Presidency of Donald Trump
The presidency of Donald Trump began at noon EST (17:00 UTC) on January 20, 2017, when he was inaugurated as the 45th president of the United States, succeeding Barack Obama. A Republican, Trump was a businessman and reality television personality from New York City at the time of his 2016 presidential election victory over Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. While Trump lost the popular vote, he won the Electoral College vote, 304 to 227, in a presidential contest that American intelligence agencies concluded was targeted by a Russian interference campaign. Trump made many false or misleading statements during his campaign and presidency. The statements were documented by fact-checkers, with political scientists and historians widely describing the phenomenon as unprecedented in modern American politics. Trump's approval rating was stable, hovering at high-30 to mid-40 percent throughout his presidency. Trump ultimately lost the 2020 presidential election to Joe Biden, making him the first US president since George H. W. Bush to serve only one term.
|Presidency of Donald Trump|
|January 20, 2017 – present|
|Seal of the President|
Trump rolled back numerous environmental protections, as well as reducing enforcement of existing regulations. He ended the Clean Power Plan, withdrew from the Paris Agreement on climate change mitigation, and urged for subsidies to increase fossil fuel production, calling man-made climate change a hoax. Trump was unsuccessful in his efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA), but rescinded the individual health insurance mandate and took numerous actions that hindered the act's functioning. Trump sought substantial spending cuts to major welfare programs including Medicare and Medicaid, despite having vowed to protect these two. He enacted a partial repeal of the Dodd-Frank Act (that had previously imposed stricter constraints on banks in the aftermath of the 2007–2008 financial crisis), hindered the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau in policing fraud and protecting consumers, and withdrew from the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Trump signed the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, which lowered corporate and estate taxes permanently, and lowered most individual income tax rates temporarily while increasing them for some. He enacted tariffs on steel and aluminum imports and other goods, triggering retaliatory tariffs from Canada, Mexico, and the European Union, and a trade war with China. These tariffs adversely affected the U.S. economy, though it kept improving for most of Trump's term, following trends from the previous administration. The federal deficit soared under Trump due to spending increases and tax cuts.
Trump's "America First" foreign policy was characterized by unilateral actions, disregarding the advice and support of many traditional allies. Despite pledges to reduce the U.S. military personnel deployed overseas, the number was essentially unchanged three years into Trump's presidency. The administration agreed to sell $110 billion of arms to Saudi Arabia, recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and issued a controversial executive order denying citizens from several Muslim-majority countries entry into the U.S. His administration withdrew U.S. troops from northern Syria, allowing Turkey to attack U.S.-allied Kurds. Trump met three times with North Korea's leader Kim Jong-un, beginning in 2018. That year, Trump withdrew the U.S. from the Iran Deal (while Iran was in compliance with its terms), and later escalated tensions with the country by assassinating General Qasem Soleimani. Trump's demand for the federal funding of a U.S.–Mexico border wall resulted in a month-long government shutdown in 2018–2019 and was followed by his declaration of a national emergency. The administration temporarily implemented a controversial family separation policy for migrants apprehended at the U.S.–Mexico border. In 2020, Trump signed into law the United States–Mexico–Canada Agreement (USMCA) to replace NAFTA and brokered the Abraham Accords and the Kosovo–Serbia agreement.
After Trump's May 2017 dismissal of Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Director James Comey, former FBI director Robert Mueller was appointed as special counsel to investigate Russian interference in the 2016 election. Six Trump campaign advisers and staff were indicted and five pleaded guilty to criminal charges. Trump frequently denied collusion or obstruction of justice and criticized the investigation, calling it a politically motivated "witch hunt". In March 2019, Mueller concluded that Russia interfered to favor Trump's candidacy and hinder Clinton's, and that while the prevailing evidence "did not establish that members of the Trump campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government", possible obstructions of justice occurred.
The House of Representatives launched an impeachment inquiry following a September 2019 report that Trump had abused the power of his office by pressuring the president of Ukraine to help his 2020 re-election campaign by investigating his Democratic opponent, former U.S. vice president Joe Biden. Among other inducements, Trump had ordered the withholding of congressionally mandated military aid for Ukraine. On December 18, 2019, Trump became the third U.S. president in history to be impeached. His Senate trial ended on February 5, 2020, when he was acquitted mostly along party lines on the two articles of impeachment, abuse of power and obstruction of justice.
Trump faced major overlapping crises in the final year of his presidency: the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting recession, as well as nationwide protests following the police killing of George Floyd. The final year of his presidency also included both himself and his wife, Melania, being diagnosed with COVID-19.
2016 presidential election
On November 9, 2016, Republicans Donald Trump of New York and Governor Mike Pence of Indiana won the 2016 election, defeating Democrats former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton of New York and Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia. Trump won 304 electoral votes compared to Clinton's 227, though Clinton won a plurality of the popular vote, receiving nearly 2.9 million more votes than Trump. Trump thus became the fifth person to win the presidency while losing the popular vote. In the concurrent congressional elections, Republicans maintained majorities in both the House and the Senate.
Trump made false claims that massive amounts of voter fraud—up to five million illegal votes—in Clinton's favor occurred during the election. Numerous studies have found no evidence of widespread voter fraud.
Transition period, inauguration and first 100 days
Prior to the election, Chris Christie was leader of Trump's transition team. After the election, Mike Pence replaced Christie as chairman of the transition team, while Christie became a vice-chairman alongside Jeff Sessions, Michael Flynn, Rudy Giuliani, Ben Carson, and Newt Gingrich.
Trump was inaugurated on January 20, 2017. He was sworn in by Chief Justice John Roberts. In his seventeen-minute inaugural address, Trump made a broad condemnation of contemporary America, pledging to end "American carnage" and saying America's "wealth, strength and confidence has dissipated". He repeated the "America First" slogan he had used in the campaign and promised that "[e]very decision on trade, on taxes, on immigration, on foreign affairs, will be made to benefit American workers and American factories." At the age of 70, Trump surpassed Ronald Reagan to become the oldest person to assume the presidency, and was also the first without any prior government or military experience. The largest single-day protest in U.S. history, the Women's March, took place the day after his inauguration and was driven by opposition to Trump and his policies and views.
One of Trump's major first year accomplishments, made as part of a "100‑day pledge", was the confirmation of Neil Gorsuch as an associate justice of the Supreme Court. Structurally, Trump had the advantage of a Republican Party majority in the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate, but was unable to fulfill his major pledges in his first hundred days and had an approval rating of around forty percent, much lower than any prior U.S. presidents early in their terms. Although he tried to make progress on one of his key economic policies—the dismantling of the Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act—his failure to repeal the Affordable Care Act ("Obamacare") in the first 100 days was a major setback. None of the bills passed by Trump are considered to be "major bills"—based on a "longstanding political-science standard for 'major bills'". Trump signed 24 executive orders in his first 100 days, the most of any president since World War II.
The Trump administration has been characterized by record turnover, particularly among White House staff. By the end of his first year in office, 34% of Trump's original staff had resigned, been fired, or been reassigned. As of early March 2018[update], 43% of senior White House positions had turned over. The administration had a higher turnover rate in the first two and a half years than the five previous presidents did over their entire terms. By October 2019, one in 14 of Trump's political appointees were former lobbyists; less than three years into his presidency, Trump had appointed more than four times as many lobbyists than Obama did over the course of his first six years in office.
On September 5, 2018, The New York Times published an article entitled "I Am Part of the Resistance Inside the Trump Administration", written by an anonymous senior official in the Trump administration. The author asserted that "many of the senior officials in his own administration are working diligently from within to frustrate parts of his agenda and his worst inclinations." The author was revealed on October 28, 2020 to be Miles Taylor.
Days after the presidential election, Trump selected RNC Chairman Reince Priebus as his Chief of Staff. Priebus and Senior Counselor Steve Bannon were named as "equal partners" within the White House power structure, although Bannon was not an official member of the Cabinet. Trump chose Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions for the position of Attorney General.
In February 2017, Trump formally announced his cabinet structure, elevating the Director of National Intelligence and Director of the CIA to cabinet level. The Chair of the Council of Economic Advisers, which had been added to the cabinet by Obama in 2009, was removed from the cabinet. Trump's cabinet consisted of 24 members, more than Obama at 23 or George W. Bush at 21.
In July 2017, John F. Kelly, who had served as secretary of Homeland Security, replaced Priebus as Chief of Staff. Bannon was fired in August 2017, leaving Kelly as one of the most powerful individuals in the White House. In September 2017, Tom Price resigned as Secretary of Health and Human Services amid criticism over his use of private charter jets for his personal travel. Don J. Wright replaced Price as acting Secretary of Health and Human Services. Kirstjen Nielsen succeeded Kelly as Secretary in December 2017. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was fired via a tweet in March 2018; Trump appointed Mike Pompeo to replace Tillerson and Gina Haspel to succeed Pompeo as the Director of the CIA. In the wake of a series of scandals, Scott Pruitt resigned as Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in July 2018. Deputy Administrator Andrew Wheeler became EPA administrator.
Since taking office, Trump has made two unsuccessful cabinet nominations. Andrew Puzder was nominated for the position of Secretary of Labor in 2017, while Ronny Jackson, who had previously served as the President's physician, was nominated as Secretary of Veterans Affairs in 2018. Each withdrew their name from consideration after scrutiny.
Firing of Michael Flynn
On February 13, 2017, Trump fired Michael Flynn from the post of National Security Adviser on grounds that he had lied to Vice President Pence about his communications with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak; Flynn later pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russia. Flynn was fired amidst the ongoing controversy concerning Russian interference in the 2016 election and accusations that Trump's electoral team colluded with Russian agents. In May 2017, Sally Yates testified before the Senate Judiciary's Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism that she had told White House Counsel Don McGahn in late January 2017 Flynn had misled Vice President Mike Pence and other administration officials and warned McGahn that Flynn was potentially compromised by Russia. Flynn remained in his post for another two weeks and was fired after The Washington Post broke the story. Yates was fired by Donald Trump on January 30 because "she defiantly refused to defend his executive order closing the nation's borders to refugees and people from predominantly Muslim countries."
Despite Flynn having pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI and Pence stating that Flynn lied to him, the Trump administration began in 2020 to promote a narrative that Flynn had been unfairly targeted. Senior administration officials (including Pence) said Flynn would be welcome back into the administration.
Firing of James Comey
Trump dismissed FBI director James Comey on May 9, 2017, saying he had accepted the recommendations of Attorney General Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to dismiss Comey. Sessions' recommendation was based on Rosenstein's, while Rosenstein wrote that Comey should be dismissed for his handling of the conclusion of the FBI investigation into the Hillary Clinton email controversy. On May 10, Trump met Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. Based on White House notes of the meeting, Trump told the Russians: "I just fired the head of the FBI. He was crazy, a real nut job ... I faced great pressure because of Russia. That's taken off." On May 11, Trump said in a videoed interview: "... regardless of recommendation, I was going to fire Comey ... in fact, when I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said, you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story." On May 18, Rosenstein told members of the U.S. Senate that he recommended Comey's dismissal while knowing Trump had already decided to fire Comey. In the aftermath of Comey's firing, the events were compared with those of the "Saturday Night Massacre" during Richard Nixon's administration, and there was debate over whether Trump had provoked a constitutional crisis as he had dismissed the man leading an investigation into Trump's associates. Trump's statements raised concerns of potential obstruction of justice. In Comey's memo about a February 2017 meeting with Trump, Comey says Trump attempted to persuade him to abort the investigation into General Flynn.
Resignation of Jim Mattis
Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis informed Trump of his resignation following Trump's abrupt December 19, 2018, announcement that the remaining 2,000 American troops in Syria would be withdrawn, against the recommendations of his military and civilian advisors. In his resignation letter, Mattis appeared to criticize Trump's worldview, praising NATO, which Trump has often derided, as well as the Defeat-ISIS coalition Trump had just decided to abandon. Mattis' resignation became effective on December 31, 2018, though it had initially meant to take effect on February 28, 2019.
Firing of inspectors general
Trump has fired numerous Inspectors General of agencies, including those who were probing the Trump administration and close Trump associates. In 2020, he fired five inspectors general in two months. The Washington Post wrote, "For the first time since the system was created in the aftermath of the Watergate scandal, inspectors general find themselves under systematic attack from the president, putting independent oversight of federal spending and operations at risk."
Senate Republicans, led by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, have rapidly confirmed Trump's judicial appointees, usually against Democratic opposition. By November 2018, Trump had appointed 29 judges to the U.S. courts of appeals, more than any modern president in the first two years of a presidential term. Throughout Trump's tenure, McConnell has prioritized the confirmation of his judicial appointees, saying his slogan was "leave no vacancy behind".
Trump's judicial nominees tended to be young and favored by the conservative Federalist Society, and less likely to be female or ethnic minority than of the previous administration. Of Trump's judicial appointments to the U.S. courts of appeals (circuit courts), two-thirds have been white men, compared to 31% of Obama nominees and 63% of George W. Bush nominees.
Trump's appointees, especially to the courts of appeal, have shifted the federal judiciary to the right. Many of Trump's courts of appeals appointees are affiliated with the conservative Federalist Society lawyers' organization. A third of Trump's appointees were under 45 years old when appointed, far higher than the proportion of under-45 circuit court nominees for Obama (5%), G. W. Bush (19%), Clinton (9%), G. H. W. Bush (21%), and Reagan (20%). Among the 51 courts of appeal appointees, almost a quarter had worked in a Republican state attorney general's office; triple the percentage of George W. Bush nominees to the courts of appeal.
Supreme Court nominations
- Trump nominated Neil Gorsuch in January 2017 to fill the vacancy left by the death of Antonin Scalia in February 2016, a vacancy which had not been filled under Obama because Senate Republicans, who became the majority in 2015, refused to consider the nomination of Merrick Garland in the last year of Obama's presidency. The minority Democrats responded by attempting to filibuster the Gorsuch nomination, resulting in Senate Republicans invoking the "nuclear option" (a historic change to Senate rules removing the three-fifths (60 votes) threshold for advancing Supreme Court nominations, allowing nominations to proceed based on a simple majority vote) and, thereafter, confirming Gorsuch in April 2017 in a mostly party-line vote of 54–45.
- Trump nominated Brett Kavanaugh in July 2018 to replace retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy, widely considered to be the key swing vote on the Supreme Court. The Senate confirmed Kavanaugh in a mostly party-line vote of 50–48 in August 2018, after a bitter confirmation battle centered on an allegation raised by Professor Christine Blasey Ford that Kavanaugh had attempted to rape her when they were both in high school; Kavanaugh denied the allegation.
- Trump nominated Amy Coney Barrett in September 2020 to fill the vacancy left by the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Ginsburg was considered part of the Court's liberal wing, meaning her replacement with a conservative jurist would substantially change the ideological composition of the Supreme Court. Barrett's nomination was supported by most Senate Republicans, who have sought to confirm Barrett before Election Day. Senate Democrats opposed the nomination, arguing that the court vacancy should not be filled until after the 2020 presidential election; early voting was already underway in a number of states at the time of the nomination proceedings. Democrats charged Republicans with hypocrisy over their rush to confirm Barrett in a presidential election year, given Senate Republicans' refusal to consider Judge Garland's nomination in 2016. Nevertheless, the Senate on 26 October 2020 confirmed Barrett to the Court by a virtually party-line vote of 52-48; just one Republican senator, Susan Collins, voted against her, while no Democratic senator voted to confirm. Barrett took the judicial oath the next day.
Trump's own staffers, subordinates, and allies frequently characterized Trump as infantile. Trump reportedly eschews reading detailed briefing documents, including the President's Daily Brief, in favor of receiving oral briefings. Intelligence briefers reportedly repeat the President's name and title in order to keep his attention. He is also known to acquire information by watching up to eight hours of television each day, most notably Fox News programs such as Fox & Friends and Hannity, whose broadcast talking points Trump sometimes repeats in public statements, particularly in early morning tweets. Trump reportedly expresses anger if intelligence analyses contradict his beliefs or public statements, with two briefers stating they have been instructed by superiors to not provide Trump with information that contradicts his public statements.
Trump has reportedly fostered chaos as a management technique, resulting in low morale and policy confusion among his staff, although he has maintained his White House runs like a "well-oiled machine". Trump proved unable to effectively compromise during the 115th United States Congress, which led to significant governmental gridlock and few notable legislative accomplishments despite Republican control of both houses of Congress. Presidential historian Doris Kearns Goodwin found Trump lacks several traits of an effective leader, including "humility, acknowledging errors, shouldering blame and learning from mistakes, empathy, resilience, collaboration, connecting with people and controlling unproductive emotions".
In January 2018, Axios reported Trump's working hours were typically around 11:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. (a later start and an earlier end compared to the beginning of his presidency) and that he was holding fewer meetings during his working hours, in order to accommodate Trump's desire for more unstructured free time (labelled as "executive time"). Later that year, Politico reported Trump's schedule for October 22–26, in which he never started work earlier than 11:00 a.m., had large amounts of "executive time", and only a total of two hours of policy briefings in five days. In 2019, Axios published Trump's schedule from November 7, 2018, to February 1, 2019, and calculated that around sixty percent of the time between 8:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. was "executive time".
