WASHINGTON — Joe Biden and fellow Democrats spun an assortment of facts to their benefit in their national convention, omitting inconvenient truths such as Barack Obama’s record of aggressive deportations and swift action by a Republican president to save the auto industry more than a decade ago.
Meanwhile President Donald Trump flooded the zone with falsehoods, some so apparent that anyone with access to the internet could see the folly of them at a glance. Witness his reference to New Zealand’s “massive breakout” of COVID-19, which does not exist.
The virtual, socially distanced Democratic National Convention was unique in history but conventional in this sense: The nominee and his supporters at times exaggerated the good, played down the bad and glossed over important context.
But overall the discipline was discernible, as it usually was for the biggest speeches of Republican and Democratic leaders alike before the rise of Trump. Even Biden, a gaffe machine in the old days, displayed that control. The off notes came largely from what Democrats didn’t say.
A sampling from the past week’s rhetoric as the Republican National Convention prepares to affirm Trump as the 2020 nominee in coming days:
BARACK OBAMA: “We are born of immigrants. That is who we are. Immigration is our origin story.” — convention video Wednesday celebrating immigration, showing historical scenes and one that appeared to be of Trump’s border wall.
BARACK OBAMA: “I understand why a new immigrant might look around this country and wonder whether there’s still a place for him here.” — convention speech Wednesday.
THE FACTS: The facts here are not in dispute. But an omission stands out: Obama aggressively enforced border controls and deported nearly 3 million people.
He changed his approach, acting without Congress in 2012 to let people who came to the U.S. illegally as children stay and work legally in the country.
Still, that year was Obama’s high mark for deportations, more than 400,000, far outpacing Trump’s deportations in each of his first three years.
“This whole immigration video was like putting salt on the wound,” tweeted Erika Andiola, an advocate from RAICES, an immigration legal services group in Texas. “Narrated by Obama? Come on.”
She said: “I am angry because it was his administration who almost deported my mother and then Trump came to try to deport her again.”
Immigration activist Julissa Natzely Arce Raya, author of “My (Underground) American Dream,” saw hypocrisy at work, after the video of Estela Juarez, the 11-year-old girl whose mother was deported to Mexico.
“Obama did a lot of things right, but not immigration, he didn’t get that right,” she tweeted. “I promise you, tonight there is a Estela whose mom was deported by Obama.”
MICHELLE OBAMA, on Americans: “They watch in horror as children are torn from their families and thrown into cages.” — Democratic convention Monday.
THE FACTS: The reference to cages is misleading and a matter that Democrats have persistently distorted.
Trump used facilities that were built during the Obama-Biden administration to house children at the border. They are chain-link enclosures inside border facilities where migrants were temporarily housed, separated by sex and age.
At the height of the controversy over Trump’s zero-tolerance policy at the border, photos that circulated online of children in the enclosures generated great anger. But those photos, by The Associated Press, were taken in 2014 and depicted some of the thousands of unaccompanied children held by Obama.
When that fact came to light, some Democrats and activists who had tweeted the photos deleted their tweets. But prominent Democrats have continued to cite cages for children as a distinctive cruelty of Trump.
The former first lady was correct, however, in addressing the removal of children from parents at the border.
The Obama administration separated migrant children from families under certain limited circumstances, like when the child’s safety appeared at risk or when the parent had a serious criminal history. Family separations as a matter of routine came about because of Trump’s “zero-tolerance” enforcement policy, which he eventually suspended because of the uproar. Obama had no such policy.
TRUMP: “Joe Biden has pledged to abolish immigration enforcement.” — rally Tuesday in Yuma, Arizona.
THE FACTS: No he hasn’t.
Biden has been notably outspoken in arguing that crossing the U.S. border illegally is a crime and should remain punished as such in federal court. He did not endorse immigration plans supported by Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and other former presidential candidates that sought to decriminalize illegal border crossings and make doing so only a civil offense.
In addition to misrepresenting Biden’s agenda, Trump ignored the fact that the Obama-Biden administration vigorously deported people, drawing fierce criticism from some advocates for immigrants.
TRUMP: “They want to take the wall down, they don’t want to have borders.” — Arizona rally.
THE FACTS: No, Biden is not pushing to take down the wall or erase borders.
Biden’s immigration plan does not include money for new border fencing, and he isn’t calling for any new walls. But he hasn’t proposed taking down what’s there.
TRUMP on New Zealand and the coronavirus: “They had a massive breakout yesterday.” — remarks Thursday in Old Forge, Pennsylvania.
TRUMP: False. New Zealand has had nothing resembling a massive outbreak or, as he also put it during the week, even a “big surge” or a “big outbreak.”
New Zealand reported five to 13 new cases each day in the past week, as of Friday. The U.S. reported an average of some 46,000 per day during the week.
Trump is unhappy that New Zealand’s success in controlling the virus, through its tight and early rules on distancing and closures, has been used for unfavorable comparisons with his pandemic response. New Zealand went for several months without any new, confirmed cases of locally spread COVID-19 before infection started showing up again in small numbers.
