I’ve had easier assignments than tallying the “successes” of Donald Trump’s first six months in office—and that even before two more Republican senators, Mike Lee and Jerry Moran, announced Monday night that they could not vote for health-care reform, appearing to doom, for now at least, one of the president’s biggest promises.
Aside from the fact that not many points have been put on the scoreboard, it’s also worth noting that most of the points were scored early in the first quarter.
Back in April, I gave Trump’s first 100 days a fairly positive review. During that time, Trump signed 30 executive orders, including a travel ban that only recently had been allowed by the Supreme Court to be (partly) implemented. Trump also appears to have had a powerful effect on policy through rhetoric when it comes to illegal immigration, for instance, which is significantly down since January.
Congress also rediscovered the Congressional Review Act (CRA)—a significant and under-reported instrument used to roll back several Obama-era rules.
It would be hard to overstate the confirmation of Neil Gorsuch, who’s clearly a Clarence Thomas-style justice and looks to be a decisive vote on the Supreme Court for years to come.
But these are both things that were mentioned in that 100-day column. What is more, these early victories are not necessarily a harbinger of good things to come.
While it’s possible that Trump’s team could continue to tame the bureaucracy, the window for using the CRA (which rolled back 14 Obama-era rules) has closed. And while it’s certainly possible (if not likely) that Trump could get to make additional Supreme Court nominations, these vacancies are beyond his control.
If we were to judge Trump on a legislative agenda, he would (at best) receive an “incomplete.” Early on, there was much talk about a robust agenda, including health care reform, tax reform, and an infrastructure bill. But the first six months saw no major legislation signed into law.
It took until May for the House to pass a bill to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, and after the events of Monday night, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says the Senate will vote only to repeal—not yet replace—Obamacare.
Having gotten bogged down in trying to overhaul one-sixth of the U.S. economy (a pursuit I compare to a land invasion in Asia), it goes without saying that tax reform and infrastructure are delayed—and imperiled.
Trump’s lack of accomplishments can be blamed on numerous things, including his distracting tweets.
But the Trump administration has, almost from the beginning, been plagued by leaks—and clouded by a Russia scandal. Major moments include the firings of former national security adviser Mike Flynn and former FBI director James Comey (whose congressional testimony totally overshadowed “Infrastructure Week”), as well as the recently reported meeting with a Russian attorney.
While passing health care reform would have been an uphill battle regardless of distractions, the Russia scandal has complicated things for congressional Republicans hoping to advance an agenda and run on accomplishments in 2018.
There’s also the fact that the Trump administration is still under-staffed—especially at Cabinet agencies. It’s true that the president deserves a lot of blame for this, but Sen. Chuck Schumer’s obstruction on nominations is a hugely under-reported story. In some cases, the only Senate-confirmed person at an entire federal agency is the secretary.
It hasn’t been all bad. In a few cases, Trump has actually impressed. In the wake of a chemical weapons attack, Trump’s decision to strike Syria was bold and decisive. And his recent speech in Warsaw, Poland, appropriately championed the values of Western civilization.
On the other hand, concerns remain regarding his relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin. What is more, during Trump’s early tenure, North Korea has become more provocative.
While a president’s legislative agenda is easy to quantify (there are tangible deliverables), other aspects of a presidency are nuanced. For example, issues like the economy (which is fine) and international relations (which appear fine) usually recede from the public consciousness—unless or until there is an economic downturn or an international incident.
You rarely get credit for the absence of a problem, but it is fair to note that Trump’s election did not (thus far) cause a war or economic depression (stay tuned for the coming debt ceiling crisis). Many an administration has had their agenda derailed by foreign policy mishaps and quagmires. Thus far, Trump has avoided this fate.
He hasn’t passed any legislation—and his first six months have been drama-filled and controversial. But despite the hand-wringing and worry his tenure has spawned among the chattering classes, the world hasn’t ended.
That might sound like the “soft bigotry of low expectations.” But in this day and age, I’ll take it.