Modernize the Veterans Administration
In June 2017, Trump signed S. 1094 - Department of Veterans Affairs Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act of 2017 - which grants the Secretary the authority to "reprimand or suspend, involuntarily reassign, demote, or remove" any employee for misconduct or performance issues.
No other "modernization:" efforts have been announced to date.
Increase Treatment for Drug Addicts
Although not part of any legislation proposed by Trump himself, the health care plan introduced in the House in March 2017, which Trump supported, would have, beginning in 2020, eliminate an Affordable Care Act requirement that Medicaid cover basic mental-health and addiction services in states that expanded it, allowing them to decide whether to include those benefits in Medicaid plans. This change would have effectively removed millions from coverage for addiction and reduced the amount of money spent on treatment, not increased. The act was pulled in Congress on March 24th 2017 during a contentious week of negotiations that failed to gain enough support to pass.
The Senate version of the bill, unveiled in June 2017, contained the same Medicaid cuts in the House bill that are expected to adversely affect treatment programs for as many as 2.5 million patients that receive addition treatment under Medicaid with very little offered to offset the cuts.
On March 29th, 2017, Trump signed an executive order forming a commission on drug addiction that is tasked to report back to Trump by the end of June 2017. The efficacy of the plan is questionable given that studies have already been performed under the previous administration and that doubling-down on "supply side" techniques that are widely considered ineffective on their own. At their first meeting in late June 2017, the commission's members spent the bulk of their time criticizing the House's healthcare bill and pressing for more Medicaid spending in the Senate's version.
Although not part of any legislation proposed by Trump himself, the American Health Care Act introduced in the House in March 2017 provided for the transition to a “per capita allotment” for states to manage Medicaid funds. The Congressional Budget Office released an analysis of the Republican plan that estimated that it would cut $880 billion in federal funds from Medicaid over the next 10 years, causing 14 million fewer people would have Medicaid coverage in 2026. Trump supported this Act, but the act was pulled in Congress on March 24th 2017 during a contentious week of negotiations that failed to gain enough support to pass.
The House passed a revised version of the AHCA in May 2017 which retained the cuts to Medicaid. Trump expressed his full support of the bill after it's passage. The Senate version of the bill, released after a contentious period of secrecy in June 2017, also included major cuts to Medicaid.
Suspend Immigration from Terror-prone Regions
Trump will have the power to carry out this plan, but it would make sweeping use of executive authority and require an ambitious bureaucratic effort not likely to move as quickly as he envisions.
Syrian refuges currently have to go through a 21-step vetting process involving three agencies before they are allowed to come to the U.S.
Although not executed on his first day in office, Trump signed an executive order on January 27th that suspended entry, with some exceptions, to any nationals from seven Muslim-majority nations (Iraq, Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen) for 90 days.
(c) To temporarily reduce investigative burdens on relevant agencies during the review period described in subsection (a) of this section, to ensure the proper review and maximum utilization of available resources for the screening of foreign nationals, and to ensure that adequate standards are established to prevent infiltration by foreign terrorists or criminals, pursuant to section 212(f) of the INA, 8 U.S.C. 1182(f), I hereby proclaim that the immigrant and nonimmigrant entry into the United States of aliens from countries referred to in section 217(a)(12) of the INA, 8 U.S.C. 1187(a)(12), would be detrimental to the interests of the United States, and I hereby suspend entry into the United States, as immigrants and nonimmigrants, of such persons for 90 days from the date of this order (excluding those foreign nationals traveling on diplomatic visas, North Atlantic Treaty Organization visas, C-2 visas for travel to the United Nations, and G-1, G-2, G-3, and G-4 visas).
During that time, Trump directed agencies to review and revise screening procedures "to determine that the individual seeking the benefit is who the individual claims to be and is not a security or public-safety threat."
The ban was promptly challenged in several Federal courts, the most significant of which began hearings on February 7th, 2017. Additionally, an injunction was issued against enforcement of the order, but there is evidence that the injunction is being ignored by some CBP personnel. The Trump administration appealed the ruling but the appeal was rejected.
On March 6th, 2017, Trump issued a revised version of the executive order that reduced the number of banned nations to six (exempting Iraq) and refined the scope of the order and defined clear exceptions to reduce the chaos that the first order created. The order was promptly challenged by the state of Hawaii. The challenges and appeals worked their way up to review by the Supreme Court in June 2017, which narrowed the lower court injunctions allowing his temporary ban to go into effect for people with no strong ties such as family or business to the United States. The court will hear arguments about the act's legality later in 2017.
