CNN's Reality Check Team vets Trump's State of the Union

Are the tax cuts the biggest in history?

By CNN'S REALITY CHECK TEAM
Win McNamee/Getty Images

Donald Trump, Mike Pence and Paul Ryan at the State of the Union address Jan. 30.

(CNN) - President Donald Trump on Tuesday delivered his first State of the Union address, and CNN's Reality Check Team was there to vet his claims.

The team of reporters, researchers and editors across CNN listened throughout the speech and analyzed key statements, rating them either true, true but misleading, or false.

Economy

Biggest tax cuts in history?

By Jeanne Sahadi, Sam Petulla and Tami Luhby, CNN

Trump thinks everything he does is huge. Tax reform is no different.

"Just as I promised the American people from this podium 11 months ago, we enacted the biggest tax cuts and reform in American history," he said. "Our massive tax cuts provide tremendous relief for the middle class and small businesses."

Tax analysts and Treasury data, however, contradict the assertion that the tax cuts included in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act are the biggest in US history.

As a share of the economy, four other tax cuts have been bigger than Trump's since the 1960s: Those of President John F. Kennedy's passed in 1964, President Ronald Reagan's 1981 tax cuts, and the 2010 and 2013 tax cuts under President Barack Obama, which included making permanent earlier tax cuts signed by President George W. Bush.

It's unclear how the White House is measuring "reform."

"Reform is a much more subjective measure, so it is hard to rate," said Howard Gleckman, a senior fellow at the Tax Policy Center.

Generally, tax experts define reform in one of three ways, he said. Replacing the income tax, simplifying the code and lowering rates in exchange for getting rid of most tax breaks. By those measures, Gleckman said, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act falls short. It retains the income tax. It simplifies the code in some ways but further complicates it in others. And while it lowers rates, it also retains most tax preferences from the previous tax code.

As for the tax cuts themselves, they are notable, although not enormous for many.

The middle class, for instance, would see tax cuts on average, especially in the next five years. But they would be modest -- with an average increase below 2% in after-tax income. By contrast, higher income households would see an average bump in after-tax income north of 2%, according to the Tax Policy Center.

Plus, for most middle-income groups, their tax cuts will start to diminish and then disappear completely, since individual tax cuts and other benefits would expire after 2025. Republicans say they will extend the individual tax cuts beyond that date.

Verdict: False.

Black unemployment

By Tami Luhby, CNNMoney

Trump has been touting the fact that black unemployment has fallen to a record low 6.8% in recent weeks.

"African-American unemployment stands at the lowest rate ever recorded," the President said Tuesday.

It's true that the unemployment rate for African-Americans has never been lower. It's one of the benefits of the strong job market.

In the past, Trump has falsely taken credit for the stat. The unemployment rate for blacks has been dropping for years, along with the rates for other racial groups.

Plus, black joblessness remains far higher than the rate for whites, which stands at 3.7%.

The President got into a high-profile spat with Jay-Z this past weekend after the rapper told CNN's Van Jones that just putting money in people's pockets doesn't make Trump a good leader.

Trump tweeted the next morning: Somebody please inform Jay-Z that because of my policies, Black Unemployment has just been reported to be at the LOWEST RATE EVER RECORDED!

Verdict: True.

2.4 million jobs since Trump elected

By Patrick Gillespie and Tami Luhby

There's no question that the job market is strong right now. It has been for years.

Trump opted on Tuesday to cite the growth in jobs from his election, rather than when he took office in January.

"Since the election, we have created 2.4 million new jobs, including 200,000 new jobs in manufacturing alone," he said.

It's true that the economy has added 2.4 million jobs since November 2016. And it created 196,000 manufacturing positions last year ... or 214,000 since November 2016.

Here are the stats from the President's first year in office: 2 million jobs were added in 2017, growing for a record 87 straight months. (Technically, Trump only gets credit for the 1.8 million jobs created since last February. That's because the January report was done under former President Barack Obama's watch.)

Unemployment is at 4.1%, matching the lowest level in 17 years. Companies say they are having a hard time finding workers to fill jobs.

Still, job growth actually slowed last year. That's because he inherited a strong job market from former Obama. The United States added almost 3 million jobs in 2014, 2.7 million in 2015 and 2.2 million in 2016.

That trend is what's expected in such a long economic expansion. As unemployment moves to historic lows, job gains eventually slow down.

Verdict: True.

Wage stagnation

By Tami Luhby and Patrick Gillespie, CNNMoney

Trump took credit for workers getting higher wages under his tenure.

"After years of wage stagnation, we are finally seeing rising wages," he said Tuesday.

