Donald J. Trump made many promises in his improbable route to the nation’s highest office.
But can he deliver? On some issues, will he even want to follow through?
Trump: “A Trump administration would change our failed trade policies, and I mean quickly.”
Can he do it? Yes. A 1974 law empowers presidents “with very broad authority to terminate trade agreements,” said Kansas City lawyer Marshall V. Miller, who represented U.S. companies in negotiating terms of the North American Free Trade Agreement.
Without needing legislative approval, President Trump could even raise tariffs on imports if he deems it protects national interests.
Will he? Trump minces no words about renegotiating NAFTA, which he calls a U.S. job killer and the worst trade deal in history. On Thursday, Canada’s ambassador to Washington, David MacNaughton, signaled flexibility: “We’re ready to come to the table.”
Trump also may tear up the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a pact that Congress has yet to ratify.
But experts question the wisdom. The treaty with Pacific Rim countries eventually would eliminate duties on U.S. agriculture exports, which would help farmers. The partnership also has strategic value because China, an aggressive military player in the region, has been left out and would lose influence as a result.
Trump: “My tax cut is the biggest since Ronald Reagan. I’m very proud of it. It will create tremendous numbers of new jobs.”
Can he do it? Sure, with a GOP-controlled Congress. Trump wants to reduce the corporate tax from 35 percent to 15 percent, repeal the estate tax, reduce the number of income brackets and change how some business taxes are collected. All require congressional approval.
Some of those changes — estate tax repeal, for example — may move through Congress quickly, within the first 100 days. But the more difficult parts may take months to pass.
Will he? It’s expensive, and complicated. The Tax Foundation says his plan will cost the government about $600 billion a year for 10 years, worsening the federal deficit. Trump has promised 4 percent growth, which he says will provide enough revenue to overcome the lower rates.
A tax overhaul has some bipartisan support. “I want to work with President Trump,” said Sen. Claire McCaskill, a Missouri Democrat. “If we can get things done, let’s get things done: tax code reform, infrastructure. ... Those are things I am down for and want to help with.”
Trump: “Obamacare is a disaster. ... Repeal and replace.”
Can he do it? Not by himself. The rare exercise of repealing any act of Congress requires legislative action. And the massive Affordable Care Act — parts of which have broad public support — won’t be vanquished easily.
“Replace” is going to be even harder. It will take months, at least, for lawmakers to construct a program that doesn’t leave the 20 million people now covered through Affordable Care Act exchanges or expanded Medicaid in the cold.
Trump has argued that insurance firms be allowed to compete for customers across state lines, but otherwise his alternative solutions are sketchy.
Will he? “Because he so categorically made this pledge over and over,” Trump will have to make a strong effort to undo Obamacare, said Wayne Fields, retired communications professor at St. Louis University.
Rising premiums on the exchange plans — to the tune of 25 percent jumps in next year’s coverage — will give Congress a reason to make changes.
“But what hasn’t changed? The demands of consumers haven’t changed,” said Kristine Grow, senior vice president of America’s Health Insurance Plans, an industry group that supported the Affordable Care Act. “They want affordable coverage. They want the control to choose a plan that best fits them.”
Already wavering, the president-elect on Friday said he would be OK keeping parts of the Affordable Care Act. He said he supports the law’s ban on insurance companies denying coverage to people with pre-existing health conditions and the allowance for parents to insure their kids until age 26.
Trump: “We’re going to rebuild our infrastructure, which will become, by the way, second to none.”
Can he do it? For decades, presidential candidates have pledged to create jobs by rebuilding highways, bridges, electric grids and water systems. But the costs in an era of soaring national debt have been prohibitive. Trump’s plan — largely to be financed by private investment spurred by tax credits — weighs in as high as $1 trillion.
Will he? Analysts were curious that Trump hit on infrastructure early in his victory speech. It could be an issue on which many Republicans and Democrats can agree, so long as the rebuilding is done efficiently.
“The bad infrastructure we have is costing all of us money anyway” in electric-grid brownouts and pothole damage to cars, said Brian Pallasch, managing director of government relations for the American Society of Civil Engineers.
Immigration: “We, as a country, either have borders or we don’t. IF WE DON’T HAVE BORDERS, WE DON’T HAVE A COUNTRY!” (Trump tweet)
Can he? Yes and maybe.
Trump has offered a series of immigration-related proposals, from building a barrier wall along the southern border, to “extreme vetting” of arriving immigrants, to expelling millions of undocumented workers already here.
Much of that agenda can be accomplished quickly, and by executive order. He’s likely to rescind President Barack Obama’s programs easing immigration restrictions. Obama ordered deportations only for immigrants in the country illegally and suspected of violent criminal acts. Trump could deport more than 1 million immigrants on the current deportation list.
Millions more might follow.
“He can simply say to the Department of Homeland Security, the Border Patrol, ‘start enforcing our immigration laws,’ ” said Hans von Spakovsky of the Heritage Foundation.
Other medium-term actions could include improved border security patrols and heightened scrutiny of refugees. Banning all immigrants of a specific ethnicity or religion would almost certainly face legal challenges and would be hard to enforce.
Congress has already authorized construction of a wall along the Mexican border. But it has never authorized money to build it, and it may now do so.
Trump has promised to make the Mexican government pay for the wall. The Mexican government has refused, and it isn’t clear how, short of war or confiscation of private property, he can honor that promise. He has suggested blocking transfers of money from the U.S. to Mexico, a plan that would almost certainly prompt lawsuits.
The wall could cost between $10 billion and $25 billion.
Will he? Yes. A crackdown on illegal immigrants and illegal immigration was a central promise of the Trump campaign. He’ll likely sign a flurry of executive orders on his first day in office overturning many of the immigration policies of the Obama administration.
