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Trump's ambitious 100-day agenda staring at political reality

2016 Presidential election

Trump's ambitious 100-day agenda staring at political reality

Trump is facing what many presidents do after achieving election: confronting the political feasibil
Trump's ambitious 100-day agenda staring at political reality
House Speaker Paul Ryan hosts President-elect Donald Trump for talks, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Nov. 10, 2016. With them are Melania Trump and Mike Pence, the Vice President-elect. Tax reform is one thing Trump and Ryan agree on, broadly — th...
Photographer: Al Drago/The New York Times

Donald Trump has put together an ambitious plan for a dramatic conservative reboot of the country during his first 100 days in office, but like presidents before him, he's likely to discover that promises are easier to make on the campaign trail than fulfill in the Oval Office.

In Trump's case, the resistance started even earlier -- his call for a constitutional amendment imposing term limits on all members of Congress lasted exactly one day after his shocking victory Tuesday over Democrat Hillary Clinton.

Term limits "will not be on the agenda in the Senate,'' GOP Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters Wednesday. "I would say we have term limits now -- they're called elections.''

That gap between goals and reality is something all presidents face. The Politifact news site has kept an "Obameter'' that looks at more than 500 promises President Obama made during his 2008 and 2012 campaigns. As of Friday, Obama had kept 45 percent of those promises, compromised on 26 percent and broken 22 percent, with the rest either stalled or in the works.

Asked Thursday what's on the top of his political list after his Jan. 20 inauguration, Trump was characteristically upbeat, but also short on details.

"A lot of really great priorities. People will be very, very happy,'' he said. "We're going to move very strongly on immigration. We will move very strongly on health care. And we're looking at jobs. Big-league jobs.''

But one of the keys to the president-elect's job plan is his promise to put millions of Americans to work on a 10-year, $1 trillion effort to rebuild the country's highways, bridges and airports. That big-ticket spending plan isn't likely to go over well with Republicans eager to slash the size of government.

Massive infrastructure improvements won't be a top priority with Congress, McConnell said.

Trump's pledge to immediately repeal the Affordable Care Act is an example of a promise that was easier to make than it will be to keep, said Henry Brady, dean of the University of California at Berkeley's Goldman School of Public Policy. While Republicans in Congress have voted more than 50 times to repeal Obamacare, problems could arise when it comes to actually dumping the plan.

Even Trump has said he'd like to keep parts of the health care law, such as the section that allows people up to age 26 to remain on their parents' health plan, and the part that bars insurance companies from rejecting people because of pre-existing conditions.

It's likely to take months or longer for the GOP-led Congress to come up with an alternative health care proposal. And if Trump turns off the federal money spigot that keeps Obamacare going before then, he's going to hear about it.

"It's easy to cut off money to the U.N.,'' Brady said. "It's a lot harder to cut off money to someone in Wyoming.''

Even some of Trump's own people have been walking back a few of those campaign promises, arguing that priorities can change and warning that many of the most important issues don't lend themselves to instant solutions.

While Trump promised last month that he'd appoint a special prosecutor to look at Clinton's alleged mishandling of classified emails while she was secretary of state, it didn't sound like he was talking about a prospective felon when he said in his Wednesday morning victory speech that Clinton "has worked very long and very hard over a long period of time, and we owe her a major debt of gratitude for her service to our country.''

On Thursday, both former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said that appointing a special prosecutor would be a "tough decision'' that hasn't been made yet.

"It's been a tradition of politics to put things behind us,'' Giuliani said in a CNN interview.

And while Kellyanne Conway, Trump's campaign manager who is likely to hold an influential position in his administration, didn't rule out going after Clinton, she didn't push it, either, saying a decision would be made "all in good time.''

For a businessman who's spent his entire career as the bigger-than-life head of a company where his every word is law, it's going to be a huge change for Trump to run an organization with a 535-member elected board, not one of whom can simply be told, "You're fired.''

"We have a system with a lot more checks and balances than you find in business,'' said Sam Erman, a professor at the University of Southern California Gould School of Law. ``Businesses also have a lot less oversight from the media.''

