Quantitatively, Trump does not stand out from the pack. The new president issued 18 public executive actions in his first 12 days in office: more than Presidents Clinton, George W. Bush and Reagan, but less than President Obama. Such memorandums date back to George Washington. But presidential scholars Gerhard Peters and John Woolley with the American Presidency Project say Trump's early actions feel different than years past because of "the chaotic and rapid pace of their implementation."
Not all executive actions are created equal. In many cases, congressional legislation and funding would be necessary to carry through the intent of presidential memorandums (which have the authority to govern the action of government agencies) and executive orders (which require the president to cite specific constitutional authority). But if Trump's actions become laws, this administration could become as transformative as President Reagan’s three decades ago.
2. Federal hiring freeze – Jan. 23, 2017
The Presidential Memorandum: Hiring Freeze aims to shrink the size of the government, excluding the military. No government position declared vacant as of Jan. 22 may be filled and no new positions may be created, “except in limited circumstances,” until the director of the Office of Management and Budget creates a long-term plan for reducing the size of the federal workforce. OMB has 90 days to come up with that plan.
This memorandum is routine and “mostly symbolic” as it speaks to President Trump’s campaign promise to control the size of the federal government, says George Edwards III, a political scientist at Texas A&M University. President George W. Bush also instituted a hiring freeze shortly after he took office in 2001, but his freeze only applied to federal agencies without an appointed head.
“There’s less there than meets the eye” because the memorandum includes a lot of exceptions, including the military, which makes up more than one-third of government employees, and other national security agencies, such as the Secret Service, Paul Light, professor of public service at New York University, tells Politico. If the freeze stays in place for only the 90 days dictated in the memorandum, there will be minimal consequences.
3. Void Pacific trade deal – Jan. 23, 2017
In his Presidential Memorandum: Withdrawal of the United States from the Trans-Pacific Partnership Negotiations and Agreement, Trump directed the US trade representative to withdraw the United States from the TPP and any subsequent negotiations. “Trade with other nations is, and always will be, of paramount importance to my administration and to me,” the president wrote, but he stressed that his administration will focus on country-to-country (bilateral) trade agreements rather than regional or multilateral ones.
Trump’s action on the TPP is symbolic, since the 12-nation deal was all but dead in Congress. Going forward, however, his trade rhetoric suggests he is preparing to reverse decades of GOP trade orthodoxy. GOP presidents have long argued that trade allows companies to source their products from the most cost-efficient places, reducing costs for consumers and strengthening the economy, which will create more jobs. That has happened, with employment at an all-time high, thanks to a burgeoning service sector. But manufacturing jobs have declined. By cutting back on free trade agreements like TPP and the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), Trump aims to reverse that trend. Americans will pay for these moves through higher consumer prices.
“The Trump administration has focused much more on the flip side of the coin: that this will bring production into the US and create more jobs,” says Puneet Manchanda, a marketing professor at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business. “But I’m not sure they have thought through the short-term pain that these moves will inflict on us as consumers.”
4. Defund foreign health groups counseling abortion – Jan. 23, 2017
The Presidential Memorandum: The Mexico City Policy prevents federal money from going to international organizations that perform abortions, lobby for legalization of abortion, or promote abortion. It reinstates the policy first put in place by President Reagan, which some human rights organizations label the “global gag rule.” Trump expanded the scope of the law by changing the application from family planning health services to all global health services, including HIV/AIDS clinics that had previously been exempted by George W. Bush.
“It wasn’t unexpected that they would reinstate the global gag rule, but the dramatic expansion of the scope of it is truly shocking,” Geeta Rao Gupta, senior fellow at the United Nations Foundation, told Slate. The move drew praise from antiabortion advocates. It “sends a strong signal about his administration’s pro-life priorities,” Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List, in a statement.
5. Expedite energy pipelines – Jan. 24, 2017
Trump issued three actions – “Presidential Memorandum: Construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline,” “Presidential Memorandum: Construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline,” and “Executive Order: Expediting environmental reviews and approvals for high priority infrastructure projects” – to push through two of the most controversial energy projects of recent years. The first memorandum is a reaction to the US Army Corps of Engineers’ decision in December to deny an easement to finalize the Dakota Access pipeline (DAPL) after months of protests by the Standing Rock Sioux tribe and its supporters. The second is an attempt to resurrect the Keystone oil pipeline between Canada and Nebraska, which President Obama canceled in 2015 after years of protests.
Like many of Trump’s memorandums and orders, the pipeline executive actions signal the direction of future policy rather than accomplish something right away. For example, his memorandum on Keystone XL invites TransCanada “to promptly re-submit” an application to the State Department to construct the pipeline. And the memorandum on the DAPL asks the corps to “review and approve in an expedited manner” the Dakota Access pipeline, while requesting the corps’ director to “rescind or modify” the environmental impact statement that prevented the completion of the final 10 percent of the pipeline under Lake Oahe in North Dakota.
The executive order that expedites environmental reviews for “high priority infrastructure projects” will also help push forward the construction of DAPL and Keystone XL.
