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Politics: Fact check: Gas prices when Trump left office were much higher than he now claims

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Former President Donald Trump has been attacking President Joe Biden over this year's increase in gas prices -- and greatly exaggerating the size of that increase.

A customer pumps gas into his vehicle at a Shell station on November 22, 2021 in Miami, Florida. © Joe Raedle/Getty Images A customer pumps gas into his vehicle at a Shell station on November 22, 2021 in Miami, Florida.

In a Fox News interview that aired on Sunday, Trump said, "Look, when I left, gasoline was $1.87. That was a year ago. And now, it's I guess just hit $7.50 in California, the rest to follow..."

In another Fox News interview that aired on Tuesday, Trump claimed the increase was even bigger: "Gas was at -- gasoline, $1.83 or $1.86 when I left, a gallon. And now it's at $7.70 in California, in different places in California, and it's heading that way everywhere."

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Facts First: Both of Trump's claims about gas prices at the time he left office were off by more than 50 cents per gallon. The national average for regular gas on his last day in office, January 20, was $2.393 per gallon, not $1.83, $1.86 or $1.87, according to data provided to CNN by the American Automobile Association. And while there is a remote California station where gas prices have exceeded $7.50 this fall, it's misleading to cite any one station as the figure for "California," as Trump appeared to do on Sunday -- especially because this station has been known for years as one of the most expensive in the country. The average gas price in California was $4.704 on Sunday and $4.705 on Tuesday, according to AAA data. That was the highest average for any state, but it was far from Trump's claims of $7.50 and $7.70.

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In the interview that aired on Sunday, Trump said that gas was selling for $1.87 both "when I left" and "a year ago." In context, the "a year ago" very much seemed to still be referring to prices at the time he left office, which was actually 10 months ago. But for the record, he would have been incorrect even if he was talking about prices a full year prior to the interview's air date. The national average gas price was $2.113 per gallon on November 21, 2020, according to AAA.

A big increase, but smaller than Trump claims

There's no doubt that gas prices have spiked internationally, nationally and in California in 2021. The increases have been driven by a complex array of global economic factors, notably including increases in the price of crude oil.

California gas prices have hit a series of record highs in November, most recently on Monday. National gas prices -- an average of $3.403 per gallon on Tuesday, according to AAA -- are currently the highest since 2014 overall and the highest since 2012 for a Thanksgiving holiday period, AAA spokesperson Ellen Edmonds told CNN on Wednesday.

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So drivers have felt real pain during the Biden era. Still, the starting prices Trump used for Biden's term -- $1.83, $1.86 and $1.87 -- were all at least 52 cents per gallon too low.

And it's obviously invalid to compare any previous national average price to the recent price at a single station, particularly an infamously prohibitive one like the coastal California station that received media and social media attention over its October prices of $7.599 per gallon for regular and $8.499 per gallon for premium. (The man who answered the phone at the station on Wednesday afternoon said the current price was $6.80 for regular.) Patrick De Haan, head of petroleum analysis at GasBuddy, told CNN on Wednesday that pricing at this station in the community of Gorda "likely is the highest in the country."

It's also worth noting that prices at the Gorda station at least sometimes exceeded $6.50 per gallon for regular under Trump. That happened in May 2019, according to a local news report at the time, and in June 2020 and October 2020, according to De Haan on Wednesday.

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A strategic release

Facing political pressure over the high gas prices around the country, the White House announced Tuesday that the federal government would release 50 million barrels of crude oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve in a coordinated move with other major countries. The US release is its largest on record.

Biden said in a Tuesday speech that while "our combined actions will not solve the problem of high gas prices overnight, it will make a difference."

"It will take time, but, before long, you should see the price of gas drop where you fill up your tank. And in the longer term, we will reduce our reliance on oil as we shift to clean energy," Biden said.

It's not clear, however, how much the oil releases might actually lower gas prices at US pumps. CNN Business reporter Matt Egan explored the complexities of the situation in an analysis you can read here.

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