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AP FACT CHECK: Trump on Hurricane and Political Winds

by Hope Yen and Seth Borenstein
Sunday Oct 14, 2018
In this Oct. 11, 2018 file photo, a boat sits amidst debris in the aftermath of Hurricane Michael in Mexico Beach, Fla.
In this Oct. 11, 2018 file photo, a boat sits amidst debris in the aftermath of Hurricane Michael in Mexico Beach, Fla.   (Source:AP Photo/Gerald Herbert, File))

Hurricane Michael has shown that President Donald Trump can't always be counted on to give accurate information to the public when a natural disaster unfolds.

Trump wrongly stated that the hurricane moved across land with blazing speed, which stopped a terrible situation from becoming even worse because the storm didn't linger. He also at least mildly exaggerated the ferocity of the storm's winds.

His rhetorical record in times of calamity has been spotty.

Trump described last year's Hurricane Maria as a Category 5 storm when it hit Puerto Rico; it was a 4. He invented a story that Democrats made up a high death toll on the island and, in the case of Hurricane Harvey and Texas, stated without evidence that thousands of water rescues resulted from people going "out in their boats to watch" the deadly storm.

The political winds swirled, too, over the past week, as Trump rallied hard for Republicans in the Nov. 6 elections that will determine control of Congress.

A look at some of his recent statements:

HURRICANE

TRUMP: "The only thing we can say about Michael with certainty is that it was so fast, it went through like a bullet, but it was a devastating bullet. It was complete." — remarks Thursday at a meeting about human trafficking.

TRUMP: "The one good thing we can say, we were just discussing, is that it was the fastest hurricane anybody's seen. It just was speedy. If it wasn't, there'd be absolutely nothing left." — remarks Thursday during signing of a bill to reduce sea pollution.

THE FACTS: No bullet here. Michael moved across land at a relatively normal pace.

Michael moved at 13 mph to 17 mph for most of Wednesday, then sped up to as high as 23 mph on Thursday. Colorado State University hurricane expert Phil Klotzbach notes that does not hold a candle to Hurricane Hazel in 1954. That one raced along at 55 mph.

Atmospheric scientist Brian McNoldy, from the University of Miami, said Michael's forward movement was "perfectly average."

"Very average forward speed," agreed meteorologist Jeff Masters, founder of Weather Underground. In contrast, a 1961 tropical storm hurtled at 69.75 mph from the mid-Atlantic over the Northeast, and a 1938 hurricane hit Long Island while traveling over 50 mph, he said.

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TRUMP: "It was winds about as big as we've ever seen in history. We've never had anything like this." — remarks Thursday at human-trafficking meeting.

TRUMP: "Some of those winds reached almost 200 miles an hour, which is unheard of. People are saying it's the third most powerful that they've seen hit our country anywhere." — remarks Thursday during bill signing.

TRUMP: "The level of power, people have not seen: the 170-, 180-mile-an-hour winds. At one point, it reached almost 200 miles an hour. So we haven't seen that before. And I guess you have two or three cases where maybe there might have been slightly stronger wind. But this is in history." — Fox News interview.

THE FACTS: This part is right: Michael was the third most powerful storm to hit the U.S. mainland. But Trump overstated wind speeds.

Michael's top measured sustained winds were 155 mph and that's from a plane, while the ground top wind speed measured was 129 mph. During the storm, a top wind gust of 130 mph was recorded at a University of Florida site before the instrument broke.

Gusts can be 25 percent higher than maximum sustained speeds, Klotzbach said, a prospect that would still leave winds considerably short of 200 mph on the ground.

Masters says the highest wind gust measured in a U.S. hurricane was 186 mph in Massachusetts in 1938.

Only four reliably recorded wind gusts of 200 mph or greater have been recorded in world history, he said. The world record wind gust is 253 mph at Barrow Island, Australia, during Tropical Cyclone Olivia in 1996.

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JUSTICE KAVANAUGH

TRUMP: "What happened to the Kavanaugh family violates every notion of fairness, decency, and due process. ...I must state that you, sir, under historic scrutiny, were proven innocent." — remarks Monday at swearing-in of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.

THE FACTS: There's no proof of innocence or of guilt. The presumption of innocence does not equate to proof.

It's true that a supplemental FBI background check did not appear to substantiate sexual assault allegations made against Kavanaugh or show any "hint of misconduct," according to Republican senators who read the confidential report. But that does not mean the review, which the FBI director described as limited in scope and lasting a week, proved Kavanaugh was innocent.

One of Kavanaugh's accusers, Christine Blasey Ford, alleged that he sexually assaulted her when they were teens in the 1980s. Ford identified several people in the house where the alleged assault occurred; three did not refute her account but said in brief statements submitted to senators that they did not remember the gathering. That leaves open the possibility that people at the small gathering forgot about it or were not in position to witness the alleged assault.

Democrats have complained the supplemental FBI review was constrained by the White House and may not have conducted interviews with a number of vital witnesses. They have also argued that Kavanaugh's nomination should be assessed broadly in terms of his fitness to be a Supreme Court justice, such as his truthfulness during the confirmation hearing and judicial temperament.

FBI Director Christopher Wray told Congress on Wednesday that the FBI's additional review of Kavanaugh was limited but consistent with previous background checks of nominees. He said that unlike criminal or national security investigations, the FBI's authority in background investigations is determined by the agency that requested it — the White House in this case.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has praised Kavanaugh's confirmation as affirming the "presumption" of innocence.

