President Donald Trump’s first significant legislative achievement did not come until December, when Congress approved a $1.5 trillion tax bill that cut corporate and individual rates. But throughout Trump’s first year, his administration has been working to get federal judges appointed, roll back environmental and other regulations and reset America’s place in the world.
Some of those efforts succeeded — many through executive actions or decisions at the agency level. Others are in the works and still others are stalled, often in the courts. The U.S. Supreme Court announced on Friday that it would take up the latest version of Trump’s ban on travel to the United States by the residents of six majority-Muslim countries and two others. In the meantime it has allowed enforcement of the ban, one of the first campaign promises the president tried to fill but which has been challenged repeatedly.
All came against the backdrop of a chaotic White House, Trump on Twitter and Robert Mueller’s investigation into possible collusion between Trump’s campaign and Russia, a bane for the president. Just this month, Trump sidestepped a question about whether he would commit to an interview with the special prosecutor, even as his former chief strategist, Stephen Bannon, could talk to Mueller’s team by the end of the month, according to NBC News.
Trump’s tumultuous first year in office — a fulfillment of campaign promises for many of his supporters, an embarrassment to his opponents — ended with the federal government shutting down Saturday after Congress hit an impasse over spending. Trump had promised to upend the political culture of Washington D.C., in his words to “drain the swamp,” but gridlock prevailed, with Republicans and Democrats blaming each other.
Overall, 53 percent of Americans say Trump has been unsuccessful, and even more, 61 percent, say he is doing more to divide the country than unite it, according to an NPR/PBS/Marist Poll. But among Republicans, 87 percent called his first year a success.
At the same time, a new NBC/Wall Street Journal poll found that 69 percent of Americans are satisfied with the state of the economy.
Trump’s first legislative attempt, to repeal and replace Obamacare or the Affordable Care Act, ended in a spectacular failure. But then the tax reform bill, long a Republican goal, was approved, though with no Democratic support. It is the biggest tax overhaul in 30 years, and Republicans say the changes will make American businesses more competitive overseas and allow them to create new jobs and raise wages. It also repealed Obamacare's mandate that most Americans have health insurance. Democrats counter that the bill unfairly benefits the wealthy over the middle class.
“The administration had a range of successes, but in many ways they were second-tier successes that Republicans were trying to sell as first-tier successes, important things but not really major accomplishments,” said Austin-based conservative consultant Matt Mackowiak, president of the Potomac Strategy Group. “If you look back at this year, obviously the tax bill is the single biggest accomplishment.”
Trump’s other unquestioned success has been getting conservative judges onto federal courts, beginning with U.S. Supreme Court Justice Neil Grouch and a dozen appointments to the federal appeals courts. When Senate Republicans confirmed Trump’s 12th federal appeals court nominee in mid-December, they set a record for the most in a president’s first year, Axios noted.
As far as rules and regulations, the Trump administration has been focused on overturning those of the Obama era, from permitting drilling off the coast of the United States to refocusing on enforcement of federal marijuana laws to pulling back on a federal mandate that employers provide coverage for birth control. A tally kept by the Washington Post shows 17 executive actions issued by Trump, 96 cabinet-level agency decisions, 14 Congressional review acts, and three pieces of new legislation passed by Congress.
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On the environment, Trump pulled out of the Paris climate agreement, while the tax reform bill opens the Alaska Wildlife Refuge to drilling. The head of the Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt, has announced that the administration would repeal the Clean Power Plan, President Barack Obama’s signature attempt to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from power plants. But environmentalists and several states immediately threatened to sue and pointed out that the EPA is required to regulate greenhouse-gas emissions. And Trump shrunk the size of two national monuments in Utah at the beginning of December, Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante, by two million acres. It was the largest cut of federally protected land ever.
Linda Fowler, a professor of government at Dartmouth University, said many of Trump’s achievements were not very different from what could have been accomplished had another Republican won the White House. The conservative judicial appointments, the tax bill and the environmental pullbacks would have been expected in another Republican administration with Republican control of the House and Senate, she said.
Internationally, Trump promised to reposition the United States in the world, but turmoil in the State Department under Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has dominated headlines. Trump has antagonized countries in the Middle East by saying he would move the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, he has frozen aid to Pakistan, calling it a haven for terrorist, he defeated ISIS in Mosul in Iraq and Raqqa in Syria, and he has taunted North Korea’s leader Kim Jung Un on Twitter. And the Trump administration pulled back on trade agreements such as the Trans Pacific Partnership.
Trump’s critics say his “America First” position has left the United States isolated, its international standing diminished.
On immigration, the president ended Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), is expelling nearly 200,000 El Salvadorans who have been allowed to live in the United States for more than a decade, and is trying to change the American immigration system to one based on merit.
So far his promised wall on the Mexico border is not built, nor has Mexico paid for it. His comment about not wanting immigrants from “s--thole countries,” which Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois insists he said during a meeting about DACA but which the president denies, earned him condemnation around the world.
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“There certainly is enormous pressure from parts of the Republican party to take a hard line of immigration,” Fowler said. “But this is a signature issue for Trump. Whether another president would have basically ended the DACA program without anything in its place, that’s really a debatable issue.”
Mike Madrid, an expert on Latino voting trends and a political consultant at Grassroots Lab in Sacramento, called the Republican handling of immigration a disaster. More than any other issue it will bring about the decline of the party nationally, he said. Republicans have lost communities of color, Hispanics in particular, for a generation or longer, he said.
Madrid, who said he was more opposed to Trump than during the campaign, said that factions within the Republican party were too far apart ideologically to move a Republican agenda forward.
“The Republican party is no longer the home of the conservative movement,” he said. “It is the home of a nationalist movement, a populist movement, and those are two extremely different things.”