President Donald Trump has now been in office for two weeks. So it’s a good moment to take a step back from the controversies of the moment and look at what, concretely, the Trump administration has done so far.
In doing so, let’s set aside the many plans for action, rumored policy changes, and discussions about possible legislation for the moment. Presidents say a lot of things, but what’s most important and revealing is what they actually do. And Trump has already made important changes to US policy — some major, and some minor.
The most important and sweeping changes of Trump’s first days in office occurred in two areas. First, on immigration, Trump made a series of hugely consequential policy changes that will block refugee admissions for months and amp up detentions and deportations of unauthorized immigrants. And second, Trump blocked federal funding for any global health organizations that provide or even discuss abortion — not only bringing back a policy from past Republican administrations but vastly expanding it.
Alongside these came the official abandonment of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal — a milestone, but one that’s seemed inevitable for some time. And there was also a series of more preliminary moves. Trump froze government hires and regulations. He also signaled his interest in building the wall on the US-Mexico border he promised, in building two major controversial pipelines, and in dismantling Obamacare. And a Supreme Court nomination could, if approved, have an impact lasting decades. But on all these fronts, much remains uncertain.
Immigration: slashing refugee admissions, blocking people from seven countries from entering the US
- Trump suspended the US refugee admissions program for 120 days (until the end of May) and the Syrian refugee admissions program indefinitely.
- Trump blocked immigrants and visa holders from seven majority-Muslim countries — Iraq, Iran, Syria, Libya, Yemen, Somalia, and Sudan — from entering the US for 90 days (until late April). As a result, hundreds of people in transit were detained at airports and refused admission to the US, at least temporarily, with some being deported. After some turmoil, the government clarified that this “ban” would not apply to green-card holders from those countries, unless there was specific derogatory intelligence on them.
- The rollout of this order was chaotic. Hundreds who were legally allowed to enter the US when they departed were detained upon arrival at airports around the country. Most have since been released, but some of them were deported. Many more were not allowed to board flights headed to the US in other countries. Multiple lawsuits have been filed and are currently at various points in the courts.
- Furthermore, Trump cut the US’s refugee quota for this year in half and stated that “religious minorities” should get priority for the remaining spots.
Immigration: the US is going to be deporting a lot more people
- Trump changed existing policy to require that every unauthorized immigrant caught crossing the border be detained. Before this change, many who were apprehended while crossing were then released into the US to wait for a scheduled asylum interview or court date. Now they will have to be either detained or quickly deported.
- Additionally, Trump expanded the Obama administration’s existing policy of prioritizing the deportation of unauthorized immigrants convicted of serious crimes. Now the administration will also prioritize deporting immigrants who have merely been charged with crimes or even those who the government concludes have committed “acts that constitute a chargeable criminal offense.” And “crime” here could mean even things like driving without a license or using a fake Social Security number to pay payroll taxes.
- Trump also beefed up enforcement, adding agents to Immigrations and Customs Enforcement’s Enforcement and Removal Operations office and reinstating the Secure Communities program, which, as Dara Lind writes, “automatically checked immigration databases to identify people checked into local jails, then allowed ICE agents to ask local officials to hand over any immigrant they wanted to deport.”
- He also directed the Department of Homeland Security to begin construction on a wall on the US-Mexico border, to the extent that it can be paid for with existing funds. However, additional money will surely be necessary, and that will still need to be approved by Congress, so this is just a start here.
Abortion and global health: bringing back and hugely expanding the “global gag rule”
Trump reinstated the “global gag rule,” a policy from previous Republican administrations that blocks federal funding from international family planning organizations that “either provide abortion or discuss abortion services with their clients,” as Emily Crockett put it. However, he also greatly expanded its scope — it now applies not just to family planning organizations but to all global health organizations that get US funding.
“If organizations don’t agree to sign the pledge saying they won’t discuss abortion,” an expert told Sarah Wildman, “they stand to lose massive funding from the US government.” Furthermore, if groups are unable to give women in developing countries information about safe abortion options, they could be driven to unsafe alternatives.
Trade: putting the nail in the TPP’s coffin
- As he promised, Trump withdrew the US from negotiations over the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal. This is no surprise to anyone who paid attention during the campaign, but it marks a major reversal from the Obama administration’s strong support of the proposed agreement and recent presidents’ support of big multilateral trade deals generally.
