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President Donald Trump's 10 biggest falsehoods of 2018

NBC News spent 2018 fact checking Trump's claims on tariffs, immigration, health insurance, taxes, aviation safety, foiled terrorists, jobs, and more.
President Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally at Pensacola International Airport on Nov. 3, 2018, in Pensacola, Florida.Butch Dill / AP

President Donald Trump misled the American public repeatedly in 2018.

He championed victories that never happened and complained of challenges that don’t exist, while repeating some of the same false claims dozens and dozens of times — on the campaign trail, at the White House, and on Twitter.

This year alone, we’ve fact checked claims on tariffs, immigration law, health insurance, veterans health care, tax reform, aviation safety, automotive safety tests (and whether they involve bowling balls), border fencing, foiled terrorists, job creation, among many others. He's said, inexplicably, that people need a photo ID to buy groceries and cereal.

But certain falsehoods stood out amid the rest: sweeping claims that defined political conversations and, despite the work of fact checkers, kept coming up.

These are the president's top 10 whoppers of 2018.

10. We've gotten more done than any other administration.

“My administration has accomplished more than almost any administration in the history of our country,” Trump told the United Nations in September 2018 address.

“So true,” he said as laughter broke out among the foreign dignitaries in attendance, documented in videos and the White House transcript. “Didn’t expect that reaction, but that’s okay.”

Trump later said he intended that UN moment to garner a laugh, but he's repeated this claim seriously since. There are varying measures of success, but it's not "so true" that his administration has been more successful than any other administration in history. When it comes to legislation, Trump has signed plenty of bills in his first two years as president, but President Barack Obama, in his first two years in office, signed significantly more.

And not all legislation is created equal. Trump's struggled to sign the kind of major legislation he promised on the campaign trail. He’s tried and failed several times to repeal the Affordable Care Act. His signature legislative achievement, tax reform, has fallen short of the president’s own boasts about it and he’s offered vague promises of second tax cut to compensate.

His first real bipartisan achievement — a criminal justice reform bill called the "First Step Act" — was signed into law in late December, after he made this hyperbolic claim.

Much of Trump's agenda included deregulation and withdrawing the U.S. from international deals like the Iran deal and the Paris climate agreement, which he has successfully done. He’s also negotiated a new trade deal with Mexico and Canada intended to replace NAFTA, but in order to get it implemented, he’ll need support from a divided Congress.

9. Steel and automaker investments are skyrocketing.

“Big steel is opening and renovating plants all over the country. Auto companies are pouring into the U.S., including BMW, which just announced a major new plant,” Trump tweeted in November.

This is not true, according to industry experts.

Auto investment is down; BMW had said they might open a new plant, but they didn’t announce one. There are a handful of bright spots for steelmakers — production is up, for one — but there's no sign of a broad trend of investment and new plants.

The falsehood came days after news broke that General Motors would close American plants because the president’s steel tariffs raised the cost of doing business, and Trump has repeatedly sought to portray his trade war as a boon to the country.

8. Tariffs are making America rich.

“When people or countries come in to raid the great wealth of our Nation, I want them to pay for the privilege of doing so...We are right now taking in $billions in Tariffs. MAKE AMERICA RICH AGAIN,” Trump wrote in a December 2018 tweet.

Trump is misstating how tariffs work.

Tariffs are a fee charged by the U.S. when a good is brought into the U.S. They're designed to make foreign made goods more expensive — thus boosting domestic producers — but that expense, charged to the importer, is typically passed down to American consumers.

7. We passed the biggest tax cut and reform in American history.

“Just as I promised the American People from this podium 11 months ago, we enacted the biggest tax cuts and reform in American history,” Trump said in his January State of the Union.

This claim is false. The GOP tax bill, passed in December, does not amount to the "biggest" in U.S. history, according to the non-partisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget and others.

"It’s hard to mathematically measure how reform-y your tax plan is," Kyle Pomerleau, an economist at independent think tank The Tax Foundation, told NBC News at the time. Still, he said, Ronald Reagan's 1986 reform simplified the tax code in a big way and was probably more "reformish."

6. Democrats are "radical socialists” who want to turn America into Venezuela.

“The truth is that the centrist Democratic Party is dead. The new Democrats are radical socialists who want to model America’s economy after Venezuela. If Democrats win control of Congress this November, we will come dangerously closer to socialism in America. Government-run health care is just the beginning,” the president wrote in an opinion article in October.

The president has repeatedly tried to tie Democrats who support single-payer health care options like Medicare for All to the economically struggling nation with an oppressive far-left government.

