The GOP tax bill will mark the Trump administration’s first major legislative achievement. It’s likely to jolt the economy more than any one political event since Trump’s election, if not since the Affordable Care Act was passed, and it may well bring about the biggest upward transfer of wealth since the recession. It will also increase the deficit by $1 trillion or more, destabilize the health-insurance market by eliminating the requirement to buy coverage, and probably lower Trump’s personal tax bill significantly. For good measure, it’s set to take effect on January 1, giving the country less than two weeks to prepare for the new regime.
However, given that the congressional year has otherwise been marked by turmoil and inaction, and given the high staff turnover and the parade of scandals at the White House, it’s been easy to miss what this administration has already done. In the background, Donald Trump’s Cabinet members and their collaborators have been working hard to deliver on Steve Bannon’s vision of dismantling the “regulatory state.” With Trump’s blessing, they have made drastic, structural changes on education, immigration, environmental protections, broadcasting and internet laws, and rules of military engagement, among other issues. Most often the changes have taken direct aim at Obama’s legacy, but some apply to regulations and programs that date back decades.
What follows is a list of those changes. Excluded here is anything abstract: say, about how Trump has trampled on political norms, degraded national discourse, or permanently shattered the “dignity of the Oval Office.” Also excluded are the promises on which he has yet to deliver — for instance, moving the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem or building the border wall. Finally, it doesn’t include his selection of judges — he’s nominated 58 circuit- and district-court judges, 18 of whom have already been confirmed — since judicial appointments are an expected part of any president’s work.
Within those boundaries, we’ve aimed to be comprehensive.
Travel from eight countries is banned
After 11 months’ worth of legal dueling, Trump has effectively delivered on a version of his Muslim ban. With the Supreme Court’s blessing, he’s halted nearly all travel from Iran, Syria, Libya, Somalia, Yemen, and Chad, plus North Korea and (in some cases) Venezuela.
All refugees from 11 countries have been blocked from entering the U.S.
Trump’s infamous “travel ban” executive order in January also decreed that refugees could no longer come here — no matter which country they were fleeing. Again because of lawsuits, that rule has been watered down, but Trump has successfully banned refugees from ten majority-Muslim countries plus North Korea, leading to a 40 percent drop in overall refugee admissions and a 94 percent drop in Muslim refugees.
Protections for the Dreamers have been rescinded
The Department of Homeland Security will start cutting off protections for the nearly 700,000 Dreamers — undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children — in March, by decree from Trump. There’s still a chance, however, that Congress will pass a new law in the interim offering them legal residency or a path to citizenship.
A program for child migrants fleeing violence in Central America is being phased out
More than 2,700 children, mostly from El Salvador, had received tentative approval to move here — but this year the State Department abruptly turned them away. It has also stopped accepting new applications for the program, which has been around since 2014, and plans to abolish it altogether.
The U.S. has backed out of the U.N.’s migration pact
U.S. representatives had been involved in a United Nations’ council on migration since the inaugural meeting this past spring. The idea is to coordinate help for more than 60 million people who have been driven from their homes by wars, poverty, or climate change. But the U.S. announced in December that it was quitting; Secretary of State Rex Tillerson claimed that participating would undermine American sovereignty.
Spouses and children of refugees have lost their path into the U.S.
A program that helps refugees reunite with their families has been suspended by the State Department and other agencies — until when, no one knows.
Immigration agents are now required to treat the claims of asylum-seekers more skeptically
Homeland Security is telling its asylum officers to take a more critical stance on the stories of immigrants who say they are fleeing violence or persecution. If the interviewees seem nervous, the agents are to avoid factoring in that it might be caused by trauma or culture shock.
Green cards are taking longer to obtain
Homeland Security now requires in-person interviews for certain kinds of applications — something they had stopped doing ten years ago because it was a colossal waste of time. Immigration lawyers told CNN it could mean millions fewer immigrants will be admitted here by 2020.
