By Thomas Sherlock
No matter your political leaning, it’s safe to say the election of Donald Trump caused an almighty stir. From protestors literally wailing at his inauguration to his backers celebrating, everyone had expectations of a Trump presidency. Two months in, what has he actually done? In short, not much.
Legislation-wise only 17 bills have passed both houses of Congress and been signed by the President since 20th January. Of these the majority were removing regulations, including ones on mining (which granted has dangerous implications for the environment), education, and one requiring extraction companies to disclose how much money they give governments. This is a very typical Republican agenda, so really nothing to do with Trump himself. Now, whilst this small amount can be put down to the slow processes of Congress, which is also the reason his Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch is yet to be confirmed, events last week prove Congress is not Trump’s friend. The American Healthcare Act was undoubtedly a setback for Trump’s agenda, proving the Republican majority is far from united behind him and will take stands if he doesn’t address their wants. This was evidenced by the attempt to secure the support of moderate Republicans (a lot of whom have re-election in 2018 to take into account) for the repeal and replace of Obamacare. The one proposed was really quite tame, and incurred the wrath of the Freedom Caucus, who proved they hold as much strength in this Congressional term as they did in the last (as John Boehner found out last year to his cost). This leaves the Trump team with two choices: either compromise further on repealing Obamacare and try and win round Democrats, or go more conservative to get the Freedom Caucus’ support and try to keep moderate Republicans on board. Either way, it proves the Republican majority is far from united, so Trump’s initiatives yet to come before Congress (tax reform and funding for the wall to name a few) are far from certain. Such uncertainty was present from the beginning with the slow process of getting his Cabinet confirmed, a process which should have been far simpler given the Republican strength in Congress and the typical ‘honeymoon’ period. Trump is certainly going to have to put those famed deal-making skills into practice if he wants his agenda to get through Congress at all. So, all in all, Congress is proving far from Trump’s enabler.
The vast majority of Trump’s actions so far have come in the form of executive orders and presidential memoranda. Executive orders are simply instructions from the President to the various federal agencies, whereas memoranda only delegate the President’s responsibilities to other members of the Executive. No major policy change can be enacted through their implementation (bear in mind most policies are fairly open to interpretation anyway, so executive orders can be extremely influential). Trump’s first order was the Executive Order Minimizing The Economic Burden Of The Patient Protection And Affordable Care Act, which merely instructed the Secretary of Health to waive any part of the law that places a fiscal burden on the government. Marvellously vague. It’s not clear what effects this has had on Obamacare, as it was really just intended as a stepping stone to repealing it. Trump has issued 19 orders since, generally targeting regulations, with significant ones including cutting off funding for ‘sanctuary cities’, asking for federal funding towards the building of a wall (it’s beyond Trump’s power to actually allocate funds for it, that lies with Congress, most of which isn’t really thrilled at the prospect), various orders aimed at rebuilding the military (somehow implying the US military fell apart somewhere along the line), and asking his administration to draw up a plan to defeat IS within 90 days. The most contentious one by far has been his immigration instructions, officially called Executive Order Protecting The Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into The U.S., which banned entry into the US from various Middle Eastern countries. The subsequent court cases have been well-reported so I shan’t go into them here, but his second attempt has been largely suspended by a court in Hawaii and is yet to be appealed. So, executive order-wise, Trump has certainly made far more an impression, but the court challenges and general restrictions with executive orders mean he’s unlikely to actually realise his agenda through such means.
So was it worth the worry? Two months into the event that some predicted would lead to the apocalypse and others to a new age, it seems very little has actually challenged. Aside from dangerous implications from attacks on regulations (which is pretty much standard Republican policy), no definitive changes have been made yet. Trump has done nothing out of the ordinary, and his attempts to establish his agenda have met either court challenges or simply blocks in Congress. Of course we cannot jump to conclusions this early. But certainly those believing Trump would bring sweeping changes (positively or negatively) have been proven wrong. Trump is not sweeping through Washington re-writing everything, so perhaps those panicking can breathe a little. But equally his lack of progress thus far should not be taken for granted. Battles over tax reforms and his first budget are on the horizon (which may or may not include first funding for the wall). What happens in them may define the rest of his Presidency. So, was it worth all that panic or enthusiasm? Only time can really tell…