early and often

President Trump Could Change These Policies on Day One

Photo: Darren McCollester/Getty Images

Throughout his administration, President Obama used executive actions to enact policy when efforts to get legislation through Congress failed. It was widely understood that these actions could be easily undone by the next president, and part of Obama’s case for Hillary Clinton was the need for another Democratic president to shore up his legacy.

Now the future of those policies may come down to a lunch with President-elect Donald Trump. White House press secretary Josh Earnest said that Obama would use his meeting with Trump on Thursday to attempt to convince him to keep some of those policies. “There is a tradition, particularly with regard to executive agreements of successive presidents preserving some element of continuity,” Earnest said.

But shattering traditions is what Trump is all about, and in an outline of his first 100 days in office released last month, he said one of his first actions as president would be to “cancel every unconstitutional executive action, memorandum and order issued by President Obama.”

Back in September, Trump campaign adviser Stephen Moore told The New Yorker that aides were already working to identify those policies. “Trump spends several hours signing papers — and erases the Obama presidency,” he said. “If you govern by executive orders, then the next president can come in and overturn them.”

Here’s what could be the first to go.


The most immediate risk is to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, which temporarily shielded people brought to the U.S. illegally as children from deportation. It was enacted via a policy memo from former Homeland Security secretary Janet Napolitano, and President Trump could easily rescind it.

In the past four years, more than 700,000 people were approved for a two-year renewable authorization to remain in the U.S. under DACA. Now the policy that protected them from deportation could be used to send them back to a country they may not even remember. John Sandweg, a former acting director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, told the Washington Post that federal deportation agents “could absolutely use the information provided” to the government to target young, undocumented immigrants.

President Obama has already directed Immigration and Customs Enforcement to focus on deporting people with criminal records, not law-abiding families. Trump famously said that he would focus on getting rid of the “bad hombres,” but over the course of the campaign he contradicted himself repeatedly on what, exactly, would happen to the roughly 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. “I would expect a sea change in the enforcement landscape,’’ said Sandweg.

Two immigration promises Trump can’t make good on in the short-term: actually rounding up 11 million people, or building his “beautiful” southern border wall. Both tasks present many legal and logistical obstacles, and would require funding from Congress.

Health Care

Trump can’t undo Obamacare on his own, but congressional Republicans have indicated that repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act is one of their top priorities. While a full repeal would require overcoming a filibuster in the Senate, they already demonstrated that they can partially roll back the law. In January, they used the reconciliation process to send Obama a bill that would have repealed the law’s tax increase, insurance exchange subsidies, and Medicaid expansion.

That bill included a two-year transition period, so Republicans would need to implement their Obamacare replacement during that time to prevent millions of people from losing their health coverage, but they’ve never presented a detailed plan for a replacement.

Climate Change

Trump has said he believes climate change is a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese, and he could single-handedly undo years of progress toward reducing greenhouse-gas emissions.

He’s said he’ll “cancel” or renegotiate the Paris Agreement, the international treaty to reduce global warming. Formally withdrawing from the treaty would take at least three years, and obviously Trump can’t unilaterally renegotiate a treaty signed by 190 nations that took years to hammer out. However, since the United States’ commitment to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions by 26 percent to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025 is non-binding, he could simply refuse to comply — and that could enable other countries to ignore their commitments too.

The Trump administration could block EPA regulations that haven’t been finalized, but undoing existing regulations (or abolishing the agency altogether) would require cooperation from Congress (and a lengthy legal battle).


Trump said he will immediately “announce my intention to renegotiate NAFTA or withdraw from the deal under Article 2205.” According to CNN Money, that article says any party can withdraw from the trade deal six months after providing written notice. The U.S. has not withdrawn from a trade agreement since 1866, and it’s unclear what would happen. Experts say it could increase prices for American consumers and probably wouldn’t bring back jobs, but Trump disagrees. “We’re better off paying a little bit more and having jobs,” he said in June. “It’s a much better system. The way it used to be.”

Plus, the Trans-Pacific Partnership is dead. Trump has called the deal a “disaster” and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said, “It’s certainly not going to be brought up” for a vote before Trump takes office.

