How much can Trump do by executive order?

Politics, Business, Immigration, Money, News, Rights, Taxes

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From his desire to build a “big, beautiful wall” along the United States’ southern border to his vow to “lock up” Hillary Clinton, President Donald Trump made a lot of promises on the way to the White House. Now that he has officially been sworn in and is already issuing executive orders, the world is pondering what to expect—and how many of Trump’s policy proposals will now become reality.

Shortly before the election, the president-elect released an outline of his first 100 days in office noting that one of his first actions as president would be to “cancel every unconstitutional executive action, memorandum, and order issued by President Obama.” While he hasn’t quite made good on that claim, his first week in office has already seen action on several of the elements included in that outline, like restarting the intensely controversial Keystone XL pipeline project.

The U.S Constitution’s system of checks and balances demands Congressional support for many of the policies Trump proposes. Pledges for sweeping tax cuts, and repealing and replacing Obamacare (an actual law, not an executive order) will require backing from the legislature or the judiciary if he is to implement them.

But experts say that Trump could implement many of his plans simply by issuing executive orders and rescinding many of his predecessor’s. As attorney Hal Shapiro of Akin Gump  recently told CNN, given President Barack Obama’s use of executive orders, a new president with a different agenda could have “enormous consequences.”

“I think the President has taken extraordinary measures, particularly in the second term, that were done through executive action and not regulation,” Shapiro said last September, “and theoretically almost every single one of those could be reversed through executive action.”

“Each one is different, each one has a different complexity and legal requirements that have to be attended to,” he continued. “But as President, it’s in their power to do. And if they want to do it, it’s hard to stop them. It’s all on the table.”

Here are several of the positions and executive orders Trump has outlined, and the obstacles to their execution:


Trump has already signed an executive order authorizing a number of immigration initiatives, including hiring 5,000 more Border Patrol agents and stripping federal grant money from “sanctuary” cities.

As a candidate, he also promised to create a “deportation task force” to oversee the rounding up and deportation of all of the nation’s 11.3 million undocumented immigrants within a two-year period. Funding for such an initiative would require congressional approval, and some Republicans have opposed the idea, which is unpopular with Latino voters and fiscal conservatives alike.

According to the American Action Forum, a Washington free-market think tank, full enforcement of Trump’s plan would “require an unprecedented expansion in U.S. immigration enforcement personnel and infrastructure.” It added that removing all undocumented immigrants from the United States would lower the country’s real gross domestic product by $1.6 trillion — and that doing so in two years could result in a “sudden and deep recession.”

Experts at the Center for American Progress, meanwhile, estimate the real costs of deporting an entire population — based upon an average cost of $10,700 per person — to be more than $50.3 billion.

Trump’s plan to force Mexico to pay for a wall along its border with United States is equally dubious. Yes, Trump has already signed an order authorizing the wall between the U.S. and Mexico. But the funding for the project is still fuzzy at best.

Though Trump projects the wall’s costs at $8 billion, CNN recently placed estimates closer to $25 billion, and Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto told CNN there is “no way” his country will pay for a wall.

Trump has also signed an order which temporarily bans Muslims from entering the country, and he continues to propose suspending refugee programs, which he can definitely do via executive order as well. But he may soon face legal resistance, as those orders may be deemed unconstitutional government interference in religion. 

The environment

Executive orders would allow President Trump to reopen oil exploration in protected areas of Alaska and the Arctic Ocean, as well as to re-open work on the Keystone XL oil pipeline, which he has now done.

Withdrawing from the Paris Agreement—the international pact that limits the greenhouse-gas emissions linked to global climate change—is his presidential prerogative. Though some, including conservative icons like Bill O’Reilly, believe that would be a mistake, and would cede global control of the renewable energy industry to China.

Trump, whose business-friendly energy and environmental policies are widely endorsed by Republican lawmakers, has also vowed to slash federal environmental regulations.

Tax cuts and trade

Trump’s supply-side economics proposal would cut business taxes from the current 35 percent to 15 percent—a plan intended to stimulate jobs and economic growth by encouraging companies to invest. Traditionally, Republicans favor such tax cuts. But a number of independent and bipartisan groups have opposed Trump’s plan, as have a handful of fiscal conservatives.

According to the Tax Foundation, a Washington-based nonpartisan think tank, Trump’s proposed tax cuts—while “a large tax cut, mostly on individual and corporate income”—would “reduce federal revenue” by up to $5.9 trillion dollars over the next decade while also significantly lowering taxes for the wealthiest Americans.

Meanwhile, Trump promised to withdraw from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and “renegotiate” or withdraw from NAFTA; indeed, he has already signed an order ending American involvement in the TPP.

Iran nuclear deal

Since its 2015 signing, Trump has derided the multination nuclear agreement with Iran as “amateur hour” and a call to “force the Iranians back to the bargaining table.” As president, he will have the authority to do so, renegotiating the terms by which the country curbs its nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief.

But according to Mark Dubowitz, executive director of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies and a critic of the deal, if Trump announced he would not honor the agreement, “all U.S. sanctions that have been lifted or suspended are going to be re-imposed, by executive order.”

More likely, Trump won’t end the agreement, but signal he’s going to aggressively enforce it, and “not tolerate any Iranian cheating or challenging of the deal,” Dubowitz said.