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It’s Been One Month. How’s the Trump Agenda Going?

Image: President-elect Donald Trump is sworn in as president

Donald Trump is sworn in as president on Jan. 20. Mark Ralston / AFP - Getty Images

One month in, Donald Trump's presidency looks much like his campaign: a continual series of crises.

Trump's formula worked in the campaign and led to his surprise victory. So far, however, his administration is having trouble turning his election promises into a functioning government.

Trump has been confronted with a series of administrative crises while struggling to move the ball on key policy priorities. He even returned to the campaign trail in Florida on Saturday.

At his first solo news conference last week, Trump likened his White House to a "fine-tuned machine." But the president was in the midst of a personnel crisis after firing national security adviser Michael Flynn. Trump's first choice to replace him, retired Navy Vice Adm. Robert Harward, turned him down. On Monday, however, he named Army Lt. General H.R. McMaster to the post, a widely respected figure in military circles.

The White House has also been bogged down in side battles over such issues as the size of the crowd at his inauguration to voter fraud conspiracies, sapping attention and draining aides.

One month in, the Trump presidency has been anything but usual 3:29

One of Trump's signature policy initiatives, blocking travel and refugees from seven Muslim-majority countries, has been held up by the courts and widely panned for its faulty deployment. And there are ongoing issues surrounding his potential conflicts of interest and recent reports linking campaign advisers to Russia.

Trump has said the focus on those struggles overlooks success elsewhere.

He has argued that other executive orders he's signed, besides the travel order, deserve more attention, along with emerging work on foreign policy, trade and energy. Many of his key Cabinet choices have been confirmed despite a wall of Democratic opposition, which delayed their Senate votes and helped derail his first nominee for labor secretary, Andy Puzder.

"There has never been a presidency that's done so much in such a short period of time," Trump said.

But most of Trump's executive orders are still limited in scope, and some of the more far-reaching proposals face serious obstacles before they can take effect.

Congress has yet to send major legislation to his desk, apart from measures to roll back some regulations issued in the last months of President Barack Obama's administration.

In many cases, the new administration still hasn't worked out consistent positions on such important issues as health care, immigration and taxes, which makes it hard to judge their progress.

There's also still a feeling-out period abroad, as world leaders nervously try to determine which of Trump's more unorthodox proposals were campaign rhetoric and which ones are new policies.

At the same time, Trump has attended to some less difficult campaign promises and laid the groundwork for potentially major moves. There's still plenty of time to regroup, but the first 100 days are considered crucial to enacting a new president's agenda. One month in, here's a look at some of the movement Trump has made.

Health care

Trump made no mention in his inaugural address of repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act, despite its being a cherished Republican priority. Yet the future of the ACA, or "Obamacare," may end up as the defining policy fight of Trump's presidency.

Republican hopes for rapid repeal have been deflated by intraparty disagreements on policy and procedure.

House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, says legislation is imminent that would partly repeal and at least partly replace the ACA. But details are scarce, and there's a widening divide between conservatives, who want a cheaper replacement that would likely cover fewer people, and moderates (especially in the Senate) who are reluctant to adopt changes that would take Medicaid or private insurance from those who have obtained it under the law.

Part of the problem is that Trump's own orders have been unclear. He initially said he would release his own plan that would include "insurance for everybody" and "much lower deductibles," but so far Congress is taking the lead.

Trump said at his news conference to expect an "initial plan" in March, without specifying its origin. It's not yet clear whether he'll intervene if Republican leaders produce legislation that falls short of his coverage goals or violates his pledge not to cut Medicaid spending, which looks especially likely in the House.

In the meantime, ACA exchanges are troubled as more insurers pull out, and delays in naming a replacement plan could spook companies further. Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price has taken some steps to try to stabilize the market while the administration works out a replacement.

Immigration and refugees

The Trump administration moved quickly to implement a version of Trump's pledge to enact "extreme vetting" of travelers and a freeze on refugees from countries that pose "security concerns" — a climbdown from his initial proposal to ban all Muslim travel to the United States, which almost no Republican official supported.

The confusing rollout of the executive order ended up trapping permanent U.S. residents at airports and generating widespread protests. It was blocked by the courts, which prompted an enraged response from the president. Trump has since said he plans to issue a new order rather than continue to defend the original one in court.

But there's been other movement on immigration, too. Trump issued executive orders to build his signature wall along the Mexican border, cut funding to so-called sanctuary cities and expand deportations. The Homeland Security Department is considering further directives that could authorize officials to detain and deport certain undocumented immigrants more quickly.

The wall, which would require funding from Congress, faces a variety of legal and logistical hurdles, and it's not clear that the White House has much leverage over local governments. But the administration's order broadening its deportation priorities beyond serious criminals might already be having an impact.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials say recent raids and arrests are in line with policies under Obama, but immigration activists say Trump's orders are spurring authorities to go further. In one case, a mother of two children who are U.S. citizens was arrested and deported, even though she had checked in with immigration authorities regularly after a 2008 arrest for using a false Social Security number to work.

Other areas are still to be determined.

Trump has held off calls from the right to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy, which protects young undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children, but his long-term position is ambiguous. He told reporters "I love these kids" last week, saying the situation was a "very difficult subject" that required "heart," without elaborating on policy details.

His stance on legal immigration and foreign work visas is also unclear, and it could pit advisers against one another.