Federal prosecutors have been stripped of their discretion and ordered to seek maximum penalties
Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued the order in May, with a specific intent that prosecutors pursue stiff sentences for drug-dealing, gun crimes, and gang violence. But the mandate applies to every kind of case.
A police-department reform program has been cut off
After the Department of Justice sued the police in Ferguson, Missouri, and ordered the department to clean up its act on race relations, the DOJ created a program where other police departments could seek similar guidance, but on a voluntary, cooperative basis. Police departments in Philadelphia, San Francisco, and Las Vegas, among others, took advantage of it. Sessions effectively cut off the program and channeled the money to groups like police unions instead.
Local police are once again stocking up on military weapons
After police in Ferguson used military weapons against protesters in 2015, Obama took measures to end the militarization of police. Sessions rescinded those rules, so police can once again obtain surplus grenade-launchers, bayonets, and armored vehicles for free or with federal dollars.
Half a million fugitives are now allowed to buy guns
In February, the DOJ narrowed the definition of “fugitive” to people who have crossed state lines to escape prosecution or avoid testifying, which cleared 518,670 alleged criminals for gun purchases, according to the FBI.
Predatory loan companies now face less scrutiny
Since its founding in 2010, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has gone after lenders for taking advantage of students; in one case it got $480 million in loans erased for the students of a for-profit college. In August, though, the Department of Education said it would stop sharing student information that the watchdogs depend on.
It’s easier for for-profit colleges to rip students off
Obama’s Department of Education had a plan to stop colleges from collecting on loans if their students didn’t land jobs that paid enough. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos stopped the plan from taking effect and said it would have to be rewritten — for the colleges’ sake.
Transgender students aren’t guaranteed the right to use their bathroom of choice
Individual schools have the prerogative to keep the protection intact, but the DOJ and the Department of Education have killed the rule that guaranteed it nationwide.
Schools have more leeway on how they investigate sexual-assault reports
Under Obama, schools were told to come down against the accused students if there was more evidence of guilt than of innocence. Now, thanks to DeVos, they’re allowed to raise the bar for establishing guilt, which some advocates fear will discourage victims from coming forward.
A plan to reduce racial disparities in schools is being delayed
Under a plan released in the waning days of the Obama administration, the states would have to review districts where minority students are disciplined or sent into special education disproportionately often. It was set to take effect next year; DeVos has pushed it back to 2020 and may end up scrapping it altogether.
The U.S. has rescinded its commitment to the Paris climate accord
The U.S. submitted its formal notice of withdrawal from the Paris climate accord in August. Besides the implications for domestic energy policy, this means the U.S. will renege on promises to provide aid to poorer countries for climate measures, and may also cause diplomatic and economic blowback around the world. However, the country technically can’t back out until November 4, 2020, at the earliest, and even then the next president could rejoin.
The EPA is dismantling its Clean Power Plan
The Clean Power Plan was intended to make sure the U.S. met its overarching goal in the Paris deal: i.e., to reduce carbon emissions by at least 26 percent by 2025. It would limit carbon pollution from energy plants and would encourage states to invest in alternative energy. Scott Pruitt, head of the Environmental Protection Agency, has said he wants to replace the plan with new guidelines, but meanwhile the repeal is underway.
The Dakota Access pipeline is now open, after its final construction phase was greenlighted by the Army
The pipeline runs more than 1,100 miles from North Dakota to southern Illinois. Its construction sparked months’ worth of protests last year; representatives from the tribes expressed worries that it would spring leaks and contaminate water supplies that millions of people depend on. Obama’s administration halted the construction, but in January, Trump ordered the Army to review that decision, posthaste. The pipeline opened in June.
And the State Department has approved construction of the Keystone XL pipeline
The Keystone pipeline is designed to ship oil from Alberta, Canada, down to Texas, via the Canadian firm TransCanada. Obama rejected TransCanada’s application, saying the pipeline would undercut the U.S.’s “global leadership” on climate change. Trump invited the company to reapply, and in March the State Department approved its plans.
