Trump on his prom­ises: Yes on tax cuts, but where’s the wall?

Houston Chronicle Sunday - - SUNDAY MORNING - By Calvin Wood­ward and Jill Colvin

WASH­ING­TON — Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump of­ten brags that he’s done more in his first year in of­fice than any other pres­i­dent. That’s a spec­tac­u­lar stretch.

But while he’s fallen short on many mea­sures and has a strik­ingly thin leg­isla­tive record, Trump has fol­lowed through on dozens of his cam­paign prom­ises, over­haul­ing the coun­try’s tax sys­tem, chang­ing the U.S. pos­ture abroad and up­end­ing the lives of hun­dreds of thou­sands of im­mi­grants.

A year in, Trump is no closer to mak­ing Mex­ico pay for a bor­der wall than when he made sup­port­ers swoon with that prom­ise at those rol­lick­ing cam­paign ral­lies of 2016.

He’s run into leg­isla­tive road­blocks — from fel­low Repub­li­cans, no less — at big mo­ments, which is why the Obama-era health law sur­vives, wounded but still in­sur­ing mil­lions. His own ad­min­is­tra­tion’s sloppy start ex­plains why none of the laws he pledged to sign in his first 100 days came to re­al­ity then and why most are still as­pi­ra­tional.

Nev­er­the­less, Trump has nailed the tax over­haul, his only his­toric leg­isla­tive ac­com­plish­ment to date, won con­fir­ma­tion of a con­ser­va­tive Supreme Court jus­tice and other fed­eral judges, and used his ex­ec­u­tive pow­ers with vigor to slice reg­u­la­tions and pull the U.S. away from in­ter­na­tional ac­cords he as­sailed as a can­di­date.

Courts tied his most provoca­tive ac­tions on im­mi­gra­tion and Mus­lim en­try in knots, but il­le­gal bor­der cross­ings ap­pear to be at his­toric lows.

The up­shot? For all his rogue ten­den­cies, Trump has shaped up as a largely con­ven­tional Repub­li­can pres­i­dent when mea­sured by his prom­ises kept and in mo­tion.

A look at some of his cam­paign prom­ises and what’s hap­pened with them:


Trump and con­gres­sional Repub­li­cans de­liv­ered on an over­haul that sub­stan­tially low­ers cor­po­rate taxes and cuts per­sonal in­come taxes, as promised. It’s siz­able but not ev­ery­thing Trump said it would be, and it is more tilted to the wealthy than he promised or will ad­mit.

He promised a 15 per­cent tax rate for cor­po­ra­tions and set­tled for 21 per­cent, still a ma­jor drop from 35 per­cent. He promised three tax brack­ets; there are still seven.

He did not elim­i­nate the es­tate tax or the al­ter­na­tive min­i­mum tax as he said he would. Fewer peo­ple will be sub­ject to those taxes, how­ever, at least tem­po­rar­ily.

“Every­body is get­ting a tax cut, es­pe­cially the mid­dle class,” he said in the cam­paign. Most will; some will pay more.


Trump made good on his prom­ise to with­draw the U.S. from the Trans-Pa­cific Part­ner­ship trade agree­ment and to re­open the North Amer­i­can Free Trade Agree­ment in search of a bet­ter deal.

He’s let China off the hook, though, on his oft-re­peated threat dur­ing the cam­paign to brand Bei­jing a cur­rency ma­nip­u­la­tor, a step to­ward po­ten­tially hefty penal­ties on Chi­nese im­ports and a likely spark for a trade war.

“We’re like the piggy bank that’s be­ing robbed,” he said of the trade re­la­tion­ship, which has tipped even more in China’s fa­vor since. Trump now threat­ens trade pun­ish­ment if China does not suf­fi­ciently co­op­er­ate in rein­ing in North Korea.

Trump promised to im­pose a 35 per­cent tar­iff on goods from U.S. com­pa­nies that ship pro­duc­tion abroad. He’s not de­liv­ered on that. In­stead, his tax plan aims to en­cour­age com­pa­nies to stay in the U.S. with the lower tax rate and to en­tice those op­er­at­ing abroad to come home by let­ting them repa­tri­ate their prof­its in the U.S. at a tem­po­rar­ily dis­counted rate. His ap­proach so far is all car­rot, no stick.


Can­di­date Trump rocked the po­lit­i­cal land­scape when he pro­posed a tem­po­rary ban on all non-U.S. Mus­lims en­ter­ing the coun­try. While he’s long backed away from such talk, Trump has worked since his first days in of­fice to im­pose new re­stric­tions on tourists and im­mi­grants, sign­ing ex­ec­u­tive or­ders that would have made good on his anti-im­mi­gra­tion prom­ises had those or­ders not been blocked by courts.

