Trump made a false claim to US troops about raising their pay

Trump as he speaks to US troops at Al Asad Air Base.
Trump as he speaks to US troops at Al Asad Air Base.
Image: Reuters/Jonathan Ernst
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This week, Donald Trump made a surprise trip to Iraq—his first visit to troops in an active war zone since taking office. As he spoke to the crowd at Al Asad Air Base near Baghdad on Dec. 26, Trump revealed another surprise, telling hundreds of members of the US military that he had secured the troops a raise of more than 10%, which he said was their first pay bump in more than a decade.

Both claims were false. In fact, troops are set to get a pay raise of 2.6% in 2019, and they have received a wage increase every year since 1983.

“You haven’t gotten one in more than 10 years,” Trump told the crowd, according to the Los Angeles Times (paywall) and multiple other news outlets. “More than 10 years. And we got you a big one. I got you a big one. I got you a big one.”

He went on: “They said, ‘You know, we could make it smaller. We could make it 3%. We could make it 2%. We could make it 4%.’ I said, ‘No. Make it 10%. Make it more than 10%.”

Trump’s boast that he got troops their first pay raise in 10 years is one he’s made before. He’s said it in reference to his signing of the year’s National Defense Authorization Act, the legislation passed annually by Congress (i.e., not by Trump alone) to set the policies that ultimately apportion funding for the military. In May, Poltifact debunked Trump’s assertion. Members of the US military have received a pay raise ever year going back to 1983—and only didn’t that year because of a technical quirk. Todd Harrison, director of defense budget analysis at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, called the claim “totally incorrect” then.

As for Trump’s statement that he got troops a raise of more than 10%, that again is far from true. The increase he authorized for 2018 was 2.4%, and for 2019, it was 2.6%. They are the largest pay raises for US military since 2010, but neither is an unusually high figure historically (pdf, p. 75). Since 1990, for instance, the average of all increases is just over 3%.

Trump has often talked up his support of the military, though his actions haven’t always backed his rhetoric. Aside from not serving himself, he has taken shots at those who have, such as the late senator John McCain, and hasn’t always made an effort to publicly honor soldiers, as when he opted to stay home on Veteran’s Day, though he had no public events scheduled for the day.

Recently, he announced that he would oust former four-star general Jim Mattis as defense secretary on Jan. 1, nearly two months earlier than Mattis’s scheduled resignation. Trump was reportedly upset about media coverage around Mattis’s resignation letter, which voiced a clear difference of opinion with Trump in how he treats US allies.