Looking Back at the Accomplishments & Failures in President Trump’s Work With Congress
How do you feel about President Trump’s legislative and judicial legacy?
by Causes | 1.20.21
What’s the story?
- President Donald Trump’s tenure as the 45th president of the United States will draw to a close at noon on Wednesday, January 20, 2021. Here’s a look back at the major successes and failures in his administration’s work with Congress over the last four years.
HEALTHCARE REFORM & OBAMACARE REPEAL
- The Trump administration’s first major legislative initiative with the Republican majorities in the House and Senate during the 115th Congress was an effort to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare). House Republicans were able to narrowly pass the American Health Care Act on a party-line 217-213 vote in May 2017, but the effort became bogged down in the Senate despite Republicans controlling a 52-seat majority.
- Republicans’ push to pass a “skinny repeal” of Obamacare failed 49-51 in the early morning hours of July 28, 2017, when Sens. Susan Collins (R-ME), John McCain (R-AZ), and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) voted against the proposal ― which still would’ve needed to be approved or reconciled with the House bill before it could become law. The failure marked the administration's last major push for healthcare reform during the Trump presidency.
- In addition to actions taken by federal agencies to remake the regulatory framework, the Trump administration worked with congressional Republicans to use the Congressional Review Act (CRA) to roll back regulations implemented in the final months of the Obama administration.
- During the 115th Congress, Trump and GOP lawmakers overturned 16 of the 17 regulations that have ever been reversed using the CRA. The incoming Biden administration and congressional Democrats may take aim at “midnight rules” enacted by agencies in the closing months of the Trump administration.
- The GOP spent the latter half of 2017 focused on their second major legislative initiative: tax reform. By the end of the year, the largest tax cut since the Reagan era was signed into law by President Trump after it passed the House and Senate on party-line votes of 223-201 and 51-49, respectively.
- Known as the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, the bill doubled the standard deduction and child tax credit, reduced federal income tax rates for nearly all taxpayers, and lowered corporate tax rates. It also repealed the individual mandate to buy health insurance under Obamacare (along with its tax penalty) and opened up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to energy development.
- The bill faced criticism from Democrats, who said it would increase the deficit by $1.5 trillion and disproportionately benefit corporations and the wealthy. Roughly two-thirds of American taxpayers saw their tax burden decrease following the enactment of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA). Higher-income earners saw their tax burdens go up due to the TCJA’s caps on deductions for state and local taxes over $10,000 and mortgage interest on new loans larger than $750,000.
CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM
- The Trump administration was able to advance criminal justice reform based on a bipartisan framework developed by Congress during the Obama administration. It passed the Senate 87-12 and the House 358-36 in December 2018 before Trump signed it into law.
- Known as the First Step Act, the package reformed sentencing practices for non-violent drug offenders, implemented recidivism reduction programs tailored to an inmate’s needs, and included several reforms aimed at improving conditions for inmates.
BORDER SECURITY & IMMIGRATION REFORM
- President Trump’s efforts to secure a comprehensive deal on immigration reform and border security that fully-funded construction of the border wall ran into repeated opposition from congressional Democrats.
- The impasse resulted in a 35-day partial government shutdown ― the longest in U.S. history ― before the two sides reached a compromise in early 2019 that provided smaller amounts of funding for building border barriers in annual installments.
- In an effort to move more funding toward the construction of the wall, Trump later declared a national emergency and vetoed two efforts by Congress to repeal the declaration.
- Trump took office with 108 federal judicial vacancies, the largest amount since the 111 vacancies at the outset of the Clinton administration. After Trump and Senate Republicans made a priority of filling those vacancies, there will only be 46 vacancies left for the Biden administration ― the fewest since the 37 vacancies that greeted President George H.W. Bush when he was inaugurated in 1989. The Senate confirmed 234 Article III judges nominated by Trump, including 54 judges on federal courts of appeal, and 174 district court judges.
- During his four years in office Trump appointed three Supreme Court justices: in early 2017, Justice Neil Gorsuch filled the vacancy created by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia in 2016; Justice Brett Kavanaugh was confirmed after a contentious confirmation hearing to take the seat of Justice Anthony Kennedy following his retirement in 2018; and Justice Amy Coney Barrett filled the seat vacated through the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in the fall of 2020.
- Trump made the renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) a key pillar of his trade agenda, arguing NAFTA disadvantaged American workers in trade with Canada and Mexico, and threatened to withdraw from the trade agreement if a new deal couldn’t be reached. Trump struck a deal with the leaders of Canada and Mexico in November 2018 that became known as the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), which removes or reduces barriers to trade between the three nations.
- The Trump administration and congressional Democrats reached a deal on elements of the USMCA that were agreed to by Canada and Mexico, after which Congress approved the ratification of the USMCA on bipartisan votes of 385-41 in the House and 89-10 in the Senate.
- Following the outset of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic in early 2020, the Trump administration and Congress enacted a series of bipartisan packages aimed at providing economic relief and resources for the healthcare response to the pandemic.
- Despite the sometimes protracted negotiations between and within the parties, lawmakers ultimately enacted several bills with a cumulative total of more than $3.5 trillion. The most notable were the $2.2 trillion Coronavirus, Aid, Recovery, and Economic Security (CARES) Act in March ― which became the largest spending package in U.S. history ― and a $900 billion package in December as part of an omnibus spending bill.
- With less than two weeks remaining in his term, Trump became the first president in American history to be impeached by the House of Representatives on two occasions.
- House Democrats impeached Trump in December 2019 on two articles ― “abuse of power” and “obstruction of Congress” ― that were connected to a call he made to the president of Ukraine in which he allegedly conditioned U.S. government aid on Ukraine’s government announcing an investigation into former Vice President Joe Biden. The House voted to impeach but the Senate acquitted Trump following his impeachment trial, both on votes that went mostly along party-lines.
- Trump was impeached for the second time in January 2021 on one article ― “incitement of insurrection” ― that accused him of making false claims about the election and encouraging lawlessness from a deadly mob that stormed the Capitol and delayed the certification of President-elect Joe Biden’s victory in the Electoral College. The vote saw 10 Republicans join Democrats by voting in favor.
- As Trump leaves office, it’s unclear when his impeachment trial will begin, as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) thus far has declined to deliver the article of impeachment to the Senate, which is obliged to begin the impeachment trial a day after the article is formally exhibited for senators.
— Eric Revell
(Photo Credit: White House via Flickr / Public Domain)
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