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Fact check: Trump delivers lie-filled CPAC speech

Former President Donald Trump returned to the public stage on Sunday with a familiar kind of Trump speech — a speech filled with debunked lies.

Most notably, Trump’s first post-presidency address, at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Orlando, included his usual lies about the 2020 election. He continued to falsely insist he was the legitimate winner and continued to falsely insist the election was “rigged.”

Trump repeated a bunch of other false claims we regularly heard from him as president, on subjects ranging from trade with China to his stance on the war in Iraq. He also offered up some new false claims about President Joe Biden’s early days in office.

We are still going through the transcript of Trump’s remarks, but here is an initial breakdown of some of the things he said.

2020 election results

Who won the election

Trump repeated various versions of his usual lie that he won the 2020 election. He said that Democrats “just lost the White House,” said that “it’s not possible” that he lost, said “no” after asking the rhetorical question “did Biden win?” and said another election win in the future would be his “third.”

Facts First: This is all false. Trump lost the 2020 election, fair and square. Democrat Joe Biden won a 306-232 victory in the Electoral College — earning over seven million more votes than Trump, good for a margin of 51.3% to 46.8%.

Mail-in ballots and dead voters

Trump repeated his attack on mail-in voting and claimed that dead people voted in the election.

“(T)ens of millions of ballots. Where are they coming from? They’re coming from all over the place.” He then claimed that “dead people are voting.”

Facts First: Both of these claims are wrong. As we have fact checked many times before, mail-in voting is not rife with fraud and there were not tens of millions of ballots that came from unknown origins. CNN looked into several claims of dead people’s ballots being cast in the election and found no evidence of widespread fraud.

Early morning vote batches

Trump repeated the claim that some nefarious vote-dumping occurred in the earlier hours of the morning after the election.

“What happened at 3:02 in the morning?” Trump asked the CPAC audience.

Facts First: There’s nothing inherently suspicious or mysterious about large batches of votes being reported late at night or even after Election Day.

Votes from mail-in ballots were often reported later on Election Day and afterwards because they couldn’t be counted ahead of time in many states, including Michigan and Pennsylvania. And in several lawsuits over the election, judges determined the witness affidavits claiming they saw literal late night dumps of ballots were baseless and not evidence of fraud.

More votes than people

Trump repeated another of his arguments about voter fraud, claiming that in multiple cities there were more votes than people. He specifically called out Detroit, Michigan, which came under scrutiny shortly after the election when Republican county election officials tried to block the certification of election results.

“We have a little problem adjusting in Detroit, we seem to have more votes than we have people. A lot more votes. An election changing number,” Trump said.

Facts First: It’s false that there were more votes than people in Detroit. The city saw 250,138 votes cast this election, less than half the number of registered voters (504,714) and far fewer than the 670,031 people in the city as of 2019, according to the US Census Bureau.

Trump’s insistence that there are “more votes than people” likely refers to precincts that are out of balance, which means the number of voters recorded didn’t match the number of ballots cast in certain places. However, former and current Michigan state officials told CNN these imbalances are often clerical errors which are addressed as part of the canvassing process and not indicative of widespread fraud.

Votes in Pennsylvania

Trump also claimed that “in Pennsylvania, they had hundreds of thousands of more votes than they had people voting.”

Facts First: This is false. State officials and fact checkers have repeatedly explained that the claim that Pennsylvania had more votes than registered voters is just not true; Trump may have been relying on an incorrect figure from a Republican state legislator, who had relied on incomplete data.

Biden

Biden and the Keystone Pipeline

Trump claimed that Biden had not said during his campaign that he was planning to cancel the Keystone XL pipeline.

“In one of his first official acts — which was incredible, because again, he talked about energy, he never said he was going to do this — he canceled the Keystone pipeline,” Trump said.

Facts First: This is misleading. Biden’s campaign announced in May 2020 that he would cancel the Keystone XL pipeline if elected, and reiterated that position later in the campaign. An initial search of newspaper and television archives did not turn up any examples of Biden personally speaking about his plan to kill Keystone, so there may be a narrow basis for Trump’s claim that Biden himself “never said” he would do so. But given that the Biden campaign’s announcement was widely reported, the facts don’t support Trump’s broader suggestion that the cancellation was a surprise move.

Gas prices

Trump said, “Under the radical Democrat policies, the price of gasoline has already surged 30% since the election.”

Facts First: This is misleading. First, Trump was ignoring the impact of factors unrelated to either party’s policies, particularly the severe winter storm in February that caused prices to spike in February. Second, by comparing gas prices today to gas prices at the time of the election, Trump appeared to be assigning blame to President Joe Biden for the portion of the increase that occurred during the Trump presidency; there has been a much smaller increase, about 13%, if you compare current prices to prices on Biden’s first full day in office.

