AP FACT CHECK: Trump off the mark on Puerto Rico hurricane

Published: Friday, October 06, 2017 @ 3:30 AM
Updated: Friday, October 06, 2017 @ 3:27 AM

President Donald Trump struck false notes in addressing Puerto Rico's crisis in recent days, exaggerating both the ferocity of a truly ferocious hurricane and the pace of recovery. He also seemed to raise false hope that the territory's staggering debt would go away.

A look at his remarks during and after his visit to the hurricane-ravaged island:

TRUMP: "This has been the toughest one. This has been a Category 5, which — few people have ever even heard of a Category 5 hitting land. But it hit land and, boy, did it hit land." — remarks Tuesday in Puerto Rico.

THE FACTS: As terrible as it was, Maria actually made landfall on Puerto Rico as a Category 4 hurricane, not 5. Winds were at 155 mph (249 kph), not 157 (253), the minimum for Category 5. It's a distinction no doubt lost on Puerto Ricans — the storm was even stronger than Harvey and Irma upon landfall, said National Hurricane Center spokesman Dennis Feltgen. But, "operationally it was a Category 4 hurricane."

Trump has repeatedly misstated the record. A week earlier, he said: "It actually touched down as a Category 5. People have never seen anything like that, and it was dead center." And: "The second one hit Puerto Rico as a Category 5. I don't believe anybody's ever seen that happen before, hit land with that kind of velocity."

Trump also said at one point that Maria had winds of 200 mph (322 kph). No official reports put the winds that strong.

His supposition that no other hurricane has made landfall with such velocity is wrong, even when limiting the scope of the comparison to the United States. Maria's winds at landfall were exceeded by three Category 5 hurricanes that came ashore on the U.S. mainland: in the Florida Keys in 1935, Camille in 1969 and Andrew in 1992. And Maria wasn't the strongest recorded hurricane to hit Puerto Rico. Hurricane San Felipe was. It made landfall in 1928 as a Category 5.

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TRUMP on Puerto Rico's debt: "We're going to have to wipe that out. ... I don't know if it's Goldman Sachs, but whoever it is, you can wave goodbye to that." — to Fox News on Tuesday.

THE FACTS: Washington doesn't have the authority to force investors to take massive losses, if that's what he meant. And Trump's budget director, Mick Mulvaney, said afterward: "We are not going to be offering a bailout for Puerto Rico or for its current bondholders."

Much of the $74 billion debt is tied up in court-supervised restructuring since Puerto Rico sought a form of bankruptcy protection last year. Brian Setser, a former Treasury official who worked on Puerto Rico's debt crisis, said the court process is likely to yield significant debt reduction, but "it is not something that the president can make happen."

Trump's remark contributed to a plunge in Puerto Rico's bond prices. Falling bond prices are a sign that investors may be less likely to be repaid — something that usually makes it more expensive for governments and companies to borrow.

Although the type of federal hurricane recovery aid that Puerto Rico receives could influence how debt repayment unfolds, that's not a bailout and creditors won't be paid anytime soon.

White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Thursday that Puerto Rico will "have to go through that process" set up during the Obama administration "to have a lasting recovery and growth." There was no hint in her comments that Trump plans an initiative to make the debt disappear.

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TRUMP: "Who needs a flashlight? ... Flashlights, you don't need 'em anymore. You don't need 'em anymore." — while handing out flashlights and tossing rolls of paper towels to a crowd in Puerto Rico on Tuesday.

THE FACTS: It's possible his particular audience did not need flashlights, but many Puerto Ricans do. He was visiting the upscale Guaynabo neighborhood, one of the fastest to recover. But more than 90 percent of the island's electricity customers remained without power at the time, nearly two weeks after the hurricane. And those who have it back are experiencing periodic blackouts.

Trump called the recovery "nothing short of a miracle." But the tour showed him a small slice of the island and exposed him to few critics of the relief effort. Visits to homes hammered by the storm were pre-arranged. Water shortages and despair continue in much of the island even as relief supplies have started to move faster and more gas stations start pumping again.

Even in the heart of San Juan, a few miles from Trump's path, people were hauling clothes fouled with sewage and wet mattresses out of homes still without electricity as he issued his upbeat report. They said no one has come to help them since the storm hit.

