FACT CHECK: Trump Fudges History on Black Vote, Drug Cost

Donald Trump

President Donald Trump addresses the crowd during a campaign rally Saturday, Oct. 6, 2018, in Topeka, Kan. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

WASHINGTON (AP) — Facing pivotal November elections, President Donald Trump is misrepresenting the history of African-American voting and exaggerating his influence in boosting income and controlling prescription drug prices.

He laments in campaign speeches on behalf of Republican candidates that blacks’ support for Democrats had become “habit,” having voted for them “for 100 years,” and insists his administration’s policies are changing that. In fact, most African-Americans were effectively blocked from the right to vote until 1965. Much of the income gains he claims for blacks and other minorities came during the Obama administration.

On drug costs, Trump says he is “bringing them down.” But few drugmakers have actually lowered prices as a result of his pressure.

And in remarks at the hot core of the debate over his new Supreme Court justice, Trump distorted the testimony of Brett Kavanaugh’s accuser in a mocking turn on a rally stage before the Senate elevated the judge to the high court on the weekend.

A look at the past week’s claims:


TRUMP, on black support for Democratic candidates in recent elections: “It’s only habit. It’s habit, because for 100 years, African-Americans have gone with Democrats.” — Kansas rally Saturday.

THE FACTS: No, black Americans did not primarily vote Democratic for 100 years, or anywhere close to it.

Most African-Americans for much of U.S. history were disenfranchised, then effectively deterred from voting via poll taxes and literacy tests until passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which outlawed racial discrimination in voting.

African-Americans who could vote before then generally backed Republican candidates until the 1932 election of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. His New Deal programs of economic relief won their support and helped spur a longer-term shift of black voting from Republican to Democratic.

The Voting Rights Act eliminated literacy tests, clamped down on poll taxes that the 24th Amendment had banned in federal elections a year earlier and required a number of mostly Southern states with a history of discrimination to get advance federal approval to make changes to their election laws. Before that, only an estimated 23 percent of voting-age blacks were registered nationally, says the Library of Congress, but by 1969 that had jumped to 61 percent.


TRUMP: “How does your African-American, how do you vote for somebody else? I’ve done more for them in two years… And their median income is the highest. But not only for African-Americans, for Asian.” — Minnesota rally Thursday.

THE FACTS: He’s wrong about median income now being the highest for African-Americans. He also exaggerates the economic gains he’s accomplished for blacks and Asian-Americans.

The median income last year for an African-American household was $40,258, according to the Census Bureau. That’s below a 2000 peak of $42,348 and also statistically no better than 2016, which was Democratic President Barack Obama’s last year in office.

Many economists view the continued economic growth since the middle of 2009, in Obama’s first term, as the primary explanation for recent hiring and income gains. More important, there are multiple signs that the racial wealth gap is now worsening and the administration appears to have done little, if anything, to address this problem specifically.

As to Asian-Americans, the median income for a typical household last year was $81,331. That’s no better than their median income of $83,182 in 2016.


TRUMP, as if recounting the questioning of Christine Blasey Ford at her Senate hearing: ‘How did you get there?’ ‘I don’t remember.’ ‘Where is the place?’ ‘I don’t remember.’ ‘How many years ago was it?’ ‘I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know.’ ‘What neighborhood was it in?’ “I don’t know.’ ‘Where’s the house’ ‘I don’t know.’ Upstairs, downstairs, where was it?’ ‘I don’t know. But I had one beer, that’s the only thing I remember.’ And a man’s life is in tatters. A man’s life is shattered. … They want to destroy people. These are really evil people.” — Mississippi rally Tuesday.

THE FACTS: He’s wrong to say Kavanaugh’s accuser could not recall whether the alleged sexual assault happened upstairs or downstairs or any level of detail regarding the likely location. She described in vivid detail being in a locked upstairs bedroom with Kavanaugh and his friend Mark Judge while others were downstairs at a small house party. Trump also falsely stated that she did not remember how many years ago this happened. She identified the summer of 1982, when she was 15.

