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Track-Trump First Month in Review: Trump v. Obama


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One month in, President Trump has not ventured far from the promises articulated in his “Contract With the American Voter.” Of the 44 policy pledges laid out in the Contract, we’ve documented that eighteen promises (~40%) have either been “completed” or are “in progress.” While some pundits and even supporters of candidate Trump discouraged voters from taking Trump literally, we can conclude that taking the President’s most consistent policy pledges at face value is not a waste of time.


At this point in our project, we thought we’d briefly reflect on the policies the administration has put in place so far and compare them to similar actions taken within the first month of the first term of President Obama.


The bills President Trump signed in the first month of office were largely reversals of regulations adopted in the later part of the Obama administration. The Republican-controlled House and Senate were able to quickly get these to the President’s desk using the authority of the Congressional Review Act, which allows Congress to review and overrule recently enacted regulation. So far, this has allowed President Trump to block a coal-waste targeting Stream Protection Rule, as well as a requirement for oil companies to disclose payments to foreign governments. A third similar bill awaits the President’s signature and would repeal a rule that bars individuals deemed mentally incompetent to manage their own Social Security payments from purchasing firearms.

More ambitious legislative initiatives, which will require a large fiscal commitment and a certain degree of bipartisan congressional support, are starting to get pushed further down the calendar. Recent reporting suggests that some Republicans are interested in delaying consideration of an infrastructure overhaul until 2018 so that the issue can be used to pressure vulnerable Democrats near the midterm elections. While certain congressional Republicans have suggested that ACA repeal and replace will be carried out over the next several months, no single plan has emerged uncontested, the White House and representatives will not comment on the authenticity of leaked drafts, and some observers have speculated that the ACA will not be repealed, but “fixed.” Similarly, plans to dramatically reform the tax code have yet to materialize. Although Treasury Secretary Mnuchin hopes to pass tax reform legislation by the congressional summer recess, there is disagreement among Republicans concerning a plan to implement a border tax targeting imports.

Like President Trump, President Obama came into office with majority control of the House and Senate. Dictated by pressing economic circumstances, President Obama’s largest legislative achievement in the first month was the signing of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, a near-trillion dollar stimulus bill designed to tackle the economic crisis. President Obama also signed the Children's Health Insurance Reauthorization Act, an initiative previously vetoed by President Bush, which expanded a federally funded medical insurance program to cover four million additional children and pregnant mothers. Finally, President Obama also signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which extended the statute of limitations for presenting equal-pay lawsuits.

Executive Action

The executive actions taken by President Trump have been, for the most part, similar to orders issued by the Obama and Bush administrations soon after taking office. The executive memo containing an “ethics pledge” and “lobbying ban” was closely modeled after orders signed in the early days of the Obama administration. The revival of the Mexico City Policy, which blocks federal funds from NGOs that provide access to abortion, is a standard Republican presidential order, adopted by President Reagan and maintained by both Presidents Bush. Federal hiring freezes have previously been implemented by Presidents Reagan and Carter and have been the subject of debate and study, including a 1982 inquiry by the Comptroller General.

Where Trump’s executive orders depart from precedent is in the realm of immigration, most notably the order halting travel from seven Muslim-majority countries. Although the administration points to recent precedent (including President Obama’s termination of the “wet-foot, dry-foot” policy) as legal justification, the executive order is more comparable in scale to immigration acts of the early 20th century, such as the Immigration Act of 1917, which established a “Barred Asiatic Zone.” President Trump’s orders to limit migration across the southern border, if followed, could be massive in fiscal scale and policy impact. Estimates of the cost of a U.S.-Mexico border wall now exceed $20 billion, and additional measures detailed in recent DHS memos (1, 2), including a major increase in immigration enforcement personnel, may cost billions more. While there is a great deal of executive discretion that contributes to the scope and speed of deportation efforts, the text of DHS memos broadly expands the “prioritized deportation” categories to include individuals found guilty of non-violent crimes and misdemeanors.

President Obama’s early executive actions sought to mitigate what his administration saw as the overreaches of the Bush anti-terror strategy. One banned the use of torture in interrogation, insisting that “in all circumstances [prisoners] be treated humanely and shall not be subjected to violence.” Another order called for the closure of the Guantanamo Bay detention facility within a year, an interesting case study in the limitations of a president to achieve policy outcomes by decree. In a departure from what some might have expected, President Obama also ramped up the troop commitment in Afghanistan by 17,000 soldiers in the early days of his presidency. President Obama also repealed the previously mentioned Mexico City Policy.


In general, President Obama’s cabinet confirmation progressed more quickly than President Trump’s. By the end of January 2009, nine out of fifteen of President Obama’s cabinet appointments had been approved by the Senate; by the end of January 2017, only three out of fifteen of President Trump’s cabinet appointments had been approved.

President Obama’s cabinet confirmation process, however, saw the withdrawal of a greater number of nominees. Nominees for Secretary of Commerce Bill Richardson and Judd Gregg withdrew their names on January 4 and February 12, and nominee for Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Daschle withdrew his name February 9th. So far, President Trump has only had his nominee for Secretary of Labor Andrew Puzder withdraw from consideration. However, President Trump has had more personnel setbacks outside the cabinet, with the withdrawal of nominees for secretary of Army and secretary of the Navy and the resignation of National Security Advisor Gen. Michael Flynn.



This comparison is not intended to measure which administration got off to a “better start” or to cast judgement on the relative merits of the policies in question. Efforts to differentiate Presidential achievement, especially over such a short period of time, are often distorted by context. For instance, framing President Obama’s stimulus bill as a reflection of his unique capabilities or mission conveniently ignores the extraordinary political eagerness to confront the Great Recession.

What can be ascertained, however, is a preliminary sense of the administration’s priorities. A scroll down the main landing page of our tracker shows that nearly all of the immigration-related policy pledges are “in progress.” Meanwhile, policy pledges related to trade, the economy, and education remain largely untouched. This could be explained, in part, by limitations specific to separation of powers. While the White House cannot, for example, unilaterally change the tax code or end Common Core, the executive does traditionally have broad authority in the arena of immigration. However, it might also also be the case that the President and other powerful decision makers in the White House have chosen to focus their energy on immigration-related matters. As time goes on, it will become clearer which initiatives are receiving the bulk of the administration’s limited attention and political capital.

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