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Associated Press writers Danica Coto and Jill Colvin in San Juan, Alexandra Olson in New York and Ken Thomas in Washington contributed to this report.

EDITOR'S NOTE _ A look at the veracity of claims by political figures

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Trump stops family separations, keeps ‘zero tolerance’ at border

Published: Wednesday, June 20, 2018 @ 3:42 PM

Under growing pressure from lawmakers in both parties, President Donald Trump on Wednesday signed an executive order that would allow illegal immigrant families detained by U.S. border authorities to remain together in many situations, ending an outcry over forced separations which took young children from their parents.

“I didn’t like the sight or the feeling of families being separated,” the President told reporters in the Oval Office, as he signed the new plan, which was drawn up as more and more Republicans publicly said Mr. Trump’s border crackdown had become a PR nightmare.

“The border is just as tough, but we do want to keep families together,” the President told reporters, as he repeatedly emphasized that an early May “zero tolerance” prosecution policy for those caught crossing the border illegally would continue.

It was that Trump Administration change which resulted in families being separated in recent weeks, spurring multiple news stories about young children, taken hundreds of miles away from their parents.

The signing represented a rare retreat for the President on any controversial policy during his administration; in recent days, top officials had repeatedly said there was no requirement that families be separated, but under current federal law, that option was triggered when parents of the kids were prosecuted, under the ‘zero tolerance’ plan.

“We have to have strong borders, and ultimately it will be done right,” the President declared.

Mr. Trump had tried in recent days to place the blame on Democrats in Congress, saying his hands were tied on the matter of family separations, as top officials said the law left them no leeway for change.

“What about executive action?” the President was asked during an impromptu press conference with reporters on the White House driveway last Friday.

“You can’t do it through an executive order,” Mr. Trump replied.

But that’s what he ultimately did.

The President’s move came amid a growing firestorm of criticism in Congress from members of both parties in the Congress, stirred by stories of young children taken away from their parents.

“This must stop NOW,” tweeted Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI), as he noted a story from his home state, where an 8-month old baby had been brought, after being taken from her parents.

“He can sign an executive order today,” said Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL), who was blocked on Tuesday from visiting a group of detained children at a federal facility in Homestead, Florida.

“This shameful chapter in American history lies with the President and his pen,” Nelson said, arguing the President started these separations, and should halt them.

“We must stop the madness, and stop it now,” said Rep. John Lewis (D-GA).

“America is weakened in the eyes of the world,” added Rep. Hank Johnson (D-GA).

“This is a policy straight from the pit of hell,” said Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA).

GOP leaders also made clear they wanted the Trump Administration to change course.

“As I said last week, we do not want children taken away from their parents,” said House Speaker Paul Ryan, as he urged GOP lawmakers to unite behind a pair of immigration bills which are expected to be voted on Thursday.

But while the Speaker and other Republicans said provisions in those bills would fix the family separation matter – those plans would not advance through the Senate – making it unlikely that Congress could anything done on the family separation matter.

That left the President with just one option – an administrative reversal on something that he had fiercely stood behind the effort.

The change on illegal immigrant families came in early May, when Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced a “zero tolerance” policy dealing with those illegally coming over the southern border.

“Today we are here to send a message to the world: we are not going to let this country be overwhelmed,” Sessions said in that May 7 speech.

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President Trump to reverse course on immigrant family separations

Published: Wednesday, June 20, 2018 @ 12:47 PM

Under pressure from lawmakers in both parties, President Donald Trump on Wednesday said he would sign a new executive order to stop the forced separation of illegal immigrant children and parents at the southern border with Mexico, a ‘zero tolerance’ policy that had been put in place by his administration in early May.

“We want to keep families together, it’s very important, I’ll be signing something in a little while to do that,” the President said, meeting with a number of GOP lawmakers from the House and Senate.

“We’re keeping families together, but we have to keep our borders strong,” Mr. Trump added.

It wasn’t immediately clear what Mr. Trump would sign, but the action would run counter to arguments that he and other White House officials had said for days – that only the Congress could make the needed changes on immigration dealing with family separation.

