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How Trump Has Put His Mark On Policy, Slowly

During his tenure as president, Trump has signed a series of executive orders rolling back Obama-era regulations.
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During his tenure as president, Trump has signed a series of executive orders rolling back Obama-era regulations.

When Donald Trump was running for president, he often promised to bring big change to Washington, almost overnight.

"When we win on Nov. 8," he told supporters in Pennsylvania, a week before Election Day, "we will be able to immediately repeal and replace Obamacare."

A year later, that turned out to be more complicated than Trump expected.

Change in Washington often comes slowly. Just ask former President Barack Obama.

Despite his dire warnings during the campaign about what a Trump victory would mean, Obama told the New Yorker shortly after the election that he expected much of his legacy to survive.

"Maybe 15 percent of that gets rolled back," Obama told journalist David Remnick. In a post-election White House news conference, Obama also noted, "The federal government and our democracy is not a speedboat. It's an ocean liner."

Obamacare isn't the only piece of the last president's agenda that's proved to be hard for Trump to undo. Although he announced with considerable fanfare his intent to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement, that turns out to be a multiyear-long process. Even Trump's selection of a new Federal Reserve chairman on Nov. 2 was mostly a signal of continuity.

"To date, there has been more expectation of policy change than actual, tangible policy change," said Jason Furman, an economic adviser in the Obama White House.

Some Trump efforts at change have been slowed by political speed bumps, like the Affordable Care Act repeal. Others have run into legal roadblocks, like the proposed ban on transgender service members.

In other important ways, though, Trump has begun leaving his mark.

Trump has led the biggest rollback of regulations since Ronald Reagan — a move that's been welcomed by many business people.

"They feel like the threat of over-regulation has subsided," said Senior Vice President Neil Bradley of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. "They have breathing room to focus on the fundamentals of their business. And that's completely generated this kind of sense of optimism about the future and their ability to grow their businesses."

Immigration is another area where the election had big consequences. Trump has slashed the number of refugees the U.S. takes in, and he's begun phasing out Obama-era protection for hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants who were brought to the country as children.

Deportations from the nation's interior have jumped 34 percent since Trump took office, and immigration officers are now casting a much wider net.

"There is no question that President Trump ran on a get-tough-on-immigration stance," said John Malcolm, a vice president at the Heritage Foundation. "I think you're already seeing that in terms of the number of deportations and also the number of people attempting to enter our country."

Trump's Environmental Protection Agency has also begun the lengthy process of lifting restriction on greenhouse gases from power plants. That move won't be felt right away, but it will make a difference five or 10 years from now.

"We're seeing continued emission reductions over the next few years, because a lot of those investments have been made. But the long-term signals are really dismaying," said Kate Larsen, who tracks greenhouse gases for the Rhodium Group.

Trump has also rattled foreign policy circles with provocative rhetoric — calling the Iran nuclear deal an embarrassment, for example, and threatening to pull out of the North American Free Trade Agreement. Congress and his own advisers have tried to sand off some of the president's rougher edges, but the rest of the world has taken notice.

"What you're seeing, I think, is the accelerator being pushed down on the post-American world," said Derek Chollet, a former State Department and Pentagon official who's now with the German Marshall Fund.

During the president's Asia trip, for example, other countries will relaunch their effort to forge an Asia-Pacific trade pact, minus the United States.

Meanwhile, one of the biggest changes on the president's drawing board is the tax overhaul unveiled in the House on Nov. 2. That measure could have dramatic effects on business, government coffers, the federal deficit and income inequality, if it makes it through Congress — a big if.

Trump has an ambitious timetable for the tax plan, hoping to sign it by the end of the year. But even if the ship of state moves more like Obama's ocean liner than a speedboat, Captain Trump is determined to chart a very different course.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Scott Horsley is NPR's Chief Economics Correspondent. He reports on ups and downs in the national economy as well as fault lines between booming and busting communities.