Much Bluster, Not Many Facts From Trump

WASHINGTON (AP) — Facing another deadly mass shooting, President Donald Trump is deflecting on gun control.

Over the weekend, he pointed to mental illness as a likely culprit behind recent shootings in Texas and elsewhere, though criminologists routinely cite gun ownership as a far better predictor of public mass shootings than indicators of mental illness. There were no immediate indications Sunday that mental illness contributed to the shootings that killed 7 and injured 22 others in Texas, a state with one of the most lenient gun control laws.

Trump also repeatedly marveled over Hurricane Dorian’s size, incorrectly telling the public about its potential path and suggesting he’s never heard of a “category 5” storm before. Dorian, in fact, is the fourth Category 5 storm to happen under his watch.

The claims capped a week of distortion by Trump on various fronts, from the economy to Iran and North Korea.

Here’s a review:

Hurricane Dorian

Trump: “In addition to Florida South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama, will most likely be hit (much) harder than anticipated.” — tweet Sunday

Trump: “The original course was dead into Florida. Now it seems to be going up toward South Carolina, toward North Carolina. Georgia’s going to be hit. Alabama’s going to get a piece of it, it looks like.” — remarks to reporters Sunday.

The facts: Alabama is expected to be spared. As of Sunday, the National Hurricane Center forecast Dorian to be 40 to 50 miles off the Florida coast on Tuesday and Wednesday, with hurricane-force wind speeds extending about 35 miles  to the west.

“Alabama will NOT see any impacts from #Dorian,” tweeted the National Weather Service in Birmingham, Alabama. “We repeat, no impacts from Hurricane #Dorian will be felt across Alabama. The system will remain too far east.”

Few, if any, meteorologists put Alabama in its path.

Asked if Trump had been briefed about the impact to Alabama, Christopher Vaccaro, a spokesman for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, wrote in an email: “The current forecast path of Dorian does not include Alabama.”

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Trump: “I’m not sure that I’ve ever even heard of aCcategory 5. I knew it existed and I’ve seen some Category 4’s. You don’t even see them that much. But a Category 5 is something that I don’t know that I’ve ever even heard the term other than I know it’s there.” — remarks Sunday at FEMA headquarters.

The facts: In his third hurricane season as president, Trump has had plenty of exposure to category 5 storms.

He made the same claim two years ago, saying he wasn’t aware of Category 5 storms until Hurricane Irma. “In Florida, you got hit with the strongest winds ever recorded. It actually hit the Keys with a … it was a Category 5. I never even knew a Category 5 existed,” Trump said in September 2017.

Since then, he’s repeatedly marveled about the size of the storms — and by extension, his administration’s response to it — including Category 5 hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017, Michael in 2018 and now Dorian.

Having four Category 5 hurricanes in three years is more than any other president in history. George W. Bush had eight such hurricanes in eight years. Barack Obama, Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan only had one during their two terms in office, while George H.W. Bush had two in four years and Carter had three in four years.

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Trump on hurricane aid: “Will it ever end? Congress approved 92 Billion Dollars for Puerto Rico last year, an all time record of its kind for ‘anywhere.'” — tweet Tuesday

Trump on Puerto Rico: “Congress approved Billions of Dollars last time, more than anyplace else has ever gotten.” — tweet Wednesday.

The facts: His figure of $92 billion is wrong, as is his assertion that the U.S. territory has set some record for federal disaster aid. Congress has so far distributed only about $14 billion for Puerto Rico.

It’s a false claim he’s made repeatedly. The White House has said the estimate includes about $50 billion in expected future disaster disbursements that could span decades, along with $42.7 billion approved.

That $50 billion in additional money, however, is speculative. It is based on Puerto Rico’s eligibility for federal emergency disaster funds for years ahead, involving calamities that haven’t happened.

That money would require future appropriations by Congress.

Even if correct, $92 billion would not be the most ever provided for hurricane rebuilding efforts. Hurricane Katrina in 2005 cost the U.S. government more than $120 billion — the bulk of it going to Louisiana.

Trump frequently inflates and complains about the amount of disaster aid that Congress “foolishly gave” Puerto Rico after the deadly destruction from Hurricane Maria in 2017. He has talked as if he does not recognize the U.S. territory as American and, in an April tweet, said Puerto Rico officials “only take from USA.”

Hurricane Dorian inflicted limited damage in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands before intensifying on its track toward the U.S. mainland.

