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Commentary: Fact-checkers have a field day with Trump's claims in address

WASHINGTON — Two years into his presidency, Donald Trump is still trying to convince Congress to cough up billions of hard-earned tax dollars to build his wall on the southern border with Mexico.

He originally promised voters that Mexico would pay for the 2,000-mile concrete wall, and his supporters swallowed it hook, line and sinker.

They bought it even after the president of Mexico flatly told him at a face-to-face meeting on the border during the campaign that they were never going to pay for his dream wall. But he continued to repeat his false promise at all of his rallies, asking his supporters, “And who’s going to pay for the wall?” “Mexico!” his fans shouted back.

Now, with his job approval polls stuck in the lower 40 percent range, and the Democrats, who now control the House of Representatives, refusing to spend one nickel on his wall, Trump is raising the stakes.

He is refusing to sign a budget bill unless it contains the $5.7 billion he wants to begin construction of his wall, triggering a partial government shutdown that he says he will not reopen until Congress gives him the money.

Then he went on nationwide television to deliver what The Washington Post called a “fact-challenged” speech from the Oval Office on Tuesday, telling the American people that the U.S. faced “a growing humanitarian and security crisis” on the Mexican border.

In a misleading, fear-mongering speech, he proceeded to tell Americans that thousands of Mexicans are illegally pouring into our country, largely composed of criminals, rapists, murderers and drug smugglers.

One false claim that he’s made before — that terrorists were also crossing the border into the U.S. — was missing from his speech. Fact-checkers and TV anchors, including those at Fox News, have questioned that claim.

Still, Trump administration officials have raised issues of terrorists entering across the border. But when NBC News looked into those claims, it turned out that U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents “encountered only six immigrants at ports of entry on the U.S.-Mexican border in the first half of fiscal year 2018 whose names were on a federal government list of known or suspected terrorists,” according to data given to Congress that was obtained by NBC.

In Trump’s world, only the worst elements in Mexico are crossing the border. Yet, in reality, most are presenting themselves at the border seeking safety, asylum, jobs and a better life.

What Trump doesn’t tell Americans is that the number of migrants crossing the border illegally has fallen to a 20-year low.

A recent Reuters news service story says this: “Illegal border crossings into the United States have declined dramatically in recent years, yet Trump insists a wall is still necessary to stem a ‘humanitarian and national crisis’ in the region.”

Illegal crossings and apprehensions peaked at 1.6 million in 2000, but have since fallen to a little over 300,000 in 2017. That’s the lowest in 45 years.

In fact, there are many more cases of people who just have overstayed their visas than border-crossing arrests.

As for drug smugglers, it is true that 90 percent of the heroin sold in the U.S. comes from Mexico, the Post says, but “virtually all of it comes through legal points of entry.

“’A small percentage of all heroin seized by (Customs and Border Protection) was between Ports of Entry,” the Drug Enforcement Administration said in a 2018 report. So Trump’s wall would do little to halt drug trafficking.”

Then there’s Trump’s specious claim that if Congress does not appropriate the $5.7 billion for his wall, he will get the money from his newly negotiated North American Free Trade Agreement.

“The wall will also be paid for indirectly by the great new trade deal we have made with Mexico,” he said Tuesday night.

The Post called this part of his Oval Office speech a “Four Pinocchio claim.”

“This betrays a misunderstanding of economics,” the newspaper said. “Countries do not ‘lose’ money on trade deficits, so there is no money to earn; the size of a trade deficit or surplus can be determined by other factors besides trade.”

Trade experts explained this is false, too, according to NBC’s fact-checker. “There’s nothing in the new trade deal that earmarks funds for the border wall. Revenue raised by tariffs are federal dollars that must be appropriated by Congress.”

Trump must have skipped his Economics 101 course at the Wharton School of Business.

Commentary: Get the Federal Government Out of Washington

Americans of all political stripes distrust the federal government.

For years, the name of the nation’s capital has been used as shorthand for federal overreach and bloat. For most Americans, Washington, D.C. is hundreds of miles away — and a million ways disconnected — from them.

The Washington area is home to hundreds of thousands of federal jobs, and many unpopular agencies. But agencies that are more spread out, like the Postal Service, are significantly more popular.

So here’s a simple idea: Move more of the federal government to the rest of the country.

Studies show that once you get to know people different from you, your prejudice towards them drops. Could that same approach also bridge the deep disconnect between Americans and their national government?

One way to sweeten the pot would be the promise of tens of thousands of jobs to areas that need them.

A geographically diverse federal government would be bolstered by the Green New Deal program championed by progressives like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

Bringing back past agencies, like the Depression-era Works Progress Administration, to help build green infrastructure would help transition this country off fossil fuels and into a sustainable future. It would guarantee jobs, maybe good union jobs, for countless workers.

A new Works Progress Agency could establish offices in places like Milwaukee, where it could build a long-discussed high-speed rail line connecting the cities of the Midwest. Or in Phoenix, where it could construct more solar power plants in the desert. It could set up in places like Jackson, Mississippi, helping to build sustainable co-op farms, or on the Gulf Coast, to fight climate change.

Similarly, a single-payer, Medicare for All health service would also need to have offices in communities. It would create health care jobs in places often abandoned by providers, boosting economies and bringing affordable care to millions.

Meanwhile, reintroducing postal banking would bolster Post Office finances and bring banking to millions of underbanked Americans.

