The Administration’s Legislative Accomplishments

Trump's legislative accomplishments have been anemic at best.

Trump And GOP ElephantVia CNN:  President Trump has signed 53 bills into law. Here’s what they do

at a rally in Phoenix on Tuesday night, Trump touted the bills he has signed into law so far. “We’ve accomplished historic amounts in a short period of time. We’ve signed more than 50 pieces of legislation,” he said. “They said we’ve signed none — none. We’ve signed 50.”

More than six months into his presidency, the number of bills Trump has signed stands at 53. Many have been passed through the Congressional Review Act, which allows Congress to roll back regulations imposed by the executive branch, and are aimed at dismantling former President Barack Obama’s legislative legacy.

In all, two of the laws has created a new policy, 15 have rolled back rules and regulations issued under Obama’s administration, 10 had to do with designating something or working to create a new initiative, 11 changed or expanded existing legislation, and 15 were related to government funding or operations.

The piece lists all the legislation passed.  If one peruses the list, one will find quite a lot of basic governmental maintenance.  There are a few things that are certainly significant, as one would expect from federal legislation, as various piece of legislation passed that affect the budget or various regulations.  But what is utterly missing is any major legislation (i.e., something creating an important new or altered policy).  None of these pieces of legislation could be defined as fulfilling any of Trump’s major campaign promises (e.g., health care, immigration, the border wall, tax reform, trade policy, etc.).  The closest one comes to fulfilling campaign promises is the rollback of some Obama era regulations.

Further, of the new policies, one is actually in opposition to the president’s stated preferences, i.e., new sanctions on Russia:

August 2, 2017: H.R. 3364 - Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act
This legislation levies new sanctions against Russia and restricts Trump’s own ability to ease sanctions in place against Moscow. The bill passed overwhelmingly in Congress. In a statement, Trump called the legislation “seriously flawed.”

The other new policy is as follows:

June 23, 2017: S. 1094 - “Department of Veterans Affairs Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act of 2017”
This law gives the agency’s leaders the ability to fire inept employees and protect those who uncover and report wrongdoing at the VA. Its signing represents the completion of one of Trump’s campaign promises. It passed both bodies of Congress with broad bipartisan support.

Not exactly the kind of thing that books on presidential honeymoon periods focus on when discussing legislative accomplishments of a new president.

Yes, Trump has initiated a number of important policy actions via executive order (e.g., the travel ban), but the reality is that his actual governing output has been anemic.  I would recommend a look at the linked list.

I will conclude by noting that a feud with the Senate Majority Leader is unlikely to help the president pass significant legislation.  Further, his understanding of the legislative process remains in question (yes, that is an understatement).  If he thinks, as he noted in Arizona this week, that he was only one vote away from repealing and replacing Obamacare, then he just doesn’t get it (as even under a best case scenario for Trump, the House would have had to have passed the “skinny” bill).

But, as Trump’s tweets from last night and this morning, he really doesn’t understand the Congress (not shock, I know):

Note, for example, the vote he lost by 1 vote was not operating under filibuster constraints.  He needed the Vice President to break a 50-50 tie to even proceed in the process at one point.  The filibuster has not been the obstacle.

Also, it really isn’t this simple:

FILED UNDER: Donald Trump, US Politics
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter

Comments

  1. Kylopod says:

    I have to disagree slightly with one thing:

    Note, for example, the vote he lost by 1 vote was not operating under filibuster constraints. He needed the Vice President to break a 50-50 tie to even proceed in the process at one point. The filibuster has not been the obstacle.

    All the Senate’s versions of the health care bill used reconciliation, making them not subject to a filibuster, and they had to struggle to remain within the narrow rules of reconciliation bills. The Senate parliamentarian had already shot down several provisions of the broader repeal-and-replace bill. The reason they couldn’t do an ordinary non-reconciliation bill is because it would have been subject to a filibuster, requiring them to get at least eight Democrats on board. If the GOP were to get rid of the filibuster, the task of repeal would become a lot easier and they would be able to make more far-reaching changes without the need for any Democratic votes.