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Gun violence

Trump, addressing the mass shooting in Odessa, Texas: “For the most part, sadly, if you look at the last four or five going back … five or six or seven years for the most part, as strong as you make your background checks, they would not have stopped any of it. So it’s a big problem. It’s a mental problem.” — remarks Sunday

Trump: “Our goal must be to identify severely disturbed individuals and disrupt their plans before they strike.” — remarks Sunday at FEMA headquarters

The facts: He’s oversimplifying the role of mental illness in public mass shootings and minimizing the ease with which Americans can get firearms. There was no immediate indication Sunday that mental illness was a factor in the mass murders in Texas.

Most people with mental illness in fact are far more likely to be victims of violent crime than perpetrators.

A country’s rate of gun ownership is a far better predictor of public mass shootings than indicators of mental illness, said Adam Lankford, a University of Alabama criminologist who published a 2016 analysis of data from 171 countries.

“The key of what’s going on here is access to guns for people who are dangerous or disturbed,” Lankford said. Red flag laws make it easier to disarm people believed to be a danger to themselves or others, “but sometimes there are not clear warning signs or those signs are not reported to the authorities until after an attack,” he said.

Last month, the U.S. Secret Service released a report on mass public attacks in 2018, finding that “no single profile” can be used “to predict who will engage in targeted violence” and “mental illness, alone, is not a risk factor.”

Trump has offered contradictory messages in reacting to recent mass shootings. Days after the El Paso shooting in August, he said he was eager to implement “very meaningful background checks” on guns and told reporters there was “tremendous support” for action. He later backed away, saying the present system of background checks was “very, very strong.”

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Economy

Trump: “On this very day — I just saw a number — almost 160 million people are working. The most ever in the history of our country.  I mean, we have incredible numbers.” — remarks to reporters Friday

The facts: He’s correct, but that’s because of population growth.

A more relevant measure is the proportion of Americans with jobs, and that is still far below record highs.

According to Labor Department data, 60.7% of people in the United States 16 years and older were working in July. That’s below the all-time high of 64.7% in April 2000, though higher than the 59.9% when Trump was inaugurated in January 2017.

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Trump: “General Motors, which was once the Giant of Detroit, is now one of the smallest auto manufacturers there. They moved major plants to China, BEFORE I CAME INTO OFFICE. This was done despite the saving help given them by the USA. Now they should start moving back to America again?” — tweet Friday

The facts: That’s inaccurate on several counts.

Still a giant, GM did not close factories in the United States and move them to China. It set up and expanded operations in China primarily to serve that market.

By many measures, it is the largest U.S. automaker. The company made more money last year than crosstown rivals Fiat Chrysler and Ford, and GM sold more vehicles in the U.S. than the other two.

It remains the largest Michigan-headquartered employer in the state, with a workforce of 52,000 outpacing that of Ford, the state government and Fiat Chrysler, according to an analysis this year by Crain’s Detroit Business. In southeast Michigan, it was No. 2, behind Ford, and ahead of Fiat Chrysler.

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North Korea

Vice President Mike Pence: “Watching those 55 small, flag-draped caskets come off the plane was an extraordinary experience. We brought back — we brought back our heroes, and there’s more to come.” — remarks Wednesday to the American Legion veterans group

The facts: No remains of U.S. service members have been returned since last summer and the United States suspended efforts in May to get negotiations on the remains back on track in time to have more repatriated this year. The United States hopes more remains may be brought home next year.

The Pentagon’s Defense POW-MIA Accounting Agency, which is responsible for recovering U.S. war remains and returning them to families, “has not received any new information from (North Korean) officials regarding the turn over or recovery of remains,” spokesman Charles Prichard said in August.

He said his agency is “still working to communicate” with the North Korean army “as it is our intent to find common ground on resuming recovery missions” in 2020.

Last year, in line with the first summit between Trump and North Korea’s Kim Jong-un that June, the North turned over 55 boxes of what it said were the remains of an undetermined number of U.S. service members killed in the North during the 1950-53 war. So far, six Americans have been identified from the 55 boxes.

U.S. officials have said the North has suggested in recent years that it holds perhaps 200 sets of American war remains. Thousands more are unrecovered from battlefields and former POW camps.

The Pentagon estimates that 5,300 Americans were lost in North Korea.

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Trump on North Korea’s leader: “With respect to North Korea — Kim Jong-un, who I’ve got to know extremely well, the first lady has gotten to know Kim Jong-un and I think she’d agree with me, he is a man with a country that has tremendous potential.” — news conference on Aug. 26 with French President Emmanuel Macron

The facts: Melania Trump doesn’t know Kim. They have never met.

White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said that Trump confides in his wife on his relationship with Kim and “feels like she’s gotten to know him, too.”

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