Meanwhile, in early April 2017, the administration began defining "extreme vetting" in concrete detail though no changes have yet been made to the existing processes.
Conditionally Revert Diplomatic Relations With Cuba
This is a reversal on previous remarks he's made on Cuba. In September 2015 he said that he was “fine” with “the concept of opening with Cuba.”
In June 2017, Trump reversed some of the Obama-era actions, citing the need for open elections and release of political prisoners. The reversal fell far short of a full return to the previous status, retaining, for instance, freedom to travel to the island nation, continued diplomatic ties, and certain economic allowances.
Given that these actions do not constitute a full reversal of the ties created under Obama, we consider this a compromise.
Allow States to Legalize Marijuana
Allowing states to legalize recreational cannabis is a reversal from earlier positions he's expressed. For example, Trump said at the CPAC conference in June 2016: "I say it's bad. Medical marijuana is another thing, but I think it's bad, and I feel strongly about it."
Attorney General Jeff Sessions, an outspoken opponent of marijuana legalization, has spoken openly about and made moves toward prosecuting medical marijuana operations at the state level. Trump hasn't made any definitive statements on the issue since the election, but his silence can be construed as support for his Attorney General in making moves to fully criminalize marijuana.
Withdraw from the Paris Climate Change Agreement
In November 2016, Trump conceded that there is "some connectivity" between human activity and climate change and wavered on whether he would pull the United States out of the Paris Agreement.
However, if "personnel is policy" then Trump's cabinet picks send a clear message. In November 2016 he appointed Myron Ebell - a vocal denier of climate change science - to his transition team as EPA adviser, and soon after appointed Scott Pruitt to head the EPA and U.S. Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers to head the Department of the Interior (the DOI post has since been offered to Representative Ryan Zinke of Montana) who is a vocal skeptic on climate change and a proponent of the fossil fuel industry.
In December 2016, the Trump transition team took the unprecedented action of petitioning the Department of Energy to list employees and contractors who attended United Nations climate meetings, along with those who helped develop the Obama administration’s social cost of carbon metrics, used to estimate and justify the climate benefits of new rules. This move seems to indicate a likely purge or other action to clear the government of any trace of pro-climate change employees.
Trump advisers have scheduled a meeting to review the administration's options with respect to the Paris agreement. (The planned meeting was abruptly cancelled soon after the announcement.) Meanwhile, the administration's ongoing policy review prevented the G7 from formulating a joint declaration of support for the Paris accords.
Soon after, Energy Secretary Rick Perry said at a Bloomberg New Energy Finance event that he would not advise leaving the accord, and instead would counsel President Trump to "renegotiate" the country's participation. The same week, a draft State Department memo indicated that the US has little reason to leave the accord. These developments highlighted a split in the administration over whether to leave or not.
Both environmental groups and energy companies stated their preference for the US to remain in the agreement. If the U.S. does fully withdraw from the agreement, the remaining members will continue on with the process, with China and Germany likely taking the leadership role.
On June 1st, 2017, Trump announced the administration's intent to withdraw from the accord, joining Syria and Nicaragua as the only nations on earth that are not part of the agreement. His announcement initiated a legal process that is expected to take four years and would not prevent a future administration from rejoining the accord.
Despite the fact that the US has not fully, legally exited the agreement and that completion of the process will take longer than Trump's first term in office, we are calling this promise fulfilled since it is expected that the administration will not pursue any policies that would support the agreement, effectively gutting it.
"Drain the Swamp" of Corruption
Lobbying & "Pay-for-play"
Trump's promise to eschew lobbyists got off to a rocky start as his initial transition team, assembled by Governor Chris Christie, was packed with lobbyists and similar special interest advocates. Later, Vice-President-Elect Pence took control of the process, removing some team members with conflicting obligations and compelling others to terminate their ties to interest organizations. Trump said he'd had no choice but to initially rely on lobbyists in Washington because "the whole place is one big lobbyist." He vowed to "phase that out."
Meanwhile, Trump selected billionaire Betsy DeVos to be Secretary of Education. Mrs. DeVos's qualifications seem to be solely in participating in advocacy groups promoting school choice and the voucher system. Otherwise, DeVos is on record as being a major soft-money contributor to the Republican party, and has donated to the campaigns of legislators in Michigan in an apparent bid to influence policy. Though not officially a lobbyist in the traditional sense, her behavior is consistent with one.