The infection has killed 22 people in New Zealand and 174,000 in the U.S.
That’s a rate of 4.5 deaths per million in New Zealand and 532 per million in the U.S.
BIDEN: “Nearly one in six small businesses have closed this year.” — acceptance speech Thursday.
THE FACTS: That appears to be in the ballpark but is misleading. What he didn’t say is that most of those businesses planned to reopen or already have.
In a MetLife and U.S. Chamber of Commerce survey at the end of July, 86% of small businesses reported that they were fully or partially open. Among those that remained shut, most planned to reopen when they could. Overall, small businesses expressed guarded optimism while worrying what would happen if another wave of the coronavirus comes.
GRETCHEN WHITMER, Michigan governor: “In 2009, the Obama-Biden administration inherited the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. The auto industry — on the brink of collapse. A million jobs at stake. But President Obama and Vice President Biden didn’t waste time blaming anybody. … They brought together union members, companies and lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, and they saved the auto industry.” — Democratic National Convention on Monday.
THE FACTS: She’s assigning too much credit to the Obama administration for saving the auto industry. What Obama did was an expansion of the initial, pivotal steps taken by Obama’s predecessor, George W. Bush.
In December 2008, General Motors and Chrysler were on the brink of financial collapse. The U.S. was in a deep recession and U.S. auto sales were falling sharply, in part because the 2008-2009 financial crisis made it harder for would-be auto buyers to get a car loan. GM, Chrysler and Ford requested government aid, but Congress voted it down.
With barely a month left in office, Bush authorized $25 billion in loans to GM and Chrysler from the $700 billion bailout fund that was initially intended to save the largest U.S. banks. Ford decided against taking any money. After Obama was inaugurated, he appointed a task force to oversee GM and Chrysler, both of which eventually declared bankruptcy, took an additional roughly $55 billion in loans, and were forced to close many factories and overhaul their operations.
All three companies recovered and eventually started adding jobs again.
IRAN NUCLEAR DEAL
TRUMP: “This deal funneled tens of billions of dollars to Iran — $150 billion, to be exact — plus $1.8 billion in cash. … He (Obama) gave $1.8 billion in cash.” — news briefing Wednesday.
THE FACTS: This is a familiar and hyper-distorted tale. There was no $150 billion payout from the U.S. treasury or other countries.
When Iran signed the multinational deal to restrain its nuclear development in return for being freed from sanctions, it regained access to its own assets, which had been frozen abroad. Iran was allowed to get its own money back. The deal was signed in 2015; Trump has taken the U.S. out of it.
The $1.8 billion is a separate matter. A payout of roughly that amount did come from the U.S. treasury. It was to cover an old IOU.
In the 1970s, Iran paid the U.S. $400 million for military equipment that was never delivered because the government was overthrown and diplomatic relations ruptured. After the nuclear deal, the U.S. and Iran announced they had settled the matter, with the U.S. agreeing to pay the $400 million principal along with about $1.3 billion in interest.
TRUMP: “And we got nothing, except a short-term, little deal. A short-term, expiring.” — news briefing Wednesday.
THE FACTS: Trump’s wrong to suggest the deal had no impact before he withdrew the U.S. from the agreement in 2018.
Iran was thought to be only months away from a bomb when the deal came into effect. But during the 15-year life of most provisions of the accord, Iran’s capabilities are limited to a level where it cannot produce a bomb. The deal also includes a pledge by Iran never to seek a nuclear weapon.
The International Atomic Energy Agency and his administration itself had confirmed Iran was complying with the terms before Trump pulled out of the deal.
The pact does gradually lift some restrictions, including limits on centrifuges that were due to expire in 2025.
After the 15 years are up, Iran could have an array of advanced centrifuges ready to work, the limits on its stockpile would be gone and, in theory, it could then throw itself fully into producing highly enriched uranium. But nothing in the deal prevented the West from trying to rein Iran in again with sanctions.
JOHN KERRY, former secretary of state: “We eliminated the threat of an Iran with a nuclear weapon.” — Democratic convention on Tuesday.
THE FACTS: That’s taking it too far. The threat was deferred, not eliminated. That reality was baked into the deal negotiated when Kerry was Obama’s secretary of state. The accord limited Iran’s capabilities to a level where it could not produce a bomb, but most provisions were to expire after 15 years.
TRUMP: “One of the things the Post Office loses so much money on is the delivering packages for Amazon and these others. Every time they deliver a package, they probably lose three or four dollars. That’s not good.” — remarks Monday to reporters.
THE FACTS: That’s not true.
While the U.S. Postal Service has lost money for 13 years, package delivery is not the reason.
Boosted by e-commerce, the Postal Service has enjoyed double-digit increases in revenue from delivering packages, but that hasn’t been enough to offset pension and health care costs as well as declines in first-class letters and marketing mail. Together, letters and marketing mail in recent years have comprised up to two-thirds of postal revenue.
