Politics

Five Great Ways Trump Shook Up Washington in 2017

Only a few months ago, pundits were claiming the chief executive's first year was an unmitigated disaster — but look at it now

President Donald Trump’s first 90 days in the Oval Office were often tumultuous, chaotic and confused, so it was no surprise when the Gallup Poll in late March found him with the lowest approval ratings ever for a new chief executive.

But the “Billionaire at the Barricades” still managed in 2017 to shake up American politics, media, and government like nobody since an old Hollywood B-movie star named Ronald Reagan was in the White House, slashing taxes and winning the Cold War against Soviet communism.

Trump’s approval rating bounced around in the vicinity of that initial 35 percent mark most of the rest of the year before a late surge brought him to a level comparable to President Barack Obama at the same point in his early tenure.

Here are five of the biggest ways Trump — love him or hate him — changed Washington in 2017:

1.) Reshaping the judiciary. There were more than 100 federal judicial vacancies when Trump was sworn in as president, and he wasted no time in starting the process of filling them, beginning with the most important, a vacancy created on the U.S. Supreme Court by the death, on Feb. 13, 2016, of Associate Justice Antonin Scalia.

Trump nominated Colorado’s Neil Gorsuch and then oversaw an unexpectedly quick and successful confirmation effort that led to the new associate justice’s oath on April 8, 2017. Scalia was often, with Associate Justice Clarence Thomas, the High Court’s most vocal and effective advocate of a conservative “originalist” jurisprudence. Gorsuch has shown himself to be very much in the same mold.

Gorsuch’s confirmation restored the prospect of a 5-4 conservative majority on the court, and, at age 50, odds are he will be on the bench for decades to come. But, as significant as Gorsuch’s ascension is, Trump’s influence on the federal judiciary will be even more felt at the appellate and district levels.

The reason, as the liberal Mother Jones lamented recently, is that “Trump has already nominated judges to more than half the [100] vacancies, putting forward an astonishing 18 names for federal appellate courts and 40 more for the district courts. Of those, 12 have been confirmed.”

By comparison, Obama had won confirmation for only two circuit court judges and four district court judges during his first year in office. Trump’s nominees will almost certainly put a definitively conservative imprint on the courts far into the future. And Trump could also have more Supreme Court vacancies to fill during his tenure.

2.) Removing America’s regulatory chains. Thousands upon thousands of bureaucratic federal regulations cost American consumers an estimated $1.9 trillion in 2016, and for every new law approved by Congress each year for the past decade, executive branch regulators issued 27 new rules, according to the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

Trump had promised during the 2016 campaign to repeal two existing rules for every one new regulatory issuance, but he has far exceeded that promise while in office. By White House calculations, Trump had by mid-December canceled or delayed more than 1,500 planned regulatory actions, for a 22-1 ratio of rules repealed/delayed to new rules issued.

The return of consumer and business confidence throughout 2017 is, to a great degree, a product of Trump’s unchaining of the U.S. economy, as is the surge in small business optimism seen by Wells Fargo throughout the year.

3.) Putting the Washington spending machine in reverse. Federal spending exploded so much in the eight years of the Obama administration that America’s national debt doubled from more than $10 trillion to nearly $20 trillion. The last time the federal budget was balanced was in 2001, at the end of the Clinton administration.

When Trump unveiled his first budget proposal, for fiscal year 2018, he did something no other chief executive has dared do in the modern era: He started the spending debate by laying out dramatic cuts at virtually every department and agency in the federal Establishment instead of assuming increases.

Congress has yet to approve a regular annual budget for 2018, but Trump has still succeeded in changing the Washington debate from how much to slow the government spending increase to how big a real decrease should be approved.

The proposed budget cuts ranged from 32 percent at the Department of State, 26 percent at the Department of Agriculture and 24 percent at the Department of Labor to 4 percent at the departments of Treasury and Justice. Environmentalists were beyond apoplectic when Trump proposed a 31 percent cut at the Environmental Protection Agency.

Congress has yet to approve a regular annual budget for 2018, but Trump has still succeeded in changing the Washington debate from how much to slow the government spending increase to how big a real decrease should be approved.

4.) Restoring respect for American strength abroad. Among Obama’s most serious foreign policy mistakes was his declaration of a “red line” that Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad dare not cross by using chemical weapons against his own people in that country’s horrendous civil war. Obama’s warning was ignored, without consequences.

Trump’s first dramatic move on the foreign policy front was a surprise April 6 cruise missile attack that decimated a Syrian air base that the al-Assad regime used to launch chemical weapons against civilians and rebel forces in the devastating conflict. Trump made Obama’s red line mean something.

In the months that followed, Trump allowed U.S. military leaders to drop the “Mother Of All Bombs” (MOAB) on an ISIS terrorist training facility in Afghanistan, unleashed needed weapons, advice and supplies to the Iraqi and Kurdish forces that effectively destroyed the ISIS caliphate by year’s end, and put North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un on notice that American patience with his nuclear program was at an end.

Related: Trump’s Plan Is to Use U.S. Economy, Strength to Achieve Peace, Security

But the degree to which the Trump reinvigoration of American foreign policy was most vividly seen December 19 when U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley warned the U.N. General Assembly that American officials would be “taking names” if the international body voted as expected to condemn the President’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s official capital. A few days later, the U.S. slashed its contribution to the U.N. budget by $285 million.

5.) Rewriting the U.S. tax code. Gaining passage of the first major rewrite of the hideously complicated U.S. tax code since the Reagan reforms of 1986 was never going to happen with Trump in the White House, according to such Washington wise men as former Reagan and Clinton adviser David Gergen, after congressional Republicans failed to repeal Obamacare.

But on December 22, when Trump signed the comprehensive reforms approved by Republican majorities in the Senate and House of Representatives, he again proved the experts wrong about his ability to get things done in the nation’s capital.

Senior editor Mark Tapscott can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter.

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