President Donald Trump marks six full months in office on Thursday, still pressing lawmakers in the House and Senate to act on a bill to overhaul the Obama health law, as the Republican Congress continues to struggle on a variety of fronts to produce a major legislative victory for Mr. Trump, with no action yet on tax cuts, a balanced budget or government reforms.
But the President’s backers argue that while his agenda is not moving at top speed in the Congress, he has had successes in some areas.
Let’s take a look at where Mr. Trump stands:
1. Biggest Trump success remains Justice Gorsuch. Ask just about anyone on Capitol Hill about the President’s record so far, and they will probably talk about getting Neil Gorsuch on the U.S. Supreme Court. For conservatives, this is a very big deal, and the few rulings that Gorsuch was involved in at the end of the 2016-2017 term seemed to indicate that he will be a justice in the mold of his predecessor, Antonin Scalia. The best part about this achievement is that Gorsuch is only 49 years old – he will turn 50 next month – meaning he could be on the U.S. Supreme Court, and leave his imprint on the law, for several decades.
2. Crackdown on illegal immigration yields big changes. In terms of policy so far, the President’s tough line on enforcing existing immigration laws, and deporting illegal immigrants has already been a success for the President. As of the end of June, the feds had arrested almost 66,000 people for being in the U.S. illegally – 48,000 of those people had been convicted of a crime. “73 percent — of everyone we have arrested were criminals, something that’s been lost in the messaging on immigration enforcement,” said Tom Homan, the head of Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The numbers from along the border are also a big change, and something that most Republicans see as a big plus for the President.
3. Rolling back Executive Branch regulations. In terms of administrative change, just by being in charge, President Trump has forced change in various federal agencies, rolling back or slowing or changing a host of rules that had been planned during the Obama Administration. Congress also got in on the action, by approving 14 different resolutions that overturned specific regulations approved late in the Obama Administration, which is really the most significant action by lawmakers so far in terms of legislation. Getting rid of regulations is a big winner with Trump supporters, many of whom believe the Obama Administration was strangling business with all sorts of red tape and government requirements.
4. Trump shakes things up at the White House. The televised White House briefing has become an endangered species over recent months, as the President’s communications team has seemingly decided to keep the daily briefing off TV. (I’m not complaining about that – they’re in charge, and they set the rules.) Originally, the Trump Team was going to shake things up in the briefing by bringing in more conservative voices to the briefing room, and by using “Skype seats” to bring in questions from outside of Washington, in hopes of generating friendlier queries about the Trump agenda. But those efforts didn’t make much of an impact at all. Refusing to call on CNN or the New York Times didn’t have much of an impact, either. And not televising the briefing is a dual-edged sword – yes, you don’t have reporters possibly playing ‘gotcha’ with their questions – but you don’t give your own administration an elevated voice on TV, either.
5. Trump Agenda still on slow-motion in Congress. One thing that President Trump has not been able to do is translate his election win into action by lawmakers in the Congress on major agenda items. Yes, the GOP passed a series of special resolutions to repeal certain regulations of the Obama Administration. But health care remains in limbo at this point, and there has been no action as yet on tax reform, the Trump $1 trillion infrastructure plan, lawmakers are ignoring much of the President’s budget, and no votes have been taken yet on money for the wall along the border with Mexico. Again, we are only six months in to the Trump Administration, so there is still a lot of time to get things done. But there is also the chance that Mr. Trump may have a skimpy record of legislative achievements as the calendar turns in the rest of 2017. This is one area where the Trump team – and GOP leaders in Congress – need to buckle down, and figure out how to turn things in the right direction.
6. Russia probe not going away anytime soon. With his latest interview for the New York Times showing again how the Russia probe deeply aggravates him, President Trump will not be able to escape the matter in coming months. Next week, his son-in-law Jared Kushner is set to appear before two Senate committees, his son Donald Jr. will be at one hearing, along with Kushner and former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort. Also hanging over everything is the probe being led by former FBI Director Robert Mueller, who is assembling a top notch team of prosecutors and investigators. The President’s own frustration has boiled over repeatedly on this matter, especially on Twitter, and in many ways, that has only expanded the investigation because of things Mr. Trump has said. Whether you think it’s right or not, Russia will continue to be a big deal.
7. Trump’s impulsive nature drives his Presidency. Just as his interview last night with the New York Times made headlines that advisers probably had not planned for, Mr. Trump’s ways often seem to overshadow the political debates on major issues – like in recent days on health care, as the President has been all over the road on the issue. One day he was for repeal and replace, then he was advocating straight repeal, then saying he would do nothing and let the current system collapse, and then again endorsing efforts at repeal and replace. The back and forth has often left GOP lawmakers a bit exasperated, worried that the President isn’t using the bully pulpit as effectively as possible. Mr. Trump had a very strong statement on Wednesday on health care – but those have been rare in recent months.