Saturday, January 28, 2017

The Good, The Bad and the Ugly of President Trump's First Week

As President Trump’s first week on the job takes its place in the history books, we can take a moment to look back on the good and the bad of the new administration. I was not a Trump supporter. I did not vote for Mr. Trump or for Hillary Clinton. Nevertheless, as a conservative, I can find things to applaud in Mr. Trump’s effort. Unfortunately, I can also find some of the things that made it impossible for me to vote for him in the first place.

Let me say first that many of Mr. Trump’s appointments have been very good. It seems that his appointments for military and security jobs are particularly sensible. Most of the issues that I have with his cabinet and staffers relate to economic positions where it seems that the president and his advisors lean toward a Keynesian viewpoint.

On his first day in office, Mr. Trump issued an Executive Order that directs the Department of Health and Human Services to “waive, defer, grant exemptions from, or delay” parts of the Affordable Care Act that place a financial burden on individuals, health care providers or states.” The order effectively tells the HHS not to enforce the Obamacare mandate. This is a partial fulfillment of a major campaign promise.

On Monday, President Trump began with an assault on free trade pacts. President Trump, in keeping with his campaign promises, signed a memorandum to withdraw from the Trans-Pacific Partnership and signaled his intention to reopen negotiations on NAFTA, the free trade agreement with America’s two largest export markets. Scuttling NAFTA could lead to major problems for the US economy while the dissolution of the TPP could give China a major window for expansion. Neither would be good for American businesses and consumers.

Other new policies are better news for conservatives. The president ordered a hiring freeze of nonmilitary government workers in an effort to reverse the growth of the federal government. The order “prevents filling vacant positions and creating new positions except when necessary to meet national or public security responsibilities,” press secretary Sean Spicer told CNN. The order also states that “contracting outside the Government to circumvent the intent of this memorandum shall not be permitted,” closing a major loophole of previous hiring freezes.

In another move that should please pro-life conservatives, the president restored the Mexico City Policy which prohibits international groups that perform or promote abortions from receiving federal funds. The policy was implemented by President Reagan and rescinded by President Obama in 2009.

On Tuesday, the president signed memos that would revive the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines. The Keystone pipeline would run from the Canadian Oil Sands of Alberta to Nebraska while the Dakota pipeline would go from North Dakota’s Bakken oil fields to Illinois. Both projects languished under President Obama and are important for the economy and energy independence. At the same time, Mr. Trump ordered federal departments to help streamline permitting and regulations for manufacturing projects.

On Wednesday, Trump fulfilled another campaign promise with two Executive Orders. The first established the “construction of a physical wall on the southern border” as official US policy and called for hiring 5,000 new Border Patrol agents. ABC News reports that Republican congressional leaders will back Trump’s plan for the wall with plans to authorize $12-15 billion for its construction. Last July, Politico wrote that many Border Patrol agents, even those who supported Trump, consider the wall “an expensive, pointless boondoggle, [that] wouldn’t solve the main problems with border security.” Trump’s second immigration order sets priorities for deportation of illegal aliens and aims to strip federal funds from sanctuary cities.

The Trump Administration continued to maintain that Mexico will either pay for the wall or reimburse the US for its cost. On Thursday, press secretary Spicer suggested that a 20 percent tariff on Mexican imports could be used to fund the wall, prompting Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto to cancel a planned meeting with President Trump. Millions of Americans whose livelihoods depend on trade with Mexico doubtless hope that relations between the two countries can be patched without a trade war.

On Friday, Trump signed another Executive Order, at least parts of which will please many conservatives. President Trump suspended the Syrian refugee program and halted immigrations from the countries of Iran, Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Libya, Yemen and Somalia for 90 days. The Order also suspended the US Refugee Admissions Program for 120 days until it is reinstated for refugees that can be properly vetted. The total number of refugees that the US will admit will be reduced from 110,000 annually to 50,000.

The order also gives the Department of Homeland Security the ability to prioritize Christian refugees from the Middle East. According to CNN, the Order allows DHS to give priority “on the basis of religious based persecution” as long as the person applying for asylum is “a minority religion in the individual's country of nationality.”

The Mexico kerfuffle is probably the ugliest aspect of the week, but Mr. Trump’s penchant for taking his eye off the ball and making off-the-cuff remarks and tweets also caused damage. Among the things better left unsaid were Trump’s unsupportable claim that 3-5 million illegal immigrants voted in the election, the pointless argument over the size of the crowd at the inauguration, his apparent endorsement of torture and his threat to “send in the Feds” to Chicago. That the new administration is now indelibly linked to the phrase “alternative facts” is disconcerting.

Though well-intentioned, there are obvious problems with President Trump’s use of executive actions to advance his agenda. Using Executive Orders to bypass Congress was a major complaint of conservatives about President Obama. Additionally, these orders may last only as long as President Trump’s term. Mr. Trump’s successor could change these Executive Orders as easily as Mr. Trump changed President Obama’s. Many of them do chart a course that will please Republicans, but ultimately Mr. Trump will have to make these changes permanent by working with Congress and persuading some Democrats to back his agenda.

Even though I didn’t support Trump as a candidate, so far he has proven to be a better president than Hillary Clinton would have been. Admittedly, that sets a very low bar. I still can’t consider myself a Trump supporter, but I will support and encourage him when he makes the right choices as he did on several of his executive actions this week and with many of his appointments. On the other hand, when he needs to be criticized, as he does on trade, some aspects of his immigration policy and saying things that are not thoughtful or presidential, conservatives should nudge him in the right direction. 

Originally published on The Resurgent

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