In arguing that the Postal Service is losing money on delivering packages for Amazon, Trump appears to be citing some Wall Street analyses that argue the Postal Service’s formula for calculating its costs is outdated. A 2017 analysis by Citigroup did conclude that the service was charging below-market rates as a whole on parcels. Still, federal regulators have reviewed the Amazon contract with the Postal Service each year and found it profitable.
To become financially stable, the Postal Service has urged Congress for years to give it relief from the mandate to pre-fund retiree health benefits. Legislation in 2006 required the Postal Service to fund 75 years’ worth of retiree health benefits, at an estimated cost of $5 billion per year, something that the government and private companies don’t have to do.
In the most recent quarter, for instance, package delivery rose 53% at the Postal Service as homebound people during the pandemic shifted online for their shopping. But the gain in deliveries was offset by the continued declines in first-class mail as well as costs for personal protective equipment and to replace workers who got sick during the pandemic.
The biggest factor was the prepayment of retiree health benefits, which Congress imposed and only Congress can take away.
As a quasi-government agency, the Postal Service also is required under law to provide mail delivery to millions of U.S. residences at affordable and uniform rates. It does not use taxpayer money for its operations and supports operations with the sales of stamps and other mail products.
TRUMP: “We want to make sure that the Post Office runs properly and it hasn’t run properly for many years, for probably 50 years. It’s run very badly. So we want to make sure that the Post Office runs properly and doesn’t lose billions of dollars.”— remarks Monday to reporters.
THE FACTS: Trump offered no evidence of broad mismanagement at the Postal Service that dates back 50 years.
The Postal Service started losing “billions,” as Trump put it, after the 2006 law mandating health prefunding took effect. Those billion-dollar payments, which coincided with the 2007-2008 Great Recession and a wider shift toward online bill payments, pushed the Postal Service into the red. Excluding those health payments, it has finished each year with revenue surpluses for most of the past decade.
HILDA SOLIS, former labor secretary, on Biden: “He and President Obama made it easier for home-care workers to organize. They extended overtime pay to more than 4 million workers.” — Democratic convention Wednesday.
THE FACTS: No, Obama and Biden tried to extend overtime pay to an estimated 4 million workers, but it never happened.
The Obama administration completed such a rule in May 2016, but it was ultimately blocked by a federal judge after 21 states sued the Labor Department.
In 2019, the Trump administration extended overtime for an estimated 1.3 million workers in home health care, retail, fast food and certain other low-wage jobs.
BERNIE SANDERS, Vermont senator: “Joe supports raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour. This will give 40 million workers a pay raise and push the wage scale up for everyone else.” — Democratic convention Monday.
THE FACTS: Not likely. He’s taking an optimistic projection as a certainty.
He’s referring to a 2019 study by the Economic Policy Institute, a left-leaning think tank that estimated $15 an hour by 2025 would directly raise wages for 28 million and indirectly for 11 million. Even that study doesn’t say wage scales would go up for “everyone.”
A July 2019 report from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office found a much less significant impact, and some likely costs, from a $15 federal minimum.
The office said 1.3 million workers could be priced out of the market and lose their job if a $15 minimum wage were federally mandated. It also projected far fewer workers — roughly 27 million total — would see a pay increase as a result.
TRUMP, on unrest in Minnesota after George Floyd died in the custody of Minneapolis police: “When I sent in the National Guard, that’s when it all stopped.” — speech Monday in Mankato, Minnesota.
THE FACTS: False. Gov. Tim Walz, a Democrat, deployed the Minnesota National Guard, not Trump. The president didn’t send forces to the streets in Minnesota. He repeatedly claims that he did.
In the speech, Trump went on to say he urged Minnesota officials to deploy the Guard and “they should have done it a lot sooner,” thereby acknowledging, if indirectly, that the order wasn’t his. But Walz said he mobilized the Guard at the request of city officials, not because Trump wanted him to.
TRUMP, on China’s adherence to the trade deal his administration negotiated with Beijing: “They are living – they’re more than living … up to it. … Because they know I’m very angry at them.” — “Fox & Friends” interview Monday.
THE FACTS: That’s not true. China is falling well short of its commitments under the trade deal.
The Peterson Institute for International Economics, which has been tracking China’s purchases, found this month that U.S. exports of goods to China should have totaled $71.3 billion from January through June to be on track to reach this year’s target under the Phase 1 deal. Instead, they topped out at $33.1 billion, only 46% of what they should be.
The shortfall in promised Chinese purchases of U.S. farm products is even bigger. Those purchases totaled $6.5 billion, only 39% of purchases that should have reached $16.7 billion through June.
The gap is perhaps not surprising, given that world trade has been badly disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic. But Trump did not negotiate provisions giving China leeway in any downturn. It’s conceivable, if unlikely, that Chinese purchases will pick up in the second half of the year enough to make up for the shortfall.
But in no sense is China more than living up to the deal now.
Associated Press writers Paul Wiseman and Matthew Daly in Washington and Amanda Seitz in Chicago contributed to this report.