Other cabinet picks so far include Wilbur Ross - an investor whose fortune is estimated by Forbes to be $2.9 billion - Steven Mnuchin - a notable Goldman Sachs executive - and a host of other millionaires and billionaires who, as a group, have much more experience funding political candidates and acting like lobbyists than they do running government agencies. For reference, George W. Bush's first cabinet had a combined, inflation-adjusted net worth of about $250 million — which is roughly one-tenth the wealth of Donald Trump’s nominee for commerce secretary alone.
In fact, six of his cabinet picks so far were big donors to Trump's campaign: Linda McMahon ($7.5 million), Betsy DeVos ($1.8 million via DeVos family), Todd Ricketts ($1.3 million via his parents), Steven Mnuchin ($425,000), Andrew Pudzer ($332,000), and Wilbur Ross ($200,000).
Furthermore, after a long campaign of vilifying opponents including Hillary Clinton and Ted Cruz for their connections to Goldman-Sachs, Trump has named three five people to senior advisory or cabinet positions who worked directly for the infamous investment bank: Steven Mnuchin, Steve Bannon,Gary Cohn, Dina Powell, Anthony Scaramucci, and one more - Walter "Jay" Clayton - who represented Goldman-Sachs and other big banks involved in the 2008 financial crisis.
Mnuchin in particular represents the typical Wall Street establishment. He was tapped into Yale’s Skull and Bones secret society, became a Goldman Sachs partner like his father before him, ran a hedge fund, worked with George Soros, funded Hollywood blockbusters and bought a failed bank, IndyMac, with billionaires including John Paulson. They renamed it OneWest, drew protests for foreclosing on U.S. borrowers, and ultimately generated considerable profits, selling the business last year to CIT Group Inc. for $3.4 billion.
Reince Priebus - a long-time Republican party functionary - who has been tapped for Chief of Staff brings into the cabinet the sort of political establishment that Trump openly derides. Additionally, Trump's pick for Transportation secretary, Elaine Chao - wife of Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell - has been a fixture of the Republican establishment in Washington for almost two decades.
In fact, despite promises to the contrary, the administration has been host to the typical "revolving door" of lobbyists. Marcus Peacock worked briefly in the Office of Management and Budget, but has left for the Business Roundtable, a major lobby. Peacock would have been banned from lobbying for five years, but he was granted a waiver from Trump’s rules. Scott Gottlieb, Trump’s nominee to lead the Food and Drug Administration, has received millions of dollars from drug companies covered by the FDA over the years. Gottlieb plans to recuse himself from decisions involving multiple drugmakers, including giants Bristol-Myers Squibb and GlaxoSmithKline. Chad Wolf is the chief of staff for the Transportation Safety Administration, but until he took that job was a lobbyist for a company seeking to have its baggage-scanning device approved by TSA, a deal that could be worth $500 million. Michael Catanzaro is Trump’s top energy adviser, in which capacity he is working to roll back Obama-era emissions rules that he previously lobbied against on behalf of energy companies. Geoff Burr has been hired as a special assistant at the Labor Department. He was previously a lobbyist for a construction-industry trade group, lobbying the department where he now works for things like looser safety regulations and wage rules.
Additionally, it was revealed in April 2017 that a firm co-founded by Donald Trump’s original campaign manager Corey Lewandowski appears to have been pitching clients around the world by offering direct access to Trump and other members of the administration while claiming not to be conducting lobbying operations. As of this time no clients have been signed by the firm so no actual meetings have been scheduled.
At the end of May 2017, it was revealed that the Trump administration granted ethics policy waivers to about a dozen high-level administration officials including Reince Priebus, Kellyanne Conway, Michael Catanzaro, Daniel Epstein, Shahira Knight, Andrew Olmem, and others with extensive industry ties. The number of waivers granted runs contrary to the spirit of Trump's January 2017 executive order barring lobbyists who joined the administration from working on issues related to their prior work.
Collusion With Russia
In late November 2016, General Michael Flynn - Trump's pick for National Security Adviser - was revealed as having mismanaged classified information and circumvented other security policies while at the Defense Intelligence Agency. In February and March 2017, it was discovered that both Mike Pence and EPA director Scott Pruitt used personal emails to conduct official business while representing their respective state governments. Trump hounded Hillary Clinton for similar practices during his campaign and made them a key issue that likely affected the election outcome to a significant degree.
