April 29 is Trump’s 100th day in office. Prior to the election, he published a “Contract with the American Voter” that laid out 28 promises for the administration’s honeymoon period. By our count, he’s fulfilled eight – perhaps nine – of them.
Trump burst into the Oval Office with a flurry of executive actions. Within two weeks he had kept at least seven of his promises in this way. He
- implemented a hiring freeze for non-defense personnel,
- required that two rules be scrapped for every new federal regulation,
- implemented a five-year ban on lobbying after leaving the White House or Congress (in some cases, this is less strict than Obama’s policy),
- banned White House officials from lobbying on behalf of foreign governments for life (though his campaign staffers are doing just that),
- withdrew from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP),
- gave the go-ahead to the Keystone and Dakota Access pipelines, and
- accelerated deportations.
Trump also instructed agency heads to ignore every Obamacare stricture possible and stopped the publication of Obama-era regulations in the Federal Register, arguably going some way toward fulfilling a promise to “cancel every unconsitutional executive action” by his predecessor – though hardly repealing the Affordable Care Act (see below).
He signed various actions attacking federal regulations, particularly as they pertain to infrastructure and energy projects; he had promised to “life the restrictions on the production of $50 trillion dollars’ (sic) worth of job-producing American energy reserves.” As a bonus, he reinstated the pro-life Mexico City Policy (the “Global Gag Rule” to opponents), which his contract didn’t mention. He does not appear to have banned “foreign lobbyists raising money for American elections,” as he promised. (See also, Trump Will Get the Market’s 100-Day Report Card.)
He also attempted to ban the admission of refugees as well as all travel from seven Muslim-majority countries, at which point he began to lose momentum. Courts blocked the ban hours after it went into effect and later upheld the stay. Rather than go to the Supreme Court, Trump tried again, issuing another order that exempted Iraqis and removed language that appeared to favor Christians, which had made the original order look like the “shutdown of Muslims entering the United States” he promised during the campaign (even if it was hardly “total and complete”). The courts blocked that order too. Oral arguments in the case are scheduled for May 8.
Trump has the power to fulfill a number of his promises through executive action, but has not done so. Despite making an announcement to the effect shortly after his inauguration, he has not taken any steps towards renegotiating or withdrawing from NAFTA. The Treasury has not labeled China a currency manipulator since – as critics noted throughout the campaign – China’s trillion-dollar intervention in the currency markets over recent years has been aimed at propping the yuan up, not depressing it. He has not pulled out of the Paris climate accords. (See also, NAFTA’s Winners and Losers.)
Trump has clocked one major win, which is likely to have implications decades down the line. He ended a year-long standoff over filling the Supreme Court Seat left vacant after Antonin Scalia’s death. The court is now majority-conservative. Given that liberal stalwart Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen G. Breyer are 78 and 84, respectively, Trump may another opportunity to push the balance of the court’s opinion to the right.
Gaining Senate approval for his nominee, Neil Gorsuch, required going nuclear: Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell changed the chamber’s rules to eliminate the filibuster for Supreme Court confirmations, allowing Gorsuch to be approved by a simple majority. Democrats – barring three red-state defections – vowed to block the nomination in retaliation against McConnell and the Senate Republicans, who pushed off a vote on Obama’s nominee Merrick Garland until after the election.
Following this first constitutional check on his power, Trump issued fewer orders and turned to his legislative agenda. Ten of the items in his “Contract” were significant legislative measures, of which he wrote, “I will work with Congress to introduce the following broader legislative measures and fight for their passage within the first 100 days of my Administration.” None has become law or, apparently, made any progress towards becoming law.
The administration began with healthcare reform. The American Health Care Act made almost no one happy. Democrats opposed it unanimously. The hard-line conservative Freedom Caucus called it Obamacare Lite and demanded that the 10 “essential health benefits” the 2010 law required all individual and small business plans to cover be scrapped. Republican moderates got skittish when the Congressional Budget Office projected that 24 million people additional people would be without insurance in 2026. The Trump team negotiated with the Freedom caucus till the last minute, so that minutes before 3:30 p.m. EST on March 24, when the vote was scheduled, it was not entirely clear what the bill actually contained (an echo of Nancy Pelosi’s famous gaffe).
The Republicans called off the vote, which would have been their 63rd attempt to repeal Obamacare and their first with a president who would actually sign the bill. (See also, Trumpcare Is Dead: Obamacare Is the Law of the Land.)
At an Oval Office press conference that afternoon, Trump called Pelosi and Chuck Schumer “losers” and immediately pivoted to tax reform: “we will probably start going very, very strongly for the big tax cuts and tax reform. That will be next.” Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin had said the tax overhaul – the first since 1986 – would be law by August. At the time of writing, however, there is no plan – that the public has seen, at least – no bill and no deadline. Mnuchin said on April 17 that the August target date is “not realistic at this point.” (See also, Trump’s Tax Reform: What Is to Be Done?)
Trump’s other 100-day legislative goals were an “End the Offshoring Act” establishing tariffs on companies that relocate operations; an “American Energy and Infrastructure Act” that would spend $1 trillion in public and private funds on infrastructure projects without raising the deficit; a “School Choice and Education Opportunity Act” ending Common Core and expanding enrollment in charter schools and voucher programs; an “Affordable Childcare and Eldercare Act” providing tax breaks to families with young and elderly dependents; an “End Illegal Immigration Act” that would include a Mexican-funded wall on the southern border; a “Restoring Community Safety Act” to reduce violent crime; a “Restoring National Security Act” to increase spending on defense and veterans; and a “Clean Up Corruption in Washington Act” to “drain the swamp.”
Trump also proposed a constitutional amendment to impose term limits on Congress, which is what he promised – to propose it.
Trump’s first days in office clearly reflected the priorities of his chief strategist, former Breitbart executive chair Steve Bannon, a nationalist and economic populist who is deeply skeptical of immigration – particularly the Muslim kind – and aspires to carry out the “deconstruction of the administrative state.” Along with senior adviser Steve Miller, Bannon has pushed for a ban on immigration from Muslim countries, a crackdown on undocumented immigration from Latin America, closer relations with Russia, increasing military spending and deep cuts to foreign aid.
Bannon received a permanent seat on the National Security Council on January 28, when the previous day’s travel ban was blocked by a federal judge. He has since lost the seat and much of his clout within the administration, as the ban flounders in court and another wing of Trump’s inner circle gains influence. This more liberal, less nationalist group is led by Jared Kushner – Manhattan real estate mogul and husband of Trump’s daughter Ivanka – and Gary Cohn, who was formerly president of Goldman Sachs. Steve Mnuchin, another Goldman alum (Bannon, to be fair, also worked at Goldman), is considered to be more aligned with the liberal wing.
It is possible that the administration’s internal splits will be resolved, allowing Trump to pursue a more effective policy path. The risk is that he alienates cores supporters, who found Trump’s Bannonesque nationalism appealing. Growing pains aren’t uncommon for a new administration: the U.S. entered a recession shortly after Reagan took office, and he didn’t accomplish tax reform until his second term. As his honeymoon draws to a close, however, Trump has delivered far less than he promised.