It’s true she could not identify the house, or remember how she got there or home, but said it was within a “20-minute drive” between her house and a country club in the Bethesda, Maryland, area.

Researchers say it is common for people who have experienced a trauma to retain a searing memory of the event but not circumstances surrounding it.


TRUMP: “You might have seen last month where I called up some of the drug companies. I said, ‘Folks, you just raised up the drug prices. You can’t do that.’ And they all reduced them. Do you believe it? That’s when I said, ‘I’ve a lot of power.’ Pfizer, right? You saw that. Pfizer, Novartis, they raised their drug prices and I’m bringing them down. I said, ‘What are you doing with raising them?’ ‘I’m sorry, Mr. President, we’ll reduce them immediately.’ I said, ‘Man, this is a powerful position.'” — Minnesota rally Thursday.

THE FACTS: His account is overstated.

His call with Pfizer was at the beginning of July, not last month. It came right after he criticized Pfizer on Twitter for raising prices of about 40 drugs on July 1. Pfizer reversed those increases, meaning prices returned to their June 30 levels, though only until Jan. 1, 2019, at the latest. Novartis was one of several drugmakers that said they wouldn’t raise any prices for the rest of 2018, but they’d already done so on nearly all of their drugs earlier in the year.

Few drugmakers actually lowered prices as a result of Trump’s pressure. A few drugs had price cuts for business reasons.

More broadly, an Associated Press investigation of brand-name prescription drugs found 96 price increases for every price reduction in the first seven months of this year. There were fewer price increases this year from January through July than in comparable prior year periods, but companies still raised prices far more often than they cut them.

AP analyzed 26,176 U.S. list price changes for brand-name prescription drugs from Jan. 1 through July 31 in the years 2015 through 2018, using data supplied by health information analytics firm Elsevier.


TRUMP: “We just passed Choice. That was 44 years they’ve been trying to pass Choice, so that if you have to wait in line for 9 days, 30 days, 21 days, months, you don’t do that anymore. If the line’s big, and if you’re unhappy with it, you go to a private doctor, they take care of you, and we paid the bill. It’s better. They’ve been trying to pass that one for many, many decades. They couldn’t do it. We got it passed.” — Tennessee rally on Oct. 1.

TRUMP: “We also passed Veterans’ Choice. Forty-four years they tried to do it.”— Mississippi rally Tuesday.

THE FACTS: He’s exaggerating improvements to the Department of Veterans Affairs by incorrectly stating a private-sector health care program was never passed by Congress before him. He also falsely suggests the newly expanded program will have immediate effect.

Congress first approved the Veterans Choice program in 2014 in the wake of a scandal at the Phoenix VA medical center in which some veterans died while waiting months for appointments. The program allows veterans to see doctors outside the VA system if they must wait more than 30 days for an appointment or drive more than 40 miles to a VA facility.

Trump signed legislation in June to expand the Choice program by giving veterans even wider access to private-sector doctors at government expense, subject to yet-to-be-finalized rules that will determine eligibility as well as available funding.

Contrary to what Trump suggests, the effects of the newly expanded program are not immediate. Key to its success is an overhaul of the VA’s electronic medical records to allow seamless sharing of medical records not only with the Pentagon but also private physicians, a process expected to take up to 10 years. The VA also has yet to resolve long-term financing for the program due to congressional budget caps that could put funding for VA or other domestic programs at risk of shortfalls next year.

At a Senate hearing last month, VA Secretary Robert Wilkie made clear that full implementation of the expanded Choice program was “years” away.


TRUMP: “The new platform of the Democrat Party is to abolish ICE — the brave, brave people of ICE. In other words, they want to abolish immigration enforcement entirely.” — Mississippi rally Tuesday.

THE FACTS: While some Democrats in the House and Senate have raised the prospect of eliminating Immigration and Customs Enforcement, no top Democrats in the House or Senate have called for such a move. Those Democrats who have expressed openness to eliminating ICE have said they would not abandon border enforcement, which is largely carried out by U.S. Customs and Border Protection.