    At this point there are enough Senate traditionalists in the GOP who value the legislative filibuster, even if it hinders some of their goals in the short run. (It’s also possible that many Republican Senators don’t actually want to repeal Obamacare and this serves as a convenient excuse.)

  2. Kylopod says:

    Of course none of this is meant as a defense of Trump, who is as usual lying his ass off. (And water is wet.)

  3. teve tory says:

    The New York Times reports that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is pretty much in open war against Donald Trump and has privately said that he thinks Trump may not even be able to survive through the 2018 midterm elections after getting off to such a disastrous start.

    Yowza.

  4. James Pearce says:

    “They said we’ve signed none — none. We’ve signed 50.”

    Note how Trump takes something he should be embarrassed by and turns it into something he can brag about.

    Imagine what this guy could do if he wasn’t a piece of shit.

  5. teve tory says:

    @Kylopod:

    At this point there are enough Senate traditionalists in the GOP who value the legislative filibuster, even if it hinders some of their goals in the short run. (It’s also possible that many Republican Senators don’t actually want to repeal Obamacare and this serves as a convenient excuse.)

    Democratic policies are more popular than republican policies, so the filibuster helps stop them, is my impression.

  6. Timothy Watson says:

    Steven,

    It looks like you left off the title for the post, which makes the only way to get to the post from the front-page is through the comments link.

  7. al-Ameda says:

    Although I’m speaking for only 65 million voters (or 3 million more than those who voted for Trump) I personally am glad that the Trump Administration record of legislative ‘accomplishments’ is anemic.

  8. @Kylopod:

    All the Senate’s versions of the health care bill used reconciliation, making them not subject to a filibuster,

    That’s my exact point, although perhaps it was unclear: Trump cannot blame his loses of actual votes on the floor on the filibuster.

    The reality is: he cannot even get his own party to function together on votes not constrained by super-majority requirements.

  9. @Timothy Watson: Thanks–I did forget to put a title. There as some weird format stuff that I had to fix as well.

  10. @al-Ameda:

    Although I’m speaking for only 65 million voters (or 3 million more than those who voted for Trump) I personally am glad that the Trump Administration record of legislative ‘accomplishments’ is anemic.

    Sure. But my point is simply an assessment of success of his presidency to date by the normal ways such things are measured.

  11. Kylopod says:

    @teve tory:

    Democratic policies are more popular than republican policies, so the filibuster helps stop them, is my impression.

    It isn’t just a matter of popularity, though. When Dems were attempting to pass Obamacare, left-wing critics such as Glenn Greenwald accused them of hiding behind the filibuster as an excuse for abandoning the public option, a reform that always polled well.

    Of course back then one of the Senators was that ultimate traditionalist Robert Byrd, who created a lot of the reconciliation rules that are currently giving the GOP such a headache. He must be smiling from his grave.

  12. SenyorDave says:

    Ladies and gentleman, I give you the president of the United States:

    https://www.yahoo.com/gma/trump-retweets-meme-blocking-obama-labeled-best-eclipse-125604769–abc-news-topstories.html

    This link confirms we elected a 12 year old as president, the most powerful position on earth.

    Also, in case anyone forgot, this just confirms he’s a classless piece of garbage.

  13. Just 'nutha ig'nint cracker says:

    @teve tory:

    Trump may not even be able to survive through the 2018 midterm elections after getting off to such a disastrous start.

    Who’s gonna put him out of office at mid-term? The voters? It sure ain’t gonna be the House and Senate.

    If Mitch were only as tough as his talk is. (and his talk isn’t all that tough, either!)

  14. Andre Kenji says:

    Presidents generally have very few legislative accomplishments, they act basically by changing directions in the Federal Departments. And Trump is doing lots of damage here.

  15. teve tory says:

    @Just ‘nutha ig’nint cracker: It’s not clear from the story what McConnell thinks would happen. He’d be pressured to resign? The russian money laundering would force him out in a deal to avoid prosecution? I don’t know.

    Given how desperate he is to hide his taxes, how many times his businesses have declared bankruptcy, how many properties and acquaintances are tied to russian gangsters, and how he’s turned to scams like Trump University and such, it’s pretty certain that his finances are deeply shady.