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'OPEN BORDERS BILL'

TRUMP: "Every single Democrat in the U.S. Senate has signed up for the open borders, and it's a bill, it's called the open borders bill. What's going on? And it's written by, guess who? Dianne Feinstein." — Kansas rally on Oct. 6.

THE FACTS: It's not called the "open borders" bill. More on point, nothing in the text directs borders to be more porous than now.

Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California is sponsoring a bill that has the support of every Democratic senator, but it's called the "Keep Families Together Act." The bill's aim is to stop the Trump administration's "zero tolerance" policy of criminally prosecuting all adults caught crossing the border illegally and putting their children under Department of Health and Human Services custody and care.

The bill seeks to limit family separations by barring federal agents and officers from removing a child from a parent within 100 miles of U.S. borders. Exceptions would apply in cases where a child is danger of trafficking or abuse or neglect, or when there is a strong likelihood the adult is not the parent.

While Trump charges that the bill would spur "open borders" and change immigration law, nothing in the legislation would prohibit the removal or detention of immigrants who arrive in the U.S. illegally if the families are kept together.

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CHICAGO CRIME

TRUMP: "I have directed the Attorney General's office to immediately go to the great city of Chicago to help straighten out the terrible shooting wave. We want to straighten it out. We want to straighten it out fast. There's no reason for what's going on there." — remarks Monday to police group in Orlando, Florida.

THE FACTS: In pointing to a "terrible shooting wave," Trump suggests an intolerable crime situation in Chicago that requires strict measures, such as use of the controversial "stop and frisk" policing strategy. In fact, according to Chicago officials, the crime situation has been improving. Chicago police said this month that there have been 102 fewer homicides and nearly 500 fewer shooting victims in the city this year, compared with the first nine months of 2017.

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PRE-EXISTING CONDITIONS

TRUMP: "As a candidate, I promised that we would protect coverage for patients with pre-existing conditions and create new health care insurance options that would lower premiums. I have kept that promise." — op-ed column published Wednesday in USA Today.

TRUMP: "If you listen to my speeches, pre-existing conditions, I'm saying it's being covered 100 percent and Republicans are doing that." — Fox interview broadcast Wednesday.

THE FACTS: It's a stretch for Trump to claim he is protecting health coverage for patients with pre-existing medical conditions, or that Republicans are "doing that." His Justice Department is arguing in court that those protections in the Obama-era health law should fall. And the short-term health plans Trump often promotes as a bargain alternative offer no guarantee of covering pre-existing conditions.

Government lawyers said in legal filings in June that they will no longer defend key parts of the Affordable Care Acr, including provisions that guarantee access to health insurance regardless of any medical conditions. Attorney General Jeff Sessions wrote in a letter to Congress that Trump approved the legal strategy.

The decision was a rare departure from the Justice Department's custom of defending federal laws in court, even if the administration in power does not like them. It came after Texas and other Republican-led states sued to strike down the entire law because Congress repealed a provision that people without health insurance must pay a fine.

The Trump administration said it won't defend the provision shielding people with medical conditions from being denied coverage or charged higher premiums.

The health overhaul requires insurers to take all applicants, regardless of medical history, and patients with health problems pay the same standard premiums as healthy ones. Bills supported last year by Trump and congressional Republicans to repeal the law could have pushed up costs for people with pre-existing conditions.

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MEDICARE

TRUMP: "The Democrats' plan means that after a life of hard work and sacrifice, seniors would no longer be able to depend on the benefits they were promised. By eliminating Medicare as a program for seniors, and outlawing the ability of Americans to enroll in private and employer-based plans, the Democratic plan would inevitably lead to the massive rationing of health care. Doctors and hospitals would be put out of business. Seniors would lose access to their favorite doctors. There would be long wait lines for appointments and procedures. Previously covered care would effectively be denied." — op-ed column Wednesday in USA Today.

THE FACTS: He paints a speculative doomsday scenario that may capture some negative consequences of Democratic plans while ignoring the upside.

America's health care system is a hybrid, with employers, federal, state, and local governments, and individuals sharing the cost. Under "Medicare for All," the federal government would take the reins. Seniors are being promised more health care from the government, not less.

The plan by Sen. Bernie Sanders, the Vermont independent, includes benefits not now covered by Medicare such as dental, vision, and hearing aids. A House bill would also cover long-term care.

The idea is also known as "single-payer," because the government would pay nearly all the bills and set rates for hospitals and doctors — and for all patients, not just the elderly.

"Medicare for All" would also eliminate or reduce costs now directly paid by seniors themselves.

Retirees would no longer have to fork over premiums for supplemental private insurance to cover gaps in Medicare. There would be no deductibles. Copayments for most care would be eliminated. The same benefits would accrue to privately insured people. With almost no out-of-pocket costs, people would probably seek more health care services.

And there lies a potential problem.

Single-payer would also dial back what hospitals and doctors now get paid for their privately insured patients, to a level based on Medicare rates. Medicare generally pays less than private insurance. The combination of greater demand for services and new limits on reimbursement would put a squeeze on the health care system.

But would it "inevitably lead" to "massive rationing" as described by Trump?

Maybe. Academic experts critical of single-payer have been much more guarded, though.

"It is impossible to say precisely how much the confluence of these factors would reduce individuals' timely access to health care services, but some such access problems almost certainly must arise," wrote Charles Blahous of the libertarian Mercatus Center in a recent analysis that pointed out cost problems with Sanders' plan.

Other experts and Sanders himself say that would not happen because single-payer would take costs out of the system by eliminating insurers as the middlemen and using government's clout to bring down drug prices.

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Associated Press writers Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar and Cal Woodward contributed to this report.

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