Trump has made this false claim at least 100 times

It came in near the end of a speech before the Economic Club of New York. President Donald Trump said the U.S. was taking in billions and billions in tariffs that, he claimed, "China is paying for." For good measure, he added “we're not paying."

It was a remarkable comment only for its frequency of use. In fact, according to an analysis by Yahoo Finance, Nov. 12 was at least the 100th instance in 2019 that Trump has falsely claimed that China is “eating” or “being charged” or in some way “paying” for the tariffs his administration has imposed on Chinese imports.

Trump’s claim has been debunked by fact checkers again and again and again and again. Here’s how put it: “Not true. The tariffs are taxes paid by U.S. importers in the form of customs duties, and to some extent by U.S. consumers in the form of higher prices.” Politifact said that Trump’s statements that China is paying tariffs and that the money is being passed to farmers “simply does not reflect how tariffs work.” (Chinese exporters do bear some of the cost of U.S. tariffs in various ways: they are sometimes forced to offer U.S. importers a discount to help defray the costs of higher U.S. tariffs.) 

Yet the criticism hasn’t slowed him down. The first 2019 instance was Jan. 3. In what appears to be his first public comment on China in 2019, Trump tweeted that "The United States Treasury has taken in MANY billions of dollars from the Tariffs we are charging China.” Almost 10 months later, it was a nearly identical refrain during a cabinet meeting: “We’re taking in billions and billions of dollars in tariffs from China,” he said on Oct. 21.

All told, he has made the false claim at least 15 times via tweet, 12 times in media interviews and 73 times during public speeches or in comments to reporters so far in 2019. In one form or another, the president has made the made the claim about once every three days on average.

A range of false claims

Tariffs do hurt the Chinese economy – perhaps as much or even more than they hurt the U.S. economy – but both economies have been dragged down by the ongoing trade war. A recent U.N. study showed the ongoing trade war is “hurting both countries” by cutting the U.S. import of Chinese goods by more than a quarter and also driving up prices for American consumers.

Trump has indicated he is in no rush to resolve the situation. Here’s how he put it at a speech in July: “They’re paying us billions and billions of dollars, folks. Billions. And they want to — they want to make a deal badly. And we’ll see whether or not we make a deal. We’ll see.” A deal still hasn’t been reached.

The president often embellishes with additional false details. Recently, he said on Fox News about the tariffs, “it hasn’t cost us anything.” Earlier this year, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York estimated that the cost of the China tariffs is $831 per U.S. household. JPMorgan Chase estimated costs of the tariffs at more than $1,000 per year for the typical American household.