Foreign affairs: a strike in Yemen, sanctions on Iran
- Trump approved a SEAL Team 6 raid aimed at al Qaeda militants in Yemen. The government claims that an al Qaeda leader named Abdulrauf al Dhahab was killed. The strike also killed both a member of SEAL Team Six, which conducted it, and the 8-year-old American citizen daughter of the late al-Qaeda leader Anwar al-Awlaki, US officials confirmed. The Pentagon claims “numerous” civilians also died, and local reports put the total death toll even higher. “Almost everything went wrong,” a senior US military official told NBC.
- The administration also imposed new sanctions on Iran in response to a ballistic missile test. “The new sanctions are intended to focus on suppliers to the missile program and on groups that help arm terrorist organizations,” the New York Times’ Glenn Thrush and David Sanger write.
Government: freezes of hiring and regulations, plus ethics rules
- Trump announced a hiring freeze throughout the federal government except for the military and national security or public safety positions. Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan announced similar hiring freezes as they began their presidencies.
- The president also announced a temporary regulatory freeze — he’s told the agencies that no new regulations should move forward until new administration appointees or staffers approve them. Regulations that had been moving through the system on topics like aircraft fuselage inspection, ending sanctions against Myanmar, and giving military spouses an advantage in federal hiring, among other topics, have been blocked for now.
- Trump also signed an executive order that, he said, would require agencies to scrap two older regulations before creating new ones. Except the order does nothing of the kind — as Brad Plumer points out, the order only requires two old regulations to be “identified,” not eliminated. It seems essentially toothless, and its actual effect may be mainly to create confusion in agencies.
- And Trump adopted lobbying and ethics rules for his administration appointees. All in all, these rules seem less stringent than President Obama’s, Politico’s Isaac Arnsdorf writes, because Trump lets lobbyists join the administration if they’re not working on topics they lobbied on in the past two years. However, Trump’s order does make his appointees pledge not to lobby in issues related to the agency they’re working in for 5 years and not to register as foreign agents ever.
Housing policy: the rollback of a last-minute Obama rate cut
- In the final week of the Obama administration, the Department of Housing and Urban Development announced it planned to cut interest rates for Federal Housing Administration–backed home loans by 0.25 percent in a few weeks. But when Trump first took office, his administration immediately suspended this planned rate cut, therefore blocking a move that would have made home loans for many first-time borrowers slightly less expensive.
Financial regulation: Starting the process of rolling back some Obama regulations
- Trump signed an executive order instructing the Labor Department to reconsider the fiduciary rule, an Obama regulation that required retirement advisers to act in the best interest of their clients.
- He also signed a more preliminary order instructing his Treasury Department and financial regulatory agencies to start the process of rolling back rules resulting from Obama’s Dodd-Frank financial reform law.
Health care: a vague anti-Obamacare order that nobody’s sure what to make of
- Trump issued an executive order telling agencies to waive or grant exemptions from Obamacare fees and regulations “to the maximum extent permitted by law.” However, it is not yet clear how this order will be interpreted by the agencies and what impact it will actually have. So the future of health policy remains deeply uncertain.
- Still, the Trump administration did take one concrete action on the health law — it canceled advertisements urging people to sign up for Obamacare, according to Politico.
Environment: a mostly symbolic encouragement of two pipelines
- Trump signaled his support of the controversial Dakota Access pipeline, which critics have argued endangers a reservation’s water supplies and sacred sites. The pipeline still faces an environmental impact review from the Army Corps of Engineers, though.
- Trump also encouraged TransCanada to resubmit its application to build the Keystone XL pipeline (the Obama administration had rejected it), and pledged quick action on any new application. The ball is in the company’s court now.
Supreme Court: the nomination of Judge Neil Gorsuch
- To fill the Supreme Court seat of the late Justice Antonin Scalia, Trump nominated Judge Neil Gorsuch of the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, an appointment met with near-unanimous praise from conservatives. It will take weeks and perhaps months before the Senate votes on Gorsuch’s nomination, but if confirmed, the 49-year old Gorsuch could well sit on the court for decades.