Trump also signed another memorandum – Construction of American Pipelines – that mandates that all new pipelines in the US, as well as repairs of existing pipelines, “use materials and equipment produced in the United States, to the maximum extent possible and to the extent permitted by law.” That will apply to all the steel and iron needed for construction.
6. Strengthen US-Mexico border – Jan. 25, 2017
Along with authorizing the construction of a physical wall on the US-Mexico border,
“Executive Order: Border Security and Immigration Enforcement Improvements” ends the “catch-and-release” policy, hires 5,000 additional Border Patrol agents, and enacts federal-state partnerships to enforce federal immigration policies.
Some Republican legislators say Trump’s order is legal under the Secure Fence Act of 2006, which calls for 700 miles of barrier between the US and Mexico. The wall was never completed under the Secure Fence Act, so the Homeland Security secretary could interpret the act to apply to Trump’s proposed wall more than 10 years later. But even if this act validates Trump’s wall, the president will still need money from Congress. During the campaign, he promised that Mexico would pay for the wall, a statement that Mexico adamantly rejects. But with this order, Trump says the US will pay for the wall with federal funds only to be reimbursed by Mexico at a later date. Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell estimates the wall would cost around $15 billion; others put it at $25 billion, a sum does not account for other expenses such as maintenance (which could cost as much as $750 million a year).
In 2006, President Bush officially ended “catch-and-release,” a protocol that allows immigrants caught with an illegal status to be set free while waiting for a hearing with an immigration judge. But the US continues the practice because it doesn’t have the necessary detention centers. Nearly 45,000 parents and children were apprehended near the border during the last three months of 2016, but detention centers only have 3,300 beds for immigrant families. Building them will take time and money. The increase of border patrol agents is also dependent on money from Congress.
7. Travel ban for immigrants, refugees – Jan. 27, 2017
Executive Order: Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States suspends visa issuance as well as immigration entry to “nationals of countries of particular concerns” for 90 days. The Trump administration applied this order to seven predominantly Muslim countries: Iraq, Iran, Syria, Yemen, Sudan, Somalia, and Libya. The order also suspends all refugee admission to the US for 120 days and indefinitely denies entry to all Syrian refugees.
The legality of the executive order is open to debate. Under the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952, the US president has the right to suspend the entry of any immigrants he or she finds to “be detrimental to the interests of the United States.” But 13 years later, President Johnson signed the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, which banned discrimination of immigrants because of their “race, sex, nationality, place of birth, or place of residence.” More than three dozen lawsuits have been filed since Trump signed his order Jan. 27. And the attorneys general of at least five states – Virginia, New York, Massachusetts, Minnesota, and Washington – joined lawsuits challenging its constitutionality. The order does not explicitly bar immigrants from these seven countries because they are Muslim. But if courts decide that Trump’s executive order is meant to act as a Muslim ban – which some of Trump’s spokesmen have publicly suggested – then the order may violate the Constitution’s Establishment clause.
But presidents are granted sweeping powers over immigration. “I think the administration could win,” Stephen Yale-Loehr, a professor of immigration law at Cornell Law School, told CNN. “Courts tend to defer to whatever a president declares on immigration.”
Executive Order: Ethics Commitments by Executive Branch Appointees mandates that every executive agency appointee after Jan. 20, 2017, sign and ethics pledge, which includes a five-year ban on officials becoming lobbyists after they leave government and a lifelong ban against White House officials becoming lobbyists for a foreign government.
The ethics pledge changes the timelines of Mr. Obama’s 2009 ethics pledge, which barred appointees from lobbying for two years after federal employment, prevented appointees from working for a lobbying group within the one year prior to his or her appointment, and prevented the appointee from working on anything related to their past lobbying interest for two years after beginning their job with the government. Although they now have to wait five years before working as a lobbyist, appointees can contact their former agencies within one year. Trump’s order also expands the definition of a lobbyist from strictly registered lobbyists to include those working or researching for an advocacy campaign or creating lobbying strategies.
Although both presidents have allowed ethics waivers for some officials, Trump’s order does not require the White House to disclose which appointees are granted waivers.
9. Reorganize national security apparatus – Jan. 28, 2017
Presidential Memorandum: Organization of the National Security Council and the Homeland Security Council includes three main actions. It separates (again) the staffs of the NSC and HSC; it allows the president’s chief political strategist, Steve Bannon, to attend any NSC meeting as well as participate in the highly influential Principals Committee; and it denies the director of national intelligence (DNI), former Indiana Sen. Dan Coats, and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, permanent seats at the Principal Committee.
Since its inception in 1947, the NSC has been organized differently under each president. But Trump’s reorganizing of the NSC is “particularly significant,” Kelly Magsamen, NSC director for Iran under Presidents George W. Bush and Obama, writes in the Atlantic. While Mr. Bannon – the former publisher of Breitbart, which publishes white nationalist, anti-Semitic, and misogynistic material – is highly controversial, to include any political operative in such discussions is highly unusual. “To place a purely political operative on the NSC – alongside actual Cabinet members with national-security responsibilities or expertise – is an unprecedented move with profound implications for how national-security policies are developed and executed,” she writes. “It may be likely that Trump would consult Steve Bannon regardless, but giving him a formal seat at the NSC sends a chilling message to men and women in uniform, to diplomats and intelligence professionals – that Bannon’s political advice matters as much as theirs.”