Products directly hit by Trump's tariffs on Chinese goods
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Products directly hit by Trump's tariffs on Chinese goods
Meat: pork; beef intestine; rabbit meat; venison; frog legs
Fish and seafood:live fish including ornamental fish, trout, eels, tuna, and carp; chilled or frozen meat of various types of trout, salmon, halibut, plaice, sole, albacore, tuna, herring, mackerel, cobia, swordfish, pollack, whiting, catfish, rays, and more; various types of salted or smoked fish; other seafood including various types of lobsters, crabs, shrimps, prawns, oysters, scallops, mussels, clams, squid, octopus, conchs, abalone, sea cucumbers, and sea urchins.
Non-meat animal products such as eggs and dairy:Whey products; butter; various types of eggs including chicken; honey; hair of animals including human, hog, horse and badger; animal intestines, bladders; feathers; bones including shells, beaks, corals, hooves, antlers, and more.
Vegetables:onions; garlic; cauliflower and broccoli; cabbage; carrots; turnips; radishes; beats; cucumbers; peas of various types; beans; lentils; celery; mushrooms; peppers of various types; squash; okra; sweet corn; potatoes; sweet potatoes and yams; some types of tomatoes; spinach; Brussels sprouts.
Fruit and Nuts: Coconuts; cashews; almonds; hazelnuts; walnuts; chestnuts; pistachios; macadamia nuts; pecans; dates; figs; pineapples; guavas; oranges; mandarins; clementines; raisins; grapes; apples; pears; quinces; peaches; berries including strawberries, raspberries, cranberries, blueberries and others; bananas; a variety of dried fruits; peels of various fruits.
Cereals: wheat, including durum wheat; barley; oats; corn; various types of rice; grain sorghum; buckwheat; quinoa; and more.
Mill products: flours including those form wheat, corn, buckwheat, rice, rye, other cereals, potatoes, and bananas; groats and meal of various types including wheat, corn, oats, and rice; malt; starches of wheat, corn, potato, and more
Oil seeds: soybeans; seeds of sunflower, flax seed, sesame, mustard, poppy and more; planting seeds for certain crops; cocoas and mint leaves; and seaweeds.
Sugars and candies: cane sugar; candies with no cocoa
Breads and Pasta: uncooked pasta; various breads, pastries, cakes, and biscuits.
Prepared vegetables and fruits: various vegetables and fruits previously listen in their prepared or preserved forms; various fruit jams including strawberry, pineapple, apricot, and more; peanut butter; various fruit juices including orange, pineapple, lime, grape, apple, and more.
Other food items: soy sauce; condiments and seasonings; protein concentrates.
Beverages and vinegars: water, including mineral water; fruit or vegetable juices and juice mixes; beer from malt; wine, including rice wine; ethyl alcohol; vinegars
Food processing waste and animal feed: brans from processing; oil cakes; dog or cat food; animal feed
Tobacco products: various types and preparations of tobacco; tobacco refuse; cigars; cigarettes; smoking tobacco
Salts and minerals: salt/sodium chloride; sulfur; graphite; quartz; types of clays; chalk; slate; marble; granite; sandstone; dolomite; gypsum; some plasters; some types of cement; mica; Epsom salts
Ores, slag, and ash: ores of iron, copper, nickel, cobalt, aluminum, lead, zinc, tin, chromium, tungsten, uranium, titanium, silver, other precious metals, and others; slag, various types of ash.
Mineral fuels and oils: coal; lignite; peat; coke; tars; various types of light oil; various types of kerosene; petroleum oils; liquefied fuels including natural gas, propane, butane, ethylene, and petroleum; oil shale and tar sands
Inorganic Chemicals: chemicals such as chlorine, sulfur; carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, and silicon; acids including sulfuric, nitric, and more; various types of fluorides, chlorides, sulfates, nitrates, carbonates, and more.
Organic chemicals
Fertilizers: animal or vegetable fertilizers; urea; ammonium sulfate; sodium nitrate; and more.
Tanning and drying extracts, dyes, and paints
Essential oils, perfumes: perfume; lip or eye make up preparations; manicure or pedicure products; shampoo; hairspray; bath salts.
Soaps and cleaning products: various types of soap; leather and textile treatments; polishes for shoes and furniture.
Glues, adhesives, and enzymes
Cigarette lighter fluid
Photographic goods: various types of photo plates; instant film; various types of film in rolls; various types of motion picture film.
Various chemical products: pesticides; herbicides; fungicides
Plastics: vinyl flooring and other plastic floor and wall coverings; sausage casings; bags; gloves including baseball gloves; rain jackets; machinery belts.
Rubber: latex; rods, tubes, and other products; conveyor belts; various types of transmission belts; various types of pneumatic tires; gloves; gaskets; dock fenders.
Raw hides and leather: animal skins including cow, buffalo, sheep, goats, reptile; various types of leather made from cow, buffalo, sheep, goats, reptile; leather trunks and suitcases; leather handbags; CD cases; gloves including ski, ice hockey, and typical use; belts; fur clothing, incluidng artificial fur.
Wood: fuel wood; charcoal; various types of wood including oak, beech, maple, ash and cherry; moldings; rods; particleboard; various types of plywood; doors; corks and stoppers; wicker and bamboo baskets.
Wood pulp products
Paper: Newsprint; writing paper; vegetable parchment; carbon paper; self-adhesive paper; cigarette paper; envelopes; tablecloths; handkerchiefs; folders.
Wool or animal hair products: cashmere; yarns; tapestries and upholstery.
Cotton: fibers; thread; yarn; denim; satin.
Flax: yarn; fabrics
Man-made textiles: polypropylene; rayon; nylon; polyester
Other textile products, rope, twine: hammocks; fish nets; carpets;
Fabrics: corduroy; gauze; terry towel; lace; badges; embroidery
Headgear: caps; hairnets; wool hats; head bands
Stone, plaster, cement, asbestos: stone for art; marble slabs; roofing slate; millstones; sandpaper; floor or wall tiles; cement bricks.
Ceramics: fire bricks; pipes; tiles; porcelain and china.
Glass and glassware: balls; rods; drawn or blown glass; float glass; tempered safety glass; mirrors; carboys, bottles, jars, pots, flasks, and other containers; microscope slides; woven fiberglass
Precious stones and pearls: industrial diamonds; silver and products made of silver; gold and products made of gold; platinum; palladium.
Iron and steel and products derived from the metals:drums; tubes; pipes; doors; windows; screws; horseshoes;
Copper: plates; cables; tubes; pipes; springs
Nickel: bars; rods; wires
Aluminum:powder; cable; wire; screws.
Various metal products, tools, cutlery: industrial items made from lead, zinc, tin, and more; saw blades; bolt cutters; hammers; wrenches; crow bars.
Machinery, both industrial and retail: steam turbines; engines; fuel-injection pumps; air compressors; air conditioning machines; refrigerators; cream separators; hydraulic jacks; escalators; manure spreaders; copiers; automatic beverage-vending machines
Electronics: vacuum cleaners; hair clippers; spark plugs; generators; bicycle lights; electric amps; television cameras; various types of TVs; video projectors.
Vehicles and parts: axles; driving shafts; gear boxes; radiators.

Ships and boats: sailboats; motorboats; canoes; yachts.

Instruments for scientific or medical purposes: microscopes; cameras for non-art purposes; gauges for pressure, electrical currents, and more.
Clocks and watches
Furniture, bedding, mattresses: car seats; wood chairs; furniture designed for offices, kitchens, and more; mattresses; chandeliers; lamps.

