Four years in, Trump has plenty of unfinished business
Published Saturday, October 24, 2020 8:41AM EDT
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally in Grand Rapids, Mich., Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2016. (AP / Paul Sancya)
WASHINGTON -- President Donald Trump swept into office nearly four years ago as an outsider who promised to get things done quickly on behalf of the American people through sheer force of will and unrivaled knowledge about the art of the deal.
He has checked off some items on his to-do list.
Trump pushed through the most significant overhaul of the U.S. tax system since President Ronald Reagan. Trump, as he said he would, tilted the Supreme Court further to the right with confirmation of two conservative justices and likely a third, Amy Coney Barrett, in the coming days. His promise to get tough on illegal immigration has resulted in a surge in migrant apprehensions at the U.S.-Mexico border.
But Trump has also faced the same hard truth that each of his White House predecessors learned: Governing is rarely easy.
A look at some of the president's unfinished business as he asks voters for a second term in the White House:
Trump has managed to undermine President Barack Obama's health care law, but has fallen far short of his promise to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.
His administration has managed to dismantle parts of the law. Enrollment periods have been shortened, some subsidies were ended and the individual mandate -- the fine for people without health insurance -- has been eliminated.
Trump says he's still focused on replacing the with something "much better and much less expensive." He said in an interview with CBS' "60 Minutes" that "it will be so good" if the Supreme Court puts an end to "Obamacare" when the justices hear challenges to it next month.
The number of uninsured Americans has risen under Trump's watch. According to Census Bureau data released last month, nearly 30 million people in the U.S. lacked coverage at some point during 2019, about 1 million more than in the previous year.
Trump has made only modest progress toward meeting his 2016 pledge to bring home all troops from what he calls America's "endless wars."
When Trump took over the White House, the number of U.S. forces in Afghanistan stood at about 8,400, and there were about 6,800 troops in Iraq.
Within a year, the number of troops in Afghanistan climbed to about 15,000. Trump approved commanders' requests for additional troops to reverse setbacks in the training of Afghan forces, fight an increasingly dangerous Islamic State group and put enough pressure on the Taliban to force it to the peace table.
In February, the U.S. and the Taliban signed an agreement that calls for the eventual complete withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan.
With an eye toward the election, Trump has accelerated his push to bring troops home, teasing that all U.S. troops could be out of Afghanistan by the end of the year.
Pentagon officials said the number of troops in Afghanistan will drop to 4,500 in November. But defence officials insist there are no plans to have all troops home from Afghanistan by the end of the year. U.S. officials also say there currently is no approved plan to reduce the number to 2,500 by early next year. The officials were not authorized to publicly discuss internal deliberations and spoke on condition of anonymity.
In Iraq, the number of U.S. troops has dipped from about 5,000 to roughly 3,000, although officials say the number fluctuates higher as units rotate in and out.
During his 2016 primary run, Trump sought to mark his ground as a hard-line immigration enforcer who would build "a great, great wall on our southern border."
"And I will make Mexico pay for that wall," Trump said as he launched his run for the White House in June 2015. "Mark my words."
Nearly four years later, Trump still has work to do completing his wall and much that has been completed has been paid by U.S. taxpayers despite promises otherwise.
The president's administration has promised to build 450 miles by the end of this year and has so far built 371. Trump has replaced hundreds of miles of old, worn-out barriers, meant only to stop cars, with tall, 30-foot fencing that is much harder to get over and impedes wildlife from crossing the border. Conservationists in Arizona, where a bulk of the building has taken place, say the new wall is detrimental to wildlife and the surrounding ecosystems.
Mexico has steadfastly refused to pay for the border wall, though Trump earlier this year suggested that the wall is being paid, in part, by remittances from Mexican immigrants working in the U.S.
To date, the money is coming from the U.S. Treasury, meaning today's taxpayers and the future ones who will inherit the federal debt. To the extent any people who came into the U.S. illegally are kicking in for the wall, it's because they're working and paying taxes like other workers.
Trump also freed up $3.6 billion for the wall last year by diverting money from military construction projects as well as $2.5 billion from approved counterdrug spending.
Early in his presidency, Trump expressed confidence that his administration could broker a long-term peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. "We will get it done," Trump declared in May 2017. He put his son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner in charge.
Trump moved the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, a step that was cheered by Israelis and the president's evangelical Christian supporters in the U.S. but angered Palestinian leaders. He scored a big win in recent weeks with the U.S. nudging Bahrain, Sudan and the United Arab Emirates -- three Arab states -- to normalize relations with Israel.
The normalization of relations between Israel and the three Arab nations is certainly an important achievement. But the agreements between nations that have never been in direct conflict don't meaningfully move the ball in achieving the large and long elusive goal of achieving peace between Palestinians and Israelis.
The White House's multiple attempts to designate an "infrastructure week" -- each effort quickly eclipsed by other issues -- have become something of a running punchline in the administration.
In his 2016 victory speech, Trump said he would rebuild the nation's highways, bridges, tunnels, airports, schools and hospitals, making American infrastructure "second to none" and putting millions to work in the process.
Nearly four years later, Trump's soaring rhetoric has failed to produce legislation.
In April 2019, Trump reached an agreement with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., to pursue a $2 trillion infrastructure plan. This March, he resurrected the idea for a "VERY BIG & BOLD" plan for infrastructure spending to help jolt the staggering economy after the coronavirus pandemic hit.
While Pelosi and Schumer again threw their support behind big infrastructure spending, Senate Republicans have bristled at deficit spending, and Trump's sales pitch has gone nowhere with his own party.
On the debate stage four year ago, Trump said his federal income taxes were "under a routine audit" but promised they would be released as soon as the IRS finished.
Four years later, Trump says the IRS still hasn't completed its work, and the president has yet to fulfil his promise to release his tax returns. No law prevents Trump from making his tax filings public while under audit.
Questions about Trump's tax returns -- and his broader financial situation -- have only grown following revelations that he is personally liable for more than $400 million in debt. That sort of debt load, ethics experts say, raises concerns he could be manipulated to sway U.S. policy by those to whom he's indebted.
The New York Times reported last month that Trump's debt includes more than $300 million in loans that will come due in the next four years.
Trump dismisses his debt load as a "peanut" compared with his assets.
The president is the only post-Watergate president not to release his tax returns.