Last year, wages grew an average of 2.6% -- the same rate as 2016. And it's still considered weak improvement: The Federal Reserve hopes to see wages increase about 3.5% annually.

Wage growth has accelerated somewhat over the past two years. It averaged a paltry 2.2% since October 2010, even though the economy has added jobs every month.

The relative lack of wage growth is a big reason many Americans still feel left out of the recovery from the Great Recession.

Verdict: False.

Auto industry recovery

By Julia Horowitz, Chris Isidore and Tami Luhby, CNNMoney

Trump highlighted the strength of the auto industry, saying he "halted government mandates that crippled America's auto workers, so we can get the Motor City revving its engines once again."

But the auto industry's recovery began years ago. If anything, the comeback has lasted so long that it's starting to level off: US car sales fell in 2017 for the first time since 2009, coming in at 17.2 million vehicles. They had set a record in 2016 of 17.6 million cars sold.

Still, the industry is healthy. Car prices are going up, and people are buying more expensive models.

Those trends didn't begin when Trump took office. The Obama administration bailed out General Motors and Chrysler in 2009. What followed was the industry's longest period of sustained growth in decades.

Verdict: False.

ISIS

ISIS territorial loss

By Laura Koran, CNN

"Last year, I pledged that we would work with our allies to extinguish ISIS from the face of the earth," Trump said Tuesday. "One year later, I'm proud to report that the coalition to defeat ISIS has liberated very close to 100% of the territory just recently held by these killers in Iraq and in Syria."

There is no doubt the military campaign to defeat ISIS has claimed major victories in the past year. The terror group was expelled from their self-proclaimed capital in Raqqa, Syria, as well as its onetime stronghold in Mosul, Iraq.

Exactly how much territory has ISIS lost? Estimates vary, but it's clear it no longer has firm control over large swaths of land as it did during its heyday in 2014. Last month, the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS estimated that the group had lost 89% of its territory in Iraq and 87% in Syria since that time.

Of course, some of those coalition gains were made during the Obama administration. Just ahead of the inauguration last year, a survey from the analysis firm IHS Conflict Monitor estimated the group had lost nearly a quarter of its territory over the course of 2016.

While the anti-ISIS effort began under the Obama administration, military officials and diplomats credit Trump with delegating more of the day-to-day decision making to commanders on the ground, which they say brought new momentum to the effort.

Still, experts warn that ISIS remains a threat within the region and, potentially, to the US homeland. As the terror group loses physical territory, it is increasingly turning its attention to online radicalization efforts, urging supporters to conduct terror attacks in their home countries rather than travel to the so-called "caliphate."

Verdict: True. The US-led coalition cannot yet declare victory in its effort to defeat ISIS. But at this moment, as Trump addresses Congress, the group is clearly in retreat, and has experienced significant territorial losses. The United States now faces the challenge of securing and expanding those territorial losses, preventing an ISIS resurgence, and -- at least in Syria -- determining who will govern that space in the long-term.

Judges

Most circuit court judges of any new administration?

By David Shortell, CNN

It may be one of his longest lasting legacies, and Trump was quick to tout it Tuesday: a conservative reshaping of the federal judiciary.

"Working with the Senate," Trump said, "we are appointing judges who will interpret the Constitution as written, including a great new Supreme Court justice, and more circuit court judges than any new administration in the history of our country."

It's a big claim. Since the start of the Trump administration, 13 judges have been confirmed by the Senate to the powerful appellate courts -- the latest, David Stras to the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals, just on Tuesday.

Late last year, upon confirmation of Trump circuit court nominee No. 12, the head of the Senate committee responsible for scrutinizing judicial picks marked the record. "The Senate made history 2day by confirming the 12th Circuit judge this year," GOP Sen. Chuck Grassley tweeted, "the MOST in the 1st yr of any president in the 228 yr history of our country."

The rapid pace of confirmations comes as the White House and Senate Republican leadership move in lockstep, at times eschewing past norms -- like holding hearings for multiple circuit court positions at once -- and by moving forward with nominees who don't have the approval of both of his or her own home state senators. But currently in the minority in the Senate, Democrats have been only able to protest as Trump has made history.

Verdict: True.

Immigration

Have immigration programs made terrorist attacks possible?

By Tal Kopan, CNN

Trump claimed that the diversity visa lottery and family-based migration made recent terrorist attacks in New York City possible, saying "these programs present risks we can no longer afford" and that the diversity lottery is "a program that randomly hands out green cards without any regard for skill, merit, or the safety of our people."

But the statements are misleading and false, respectively.

It is true that Sayfullo Saipov and Akayed Ullah, two recent alleged terrorist attackers in New York City, arrived in the US because of either family connections or the diversity visa lottery. But in both cases, authorities say they were radicalized in the US -- years after they came to the US.