Flynn resigned in scandal after less than a month in his position due to revelations that he had direct consultations with Russian government officials regarding sanctions while working on Trump's transition team.
Trump's pick for Secretary of State, Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson, is known to have business interests with Russia which could affect the performance of his duties. In April 2017, these interests were made concrete when Exxon applied to the Department of the Treasury for a waiver to resume a business venture with Russia that was preempted by the Obama administrations sanctions against Russia. Additionally, Exxon is currently entangled in tax lawsuits with the federal government; another area where Tillerson's interests could become problematic.
Both Tillerson and Flynn's ties and dealings with Russia provide part of the backdrop for ongoing speculation about Trump's ties to Russia and Vladimir Putin. As of February 2017, FBI agents based in Washington are pursuing leads from informants, foreign communications intercepts, and financial transactions by Russian individuals and companies who are believed to have links to Trump associates. The controversy over Trump campaign officials contacts with Russian officials continued into March 2017 when it was revealed that Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Trump's son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner, in addition to Mike Flynn, had met with Russian officials during the course of the Trump campaign. Paul Manafort, Trump's former campaign manager, is also facing multiple investigations for his political and financial ties to Russia and possible money laundering through real estate deals. These revelations fueled increasing calls for investigations by Congress and prompted Sessions to recuse himself from any investigations. A revelation in April 2017 deepened the web of Russian connections when it was revealed that Erik Prince, brother of Betsy DeVos, established a back channel line of communication between Moscow and President-elect Trump.
In May 2017, the same week that Trump fired FBI director James Comey, Trump met with Russian diplomats at the White House in a semi-closed session - semi-closed in that Russian media were allowed access to the meeting while all others were kept out. It was later determined that Trump potentially divulged classified information about the "Islamic State" that was gained from an allied country, potentially exposing ongoing operations.
Ethics & Conflicts of Interest
Congressman Tom Price, Trump's pick for Health and Human Services secretary, has been scrutinized for apparent use of his position in various health industry related committees for financial gain in the stock market, although Price has announced plans to divest from his various business and investment activities to reduce conflict of interest; as of mid-February 2017 this has not yet happened.
In January 2017, Trump offered Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi a position in his administration. Bondi was the recipient of an illegal campaign contribution made by the Trump Foundation at a time when Bondi's department was deliberating on whether to press fraud charges against Trump University. Trump and Bondi both claimed there was no connection.
Notably, the Office of Government Ethics - an independent agency within the executive branch of the U.S. Federal Government which is responsible for directing executive branch policies relating to the prevention of conflicts of interest on the part of Federal executive branch officers and employees - has had unusual difficulty communicating with the Trump transition team. A lack of vetting of Trump's cabinet appointments by the OGE prior to Senate confirmation hearings would be the first since the agency was formed in 1978. At the behest of Senator Elizabeth Warren and Representative Elijah Cummings the U.S. Government Accountability Office is reviewing Donald Trump’s presidential transition, focusing on funding, ethics and communications with foreign governments and is expected to report by June 2017.
Moreover, Trump himself has many potential conflicts of interest (see also Sunlight Foundation and these charts), not the least of which is that his continued participation in his global businesses may run afoul of Article 1, Section 9 of the Constitution. Incomplete measures were taken initially to create a "blind trust" and assign it to his family (ref2). He has direct investment interests in the DAPL project over which he will have direct authority to make decisions. Additionally, Trump has a history of questionable business practices, has apparently used his campaign to funnel money to his businesses, and now stands to make money off of his Secret Service protection's use of his private transportation and offices. Finally, his new hotel in Washington D.C. has an explicit clause as part of the lease from the General Services Administration that stipulates that the lease can’t benefit a government official which implies that Trump is in violation of government ethics rules from the moment he swore in.
In January 2017 during his first press conference since the election, Trump's team described in more detail the structure of the trusts and arrangements that appear to limit Trumps direct involvement in his businesses. It can be argued, however, that his plan is completely devoid of any public oversight and amounts to a statement of "trust us." As of mid-February, 2017, Trump has not completed any legal transactions to remove himself from his business interests. In fact, Trump's sons continue to work to expand the Trump brand overseas, including business trips that incurred thousands of dollars worth of hotel and other accommodations for the required Secret Service detail. Furthermore, it was revealed in April 2017 that the trust arrangements effectively allow Trump to participate in his business and transfer funds at will, an apparent change from the initial trust certification documents.