  16. @Andre Kenji: legislatively we would normally expect far more than this.

    At a minimum, the reality of his legislative successes makes his statements about how much he has done a lie.

  17. @Steven L. Taylor: But yes: damage is being done–that just wasn’t my focus here.

  18. Kylopod says:

    @Andre Kenji:

    Presidents generally have very few legislative accomplishments

    Huh? Let’s just review the past three presidents:

    Obama: stimulus, Obamacare, Dodd Frank, ending DADT
    Bush: tax cuts, No Child Left Behind, Medicare D, Patriot Act
    Clinton: NAFTA, DADT, welfare reform, SCHIP

    And that’s just a few major examples. Presidents typically get plenty of major initiatives passed.

  19. Mister Bluster says:

    classless piece of garbage
    aka:

    …racist, sexual pervert, REPUBLICAN President Donald Trump

  20. MarkedMan says:

    While it is literally true that Presidents don’t have any legislative authority except the veto, since the founding of the republic it has been the norm for a president to work closely with their own party and a tactically significant bloc of the opposition to pass the legislation they championed during their campaign.

    But the Repubs have a dilemma. Nearly two decades ago they started working under the theory that they would never cooperate with the Dems on major legislation under any circumstances, and by Obama’s time it was locked in place. Heck, Boehner essentially threw himself into the fire in order to secure Dem votes to avoid a shutdown and ended up having to resign before he was eaten alive by the billionaire funded nincompoops that make up the vast majority of Repubs today.

    In the minority they created a monolith against the majority. In the majority a monolith against the president. But it’s been 15-20 yrpears since they actively crafted seriously legislation and did the work to get it passed. They were looking to the Trump administration to do that, and now it’s obvious that won’t happen.

    So here we are. A Republican admin and Congress that can’t get anything done without the help of the Dems, if only because the Dems still know how to create and pass legislation. But if anyone in their coalition even takes a step in that direction the Koch brothers et al, plus the Aryn Rand fanaticists will run them out of town in their next primary. There used to be Repubs that would stand up against this nonsense but they are gone.

    I seriously don’t know how we move forward. Maybe a Democratic congress in 2018 will make some kind of a difference but that is a long way away. And the Repubs won’t cooperate with them if it happens.

  21. DrDaveT says:

    “What do you mean I haven’t done anything this weekend!? I turned the lights on. I turned the lights off. I opened the refrigerator door. I closed the refrigerator door, just like you’re always yelling at me to. I ate, I drank beers, I watched TV. I took two showers. I even talked on the phone with Joe. Just talking about how much I’ve done is making me tired…”

  22. DrDaveT says:

    @Timothy Watson:

    It looks like you left off the title for the post

    That’s backwards — the correct joke would be to use that title and then leave the article blank…

  23. Matthew Bernius says:

    I suspect that many of Trump’s voters (not to mention his continued supporters) actually see the lack of a legislative record as accomplishment. The common wisdom I’ve heard when I’ve checked in to the more populist “conservative” media outlets is that there’s too much legislation.

    It’s worth remembering that a not insignificant number of Trump supporters were looking for him to *break* the system, not fix it (or rather that fixing it was tearing it down).

    Which get to:

    Many have been passed through the Congressional Review Act, which allows Congress to roll back regulations imposed by the executive branch, and are aimed at dismantling former President Barack Obama’s legislative legacy.

    I suspect that a number of folks out there are prepared to do the mental gymnastics to make any roll back of regulation a “major” accomplishment.

  24. Kylopod says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    That’s my exact point, although perhaps it was unclear: Trump cannot blame his loses of actual votes on the floor on the filibuster.