Thousands of acres beside national monuments have been auctioned off to oil and gas companies
In total, the Bureau of Land Management has sold the gas and drilling rights to some 54,000 acres of public land in Utah — including some near Dinosaur National Monument — and another 33,000 acres in Utah. To the Bureau’s surprise, though, demand has turned out to be fairly low; rights to additional swaths of land failed to sell for the minimum price of $1.50 per acre.
The Arctic and Atlantic Oceans have been opened for more offshore drilling
Obama banned drilling in the seas near Alaska and in the canyons lining the East Coast, but in the spring, Trump signed an order to offer them up for oil and gas leasing — a process that will likely take about two years. Environmentalists worry it will devastate marine life and lead to oil spills.
The Department of Interior has given coal companies a break on land-leasing prices
Coal companies get 40 percent of their product from public lands, and the royalty rates haven’t been updated in three decades — which, by some estimates, costs taxpayers hundreds of millions every year. Obama’s administration tried to remedy this, but Trump’s Department of Interior canceled the update before it took effect.
Energy companies are no longer required to capture methane leaks when they drill on public land
The Methane Waste Prevention Rule, also developed in the Obama years, would force energy companies to capture methane — a potent greenhouse gas — from leaks when they drill on public lands. After some setbacks in court, the Bureau of Land Management has worked out a plan to delay the implementation until 2019. So far it’s unclear whether it plans to scrap the rule entirely.
The EPA has canceled limits on the pollutants power plants can dump into waterways
Steam electric plants unload aluminum, arsenic, mercury, and other pollutants into streams, which has been linked to fish die-offs and other environmental problems. Obama’s EPA passed limits on how much they could discharge, which it said would keep 1.4 billion pounds out of the waterways each year. But under Trump, the agency has retracted those limits and said it will come up with new guidelines instead.
Plastic water bottles are once again allowed in national parks
In 2011, the National Park Service banned plastic bottles, a rule intended to keep the parks clean. The Trump administration decided, however, that it trampled on the visitors’ right to choose “how best to keep themselves and their families hydrated” — “particularly during the hot summer months.” It might also have had something to do with the $1.2 million the bottled-water industry spent on lobbying.
Hunters are free to use lead ammunition in national parks
The Obama administration banned lead ammunition at the end of 2016, along with lead sinkers for fishing, on the grounds that lead is widely known to be toxic. The Department of Interior, led by outdoorsman and former oil-company-board-member Ryan Zinke, lifted the rule in March.
The bar has been raised for protecting endangered animals
The Fish and Wildlife Service declined in October to put 25 animals on the endangered-species list, saying there wasn’t enough evidence that they were truly in peril. Environmentalists were especially upset about the Pacific walrus, given that its habitat in the Arctic is eroding due to global warming. The Barbour’s map turtle, the Big Blue Springs cave crayfish, and the San Felipe gambusia were also left off the list.
Oil and mining companies no longer have to disclose their payments to foreign governments
The Dodd-Frank financial regulation law required these companies to make public any payments they made to foreign governments to secure mining and drilling rights — a measure intended to curb bribery and corruption in places like Russia and the developing world. As the CEO of Exxon, Rex Tillerson had lobbied vigorously against it, and the first bill Trump signed after taking office annulled the rule.
Financial advisers are not legally required to put their clients’ interests first
The Obama administration spent years working on the “fiduciary rule,” which would have required financial consultants to put clients’ interests first when advising them on their retirement accounts. It was supposed to take effect on June 1, but the Department of Labor has refused to enforce it, and the administration is trying to repeal it entirely.
Cities have been blocked from creating retirement accounts for private-sector workers
New York, Philadelphia, and Seattle were considering setting up retirement accounts for workers who don’t have access to them through their jobs — amounting to 13 million people in the three cities. Obama’s Department of Labor had provisions to help them, but Congress passed legislation in the spring to halt the project. Investment banks were reportedly irked about the competition.