False and misleading statements
As president, the number and scale of Trump's false statements in public speeches, remarks, and in tweets has been identified by scholars, fact-checkers, and commentators as unprecedented for an American president or even unprecedented in U.S. politics. This trait of his was similarly observed when he was a presidential candidate. His falsehoods have become a distinctive part of his political identity, and they have also described as part of a gaslighting tactic. His White House has dismissed the idea of objective truth, and his campaign and presidency have been described as being "post-truth" and hyper-Orwellian. Trump's rhetorical signature includes disregarding data from federal institutions which are incompatible to his arguments, quoting hearsay, anecdotal evidence and questionable claims in partisan media, denying reality (including his own statements), and distracting when falsehoods are exposed.
During the first year of Trump's presidency, The Washington Post's fact-checking team wrote that Trump was "the most fact-challenged politician" it had "ever encountered ... the pace and volume of the president's misstatements means that we cannot possibly keep up." As president, Trump made more than 5,000 false or misleading claims by September 2018, and by April 2020, Trump had made 18,000 false or misleading claims while in office, an average of more than 15 claims daily. The rate of Trump's false and misleading statements increased in the weeks preceding the 2018 midterm elections, and increased in the first half of 2020. As president, Trump has made about twenty percent of his false and misleading claims via Twitter, with the rest coming in other forms, including statements in news conferences and Oval Office addresses. The most common false and misleading claims by Trump involve the economy and jobs, his border wall proposal, and his tax legislation; he has also made false statements regarding prior administrations as well as other topics, including crime, terrorism, immigration, Russia and the Mueller probe, the Ukraine probe, immigration, and the coronavirus pandemic.
Senior administration officials have also regularly given false, misleading or tortured statements to the news media. By May 2017, Politico reported that the repeated untruths by senior officials made it difficult for the news media to take official statements seriously.
Trump's presidency started out with a series of falsehoods initiated by Trump himself. The day after his inauguration, he falsely accused the news media of lying about the size of the inauguration crowd. Then he proceeded to exaggerate the size, and Press Secretary Sean Spicer backed up his claims. When Spicer was accused of intentionally misstating the figures, senior adviser Kellyanne Conway, in an interview with NBC's Chuck Todd, defended Spicer by saying he had merely presented "alternative facts". Other notable false claims made by Trump include the claim that he won a "landslide" victory in electoral college and the claim that Hillary Clinton received three to five million illegal votes. An article published in the Journal of Public Health identified Trump's various misleading statements regarding health care as "potentially damaging to public health".
Rule of law
Shortly before Trump secured the 2016 Republican nomination, The New York Times reported "legal experts across the political spectrum say" Trump's rhetoric reflected "a constitutional worldview that shows contempt for the First Amendment, the separation of powers and the rule of law", adding "many conservative and libertarian legal scholars warn that electing Mr. Trump is a recipe for a constitutional crisis." Political scientists warned that candidate Trump's rhetoric and actions mimicked those of other politicians who ultimately turned authoritarian once in office. Some scholars have concluded that during Trump's tenure as president and largely due to his actions and rhetoric, the U.S. has experienced democratic backsliding. Many prominent Republicans have expressed similar concerns that Trump's perceived disregard for the rule of law betrays conservative principles.
During the first two years of his presidency, Trump repeatedly sought to influence the Justice Department to investigate those he saw as his political adversaries—including Hillary Clinton, the Democratic National Committee, James Comey and the FBI—regarding a variety of persistent allegations, at least some of which had already been investigated or debunked. In spring 2018, Trump told White House counsel Don McGahn he wanted to order the DOJ to prosecute Clinton and Comey, but McGahn advised Trump such action would constitute abuse of power and invite possible impeachment. In May 2018 Trump demanded that the DOJ investigate "whether or not the FBI/DOJ infiltrated or surveilled the Trump Campaign for Political Purposes", which the DOJ referred to its inspector general. Although it is not unlawful for a president to exert influence on the DOJ to open an investigation, presidents have assiduously avoided doing so to prevent perceptions of political interference.
Some of Trump's congressional allies asked Attorney General Jeff Sessions to appoint a special counsel to investigate the FBI and an alleged Uranium One controversy involving Clinton; Sessions instead appointed in May 2018 federal prosecutor John Huber to examine the matters and make a recommendation as to whether a special counsel was justified. Sessions otherwise resisted demands by Trump and his allies for investigations, causing Trump to repeatedly express frustration, saying at one point, "I don't have an attorney general." Matthew Whitaker, a Trump loyalist whom the President appointed to succeed Sessions as Acting Attorney General in November 2018, had in 2017 reportedly provided private advice to Trump on how the White House might pressure the DOJ to investigate the President's adversaries.
In an extraordinary rebuke of a sitting president, in November 2018 Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts responded to Trump's characterization of a judge who had ruled against his policies as an "Obama judge", adding "That's not law." Roberts wrote, "We do not have Obama judges or Trump judges, Bush judges or Clinton judges. What we have is an extraordinary group of dedicated judges doing their level best to do equal right to those appearing before them. That independent judiciary is something we should all be thankful for."
While criticizing the special counsel investigation in July 2019, Trump falsely claimed that Article Two of the United States Constitution ensures that "I have to the right to do whatever I want as president." Also in July 2019, Trump said regarding the First Amendment that "free speech is not when you see something good and then you purposefully write bad ... To me that's very dangerous speech and you become angry at it."
In a December 2019 opinion piece, former FBI director, CIA director and federal judge William Webster wrote of "a dire threat to the rule of law in the country I love". Webster asserted that "the integrity of the institutions that protect our civil order are, tragically, under assault," writing that "aspersions cast upon [FBI employees] by the president and my longtime friend, Attorney General William P. Barr, are troubling in the extreme." Since 2005, Webster had served as the chair of the Homeland Security Advisory Council.
Trump has frequently criticized the independence of the judiciary branch for unfairly interfering in his administration's ability to decide policy. In February 2020, Trump said Supreme Court justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor should "recuse themselves for anything having to do with Trump". The duo have liberal views. Ginsburg had criticized Trump during his 2016 election campaign, while Sotomayor in February 2020 criticized the federal government for abusing emergency applications to get approvals for their policies, as well as criticizing her Supreme Court colleagues for "recent behavior" that constantly sided with the government on these applications.
In October 2020, twenty Republican former U.S. attorneys, who were appointed by every GOP president dating to Eisenhower, characterized Trump as "a threat to the rule of law in our country". Greg Brower, who worked in the Trump administration, asserted, "It's clear that President Trump views the Justice Department and the FBI as his own personal law firm and investigative agency."
Relationship with the news media
Early into his presidency, Trump developed a highly contentious relationship with the news media, repeatedly referring to them as the "fake news media" and "the enemy of the people". As a candidate, Trump had refused press credentials for offending publications but said he would not do so if elected. Trump both privately and publicly mused about taking away critical reporters' White House press credentials. At the same time, the Trump White House gave temporary press passes to far-right pro-Trump fringe outlets, such as InfoWars and The Gateway Pundit, which are known for publishing hoaxes and conspiracy theories.
On his first day in office, Trump falsely accused journalists of understating the size of the crowd at his inauguration, and called the news media "among the most dishonest human beings on earth". Trump's claims were notably defended by Press Secretary Sean Spicer, who claimed the inauguration crowd had been the biggest in history, a claim disproven by photographs. Trump's senior adviser Kellyanne Conway then defended Spicer when asked about the falsehood, saying it was an "alternative fact", not a falsehood.
On February 16, 2017, less than a month into his presidency, Trump held a press conference during which he claimed the news media were not speaking for the people, but for "special interests". He said they were dishonest, out of control and doing a disservice to the American people. The following day, Trump tweeted, "The FAKE NEWS media (failing @nytimes, @NBCNews, @ABC, @CBS, @CNN) is not my enemy, it is the enemy of the American People!" Trump did not hold another formal press conference for several years. Rather than press conferences, Trump preferred to engage with the press in informal "gaggles" on the White House lawn as he prepared to board his helicopter.
Later in the month, the administration blocked reporters from The New York Times, BuzzFeed News, CNN, Los Angeles Times and Politico from attending an off-camera briefing with Press Secretary Sean Spicer. Reporters from Time magazine and The Associated Press chose not to attend the briefing in protest at the White House's actions. The New York Times described the move as "a highly unusual breach of relations between the White House and its press corps", and the White House Correspondents' Association issued a statement of protest.
The relationship between Trump, the news media, and fake news has been studied. One study found that between October 7 and November 14, 2016, while one in four Americans visited a fake news website, "Trump supporters visited the most fake news websites, which were overwhelmingly pro-Trump" and "almost 6 in 10 visits to fake news websites came from the 10% of people with the most conservative online information diets." Brendan Nyhan, one of the authors of the study by researchers from Princeton University, Dartmouth College, and the University of Exeter, said in an interview: "People got vastly more misinformation from Donald Trump than they did from fake news websites."
In August 2018, The Boston Globe called for a nationwide refutation of Trump's "dirty war" against the news media, with the hashtag #EnemyOfNone. More than 300 news outlets joined the campaign. The New York Times called Trump's attacks "dangerous to the lifeblood of democracy" and published excerpts from dozens of further publications. The New York Post wrote, "It may be frustrating to argue that just because we print inconvenient truths doesn't mean that we're fake news, but being a journalist isn't a popularity contest. All we can do is to keep reporting." The Philadelphia Inquirer wrote, "If the press is not free from reprisal, punishment or suspicion for unpopular views or information, neither is the country. Neither are its people"
On August 16, 2018, the Senate unanimously passed a resolution affirming that "the press is not the enemy of the people."
In October 2018, Trump praised U.S. Representative Greg Gianforte for assaulting political reporter Ben Jacobs in 2017. According to analysts, the incident marked the first time the President has "openly and directly praised a violent act against a journalist on American soil". Later that month, as CNN and prominent Democrats were targeted with mail bombs, Trump initially condemned the bomb attempts but shortly thereafter blamed the "Mainstream Media that I refer to as Fake News" for causing "a very big part of the anger we see today in our society".
In November 2018, following a contentious press conference, the White House revoked the press pass of Jim Acosta of CNN, who had frequently clashed with Trump. White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders and other Trump administration officials falsely claimed that Acosta had touched a White House intern who tried to take away his microphone during the conference; Sanders faced criticism for promoting a doctored clip of Acosta from Paul Joseph Watson of Infowars, which had been misleadingly altered to make it appear that Acosta had aggressively thrust his hand at an intern. CNN and Acosta sued the Trump administration, seeking restoration of Acosta's press pass on Due Process and First Amendment grounds. On November 16, 2019, Judge Timothy J. Kelly of the District Court for the District of Columbia, a Trump appointee, ruled that the administration had violated Acosta's due process rights, and ordered the restoration of his press pass.
In August 2019, Trump criticized Fox News for "heavily promoting the Democrats", stating: "We have to start looking for a new News Outlet. Fox isn't working for us anymore!" In April 2020, Trump continued to criticize the right-leaning news network, claiming they were being "being fed Democrat talking points". He continued to call for an "alternative" to Fox News.
In April 2020, Voice of America reporter Steve Herman said he was banned from travelling from Air Force Two after he revealed that Vice President Pence's staff had instructed all journalists travelling with Pence to the Mayo Clinic to wear masks. The instruction was indeed made in an off the record memo, confirmed The Washington Post. Pence himself had not worn a surgical mask during the visit. Pence's wife Karen claimed that Pence was unaware he needed to wear a mask. Pence's staff said they had not yet decided whether to punish Herman.
Trump continued his use of Twitter following the presidential campaign. He has continued to personally tweet from @realDonaldTrump, his personal account, while his staff tweet on his behalf using the official @POTUS account. His use of Twitter has been unconventional for a president, with his tweets initiating controversy and becoming news in their own right. Some scholars have referred to his time in office as the "first true Twitter presidency". The Trump administration has described Trump's tweets as "official statements by the President of the United States". A federal judge ruled in 2018 that Trump's blocking of other Twitter users due to opposing political views violated the First Amendment and he must unblock them. The ruling was upheld on appeal.
His tweets have been reported as ill-considered, impulsive, vengeful, and bullying, often being made late at night or in the early hours of the morning. His tweets about a Muslim ban were successfully turned against his administration to halt two versions of travel restrictions from some Muslim-majority countries. He has used Twitter to threaten and intimidate his political opponents and potential political allies needed to pass bills.
Trump has used Twitter to attack federal judges who have ruled against him in court cases and to criticize officials within his own administration, including then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, then-National Security Advisor H. R. McMaster, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, and at various times Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Tillerson was eventually fired via a tweet by Trump. Trump has also tweeted that his Justice Department is part of the American "deep state"; that "there was tremendous leaking, lying and corruption at the highest levels of the FBI, Justice & State" Departments; and that the special counsel investigation is a "WITCH HUNT!" In August 2018, Trump used Twitter to write that Attorney General Jeff Sessions "should stop" the special counsel investigation immediately; he also referred to it as "rigged" and its investigators as biased. According to a late 2019 Politico article,
[Trump] prefers to issue major announcements himself over social media, whether policy moves or staff firings. He killed the daily White House briefing, preferring the messy practice of fielding reporters' shouted questions from the Oval Office or before his presidential helicopter. As Year Three of his presidency closes out, Trump has built his style of communicating around the pillars of political grievances, conspiracy theories and targeting perceived enemies. Most of all, he prefers to dictate and dominate the news cycle.
Several groups and individuals, including former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich have criticized Trump for spending too much time on Twitter, stating that it prevents him from governing effectively. According to a 2019 poll by Morning Consult, 72% of Americans think Trump spends too much time on Twitter.
In response to the protests and riots surrounding the killing of George Floyd on May 25, 2020, Trump tweeted a quote that included, "when the looting starts, the shooting starts", referencing the people looting various stores around Minneapolis and elsewhere. Not long after, Twitter had restricted, but not deleted, the tweet for that it violated the company's policy on violence, marking the first time Twitter had taken action against Trump. Trump then signed an executive order days later, on May 28, which sought to limit the protections social media companies have, gaining support from his GOP allies.
On November 6, 2019, Senior District of Columbia Judge and secretary of the American Law Institute Paul L. Friedman said Trump's rhetoric "violates all recognized democratic norms" and that "we are witnessing a chief executive who criticizes virtually every judicial decision that doesn't go his way and denigrates judges who rule against him, sometimes in very personal terms. He seems to view the courts and the justice system as obstacles to be attacked and undermined, not as a coequal branch to be respected even when he disagrees with its decisions."
In February 2020, Trump tweeted criticism of the prosecutors' proposed sentence for Trump's former aide Roger Stone. A few hours later, the Justice Department replaced the prosecutors' proposed sentence with a lighter proposal. This gave the appearance of presidential interference in a criminal case and caused a strongly negative reaction. All four of the original prosecutors withdrew from the case; more than a thousand former DOJ prosecutors signed a letter condemning the action; and the Federal Judges Association, which represents more than 1,100 federal judges, called an emergency meeting. On July 10, Trump commuted the sentence of Stone days before he was due to report to prison.
Due to Trump's trade tariffs combined with depressed commodities prices, American farmers faced the worst crisis in decades. Trump provided farmers $12 billion in direct payments in July 2018 to mitigate the negative impacts of his tariffs, increasing the payments by $14.5 billion in May 2019 after trade talks with China ended without agreement. Most of the administration's aid went to the largest farms. Politico reported in May 2019 that some economists in the Agriculture Department were being punished for presenting analyses showing farmers were being harmed by Trump's trade and tax policies, with six economists having more than 50 years of combined experience at the Service resigning on the same day. Trump's fiscal 2020 budget proposed a 15% funding cut for the Agriculture Department, calling farm subsidies "overly generous".
The administration reversed a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) rule that had made it easier for aggrieved consumers to pursue class actions against banks; the Associated Press characterized the reversal as a victory for Wall Street banks. Under Mick Mulvaney's tenure, the CFPB reduced enforcement of rules that protected consumers from predatory payday lenders. Trump scrapped a proposed rule from the Obama administration that airlines disclose baggage fees. Trump reduced enforcement of regulations against airlines; fines levied by the administration in 2017 were less than half of what the Obama administration did the year before.
In August 2017, Trump used an executive order to reverse a ban implemented by the Obama administration, thus allowing certain kinds of military equipment to be given to American police. That ban was one of the police reform policies implemented in the wake of 2014's Ferguson unrest.
In September 2017, the Justice Department under the Trump administration stated that it would no longer investigate police departments and publicize their shortcomings in reports, a policy previously enacted under the Obama administration. These reports were the basis of negotiating "consent decrees", agreements for police reform between police departments and the Justice Department, which courts could enforce. These consent decrees were used by the Obama administration and the Trump administration. However, the Trump administration's first Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, publicly opposed consent decrees, and in November 2018, just before Sessions was fired by Trump, Sessions ordered for consent decrees to be severely restricted. Later in June 2020, Trump falsely claimed that the Obama administration never tried to reform the police.
In November 2017, the New York Times summarized the Trump administration's "general approach to law enforcement" as "cracking down on violent crime", "not regulating the police departments that fight it", and overhauling "programs that the Obama administration used to ease tensions between communities and the police". The administration reversed a 16-year old moratorium on federal capital punishment in 2019, with Attorney General Barr directing the Federal Bureau of Prisons to schedule five executions.