    Late reply, but what I was responding to before was your statement “The filibuster has not been the obstacle.” That’s where I disagree. The filibuster has definitely been an obstacle and continues to be. If not for the filibuster the Republicans would have crafted a different bill from the start, where they’d have had greater flexibility not just on the bill itself (where they could have made direct changes to the regulatory structure of Obamacare) but in putting in “goodies” to woo reluctant Senators. For example, one of the things the Senate parliamentarian shot down was a plan to defund Planned Parenthood which was being used to gain the votes of Senate conservatives. Once they lost this provision, it contributed to the collapse of the repeal-and-replace bill (which fell short by 7 votes, not 1). They wouldn’t have had to worry about the Senate parliamentarian if they’d been working on an ordinary, non-reconciliation bill. The only reason they were constricted by the narrow rules of reconciliation was because it was their only way of avoiding a filibuster. If they got rid of the filibuster, they could design a new bill from scratch that wouldn’t have had to deal with these restrictions. So yes, the filibuster did definitely stand in their way.

    And again, I emphasize this is not a defense of Trump’s remarks at all. He didn’t make this argument, I’m not even sure he understands the procedural issues I just outlined. And frankly, since it was only the “skinny” bill that fell short by 1 vote, he gave the impression he didn’t care about the content of these bills at all and would have touted anything Congress sent to his desk called “Obamacare repeal.”

    Nevertheless, I do find it interesting and meaningful that Republicans so far have not chosen to pursue the nuclear option and eliminate the legislative filibuster–especially when earlier this year they drove the final nail into the coffin of the judicial filibuster. They obviously value the legislative filibuster enough to keep it around even though it has been greatly constraining their ability to pass their agenda.

  25. @Kylopod: I do agree that the filibuster has been consequential to the strategies pursued by the Republicans. I just don’t think Trump know what he is arguing about (as you acknowledge).

    I do think that repealing Obamacare, even without the filibuster in place, would be difficult. The general lack of a coherent repeal and replace strategy/lack of any model replacement legislation speaks to this.

    Indeed, if the GOP had a plan that they could pass by going nuclear, we might have seen this already. They are, in some ways, hiding behind the filibuster rather than being constrained by it.

  26. @Matthew Bernius:

    I suspect that many of Trump’s voters (not to mention his continued supporters) actually see the lack of a legislative record as accomplishment. The common wisdom I’ve heard when I’ve checked in to the more populist “conservative” media outlets is that there’s too much legislation.

    I agree. And I wouldn’t even comment except that isn’t the argument that Trump himself is making, He keeps saying how much he has accomplished!

  27. Kylopod says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    Indeed, if the GOP had a plan that they could pass by going nuclear, we might have seen this already. They are, in some ways, hiding behind the filibuster rather than being constrained by it.

    Agreed, and I pointed out that much earlier. But it’ll be interesting to see how they handle tax reform (aka tax cuts for the rich). That’s something they truly care about, and while the idea of tax cuts aimed at the wealthy isn’t popular, unlike with Obamacare repeal there’s a well-established template for doing it in a way that’s not politically toxic. And yet, they already appear to be struggling with the tax bill due to their having to work within the constraints of reconciliation. If the tax bill fails I think the pressure to go nuclear will increase dramatically.

  28. Matthew Bernius says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    I completely agree that, as with almost all other norms, our king-of-carnival president has all but inverted them.

    I’m trying to go beyond Occam’s Razor (he’s lying) and trying to figure out the mental gymnastics that his remaining base (and those adjacent to them) need to do to in order to say “He’s right!”

  29. @Matthew Bernius: Apropos of this, from this morning:

  30. CET says:

    @ Matthew Bernius

    I suspect that many of Trump’s voters (not to mention his continued supporters) actually see the lack of a legislative record as accomplishment. The common wisdom I’ve heard when I’ve checked in to the more populist “conservative” media outlets is that there’s too much legislation.

    I didn’t vote for him, and think that he (and what he represents) are a significant threat to the republic, but the argument for regarding the repeal of legislation (or the reduction in additional legislation) as an accomplishment is not necessarily a ludicrous one. The thing that I think the populist-right ignores is it isn’t as simple as ‘less regulation = good, more regulation = bad’. The white house should have to look at each piece, determine why it was enacted and what role it currently serves, justify why removing it will be beneficial, etc. etc.

    Instead, we just get the same boilerplate about ‘job killing regulations,’ or variations on the ‘it’s my land, I can dump toxic waste into the water table if I want to, and screw the rest of you’ mentality.