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Fact check: Trump brags to troops about 10 percent pay raise he didn't actually give them

The president also got it very wrong when he claimed during his trip to Iraq that service members haven't had a wage hike in 10 years.
President Trump, with first lady Melania Trump, delivers remarks to U.S. troops in an unannounced visit to al-Asad Airbase in Iraq on Dec. 26, 2018.Jonathan Ernst / Reuters
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By Jane C. Timm

President Donald Trump told American troops in Iraq that he had given them a 10 percent raise, and that it was their first pay hike in a decade — but he didn't, and it wasn't.

"You just got one of the biggest pay raises you've ever received," Trump said in remarks at al-Asad Airbase during his surprise trip to Iraq on Wednesday, drawing cheers from the troops. "You haven’t gotten one in more than 10 years — more than 10 years. And we got you a big one. I got you a big one."

Troops will receive a 2.6 percent — not 10 percent — pay hike for 2019; they got a 2.4 percent pay hike in 2018.

What's more, American troops have received a pay hike every year for decades. 2019's raise is the largest in nine years.

Military pay raises are tied to increases in private-sector wages, as calculated by the Department of Labor. Congress can also enact raises that exceed that rate, as well.

Trump insisted that he personally had fought for this raise, because the troops put their lives on the line.

"They said: 'You know, we could make it smaller. We could make it 3 percent. We could make it 2 percent. We could make it 4 percent.' I said: 'No. Make it 10 percent. Make it more than 10 percent,'" Trump told the troops. "Because it's been a long time. It's been more than 10 years. That's a long time. And, you know, you really put yourselves out there, and you put your lives out there. So congratulations."

The remarks came during the president's first trip to troops stationed in a combat zone, days after he announced he'd withdraw the U.S. from foreign wars in Syria and Afghanistan.

"No force in history has done more for the cause of justice and peace," Trump told the service members. "We are always going to protect you. And you just saw that because you just got one of the biggest pay raises you've ever received."

Basic pay for active duty soldiers can range from $19,659 for a new private to $38,059 for a staff sergeant with six years experience, according to Army recruiting materials.

Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., spoke out against the president's remark on Thursday.

"We should never get used to the president not being straightforward and not telling the truth," he said on MSNBC. "The pay raise statements were not factually accurate. The president should know better than that. We should never sort of get used to this president with his looseness on the facts."

Jane C. Timm

Jane C. Timm is a political reporter and fact checker for NBC News.

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