The Trump administration has not explained how it links radicalization in the US to needing to keep immigrants out of the US in the first place.

Roughly 50,000 immigrants per year arrive on diversity visas and hundreds of thousands annually come on family-related visas. The Trump administration has linked a fraction of a percentage of those to terrorism.

But while diversity lottery winners are chosen at random, it is not true that there are no requirements or screening before they actually receive permission to come to the US.

By law, they are required to have at least a high school education or equivalent and work experience that requires specialized training, and they also must be screened for any form of ineligibility, including security risks, and interviewed before they receive a visa.

Verdict: Trump's claim that the visa lottery and family based migration made terror attacks possible is true but misleading. His comment about green cards is false.

Family-based migration

By Tal Kopan, CNN

"Under the current broken system," Trump said Tuesday, "a single immigrant can bring in virtually unlimited numbers of distant relatives."

The President claimed that under what he calls "chain migration," or family-based migration, "a single immigrant can bring in virtually unlimited numbers of distant relatives." But that isn't quite the case when the limitations of the programs are factored in.

It is true that the majority of green cards given out annually go to family members of US citizens and legal permanent residents, not based on employment. Family visa categories include spouses, children and -- with decreasing degrees of preference -- parents, unmarried adult children, married adult children and their families and adult brothers and sisters and their families. The Trump administration has proposed limiting family-based visas to spouses and minor children, which could be a cut of roughly 40% annually to green cards, according to estimates based on DHS statistics.

The process is not quick and is subject to yearly limits -- currently there are more than 5 million immigrants in the backlog and processing queue waiting for their applications to go through. According to an American Immigration Lawyers Association analysis of DHS and State Department data, the US is currently processing green card applications that were filed six to 13 years ago, depending on the type of relative, and that can increase to more than 23 years for nationals of countries that have a higher rate of applications.

According to the analysis, if applicants for sibling visas were filed today, it would take roughly 36 years on average for the application to be processed and more than a lifetime for Mexico, for example, which has a high application rate.

Family-based migration also has its benefits, some experts say. While the process does not pre-select immigrants based on their skillset or professional experience, connecting immigrants with family already in the US does help with assimilation into the culture and gives them a social network to welcome them in the country. Studies have also shown that the second and third generations of immigrant families are a net boon to the economy -- a Center for American Entrepreneurship analysis of the Fortune 500 list for 2017 found that 43% of those companies were founded or co-founded by a first- or second-generation immigrant.

Verdict: False.

MS-13 arrest numbers

By Tal Kopan, CNN

"What the Border Patrol and ICE have done, we have sent thousands, and thousands, and thousands of MS-13, horrible people out of this country or into our prisons."

But Trump's claim is not borne out by the statistics released by his administration.

According to the administration, Immigration and Customs Enforcement made 796 MS-13-related arrests and Customs and Border Protection made 228 MS-13 arrests in the fiscal year that ended at the end of September 2017.

In November, ICE announced a major gang crackdown, which 214 MS-13 arrests nationwide. As part of that, Attorney General Jeff Sessions noted the US "worked with our partners in Central America to arrest and charge some 4,000 MS-13 members," which the White House pointed to as back-up for Trump's claim. But not all of those individuals were arrested in the US or placed in federal prisons.

The efforts to combat the brutal MS-13 gang are not new. Since 2005, there have been roughly 60,000 arrests as part of a continual nationwide gang crackdown operation led by ICE's Homeland Security Investigations with other US law enforcement. Of those arrests, 7,000 have been MS-13.

ICE said the 800 arrests in FY17 were an 83% increase over the year before.

The Justice Department estimates there are roughly 10,000 MS-13 members nationwide, a fraction of the estimated 1.4 million members of US gangs nationally.

In its year-end statistics, ICE did not break down its deportations by type of criminality.

Verdict: False.

Energy

US exports

By Matt Egan, CNNMoney

"We are now, very proudly, an exporter of energy to the world," Trump said Tuesday night.

It's true that the United States exports energy. It has for decades. It just imports a lot more.

The gap has been shrinking in recent years. But the US Energy Information Administration estimates the United States will keep importing more energy than it exports until 2026 -- maybe sooner and maybe later, depending on prices, world demand and regulation.

American exports of one form of energy, crude oil, are booming. But that's not because of Trump. US oil production has climbed substantially for a decade. And Congress repealed a law in 2015 and allowed US producers to send crude to countries other than Canada.

The United States recently became a net exporter of natural gas. But that was because a technological revolution made it easier to extract an abundance of gas from shale formations.

Verdict: False.

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