He’s now suc­ceeded in ban­ning the en­try of cit­i­zens from sev­eral Mus­lim-ma­jor­ity coun­tries and in se­verely curb­ing refugee ad­mis­sions. He’s tried to deny cer­tain fed­eral money for cities that refuse to co­op­er­ate with fed­eral im­mi­gra­tion author­i­ties.

Trump is now deep in ne­go­ti­a­tions over an im­mi­gra­tion deal that could de­liver on other prom­ises, in­clud­ing money for the bor­der wall with Mex­ico and over­haul­ing the le­gal im­mi­gra­tion sys­tem to make it harder for im­mi­grants to spon­sor their fam­i­lies. That’s in ex­change for ex­tend­ing pro­tec­tions for hun­dreds of thou­sands of young peo­ple brought to the coun­try il­le­gally as chil­dren. They are pro­tec­tions he once slammed as an “il­le­gal” amnesty and pledged to end.

Mex­ico still isn’t pony­ing up money for the wall.


Trump promised ag­gres­sive ac­tion on the en­ergy front and has pur­sued that.

He an­nounced his in­ten­tion to take the U.S. out of the Paris cli­mate-change ac­cord. He gave swift ap­proval to the Key­stone XL and Dakota Ac­cess pipe­lines stalled by Pres­i­dent Barack Obama, moved to shrink pro­tected na­tional mon­u­ment lands in Utah and Ari­zona, and acted to lift re­stric­tions on min­ing coal and coastal drilling for oil and nat­u­ral gas.

A pro­vi­sion in the new tax law opens the long-pro­tected Arc­tic Na­tional Wildlife Refuge to drilling.

As other coun­tries turn harder to­ward green en­ergy, Trump is mak­ing fos­sil fu­els the cen­ter­piece of his drive to­ward en­ergy in­de­pen­dence — a bench­mark that Obama closed in on dur­ing an era of surg­ing nat­u­ral gas de­vel­op­ment.


Prob­a­bly noth­ing ex­em­pli­fies frus­trated am­bi­tion more than the Obama health law Repub­li­cans have been try­ing to dis­man­tle ever since it was en­acted in 2010. Trump has de­clared it dead many times — he just never got around to killing it.

He made this over­promise in the cam­paign: “My first day in of­fice, I’m go­ing to ask Congress to put a bill on my desk get­ting rid of this dis­as­trous law and re­plac­ing it with re­forms that ex­pand choice, free­dom, af­ford­abil­ity. You’re go­ing to have such great health care at a tiny frac­tion of the cost. It’s go­ing to be so easy.” That hasn’t hap­pened. Repub­li­cans took sev­eral runs at re­peal­ing and re­plac­ing the law last year, only to fall short. The De­cem­ber tax law, though, is knock­ing out a pil­lar. As of 2019, the re­quire­ment to carry health in­sur­ance or pay a fine will be gone.

Trump has come out with a pro­posed reg­u­la­tion to pro­mote the sale of health plans across state lines. The goal is to make it eas­ier for as­so­ci­a­tions to spon­sor plans that are cheaper than Af­ford­able Care Act poli­cies but don’t have to meet all con­sumer pro­tec­tion and ben­e­fit re­quire­ments of that law.

In­sur­ance in­dus­try groups, pa­tient groups and some state reg­u­la­tors are wary of the idea and see lit­tle chance it can make more than a dent in the ranks of the unin­sured (nearly 30 mil­lion). Eas­ing re­stric­tions on the sale of health in­sur­ance across state lines has been a long­time main­stream con­ser­va­tive goal.

He also promised to au­tho­rize Medi­care to ne­go­ti­ate lower pre­scrip­tion drug prices. It hasn’t been done.


Trump promised swift vic­tory over the Is­lamic State group. Over the past year, U.S. and coali­tion-backed lo­cal forces in Iraq and Syria did deal a crush­ing blow to ISIS, oust­ing the mil­i­tants from most of the ter­ri­tory they once held. The suc­cess built on the strat­egy of the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion to work with and through lo­cal forces. Trump did re­lax re­stric­tions on the num­ber of U.S. troops who could be de­ployed both to Iraq and Syria, and that aided the fi­nal push.

U.S. com­man­ders, how­ever, stop short of say­ing ISIS is de­feated, point­ing to re­main­ing mil­i­tants and fight­ing in Syria. They also note the group has spawned af­fil­i­ates in other coun­tries, such as Afghanistan and Ye­men, where they rou­tinely at­tack U.S. forces and al­lies. While reel­ing as a ter­ri­to­rial force, the ISIS group has in­spired ter­ror­ist at­tacks in the West.

