s own Justice Department has decided not to defend against a lawsuit filed by Republican state attorneys general that seeks to topple the Affordable Care Act. This puts the Trump administration on the side of those whose lawsuit would effectively end protections within the law for people with pre-existing conditions.

As we’ve noted, the lawsuit argues that in 2012, the Supreme Court upheld the law’s individual mandate to purchase health insurance by saying it was enforced by a tax penalty, but in 2017, Congress repealed the mechanism to enforce the individual mandate through the tax code.

With the tax penalty now gone, the suit argues, the individual mandate is no longer constitutional and, as a result, the law should be either largely or entirely thrown out.

Health policy experts say the lawsuit would effectively end the pre-existing condition protections under the ACA.

"There would be much more damage beyond the issue of people with health problems being denied coverage, but that would in fact be one outcome," said Linda Blumberg, a health policy analyst at the Urban Institute.

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Under threat by lawsuit
"Pre-existing conditions are safe" under the Trump administration
a rally in Wheeling, W.Va.
Saturday, September 29, 2018
 
"We’ve lifted almost 4 million Americans off of food stamps."

This is a little high, but it’s in the ballpark.

We previously checked a tweet by the West Virginia Republican Party that said, "Thanks to President Trump and Republican leadership, the number of people collecting food stamps has declined by more than two million."

We found that that was actually an undercount -- the number of Americans collecting food stamps had decreased by 3.4 million. That said, the decline began years before Trump took office, so it’s a stretch to attribute sole credit to Trump or his policies.

"We’ve added nearly – it will soon be – 600,000 new manufacturing jobs."

That’s too high. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the United States has added 348,000 new manufacturing jobs since January 2017, when Trump took office. If you start counting instead from the time he was elected, the number rises to 378,000. That’s a significant increase, but it’s not as large as Trump said it was.

We’ll note that manufacturing jobs are only slowly recovering the ground they have lost since the 1980s, and especially after the Great Recession in 2008 and 2009.

To the extent that manufacturing employment has been increasing, it’s been doing so at a fairly steady -- if modest -- rate since 2010, including more than six years on President Barack Obama’s watch.

 
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"We’ve added nearly – it will soon be – 600,000 new manufacturing jobs."
a rally in Wheeling, W.Va.
Friday, September 28, 2018
 
"Obama gave up $150 billion to Iran and then gave up $1.8 billion in cash."

Trump leaves out important details.

The 2015 nuclear agreement with Iran freed up certain Iranian assets that had been frozen under sanctions. (Iran has other assets that remain frozen.)

Some conservatives have put the amount released after lifted sanctions as high as $150 billion, which is the highest of estimates we have seen. Another estimate from Iran’s Central Bank topped out at about $29 billion in readily available funds, with another $45 billion tied up in Chinese investment projects and the foreign assets of the Iran’s Oil Ministry.

After talking with officials at Iran’s Central Bank, Nader Habibi, professor of economics of the Middle East at Brandeis University, believes the actual total is between $25 billion and $50 billion.

In July 2015, U.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew told lawmakers Iran would gain access to $56 billion.

It’s important to know that little of that money was under the control of the United States or any U.S. bank. Most of it, Habibi said, was in central and commercial banks overseas. Furthermore, it was Iran’s money to begin with, not a payment from any government to buy Iran’s cooperation.

As for the $1.8 billion, the Congressional Research Service, the nonpartisan analytic arm of Congress, reviewed this cash transfer in a 2018 report. It gave a total of $1.7 billion. That was the amount that U.S. and Iranian negotiators settled on to resolve an arms contract between the United States and Iran that predated the Iranian revolution in 1979. Iran had paid for military equipment and it was never delivered.

As of 1990, there was $400 million in that account. Negotiators agreed that accrued interest would add $1.3 billion to the amount, which is a lot of money — but 25 years is a long time for interest to build up the balance.

"Unemployment for Americans without high school diplomas – that’s a big thing – recently reached the lowest rate ever recorded."

Trump is correct.

Though it went up slightly in August 2018, the July 2018 unemployment rate for this group was 5.1 percent, the lowest recorded since the government began tracking the number in 1992. In 2010, as the country was digging out of the Great Recession, the unemployment rate for this group was three times as high.