The administration reinstated the use of asset forfeiture—the practice of seizing the property of crime suspects who have not been charged with or convicted of a crime—making it so local authorities in the states that banned asset forfeiture could engage in the practice. When a sheriff complained about a state senator who proposed legislation to end asset forfeiture, Trump responded, "Who is the state senator? Do you want to give his name? ... We'll destroy his career."
In December 2018, Trump signed the First Step Act, a bipartisan criminal justice reform bill which sought to rehabilitate prisoners and reduce recidivism, notably by expanding job training and early-release programs, and lowering mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug offenders. Trump's proposed 2020 budget underfunded the new law; the law was intended to receive $75 million annually for five years, but Trump's budget proposed only $14 million. According to reporting by Axios in 2020, Trump expressed regrets in private about having followed senior advisor Jared Kushner's lead in going through with the First Step Act.
Beginning during his campaign and continuing into his presidency, Trump called for a sweeping investigation into alleged wrongdoing by Hillary Clinton. In November 2017, Attorney General Sessions appointed a federal attorney to review a wide array of issues, including the Clinton Foundation, the Uranium One controversy and the FBI's handling of its investigation into Clinton's emails. In January 2020 the investigation was reported to be winding down after no evidence was found to warrant the opening of a criminal investigation. Special Counsel Robert Mueller's April 2019 report documented that Trump pressured Sessions and the DOJ to re-open the investigation into the Hillary Clinton email controversy.
Trump's 2019 budget plan proposed nearly fifty percent cuts to the COPS Hiring Program which provides funding to state and local law enforcement agencies to help hire community policing officers.
The number of prosecutions of child-sex traffickers has showed a decreasing trend under the Trump administration relative to the Obama administration. Under the Trump administration, the SEC charged the fewest number of insider trading cases since the Reagan administration.
Presidential pardons and commutations
- Joe Arpaio, a sheriff convicted of contempt of court for failing to comply with court orders to stop racially profiling Hispanics
- Kristian Saucier, a sailor convicted for taking pictures aboard a nuclear submarine
- Lewis "Scooter" Libby, chief of staff to former Vice President Dick Cheney, who was convicted of obstruction of justice and perjury in the investigation of the leak of the covert identity of CIA officer Valerie Plame Wilson
- Jack Johnson, an African American heavyweight boxer, was posthumously pardoned for a 1913 conviction for taking his white girlfriend across state lines
- Dinesh D'Souza, conservative pundit who was convicted of illegal campaign contributions in a 2012 Senate race
- Dwight and Stephen Hammond, two Oregon ranchers who were convicted of intentionally setting fires on public land, and whose prison sentences prompted armed protesters to violently seize the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge for 41 days in 2016
- Conrad Black, British author and former owner of Hollinger International, convicted of fraud in 2007; author of the 2018 book Donald J. Trump: A President Like No Other.
- Pat Nolan, a Republican politician who pleaded guilty to public corruption
- Four convicted (Michael Behenna, Eddie Gallagher, Clint Lorance) or charged (Mathew L. Golsteyn) members of the Armed Forces.
Trump also issued commutations to the following individuals:
- Alice Marie Johnson, who was sentenced to life imprisonment in 1996 for participation in a cocaine distribution ring. Trump granted clemency to Johnson after Kim Kardashian met Trump to lobby for her cause.
The New York Times remarked that Trump took no action on more than ten thousand pending applications and that he used his pardon power solely on "public figures whose cases resonated with him given his own grievances with investigators".
In a May 2017 departure from the Obama DOJ's policy to reduce long jail sentencing for minor drug offenses and contrary to a growing bipartisan consensus, the administration ordered federal prosecutors to seek maximum sentencing for drug offenses. In a January 2018 move that created uncertainty regarding the legality of recreational and medical marijuana, Sessions rescinded federal policy that had barred federal law enforcement officials from aggressively enforcing federal cannabis law in states where the drug is legal. The administration's decision contradicted then-candidate Trump's statement that marijuana legalization should be "up to the states". That same month, the VA said it would not research cannabis as a potential treatment against PTSD and chronic pain; veterans organizations had pushed for such a study.
As a candidate and as president, Trump called for a major build-up of American military capabilities, including increasing the nuclear arsenal tenfold. He said he was open to allowing Japan and South Korea to acquire nuclear weapons. He announced in October 2018 that America would withdraw from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty with Russia to enable America to counter increasing Chinese intermediate nuclear missile capabilities in the Pacific. In December 2018, Trump complained about the amount America spends on an "uncontrollable arms race" with Russia and China. Trump said the $716 billion America is now spending on the "arms race" was "Crazy!", after praising his increased defense spending five months earlier. The total fiscal 2019 defense budget authorization was $716 billion, although missile defense and nuclear programs comprised about $10 billion of the total.
During 2018, Trump falsely asserted he had secured the largest defense budget authorization ever, the first military pay raise in ten years, and that military spending was at least 4.0% of GDP, "which got a lot bigger since I became your president".
A controversy arose in November 2019 after Trump pardoned or promoted three soldiers accused or convicted of war crimes. The most prominent case involved Eddie Gallagher, a Navy SEAL team chief who had been reported to Navy authorities by his own team members for sniping at an unarmed civilian girl and elderly man. Gallagher faced court martial for the murder of a wounded teenage combatant, among other charges, and the medic of his SEAL team was granted immunity to testify against him, but on the witness stand the medic reversed what he had previously told investigators and testified that he himself had murdered the terrorist suspect. Gallagher was subsequently acquitted of the murder charge against him, and the Navy demoted him to the lowest possible rank due to his conviction on another charge. The Navy later moved to strip Gallagher of his Trident pin and eject him from the Navy. Trump intervened to restore Gallagher's rank and pin. Many military officers were enraged by Trump's intervention, as they felt it disrupted principles of military discipline and justice. Secretary of the Navy Richard Spencer protested Trump's intervention and was forced to resign; in his resignation letter, he sharply rebuked Trump for his judgment in the matter. Trump told a rally audience days later, "I stuck up for three great warriors against the deep state."
The Trump administration has sharply increased the frequency of drone strikes compared to the preceding Obama administration, in countries such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Syria and Yemen. In March 2019, Trump ended the Obama policy of reporting the number of civilian deaths caused by U.S. drone strikes, claiming that this policy was unnecessary.
In 2019, the U.S. Department of Justice announced its plans to resume executions for federal crimes. On July 14, 2020, Daniel Lewis Lee became the first convict executed by the federal government since 2003. Since then, six other death row inmates have been executed, two in July 2020, two in August 2020, and another two in September 2020.
There are currently 57 other prisoners on federal death row.
Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria
Three hurricanes hit the U.S. in August and September 2017: Harvey in southeastern Texas, Irma on the Florida Gulf coast, and Maria in Puerto Rico. Trump signed into law $15 billion in relief for Harvey and Irma, and later $18.67 billion for all three. The administration came under criticism for its delayed response to the humanitarian crisis on Puerto Rico. Politicians of both parties had called for immediate aid for Puerto Rico, and criticized Trump for focusing on a feud with the NFL instead. Trump did not comment on Puerto Rico for several days while the crisis was unfolding. According to The Washington Post, the White House did not feel a sense of urgency until "images of the utter destruction and desperation—and criticism of the administration's response—began to appear on television." Trump dismissed the criticism, saying distribution of necessary supplies was "doing well". The Washington Post noted, "on the ground in Puerto Rico, nothing could be further from the truth." Trump also criticized Puerto Rico officials. A BMJ analysis found the federal government responded much more quickly and on a larger scale to the hurricane in Texas and Florida than in Puerto Rico, despite the fact that the hurricane in Puerto Rico was more severe.
At the time of FEMA's departure from Puerto Rico, one third of Puerto Rico residents still lacked electricity and some places lacked running water. A New England Journal of Medicine study estimated the number of hurricane-related deaths during the period September 20 to December 31, 2017, to be around 4,600 (range 793–8,498) The official death rate due to Maria reported by the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico is 2,975; the figure was based on an independent investigation by George Washington University commissioned by the governor of Puerto Rico. Trump falsely claimed the official death rate was wrong, and said the Democrats were trying to make him "look as bad as possible".
In November 2018, while California experienced one of its most destructive wildfires, Trump blamed the fires on "gross" and "poor" "mismanagement" of forests by California, saying there was no other reason for these wildfires. The New York Times described Trump's claims as misleading, noting that the fires in question were not "forest fires", that most of the forest was owned by federal agencies, and that climate change in part contributed to the fires.
In 2020, California's worst wildfires in history prompted the president to visit the state. In a briefing to state officials, he affirmed that federal assistance was necessary, and asserted that the lack of forestry, not climate change, is the underlying cause of the fires.
|ending||Dec 31 (calendar year)||Sep 30 (fiscal year)|
Trump's economic policies have centered on cutting taxes, deregulation, and trade protectionism.
One of Trump's first actions was to indefinitely suspend a cut in fee rates for federally-insured mortgages implemented by the Obama administration which saved individuals with lower credit scores around $500 per year on a typical loan.
In September 2017, the DOJ announced it would not defend in courts a mandate that would have extended overtime benefits to more than four million workers.
The administration proposed changes to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), known as food stamps, which if implemented would lead millions to lose access to food stamps and limit the size of food stamps for remaining recipients.
In September 2017, the administration proposed a tax overhaul, which became the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017. The proposal involved reducing the corporate tax rate, eliminating the estate tax, and changing the number of tax brackets from seven to three on individual returns. Other measures in the proposal included applying a 25% tax rate to business income reported on a personal tax return; eliminating the alternative minimum tax and personal exemptions; doubling the standard deduction; and eliminating many itemized deductions (specifically retaining the deductions for mortgage interest and charitable contributions).
According to The New York Times, the plan would result in a "huge windfall" for the very wealthy but would not benefit those in the bottom third of the income distribution. The nonpartisan Tax Policy Center estimated that the richest 0.1% and 1% would benefit the most in raw dollar amounts and percentage terms from the tax plan, earning 10.2% and 8.5% more income after taxes respectively. Middle-class households would on average earn 1.2% more after tax, but 13.5% of middle class households would see their tax burden increase. The poorest fifth of Americans would earn 0.5% more. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin argued that the corporate income tax cut will benefit workers the most; however, the nonpartisan Joint Committee on Taxation, Congressional Budget Office and many economists estimated that owners of capital would benefit vastly more than workers. A preliminary estimate by the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget found that the tax plan would add more than $2 trillion over the next decade to the federal debt, while the Tax Policy Center found that it would add $2.4 trillion to the debt. A 2019 Congressional Research Service analysis found that the tax cuts had "a relatively small (if any) first-year" growth effect on the economy. A 2019 analysis by the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget concluded that Trump's policies will add $4.1 trillion to the national debt from 2017 to 2029. Around $1.8 trillion of debt is projected to eventually arise from the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.
During his tenure, Trump has sought to intervene in the economy to affect specific companies and industries. Trump sought to compel power grid operators to buy coal and nuclear energy, and sought tariffs on metals to protect domestic metal producers. Trump also publicly attacked Boeing and Lockheed Martin, sending their stocks tumbling. Trump repeatedly singled out Amazon for criticism and advocated steps that would harm the company, such as ending an arrangement between Amazon and the USPS and raising taxes on Amazon. Trump expressed opposition to the merger between Time Warner (the parent company of CNN) and AT&T.
In March 2018, Trump imposed tariffs on solar panels and washing machines of thirty to fifty percent. In March 2018 he imposed tariffs on steel (25%) and aluminum (10%) from most countries, which, according to Morgan Stanley, covered an estimated 4.1 percent of U.S. imports. On June 1, 2018, this was extended to the European Union, Canada, and Mexico. In separate moves, the Trump administration has set and escalated tariffs on goods imported from China, leading to a trade war. The tariffs angered trading partners, who implemented retaliatory tariffs on U.S. goods. Studies found that Trump's tariffs reduced real income in the United States, as well as adversely affected U.S. GDP. A CNBC analysis found that Trump "enacted tariffs equivalent to one of the largest tax increases in decades", while Tax Foundation and Tax Policy Center analyses found the tariffs could wipe out the benefits of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 for many households. The two countries reached a "phase one" truce agreement in January 2020. The bulk of the tariffs remained in place until talks were to resume after the 2020 election. Trump provided $28 billion in cash aid to farmers affected by the trade war.
The New York Times reported on August 5, 2018, that two major American steel companies with close ties to senior Trump administration officials had succeeded in blocking requests from 1,600 American manufacturing companies for waivers of the steel tariffs, compelling them to purchase more expensive American steel. Upon taking office, Trump halted trade negotiations with the European Union on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), which had been under way since 2013.
A July 2018 paper, which used the synthetic control method, found no evidence Trump had an impact on the U.S. economy during his 18 months in office. Analysis conducted by Bloomberg News at the end of Trump's second year in office found that his economy ranked sixth among the last seven presidents, based on fourteen metrics of economic activity and financial performance. Trump repeatedly and falsely characterized the economy during his presidency as the best in American history. In April 2019, one week after asserting, "the economy is roaring" and "our country has never done better economically," Trump called for the Federal Reserve to cut interest rates and renew quantitative easing to stimulate economic growth. Trump has been repeatedly critical of the Fed's use of low interest rates and quantitative easing to boost the economy in the aftermath of the Great Recession during the Obama presidency.
Shortly after being elected, Trump cited a handful of anecdotes to assert that foreign investment had begun pouring into America because of his election. However, aggregate statistical data showed that foreign direct investment—the total flow of investment capital into the United States from the rest of the world—declined sharply during Trump's first two years in office, down forty percent compared to the two years immediately preceding his presidency. Trump has sought to present his economic policies as successful in encouraging businesses to invest in new facilities and create jobs. In this effort, he has on several occasions taken credit for business investments that began before he became president.
The Trump campaign economic policy, as expressed by Peter Navarro and Wilbur Ross in a September 2016 white paper, included a priority of "eliminating America's chronic trade deficit", particularly with China. However, the overall trade deficit increased in both of Trump's first two years in office, up 10% in 2017 and 13% in 2018, compared to single-digit increases during each of the preceding three years. The deficit in goods, Trump's preferred trade balance measure, increased 8% in 2017 and 10% in 2018, reaching a record high of $891 billion in 2018. The goods deficit with China reached a record high for the second consecutive year in 2018, up 12% from 2017.
Three weeks after Republican Senator Chuck Grassley, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, wrote an April 2019 Wall Street Journal op-ed entitled "Trump's Tariffs End or His Trade Deal Dies", stating "Congress won't approve USMCA while constituents pay the price for Mexican and Canadian retaliation," Trump lifted steel and aluminum tariffs on Mexico and Canada. Two weeks later, Trump unexpectedly announced he would impose a 5% tariff on all imports from Mexico on June 10, increasing to 10% on July 1, and by another 5% each month for three months, "until such time as illegal migrants coming through Mexico, and into our Country, STOP". Grassley commented the move as a "misuse of presidential tariff authority and counter to congressional intent". That same day, the Trump administration formally initiated the process to seek congressional approval of USMCA. Trump's top trade advisor, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, opposed the new Mexican tariffs on concerns it would jeopardize passage of USMCA. Treasury secretary Steven Mnuchin and Trump senior advisor Jared Kushner also opposed the action. Grassley, whose committee is instrumental in passing USMCA, was not informed in advance of Trump's surprise announcement. An array of lawmakers and business groups expressed consternation about the proposed tariffs. With 2018 imports of Mexican goods totaling $346.5 billion, a five percent tariff constitutes a tax increase of more than $17 billion. On June 7, Trump announced the tariffs would be "indefinitely suspended" after Mexico agreed to take actions, including deploying its National Guard throughout the country and along its southern border. The New York Times reported the following day that Mexico had actually agreed to most of the actions months earlier.
According to the nonpartisan Institute for Policy Integrity, through the middle of the Trump administration's fourth year about 10% of its deregulatory efforts had been upheld by courts, compared to an average of 70% during previous Republican and Democratic administrations.
Trump falsely asserted during a September 2020 Michigan rally that "after the last administration nearly killed the U.S. auto industry, I saved the U.S. auto industry." Michigan autoworker jobs declined in 2019 for the first time since the Great Recession. Trump also asserted that he met with Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe and "the next day they announced five car companies are coming to Michigan." No such announcement was made. Trump had imposed tariffs on imported steel and aluminum that cost Ford Motors and General Motors $1 billion each, and other tariffs Trump had threatened had placed the industry in a "wait and see mode".
Analysis published by The Wall Street Journal in October 2020 found the trade war did not achieve the primary objective of reviving American manufacturing, nor did it result in the reshoring of factory production.
Trump appointed Betsy DeVos as his Secretary of Education. Her nomination was confirmed on a 50–50 Senate vote with Vice President Pence called upon to break the tie (the first time a vice president had cast a tie-breaking vote on a Cabinet nomination). Democrats opposed DeVos as underqualified, while Republicans supported DeVos because of her strong support of school choice. DeVos became one of the more polarizing Trump Cabinet members.
In 2017, Trump revoked an Obama administration memo which provided protections for people in default on student loans. The Education Department cancelled agreements with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) to police student loan fraud. Seth Frotman, the CFPB student loan ombudsman, resigned, accusing the Trump administration of undermining the CFPB's work on protecting student borrowers.
