WASHINGTON | Battling dual crises of gun violence and trade, President Donald Trump is twisting the facts in regards to gun control and exaggerating his case for tariffs against China.
Speaking Wednesday, Trump defended his past incendiary rhetoric on race in the wake of weekend mass shootings in Texas and Ohio and suggested that legislation addressing background checks was imminent. That’s not the case.
He also insisted that his tariffs on China are having devastating effects on the country by spurring a mass exodus of companies. There’s no evidence of that.
Democratic presidential candidates, meanwhile, also distorted facts in an emerging national debate over guns and race, assailing the Trump administration for putting migrant children in the same type of holding facilities used when Barack Obama was president.
A look at the political rhetoric and reality:
TRUMP, commenting on prospects for gun control legislation: “There’s a great appetite — and I mean a very strong appetite — for background checks. And I think we can bring up background checks like we’ve never had before. I think both Republican and Democrat are getting close to a bill on — they’re doing something on background checks.” — remarks to reporters Wednesday before departing for Dayton, Ohio, and El Paso, Texas.
THE FACTS: He’s overstating the level of political will for gun control measures.
Passage of a background checks bill in the Senate remains unlikely. Support for a bipartisan background checks measure co-sponsored by Republican Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania and Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia reached a high point with a 2013 vote after the Sandy Hook shooting but it fell short of the 60 votes needed to advance. Both senators spoke to Trump on Monday.
Two other gun bills have passed the House this year but languished in the Republican-controlled Senate. One of them would require federal background checks for all firearms sales and transfers, including those online or at gun shows. The second bill allows an expanded 10-day review for gun purchases.
With gun control legislation stalled, some senators have pushed for a bipartisan proposal to create a federal grant program to encourage states to adopt “red flag” laws to take guns away from people believed to be a danger to themselves or others. But it remains to be seen if such a law could pass Congress.
BETO O’ROURKE, Democratic presidential candidate: “Donald Trump has been very clear about who he wants to keep out of this country — with walls and cages.” — tweet Wednesday.
CORY BOOKER, Democratic presidential candidate: “White supremacy” in the U.S. manifests itself “in an immigration system that targets Latino migrants fleeing violence at our southern border, separates families and throws children in cages.” — gun policy speech Wednesday at a South Carolina church.
THE FACTS: Both O’Rourke, a former U.S. representative and El Paso native, and Booker, a New Jersey senator, are tapping into a misleading and common insinuation by Democrats about Trump placing children in “cages.”
The cages are actually chain-link fences and the Obama-Biden administration used them, too.
Children and adults are held behind them, inside Border Patrol facilities, under the Trump administration as well.
Obama’s administration detained large numbers of unaccompanied children inside chain link fences in 2014. Images that circulated online of children in cages during the height of Trump’s family separations controversy were actually from 2014 when Obama was in office.
Children are placed in such areas by age and sex for safety reasons and are supposed to be held for no longer than 72 hours by the Border Patrol. But as the number of migrants continues to grow under the Trump administration, the system is clogged at every end, so Health and Human Services, which manages the care of children in custody, can’t come get the children in time. Officials say they are increasingly holding children for five days or longer.
TRUMP: “China is losing so many — they’re losing — thousands and thousands of companies are leaving China now because of the tariffs.” — remarks to reporters Wednesday.
THE FACTS: Not so fast. It’s true that many companies are rethinking their supply chains in an effort to dodge Trump’s tariffs on goods from China. Some are moving production to alternative countries such as Vietnam and Mexico. But there’s no evidence of a mass exodus. For one thing, relocating factories takes time — often 12 to 18 months. For another, it will be hard for multinationals to duplicate what they have in China — longstanding relationships with Chinese contractors and access to a vast array of specialized suppliers who can quickly deliver niche components.
Trump last week sought to intensify pressure on China to reach a trade deal by saying he will impose 10% tariffs Sept. 1 on the remaining $300 billion in Chinese imports he hasn’t already taxed. U.S. consumers will likely feel the pain if Trump proceeds with the new tariffs.
TRUMP, on gun restrictions: “We have done much more than most administrations. …We’ve done, actually, a lot.” — remarks Sunday to reporters.
THE FACTS: Trump’s record on gun control is not groundbreaking.
Congress has proven unable to pass substantial gun violence legislation, despite the frequency of mass shootings, in large part because of resistance from Republicans, particularly in the GOP-controlled Senate. That political dynamic seems difficult to change.
It’s true that after other mass shootings Trump called for strengthening the federal background check system, and in 2018 he signed legislation to increase federal agency data sharing. In December 2018, the Trump administration also banned bump stocks, the attachments that allow semi-automatic weapons to fire like machine guns and were used during the October 2017 shooting massacre in Las Vegas.
But he has also rolled back restrictions, reneged on pledges and resisted Democratic calls to toughen other gun control laws.
Within weeks of taking office, Trump scrapped a federal rule imposed by Obama that could have made it harder for some mentally ill people to own guns. Under the rule, the Social Security Administration was supposed to provide information to the gun-buying background check system on recipients with a mental disorder so severe they cannot work or handle their own benefit checks. The rule didn’t make certain people ineligible to buy a firearm, but was designed to ensure the background check system was comprehensive.
In February, the House approved bipartisan legislation to require federal background checks for all gun sales and transfers and approved legislation to allow a review period of up to 10 days for background checks on firearms purchases. The White House threatened a presidential veto if those measures passed Congress.
At a February meeting with survivors and family members of the 2018 Parkland, Florida, school shooting in which 17 people died, Trump promised to be “very strong on background checks.” Trump claimed he would stand up to the gun lobby and finally get results in quelling gun violence. But he later retreated, expressing support for modest changes to the federal background check system and for arming teachers.
Some Democrats have called for stronger measures such as renewing a federal ban on assault weapons, which was put in place during the Clinton administration before it expired under President George W. Bush. Trump has shown no interest in embracing that issue.
TRUMP: “We must reform our mental health laws to better identify mentally disturbed individuals who may commit acts of violence and make sure those people not only get treatment, but, when necessary, involuntary confinement.” — remarks Monday on the mass shootings.
THE FACTS: His words don’t match his past actions.
Trump’s budgets would have slashed the federal-state Medicaid program, which provides health insurance for more than 70 million low-income and disabled people and is also the major source of public funds for mental health treatment.
Such proposals failed to advance in Congress, even when both chambers were under Republican control.
The president’s 2020 budget does call for some spending increases on smaller mental health programs, including an increase of $15 million, for a total of $107 million, to expand school-based programs. The Parkland shootings last year at a Florida high school heightened sensitivity to the mental health needs of students.
But such increases for specific programs pale in comparison with the impact of Medicaid cuts. This year Trump again proposed to turn the program over to the states, limiting future federal financing. That would have led to a cut of about $1.4 trillion over 10 years from currently projected levels of federal spending.
The administration says that’s not really a cut, since spending would have continued to grow, just more slowly. But limits on federal financing would have forced states to confront hard choices over competing priorities like mental health or addiction treatment, nursing home costs or prenatal care for low-income women.
As a candidate, Trump had originally promised that he would not cut Medicaid.
AP Congressional Correspondent Lisa Mascaro, and AP writers Colleen Long, Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar and Lisa Marie Pane contributed to this report.