Last week, after the mad dash to pass the GOP tax bill and last-minute scramble to fund the government, President Trump finally had a moment to pause and reflect on his first year in office. And, as he does when he has a thought, he tweeted about it: "So many things accomplished by the Trump Administration, perhaps more than any other President in first year. Sadly, will never be reported correctly by the Fake News Media!"
The thing is: he's not entirely wrong. It's true the tax bill was the first and only piece of major legislation he was able to get passed this year – an almost unimaginable reality, considering his party has control of both chambers of Congress – but even without many actual bills to his name Trump has gotten quite a bit done this year. Starting with his very first act in office.
The Federal Housing Administration was poised to cut mortgage fees the week Trump was sworn in, a move that would have made home ownership more accessible and less expensive for everyone across the board, but especially for the poorest Americans – "the forgotten men and women" he often spoke of on the campaign trail. Mortgage lenders, home builders and real estate agents were united in their support for the move, but Trump scrapped it an hour after the inauguration. His reason, outlined in a letter from the Department of Housing and Urban Development, was vague: "more analysis and research" was needed to assess how "potential market conditions in an ever-changing global economy" could impact future rates, the agency said.
Reportedly, there was no reason. The decision was motivated by the fact that Trump didn't want anything – no matter how popular or uncontroversial – going through if it was endorsed by President Obama. The FHA decision was, ultimately, emblematic of Trump's first year in office: a symbolic move chiefly motivated by spite that had serious, negative consequences for actual people. In this case, the change would mean as many as 40,000 buyers couldn't buy a home in 2017, according to estimates by the National Association of Realtors; the week after the decision, mortgage applications dropped 3.2 percent.
Ironically, Trump has been most successful at the very thing he criticized Obama for – extensive use of executive orders to achieve his policy goals. And, for all his high-profile legislative belly flops, since assuming office nearly a year ago he's managed to do an incredible amount of damage – to the environment, health, education, civil and labor rights – entirely outside of Congress.
Here's a rundown.
Trump failed, repeatedly, to repeal the Affordable Care Act, but with the help of a Republican-controlled Congress, he has found ways to undermine the law. The tax bill Congress hastily approved just before the end of the year included a provision repealing Obamacare's individual mandate to buy insurance. The mandate, originally devised by the arch-conservative Heritage Foundation, imposes a penalty on anyone who doesn't buy insurance as a way to incentivize more individuals to get coverage, expand the risk pool and drive down costs. It's unclear what repealing the mandate will do, but economists believe it will drive up health care premiums, causing the ranks of the uninsured to swell by almost one-third, or an estimated 41 million people, by 2026, according to the Congressional Budget Office.
Those premium increases will be in addition to ones that were already anticipated after the Trump administration announced in October it would stop paying for subsidies that offset out-of-pocket costs for low-income Americans. (Insurance companies warned the decision could force them to stop offering plans on the Obamacare exchanges.) That's fine with Trump's Department of Health and Human Services, which is actively working to discourage enrollment in the exchanges. The agency shrank its budget for ACA advertising by 90 percent, slashed funding to groups that help with enrollment by 40 percent and cut the enrollment period in half – a move that will automatically re-enroll some Americans in plans they no longer want before they're eligible to switch to another.
In 2017, Trump also reinstated and expanded the so-called global gag rule, a Reagan-era relic banning foreign aid to NGOs that advocate for abortion access, offer abortion services or even discuss abortion with clients. The move imperils a range of programs around the world aimed at addressing outbreaks of HIV, malaria and Zika. Plus, Trump reversed a rule here in the U.S. that banned states from withholding federal funds from clinics that provide abortion, withdrew a rule that would have reimbursed active-duty military and their family for travel to medical appointments, and revoked another rule that banned the mentally ill from buying guns.
John Kelly's tenure as the head of the Department of Homeland Security was a short but busy one. He oversaw the implementation of and court challenges to Trump's Muslim ban. The Supreme Court ruled in December that the full revised ban, restricting travel to the U.S. from six majority-Muslim countries plus North Korea, could go into effect while challenges to the law work their way through the court system. (A handful of government officials from Venezuela and their family members are also banned by the order.)
The Muslim ban has received the most attention, but Trump also has managed sweeping reversals of Obama-era immigration policies. Under Trump, ICE is hiring thousands of new agents (it plans to double in size by 2023) and enlisting the help of local police, expanding the criteria for deportation and fast-tracking deportation hearings. Kelly withdrew an Obama-era memo, never implemented, that would have protected the parents of U.S. citizens from deportation and suspended a proposed visa that would have encouraged entrepreneurs from other countries to remain in the U.S.
Pending action by Congress, Trump will end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, which granted protected status to 690,000 people who came to the U.S. as children.
