Trump's Visit: Fact Checks and Context

As President Donald Trump gave his remarks today in Blue Ash, he made a number of claims that deserve closer scrutiny. Let’s dive into a few of them.

click to enlarge President Donald Trump at a 2016 campaign event in West Chester - Nick Swartsell
Nick Swartsell
President Donald Trump at a 2016 campaign event in West Chester

President Donald Trump today visited the Greater Cincinnati area, dropping by Blue Ash industrial equipment company Sheffer to speak with workers and a select group of Republican elected officials.

“I love the state of Ohio,” Trump told the crowd. “We're starting to boom, you know that?"

Trump’s main goal seemed to be to promote the GOP’s recently passed, somewhat unpopular tax reform legislation. Sheffer CEO Jeff Norris credits those reforms with the $1,000 bonuses the company has given its employees.

Trump says the tax plan is already starting to boost the economy, and several Sheffer workers spoke enthusiastically about what they'll do with their bonuses — saving to start families and buy houses, for instance. Fifth Third CEO Greg Carmichael also sang the plan's praises.

"We're already feeling the benefits of the tax plan, and we're working to pass those benefits on to our employees," he said. The company also gave a $1,000 bonus to some employees and set its minimum wage at $15 an hour.

Trump was also likely in Ohio to promote U.S. Rep. Jim Renacci, who has jumped into Ohio’s Senate race looking to unseat liberal Democrat U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown. That fight could be pivotal to control of the Senate. The president admonished Renacci to “get in there and fight. We need you.”

As he gave his remarks, Trump made a number of sharp-elbowed statements toward his critics —  calling Democrats who didn't applaud for his State of the Union address "treasonous," for instance — and a number of claims that deserve closer scrutiny. Let’s dive into a few of them.

• While talking about the $1,000 bonuses Sheffer, Fifth Third Bank and other companies have given their employees, Trump said that more than 3 million American workers have received similar, one-time bumps in income, many getting “thousands of dollars.” That number comes from a conservative think tank, Americans for Tax Reform, which tracked 286 companies announcing such bonuses. Most of those bonuses amounted to $1,000. Some companies are going as high as $2,000, and at least one has given its employees $3,000 bonuses.

However, it’s worth noting that America has 126 million full-time workers, meaning that the tax cut bonuses have gone to roughly 2.5 percent of the workforce. Many of those workers have been in the finance industry, not in working-class professions like the employees at Sheffer.

• Trump touted the benefits of the GOP tax plan, claiming that a middle class family will save thousands of dollars. But nonpartisan experts say the plan means much smaller tax savings in the immediate future followed by taxes that actually rise for middle class earners in the next decade.

Analysis by the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center shows that a family making $50,000-$75,000 a year would see a savings of about $870 a year, or about 1.6 percent, under the GOP plan Trump touted. Those making less — say somewhere around the city of Cincinnati’s median household income of $35,000 a year — would save about $360 a year. That’s about 1 percent. 

Higher earners will benefit more. Those making $500,000 to $1 million a year will save more than $21,000 a year, a 4.3 percent boost.

Over time, middle class families will owe more, analysts say. While a household making $30,000-$40,000 a year would end up paying $50 more a year in taxes than they do today by 2027 under the plan, a household making over $1 million would pay roughly $23,000 a year less.

• While touting the tax plan, Trump said the following: “We’ve gone from being one of the highest taxed countries anywhere in the world to being one of the most competitive.”

While the highest statutory U.S. corporate tax rate has dropped from 38 percent to 21 percent due to GOP tax cuts, the U.S. was not the highest-taxed country in the world prior to the tax cuts. The effective U.S. tax rate — that is, what companies actually pay after deductions, loopholes, tax incentives — is less than half the country's prior statutory rate. Even conservative publication The National Review has pointed this out.

“Trump on the stump insists that the United States is the highest-taxed nation in the world,” an article on the subject reads. “That is... not exactly true, or close to true, or within the realm of things that might be true if you squint a bit and turn your head sideways. It is, in fact, false.”

In truth, U.S. corporations on average paid around 18 percent of their income in taxes before the GOP cuts — below countries like the United Kingdom and Japan, and in line with many others, according to the Congressional Budget Office. What's more, some large corporations have paid almost zero taxes in recent years. An analysis of 258 profitable Fortune 500 companies featured in The New York Times, for instance, shows that 100 — roughly 40 percent — didn’t owe taxes to the U.S. government for at least one year between 2008 and 2015.

• After the president finished touting the GOP tax plan, he moved on to the nation’s drug epidemic, which has hit Ohio especially hard. But he lingered for only a moment on the devastation that opiates have wrought here before pivoting to familiar promises to build a border wall with Mexico and pledges to increase deportation.

"Nobody was bringing them out before us," Trump told the crowd, referring to deportations of undocumented immigrants the president cast as dangerous drug dealers. That, however, isn’t true. Trump's predecessor, President Barack Obama, deported more people than any past president. Between 2009 and 2015, the Obama administration deported more than 2.5 million people. Meanwhile, despite some high-profile fights over sometimes allegedly-brutal deportations of undocumented people who hadn't committed any other crimes, overall deportations have actually slowed under Trump. While the Trump administration has been less selective in its deportations — the Obama administration at least ostensibly focused mostly on those who had committed non-immigration related felony offenses —  the raw number of people being deported was at its lowest level since 2006 as of December.

• Trump pledged to improve conditions in low-income areas with a new idea: a program he’s calling “opportunity zones” that will incentivize investment and employment in long-neglected communities. A laudable goal, but not exactly new: the Clinton administration had a similar program in the 1990s, when neighborhoods like Evanston were declared “empowerment zones."

• Near the beginning of his remarks, Trump told the audience that Cincinnati holds a special place in his heart. He got his start here, he said, by helping his father with Swifton Village, a 1,167-unit apartment complex in Bond Hill. That’s absolutely true. But there's more to the story beyond Trump's claim that the project was a "great success." In 1970, while the Trumps owned Swifton Village, it was the subject of a federal racial discrimination lawsuit after a black couple was turned away because all units were allegedly full, despite paying a deposit and waiting four months. Immediately afterward, a white couple working with investigators was granted a unit in the complex. The lawsuit against Trump’s father, Fred Trump, alleges the company he ran had a racial quota and that blacks were discriminated against. The Trumps settled the lawsuit and sold the complex in 1972.

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