Courts

This is arguably Trump's biggest success so far. His choice of Neil Gorsuch to fill the Supreme Court seat left open by the death of Antonin Scalia earned universal praise from Republicans, and the rollout has been relatively smooth, even if Trump wasn't always happy with the process. Gorsuch hasn't been confirmed yet, however.

Trade

Trade is another area in which Trump has had at least one significant accomplishment: He formally rejected the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which he attacked regularly on the campaign trail.

Trump has continued to criticize Mexico for what he claims are unfair trade practices, and he reiterated his demand that Mexico pay for a border wall, which prompted Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto to cancel a planned meeting.

The TPP Is Dead. So What? 0:44

At the same time, Trump has suggested that Congress fund construction of a wall immediately, even if no agreement with Mexico is in place. Republican leaders in Congress sound amenable, but there's no legislation yet.

The president said at a news conference with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau that he still plans to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement, but his primary concerns were with Mexico and not Canada.

Energy

Trump signed executive orders advancing approval of the Dakota Access and Keystone XL pipelines, a departure from Obama administration policy. Smoothing their progress was a popular promise among Republicans during the campaign, but it faces opposition from environmental groups and Native American activists.

There could be more action soon, however. When he was attorney general of Oklahoma, Scott Pruitt, now the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, led lawsuits against the federal government's regulations on emissions tied to climate change. Environmental groups are gearing up for a fight over what they expect to be a major effort to dismantle them.

Trump has also questioned climate science and criticized regulations and international agreements surrounding the topic as overly burdensome to business.

Tax reform

Trump campaigned on a pledge to cut taxes, although he was inconsistent on the details and changed plans entirely late in the race. He's identified tax reform as a top priority since winning in November.

As with repealing the Affordable Care Act, it's a popular Republican idea on paper, but it's troubled in practice a month into Trump's presidency. And as with health care, Trump has made fairly confusing statements about what he expects from a deal.

House Republican leaders want to adopt a new border adjustment tax, which would penalize companies that rely heavily on imported goods, to finance an across-the-board cut in corporate tax rates. Trump criticized the idea shortly before he took office, but he has since indicated that he might be open to it.

Manufacturers, whom Trump has emphasized in speeches, like the idea, but big retailers, who rely on cheap goods from abroad to stock their stores, are gearing up for a major campaign to stop it.

Infrastructure

Trump and top advisers like Stephen Bannon have long mentioned infrastructure spending as a top priority to generate jobs and fix crumbling roads, bridges and airports. But so far, there hasn't been much visible movement in Congress.

Image: Steve Bannon
Steve Bannon MANDEL NGAN / AFP - Getty Images

Democrats are usually more enthusiastic about the idea than Republicans, and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer of New York unveiled a $1 trillion plan last month in hope of attracting the White House's attention.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, told reporters last week that Republicans still expect to tackle the issue in some form, but he has previously warned the White House against spending too much.

Foreign policy

Nowhere has Trump broken further from mainstream politics than in foreign policy, with even few Republican lawmakers willing to fully endorse his views.

Since taking office, Trump has sent mixed messages on his priorities, with a mix of conciliatory moves and more aggressive ones, and world leaders have expressed deep concern about whether he will undermine the current system of alliances and agreements on trade, defense and human rights.

Trump has praised the use of torture — even as he says he won't implement it — and he has suggested that he might consider seizing Iraq's oil in the future, which Defense Secretary James Mattis reassured Iraq was not the case in Baghdad this week.

Trump is noted for his calls for closer relations with Russian President Vladimir Putin, whom he praised often during the campaign. That story got more attention after Flynn resigned over his discussions with Russia's ambassador to the United States and reports — unconfirmed by NBC News — that several Trump aides had contact with Russian intelligence officials during the campaign.

Trump was reluctant to accept the intelligence community's consensus report that Putin was behind hacks against his political opponents, and he has dismissed interest in the cyber-attack as an effort to undermine his legitimacy.

Policy changes toward Russia are still a work in progress, however.

Trump's secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, faced extra scrutiny from senators in both parties for his business ties to Putin. Mattis is publicly wary of Russia, and Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, has criticized Russia for supporting Ukrainian separatists.

Vice President Mike Pence, who often took more conventional positions during the campaign, told world leaders this week that the White House would "hold Russia accountable." Republican leaders, meanwhile, have suggested that they might reimpose sanctions on Russia if Trump withdraws them.

Trump criticized NATO throughout the campaign and alarmed world leaders when he appeared to suggest that the United States might not defend an ally from a Russian attack if it hadn't paid its dues. Mattis praised NATO extensively in his confirmation hearings, but he also warned in Europe last week that the United States would "moderate its commitment" if members didn't increase their defense budgets.

In other areas, early bluster has given way to a different reality. After the election, Trump said he potentially would abandon the "One China" policy toward Taiwan and China as leverage to negotiate a trade deal. But he quickly backed down this month and reiterated his commitment to the longtime agreement in a call with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

The Trump administration also reaffirmed its commitment to defend Japan and South Korea after the president threatened to withdraw his support as a candidate and even suggested that both countries might be better off pursuing nuclear weapons rather than relying on U.S. protection.

On Israel, his administration has wavered on whether it is committed to a two-state solution, a longtime U.S. policy, and it waffled on a promise to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, which past presidents have abandoned once in office, as well.

Trump also surprised some observers by opposing Israeli settlements and indicating interest in a new peace initiative at a news conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, even as he kept his criticism gentler than Obama had.