The Memo: Trump tries to turn back clock on Obama era

The Memo: Trump tries to turn back clock on Obama era
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President TrumpDonald TrumpTexas announces election audit in four counties after Trump demand Schumer sets Monday showdown on debt ceiling-government funding bill Pennsylvania AG sues to block GOP subpoenas in election probe MORE is trying to turn back the clock on the Obama era, even as he has been frustrated by the slow pace of progress on his legislative agenda.

In a 24-hour period beginning Thursday evening, Trump took aim at former President Obama’s major domestic and foreign policy achievements — the Affordable Care Act, also known as ObamaCare, and the nuclear deal with Iran.

In both cases, he began hollowing out his predecessor’s accomplishments — in the first instance by announcing he would end government subsidies for insurers, and in the other by refusing to certify that Iran was in compliance with the terms of the 2015 agreement.


Those moves by Trump can be added to a lengthy list of actions aimed at unpicking the Obama legacy.

Since coming to office in January, Trump has promised to pull the U.S. out of the Paris climate accord, rolled back LGBT rights, withdrawn from the Trans-Pacific Partnership and approved the Keystone XL pipeline.

The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program — the Obama-era initiative that offered a measure of protection to around 800,000 people who had entered the United States illegally as children — will expire in March unless a legislative fix is found.

Last week, Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency head, Scott PruittEdward (Scott) Scott PruittEPA bans use of pesticide linked to developmental problems in children Science matters: Thankfully, EPA leadership once again agrees Want to evaluate Donald Trump's judgment? Listen to Donald Trump MORE, said he would seek to repeal Obama’s blueprint for dealing with climate change, the Clean Power Plan. 

Added together, it is enough to satisfy many Trump partisans, even as the media focus on the repeated failures to repeal and replace the health-care law and the president’s strained relationship with his party colleagues on Capitol Hill.

“He is undoing it, piece by piece, executive order by executive order,” said Sam Nunberg, who worked on the early stages of Trump’s presidential campaign. 

“Look, President Obama was very effective in using the executive branch to promote his agenda. President Trump, in the same guise, can be effective in breaking that.”

This could be one reason why Trump’s support among Republican voters has remained robust, even as his overall approval rating has hit historic lows. In an Economist-YouGov poll released last week, Trump’s overall job approval rating was just 36 percent. Among Republicans, it was 81 percent. 

Trump himself has come to extol the virtues of a new approach. In remarks Friday to the conservative Values Voter Summit, he complained that, when it came to health care, lawmakers in Congress “forgot what their pledges were.”

But, he added, “We're going a little different route. But you know what? In the end, it's going to be just as effective, and maybe it will even be better.”

GOP strategist Ford O’Connell, a Trump supporter, said, “I think what President Trump is experiencing is exactly what President Obama experienced in a lot of ways, even though they are very different people. 

“They realize that we are living in a highly polarized country with a highly polarized Congress. Procedural rules make it such that you can get very little done. And so presidents have to use executive actions to deliver what they said they were going to do.”

Others who are more skeptical question whether Trump is really following through as emphatically as he likes to suggest. 

They note that he sometimes wraps somewhat restrained action in fiery rhetoric.

While Trump hit Iran hard in his remarks on Friday, for example, he is not collapsing the nuclear deal itself. Instead, he is punting the issue of possible new sanctions back to Congress, which may end up taking no action at all. 

On climate change, The Wall Street Journal reported last month that the administration was “considering staying in the Paris agreement … 'under the right conditions,’ offering to re-engage in the international deal three months after President Donald Trump said the U.S. would pull out.”

There are also some issues on which Trump has sent conflicting signals — notably DACA — and others on which even some Republicans warn that a continued hard line would carry political costs. 

Last week’s announcement on the ObamaCare subsidies drew criticism from Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.). 

Earlier this year, GOP senators including John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneSchumer sets Monday showdown on debt ceiling-government funding bill Congress facing shutdown, debt crisis with no plan B GOP warns McConnell won't blink on debt cliff MORE (S.D.) and Lamar AlexanderLamar AlexanderThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Alibaba - Democrats return to disappointment on immigration Authorities link ex-Tennessee governor to killing of Jimmy Hoffa associate The Republicans' deep dive into nativism MORE (Tenn.) had expressed the hope that the administration would continue to make its payments.

Democratic strategist Joe Trippi said these were among the reasons why it was “unclear” whether Trump was really going to overturn Obama’s legacy.

“A lot of these things are sort of symbolic,” Trippi said. “On health care, is he really going to throw all these people off, take their subsidies away, raise their premiums 20 or 25 percent, when a good number of the people who are going to get harmed are his supporters? Is he really going to do that?”

But Trippi also acknowledged that the idea of a president forcing through executive orders over the heads of an inert Congress has an appeal to Trump’s most loyal supporters.

“It is almost a perfect narrative for him: I can’t get my legislative agenda through, so I’ll do it myself.”

Others closer to Trump are cheering the president on. They like the substance of his actions. But they also enjoy the sense that the time has come for some political payback.

“As Republicans, we had to suffer through President Obama’s executive orders,” said Nunberg. “I hope Democrats enjoy President Trump’s.”

The Memo is a reported column by Niall Stanage, primarily focused on Donald Trump’s presidency.