But any president is free to set his own course when he takes office, making appointments and setting directions for his administration. And a president like Trump, with plenty of ideas -- undefined as they may be -- and a Congress led by his own party, will have a lot of leeway.

"The first hundred days will be miserable (for Democrats) because it will be all about getting rid of whatever Obama has done,'' said Bruce Cain, a political science professor at Stanford University. "Republicans will be dancing in the streets.''

In October, Trump released what he dubbed his ``Contract With the American Voter,'' which he said will ``restore prosperity to our economy, security to our communities and honesty to our government.''

Trump's 100-day plan doesn't do much to differentiate between what he can do unilaterally as president and where he'll need help from Congress, but as a rule of thumb, if it doesn't cost anything, Trump generally can go it alone.

But if it requires money, he needs Congress.

Immigration: Since the day he began his campaign in June 2015, Trump has called for the construction of a hulking wall on the southern border and vowed that "Mexico will pay for it.''

Within his first 100 days in office, Trump has promised to introduce his "End Illegal Immigration Act,'' which would fully fund the $12 billion-plus wall, "with the full understanding that the country Mexico will be reimbursing the United States for the full cost.''

Expect a battle in Congress over cost questions and the timing of construction, but since this is Trump's signature issue, he's likely to get his way.

Some of Trump's immigration plans require little more than his signature. Obama's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals provided deportation protection for hundreds of thousands of undocumented young people who arrived in the U.S. as children -- because it was a presidential order it could disappear instantly. Trump also could quickly eliminate all federal payments to "sanctuary'' cities, which could cost San Francisco $1 billion or more.

On his own, Trump probably could change the rules on which immigrants are allowed to enter the country and begin deportation proceedings for what he says are 2 million or more undocumented residents who have committed crimes.

The court battles sure to bloom with opponents of his plans might not make much difference, said Erman of the USC law school.

"The president can do a lot of things that the courts will later rule against, but by the time the court says, 'Cool it,' the world has changed,'' he said.

Environment: Trump, who has called global warming a hoax created by the Chinese, could quickly change the direction of U.S. environmental policy, especially with a Republican Congress that has regularly criticized Obama's "green" efforts.

Trump has promised to lift restrictions on the Keystone XL pipeline that Obama killed, open up federal lands for oil drilling and coal mining, and eliminate environmental regulations he believes hurt business.

While Trump can't just dump the recent Paris accord on reducing greenhouse gases, there's nothing to say the new president can't just ignore it.

"He can zero (environmental) programs out,'' said Brady of UC Berkeley. "Climate change programs are in for a drastic reversal.''

Trade: The president has plenty of direct control over trade policy, and Trump has said he'll use that power.

He can end the country's participation in the Trans-Pacific Partnership just by announcing the country's withdrawal and pull out of the NAFTA pact with Mexico and Canada with six months notice.

Trump's 100-day plan calls for his new commerce secretary to identify foreign trading abuses and "use every tool,'' which could include tariffs, to end them immediately. He could immediately declare China a currency manipulator, and has talked about imposing a 45 percent tariff on Chinese goods.

Economists have warned that a trade war with Mexico and China, which account for 25 percent of U.S. international trade, could devastate the U.S. economy. A study released in September by the free-trade-leaning Peterson Institute for International Economics showed that an all-out trade war could result in as much as a 5 percent job loss in California and cost the country nearly 4.8 million private-sector jobs.

Trump has plenty of other plans for his first 100 days, which include canceling "every unconstitutional executive action, memorandum and order issued by President Obama,'' selecting a new, and very conservative, Supreme Court justice, boosting military spending and pushing through an economic plan that will provide "massive tax reduction and simplification.''

Not every part of Trump's 100-day plan will become law or even make it past the "wouldn't this be great'' stage. He'll have to set priorities and decide where to spend his political capital and where to either compromise or step away.

"Just because it's possible for a president to take action doesn't mean it will be politically palatable,'' Erman said. "A president has enormous power, but it's on loan from the people he represents.''

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