But socialized medicine isn’t a radical idea by any stretch — it's the norm internationally — and Democrats are not citing Venezuela as a model. Rather, they've advocated for expanding the United States' own form of socialized medicine, Medicare.

5. We pulled off an economic turnaround of historic proportions.

“We’ve accomplished an economic turnaround of historic proportions,” Trump said in a July 2018 Rose Garden press conference.

This is false. The economy wasn’t hurting when Trump took office, and it hasn’t turned around in just two short years. The economic turnaround Trump refers to is actually credited to his predecessor, President Barack Obama, who steered the country from a devastating recession into booming growth.

Economists told NBC News that Trump might have given the economy a boost with the tax cuts and dampened it with the trade war, but he didn’t turn things around.

Economies do not turn on a hair with a new presidency. While Obama can look back on his eight years and see his leadership play out, Trump's effect is still not yet known.

4: Obama separated children from their families at the border.

“Remember this: President Obama separated children from families," Trump said in November 2018.

This is false. There was no widespread Obama-era policy of separating parents and children.

The Obama administration instead opted to detain families together, earning outrage of their own. Advocates said there were a handful of scenarios under the Obama administration where children were separated from their parents because of fears of human trafficking, but reunification was speedy.

The president made this claim as a way to defend his own administration's policy that separated more than 2,600 migrant children from their parents earlier this year — a policy he was forced to end after widespread public outrage and condemnation from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.

3. The Russia probe is witch hunt.

“There was no crime,” the president said in November 2018 from the White House. “We’ve wasted enough time on this witch hunt,” he said weeks later.

Trump called special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia probe a "witch hunt" more than 100 times. But it's a federal investigation that has so far resulted in 33 people being charged with crimes, and seen three senior Trump associates convicted.

The president's former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, was convicted at trial of multiple felony counts of tax and bank fraud unrelated to his work for candidate Trump. His longtime former personal attorney and fixer, Michael Cohen, will go to jail for three years for a slew of crimes including lying to Congress about plans to build a Trump Tower in Russia. Trump's former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, was recently excoriated by a federal judge in open court for having worked as an unregistered foreign agent to Turkey while advising Trump's campaign and is awaiting sentencing after pleading guilty to lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russian officials. All three have cooperated with the special counsel's office to varying degrees — though Manafort breached the deal he struck with them after his conviction by lying, prosecutors said.

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who until recently oversaw Mueller's probe, has said the investigation is "appropriate and independent" — not a witch hunt.

2. Republicans support protections for people with pre-existing conditions.

“All Republicans support people with pre-existing conditions, and if they don't, they will after I speak to them," Trump tweeted in October. "I am in total support."

The facts don't back Trump up here.

The Trump administration backed Republican-led states in a lawsuit that claims Obamacare's protections for pre-existing conditions are illegal, and a federal court ruled the law unconstitutional in December. If the Supreme Court confirms the ruling, insurers would be able to start denying coverage to those people. The White House has not proposed alternative legislation that would offer those with pre-existing conditions the protections Obamacare gives consumers.

Republicans have spent years trying to repeal Obamacare, and the GOP health care bills proposed — and voted on — over the course of the past year would have softened such protections, in some cases allowing insurers to deny coverage to people with pre-existing conditions. Supporting the concept of health care for people with pre-existing conditions, and supporting legislation that accomplishes it, are two different things.

1. We're building the wall.

“We’re building the wall as we speak,” the president said on Fox News in October 2018. “MEXICO IS PAYING FOR THE WALL,” he tweeted on Dec. 13. "We are already building and renovating many miles of Wall, some complete," he tweeted on Christmas Eve.

Two years after campaigning on a promise to build a big, beautiful concrete wall — not a fence — along the nation’s southern border that Mexico would pay for, Trump declared victory, telling Americans that quite a bit of his border wall has been built, the government is building more and that Mexico is paying for it, albeit indirectly. There's just one problem: none of that is true.

The government is currently repairing and replacing old sections of border fencing, but construction on a new section of border barrier has not yet begun and won't this year. The 650 miles of fencing along the U.S.-Mexico border was there long before Trump barnstormed the country during the 2016 campaign deriding it as subpar. And as for Trump's claim that the new trade deal between the U.S., Mexico, and Canada will amount to Mexico paying for his wall, The New York Times, and NPR have all reported it baseless. Even if the math added up, that trade deal won't go into effect until it is approved by Congress.

Lastly, Trump vowed that the wall would be cement and once criticized a reporter who called it a fence. Now, two years into his administration, he says he's building "artistic" fences and attempting to rebrand his promised wall as "steel slats."