Trump: “I also think we have to get rid of Dodd-Frank.”
Can he? It would take congressional approval to completely repeal the financial oversight rules intended to stop the sort of overextension of the banks that caused the 2008 meltdown and subsequent federal bailout. But Trump’s regulators and appointments could ignore it, or not punish firms that violate it.
Will he? Republicans hate Dodd-Frank. Liberal Democrats such as Sen. Elizabeth Warren will fiercely resist any major changes to finance laws.
Trump has inched away from his all-or-nothing position. He might fight this battle later.
Iran nuclear pact
Trump: “The worst deal ever negotiated.”
Can he? Trump may try to unilaterally abandon the agreement, while promising to negotiate a better one. The current deal is entangled in other international agreements, so immediate abrogation will be tough.
And it isn’t clear if Iran will agree to a new negotiation. But pressure from Congress — and Israel — could push this ahead on the to-do list.
Will he? Iran has never admitted it is developing nuclear weapons. If the Trump administration abandons the agreement, though, Iran could resume the bomb-building program the world knows it has pursued.
Trump: “I have a plan to defeat ISIS, but I won’t broadcast it.”
Can he? In fact, Iraqi government forces, with critical help from the U.S. military, may recapture all Islamic State-held territory in that country by the time Trump takes office in January. But many of the fighters will go underground and carry out terrorist attacks.
Trump also insisted that bombing campaigns on oil fields controlled by the Islamic State were needed to rob the would-be caliphate of revenue. “Attack the oil, because that’s their primary source of wealth,” he said during the campaign. In fact, through Operation Inherent Resolve, the U.S. military has bombed those assets. As of Sept. 26, the Defense Department said 2,638 targets were “damaged/destroyed.”
Syria poses far trickier questions. Islamic State fighters cleared from Iraq will show up in Syria. Trump’s often-vague statements about the region fuel speculation that he’d partner with Russia in Syria — flipping U.S. policy that calls for the ouster of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Teamed with Russia and the Damascus government, the U.S. might hope to rid Syria of the Islamic State. But experts warn it would be harder than taking back Iraqi territory.
Such a move would also align American military might with war criminals who control the regime. It would alarm allies Saudi Arabia and Israel and heighten already complex relations with Turkey.
“The real challenge in Syria is we’re not sure who we want to win,” said John Nagl, a retired Army lieutenant colonel who’s written a book about counterinsurgency.
Islamic State forces in Syria are widely dispersed and often interspersed with civilians. Bombing areas where civilians will be killed could further alienate more than 10 million Sunni Muslims in the country who hold varying degrees of sympathy for the Islamic State.
“Then it becomes about how you govern the territory,” said Robert Pape, director of the University of Chicago Project on Security and Terrorism.
Will he? Many of the goals Trump describes in defeating the Islamic State would be nearly impossible without sending in U.S. ground troops. Trump hasn’t said he’s willing to do that.
James Phillips, a Middle East and terrorism analyst at the conservative Heritage Foundation, said that Russia’s vanquishing of Chechen rebels in Grozny worked in the short term, but it bred Islamic terrorists in that region and beyond.
“There’s the old line that politics is all about what you want, and government is what you get,” Phillips said. “It’ll be interesting to see President-elect Trump cross that bridge.”
Trump: “The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.” (Trump tweet)
Can he? Trump said during the campaign that he would cancel or rework the so-called Paris Agreement intended to slow climate change by reducing carbon dioxide emissions. Formal withdrawal from the deal might take as long as three years. But effectively pulling out could come much quicker because the pact’s demands on the United States are nonbinding.
In signing on to the treaty, the U.S. agreed to lower its carbon emissions between 26 and 28 percent of its 2005 levels. A Trump administration could simply refuse to live up to that promise.
Because the greenhouse gases that trap heat in the Earth’s atmosphere obviously don’t respect international boundaries, an American pullout would discourage the other 189 nations that agreed to cutbacks from keeping their own obligations. After all, switching away from fossil fuels comes at a cost, and those countries would put themselves at an economic disadvantage by using greener, and more expensive, forms of energy.
Will he? In a debate, Trump denied tweeting his climate change denial, perhaps suggesting he might side with the scientific consensus that human activity has accelerated global warming. But he appears disinclined toward government rules, such as requirements on utility companies to use renewable forms of energy such as wind turbines.
Trump: “The justices that I am going to appoint will be pro-life. They will have a conservative bent. They will be protecting the Second Amendment. They are great scholars in all cases, and they’re people of tremendous respect.”
Can he? Yes.
Will he? Yes. Trump’s appointment of a justice to replace the late Antonin Scalia will be a major initial test of his presidency and his approach to office.
“There’s a lot of collateral damage out there right now,” said Patrick McInerney, a Kansas City-area attorney and a Democrat. “This may be one of the vehicles for him to establish himself as someone willing to talk, and willing to compromise.”
Trump has offered 20 judges he would “consider” for the Scalia seat. Among them: Raymond Gruender of the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis.
But it isn’t clear if the nomination, which may be announced before Trump takes office, would come from the list. Already some Republicans and Democrats are urging the president-elect to announce a compromise choice, one acceptable to moderate Democrats.
“He could find a conservative jurist that would pass the Senate with 75 votes without a big battle,” said Greg Musil, a local attorney and one-time Republican candidate for Congress. “And then he could start off on a grand note, unlike Obama.”
Nuts to that, conservative groups say.
“I don’t know why he needs to offer any kind of olive branch,” said Spakovsky of the Heritage Foundation. “Certainly Hillary Clinton would not do so.”