Friday, 28 April 2017

100 day Trump scorecard: Tactical victories, unforced errors, mostly incomplete

The world has not ended, fascism is not reborn and the enormous Washington machine carries on pretty much as per normal as US President Donald Trump’s first 100 days finishes on April 29.

A tradition of the US political system since Franklin D Roosevelt’s tenure, the first 100 days of a presidency receives tight attention by media and voters alike. Mr Roosevelt signed 76 pieces of legislation during this time, compared with Mr Trump’s 28 (along with 34 executive actions).

The US president has dismissed the 100 days premise on Twitter, calling the standard "ridiculous," while also outlining how much his administration has accomplished in its first few months. "No matter how much I accomplish during the ridiculous standard of the first 100 days, & it has been a lot (including S.C.), media will kill!" The term “S.C.” refers to the appointment of Supreme Court justice Neil Gorsuch.

"I think you can go back and find an area, one or two, and say, 'OK, well, he didn't do this.' But I think you have to look at it in totality of what he actually did get done," White House spokesman Sean Spicer says. The initial days were eventful, but plenty of work remains for Mr Trump.

At the end of his first week in January, the president signed a series of executive orders to enact campaign promises. They included plans to repeal the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), a fast-track for infrastructure projects, direction for building a border wall with Mexico, removal of federal funds for “sanctuary cities” and suspension of the US refugee programme.

All received loud opposition from Democrats, but the final order on refugees also led to blockages in the US court system which are yet to be resolved. Mr Trump responded to the criticism of the refugee order by re-drafting it in February. The order initially focused on halting movement from seven Middle East and North African countries, but was reduced to six in the second issuance.

In January, Mr Trump also extracted the US from the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) free trade agreement following his “America First” policy. He cited serious concerns about low US workers from Malaysia and Vietnam wage competition.

The remaining 11 members of the TPP (including New Zealand) have tentatively upheld a reinvigorating the deal without the US. Japan, which spent significant political capital on the deal by breaking up its agriculture unions, is leading this effort along with Australia.

Other trade changes include a modernisation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which both Canada and Mexico say should be organised quickly. And although Mr Trump’s nomination for US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer is still unconfirmed, the office has been instructed to re-assess all trade deals for upgrade opportunities, to find the causes of deficits and to “identify trade abuses,” according to Mr Trump.

Another of his campaign goals was to halt hiring at government departments. To achieve this, he signed a 90-day freezing order for hiring federal employees, which was lifted on April 12. National security employees were always exempt from the order.

Mr Trump also entered office with an empty seat on the Supreme Court. He promptly nominated conservative judge Neil Gorsuch. The final confirmation process was achieved with the “nuclear option,” referring to a Republican alteration of the success threshold to 51 votes, rather than 60.

At Mr Gorsuch’s swearing in, Mr Trump said: “a new optimism is sweeping across our land and a new faith in America is filling our hearts and lifting our sights.” Another Supreme Court seat could be vacated this year.

Republicans also attempted to “repeal and replace” the Obamacare health legislation. Led by House Majority leader Paul Ryan, the effort came close but failed to gather enough votes. The party and Mr Trump will try again to replace the healthcare package next month.

Pieces of Obama-era coal, waterways and climate change policies were also either reversed or cancelled. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has received heavy criticism from the White House, including cutting its funding as part of the new administration’s fiscal budget.

That budget proposal aims to avoid increasing government spending, while increasing the US national security funds. To achieve this, Mr Trump announced intention to siphon money from the State Department and to slice programmes from other departments.

Republicans still hope to secure funding for the proposed border wall with Mexico, even as Congress is holding back the required money. Presently, the border wall is 930 kilometres long and the total length of the border is 3,201 kilometres. Mr Trump hopes to fill those gaps.

Along with Obamacare, three other major pieces of legislation are not yet completed. These include a national security strategy, a cyber-security executive order and a tax reform package. Regarding the latter, a handful of smaller actions emerged in April – review processes and winding back of banking measures introduced after the 2008 financial crisis.

However, Mr Trump reversed his intention to label China a “currency manipulator” after the Treasury Department did not allege China was committing such actions.

Throughout this time, Mr Trump’s political opponents attacked the administration’s alleged connections to Russia. In what essentially amounts to accusations of treason, they claim Mr Trump and his officials are colluding with the Russian government.

While no evidence has been submitted either of Russian hacking attempts on the Democratic National Convention (DNC) last year or of malicious and hidden high-level cooperation, the flow of Mr Trump’s first 100 days have nevertheless been undermined by the accusations.

A series of nominated department heads were hampered by unnecessary legal testimonies and delays in their confirmations. Some were even forced to step down or compelled to recuse themselves for ongoing investigations.

It was however revealed that the administration’s transition team was under surveillance during the 2016 election campaign by domestic intelligence services looking for Russian connections, yet no evidence of collusion has been discovered. Former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn was dismissed after it was found he lied about a poorly-timed discussion with the Russian ambassador.

Mr Trump also launched a series of missiles at a Syrian airbase following revelations of a chemical weapons attack in the country. Syria is receiving Russian military support and the missile attack has removed much of the energy behind the collusion allegations.

Finally, in the foreign policy realm, Mr Trump has sent his defence secretary on tours of East Asia, the Middle East and Europe to reassure allies in those regions and gauge any requirements of US diplomatic and military support in the coming months.

North Korea also continues to provoke with its nuclear programme. As it stands, the US intelligence community assesses Pyongyang will theoretically have the capability to send a nuclear-tipped missile to the Eastern seaboard of the US within four years. Mr Trump is hoping to carefully change the calculation of acceptable risk regarding the hermit kingdom.

No comments: