Trump racks up significant political victories in his 1st year

It may come as no surprise that U.S. President Donald Trump would characterize his first year in office by claiming his administration broke records in political successes and achievements. While some claim his record is thin, others say Trump can take credit for some significant political victories.

Wins include tax overhaul, regulatory rollback and appointment of a record number of judges

U.S. President Donald Trump's first year in office ends with some significant yet controversial accomplishments, say some political observers. (Carolyn Kaster/Associated Press)

It may come as no surprise that U.S. President Donald Trump, who has a certain gift for self-promotion, would characterize his first year in office by claiming his administration broke records in political successes and achievements.

"So many things accomplished by the Trump Administration, perhaps more than any other President in first year," the president recently tweeted.

By Trump's own account, his White House has "signed more legislation than anybody" and "broke the record of Harry Truman."

However, some contend that Trump's list of accomplishments is relatively thin. They also point to his major legislative losses, which include failing to build a wall along the Mexican border, failure to repeal Obamacare and failure to move on infrastructure projects.

But some observers say it's a mistake to suggest Trump has done little.

"It's a ridiculous narrative, always way off-base," said presidential historian Allan Lichtman, known for predicting the winner of every presidential election since 1984. "Trump has done a lot. Everyone has this completely backwards."

Other presidents have accomplished far more, but Trump has accomplished a lot, much of it by executive action, Lichtman said.

"The issue is not whether he's done a lot, the issue is whether what he has done is good for the country and good for the world."

Speaking in the White House, Trump announces Judge Neil Gorsuch as his nominee for the Supreme Court. (Carolyn Kaster/Associated Press)

And on that scorecard, Lichtman says Trump's action of "throttling back the effort to combat catastrophic climate change" now "threatens our survival on this planet."

Indeed, New York magazine published its not-so-complimentary list of 55 Ways Donald Trump Structurally Changed America in 2017, lamenting that his administration has made "drastic structural changes on education, immigration, environmental protections ... among other issues."

But for many Republicans and conservatives, the president has racked up some impressive victories, many of which include attempts to undo some of Barack Obama's legacy.

"The Trump administration has compiled a solid record of accomplishments in its first year, one that compares well with the record of many of its predecessors," wrote Ramesh Ponnuru, of the conservative publication National Review.

Fewest bills

Trump may tout his passage of bills, but according to GovTrack Insider, a website that tracks legislation passed, the president has signed the fewest bills (96) in any recent president's first year. George W. Bush signed 109 and Bill Clinton 209, while Truman signed at least  126 laws in his first 100 days.

But counting bills, as the website notes, is not necessarily a valuable measurement of productivity, as not all are equally important.

Trump displays the $1.5 trillion tax overhaul package he signed. (Evan Vucci/Associated Press)

Certainly Trump's major legislative achievement was the passage of the tax bill, which ushered in the largest change to U.S. tax laws since 1986 by cutting the U.S. corporate income tax rate to 21 per cent from 35 and reducing individual tax rates. The bill also delivered a severe blow to Obamacare by repealing its individual health-care mandate.

But Evan Siegfried, a Republican strategist and frequent critic of Trump, said two non-legislative achievements stand out most, No. 1 being his appointment of judges.

Record-breaking court appointments

Along with his appointment of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court, Trump appointed 12 appeals court judges, (in comparison, Obama appointed only three) a feat Trump can accurately claim is record-breaking. 

"The judges are a signature accomplishment because that will be his real and true lasting legacy," Siegfried said. "This is locking up one branch of government and protecting conservative ideals."

The other significant accomplishment, says Siegfried, is Trump's rolling back business and environmental regulations. In January, Trump, through an executive order, instructed the executive branch regulatory agencies to roll back two regulations for each new regulation issued.

Although criticized by consumer rights advocates and environmental groups, these actions have been praised by many in the business community. 

Trump speaks during an event on federal regulations at the White House. 'Let's cut the red tape, let's set free our dreams,' he said as he cut a ribbon on stacks of paper representing the size of the regulatory code. (Evan Vucci/Associated Press)

"The deregulatory actions taken this year stand out by historical standards," wrote U.S. Chamber of Commerce official Joe Johnson. "This is an important result that deserves repeating — for the first time the cumulative burden of regulation has been reduced."

Trump also took significant action to gut a number of environmental measures.

He opened the Arctic and Atlantic oceans to more offshore drilling, withdrew from the Paris agreement on climate change and greenlighted the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines. His administration also announced it will reverse Obama's key Clean Power Plan, implemented to reduce carbon emissions.

Empowering agencies

Hans Noel, an associate professor of political science at Georgetown University, said with Republicans having unified control of government, you would expected Trump`s administration to do a lot more.

Trump has been effective at using executive orders and directing the bureaucracy, even though there has been a lot of ambiguity about what he's done and what he's talked about doing. Still, agencies such as Immigration and Customs Enforcement "feel empowered and are acting like it," Noel said.

"Withdrawing from [the Trans-Pacific Partnership] is a big change."

Even symbolic moves such as announcing moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem in Israel are powerful, Noel said.

As well, Trump has scored a victory with his controversial travel ban. Despite judicial roadblocks and stumbling execution, Trump has been able to implement the order, which applies to travellers from Chad, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria and Yemen.

Credit for ISIS defeat?

On the foreign policy front, some suggest Trump deserves credit for Iraq's declaration that ISIS has been defeated during his watch.

Wayne White, who worked for several decades as an Iraq analyst for the U.S. government, said Trump can take some credit for continuing Obama's policies. But, he said, when Trump came along, 95 per cent of the work had been done.

"ISIS had been ground down, ISIS's forces had been demoralized and hammered and reduced in effectiveness."

National Review's Jonah Goldberg has also questioned whether Trump should receive credit for the accomplishments of his administration.

Trump's success, such as it is, is less attributable to sudden mastery of the issues than to staying out of the way.— Jonah Goldberg, National Review

The tax bill, for example, is more of an achievement of GOP congressional leadership, he recently wrote. And the task of selecting judicial appointees has largely been outsourced to the Federalist Society, he said.

"It seems to me that Trump's success, such as it is, is less attributable to sudden mastery of the issues than to staying out of the way of rank-and-file Republican policymakers, activists and bureaucrats."

Siegfried agreed in part, describing Trump's administration as the "30,000-foot presidency. He gives a very broad strokes and doesn't really come into the process."

Still, Siegfried said, "it's not like he's gotten the ball and he's just sitting there on the 20-yard line and taking a knee. He's trying to get forward progress."

About the Author

Mark Gollom


Mark Gollom is a Toronto-based reporter with CBC News. He covers Canadian and U.S. politics and current affairs.

With files from Reuters