WASHINGTON, June 29, 2018 — Less than 24 hours after five newspaper employees were murdered at their desks in Annapolis, Maryland, President Donald Trump on Friday took a short break from celebrating the six-month anniversary of his administration’s only major legislative accomplishment to address Thursday’s Capital Gazette shooting — the 154th such mass shooting the United States has seen this year.
“I’d like to address the shooting that took place yesterday at the Capital Gazette newsroom in Annapolis, Maryland,” Trump said in the East Room of the White House, at the outset of a speech celebrating the so-called “mensiversairy” of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. “This attack shocked the conscience of our nation and filled our hearts with grief. Journalists, like all Americans, should be free from the fear of being violently attacked while doing their jobs.
“To the families of the victims, there are no words to express our sorrow for your loss or your suffering, he said. “We pledge our enduring support. My government will not rest until we’ve done everything in our power to prevent violent crime and to protect innocent life.”
Trump has made attacks on the press a centerpiece of his political philosophy
Trump’s brief remarks addressing the shooting were his first public utterances since a gunman walked up to the glass doors to the newsroom of the Annapolis Gazette — one of the country’s oldest newspapers — and opened fire.
Upon returning to the White House from Wisconsin late Thursday afternoon, he declined to answer shouted questions from reporters who were anxious to hear if he had any words of comfort for the families of the four journalists and an advertising sales worker who’d failed to come home from work that day.
Since launching his campaign for the presidency in 2015, Trump has routinely made attacks on the free press — and often individual reporters — a centerpiece of his campaign rallies, at which reporters are confined to metal pens. Since becoming president, he has taken time at many of his official public appearances to attack both the press in general and to single news outlets and has also broadcast such attacks to the three million people who follow his personal Twitter account.
“These are very dishonest people,” Trump said during a June 21 campaign rally in Duluth, Minnesota.
He returned to his “fake news” refrain at a second rally this past week — less than 24 hours before the shooting — during which he called the assembled, penned-in press at the back of the room “the enemy of the people,” a phrase popularized by Soviet dictator Josef Stalin which he’d first used in a February 2016 tweet and repeated aloud shortly after while addressing the 2016 Conservative Political Action Conference.
The remainder of his remarks contained several false and questionable claims and anecdotes
Returning to his remarks on the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, Trump launched into a winding speech during which he made a number of false and questionable claims.
“Our economy is so good and our unemployment is so low,” Trump said while riffing on the topic of the unemployment rate and citing statistics which put the number of new unemployment claims “at a 44-year low,”
While it is correct that fewer people are claiming unemployment insurance, numerous experts have cited the so-called “gig economy,” in which workers are independent contractors — and therefore ineligible for unemployment benefits — as a driving force behind the drop in such claims.
The president also recounted a story in which a New York Police Department officer praised him for the increased worth of his 401(k) retirement plan. However, New York Police Department officers retirement benefits are based on a government-funded pension plan, not the 401(k) plans used by most private-sector workers.
Although Friday’s event was meant to cite the ways Americans have benefited from the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which both chambers of Congress passed in January on strict party-line votes, tax experts have noted that it will be difficult to determine the full extent of the changes it made to the tax code until April 2019, when most Americans file their income tax returns.
Trump also took a moment to tout the benefits of the 25 and 10 percent tariffs he imposed on foreign steel and aluminum earlier this year, citing one steel producer’s decision to expand as evidence that the tariffs are helping the American steel industry, which he has characterized as essential to “having a country.”
While BeltwayBreakfast has not verified the claim he made Thursday about Georgetown Steel, other claims Trump made earlier this week about U.S. Steel opening new production facilities were shot down by a company representative, who noted that any such announcements would’ve been made on the company’s own blog.
As the president finished his remarks, one reporter called out to him and asked if he’d stop calling the press “the enemy of the people.”
Trump did not respond.