Assorted items: buttons; stamps; paintings; collections of zoological, botanical, mineralogical, anatomical, historical, archaeological interest; antiques of an age exceeding one hundred years


The president has also claimed that the tariffs on China are new. Here’s how he put it in June: “Just so you know, China has been paying us billions and billions of dollars. Until I got here, they never paid this country 10 cents.” In fact, as demonstrated in a chart using data from the U.S. International Trade Commission, there was, indeed, a spike in tariffs in 2019, but the U.S. collected billions in import duties from China throughout President Obama’s term. Tariffs have been a tool used by the U.S. government for hundreds of years. The Tariff Act of 1789 was one of the first pieces of legislation passed after the ratification of the United States Constitution. It was aimed at European nations but applied to all foreign ships.

Trump’s argument, on the occasions he’s offered one, has shifted over the course of 2019 and has relied on a link where the Chinese government is – in the end – footing the bill on the duties collected by U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents when goods reach a U.S. port of entry.

In the first months of 2019, the argument was usually that China was “subsidizing” the businesses paying the tariffs. In May, the president said that “China came out, and, in subsidizing the business, they pay for a big portion of that tax.” The argument shifted in June to focus on currency manipulation. “Don't let anyone tell you that we're paying,” he said in a Fox Business interview in June. “We're not paying, China's paying for it. China has devalued their currency in order to pay for it.” Since he began making the currency manipulation argument, Trump's use of the claim has jumped dramatically. In the first four months of 2019, he said China was paying for the tariffs just 15 times. In the ensuing six months – from May to October – he said it at least 79 times.

“People don't understand tariffs, but I understand them,” he told ABC News in June.

Peter Navarro, one of Trump’s closest advisors on the subject, made a version of the argument during an appearance on Yahoo Finance in September. “China is paying the full burden of these tariffs,” he said on Yahoo Finance’s “The Final Round.” “If you put a 15% tariff on China and they devalue their currency by 15%, you don't get a lot of shifting to consumers. Plus, there's no sign of inflation in the data,” he said, referring to U.S. inflation levels which have stayed under 2% so far in 2019.

Rare acknowledgement of costs to Americans

The president, though, has added some nuance on occasion and acknowledged the financial burden shouldered by American consumers.

On Aug. 13, while discussing his delay in some tariffs until Dec. 15 with reporters, Trump said“we’re doing this for Christmas season, just in case some of the tariffs would have an impact on U.S. customers, which, so far, they’ve had virtually none.” He then immediately added that “the only impact has been that we’ve collected almost $60 billion from China — compliments of China.”

Trump has also sometimes noted that it is U.S. companies that pay the tariffs, saying “China” is being charged. During a Fox interview in May, he said “many of these companies that are paying the tariff are moving to Vietnam and other places in Asia,” before adding, “we are going to be taking in possibly $100 billion, possibly more than that in tariffs. We never took in 10 cents from China.”

In January, he was discussing his 25% tariffs on certain Chinese imports, he said that “out of the 25 points, we are paying for four points out of the 25.” Referring to China, he said “they’re paying for 21.”


Yahoo Finance analyzed over 250 of President Trump’s public remarks on China and tariffs in 2019, including speeches, press conferences, tweets, media interviews, and campaign rallies. The president’s statements from 2018 were not analyzed although he made the false claim multiple times that year.

Yahoo Finance only used examples of when Trump said that China "is paying, "pays,” is "eating,” is being "charged," or that we "take" tariffs or they are "coming in" from China. A few instances where the president said the tariff money is "compliments of China" were also included. Yahoo Finance did not include multiple instances when Trump said the U.S. is taking in “billions” from tariffs without specifying China as the source.

Oftentimes, he made the claim multiple times within a single set of remarks. That was only counted as a single instance in the total count.

Below is a full month-by month breakdown:

He made the claim at least 6 times in January: Jan. 34232430, and 31.

He made the claim at least 6 times in February:  Feb. 511121516, and 25.

He made the claim at least 3 times in March:  March 313, and 20.

He does not appear to have made the claim in April.

Things picked up in May with at least 13 instances of the claim: May 13589101112131723, and 27,

He made the claim at least 17 times in June: June 56101111 (for a second time), 121416, 1822242626 (again), and a total of four times on June 29.

He made the claim at least 14 times in July: July 11 (for a second time), 571212 (again), 15161719222326, and 30.

He made the claim at least 17 times in August: Aug. 1,  1 (for a second time), 235913141515 (again), 1818 (again), 23252626, and 30,

He made the claim at least 11 times in September on: Sept. 146691316202020, and 25

He made the claim at least 7 times in October on: Oct. 679161721, and 21

He made the claim at least 5 times so far in Nov. on:  Nov. 1,  4689, and a 100th instance on Nov. 12.

Ben Werschkul is a producer for Yahoo Finance in Washington, DC. Sarah Paynter contributed additional reporting.

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