In 2017 DeVos said the Obama administration's guidance for how campuses address sexual assault "failed too many students" and she announced that she intended to replace the current approach "with a workable, effective and fair system". Consequently, the administration scrapped an Obama administration guidance on how schools and universities should combat sexual harassment and sexual violence. DeVos criticized the guidance for undermining the rights of those accused of sexual harassment.
DeVos marginalized an investigative unit within the Department of Education which under Obama investigated predatory activities by for-profit colleges. The unit had been scaled down from a dozen employees to three, and had been repurposed to process student loan forgiveness applications and focus on smaller compliance cases. An investigation started under Obama into the practices of DeVry Education Group, which operates for-profit colleges, was halted in early 2017, and the former dean at DeVry was made into the supervisor for the investigative unit later that summer. DeVry paid a $100 million fine in 2016 for defrauding students. The administration rescinded a regulation restricting federal funding to for-profit colleges unable to demonstrate that college graduates had a reasonable debt-to-earnings ratio after entering the job market.
On the eve of the 2018 mid-term elections, Politico described the Trump administration's efforts to combat election propaganda as "rudderless". At the same time, U.S. intelligence agencies warned about "on-going campaigns" by Russia, China, and Iran to influence American elections.
The administration's "America First Energy Plan" did not mention renewable energy and instead focused on fossil fuels. The administration enacted 30% tariffs on imported solar panels. The American solar energy industry is highly reliant on foreign parts (80% of parts are made abroad); as a result, the tariffs could raise the costs of solar energy, reduce innovation and reduce jobs in the industry—which in 2017 employed nearly four times as many American workers as the coal industry. The administration reversed standards put in place to make commonly used lightbulbs more energy-efficient.
Trump rescinded a rule requiring oil, gas and mining firms to disclose how much they paid foreign governments, and withdrew from the international Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) which required disclosure of payments by oil, gas and mining companies to governments.
In 2017, Trump ordered the reversal of an Obama-era ban on new oil and gas leasing in the Arctic Ocean and environmentally sensitive areas of the North Atlantic coast, in the Outer Continental Shelf. Trump's order was halted by a federal court, which ruled in 2019 that it unlawfully exceeded his authority. Trump also revoked the 2016 Well Control Rule, a safety regulation adopted after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill; this action is the subject of legal challenges from environmental groups.
In January 2018, the administration singled out Florida for exemption from the administration's offshore drilling plan. The move stirred controversy because it came after Florida Governor Rick Scott, who was considering a 2018 Senate run, complained about the plan. The move raised ethical questions about the appearance of "transactional favoritism" because Trump owns a coastal resort in Florida, and because of the state's status as a crucial "swing state" in the 2020 presidential election. Other states sought similar offshore drilling exemptions, and litigation ensued.
Through October 2020, coal-fueled electricity generating capacity declined faster during Trump's presidency than during any previous presidential term, falling 15% with the idling of 145 coal-burning units at 75 power plants. An estimated 20% of electricity was expected to be generated by coal in 2020, compared to 31% in 2017.
By August 2020, the administration had overturned 68 environmental regulations and was in process of reversing an additional 32, for a total of 100 rollbacks of environmental rules. A 2018 American Journal of Public Health study found that in the first six months of the administration, the EPA adopted a pro-business attitude unlike that of any previous administration, as it "moved away from the public interest and explicitly favored the interests of the regulated industries". The Washington Post summarized Pruitt's leadership of the EPA in 2017 as follows, "he has moved to shrink the agency's reach, alter its focus, and pause or reverse numerous environmental rules. The effect has been to steer the EPA in the direction sought by those being regulated. Along the way, Pruitt has begun to dismantle former president Barack Obama's environmental legacy, halting the agency's efforts to combat climate change and to shift the nation away from its reliance on fossil fuels." Analyses of EPA enforcement data showed that the Trump administration brought fewer cases against polluters, sought a lower total of civil penalties and made fewer requests of companies to retrofit facilities to curb pollution than the Obama and Bush administrations. According to the New York Times, "confidential internal E.P.A. documents show that the enforcement slowdown coincides with major policy changes ordered by Mr. Pruitt's team after pleas from oil and gas industry executives." In 2018, the administration referred the lowest number of pollution cases for criminal prosecution in 30 years. Two years into Trump's presidency, The New York Times wrote he had "unleashed a regulatory rollback, lobbied for and cheered on by industry, with little parallel in the past half-century". In June 2018, David Cutler and Francesca Dominici of Harvard University estimated conservatively that the Trump administration's modifications to environmental rules could result in more than 80,000 additional U.S. deaths and widespread respiratory ailments. In August 2018, the administration's own analysis showed that loosening coal plant rules could cause up to 1,400 premature deaths and 15,000 new cases of respiratory problems. From 2016 to 2018, air pollution increased by 5.5%, reversing a seven-year trend where air pollution had declined by 25%.
The new administration removed all references to climate change on the White House website, with the sole exception of mentioning Trump's intention to eliminate the Obama administration's climate change policies. The EPA removed climate change material on its website, including detailed climate data. In June 2017, Trump announced U.S. withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, a 2015 climate change accord reached by 200 nations to cut greenhouse gas emissions, defying broad global backing for the plan. In December 2017, Trump—who had repeatedly called scientific consensus on climate a "hoax" before becoming president—for the first time as president disputed climate change by falsely implying cold weather meant climate change was not occurring. Through executive order, Trump reversed multiple Obama administration policies meant to tackle climate change, such as a moratorium on federal coal leasing, the Presidential Climate Action Plan, and guidance for federal agencies on taking climate change into account during National Environmental Policy Act action reviews. Trump also ordered reviews and possibly modifications to several directives, such as the Clean Power Plan (CPP), the estimate for the "social cost of carbon" emissions, carbon dioxide emission standards for new coal plants, methane emissions standards from oil and natural gas extraction, as well as any regulations inhibiting domestic energy production. The administration rolled back regulations requiring the federal government to account for climate change and sea-level rise when building infrastructure. The EPA disbanded a 20-expert panel on pollution which advised the EPA on the appropriate threshold levels to set for air quality standards.
The new administration instituted a temporary media blackout for the EPA, saying this was to make sure the messages going out reflected the new administration's priorities, and implemented a temporary freeze on EPA contract and grant approvals. The EPA hired an opposition research firm associated with the Republican Party for $120,000 in a no-bid contract to investigate EPA employees who had expressed criticism of Pruitt's management of the EPA. In December 2018, the administration joined Russia and the gulf states of Saudi Arabia and Kuwait in stopping the Katowice climate change conference from welcoming an October 2018 IPCC report on the dangers of climate change.
The administration has repeatedly sought to reduce the budget for the EPA. The administration invalidated the Stream Protection Rule (which prevented coal mining debris from being dumped into streams, groundwater and surface waters), regulations which limited dumping of toxic wastewater containing metals, such as arsenic and mercury, into public waterways, regulations on coal ash (carcinogenic leftover waste produced by coal plants), and an Obama-era executive order on protections for oceans, coastlines and lakes which was enacted after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. The administration refused to implement stricter for particulate pollution, despite EPA staff scientists recommending that they be stricter in response to research linking lower levels of particulate pollution to health harms. The administration loosened regulations on toxic pollutants, such as mercury.
The administration rolled back major Clean Water Act protections, narrowing the definition of the "waters of the United States" under federal protection. Studies by the Obama-era EPA suggest that up to two-thirds of California's inland freshwater streams would lose protections under the rule change. The EPA sought to repeal a regulation which required oil and gas companies to restrict emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas. The EPA rolled back automobile fuel efficiency standards introduced in 2012. The EPA granted a loophole allowing a small set of trucking companies to skirt emissions rules and produce trucks that emit 40 to 55 times the air pollutants of other new trucks. The EPA rejected a ban on the toxic pesticide chlorpyrifos; a federal court ordered the EPA to ban the pesticide, because the EPA's own staff had recommended banning it due to extensive research showing adverse health effects on children. The administration scaled back the ban on the use of the solvent methylene chloride, and lifted a rule requiring major farms to report pollution emitted through animal waste.
The administration suspended a number of large research programs, such as a $1 million National Academy of Sciences (NAS) study on the public health effects of mountaintop removal coal-mining, a $580,000 NAS study intended to make offshore drilling safer, a multi-million-dollar program that distributed grants for research the effects of chemical exposure on children, a project on the effects of chemicals on pregnant women, and $10-million-a-year research line for NASA's Carbon Monitoring System. The administration unsuccessfully sought to kill aspects of NASA's climate science program.
The EPA expedited the process for approving new chemicals and made the process of evaluating the safety of those chemicals less stringent; EPA scientists expressed concerns that the agency's ability to stop hazardous chemicals was being compromised. Internal emails showed that Pruitt aides prevented the publication of a health study showing some toxic chemicals endanger humans at far lower levels than the EPA previously characterized as safe. One such chemical was present in high quantities around a number of military bases, including groundwater. The non-disclosure of the study and the delay in public knowledge of the findings may have prevented the government from updating the infrastructure at the bases and individuals who lived near the bases to avoid the tap water.
The administration weakened enforcement the Endangered Species Act, making it easier to start mining, drilling and construction projects in areas with endangered and threatened species. The administration has actively discouraged local governments and businesses from undertaking preservation efforts. The administration sharply reduced the size of two national monuments in Utah by approximately two million acres, making it the largest reduction of public land protections in American history. Shortly afterwards, Interior Secretary Zinke advocated for downsizing four additional national monuments and changing the way six additional monuments were managed. In 2019, the administration sped up the process for environmental reviews for oil and gas drilling in the Arctic; experts said the speeding up made reviews less comprehensive and reliable. According to Politico, the administration sped up the process in the event that a Democratic administration was elected in 2020, which would have halted new oil and gas leases in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The administration sought to open up more than 180,000 acres of the Tongass National Forest in Alaska, the largest in the country, for logging.
Robert E. Murray, the leader of Murray Energy, then the largest coal mining company in the country, and a supporter and a $300,000 donor to Trump, wrote a memo in March 2017 with 16 requests of environmental regulation rollbacks or staff changes. By January 2018, most of Murray's requests were either already in-process or already completed. Murray acknowledged that Trump and his administration were "bold" and "passionate" in "addressing a lot of these issues that were on my list".
In April 2018, Pruitt announced a policy change prohibiting EPA regulators from considering scientific research unless the raw data of the research was made publicly available. This would limit EPA regulators' use of much environmental research, given that participants in many such studies provide personal health information which is kept confidential. The EPA cited two bipartisan reports and various nonpartisan studies about the use of science in government to defend the decision. However, the authors of those reports dismissed that the EPA followed their instructions, with one author saying, "They don't adopt any of our recommendations, and they go in a direction that's completely opposite, completely different. They don't adopt any of the recommendations of any of the sources they cite."
The administration released the Fourth National Climate Assessment (NCA4) in November 2018, a long-awaited study conducted by numerous federal agencies that found "the evidence of human-caused climate change is overwhelming and continues to strengthen, that the impacts of climate change are intensifying across the country, and that climate-related threats to Americans' physical, social, and economic well-being are rising." Steven Milloy, a climate change denier who served on Trump's EPA transition team, called the report a product of the so-called deep state, adding that the Administration chose to release it the day after Thanksgiving "on a day when nobody cares, and hope it gets swept away by the next day's news". In June 2019, the administration tried to prevent a State Department intelligence analyst from testifying to Congress about "possibly catastrophic" effects of human-caused climate change, and prevented his written testimony containing science from NASA and NOAA from being included in the official Congressional Record because it was not consistent with administration positions.
Government size and regulations
The administration imposed far fewer financial penalties against banks and major companies accused of wrong-doing relative to the Obama administration.
In the first six weeks of his tenure, Trump suspended—or in a few cases, revoked—more than 90 regulations. In early 2017, Trump signed an executive order directing federal agencies to slash two existing regulations for every new one (without spending on regulations going up). A September 2017 Bloomberg BNA review found that due to unclear wording in the order and the large proportion of regulations it exempts, the order had had little effect since it was signed. The Trump OMB released an analysis in February 2018 indicating the economic benefits of regulations significantly outweigh the economic costs. The administration ordered one-third of government advisory committees for federal agencies eliminated, except for committees that evaluate consumer product safety or committees that approve research grants.
Trump ordered a four-month government-wide hiring freeze of the civilian work force (excluding staff in the military, national security, public safety and offices of new presidential appointees) at the start of his term. He said he did not intend to fill many of the governmental positions that were still vacant, as he considered them unnecessary; there were nearly 2,000 vacant government positions.
The administration ended the requirement that nonprofits, including political advocacy groups who collect so-called "dark money", disclose the names of large donors to the IRS; the Senate voted to overturn the administration's rule change.
Trump signed into law a repeal of an Obama-era regulation that barred gun ownership from approximately 75,000 individuals who received Social Security checks due to mental illness and who were deemed unfit to handle their financial affairs. The administration ended U.S. involvement in the UN Arms Trade Treaty to curb the international trade of conventional arms with countries having poor human rights records. The U.S. had been abiding by the treaty since 2014, although it had not ratified it.
The administration banned bump stocks in March 2019, after such devices were used by the gunman who perpetrated the 2017 Las Vegas mass shooting, in which 58 people were killed and some 500 were wounded. The nationwide bump-stock ban was implemented through an ATF regulation; the federal courts upheld the ban against subsequent challenges by bump-stock owners and gun-rights groups.
In the wake of several mass shootings during the Trump administration, including August 2019 shootings in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio, Trump called on states to implement red flag laws to remove guns from "those judged to pose a grave risk to public safety". However, Trump endorsed no particular piece of legislation, and Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said would allow gun legislation to be brought to the Senate floor only if it gained Trump's support. Gun rights groups mounted a campaign to discourage Trump from supporting red-flag laws or other gun-control measures, saying that pushing for red flag laws could cost Trump the 2020 presidential election. In November 2019, Trump abandoned the idea of putting forth red-flag law proposals or other legislation to curtail gun violence.
Health care and COVID-19 pandemic
The 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (also known as "Obamacare" or the ACA) elicited major opposition from the Republican Party from its inception, and Trump called for a repeal of the law during the 2016 election campaign. On taking office, Trump promised to pass a healthcare bill that would cover everyone and result in better and less expensive insurance. Throughout his presidency, Trump repeatedly asserted that his administration and Republicans in Congress supported protections for individuals with preexisting conditions; however, fact-checkers noted the administration had supported attempts both in Congress and in the courts to roll back the ACA (and its protections for preexisting conditions).
Congressional Republicans made two serious efforts to repeal the ACA. First, in March 2017, Trump endorsed the American Health Care Act (AHCA), a Republican bill to repeal and replace the ACA. Opposition from several House Republicans, both moderate and conservative, led to the defeat of this version of the bill. At the time, Trump said the "best thing politically is to let Obamacare explode". Second in May 2017, the House narrowly voted in favor of a new version of the AHCA to repeal the ACA, sending the bill to the Senate for deliberation. Over the next weeks the Senate made several attempts to create a repeal bill; however, all the proposals were ultimately rejected in a series of Senate votes in late July. Trump reacted by alternately urging Congress to keep trying and threatening to "let Obamacare implode". The individual mandate was ultimately repealed in December 2017 by the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. The CBO estimated in May 2018 that repealing the individual mandate would increase the number of uninsured by eight million and that individual healthcare insurance premiums had increased by ten percent between 2017 and 2018.
Trump repeatedly expressed a desire to "let Obamacare fail", and the Trump administration has undermined Obamacare through various actions. The open enrollment period was cut from twelve weeks to six, the advertising budget for enrollment was cut by 90%, and organizations helping people shop for coverage got 39% less money. The CBO found that ACA enrollment at health care exchanges would be lower than its previous forecasts due to the Trump administration's undermining of the ACA. A 2019 study found that enrollment into the ACA during the Trump administration's first year was nearly thirty percent lower than during 2016. The CBO found that insurance premiums would rise sharply in 2018 due to the Trump administration's refusal to commit to continuing paying ACA subsidies, which added uncertainty to the insurance market and led insurers to raise premiums for fear they will not get subsidized. The administration sided with a lawsuit to overturn the ACA, including protections for individuals with pre-existing conditions. In August 2020, Trump stated he would sign an executive order requiring health insurers to "cover all pre-existing conditions for all customers", asserting "this has never been done before." While it is true an executive order has never been used to mandate the coverage, Obamacare had provided it for ten years.
The administration ended subsidy payments to health insurance companies, in a move expected to raise premiums in 2018 for middle-class families by an average of about twenty percent nationwide and cost the federal government nearly $200 billion more than it saved over a ten-year period. People with lower incomes would be unaffected because the ACA provides tax credits which ensure their out-of-pocket insurance costs remain stable. The administration made it easier for businesses to use health insurance plans not covered by several of the ACA's protections, including for preexisting conditions, and allowed organizations not to cover birth control. Survey results indicated more than ten percent of companies with more than 200 employees would opt out of birth control coverage if they had the option. In justifying the action, the administration said contraceptive use caused harms, such as risky sex behavior, cited the potential side effects of contraceptives, and asserted that the relationship between contraceptive use and unintended pregnancy was uncertain and complex. Indiana University professor of pediatrics Aaron E. Carroll noted "there is ample evidence that contraception works, that reducing its expense leads to more women who use it appropriately, and that using it doesn't lead to riskier sexual behavior."