The increase in the national average at the pumps is indeed in the ballpark of 30% if you compare prices the weekend Trump spoke at CPAC ($2.71 per unleaded gallon, according to data provided to CNN by AAA) to prices on Election Day in early November ($2.12) — that’s about a 28% spike. But it’s unfair for Trump to hold Democrats responsible for increases in November, December and the first 19 days of January, when Trump himself was in office. The national average on Biden’s first full day as president, January 21, was $2.39; the $2.71 price this past weekend was about 13% higher than that.

Asked about Trump’s claim, AAA spokeswoman Jeanette Casselano said in an email that prices have steadily increased since the end of November because of higher crude oil prices driven by optimism about coronavirus vaccines, while “the recent spikes (the last 2 weeks) are a direct result of the winter storm that hit Texas and took 26 refineries offline.”

Biden and fracking

Trump claimed Biden reversed his stance on fracking between the primary and the general election, stating, “During the primary, ‘no fracking.’ As soon as he got through that, he said ‘no, of course, everybody can frack.'”

Facts First: While Trump’s characterization of Biden’s stance on fracking is inaccurate, there is some basis for the Trump campaign’s continued criticism that Biden flipflopped on the issue. Biden’s written plan never included a complete ban on fracking but his comments over the course of the campaign did create confusion about his position on the issue.

During the July 2019 Democratic primary debate, CNN’s Dana Bash asked whether there would be “any place for fossil fuels, including coal and fracking, in a Biden administration?” to which Biden responded, “No, we would — we would work it out. We would make sure it’s eliminated and no more subsidies for either one of those, either — any fossil fuel.”

After the primary, Trump referenced these past remarks from Biden in the final presidential debate, prompting the former vice president to falsely insist he never said he opposed fracking. Biden then tried to clarify his position and claimed his past opposition was specifically about fracking on federal land only. But Biden did not go so far as to express the unbridled support for fracking Trump implied and his comments should not be construed as such.

Biden’s plan during the general election proposed “banning new oil and gas permitting on public lands and waters,” not ending all new fracking anywhere or ending all existing fracking on public lands and waters. A week after taking office, Biden signed an executive order ordering a moratorium on new oil and gas leases on federal land and water areas.

Refugees

Trump said: “Your family still can’t go out to eat at local restaurants, but Joe Biden is bringing in thousands upon thousands of refugees from all over the world. People that nobody knows anything about. We don’t have crime records. We don’t have health records.”

Facts First: While it is true that Biden is planning to significantly increase the number of refugees the US accepts, it’s wrong to suggest that the US doesn’t know “anything about” the refugees it brings in. Refugees are rigorously vetted; the admissions process includes an interview assessment by US government personnel, medical screening, and various types of background checks, including fingerprint checks against databases maintained by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Department of Homeland Security and Department of Defense.

Trump reduced the maximum number to a historic low of 15,000 for the 2021 fiscal year; Biden plans to raise the cap to 62,500 for 2021 and then to 125,000 in his first full fiscal year, 2022.

President Barack Obama set a cap of 85,000 in his last full fiscal year in office, 2016. Obama raised the cap to 110,000 for his final partial fiscal year, 2017.

Biden and schools

Trump called for children to return to school “immediately,” then said, “The only reason most parents do not have that choice is because Joe Biden sold out America’s children to the teachers unions.” He said Biden is “cruelly keeping our children locked in their homes.”

Facts First: It’s not true that Biden, who has called for the reopening of most schools by his 100th day in office, is personally keeping children locked out of school or that Biden’s position on the issue is “the only reason” some schools continue to offer only virtual instruction. While the federal government can issue guidelines for the reopening of schools, it is up to state and especially local officials to make the actual decisions on when to reopen. Also, the current guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention does not tell schools that they cannot reopen. It says: “At any level of community transmission, all schools have options to provide in-person instruction (either full or hybrid), through strict adherence to mitigation strategies.”

Biden’s administration can be fairly criticized for shifting from its original position on what would count as meeting his goal of having a majority of schools open within 100 days. (You can read more here on its shifting explanations. But it’s not fair to say Biden is the one person keeping children out of classrooms. Recent polling shows a majority of adults support waiting until any teacher who wants a vaccine can get it.

And it’s worth noting that Trump himself could not open schools as president even when he wanted to; Trump suggested in 2020 that he might cut off federal funding to schools that did not reopen, but experts said he could not unilaterally carry out that threat, and he did not end up trying.

Sanctions on Iran

Trump said Biden’s administration “unilaterally withdrew our crippling sanctions on Iran, foolishly giving away all of America’s leverage before negotiations have even begun.” He continued moments later, “They took off the sanctions. They took off the sanctions. They said, ‘Well, we’re going to not have any sanctions. Let’s negotiate a deal.’ “

Facts First: Trump’s characterization of the actions taken by the Biden team on Iran is wrong. It’s false to suggest the Biden administration has removed any sanctions against Iran imposed by the Trump administration.