Loopholes for inheritance taxes will survive untouched
Obama’s Treasury Department came up with a reform package that would have closed loopholes on estate taxes, but under the new leadership of Steven Mnuchin, the agency has abandoned it. “Obviously,” Mnuchin said in a speech this past fall, cutting the estate tax “disproportionately helps rich people.”
The Labor Department is backing off on overtime enforcement
Obama tried to cut off the exemptions that companies use to avoid paying overtime to millions of workers. But his plan was challenged in the courts, and over the summer, Trump’s Department of Labor announced it wouldn’t defend it but would instead write its own new guidelines.
The government is no longer fighting pay discrimination
Under Obama, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ordered companies to start submitting detailed data on employee pay, categorized by race, gender, and type of work — starting in September 2017. Lobbyists found it “unnecessarily burdensome,” so Trump’s administration dropped the requirement.
The DOJ has decided transgender people are no longer protected by sex-discrimination laws
In 2015, the DOJ helped a transgender university instructor sue her employer for discrimination, eventually netting her a $1.1 million award. Under Sessions, however, the DOJ has changed its position: It now says employers are free to discriminate against transgender people, and it plans to argue that position in any future court cases.
Government contractors won’t face extra scrutiny for workplace conditions
The Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces rule, signed by Obama in 2014, had several parts: forcing companies to fix safety hazards if they wanted to compete for large government contracts, requiring them to give workers more information about their paychecks, and protecting women’s right to sue in open court for sexual harassment or discrimination. Industry lobbyists called it a job-killer, and Trump revoked it in March.
The subsidies that undergirded Obamacare have been wiped out
The federal funds went to insurance companies so they could offer cheap plans to poor people. Trump abolished them in October, and as a result, premiums for those cheaper plans have already jumped by 7 to 38 percent, and, paradoxically, the Congressional Budget Office has estimated that it will add $194 billion to the federal deficit by 2026. There’s still a chance, however, that Congress will replace the funding.
Employers can now refuse to cover birth control
In contrast to the original Obamacare rules, any employer can now opt out of paying for contraceptives for employees by claiming they have moral or religious objections. Hundreds of thousands of women may lose their access to contraceptives. The government is also paying some of the legal fees for groups that sued the Obama administration to get this mandate overturned.
The right to sue banks in class-action lawsuits won’t be expanded after all
Banks and credit-card companies often put fine print into contracts, stipulating that customers can’t join class-action suits against them no matter what (say, for example, when they defraud customers en masse). The Obama administration spent five years working on a vast rule that would have encouraged more class-action suits, but in October, Congress voted to strike it down, and Trump swiftly signed the bill.
The FCC has abolished net neutrality
The 2014 net-neutrality rules required internet-service providers like AT&T to deliver all content — from news stories to pornography to cat videos — at the same speed, and prevented companies like Netflix and Facebook from buying faster access than small companies. The FCC voted in December to revoke those rules. It also voted to reduce its own influence over broadband companies, which will constrain future regulatory efforts.
The FCC is letting a conservative media conglomerate buy more local TV stations than allowed by law
Sinclair Broadcasting, which buys up local TV stations and requires them to run laudatory segments on Trump, already broadcasts to 38 percent of U.S. households — which is just below the legal limit. But in August, the FCC found an obscure loophole that will let Sinclair buy 42 more stations and expand its reach to as much as 72 percent of the country.
The FCC is targeting rules meant to protect local journalism
The FCC has taken other measures to help Sinclair as well. In October, it knocked down the “main studio rule” from 1940, which required broadcasters to have a physical studio in any area they had a license to transmit from. The rule helped protect the connection between local communities and their news organizations. And in November, the agency removed limits on how many stations or newspapers any company can own in a single local market.