The President’s move came amid a growing firestorm of criticism in Congress from members of both parties in the Congress, stirred by stories of young children taken away from their parents.

“This must stop NOW,” tweeted Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI), as he noted a story from his home state, where an 8-month old baby had been brought, after being taken from her parents.

“He can sign an executive order today,” said Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL), who was blocked on Tuesday from visiting a group of detained children at a federal facility in Homestead, Florida.

“This shameful chapter in American history lies with the President and his pen,” Nelson said, arguing the President started these separations, and should halt them.

“We must stop the madness, and stop it now,” said Rep. John Lewis (D-GA).

“America is weakened in the eyes of the world,” added Rep. Hank Johnson (D-GA).

“This is a policy straight from the pit of hell,” said Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA).

GOP leaders also made clear they wanted the Trump Administration to change course.

“As I said last week, we do not want children taken away from their parents,” said House Speaker Paul Ryan, as he urged GOP lawmakers to unite behind a pair of immigration bills which are expected to be voted on Thursday.

But while the Speaker and other Republicans said provisions in those bills would fix the family separation matter – those plans would not advance through the Senate – making it unlikely that Congress could anything done on the family separation matter.

The change on illegal immigrant families came in early May, when Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced a “zero tolerance” policy dealing with those illegally coming over the southern border.

“Today we are here to send a message to the world: we are not going to let this country be overwhelmed,” Sessions said in that May 7 speech.

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After Trump visit, Republicans try to rally behind immigration bill

Published: Tuesday, June 19, 2018 @ 11:07 PM

President Donald Trump tried on Tuesday evening to push Republicans in the House to pass an immigration reform bill later this week, basically telling GOP lawmakers he would support whatever they could pass, as Republicans struggled to find the votes to do that, and pressed the White House to back off a new policy that separates some illegal immigrant kids from their parents after being picked up at the border.

“The system’s been broken for many years,” the President told reporters at the Capitol before the unusual Tuesday evening gathering.

“The immigration system, it’s been a really bad, bad. system, probably the worst anywhere in the world. And we’re gonna try and see if we can fix it.”

Earlier in the day, the President had told a gathering of business leaders that he would not back off his calls for major changes in U.S. immigration laws.

“When people come up, they have to know they’re never going to get in, or else it’s never going to stop,” Mr. Trump said of the flow of illegal immigration across the southern border with Mexico.

But complicating matters for the President was the recent move to force the separation of children and parents, if the parents were being charged for illegally entering the United States, as that continued to draw stern opposition from GOP lawmakers of all stripes.

“All of us are horrified at the images that we are seeing,” said Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX).

“We ought to stop separating families,” said Rep. Kevin Yoder (R-KS). “The Administration disagrees,” as GOP lawmakers said the conflict wasn’t really discussed during the Tuesday night meeting with Mr. Trump.

“We can have strong border security without separating families,” said Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH).

13 GOP Senators signed a letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions, asking the Trump Administration to “halt current policies leading to the forced separation of minor children from their parents,” but that missive fell on deaf ears at the White House, as GOP lawmakers scrambled for kind of legislative answer.

House GOP leaders on Tuesday night posted two different immigration bills for possible House votes – one was a more conservative plan backed by Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), which was unlikely to get close to a majority; a second was a more moderate bill that lacked the support of conservatives.

It left many unsure what would happen if votes occurred this week on the House floor.

“I’m still working through whether I can vote for the compromise bill,” said Rep. Warren Davidson (R-OH), as more conservative lawmakers withheld their support from the only all-GOP plan that has a chance for approval.

Meanwhile, even as Mr. Trump tried to push Republicans to stick together on immigration, he managed to cause some internal GOP pain, as lawmakers said the President – during the closed door meeting with House lawmakers – took a verbal shot at Rep. Mark Sanford (R-SC), who lost his primary a week ago to a candidate backed by the President.

“Is Mark Sanford here? I just want to congratulate him on running a great race,” the President reportedly said, drawing quiet groans and hisses from some GOP members.

One Republican, Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI) said later on Twitter, that the jab was uncalled for.

“This was a classless cheap shot,” Amash wrote.