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"Unemployment for Americans without high school diplomas – that’s a big thing – recently reached the lowest rate ever recorded."
a rally in Wheeling, W.Va.
Saturday, September 29, 2018

During the rally, Trump turned over the microphone to Patrick Morrisey, who is challenging U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., this fall.

Morrisey said Manchin "abandoned your gun rights, supporting Obama’s radical gun control. He abandoned your values on life, backing Planned Parenthood. He abandoned your paychecks when he said no to the Trump tax cuts. He abandoned you when he supports amnesty, and when he opposed Trump’s border wall."

On guns, Manchin once received strong support from the National Rifle Association, but no longer. Manchin’s relations with the NRA soured in 2013 after he and Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., proposed legislation that would have enacted tighter background checks for certain gun purchases. Manchin and Toomey framed the bill as a compromise, but the NRA saw it as the first step down a slippery slope and opposed it. (It never became law.)

In an interview on CBS news in March 2018 -- in the wake of the school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. -- Manchin defended his position as "not gun control. It’s gun sense. … This bill of ours, the Manchin-Toomey bill, should be the base bill they work off of." He also has signaled support for banning bump stocks and raising the legal age of purchasing assault rifles. Manchin added that he would not support a ban on AR-15s.

Planned Parenthood, the national health and family-planning clinic network, has been a longtime target of anti-abortion groups because it provides abortion services. By law, federal money cannot be used to pay for abortion services, but federal dollars do flow to Planned Parenthood for other purposes -- something that rankles opponents of abortion, who say that money is fungible.

Manchin has said that he’s personally anti-abortion but supports federal funding for Planned Parenthood as long as the funding comports with existing federal law.

On taxes, his biggest vote came in December 2017, when the Senate considered a bill backed by President Trump and the GOP-controlled House that made major tax cuts and enacted other changes to the tax code. Manchin, like the chamber’s other Democrats, voted against passage, but the bill received enough Republican support to become law.

Manchin’s vote against the bill isn’t exactly a vote for "higher taxes" -- it was a vote to keep the status quo on taxes -- but he did pass up the opportunity to lower taxes for many Americans.

On immigration, Manchin voted in favor of the 2013 "Gang of Eight" bill, among other things, would have set up a path to legal status and an eventual opportunity for citizenship. The bill passed the Senate, 68-32, with 14 Republicans joining 54 Democrats and Democratic-caucusing independent Senators in voting for it. (The bill did not get a hearing in the House and never became law.)

But as we’ve concluded in the past, defining "amnesty" is tricky.

Some view it as blanket permission for undocumented immigrants to remain in the United States, while others view amnesty as any measure that is favorable to any undocumented immigrants, even if it includes a list of tough measures they have to meet. Republicans who supported the legislation, along with most Democrats, argued that the bill did not offer amnesty.

At the time, we concluded that the bill did not offer blanket legal residency to unauthorized immigrants. It mandated fines, background checks and waiting periods, and was tougher than a 1986 law that was more in line with a traditional definition of "amnesty."

Since then, Manchin has sought to find a middle ground in the Senate. However, facing a tough reelection campaign in a solidly pro-Trump state, he has often emphasized his stance on toughening border security.

Manchin has offered various opinions about the merits of a border wall over time. However, when it comes to votes, we found not one but three instances in which Manchin cast a vote to allocate taxpayer money for a wall. This included one immigration proposal that attracted only two other Democratic votes and which a sizable chunk of the Senate Republican conference deemed too conservative.

Morrisey also said at the rally:

"Joe Manchin supported Hillary Clinton even after she made clear she wanted to take away our coal, our oil and our gas jobs."

We have previously rated this Mostly True. Clinton did say the remark, and Manchin remained in her camp through the election. However, Morrisey left out some context -- that Clinton had also expressed empathy for coal miners’ economic challenges in her initial remark, that she later clarified what she had meant to say, and that Manchin had worked to convince Clinton of why her remarks had been unacceptable.

Blahut, Britten, Martin, and Soule reported from Morgantown, W.Va., and Jacobson reported from Washington.

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