The administration proposed substantial spending cuts to Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security Disability Insurance. Trump had previously vowed to protect Medicare and Medicaid. As a candidate and throughout his presidency, Trump said he would cut the costs of pharmaceuticals. During his first seven months in office, there were 96 price hikes for every drug price cut. Abandoning a promise he made as candidate, Trump announced he would not allow Medicare to use its bargaining power to negotiate lower drug prices. The New York Times reported in September 2020 that a major deal with pharmaceutical companies to reduce prices fell apart after White House chief of staff Mark Meadows insisted the companies pay for $100 cash cards to be sent to seniors before the November 2020 election. A vice president for public affairs at the pharmaceutical trade association PhRMA said they could not agree to send such cards so close to the presidential election. Days after the report, Trump announced that 33 million Medicare recipients would soon receive $200 cards to help pay for their prescription drugs.
The administration reduced enforcement of penalties against nursing homes that harm residents.
While campaigning in September 2020, Trump announced an America First Health Care Plan, his "vision" of "more choice", "lower costs" and "the highest standard of care anywhere in the world". He signed an executive order declaring that vision, which had no legislative power. The executive order stated his plan would guarantee coverage for pre-existing conditions, which was a pillar of the Affordable Care Act that Trump sought to repeal. Alex Azar, the secretary of Health and Human Services, acknowledged that the pre-existing conditions provision in the executive order would have no force of law should ACA be eliminated.
Trump reinstated the Mexico City policy prohibiting funding to foreign non-governmental organizations that perform abortions as a method of family planning in other countries. In 2018, the U.S. was the only country to oppose a United Nations nonbinding draft resolution to combat violence against women; the administration said a reference to "sexual and reproductive health" could be interpreted as support for abortion rights, and that the resolution might conflate "physical violence against women with sexual harassment". In 2018, the administration prohibited scientists at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) from acquiring new fetal tissue for research, and a year later stopped all medical research by government scientists that used fetal tissue.
The administration geared HHS funding towards abstinence education programs for teens rather than the comprehensive sexual education programs the Obama administration funded.
In his January 2019 State of the Union Address Trump said he would push for a ban on late-term abortions, falsely asserting that a New York law would allow "a baby to be ripped from the mother's womb moments before birth". On multiple occasions in 2019 he falsely claimed that Democrats favor allowing doctors and mothers to "execute" live-born babies.
The administration implemented a policy restricting taxpayer dollars given to family planning facilities: companies receiving Title X funding must not mention abortion to patients, provide abortion referrals, or share space with abortion providers. As a result, Planned Parenthood, which provides Title X birth control services to 1.5 million women, withdrew from the program.
Trump nominated Tom Marino to become the nation's drug czar but the nomination was withdrawn after an investigation found he had been the chief architect of a bill that crippled the enforcement powers of the DEA and worsened the opioid crisis in the United States.
Kellyanne Conway led White House efforts to combat the opioid epidemic; Conway had no experience or expertise on matters of public health, substance abuse, or law enforcement. Conway sidelined drug experts and opted instead for the use of political staff. Politico wrote in 2018 that the administration's "main response" to the opioid crisis "so far has been to call for a border wall and to promise a 'just say no' campaign".
In October 2017, the administration declared a 90-day public health emergency over the opioid epidemic and pledged to urgently mobilize the federal government in response to the crisis. On January 11, 2018, twelve days before the declaration ran out, Politico noted that "beyond drawing more attention to the crisis, virtually nothing of consequence has been done." The administration had not proposed any new resources or spending, had not started the promised advertising campaign to spread awareness about addiction, and had yet to fill key public health and drug positions in the administration. One of the top officials at the Office of National Drug Control Policy, which is tasked with multi-billion-dollar anti-drug initiatives and curbing the opioid epidemic, was a 24-year old campaign staffer from the Trump 2016 campaign who lied on his CV and whose stepfather went to jail for manufacturing illegal drugs; after the administration was contacted about the official's qualifications and CV, the administration gave him a job with different tasks.
In May 2018, the administration dissolved a global health security team that was part of the National Security Council, and which had been tasked with overseeing pandemic readiness. There were bipartisan calls from lawmakers and experts to restore the White House pandemic team. When Trump was asked during the coronavirus pandemic of 2020 why his administration dissolved the team, Trump said "I don't know anything about it."
In September 2018, the Trump administration received detailed plans on how to mass-produce protective respirator masks under a program that had been launched by the Obama administration to alleviate a mask shortage for a future pandemic; the Trump administration choose not to act on those plans. Two months before the coronavirus outbreak in China, the Trump administration ended a USAID project used to track and research diseases that move from animal to human hosts, and train thousands of people and strengthen medical laboratories in developing countries. The program had enjoyed enthusiastic support under both Bush and Obama. On February 10, 2020, during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States, Trump's 2021 budget proposed cuts to global health programs in the magnitude of $3 billion, including substantial cuts to the CDC budget and U.S. contributions to the World Health Organization (WHO).
On February 24, the Trump administration asked Congress for $2.5 billion in emergency funding to combat the international coronavirus pandemic. On February 26, Trump appointed Vice President Pence to lead the White House Coronavirus Task Force to combat the coronavirus, insisting that the "risk to the American people remains very low". Congress appropriated $8.3 billion in emergency funding, which Trump signed into law on March 6.
Although the U.S. government was initially quick to develop a diagnostic test for the coronavirus, U.S. COVID-19 testing efforts from mid-January to late-February lost pace compared to the rest of the world. South Korea and the United States had the first confirmed case on the same day, yet by mid-March, 290,000 people had been tested in South Korea (a country of approximately 50 million) whereas only 60,000 people had been tested in the U.S. (a country of approximately 330 million). ABC News described the testing as "shockingly slow". When the WHO distributed 1.4 million coronavirus tests in February, the U.S. chose instead to use its own tests. At that time, the CDC had produced 160,000 coronavirus tests, but many were defective. As a result, fewer than 4,000 tests were done in the U.S. by February 27, with U.S. state laboratories conducting only about 200. In this period, academic laboratories and hospitals had developed their own tests, but were not allowed to use them until February 29, when the Food and Drug Administration issued approvals for them and private companies. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, acknowledged on March 12 that it was "a failing" of the U.S. system that demand for coronavirus tests was not being met; Fauci later clarified that he believed the private sector should have been brought in sooner. When asked if he would take responsibility for the lack of tests, Trump declared: "No, I don't take responsibility at all." Trump on March 16 gave his administration's overall coronavirus response a score of 10/10. A comprehensive New York Times investigation concluded that "technical flaws, regulatory hurdles, business-as-usual bureaucracies and lack of leadership at multiple levels" contributed to the testing failures. An Associated Press investigation found the administration made its first bulk orders for vital health care equipment, such as N95 respirator masks and ventilators, in mid-March, thus squandering two months since alarms were raised in early January. On June 20, 2020, Trump stated at a campaign rally that he had instructed his administration to slow down coronavirus testing. A few days later, he denied doing so. Later, he admitted that he did not joke about slowing down the testing.
From January 2020 to mid-March 2020, Trump consistently downplayed the threat posed by the coronavirus to the United States, giving many optimistic public statements, which were mainly aimed at calming stock markets. He initially said he had no worries about the coronavirus becoming a pandemic. Trump repeatedly described the situation was "under control" and suggested the virus would somehow vanish one day. He accused Democrats and media outlets of exaggerating the seriousness of the situation, describing Democrats' criticism of his administration's response as a "hoax". Trump eventually changed his tone on March 16 to a somber one. For the first time, he acknowledged that the coronavirus was "not under control", the situation was "bad" with months of impending disruption to daily lives, and a recession might occur. According to one study, Trump was the single largest driver of coronavirus misinformation during the pandemic.
During his oval office address on March 11, Trump announced an imminent travel ban between Europe and the United States. The announcement caused chaos in European and American airports, as Americans abroad scrambled to get flights back to the United States. The administration later had to clarify that the travel ban applied to foreigners coming from the Schengen Area, and later added Ireland and the UK to the list. The flawed rollout of the travel ban led to hours-long waits and crowded lines at major airports for incoming passengers to the U.S., causing a public health hazard. Previously, in late January 2020, the administration banned travel to the U.S. from China; prior to the decision, major U.S. carriers had already announced that they would no longer fly to and from China. On March 13, Trump designated the coronavirus pandemic as a national emergency, as the number of known cases of the coronavirus in the country exceeded 1,500, while known deaths exceeded 40. In his national emergency declaration, Trump made numerous promises that went unfilled.
On March 26, the U.S. became the country with the highest number of confirmed COVID-19 infections, with over 82,000 cases. On April 11, the U.S. became the country with the highest official death toll for COVID-19, with over 20,000 deaths. The HHS Office of Inspector General released a report in April of its survey of 323 hospitals in late March; reporting severe shortages of test supplies and extended waits for results, widespread shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE), and other strained resources due to extended patient stays while awaiting test results. Trump called the IG's report "just wrong" and suggested it was politically motivated.
Although the CDC recommended people wear face masks in public when social distancing is not possible, Trump has continually refused to wear one. Trump praised and encouraged protesters who violated stay-at-home orders in Democratic states, as well as praised Republican governors who violated the White House's own coronavirus guidelines regarding re-opening their economies.
The Trump administration replaced Christi Grimm as Inspector General of the Department of Health and Human Services after she produced a report documenting severe shortages of medical supplies in U.S. hospitals as COVID-19 cases increased, which contradicted Trump's claims that hospitals had what they needed. Former Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority director Rick Bright filed a whistleblower complaint alleging his transfer to NIH was retaliation for raising concerns about the dangers of scientifically unproven therapies, including sharing information about the known side effects of hydroxychloroquine, which had been promoted by Trump in press briefings. Bright testified before a Senate committee that HHS officials denied and ignored his January warnings about a shortage in the domestic supply of respirator masks. Bright said he was told that if such a shortage happened, the government would simply change CDC guidelines to tell some people they did not need to wear masks, to which Bright said he replied, "I can't believe you can sit there and say that with a straight face." Trump dismissed Bright as a "disgruntled employee".
On May 29, 2020, five months into the pandemic, Trump announced that the US would terminate its relationship with the WHO. In June 2020, amid surges in coronavirus case numbers, Trump administration officials falsely claimed that the steep rise was due to increased testing; public health experts disputed the administration's claims, noting that the positivity rate of tests was increasing.
President Trump would later announce on October 2, via Twitter, that both he and Melania Trump had tested positive for COVID-19 and would begin quarantining at the White House. This came shortly after reporters discovered that an advisor to the president, Hope Hicks, had tested positive for the virus herself during the White House COVID-19 outbreak. Later on during October 2, President Trump was transferred to Walter Reed as a "precautionary measure" for several days, with "mild symptoms".
Housing and urban policy
In December 2017, The Economist described the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), led by Ben Carson, as "directionless". Most of the top HUD positions were unfilled and Carson's leadership was "inconspicuous and inscrutable". Of the policies HUD was enacting, The Economist wrote, "it is hard not to conclude that the governing principle at HUD is to take whatever the Obama administration was doing, and do the opposite." HUD scaled back the enforcement of fair housing laws, halted several fair housing investigations started by the Obama administration and removed the words "inclusive" and "free from discrimination" from its mission statement. The administration designated Lynne Patton, an event planner who had worked on the Trump campaign and planned Eric Trump's wedding, to lead HUD's New York and New Jersey office (which oversees billions of federal dollars).
This section may be too long and excessively detailed. (July 2019)
Trump has repeatedly characterized illegal immigrants as criminals, although multiple studies have found they have lower crime and incarceration rates than native-born Americans. Prior to taking office, Trump promised to deport the estimated eleven million illegal immigrants living in the United States and to build a wall along the Mexico–United States border. Upon taking office, Trump directed the DHS to begin work on a wall. An internal DHS report estimated Trump's wall would cost $21.6 billion and take 3.5 years to build (far higher than the Trump 2016 campaign's estimate ($12 billion) and the $15 billion estimate from Republican congressional leaders).
In a January 2017 phone call between Trump and Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto, Trump conceded that the U.S. would pay for the border wall, not Mexico as he promised during the campaign, and implored Nieto to stop saying publicly the Mexican government would not pay for the border wall. In January 2018, the administration proposed spending $18 billion over the next ten years on the wall, more than half of the $33 billion spending blueprint for border security. Trump's plan would reduce funding for border surveillance, radar technology, patrol boats and customs agents; experts and officials say these are more effective at curbing illegal immigration and preventing terrorism and smuggling than a border wall.
The administration embraced the 2017 RAISE Act, a proposal to reduce legal immigration levels to the U.S. by fifty percent by halving the number of green cards issued, capping refugee admissions at 50,000 a year and ending the visa diversity lottery.
The administration terminated a program that granted temporary legal residence to unaccompanied Central American minors. 2,714 individuals would need to renew their legal residence status through other more difficult immigrant channels. The administration revoked the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) granted to 60,000 Haitians (following the 2010 Haiti earthquake), and 200,000 Salvadorans (following a series of devastating earthquakes in 2001). The Salvadorans are parents to an estimated 190,000 U.S.-born children. A federal judge blocked the administration's attempt to deport the TPS recipients, citing what the judge said was Trump's racial "animus against non-white, non-European immigrants".
An analysis released by Trump's Department of Health and Human Services in September 2017 was found to have removed earlier findings that refugees entering America had a $63 billion net positive effect on tax revenues between 2005 and 2014, with the final report counting only the costs refugees incur. In July 2018, Sessions rescinded a DOJ guidance on refugees and asylum seekers' right to work, thus prohibiting them from working in the United States.
In October 2017, Secretary of Defense Mattis added additional background checks for non-citizens who served in the military and extended the time they had to serve before they could receive necessary paperwork to pursue U.S. citizenship. As a result of these changes, the number of service members who applied for citizenship through their service declined by 65% in the first quarter of fiscal year 2018.
In January 2018, Trump was widely criticized after referring to Haiti, El Salvador, and African nations in general as "shithole countries" at a bipartisan meeting on immigration. Multiple international leaders condemned his remarks as racist.
By February 2018, arrests of undocumented immigrants by ICE increased by forty percent during Trump's tenure. Arrests of noncriminal undocumented immigrants were twice as high as during Obama's final year in office. Arrests of undocumented immigrants with criminal convictions increased only slightly.
In March 2018, the Commerce Department announced it would add a citizenship question to the 2020 census. Experts noted that the including such a question would likely result in severe undercounting of the population and faulty data, with naturalized U.S. citizens, legal immigrants, and undocumented immigrants all being less likely to respond to the census. Blue states, especially California, would therefore be more likely to get fewer congressional seats and lower congressional appropriations than they would otherwise get, because they have larger non-citizen populations. The State of California (represented by its attorney general, Xavier Becerra) as well as the American Civil Liberties Union, immigrants' rights organizations, and several cities, challenged the census citizenship question in court, and in 2019, two federal judges (one in Maryland and one in New York) blocked the administration from placing the citizenship question on the census. Documents released in May 2019 showed that Thomas B. Hofeller, an architect of Republican gerrymandering, had found adding the census question would help to gerrymander maps that "would be advantageous to Republicans and non-Hispanic whites" and that Hofeller had later written the key portion of a letter from the Trump administration's Justice Department justifying the addition of a citizenship question by claiming it was needed to enforce the 1965 Voting Rights Act. In July 2019, after the Supreme Court in Department of Commerce v. New York blocked the administration from including the citizenship question on the census form, Trump abandoned his effort to add a citizenship question to the Census.
In 2018, experts noted that the Trump administration's immigration policies had led to an increase in criminality and lawlessness along the U.S.–Mexico border, as asylum seekers prevented by U.S. authorities from filing for asylum had been preyed upon by human smugglers, organized crime and corrupt local law enforcement.
During the 2018 mid-term election campaign, Trump sent nearly 5,600 troops to the U.S.-Mexico border for the stated purpose of protecting the United States against a caravan of Central American migrants. The Pentagon had previously concluded the caravan posed no threat to the U.S. The border deployment was estimated to cost as much as $220 million by the end of the year. With daily warnings from Trump about the dangers of the caravan during the mid-term election campaign, the frequency and intensity of the caravan rhetoric nearly stopped after election day.
In 2019, the Trump administration announced plans to allow only 18,000 refugees to resettle in the United States in the 2020 fiscal year, its lowest level since the modern program began in 1980.
In 2020, The Trump administration announces that it plans to slash refugee admissions to U.S. for 2021 to a record low, 15,000 refugees down from a cap of 18,000 for 2020. This is the fourth consecutive year of declining refugee admissions under the Trump term.
Family separation policy
In May 2018, the administration announced it would separate children from parents caught unlawfully crossing the southern border into the United States. Parents were routinely charged with a misdemeanor and jailed; their children were placed in separate detention centers with no established procedure to track them or reunite them with their parent after they had served time for their offence, generally only a few hours or days. Later that month, Trump falsely accused Democrats of creating that policy, despite it originating from his own administration, and urged Congress to "get together" and pass an immigration bill. Members of Congress from both parties condemned the practice and pointed out that the White House could end the separations on its own. The Washington Post quoted a White House official as saying Trump's decision to separate migrant families was to gain political leverage to force Democrats and moderate Republicans to accept hardline immigration legislation.