It’s likely Trump was referring to the Biden administration’s decisions to lift travel restrictions placed on Iranian diplomats to the United Nations by the Trump administration and halt the Trump administration’s efforts to snap back UN sanctions on Iran. However, these recent efforts from the Biden administration to reverse Trump administration actions regarding Iran cannot accurately be characterized as a removal of existing sanctions.

Despite former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s claim, UN sanctions on Iran were never reimposed, as no other member of the UN Security Council agreed with the US-led effort. In order for the sanctions to have snapped back on Iran, the complaint must be filed by a nation that’s participating in the Iran nuclear deal, which the US was not under the Trump administration.

Throughout Trump’s presidency, his administration did impose a tremendous number of sanctions on Iranian companies, entities and individuals — through their maximum pressure campaign — which remain in place.

Trump’s repeated falsehoods

Florida, Ohio and Iowa

Trump claimed that “no president has ever lost an election after carrying Florida, Ohio and Iowa.”

Facts First: This needs context. Richard Nixon won Florida, Ohio and Iowa in 1960 but lost the election to John F. Kennedy. Unlike a previous version of this claim, in which Trump declared that nobody at all ever lost the election after winning those three states, this “no president” version is not flat false because Nixon was not an incumbent president at the time. Still, Trump omitted the fact that somebody has won these three states and been defeated.

Also, of course, this historical tidbit does not tell us anything about the legitimacy of Trump’s defeat.

Deportations to Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador 

Trump repeated an old false claim about Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, saying that before he took office, those countries were “refusing to take back illegal alien gang members, including MS-13.” He added soon after: “We’d fly ’em in, they wouldn’t let the plane land. We’d bus ’em in, they wouldn’t let the buses get anywhere near the border.”

Facts First: This remains false. In 2016, just prior to Trump’s presidency, none of the three countries was on the list of countries that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) considered “recalcitrant” (uncooperative) in accepting the return of their citizens from the US.

Randy Capps, director of research for US programs at the Migration Policy Institute, a Washington think tank, noted to CNN in 2019 that in the 2016 fiscal year, the last full year before Trump took office, ICE reported that Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador ranked second, third and fourth for the country of citizenship of people being removed from the US. The same was true in the 2017 fiscal year, which encompassed the end of Barack Obama’s presidency and the beginning of Trump’s. ICE did not identify any widespread problems with deportations to these countries.

ICE officials said there were some exceptions to the three countries’ general cooperativeness, but Trump’s general declaration that the countries were uncooperative was never true.

Trump’s stance on the war in Iraq

Trump repeated his usual false claim about his pre-war stance on the war in Iraq.

“Iraq: remember I used to say don’t go in, but if you’re gonna go in, keep the oil. Well, we went in and we didn’t keep the oil,” he said.

Facts First: Contrary to his repeated claims, Trump did not publicly express opposition to the invasion of Iraq before it occurred. He began criticizing the war in 2003, after the invasion, but he also said that year that American troops should not be withdrawn from Iraq. He emerged as an explicit opponent of the war in 2004.

We could not find any examples of Trump saying anything before the war about keeping Iraq’s oil. (We asked the Trump-era White House communications staff if it could provide any evidence; we never got a response.) Trump appeared to be describing comments he made during the war, in which he did talk about taking Iraq’s oil, as if he made them during the run-up to the war.

You can read a longer fact check here.

Past tariffs on China

Trump repeated a familiar claim about how, before he took office, China “never gave us 10 cents,” but then, under him, the US took in “hundreds of billions” from China because of his tariffs.

Facts First: This was wrong in two ways. First, studies repeatedly showed that it’s not true that China paid Trump’s tariffs; Americans bore the majority of the cost. Second, Trump’s claim that the government had not previously received “10 cents” from tariffs on China is also false. The US has had tariffs on China for more than two centuries; President Barack Obama imposed new tariffs on China; FactCheck.org reported that the US generated an “average of $12.3 billion in custom duties a year from 2007 to 2016, according to the U.S. International Trade Commission DataWeb.”

China also made tens of billions of annual purchases of US exports under Obama — more than $100 billion in goods purchases every year from 2011 through 2016.”

The trade deficit with China

Trump repeated one of the most frequent false claims of his presidency — his lie that, in the past, the US used to have a trade deficit of about $500 billion with China.

“We used to lose $504 billion trade deficit with China…not million; $504 million is a lot…now take $504 million, make it $504 billion; we had deficits with China,” he said.

Facts First: Trump was wrong again. The US had never had a $504 billion (or $500 billion) trade deficit with China before Trump took office. The record was set in the Trump era: a $380 billion deficit in goods and services trade with China in 2018.

The goods and services deficit with China declined to $308 billion in 2019. (We don’t have final figures for 2020.)

US deaths in Afghanistan

Trump said, “Not one American soldier has been killed in Afghanistan in over a year.”

Facts First: This is true if you are talking specifically about combat deaths but not true if you count all deaths. There have been at least three US soldiers killed in Afghanistan since February 28, 2020, one in a non-combat vehicle rollover and two in other non-combat incidents.

This story has been updated.

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