Planned protections on internet privacy have been canceled
Obama’s FCC designed rules to make internet providers like AT&T and Verizon obtain their customers’ permission before using the customers’ precise geolocation and information on their health, finances, children, and web-browsing history for advertising and marketing. The House and Senate both voted to repeal the rules — without a single Democrat’s support — and Trump signed the action into law.
Federal broadband subsidies for the poor are being revoked
The FCC gives $9.25 each month to households below a certain income level so they can afford internet or phone service. In November, its board voted to impose a cap on the subsidies, and it also approved a measure that will force most poor households to find a new internet provider. However, the changes haven’t been finalized yet — a public-comment period is still ongoing.
The EPA has decided not to ban a ubiquitous pesticide from farms
Chlorpyrifos, which farmers use to kill pests on fruits and vegetables, has been known to cause headaches and nausea at high doses and to harm fetal development. There’s little research on whether residue on vegetables is harmful, but the pesticide has been banned from household and garden use since 2000, and the U.K. has banned it on almost all crops. Scott Pruitt rejected a ban on its use in agriculture — against the urging of EPA scientists.
The military and CIA have eliminated measures that protected civilians from drone strikes
In the fall, Trump approved two changes to the use of military drones, according to the New York Times. One change allowed the military and CIA to target low-level jihadists with no particular skills or leadership roles. The other removed the requirement for high-level vetting before an attack is carried out. All told, this administration has killed more civilians while fighting ISIS than Obama’s administration did in three years.
Syrian rebel groups no longer receive U.S. weapons or supplies
The CIA had been backing certain rebel groups since 2013, with Obama’s tacit approval. The White House quietly ended its support in July — which wasn’t a surprise, since it had already said deposing Bashar al-Assad was not a priority.
Travel and business transactions with Cuba have been severed again
Just as it was before Obama’s overtures in late 2016, Americans can only travel to the island nation in tour groups and can’t stay at certain hotels or eat at certain restaurants. A similar ban is in place for businesses.
FEMA has dropped construction standards meant to help with flood preparation
The agency issued construction standards in 2015 for roads, housing, and other infrastructure built with federal money, in response to climate change. One provision, for instance, would have required buildings to be elevated from the reach of rising water. Trump struck the rules down less than two weeks before Hurricane Harvey hit.
A rule aimed at combating housing segregation has been suspended
The Small Area Market Rent Rule, which was scheduled to take effect next year, would give bigger subsidies to some Section 8 recipients so they can afford to move out of impoverished areas. Under Ben Carson’s leadership, the Department of Housing and Urban Development has delayed implementation for two years, though advocates are suing to end the delay.
The USDA is making it harder for small farmers to sue big agriculture companies
A rule set to take effect in February would have made it easier for farmers to prevail in lawsuits against companies they work with, when they feel they’ve been shafted in business deals. That provision was delayed, then thrown out in October.
Many federal agencies are being less generous with public information.
The FBI’s first major crime report this year had 70 percent fewer data tables than the version from last year, making it harder to assess trends in violent crime. Data on workplace deaths has been removed from OSHA’s homepage and relegated to the website’s interior. EPA scientists have been restricted from speaking in public about climate change. The White House no longer keeps logs of its visitors, which would reveal who has had direct access to the president. The same is true at Mar-a-Lago. And the administration has refused to release the names of some members serving on its deregulation teams.
States’ ability to defund Planned Parenthood has been restored
Numerous state legislatures have worked since 2015 to defund any health clinics, including Planned Parenthood, that provide abortions. A rule from the Obama administration blocked their efforts for a few months early this year, but Congress quickly voted to undo it, and Trump signed the bill in April.
International nonprofits that provide abortions can be defunded, too
The Mexico City Policy, announced by Reagan in 1984, revoked federal funding for any nongovernmental organization, anywhere in the world, that provides abortion counseling. It has been repealed and reinstated several times since, depending on which party is in power, and Trump reinstated it in January.