The Pen­tagon has yet to see the mas­sive in­crease in mil­i­tary spend­ing that Trump has promised. That still might come, but the pro­tracted strug­gle to pass a Pen­tagon bud­get of what­ever size has hurt U.S. mil­i­tary readi­ness, de­fense of­fi­cials say.

More broadly, Trump’s “Amer­ica First” ethic has been re­flected in his pres­sure on mem­ber NATO coun­tries to step up their own mil­i­tary spend­ing, in his wari­ness of in­ter­na­tional ac­cords and in the seem­ing drift from a diplo­matic tra­di­tion of pro­mot­ing U.S. demo­cratic val­ues abroad.

Past pres­i­dents made com­mon cause with au­thor­i­tar­ian fig­ures, and their pro­mo­tion of val­ues could be cur­sory. But Trump has lav­ished praise on select strong­men, from the Philip­pines to China to Rus­sia and be­yond.


Trump pledged a $1 tril­lion ef­fort to re­build the coun­try’s air­ports, roads, bridges and other in­fra­struc­ture. As with his tax plan, it’s shap­ing up to be less am­bi­tious than promised, though it still might be sig­nif­i­cant. Placed be­hind the failed ef­fort to re­peal the health law and the suc­cess­ful one to cut taxes, in­fra­struc­ture may or may not emerge as a pro­posal in com­ing weeks. Trump’s idea ap­pears to in­volve us­ing fed­eral tax dol­lars to lever­age state gov­ern­ment and pri­vate spend­ing, not to mount a New Deal-era ex­plo­sion of fed­eral projects.


Hav­ing crit­i­cized the De­part­ment of Vet­er­ans Af­fairs as the “most cor­rupt,” Trump de­liv­ered on one cam­paign prom­ise by sign­ing leg­is­la­tion to make it eas­ier for VA em­ploy­ees to be fired for mis­con­duct.

At least for now, its im­pact in bring­ing ac­count­abil­ity to the de­part­ment re­mains un­clear. The pace of VA fir­ings dur­ing Obama’s last bud­get year was higher than dur­ing Trump’s first, which cov­ered the first nine months of his ad­min­is­tra­tion.

Other Trump ini­tia­tives an­nounced with fan­fare in 2017 re­main far from com­plete or have been lim­ited be­cause of ques­tions about ris­ing gov­ern­ment costs: a multi­bil­lion-dol­lar over­haul of elec­tronic med­i­cal records, ex­panded ac­cess to doc­tors to re­duce wait times and a goal of hir­ing 1,000 ad­di­tional men­tal health coun­selors in the first year.


De­spite his prom­ises, Trump hasn’t pushed for a con­sti­tu­tional amend­ment to im­pose term lim­its on Congress mem­bers or worked to end birthright cit­i­zen­ship, and he hasn’t made good on his pledge to drop “dirty, rot­ten traitor” Bowe Bergdahl out of an air­plane over Afghanistan without a para­chute.

Trump, who spends nearly ev­ery week­end golf­ing at one of his prop­er­ties, most cer­tainly hasn’t ful­filled his prom­ise never to take a va­ca­tion while pres­i­dent.

In­deed, Trump has vis­ited prop­er­ties he owns nearly one of ev­ery three days he’s been in of­fice, rais­ing a tan­gle of eth­i­cal ques­tions about whether he’s profit­ing from his pres­i­dency.


Trump didn’t wait for his first 100 days to ex­pire be­fore boast­ing that his pres­i­den­tial achieve­ments thus far sur­passed any­thing in his­tory, and he hasn’t let up since. He’s bragged of hav­ing signed more than 80 pieces of leg­is­la­tion into law, but there’s lit­tle of con­se­quence in that pile.

He’s signed laws nam­ing fed­eral build­ings af­ter peo­ple, ap­point­ing a Smith­so­nian re­gent and other house­keep­ing steps that all pres­i­dents do but tend not to make a fuss about.

In con­trast, Obama signed an enor­mous stim­u­lus pack­age into law in his first month while also achiev­ing a law ex­pand­ing health care for chil­dren and other pol­icy steps.

Then there’s Franklin Roo­sevelt, cred­ited by his­to­ri­ans with achiev­ing “the most con­cen­trated pe­riod of U.S. re­form in U.S. his­tory,” start­ing im­me­di­ately with emer­gency leg­is­la­tion to sta­bi­lize the De­pres­sion-dev­as­tated bank­ing sys­tem.

Evan Vucci / As­so­ci­ated Press

The Twit­ter ver­sion of Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump may be jazzed with brag­gado­cio, but the ledger of his ac­tions is rec­og­niz­able: main­stream Repub­li­can tax cuts, pro-busi­ness pol­icy, curbs on en­vi­ron­men­tal reg­u­la­tion and an ap­proach to health care that’s been in the GOP play­book for years.

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