TRUMP: “The agreement will govern nearly $1.2 trillion in trade, which makes it the biggest trade deal in the United States’ history.” — remarks Oct. 1.

THE FACTS: That’s wrong, simply by virtue of the number of trade partners involved.

The proposed new agreement, replacing the North American Free Trade agreement, covers the same three countries. The Trans-Pacific Partnership, negotiated by the Obama administration, included the three NAFTA partners — United States, Canada and Mexico — plus Japan and eight other Pacific Rim countries. Trump withdrew the United States from the pact on his third day in office.

Even the Pacific deal pales in comparison with one that did go into effect with the U.S. on board, the Uruguay Round. Concluded in 1994, the round of negotiations created the World Trade Organization and was signed by 123 countries. The Federal Reserve Bank of Boston found the following year that the WTO’s initial membership accounted for more than 90 percent of global economic output.

TRUMP: “This deal will also impose new standards requiring at least 75 percent of every automobile to be made in North America in order to qualify for the privilege of free access to our markets.” — remarks Oct. 1.

THE FACTS: That’s true. But as with any such requirement, it could make autos more expensive by discouraging the use of cheaper components from overseas. The same could be true of another provision, requiring at least 40 percent of a car’s content to be built where workers earn $16 an hour. The new United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement indeed contains greater worker protections, a trade-off that could mean higher costs.

The pact, if approved by Congress, will raise the percentage of a car’s content that must be built within the trade bloc to 75 percent from 62.5 percent if it is to qualify for duty-free status.

Similarly, the deal would give pharmaceutical companies that make biologics —ultra-expensive drugs produced in living cells — 10 years of protection from generic competition, two more years than the Obama administration had negotiated under the Pacific deal. That also comes with the possible trade-off of higher costs for users of the drugs.

TRUMP, on overcoming the major hitch with Canada: “Dairy was a deal-breaker. And now for our farmers it’s, as you know, substantially opened up much more. And I know they can’t open it completely. They have farmers also. You know, they can’t be overrun. And I fully — and I tell them that. I say, ‘Look, I understand you have limits.’ But they could do much better.” — remarks Oct. 1.

THE FACTS: That’s a fair reading of one of the agreement’s most significant changes — though dairy only accounts for about 0.1 percent of U.S.-Canada trade. Canada’s tariffs on dairy imports can approach 300 percent. U.S. dairy farmers have also complained about Canadian policies that priced the U.S. out of the market for some dairy powders and allowed Canada to flood world markets with its own versions.

The new agreement would end the discriminatory pricing and restrict Canadian exports of dairy powders. Still, it’s in some respects an incremental advance from the Pacific deal that Trump walked away from. It would expand U.S. access to up to 3.75 percent of the Canadian dairy market, versus 3.25 percent in the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Above that level, U.S. dairy farmers will still face Canada’s punishing tariffs.

TRUMP: “As one primary aspect, it will transform North America back into a manufacturing powerhouse.” — remarks Oct. 1.

THE FACTS: North America already is a manufacturing powerhouse. The United States ranks No. 2 in the world behind China in manufacturing output. Mexico ranks 11th and Canada 13th, according to U.N. numbers pulled together by the Brookings Institution.

TRUMP: “I think my biggest concession was making the deal, because we could have done it a different way. But it would have been nasty, and it wouldn’t have been nice, and I don’t want to have that.” — remarks Oct. 1.

THE FACTS: Other concessions were made, as is typically the case in trade agreements.

For one, the “supply management” system Canada uses to protect its farmers would remain largely intact. For another, 2.6 million passenger vehicles from Canada and Mexico each would be exempt from tariffs of up to 25 percent that he has been threatening to impose on imported cars, trucks and auto parts. And Canada prevailed in insisting that a NAFTA dispute-resolution process be retained. The U.S. wanted to get rid of it.

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