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Ohio lawmakers criticize separating kids from parents at border

Published: Tuesday, June 19, 2018 @ 12:57 PM
Updated: Tuesday, June 19, 2018 @ 12:57 PM

What You Need to Know: 'Zero Tolerance' Immigration Policy

Ohio Senators Rob Portman and Sherrod Brown criticized President Donald Trump’s administration for separating children from parents trying to cross the border in the United States.

President Trump defended the policy Tuesday blaming Democrats, child smugglers and said Congress needs to take action.

In a statement Tuesday, Portman, R-Ohio, said “the policy is counter to our values. We can have strong border security without separating families at the border. They can be kept together and dealt with as a family unit.”

“The administration should change course immediately and use its executive authority to keep families together and expedite their cases,” Portman said. “If those changes aren’t made, Congress should act quickly on a legislative solution to fix this problem.”

RELATED: Hundreds of children wait in border patrol facility in Texas

Brown, D-Ohio, who is seeking re-election against Republican Jim Renacci, said “all children should be treated with compassion. Tearing families apart is wrong and will not fix our broken immigration system.”

U.S. Rep. Mike Turner, R-Dayton, went on CNN Tuesday and said he’s “opposed to the practice” of separating children from their parents.

“If the president has the ability, certainly the president should end the practice,” he said.

Turner and other House Republicans met with President Trump on the issue Tuesday night.

Turner says Speaker Paul Ryan is backing a bill that would move from a lottery to a merit-based immigration system, end the separations and deal with border security. He said he hopes President Trump will support the speaker’s bill.

“Immigration is the strength and the heart of our country,” Turner said. “We have a system that is absolutely broken.”

RELATED: Before Trump policy, immigrant families arrested at border were detained together

The House is expected to consider two competing immigration bills this week which could include language preventing the border separations. But there are deep doubts either bill can pass the House or Senate in part because Republicans are so divided on the issue and Democrats believe neither bill solves the problem.

U.S. Senate candidate Renacci, a House member from Wadsworth, said “protecting both American jobs and our security by securing our borders and fixing our broken immigration system must be a top priority,” and urged swift passage of a bill to “enforce America’s immigration laws” and prevent “the separation of children from their parents on our border.”

President Trump wants Congress to act

President Trump called for Congress to approve what he called a third option to address the family separations.

“So what I’m asking Congress to do is to give us a third option, which we have been requesting since last year, the legal authority to detain and promptly remove families together as a unit,” Trump said. “We have to be able to do this. This is the only solution to the border crisis.”

Under the current policy, all unlawful crossings are referred for prosecution — a process that moves adults to the custody of the U.S. Marshals Service and sends many children to facilities run by the Department of Health and Human Services. Under the Obama administration, such families were usually referred for civil deportation proceedings, not requiring separation.

What You Need to Know: 'Zero Tolerance' Immigration Policy

More than 2,300 minors were separated from their children at the border from May 5 through June 9, according to the Department of Homeland Security.

Top conservatives, including key Trump allies, have introduced bills to keep the migrant families together. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas introduced legislation that the White House said it was reviewing, and Rep. Mark Meadows of North Carolina, a leader of the conservative Freedom Caucus, also introduced a measure.

“While cases are pending, families should stay together,” tweeted Cruz, who is in an unexpectedly tough re-election battle. He introduced his own bill to speed up court proceedings to no more than 14 days. “Children belong with their families,” he said.

Both bills seemed to be longshots. “This becomes a backup proposal,” Meadows told reporters at the White House.

The Trump administration insists the family separations are required under the law. But after signaling Monday that it would oppose any fix aimed solely at addressing that issue, the White House said Tuesday it was reviewing the emergency legislation being introduced by Cruz to keep migrant families together.

The senator’s bill would add more federal immigration judges, authorize new temporary shelters to house migrant families, speed the processing of asylum cases and require that families that cross the border illegally be kept together, absent criminal conduct or threats to the welfare of any children.

The two immigration bills under consideration in the House could address the separations, but the outlook for passage is dim. Conservatives say the compromise legislation that GOP leaders helped negotiate with moderates is inadequate.

Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Urbana, a member of the Freedom Caucus, said he’s skeptical that even a full-throated endorsement from Trump will be enough to get the compromise bill through the House.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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