Trump said he will immediately direct his secretary of the Treasury to label China a currency manipulator, and he’s called for a tariff of up to 45 percent on goods from China. As Vox explains:

He might face some resistance from Republicans in Congress on this point, but luckily for him, the president has a surprising amount of authority to unilaterally impose duties, by bringing “safeguard” or “market disruption” cases against imports from China or Mexico. He could bring a trade war upon America, whether Congress wants him to or not.


There will likely be a new battle over torture under a Trump administration. President Obama signed an executive order directing the CIA to stop using certain interrogation techniques such as waterboarding. During a debate in March, Trump said he would reauthorize waterboarding for suspected terrorists, as well as things that are a “hell of a lot worse,” like killing terrorists’ family members.

Former CIA director Michael Hayden said the military would refuse those orders, because they constitute war crimes under international law. Trump initially said he would make military leaders obey. “If I say do it, they’re going to do it. That’s what leadership is all about,” he said. Later he said he would merely “use every legal power that I have to stop these terrorist enemies.”

It’s unclear if Trump still thinks the U.S. needs a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States” until we can “figure out what is going on.” He stopped mentioning the policy in recent weeks, and on Wednesday his statement on the matter disappeared from his website. But Trump could pull off a ban, though there would be a massive backlash and legal challenge.

As the Detroit Free Press notes, presidents regularly invoke Section 212(f) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, which says, “Whenever the president finds that the entry of any aliens or of any class of aliens into the United States would be detrimental to the interests of the United States” the president can keep them out for “such period as he shall deem necessary.” Trump could ban immigration from specific countries that he says pose a threat owing to “radical Islamic terrorism.”

Foreign Policy

Iranian president Hassan Rouhani told his cabinet on Wednesday that the deal struck between Iran and six other nations to curtail its nuclear development “cannot be overturned by one government’s decision.”

However, Trump could probably make good on his promise to “dismantle the disastrous deal with Iran.” The other nations would not be up for renegotiating the deal, but it’s a political agreement, not a binding treaty. As Vox explains, Trump could tank the deal by failing to make good on the United States’ pledge:

President Trump, using his executive authority, could undo the Iran deal by reimposing those US sanctions on Iran. To do this, all Trump would essentially need to do is issue an Executive Order telling the US Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) to reimpose the various economic sanctions on Iran’s government, financial institutions, and businesses that were lifted as part of the Iran deal.

While Trump previously supported reopening diplomatic relations with Cuba, in September he pledged to reverse President Obama’s actions until he could strike a better deal. “All of the concessions that Barack Obama has granted the Castro regime were done with executive order, which means the next president can reverse them. And that is what I will do unless the Castro regime meets our demands,” Trump said. “Those demands will include religious and political freedom for the Cuban people and the freeing of political prisoners.”

LGBT Equality

The Obama administration issued regulations that protect LGBT people from discrimination in housing and health coverage, extend family-leave benefits to married same-sex couples, and direct public schools to allow transgender students to use the bathroom they choose (the Supreme Court will soon take up that case). While Trump is more liberal on LGBT issues than most Republicans, his vice-president, Mike Pence, is the exact opposite. In an interview last month, Pence said he would make sure his running mate reverses some of those measures.


In 2015, the FCC implemented the Open Internet Order, a set of rules meant to protect net neutrality. Trump hasn’t commented on the issue recently, but in a 2014 tweet he said: “Obama’s attack on the internet is another top down power grab. Net neutrality is the Fairness Doctrine. Will target conservative media.”

It’s unclear what this means, as the Fairness Doctrine was eliminated in 1987, and net neutrality has nothing to do with targeting conservative media. Let’s just say he’s not a fan of net neutrality, like many Republicans in Congress. Forbes lays out how President Trump could roll back the policy:

Trump is likely to appoint Jeffrey Eisenach the new FCC chairman, according to Politico. A fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, he has been an open and public critic of Chairman Wheeler and his policies. So, step one under the new FCC could be rolling back or undermining the Open Internet Order. It could mean the Internet will no longer be classified as a utility, and ISPs will have the option, say, to make consumers pay more for high-speed access to Netflix. This will have a huge effect on streaming services in particular.

If you’re planning to ride out the Trump administration by binge-watching Netflix and pretending it isn’t happening, it’s going to cost you.

President Trump Could Change These Policies on Day One