Six weeks into the implementation of the "zero tolerance" policy, at least 2,300 migrant children had been separated from their families. The American Academy of Pediatrics, the American College of Physicians and the American Psychiatric Association condemned the policy, with the American Academy of Pediatrics saying the policy was causing "irreparable harm" to the children. The policy was extremely unpopular, more so than any major piece of legislation in recent memory. Images of children held in cage-like detention centers, interviews of sobbing mothers who had no idea where their children were and had not heard from them for weeks and months, and an audio of sobbing children resulted in an outrage calling the practice "inhumane", "cruel" and "evil". A national protest drew hundreds of thousands of protesters from all 50 states to demonstrate in more than 600 towns and cities. All four living former first ladies of the U.S.—Rosalynn Carter, Hillary Clinton, Laura Bush, and Michelle Obama—condemned the policy of separating children from their parents. Amidst the growing outrage, DHS secretary Kirstjen Nielsen falsely claimed, "We do not have a policy of separating families at the border. Period."
On June 20, 2018, amid worldwide outrage and enormous political pressure to roll back his policy, Trump reversed the family-separation policy by signing an executive order, despite earlier having said "you can't do it through an executive order." Six days later, as the result of a class-action lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union, U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw issued a nationwide preliminary injunction against the family-separation policy, and required the government to reunite separated families within 30 days. On July 26, the administration said 1,442 children had been reunited with their parents while 711 remain in government shelters because their cases are still under review, their parents have criminal records, or they are no longer in the U.S. Administration officials state that 431 parents of those children have already been deported without their children. Officials said they will work with the court to return the remaining children, including the children whose parents have been deported.
In January 2017, Trump signed an executive order which indefinitely suspended admission of asylum seekers fleeing the Syrian Civil War, suspended admission of all other refugees for 120 days, and denied entry to citizens of Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen for 90 days. The order also established a religious test for refugees from Muslim nations by giving priority to refugees of other religions over Muslim refugees. Later, the administration seemed to reverse a portion of part of the order, effectively exempting visitors with a green card. After the order was challenged in the federal courts, several federal judges issued rulings enjoining the government from enforcing the order. Trump fired acting Attorney General Sally Yates after she said she would not defend the order in court; Yates was replaced by Dana Boente, who said the DOJ would defend the order.
A new executive order was signed in March which limited travel to the U.S. from six different countries for 90 days, and by all refugees who do not possess either a visa or valid travel documents for 120 days. The new executive order revoked and replaced the executive order issued in January.
In June, the Supreme Court partially stayed certain injunctions that were put on the order by two federal appeals courts earlier, allowing the executive order to mostly go into effect. In October, the Court dismissed the case, saying the orders had been replaced by a new proclamation, so challenges to the previous executive orders are moot.
In September, Trump signed a proclamation placing limits on the six countries in the second executive order and added Chad, North Korea, and Venezuela. In October 2017, Judge Derrick Watson, of the U.S. District Court for the District of Hawaii issued another temporary restraining order. In December 2017, the Supreme Court allowed the September 2017 travel restrictions to go into effect while legal challenges in Hawaii and Maryland are heard. The decision effectively barred most citizens of Iran, Libya, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, Chad and North Korea from entry into the United States along with some government officials from Venezuela and their families.
Amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Trump further restricted travel from Iran on February 29, 2020, and advised American citizens not to travel to specific regions in Italy and South Korea in response to the coronavirus. In March 2020, the Trump administration later issued a ban on entrants from all Schengen Area countries, eventually including Ireland and the United Kingdom.
2018–2019 federal government shutdown
The federal government was partially shut down from December 22, 2018, until January 25, 2019, (the longest shutdown in U.S. history) over Trump's demand that Congress provide $5.7 billion in federal funds for a U.S.–Mexico border wall. The House and Senate lacked votes necessary to support his funding demand and to overcome Trump's refusal to sign the appropriations last passed by Congress into law. In negotiations with Democratic leaders leading up to the shutdown, Trump commented he would be "proud to shut down the government for border security". By mid-January 2019, the White House Council of Economic Advisors estimated that each week of the shutdown reduced GDP by 0.1 percentage points, the equivalent of 1.2 points per quarter.
In September 2020, Brian Murphy—who until August 2020 was the Under Secretary of Homeland Security for Intelligence and Analysis—asserted in a whistleblower complaint that during the shutdown senior DHS officials sought to inflate the number of known or suspected terrorists who had been apprehended at the border, in an effort to increase support for funding the wall. NBC News reported that in early 2019 a DHS spokeswoman, Katie Waldman, pushed the network to retract a story that correctly cited only six such apprehensions in the first half of 2018, compared to the nearly four thousand a year the administration was publicly claiming. The story was not retracted, and Waldman later became the press secretary for vice president Mike Pence and wife of Trump advisor Stephen Miller.
The administration rolled back numerous LGBT protections, in particular those implemented during the Obama administration, covering issues such as health care, education, employment, housing, military, and criminal justice, as well as foster care and adoption. The administration sought to rescind rules prohibiting adoption and foster care agencies funded by the government from discriminating against LGBT adoption and foster parents. The DOJ reversed its position on whether the Civil Rights Act's workplace protections covered LGBT individuals, and the DOJ argued in state and federal courts for a constitutional right for businesses to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. The administration exempted government contractors from following federal workplace discrimination rules, as long as they could cite religious reasons for doing so.
The administration rescinded a directive that public schools treat students according to their gender identity. The administration rescinded a federal policy that allowed transgender students to use bathrooms corresponding to their gender identity, and dropped a lawsuit against North Carolina's "bathroom bill". The administration rescinded rules that prohibited discrimination against LGBT patients by health care providers. Rules were rescinded to give transgender homeless people equal access to homeless shelters, and to house transgender prison inmates according to their gender identity "when appropriate". HHS stopped collecting information on LGBT participants in its national survey of older adults, and the Census Bureau removed "sexual orientation" and "gender identity" as proposed subjects for possible inclusion on the Decennial Census and/or American Community Survey. The DOJ and the Labor Department cancelled quarterly conference calls with LGBT organizations.
Trump said he would not allow "transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military", citing disruptions and medical costs. In March 2018, Trump signed a Presidential Memorandum to prohibit transgender persons, whether transitioned or not, with a history or diagnosis of gender dysphoria from military service, except for individuals who have had 36 consecutive months of stability "in their biological sex prior to accession" and currently serving transgender persons in military service. Studies of countries that had allowed transgender individuals to serve in the military found "little or no impact on unit cohesion, operational effectiveness, or readiness", and studies showed that the medical costs for transgender service members would be "minimal".
The Treasury Department imposed sanctions on Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov and a Chechen law enforcement official, citing anti-gay purges in Chechnya. In February 2019, the administration launched a global campaign to end the criminalization of homosexuality, an initiative pushed by Richard Grenell, the U.S. Ambassador to Germany. Asked about the administration's campaign, Trump appeared to be unaware of it. Trump has nominated two LGBT persons to the federal judiciary (Mary M. Rowland and Patrick J. Bumatay). Other high-profile appointments of LGBT persons made by Trump are Richard Grenell, James T. Abbott, and David Glawe.
Response to 2020 protests
In response to rioting and looting amid nationwide protests against racism and police brutality after a Minneapolis police officer killed an African American man named George Floyd, Trump tweeted a 1967 quote, "when the looting starts, the shooting starts", a phrase coined by a Miami police chief that has been widely condemned by civil rights groups. Trump later addressed protestors outside the White House by saying they "would have been greeted with the most vicious dogs, and most ominous weapons, I have ever seen" if they breached the White House fence.
Photo-op at St. John's Episcopal Church
On June 1, 2020, hundreds of police officers, members of the National Guard and other forces, in riot gear used smoke canisters, rubber bullets, batons and shields to disperse a crowd of peaceful protesters outside St. John's Episcopal Church across Lafayette Square from the White House. A news crew from Australia was attacked by these forces and clergy on the church's porch suffered effects of the gas and were dispersed along with the others. Trump, accompanied by other officials including the Secretary of Defense, then walked across Lafayette Square and posed for pictures while he was holding a Bible up for the cameras, outside the church which had suffered minor damage from a fire started by arsonists the night before. Mariann Edgar Budde, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington said she was "outraged" by Trump's actions, which also received widespread condemnation from other religious leaders. However, the reaction from the religious right and evangelicals generally praised the visit.
Deployment of federal law enforcement to cities
In July 2020, federal forces were deployed to Portland, Oregon, in response to ongoing rioting in the protests against police brutality. The purpose of the deployment was to protect the Mark O. Hatfield United States Courthouse due to vandalism of the building and inaction by local law enforcement. The Department of Homeland Security cited Trump's June 26 executive order to protect statues and monuments as allowing federal officers to be deployed without the permission of individual states. The federal officials took up positions at the U.S. courthouse, where they fired pepper spray or tear gas at protesters who got too close to the building. The heavily armed officers were dressed in military camouflage uniforms (without identification) and used unmarked vans to arrest protestors, some of whom were nowhere near the federal courthouse.
The presence and tactics of the officers drew widespread condemnation. Oregon officials including the governor, the mayor of Portland, and multiple members of Congress asked the DHS to remove federal agents from the city. The mayor said the officers were causing violence and "we do not need or want their help." Multiple Congressional committees asked for an investigation, saying "Citizens are concerned that the Administration has deployed a secret police force." Lawsuits against the administration were filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and the Attorney General of Oregon. The inspectors general for the Justice Department and Homeland Security announced investigations into the deployment.
Trump said he was pleased with the way things were going in Portland and might send federal law enforcement to many more cities, including New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, Detroit, Baltimore, and Oakland—"all run by liberal Democrats". Albuquerque and Milwaukee were also named as potential targets.
Under a deal worked out between Governor Kate Brown and the Trump administration, federal agents withdrew to standby locations on July 30, while state and local law enforcement forces took over responsibility for protecting the courthouse; they made no arrests and mostly stayed out of sight. Protests that night were peaceful. A DHS spokesperson said federal officers would remain in the area at least until the following Monday.
The administration marginalized the role of science in policymaking, halted numerous research projects, and saw the departure of scientists who said their work was marginalized or suppressed. It was the first administration since 1941 not to name a Science Advisor to the President. While preparing for talks with Kim Jong-un, the White House did not do so with the assistance of a White House science adviser or senior counselor trained in nuclear physics. The position of chief scientist in the State Department or the Department of Agriculture was not filled. The administration nominated Sam Clovis to be chief scientist in the United States Department of Agriculture, but he had no scientific background and the White House later withdrew the nomination. The administration successfully nominated Jim Bridenstine, who had no background in science and rejected the scientific consensus on climate change, to lead NASA. The United States Department of the Interior, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the Food and Drug Administration disbanded advisory committees, while the Department of Energy prohibited use of the term "climate change". In March 2020 The New York Times reported that an official at the Interior Department has repeatedly inserted climate change-denying language into the agency's scientific reports, such as those that affect water and mineral rights.
During the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic, the Trump administration replaced career public affairs staff at the Department of Health and Human Services with political appointees, including Michael Caputo, who interfered with weekly Centers for Disease Control scientific reports and attempted to silence the government's most senior infectious disease expert, Anthony Fauci, "sowing distrust of the FDA at a time when health leaders desperately need people to accept a vaccine in order to create the immunity necessary to defeat the novel coronavirus". One day after Trump noted that he might dismiss an FDA proposal to improve standards for emergency use of a coronavirus vaccine, the Presidents of the National Academies of Sciences and Medicine issued a statement expressing alarm at political interference in science during a pandemic, "particularly the overriding of evidence and advice from public health officials and derision of government scientists".
In 2019, Trump signed into law a six-year extension of Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), allowing the NSA to conduct searches of foreigners' communications without any warrant. The process incidentally collects information from Americans.
Prior to David Shulkin's firing in April 2018, The New York Times described the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) as a "rare spot of calm in the Trump administration". Shulkin built upon changes started under the Obama administration to do a long-term overhaul of the VA system. In May 2018, legislation to increase veterans' access to private care was stalled, as was a VA overhaul which sought to synchronize medical records. In May 2018, there were reports of a large number of resignations of senior staffers and a major re-shuffling.
In August 2018, ProPublica reported a group of three wealthy Mar-a-Lago patrons, who had no experience in the military or the government, formed an "informal council" that strongly shaped VA decision-making, including involving a $10 billion contract to modernize veterans' health records. The trio, which VA staff referred to as "the Mar-a-Lago Crowd", spoke to VA staff daily, and provided instructions on policy and personnel decisions at the agency. GAO announced in November 2018 that it would investigate the matter.
Trump falsely asserted more than 150 times that he created the Veterans Choice program after others had failed for many decades. The program was created by senators John McCain and Bernie Sanders and signed into law by president Obama in 2014.
Under the Trump administration, the Justice Department limited enforcement actions to protect voting rights, and in fact often defended restrictions on voting rights imposed by various states that have been challenged as voter suppression. The Justice Department under Trump has filed only a single new case under the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Trump's Justice Department opposed minority voters' interests in all of the major voting litigation since 2017 in which the Justice Department Civil Rights Division Voting Section has been involved.
Trump has repeatedly alleged, without evidence, there was widespread voter fraud. The administration created a commission with the stated purpose to review the extent of voter fraud in the wake of Trump's false claim that millions of unauthorized votes cost him the popular vote in the 2016 election. It was chaired by Vice President Pence, while the day-to-day administrator was Kris Kobach, best known for promoting restrictions on access to voting. The commission began its work by requesting each state to turn over detailed information about all registered voters in their database. Most states rejected the request, citing privacy concerns or state laws. Multiple lawsuits were filed against the commission. Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap said Kobach was refusing to share working documents and scheduling information with him and the other Democrats on the commission. A federal judge ordered the commission to hand over the documents. Shortly thereafter, Trump disbanded the commission, and informed Dunlap that it would not obey the court order to provide the documents because the commission no longer existed. Election integrity experts argued that the commission was disbanded because of the lawsuits, which would have led to greater transparency and accountability and thus prevented the Republican members of the commission from producing a sham report to justify restrictions on voting rights. It was later revealed the commission had, in its requests for Texas voter data, specifically asked for data that identifies voters with Hispanic surnames.
White nationalists and Charlottesville rally
On August 13, 2017, Trump condemned violence "on many sides" after a gathering of hundreds of white nationalists in Charlottesville, Virginia, the previous day (August 12) turned deadly. A white supremacist drove a car into a crowd of counter-protesters, killing one woman and injuring 19 others. According to Sessions, that action met the definition of domestic terrorism. During the rally there had been other violence, as some counter-protesters charged at the white nationalists with swinging clubs and mace, throwing bottles, rocks, and paint. Trump did not expressly mention Neo-Nazis, white supremacists, or the alt-right movement in his remarks on August 13, but the following day (August 14) he did denounce white supremacists. He condemned "the KKK, neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and other hate groups". Then the next day (August 15), he again blamed "both sides".
Many Republican and Democratic elected officials condemned the violence and hatred of white nationalists, neo-Nazis and alt-right activists. Trump came under criticism from world leaders and politicians, as well as a variety of religious groups and anti-hate organizations for his remarks, which were seen as muted and equivocal. The New York Times reported Trump "was the only national political figure to spread blame for the 'hatred, bigotry and violence' that resulted in the death of one person to 'many sides'", and said Trump had "buoyed the white nationalist movement on Tuesday as no president has done in generations".
The stated aims of the foreign policy of the Donald Trump administration include a focus on security, by fighting terrorists abroad and strengthening border defenses and immigration controls; an expansion of the U.S. military; an "America First" approach to trade; and diplomacy whereby "old enemies become friends". The foreign policy positions expressed by Trump during his presidential campaign changed frequently, so it was "difficult to glean a political agenda, or even a set of clear, core policy values ahead of his presidency". Despite pledges to reduce the number of active duty U.S. military personnel deployed overseas, the number was essentially the same three years into Trump's presidency as they were at the end of Obama's.
Trump has repeatedly praised nationalist and authoritarian strongmen such as Poland's president Andrzej Duda, China's president Xi Jinping, Philippines president Rodrigo Duterte, Egyptian president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, Turkey's president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, King Salman of Saudi Arabia, Italy's prime minister Giuseppe Conte, Brazil's president Jair Bolsonaro and Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban. Trump also praised Poland under the homophobic, anti-immigrant Law and Justice party (PiS) as a defender of Western civilization.
The New York Times reported on January 14, 2019, that on several occasions during 2018 Trump privately said he wanted America to withdraw from NATO. Top defense and national security officials, such as Jim Mattis and John R. Bolton, reportedly "scrambled to keep American strategy on track without mention of a withdrawal that would drastically reduce Washington's influence in Europe and could embolden Russia for decades". In September 2019, Trump and Poland's president Andrzej Duda agreed to send 1,000 U.S. troops to Poland. On February 29, 2020, the Trump administration signed a conditional peace agreement with the Taliban, which calls for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan in 14 months if the Taliban uphold the terms of the agreement.