There’s another benefit to all this: the revitalization of our heartland cities. Midwestern cities like Detroit, Cleveland, and Milwaukee are full of classical architecture and cultural amenities, but have lost hundreds of thousands of jobs from the erosion of manufacturing. New federal jobs could reverse decades of decline in these grand cities.

Why stop there?

The National Weather Service could move to New Orleans or another area impacted by the climate change they study. The U.S. Geological Survey could move out to Sacramento, which knows something about earthquakes. Agencies that deal with farming and rural development could set up in Farm Belt areas like Kansas City, where they’d be more attuned to the people they serve.

Spreading out the federal government would help rebuild the trust that’s eroded in recent years and provide jobs that are unionized, well-paying, and accessible to people often excluded from the broader economy.

Decentralizing government is popular across the political spectrum, and the federal government is bogged down by its centralization in D.C. Why not put it more in line with its original mission — to be of the people, by the people — and bring it to the people that need it most?

Byron York: What, precisely, do Democrats want to impeach Trump for?

Newly sworn-in Democratic Rep. Rashida Tlaib electrified progressives with her passionate declaration that she and her colleagues will “impeach the motherf—-er” — the “motherf—-er,” of course, being President Trump.

Democratic leaders were embarrassed that a high-profile freshman would speak so frankly in public. But hours before Tlaib spoke, on the first day of Democratic control of the House, another Democrat, Rep. Brad Sherman, filed a resolution of impeachment. Sherman’s resolution was later co-sponsored by another colleague, Democratic Rep. Al Green.

The efforts by Sherman and Green, who filed his own articles in 2017, and another House Democrat, Rep. Steve Cohen, who also introduced articles in Trump’s first months in office, are nothing new. Nor are those efforts a lonely quest. In an early 2018 procedural vote, 66 Democrats voted in favor of moving an impeachment measure forward.

But on what grounds, specifically, do the pro-impeachment Democrats intend to remove the president? The new Sherman/Green resolution, and Green’s and Cohen’s resolutions from last year, are not exactly a comprehensive recounting of Trump’s alleged offenses.

Sherman’s is based entirely on the president’s firing of FBI Director James Comey and the Comey memos, while Green’s articles seek to remove Trump for “sowing discord among the people of the United States” with his comments on Charlottesville, transgender troops and Muslim immigration. (In an earlier version, Green also sought to impeach Trump for statements about Rep. Frederica Wilson and NFL players who do not stand for the national anthem.)

Cohen’s articles rehashed much of Sherman’s obstruction allegation, while adding a charge that Trump violated the Constitution’s emoluments clause, plus articles seeking to remove Trump for tweeting about federal judges and calling some press organizations “fake news.”

Judging by the articles currently on the table, Democrats will have to raise their impeachment game if they choose to go forward with an attempt to remove the president.

Sherman’s single article of impeachment, originally filed on July 12, 2017 and re-filed last week, said Trump violated his constitutional oath to take care that the laws be faithfully executed because he “prevented, obstructed and impeded the administration of justice during a federal investigation.” Specifically, Trump violated his oath by “threatening, and then terminating, James Comey.”

As evidence, Sherman cited a “pattern of behavior” in which Trump asked Comey to lay off Michael Flynn; decided to fire Comey before asking the Justice Department for a rationale for the move; gave varying reasons for the firing; and said sacking Comey had reduced the pressure on him from the Russia investigation.

Green’s resolution of impeachment did not really accuse Trump of committing high crimes and misdemeanors as president. It was, instead, an argument that Trump should be removed from office because his “bigoted statements” have “harmed American society.”

Cohen’s articles, introduced in the House on Nov. 15, 2017, were the most extensive of the lot. They overlapped with Sherman’s on the Comey obstruction charge, but also included an extensive list of alleged violations of the emoluments clause by Trump’s various businesses. Trump’s decision to retain links to his business, the articles said, “undermined the integrity of his office, brought disrepute on the presidency, and betrayed his trust as president in a manner subversive of constitutional government, against the cause of law and justice and to the manifest injury of the people of the United States.”

Of the three measures, only Green’s has received a vote. It came on Jan. 19, 2018, when the House voted on a motion to table the measure. Sixty-six Democrats voted against the motion, meaning they favored moving forward with the articles, while 121 Democrats voted to table the measure and three voted present. All Republicans voted to table the measure.

There’s little doubt the new Democratic majority leans farther left than last year’s Democratic minority. Were they put to a vote today, Green’s resolution, or Sherman’s, or Cohen’s, might receive more than the 66 votes a year ago.

On the other hand, even put together, the Green, Sherman and Cohen articles are pretty thin gruel. Yes, the Comey matter would likely be part of any Democratic impeachment articles, but Democrats would certainly want to throw in additional reasons why Trump should be removed. They would certainly want to include, for example, the allegation made by federal prosecutors in New York that Trump violated campaign finance law by not reporting a hush money payment to Stormy Daniels.

It’s a difficult legal argument, but House Democrats don’t need to convict the president in a court of law; they just need to give senators a reason to vote for removal. Beyond that, it seems unlikely — although there’s no way to say for sure at this point — that Democrats would try to remove Trump for tweeting about judges and bashing the press.

Part of the Democratic leadership’s dismay at Rep. Tlaib’s remark is that it might direct attention to the lawmakers who are currently advocating impeachment, and the actual content of the articles they have filed. Is that what the party wants? Green, Sherman, Cohen, et al are on the fringes of the Democratic caucus. But at some point, the big Democratic guns will take over the impeachment effort, and the public will see how serious they are about removing the president.