He ended a program that granted temporary legal residence to children who fled to the U.S. from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, impacting more than 2,700; ordered 2,500 Nicaraguans and 60,000 Haitians with provisional residency to leave the country over the next two years; slashed the number of refugees the U.S. would accept by more than half, from 110,000 to 45,000; and imposed new screening procedures that could drive that number even lower. Refugee resettlement this year dropped precipitously – as of October, 1,242 and arrived in the U.S. in 2017, compared to 9,945 the previous year.
Under Trump – the former proprietor of Trump University – the Department of Education has moved swiftly to dissolve rules on for-profits colleges and dismantle protections for student borrowers. First the agency withdrew a slate of policy memos designed to increase accountability for student loan servicers, then it gutted two Obama-era policies that would have offered relief to students misled or defrauded by colleges and withheld federal student aid from programs that habitually left students with more debt than they could repay. The agency has abandoned work on joint lawsuits with several states against for-profit schools, too. (The DOE official in charge of policing such predatory behavior is a former dean of DeVry, a for-profit school prosecuted for predatory practices.)
The Trump Department of Education also withdrew guidance for addressing sexual assault complaints on college campuses, discontinued a grant designed to increase socioeconomic diversity in public school districts, revoked 72 policy papers on the rights of students with disabilities and rescinded protections for transgender students.
Under Trump, the Department of Labor has aggressively abandoned rules governing exposure to harmful chemicals. Among others, it delayed a rule on silica, which is linked to lung disease and cancer, and abandoned ones that would have imposed exposure limits on styrene, another cancer-causer, and 1-bromopropane, a neurotoxin. At the same time, the agency did away with regulations designed to keep track of workplace injuries and deaths. The administration also nixed a rule designed to help close the wage gap by requiring companies to report what they pay by race and gender, and ordered a review of a rule meant to protect workers from bad retirement saving advice.
Since taking the helm at the Justice Department, Attorney General Jeff Sessions has undermined the rule of law while preaching a tough-on-crime philosophy. He ordered a review of agreements struck between problematic police departments and the DOJ's civil rights division, instructed federal prosecutors to pursue the heaviest penalties possible for all defendants, ended a program to improve forensic science standards and rescinded a directive to stop using private prisons.
A legendary hardliner on immigration, Sessions also instructed DOJ lawyers to pursue felony charges not only against immigrants re-entering the country – formerly a misdemeanor crime – but also against anyone who gives them a ride or offers them a place to sleep. And he changed the department's position on a high-profile case about voter ID laws in Texas. (The Department of Justice under Obama contested the law on grounds that it was discriminatory; under Trump, the department has decided it's not.)
Sessions reversed discrimination protections for transgender workers and did away with a rule that would have ensured homeless transgender individuals could choose to stay at the sex-segregated shelter that matched their gender identity. He also issued new guidance on the interpretation of religious freedom, a move that civil rights advocates worry will give religious groups grounds to discriminate against LGBT people.
Under Trump, the U.S. withdrew from the Paris climate accord, and is now the only country in the world that is not party to the non-binding agreement to address global warming. The administration also announced it would cease payments to the U.N.'s Green Climate Fund and disbanded a federal advisory panel on climate change, while the Energy Department banned the use of the phrase "climate change" itself.
Trump's EPA greenlit completion of both the Dakota Access and the Keystone XL pipelines. The Keystone XL, according to a report produced by Obama's EPA, will increase and accelerate the rate at which greenhouse gases are emitted into the atmosphere, worsening climate change. Construction also threatens habitats of a number of endangered species, including the whooping crane and swift fox. The Dakota Access pipeline threatens the safety of drinking water.
Trump's EPA overturned, threw out or otherwise abandoned rules that banned lead bullets from National Wildlife Refuges and the sale of plastic water bottles at National Parks, created standards for recycling aerosol cans, protected whales and sea turtles, restricted what coal companies could dump into streams, reduced pollutants at sewage treatment plants, and limited methane and other greenhouse gas emissions. The agency also delayed implementation of rules aimed at preventing accidents at chemical plants and limiting power plants' ability to dump heavy metal-laden toxic waste into public waters. Against the advice of its own scientists, the EPA chose not to ban a widely used insecticide believed to harm children's mental development.
Trump reduced Utah's Grand Staircase-Escalante and Bears Ears National Monuments by two million acres, introducing the possibility of future oil and natural gas exploration, mining and logging in an area sacred to local Native American tribes. He lifted an Obama-era moratorium on coal mining on public lands, signed an executive order directing the Interior Department to re-examine a ban on offshore drilling and revoked an order protecting the northern Bering Sea region in Alaska.
Though he probably doesn't realize it, Trump benefits from doing so many ridiculous things that his crises steal attention from each other. Recall the overwhelming year of Trump. Watch below.