A January 2019 intelligence community assessment found that Iran was not pursuing nuclear weapons and North Korea was unlikely to relinquish its nuclear arsenal. Both assessments directly contradicted core tenets of Trump's stated foreign policy. The intelligence community also assessed that Trump's trade policies and unilateralism had damaged traditional alliances and induced foreign partners to seek new relationships. The day after the heads of the intelligence community presented their findings in public testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee, Trump referred to them as "extremely passive and naive" and "wrong" in their assessments. The following day, Trump asserted the press had misquoted the intelligence chiefs' testimony to fabricate a conflict, claiming that he and the intelligence community were "on the same page!" In a subsequent interview with The New York Times, Trump falsely asserted that the intelligence community had characterized Iran as "essentially, a wonderful place".
On February 5, 2019, the Senate voted overwhelmingly to rebuke Trump for his decisions to withdraw troops from Syria and Afghanistan. Drafted by majority leader Mitch McConnell, the measure was supported by nearly all Republicans.
After initially adopting a verbally hostile posture toward North Korea and its leader, Kim Jong-un, Trump quickly pivoted to embrace the regime, saying he and Kim "fell in love". Trump engaged Kim by meeting him at two summits, in June 2018 and February 2019, an unprecedented move by an American president, as previous policy had been that a president's simply meeting with the North Korean leader would legitimize the regime on the world stage. During the June 2018 summit, the leaders signed a vague agreement to pursue denuclearization of the Korean peninsula, with Trump immediately declaring "There is no longer a Nuclear Threat from North Korea." Little progress was made toward that goal during the months before the February 2019 summit, which ended abruptly without an agreement, hours after the White House announced a signing ceremony was imminent. During the months between the summits, a growing body of evidence indicated North Korea was continuing its nuclear fuel, bomb and missile development, including by redeveloping an ICBM site it was previously appearing to dismantle—even while the second summit was underway. In the aftermath of the February 2019 failed summit, the Treasury department imposed additional sanctions on North Korea. The following day, Trump tweeted, "It was announced today by the U.S. Treasury that additional large scale Sanctions would be added to those already existing Sanctions on North Korea. I have today ordered the withdrawal of those additional Sanctions!" On December 31, 2019, the Korean Central News Agency announced that Kim had abandoned his moratoriums on nuclear and intercontinental ballistic missile tests, quoting Kim as saying, "the world will witness a new strategic weapon to be possessed by the DPRK in the near future." Two years after the Singapore summit, the North Korean nuclear arsenal had significantly expanded.
During a June 2019 visit to South Korea, Trump visited the Korean Demilitarized Zone and invited North Korean leader Kim Jong-un to meet him there, which he did, and Trump became the first sitting president to step inside North Korea. Trump later falsely asserted, "President Obama wanted to meet and chairman Kim would not meet him. The Obama administration was begging for a meeting."
In October 2019, after Trump spoke to Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the White House acknowledged that Turkey would be carrying out a planned military offensive into northern Syria; as such, U.S. troops in northern Syria were withdrawn from the area to avoid interference with that operation. The statement also passed responsibility for the area's captured ISIS fighters to Turkey. Congress members of both parties denounced the move, including Republican allies of Trump like Senator Lindsey Graham. They argued that the move betrayed the American-allied Kurds, and would benefit ISIS, Russia, Iran and Bashar al-Assad's Syrian regime. Trump defended the move, citing the high cost of supporting the Kurds, and the lack of support from the Kurds in past U.S. wars. Within a week of the U.S. pullout, Turkey proceeded to attack Kurdish-controlled areas in northeast Syria. Kurdish forces then announced an alliance with the Syrian government and its Russian allies, in a united effort to repel Turkey.
On October 27, 2019, ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi killed himself and three children by detonating a suicide vest during the Barisha raid conducted by the U.S. Delta Force in Syria's northwestern Idlib Province.
The United States had for decades considered the Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank to be "illegitimate", until the Trump administration in November 2019 shifted its position, declaring that "the establishment of Israeli civilian settlements in the West Bank is not per se inconsistent with international law."
In 2020, the Trump administration asserted that the U.S. remained a “participant” in the Iran Deal, despite having formally withdrawn in 2018, in an effort to persuade the United Nations Security Council to reimpose pre-agreement sanctions on Iran for its breaches of the deal after the U.S. withdrawal. The agreement provided for a resolution process among signatories in the event of a breach, but that process had not yet played out. The Security Council voted on the administration's proposal in August, with only the Dominican Republic joining the U.S. to vote in favor.
His first official diplomatic success was realized in August 2020, when Israel and the United Arab Emirates agreed to begin normalizing relations in a Israel–United Arab Emirates normalization agreement brokered by Jared Kushner. Following years of quiet cooperation, the UAE and Israel moved to establish full diplomatic ties after Israel agreed to suspend a plan to annex parts of the occupied West Bank, a proposal which had been approved in the Kushner-authored Trump peace plan presented months earlier. Israel and Bahrain agreed to normalize diplomatic relations in September 2020.
As Donald Trump lost the election bid against Joe Biden, the US State Department notified the Congress about its plans to sell 18 sophisticated armed MQ-9B aerial drones to the United Arab Emirates, under a deal worth $2.9 billion. The drones were expected to be equipped with maritime radar, and the delivery was being estimated by 2024. Besides, another informal notification was sent to the Congress regarding the plans of providing the UAE with $10 billion of defense equipment, including precision-guided munitions, non-precision bombs and missiles.
American intelligence sources have said with "high confidence" the Russian government attempted to intervene in the 2016 presidential election to favor the election of Trump, and that members of Trump's campaign were in contact with Russian government officials both before and after the election. In May 2017, the U.S. Department of Justice appointed Robert Mueller as special counsel to investigate "any links and/or coordination between Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump, and any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation". Because of the Russian interference and subsequent investigation, many members of Trump's administration have come under special scrutiny regarding past ties to Russia or actions during the campaign. Several of Trump's top advisers, including Paul Manafort and Michael T. Flynn, who had official positions before Trump replaced them, have strong ties to Russia. Several others had meetings with Russians during the campaign which they did not initially disclose.
Trump himself hosted the 2013 Miss Universe pageant in Moscow, in partnership with Russian-Azerbaijani billionaire Aras Agalarov. On many occasions since 1987, Trump and his children and other associates have traveled to Moscow to explore potential business opportunities, such as a failed attempt to build a Trump Tower Moscow. Between 1996 and 2008 Trump's company submitted at least eight trademark applications for potential real estate development deals in Russia. However, as of 2017 he has no known investments or businesses in Russia. Trump said in 2017, "I can tell you, speaking for myself, I own nothing in Russia. I have no loans in Russia. I don't have any deals in Russia." In 2008, his son Donald Trump Jr. said "Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets" and "we see a lot of money pouring in from Russia."
During his January 2017 confirmation hearings as the attorney general nominee before the Senate, then-Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) was asked by Senator Patrick J. Leahy (D-VT) if he had been "in contact with anyone connected to any part of the Russian government about the 2016 election, either before or after election day?" Sessions' single word response was "No", which raised questions about what appeared to be deliberate omission of two meetings he had in 2016 with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. Sessions later amended his testimony saying he "never met with any Russian officials to discuss issues of the campaign". He said that in March 2016, he had twice met with Ambassador Kislyak, and "stood by his earlier remarks as an honest and correct answer to a question". Officials with the DOJ said when Sessions met with Kislyak it was not as a Trump campaign surrogate, rather it was "in his capacity as a member of the armed services panel". Following his amended statement, Sessions recused himself from any investigation regarding connections between Trump and Russia.
In May 2017, Trump discussed highly classified intelligence in an Oval Office meeting with the Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov and ambassador Sergey Kislyak, providing details that could expose the source of the information and the manner in which it was collected. A Middle Eastern ally provided the intelligence which had the highest level of classification and was not intended to be shared widely. The New York Times reported, "Trump's disclosure does not appear to have been illegal—the president has the power to declassify almost anything. But sharing the information without the express permission of the ally who provided it was a major breach of espionage etiquette, and could jeopardize a crucial intelligence-sharing relationship." The White House, through National Security Advisor H. R. McMaster, issued a limited denial, saying the story "as reported" was incorrect and that no "intelligence sources or methods" were discussed. McMaster did not deny that information had been disclosed. The following day Trump said on Twitter that Russia is an important ally against terrorism and that he had an "absolute right" to share classified information with Russia. Soon after the meeting, American intelligence extracted a high-level covert source from within the Russian government, on concerns the individual could be at risk due, in part, to Trump and his administration repeatedly mishandling classified intelligence.
In October 2017, former Trump campaign advisor George Papadopoulos pleaded guilty to one count of making false statements to the FBI regarding his contacts with Russian agents. During the campaign he had tried repeatedly but unsuccessfully to set up meetings in Russia between Trump campaign representatives and Russian officials. The guilty plea was part of a plea bargain whereby Papadopoulos cooperates with the Mueller investigation.
In February 2018, when Special Counsel Mueller indicted more than a dozen Russians and three entities for interference in the 2016 election, Trump's response was to assert that the indictment was proof his campaign did not collude with the Russians. The New York Times noted Trump "voiced no concern that a foreign power had been trying for nearly four years to upend American democracy, much less resolve to stop it from continuing to do so this year". A day after the indictment, Trump used the FBI's alleged failure to stop the Stoneman Douglas High School shooter to call for the end to investigations of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
In July 2018, the special counsel's office indicted twelve Russian intelligence operatives and accused them of conspiring to interfere in the 2016 U.S. elections, by hacking servers and emails of the Democratic Party and the Hillary Clinton campaign. The indictments were made before Trump's meeting with Putin in Helsinki, in which Trump supported Putin's denial that Russia was involved and criticized American law enforcement and intelligence community (subsequently Trump partially walked back some of his comments). A few days later, it was reported that Trump had actually been briefed on the veracity and extent of Russian cyber-attacks two weeks before his inauguration, back in December 2016, including the fact that these were ordered by Putin himself. The evidence presented to him at the time included text and email conversations between Russian military officers as well as information from a source close to Putin. According to the report, at the time, in the classified meeting, Trump "sounded grudgingly convinced".
The Washington Post reported on January 12, 2019, that Trump had gone to "extraordinary lengths" to keep details of his private conversations with Russian president Putin secret, including in one case by retaining his interpreter's notes and instructing the linguist to not share the contents of the discussions with anyone in the administration. As a result, there were no detailed records, even in classified files, of Trump's conversations with Putin on five occasions. According to the Financial Times, there were no American aides present when Trump met privately with Putin at the 2018 G20 Buenos Aires summit in November 2018.
Of Trump's campaign advisors and staff, six of them were indicted by the special counsel's office; five of them (Michael Cohen, Michael Flynn, Rick Gates, Paul Manafort, George Papadopoulos) pleaded guilty, while one has pleaded not guilty (Roger Stone).
Special Counsel's report
On March 22, 2019, Special Counsel Robert Mueller submitted the final report to Attorney General William Barr. Two days later, Barr sent Congress a four-page letter, describing what he said were the special counsel's principal conclusions in the Mueller Report. Barr added that since the special counsel "did not draw a conclusion" on obstruction, this "leaves it to the Attorney General to determine whether the conduct described in the report constitutes a crime". Barr continued: "Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and I have concluded that the evidence developed during the Special Counsel's investigation is not sufficient to establish that the President committed an obstruction-of-justice offense."
On April 18, 2019, a two-volume redacted version of the Special Counsel's report titled Report on the Investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 Presidential Election was released to Congress and to the public. About one-eighth of the lines in the public version were redacted.
Volume I discusses about Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, concluding that interference occurred "in sweeping and systematic fashion" and "violated U.S. criminal law". The report detailed activities by the Internet Research Agency, a Kremlin-linked Russian troll farm, to create a "social media campaign that favored presidential candidate Donald J. Trump and disparaged presidential candidate Hillary Clinton", and to "provoke and amplify political and social discord in the United States". The report also described how the Russian intelligence service, the GRU, performed computer hacking and strategic releasing of damaging material from the Clinton campaign and Democratic Party organizations. To establish whether a crime was committed by members of the Trump campaign with regard to Russian interference, investigators used the legal standard for criminal conspiracy rather than the popular concept of "collusion", because a crime of "collusion" is not found in criminal law or the United States Code.
According to the report, the investigation "identified numerous links between the Russian government and the Trump campaign", and found that Russia had "perceived it would benefit from a Trump presidency" and the 2016 Trump presidential campaign "expected it would benefit electorally" from Russian hacking efforts. Ultimately, "the investigation did not establish that members of the Trump campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities." However, investigators had an incomplete picture of what had really occurred during the 2016 campaign, due to some associates of Trump campaign providing either false, incomplete or declined testimony (exercising the Fifth Amendment), as well as having deleted, unsaved or encrypted communications. As such, the Mueller Report "cannot rule out the possibility" that information then unavailable to investigators would have presented different findings.
Volume II covered obstruction of justice. The report described ten episodes where Trump may have obstructed justice as president, plus one instance before he was elected. The report said that in addition to Trump's public attacks on the investigation and its subjects, he had also privately tried to "control the investigation" in multiple ways, but mostly failed to influence it because his subordinates or associates refused to carry out his instructions. For that reason, no charges against the Trump's aides and associates were recommended "beyond those already filed". The Special Counsel could not charge Trump himself once investigators decided to abide by an Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) opinion that a sitting president cannot stand trial, and they feared charges would affect Trump's governing and possibly preempt his impeachment. In addition, investigators felt it would be unfair to accuse Trump of a crime without charges and without a trial in which he could clear his name, hence investigators "determined not to apply an approach that could potentially result in a judgment that the President committed crimes".
Since the Special Counsel's office had decided "not to make a traditional prosecutorial judgment" on whether to "initiate or decline a prosecution", they "did not draw ultimate conclusions about the President's conduct". The report "does not conclude that the president committed a crime", but specifically did not exonerate Trump on obstruction of justice, because investigators were not confident that Trump was innocent after examining his intent and actions. The report concluded "that Congress has authority to prohibit a President's corrupt use of his authority in order to protect the integrity of the administration of justice" and "that Congress may apply the obstruction laws to the president's corrupt exercise of the powers of office accords with our constitutional system of checks and balances and the principle that no person is above the law".
On May 1, 2019, following publication of the Special Counsel's report, Barr testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee, during which Barr said he "didn't exonerate" Trump on obstruction as that was not the role of the Justice Department. He declined to testify before the House Judiciary Committee the following day because he objected to the committee's plan to use staff lawyers during questioning. Barr also repeatedly failed to give the unredacted Special Counsel's report to the Judiciary Committee by its deadline of May 6, 2019. On May 8, 2019, the committee voted to hold Barr in contempt of Congress, which refers the matter to entire House for resolution. Concurrently, Trump asserted executive privilege via the Department of Justice in an effort to prevent the redacted portions of the Special Counsel's report and the underlying evidence from being disclosed. Committee chairman Jerry Nadler said the U.S. is in a constitutional crisis, "because the President is disobeying the law, is refusing all information to Congress". Speaker Nancy Pelosi agreed with Nadler's characterization and told fellow Democrats Trump was "self-impeaching" by stonewalling Congress, with some Democrats and analysts noting that refusing to comply with subpoenas had been the third article of impeachment for Richard Nixon.
Following release of the Mueller Report, Trump and his allies turned their attention toward "investigating the investigators". On May 23, 2019, Trump ordered the intelligence community to cooperate with Barr's investigation of the origins of the investigation, granting Barr full authority to declassify any intelligence information related to the matter. Some analysts expressed concerns that the order could create a conflict between the Justice Department and the intelligence community over closely guarded intelligence sources and methods, as well as open the possibility Barr could cherrypick intelligence for public release to help Trump.
Upon announcing the formal closure of the investigation and his resignation from the Justice Department on May 29, Mueller said, "If we had had confidence that the president clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said so. We did not, however, make a determination as to whether the president did commit a crime." During his testimony to Congress on July 24, 2019, Mueller answered Republican Representative Ken Buck that a president could be charged with obstruction of justice (or other crimes) after the president left office.
Amid accusations by Trump and his supporters that he had been subjected to an illegitimate investigation, in May 2019 attorney general Bill Barr appointed federal prosecutor John Durham to review the origins of the Crossfire Hurricane investigation. By September 2020, Durham's inquiry had expanded to include the FBI's investigation of the Clinton Foundation during the 2016 campaign. A previous two-year review of earlier Clinton investigations by another Trump Justice Department federal prosecutor, John Huber, was wound-down in January 2020 after finding no improper activity.
The Trump administration has been characterized by a departure from ethical norms. Unlike previous administrations of both parties, the Trump White House has not observed a strict boundary between official government activities and personal, political, or campaign activities.
Role of lobbyists
During the 2016 campaign, Trump promised to "drain the swamp"—a phrase that usually refers to entrenched corruption and lobbying in Washington, D.C.—and he proposed a series of ethics reforms. However, according to federal records and interviews, there has been a dramatic increase in lobbying by corporations and hired interests during Trump's tenure, particularly through the office of Vice-President Mike Pence. About twice as many lobbying firms contacted Pence, compared to previous presidencies, among them representatives of major energy firms and drug companies. In many cases, the lobbyists have charged their clients millions of dollars for access to the vice president, and then have turned around and donated the money to Pence's political causes.
