President Donald Trump on Thursday made a messy case that he “inherited a mess” from his predecessor. Economic stats and territorial losses of Islamic State insurgents don’t support his assertions about the problems handed to him on those fronts.
A look at some of his claims in a news conference Thursday and how they compare with the facts:
TRUMP: “To be honest I inherited a mess. It’s a mess. At home and abroad, a mess.”
THE FACTS: A mess is in the eye of the beholder. But by almost every economic measure, President Barack Obama inherited a far worse situation when he became president in 2009 than he left for Trump. He had to deal with the worst downturn since the Depression.
Unemployment was spiking, the stock market crashing, the auto industry failing and millions of Americans risked losing their homes to foreclosure when Obama took the oath of office. None of those statistics is as dire for Trump.
Unemployment is 4.8 percent, compared with a peak of 10 percent during Obama’s first year as president. The Dow Jones Industrial Average was cratering until March 2009, only to rebound roughly 200 percent over the rest of Obama’s term— gains that have continued under Trump on the promise of tax and regulatory cuts.
When Trump assumed office last month, a greater percentage of the country had health insurance, incomes were rising and the country was adding jobs.
The Trump administration has noted that a smaller proportion of the population is working or looking for jobs. But even this measure began to turn around toward the end of the Obama era.
Yet it’s true that jobs at factories and coal mines have been disappearing for more than three decades, while many Americans with only a high school diploma have seen their incomes fall after adjusting for inflation. The home ownership rate has slipped even as the economy has improved, leaving many pockets of the country feeling left out of a recovery that technically began more than seven years ago.
TRUMP: “ISIS has spread like cancer, another mess I inherited.”
THE FACTS: The Islamic State group began to lose ground before Trump took office, not just in Iraq and Syria but also in Libya. The gradual military progress achieved in Iraq during Obama’s final two years has pushed IS to the point of collapse in Mosul, its main Iraqi stronghold.
It remains a potent danger beyond its shrunken territory, encouraging adherents to stage acts of terrorism. The analogy with cancer is an echo of Obama’s last defense secretary, Ash Carter, who repeatedly cast Obama’s counter-IS campaign as an effort to reverse the extremists’ “metastasis” beyond the “parent tumor” in Iraq and Syria.
TRUMP: “I see stories of chaos. Chaos. Yet it is the exact opposite. This administration is running like a fine-tuned machine, despite the fact that I can’t get my Cabinet approved.
THE FACTS: Did he just say a “fine-tuned machine”?
Trump’s first month has been consumed by a series of missteps and firestorms, and produced far less significant legislation than Obama enacted during his first month.
Republican-led congressional committees will investigate the Trump team’s relations with Russians before he took office and the flood of leaks that altogether forced out his national security adviser in record time. His pick for labor secretary withdrew because he didn’t have enough Republican support.
By many measures, the administration is in near paralysis in its earliest days, leaving allies unsettled and many in Congress anxious about what Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., called the “constant disruption.” To many Republicans — never mind Democrats — the “fine-tuned machine” seems in danger of its wheels coming off.
In his first month, Obama signed a $787 billion stimulus package into law, as well as a law expanding health care for children and the Lilly Ledbetter bill on equal pay for women. Trump has vigorously produced executive orders, which don’t require congressional approval and typically have narrow effect. The one with far-reaching consequences — banning entry by refugees and by visitors from seven countries — has been blocked by courts.
Trump’s biggest initiatives, such as tax cuts and a replacement for Obama’s health care law, have not emerged. On Thursday he was signing into law a rollback of Obama-era regulations on mining near streams. Congress has sent him little else.