10. ISIS battle plan – Jan. 28.
Presidential Memorandum: Plan to Defeat the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria requests that the Defense Secretary James Mattis, submit a preliminary draft of “a new plan to defeat ISIS” within 30 days.
The plan should include recommended policy changes, potential ways to cut off ISIS’ funding, potential new coalition partners, and cyber strategies and public diplomacy. But the memorandum is not specific. The recommended policies included in the memo sound a lot like the previous administration’s approach, says the US Naval Institute. But as the Washington Post reports, it may include potentially deploying US forces closer to the front lines in Iraq and Syria or sending more advisers.
11. Reduce regulation – Jan. 30, 2017
For every new regulation, ax two others. That’s the mantra of Executive Order: Reducing Regulation and Controlling Regulatory Costs, which also directs agency heads to ensure that new regulations don’t add to the total costs of regulations, unless advised otherwise by the director of the Office of Management and Budget. The order also imposes a regulatory budget beginning in fiscal year 2018, which will require agency heads to limit regulation costs as well as the number of regulations.
Republicans have long complained about over-regulation by governmental agencies. Both ideas – a regulatory budget and a 2-for-1 reduction in rules – have been considered before. Trump wants to “double down by mandating both at the same time.” The challenge will be actually implementing the order, since there’s no clear definition of what counts as a regulation or which agencies will be included in the order.
12. Financial deregulation – Feb. 3, 2017
In two executive actions – Executive Order: Core Principles for Regulating the United States Financial System and Presidential Memorandum: Fiduciary Duty Rule – Trump took on regulation in the financial industry. The first deals with loosening regulations of the financial system, including the far-reaching Dodd-Frank Act, which aims to prevent another meltdown. The second calls for an investigation into the impact of an investment-advice rule.
Repealing Dodd-Frank will be hard. Passed by Congress in 2010, the law would need a filibuster-proof 60 votes in the Senate, where even Republicans have differing views on the need to help the financial industry. The industry argues that the law is costly and too onerous – a theme of Trump’s executive order, which doesn’t mention Dodd-Frank by name. It lays out a list of core principles, including fostering “vibrant financial markets” and rationalizing financial regulations. The order directs the Treasury secretary to consult with the heads of the regulatory agencies and report back in 120 days on any laws, treaties, regulations, and reporting requirements that run counter to the core principles.
The key will be what the regulatory agencies do, says Aaron Klein, policy director of the Center on Regulation and Markets at the Brookings Institution in Washington. Over time, the administration can change the regulators as their terms come up. “An administration determined to roll back financial regulation could implement a decent amount of their agenda,” he says, but it will take years.
The White House can have quicker success with the fiduciary rule, which requires brokers to put their clients’ interests before their own when offering advice on retirement. The industry claims the rule is too complex and will boost the cost of retirement advice. The presidential memorandum calls for the Labor Department to examine whether Americans are adversely affected in accessing retirement advice. Because the rule was implemented as an executive action from President Obama, Trump can reverse it – if it goes through the notice and comment process, emails Barbara Roper, director of investor protection at the Consumer Federation of America, which supports the rule. The acting Labor secretary said in a statement that implementation of the rule, scheduled for April 10, 2017, could be delayed as the department conducts its research. It could take a year before the rule is officially scrapped or amended, an industry source says.
13. Crime reduction – Feb. 9, 2017
Trump’s three executive orders – Task Force on Crime Reduction and Public Safety, Enforcing Federal Law with Respect to Transnational Criminal Organizations and Preventing International Trafficking, and Preventing Violence Against Federal, State, Tribal, and Local Law Enforcement Officers – are all aimed at cracking down on illegal immigration, drug trafficking, and violent crime. They create a task force to reduce crime, aim to combat criminal groups that operate in more than one country, and call for more effective ways to prosecute those who attack police officers.
These orders represent standard Republican fare. For example, the crime-reduction task force echoes similar moves by Presidents Reagan and George H.W. Bush to better coordinate the federal departments involved in fighting crime. The order aimed at transnational crime groups calls for enhanced information sharing among domestic and foreign law-enforcement agencies, a review of laws pertaining to international drug and human trafficking, and a report within 120 days on how bad the problem is.
Still, aspects of these orders have drawn criticism from the left and the right. For example, the order on preventing violence against police calls for legislation to define new federal crimes to protect law-enforcement officers – proposals that don’t sit well with some conservatives. “For the past 30 years, the Right has been sounding the alarm about the growth of government and the federalization of crime,” the libertarian Cato Institute points out. “Trump and [new Attorney General Jeff] Sessions seem not only uninterested, they seem intent on exacerbating the problem.” On the left, the American Civil Liberties Union says the president is aiming at the wrong problems, such as a crime rate already at or near historic lows, while ignoring police shootings of minorities.