Also in February, after initial jabs sent to China over the South China Sea and trade, Trump changed course and endorsed the "one China" policy, a unification theme maintained by mainland China with reference to Taiwan. Curiously, several days later China approved a 10-year trademark for construction services in China under Trump's name - one of dozens of such trademarks approved by China in an uncharacteristically swift manner. Regardless of whether the two events were directly correlated, this incident highlights the ethical conflicts of Trump maintaining direct ties to his businesses while in public office.
The conflicts of interest don't stop with Trump himself. In November 2016, Ivanka Trump, who has no official standing in Trump's government but who does have personal business deals pending in Japan, participated in a meeting with Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. This wasn't the first meeting in which Trump brought along family for meetings with foreign dignitaries and it sets a precedent for poor ethical conduct. Controversy over Ivanka Trump's business erupted in February 2017 when press secretary Sean Spicer, counselor Kellyanne Conway, and Trump himself made public pronouncements while acting in an official capacity promoting or otherwise defending Ivanka Trump's retail clothing line. And, like Trump himself, Ivanka Trump's business interests received trademark approvals from China, shortly after her having met with the Chinese president in April 2017.
In January 2017, Trump named his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, to be the senior White House adviser working on trade and the Middle East. His appointment raises questions about federal anti-nepotism laws that were enacted in response to John F. Kennedy appointing his brother as Attorney General. Additionally, Kushner is known to have solicited investments from EB-5 visa holders for Trump-branded properties and in May 2017 allegedly made promises for such visas to Chinese investors in exchange for investment in a planned Kushner property.
Trump's fourth bill signed into law in February 2017 was a measure to strip language from the Dodd-Frank financial reforms that required the energy extraction industry to disclose payments made to foreign governments. Removal of this rule effectively turns a blind eye to bribery committed by oil companies which is made all the more complicated by the composition of Trump's cabinet, many of whom have direct ties to the oil industry. Coming on the heels of confirmation of Exxon executive Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State and continuing exposure of ties between Trump's cabinet and Russia, passage of this law is troubling from an ethics standpoint.
Obstruction of Justice
In March, 2017, the Trump administration abruptly fired 46, independent district attorneys in the employ of the Justice Department including one, Preet Bharara, who was known to be an aggressive and successful prosecutor working in the New York City area. The dismissal of these attorneys without naming their successors effectively interrupted multiple open investigations and degraded the ability of the Justice Department to address cases. In particular, Bharara in the past has gone aggressively after Wall Street and other New York area politicians, raising suspicions that his his dismissal could be related to cases including one against Fox News and possibly another against Trump or his administration including HHS Secretary Tom Price.
In May 2017, Trump abruptly fired FBI director James Comey, giving a number of conflicting justifications. The firing triggered a backlash over the appearance of obstructing ongoing FBI investigations into election tampering and collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. Significantly, the move came after Comey requested more resources for the Russia investigations and on the heels of Grand Jury subpoenas in the Michael Flynn case.
In April 2017, the Trump administration discontinued the open.gov portal that contained such information as White House visitor logs and salary information for Executive branch employees. Trump himself has used this information to criticize the Obama administration but now cites "security" concerns in removing the information. The move was widely seen as a move towards a less transparent government.
Finally, in December 2016, Trump minimized his use of the phrase "drain the swamp," with former House speaker Newt Gingrich confiding that Trump no longer wants to use the phrase. (Trump disputed this and Gingrich soon after recanted)
A recap of Trump's first 100 days shows a pattern of behest to corporate interests, pay-for-play governance, and disdain for the public sector.
Move U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem
After the election, David Friedman - an adviser to Trump on Israeli issues - affirmed Trump's pledge to move the embassy. However, days later, another trump adviser, Walid Phares, indicated that the move would not happen immediately and would happen under "consensus."
On January 22nd, 2017, The White House announced that "we are at the very beginning stages of even discussing this subject," and that Trump invited Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Washington in early February. Additionally, a senior administration official said that moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv remains a priority for the president but cautioned that it would not be happen quickly.
At the end of May 2017, Trump signed a waiver retaining the U.S. embassy in Tel Aviv in order to, as one official put it, "keep the peace process going."
'Turn around and leave' If Not Properly Welcomed in a Foreign Country
During his first overseas tour, Trump was greeted in Saudi Arabia, Israel, Belgium, and Italy. In each case he was met by leaders and/or senior officials and trod upon red carpets.