Democracy & Government

Trump’s Inability to Turn Promise Into Policy

Seven months into Trump's presidency, it's illuminating to see how little he has accomplished on his “big ticket” items.

Trump’s Inability to Turn Promise Into Policy

Classic school lunch. (Photo by Ben+Sam/ flickr CC 2.0)

We created our “While He Was Tweeting” series to help readers keep up with the rolled-back regulations and budget and staff cuts under the Trump administration that may be getting lost amid coverage of the American president’s twitter account. We’re also keeping an eye on new legislation under the 45th president, but seven months in, Trump has achieved little on his “big ticket” items.

Here’s the status on some of Trump’s signature initiatives.

Commission on “Electoral Integrity”

Donald Trump’s Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity has been controversial since it was set up in May. While the commission bills itself as being “bipartisan” its two leaders, Vice President Pence and Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, are both Republicans.

After the commission’s first meeting, Dartunorro Clark of NBC News reported that it was clear that members “don’t see eye to eye” on the key question facing the panel.

Is there widespread fraud at the ballot box? Some of President Donald Trump’s appointees say yes, including its vice chairman, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach; others on the commission argue certainly not and want to focus on issues like upgrading aging voting systems and encouraging registration.

It’s first action, requesting that all 50 states send in their voter registration records, has already led to a number of lawsuits. As of early July, 44 states said they either would not or could not, for legal reasons, hand over voter data to the commission.

Some voting rights experts, like Ari Berman, have called the commission a “sham” and called for its dismantling. He writes, “The commission was set up for one purpose — to spread false information about voter fraud, like Trump’s gigantic lie that millions of people voted illegally, in order to build support for policies that make it more difficult to vote.”

The Iran Deal

President Trump has repeatedly denounced the agreement that Barack Obama brokered with Iran on nuclear compliance. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal in July, Trump said he would have declared Iran as being noncompliant with the Obama-era nuclear deal “180 days ago.” The trouble is, as The WSJ reporter pointed out, Iran had been inspected twice before and was certified to be in compliance with the agreement.

The Trump administration has unsuccessfully tried to carve out plans to pull out of the deal. Earlier this summer, Steve Bannon asked former US ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton to come up with a strategy to that end. Then, Bannon was fired from the White House in early August, leaving Bolton’s plan in limbo.

Even if Bolton’s plan had somehow made it to the president’s desk, it was unlikely to pass any type of legislative review process. As Gardiner Harris from The New York Times reports, there’s bipartisan animosity to move forward with any type of changes to the current deal if Iran is found to be in compliance with the agreement, as it previously has:

Senate Republicans have signaled unease with the president’s vow to undo the deal and his own security advisers recommend preserving it. Calls placed to more than 20 Senate offices of opponents of the deal found few willing to discuss their positions publicly. Mirroring Republican unease, some of the groups that once fiercely opposed the deal are similarly silent.

Border Wall

Since day one of his campaign, the promise to build a wall along the US-Mexico border to prevent unauthorized immigration to US territory has been a key driver of the president’s popularity.

However, as shown during the Obamacare repeal “negotiations,” a promise does not always translate into policy. Many legislators are unwilling to fund Trump’s border fantasy. On one hand, most, if not all, Senate Democrats refuse to provide funding for the project. It is also unlikely that Republican leaders will support funds for the wall, especially given the fraught relationship between GOP leaders and the president after Congress failed to secure an Obamacare repeal earlier this summer.

Not surprisingly, knowing he’s unlikely to get congressional approval, Trump is again claiming that Mexico will pay for the border wall. On August 27th, he tweeted:

Later that day, Mexico responded:

As the Mexican government has always stated, our country will not pay, under any circumstances, for a wall or physical barrier built on US territory along the Mexican border. This statement is not part of a Mexican negotiating strategy, but rather a principle of national sovereignty and dignity.

School Lunches

One of the most controversial moments in the young Trump presidency was a move that seemed like a direct slap in the face to former first lady Michelle Obama. The administration announced early on that it was scrapping her healthy eating school lunch initiative.

Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Pudue made the annoucement in the annual conference of the School Nutrition Association. The New York Times reports:

After reminiscing about the cinnamon rolls baked by the lunchroom ladies of his youth, he delivered a rousing defense of school food-service workers who were unhappy with some of the sweeping changes made by the Obama administration. The amounts of fat, sugar and salt were drastically reduced. Portion sizes shrank. Lunch trays had to hold more fruits and vegetables. Snacks and food sold for fundraising had to be healthier.

“Your dedication and creativity was being stifled,” Mr. Perdue said. “You were forced to focus your attention on strict, inflexible rules handed down from Washington. Even worse, you experienced firsthand that the rules were failing.”

The former first lady memorably replied: “You have to stop and think, why don’t you want our kids to have good food at school? What is wrong with you? And why is that a partisan issue? Why would that be political? What is going on?”

Some of the 7,000 members of the School Nutrition Association walked out on Purdue. But it turns out that it’s not all that easy to roll back the progress made in the last few years. Backboned by the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, which took effect in 2010, most of the moves toward healthier options are here to stay. As with civil forfeiture, which we reported on recently, much of the policy is made on the local level and school boards and nutrition groups are not willing to take a step backward.

Plus, there’s lots of grass-roots resistance. As The New York Times reports:

[The] Chef Ann Foundation, which provides grants to help schools create healthier food, will start the School Food Institute, which uses video courses to help school food-service operators and parents navigate the daunting bureaucracy of local and federal aid, with the aim of bringing from-scratch cooking back to all schools.

So what has the Trump administration accomplished with its very public move? Well, some areas of the country will see extensions on rules determining how much whole grain is required. Second, flavored milk can go back to having 1 percent fat (non-flavored milk is already fat-free). And most importantly, the limits on sodium will not rise as quickly as under the previous administration.

Read more installments in our series “While He was Tweeting” — keeping an eye on Trump’s wrecking ball.