Among his proposals was a five-year ban on serving as a lobbyist after working in the executive branch. Trump's transition team also announced that registered lobbyists would be barred from serving in the Trump administration. However, an Obama era ban on lobbyists taking administrative jobs was lifted and at least nine transition officials became lobbyists within the first 100 days.
In September 2020, an exclusive report by NBC News, Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) and Courthouse News Service revealed that Turkey attempted to influence the Trump administration through an international network of businessmen and oligarchs, where some were linked to Russia. On January 19, 2017, a meeting was held at Washington’s Watergate Hotel between Turkish Foreign Minister, Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu; lobbyist Brian Ballard; Turkish-Azerbaijani shipping magnate, Mübariz Mansimov; a Florida businessman, Lev Parnas; and Russian-linked oligarchs. Foreign lobbying contracts filed with the Justice Department revealed that the lunch led to a multi-million-dollar contracts for Ballard Partners to lobby on behalf of Turkey and Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in the US.
Potential conflicts of interest
Trump's presidency has been marked by significant public concern about conflict of interest stemming from his diverse business ventures. In the lead up to his inauguration, Trump promised to remove himself from the day-to-day operations of his businesses. Trump placed his sons Eric Trump and Donald Trump Jr. at the head of his businesses claiming they would not communicate with him regarding his interests. However, critics noted that this would not prevent him from having input into his businesses and knowing how to benefit himself, and Trump continued to receive quarterly updates on his businesses. As his presidency progressed, he failed to take steps or show interest in further distancing himself from his business interests resulting in numerous potential conflicts.
Many ethics experts found Trump's plan to address conflicts of interest between his position as president and his private business interests to be entirely inadequate; Norman L. Eisen and Richard Painter, who served as the chief White House ethics lawyers for Barack Obama and George W. Bush respectively, said the plan "falls short in every respect". Unlike every other president in the last 40 years, Trump did not put his business interests in a blind trust or equivalent arrangement "to cleanly sever himself from his business interests". Eisen said Trump's case is "an even more problematic situation because he's receiving foreign government payments and other benefits and things of value that's expressly prohibited by the Constitution" in the Foreign Emoluments Clause.
In January 2018, a year into his presidency, a survey found that he "continues to own stakes in hundreds of businesses, both in this country and abroad".
After Trump took office, the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, represented by a number of constitutional scholars, sued him for violations of the Foreign Emoluments Clause (a constitutional provision that bars the president or any other federal official from taking gifts or payments from foreign governments), because his hotels and other businesses accept payment from foreign governments. CREW separately filed a complaint with the General Services Administration (GSA) over Trump International Hotel Washington, D.C.; the 2013 lease that Trump and the GSA signed "explicitly forbids any elected government official from holding the lease or benefiting from it". The GSA said it was "reviewing the situation". By May 2017, the CREW v. Trump lawsuit had grown with additional plaintiffs and alleged violations of the Domestic Emoluments Clause. In June 2017, attorneys from the Department of Justice filed a motion to dismiss the case on the grounds that the plaintiffs had no right to sue and that the described conduct was not illegal. Also in June 2017, two more lawsuits were filed based on the Foreign Emoluments Clause: D.C. and Maryland v. Trump, and Blumenthal v. Trump, which was signed by more than one-third of the voting members of Congress. United States District Judge George B. Daniels dismissed the CREW case on December 21, 2017, holding that plaintiffs lacked standing. D.C. and Maryland v. Trump cleared three judicial hurdles to proceed to the discovery phase during 2018, with prosecutors issuing 38 subpoenas to Trump's businesses and cabinet departments in December before the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals issued a stay days later at the behest of the Justice Department, pending hearings in March 2019. NBC News reported that by June 2019 representatives of 22 governments had spent money at Trump properties.
In February 2017, Trump senior advisor Kellyanne Conway promoted the clothing line of Ivanka Trump in a TV appearance from the White House briefing room. Office of Government Ethics director Walter Shaub requested disciplinary action in a letter to the White House Counsel's office. Under federal ethics regulations, federal employees are barred from using their public office to endorse products.
As of August 2019, the House Oversight Committee is investigating why the Air National Guard made a pit stop to stay at Trump's Turnberry resort in Scotland, instead of a U.S. military base as done on previous trips. Vice President Mike Pence is also under investigation for staying at the Trump International Golf Links and Hotel Ireland despite it being located hundreds of miles away from his meeting place.
In March 2018, The New York Times reported that George Nader had turned Trump's major fundraiser Elliott Broidy "into an instrument of influence at the White House for the rulers of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates ... High on the agenda of the two men ... was pushing the White House to remove Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson," a top defender of the Iran nuclear deal in Donald Trump's administration, and "backing confrontational approaches to Iran and Qatar".
Trump actively supported the Saudi Arabian-led intervention in Yemen against the Houthis. Trump also praised his relationship with Saudi Arabia's powerful Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman. On May 20, 2017, Trump and Saudi Arabia's King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud signed a series of letters of intent for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to purchase arms from the United States totaling $110 billion immediately, and $350 billion over ten years. The transfer was widely seen as a counterbalance against the influence of Iran in the region and a "significant" and "historic" expansion of United States relations with Saudi Arabia. By July 2019, two of Trump's three vetoes were to overturn bipartisan congressional action related to Saudi Arabia.
In October 2018, amid widespread condemnation of Saudi Arabia for the murder of prominent Saudi journalist and dissident Jamal Khashoggi, the Trump administration pushed back on the condemnation. After the CIA assessed that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman ordered the murder of Khashoggi, Trump rejected the assessment and said the CIA only had "feelings" on the matter.
Transparency and data availability
The Washington Post reported in May 2017, "a wide variety of information that until recently was provided to the public, limiting access, for instance, to disclosures about workplace violations, energy efficiency, and animal welfare abuses" had been removed or tucked away. The Obama administration had used the publication of enforcement actions taken by federal agencies against companies as a way to name and shame companies that engaged in unethical and illegal behaviors.
The Trump administration stopped the Obama administration policy of logging visitors to the White House, making it difficult to tell who has visited the White House. Nathan Cortez of the Southern Methodist University's Dedman School of Law, who studies the handling of public data, said the Trump administration, unlike the Obama administration, was taking transparency "in the opposite direction".
Hatch Act violations
In the first three and a half years of Trump's term, the Office of Special Counsel, an independent federal government ethics agency, found 13 senior Trump administration officials in violation of the Hatch Act of 1939, which restricts the government employees' involvement in politics; 11 of the complaints were filed by the activist group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW). By comparison, CREW stated that it was aware of only two findings of Hatch Act violations during the eight years of the Obama administration.
Cost of trips
According to several reports, Trump's and his family's trips in the first month of his presidency cost U.S. taxpayers nearly as much as former president Obama's travel expenses for an entire year. When Obama was president, Trump frequently criticized him for taking vacations which were paid for with public funds. The Washington Post reported that Trump's atypically lavish lifestyle is far more expensive to the taxpayers than what was typical of former presidents and could end up in the hundreds of millions of dollars over the whole of Trump's term.
A June 2019 analysis by the Washington Post found that federal officials and GOP campaigns had spent at least $1.6 million at businesses owned by Trump during his presidency. This was an undercount, as most of the data on spending by government officials covered only the first few months of Trump's presidency.
In March 2019 Tricia Newbold, a White House employee working on security clearances, privately told the House Oversight Committee that at least 25 Trump administration officials had been granted security clearances over the objections of career staffers. Newbold also asserted that some of these officials had previously had their applications rejected for "disqualifying issues", only for those rejections to be overturned with inadequate explanation.
After the House Oversight Committee subpoenaed former head of White House security clearances Carl Kline to give testimony, the administration instructed Kline not to comply with the subpoena, asserting that the subpoena "unconstitutionally encroaches on fundamental executive branch interests". Kline eventually gave closed-door testimony before the committee in May 2019, but House Democrats said he did not "provide specific details to their questions".
Accepting political information from foreign powers
On June 12, 2019, Trump asserted he saw nothing wrong in accepting intelligence on his political adversaries from foreign powers, such as Russia, and he could see no reason to contact the FBI about it. Responding to a reporter who told him FBI director Christopher Wray had said such activities should be reported to the FBI, Trump said, "the FBI director is wrong." Trump elaborated, "there's nothing wrong with listening. If somebody called from a country, Norway, 'we have information on your opponent'—oh, I think I'd want to hear it." Both Democrats and Republicans repudiated the remarks.
On August 12, 2019, an unnamed intelligence official privately filed a whistleblower complaint with Michael Atkinson, the Inspector General of the Intelligence Community (ICIG), under the provisions of the Intelligence Community Whistleblower Protection Act (ICWPA). The whistleblower alleged that Trump had abused his office in soliciting foreign interference to improve his own electoral chances in 2020. The complaint reports that in a July 2019 call, Trump had asked Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate potential 2020 rival presidential candidate Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden, as well as matters pertaining to whether Russian interference occurred in the 2016 U.S. election with regard to Democratic National Committee servers and the company Crowdstrike. Trump allegedly nominated his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani and Attorney General William Barr to work with Ukraine on these matters. Additionally, the whistleblower alleged that the White House attempted to "lock down" the call records in a cover-up, and that the call was part of a wider pressure campaign by Giuliani and the Trump administration to urge Ukraine to investigate the Bidens. The whistleblower posits that the pressure campaign may have included Trump cancelling Vice President Mike Pence's May 2019 Ukraine trip, and Trump withholding financial aid from Ukraine in July 2019.
Inspector General Atkinson found the whistleblower's complaint both urgent and credible, so he transmitted the complaint on August 26 to Joseph Maguire, the acting Director of National Intelligence (DNI). Under the law, Maguire was supposed to forward the complaint to the Senate and House Intelligence Committees within a week. Maguire refused, so Atkinson informed the congressional committees of the existence of the complaint, but not its content. The general counsel for Maguire's office said that since the complaint was not about someone in the intelligence community, it was not an "urgent concern" and thus there was no need to pass it to Congress. Later testifying before the House Intelligence Committee on September 26, Maguire said he had consulted with the White House Counsel and the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel, of which the latter office gave him the rationale to withhold the complaint. Maguire also testified: "I think the whistleblower did the right thing. I think he followed the law every step of the way."
On September 22, Trump confirmed that he had discussed with Zelensky how "we don't want our people like Vice President Biden and his son creating to the corruption already in the Ukraine." Trump also confirmed that he had indeed temporarily withheld military aid from Ukraine, offering contradicting reasons for his decision on September 23 and 24.
On September 24, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced the start of a formal impeachment inquiry. On September 25, the White House released a non-verbatim transcript of the call between Trump and Zelensky; while the members and staff of congressional intelligence committees were allowed to read whistleblower complaint. On September 26, the White House declassified the whistleblower's complaint, so Schiff released the complaint to the public. The non-verbatim transcript corroborated the main allegations of the whistleblower's report about the Trump–Zelensky call. The non-verbatim transcript stated that after Zelensky discussed the possibility of buying American anti-tank missiles to defend Ukraine, Trump instead asked for a favor, suggesting an investigation of the company Crowdstrike, while later in the call he also called for an investigation of the Bidens, and cooperation with Giuliani and Barr. On September 27, the White House confirmed the whistleblower's allegation that the Trump administration had stored the Trump–Zelensky transcript in a highly classified system.
Following these revelations, members of congress largely divided along party lines, with Democrats generally in favor of impeachment proceedings and Republicans defending the president. Ukraine envoy Kurt Volker resigned and three House committees issued a subpoena to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to schedule depositions for Volker and four other State Department employees, and to compel the release of documents. Attention to the issue also led to further revelations by anonymous sources. These included the misuse of classification systems to hide records of conversations with Ukrainian, Russian and Saudi Arabian leaders, and statements made to Sergei Lavrov and Sergey Kislyak in May 2017 expressing disconcern about Russian interference in U.S. elections.
Use of the Office of President
Trump often sought to use the office of the presidency for his own interest. Under his leadership, the Justice Department, which is traditionally independent from the President, became highly partisan and acted in Trump's interest.Bloomberg News reported in October 2019 that during a 2017 Oval Office meeting, Trump had asked secretary of state Rex Tillerson to pressure the Justice Department to drop a criminal investigation of Reza Zarrab, an Iranian-Turkish gold trader who was a client of Trump associate Rudy Giuliani. Tillerson reportedly refused.
Trump attempted to host the 2020 G7 Summit at his Doral Golf Resort, from which he could have made significant profits.
In the lead up to the 2020 election, Trump and Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, a close ally of Trump, sought to hamper the postal service by cutting funding and services, a move which would prevent postal votes from being counted during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Trump has fired, demoted or withdrawn numerous government officials in retaliation for actions that projected negatively on his public image, or harmed his personal or political interests:
- Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Director James Comey
- Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe
- U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions
- Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch
- National Security Council (NSC) Director for European Affairs Lt. Colonel Alexander Vindman and his brother, NSC legal adviser Lt. Colonel Yevgeny Vindman
- Ambassador Gordon Sondland
- Former U.S. Attorney Jessie Liu
- Former Deputy Under Secretary of Defense Elaine McCusker
- Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire
- Inspector General of the Intelligence Community Michael Atkinson
- Navy Captain Brett Crozier (fired by Acting U.S. Secretary of the Navy Thomas Modly out of concern for Trump; Modly later resigned himself)
- Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) Director Rick Bright
- Department of Health and Human Services Inspector General Christi Grimm
- State Department Inspector General Steve A. Linick 
- U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman
Elections during the Trump presidency
2018 mid-term elections
In the 2018 mid-term elections, Democrats won control of the House of Representatives, while Republicans expanded their majority in the Senate.
2020 re-election campaign
On June 18, 2019, Trump announced that he would seek re-election in the 2020 presidential election. Trump did not face any significant rivals for the 2020 Republican nomination. Trump's Democratic opponent in the general election was former Vice President Joe Biden of Delaware.
By November 6, a growing number of Trump officials had admitted that the incumbent's loss was probable. On that day, election-calling organization Decision Desk HQ forecast that Trump had lost the election to Biden.
Historical evaluations and public opinion
At the time of the 2016 election, polls by Gallup found Trump had a favorable rating around 35% and an unfavorable rating around 60%, while Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton held a favorable rating of 40% and an unfavorable rating of 57%. 2016 was the first election cycle in modern presidential polling in which both major-party candidates were viewed so unfavorably.
By January 20, 2017, Inauguration Day, Trump's approval rating average was forty-two percent, the lowest rating average for an incoming president in the history of modern polling; during his term it has been an "incredibly stable (and also historically low)" thirty-six to forty percent.
Historians and political scientists
Political scientist Norman Ornstein, writing in December 2018, opined that "the conditions and dynamics that brought us Trump long preceded him, and the changes in the fabric of our Republic are paralleled by changes in other longstanding democracies around the globe."
Since the beginning of the presidency of Donald Trump, ratings of how well U.S. democracy is functioning sharply plunged.
According to the 2018 Varieties of Democracy Annual Democracy Report, there has been "a significant democratic backsliding in the United States [since the Inauguration of Donald Trump] ... attributable to weakening constraints on the executive." Independent assessments by Freedom House and Bright Line Watch found a similar significant decline in overall democratic functioning.
At the midpoint of Trump's first term, historians have struggled to detect the kind of virtues that offset his predecessors' vices: the infectious optimism of Reagan; the inspirational rhetoric of JFK; the legislative smarts of LBJ; or the governing pragmatism of Nixon. So rather than being viewed as the reincarnation of Ronald Reagan or Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Trump gets cast as a modern-day James Buchanan, Franklin Pierce or William Harrison. Last year, a poll of nearly 200 political science scholars, which has routinely placed Republicans higher than Democrats, ranked him 44th out of the 44 men who have occupied the post.
The 2018 poll—as referenced, in 2019, by the BBC—was administered by the American Political Science Association (APSA) among political scientists specializing in the American presidency, and had ranked Trump in last place. Republican survey respondents rated him 40th out of 44, Independents/Other respondents rated him 43rd out of 44, while Democratic historians rated him 44th out of 44. Siena College Research Institute's 6th presidential expert poll, released in February 2019, placed Donald Trump 42nd out of 44—ahead of Andrew Johnson and James Buchanan.
- Bibliography of Donald Trump
- Efforts to impeach Donald Trump
- List of executive actions by Donald Trump
- Make America Great Again—2016 campaign slogan
- Political positions of Donald Trump
- Protests against Donald Trump
- Timeline of investigations into Trump and Russia
- Timeline of Russian interference in the 2016 United States elections
- Timeline of Russian interference in the 2016 United States elections (July 2016–election day)
- ^ A small portion (January 3–19, 2017) of the 115th Congress took place under President Obama.
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Donald Trump is different. By all metrics and counting schemes, his lies are off the charts. We simply have not seen such an accomplished and effective liar before in U.S. politics. ... Stretching the truth and exaggerating is a key part of Trump's repertoire.
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President Trump's routine, brazen fabrications are unprecedented. His tendencies were manifest during the 2016 campaign. ... Trump continued to lie as president.
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Never in modern presidential politics has a major candidate made false statements as routinely as Trump has.
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for the President's unprecedented record of untruths ... the previous gold standard in Presidential lying was, of course, Richard Nixon ... the falsehoods are as much a part of his political identity as his floppy orange hair and the "Make America Great Again" slogan.
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