Trump’s Five Biggest Goals — and His Prospects for Success

Immigration reform, fair trade agreements, prescription drug prices, infrastructure and more — the president's agenda is ambitious

by Brendan Kirby | Updated 31 Jan 2018 at 8:42 AM

President Donald Trump set forth an ambitious agenda for 2018 on Tuesday night during his first State of the Union address to the nation — perhaps overly ambitious given the intense polarization in the county and the close divisions in Congress.

Here is a look at the five biggest proposals the president made in his address and the prospects for actually achieving them.

Immigration Reform
The proposal: Perhaps no issue is more difficult. The details that emerged last week drew fire from both sides. Conservatives disliked a proposal to grant amnesty to 1.8 million illegal immigrants brought to America as children. Liberals hated Trump’s calls for ending chain migration and the diversity visa lottery, along with building a wall and taking other border security measures.

What Trump said: "These four pillars represent a down-the-middle compromise, and one that will create a safe, modern, and lawful immigration system."

Why it might happen: Protecting the so-called dreamers likely will win over Republican amnesty advocates like Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.). The proposal also drew positive reviews from senators in the hawkish wing of the GOP. It's not hard to imagine the package getting unanimous support from the Republican caucus. It then would need only nine Democrats for a filibuster-proof majority, and a number of those Democrats face potentially tough re-election campaigns.

The obstacles he faces: The reaction of Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and other Democrats tells all — they sat stone-faced while Trump spoke about his immigration plan and even booed him at one point.

With the election nearing, Democrats may well decide they'd rather run on the immigration issue in the fall than compromise to get a deal now. And there is no guarantee that the more conservative, GOP-controlled House of Representatives would go along with it, either.

Rebuilding America
The proposal: Trump called on Congress to approve a $1.5 trillion program to upgrade America's infrastructure and streamline the permitting and approval process to get the work started sooner.

What Trump said: "America is a nation of builders. We built the Empire State Building in just one year. Isn't it a disgrace that it can now take 10 years just to get a minor permit approved for the building of a simple road? I am asking both parties to come together to give us safe, fast, reliable and modern infrastructure that our economy needs and our people deserve."

Why it might happen: If there is anything on Trump's agenda that could win strong bipartisan approach, it should be infrastructure. Democrats generally favor public works projects, and unions — once the backbone of the Democratic Party — likely are going to want a cut.

The obstacles he faces: Ironically, Trump might have a harder time with his own party. Fiscal hawks in the Republican Party could balk at the price tag. Trump could run into trouble with lawmakers of both parties who worry about deficits. And there are aspects the Democrats view skeptically, such as the president's proposal to draw in private money for public-private partnerships.

Reorienting Trade
The proposal: Protect American workers and intellectual property through tougher enforcing of trade rules and negotiating fairer trade agreements.

What he said: "Our nation has lost its wealth, but we are getting it back so fast … The era of economic surrender is over. From now on, we expect trading relationships to be fair and to be reciprocal. We will work to fix bad trade deals and negotiate new ones."

Why it might happen: Unlike most of the other items on Trump's wish list, congressional approval largely is unnecessary. Trump already has broad authority under international trade agreements to pursue complaints against other countries in international trade tribunals. He can renegotiate trade pacts, as the administration has begun with the North American Free Trade Agreement. And the administration has authority to impose sanctions on cheaters, as it did this month in punishing foreign manufacturers of washing machines and solar panels.

The obstacles he faces: Just because Trump has authority to act does not mean it will be easy. Pursuing trade violators, for instance, is no guarantee of victory before tribunals often skewed against American interests. Trump will face enormous pressure from corporations that benefit from the current trade system. And renegotiating agreements is a long, arduous process that involves other countries with their own unique interests.

Cheaper Medicine
The proposal: Change the rules to allow Americans to benefit from the cheaper prescription drug prices that other nations enjoy.

What he said: "One of my greatest priorities is to reduce the price of prescription drugs. In many other countries, these drugs cost far less than what we pay in the United States. That is why I have directed my administration to make fixing the injustice of high drug prices one of our top priorities. And these prices will come down substantially. Watch."

Why it might happen: Even Schumer stood for that line. Reducing the cost of prescription drugs has been a Democratic issue for years. Democratic politicians at times have called for allowing for the reimportation of drugs from Canada, where local laws require pharmaceutical companies to discount prices.

The obstacles he faces: The pharmaceutical industry is one of the most generous donors to American politicians, ensuring resistance in Congress from both parties. Drug makers argue that price controls from Washington would slow innovation and the development of new drugs.

Rebuilding Defense
The proposal: The president called on Congress to end the "dangerous defense sequester," a reference to rules imposed during former President Barack Obama's administration in 2011 to limit increases to spending for defense and the discretionary domestic budget. Trump wants to use the extra money to build up conventional forces and modernize the nation's nuclear arsenal.

What he said: "Perhaps someday in the future there will be a magical moment when the countries of the world will get together to eliminate their nuclear weapons. Unfortunately, we are not there yet, sadly."

Related: Trump's Immigration Vision of 'Americans Are Dreamers, Too,' Draws Praise

Why it might happen: Republicans by and large chafed under the defense spending caps, arguing that the constraints have hurt military readiness in an increasingly dangerous world. Democrats equally dislike the caps on domestic spending. It's not hard to foresee a deal that would let spending on both sides rise.

The obstacles he faces: Deficit hawks credit the spending caps with imposing at least a modicum of fiscal discipline on traditionally profligate Washington. Expect them to push back against attempts to scrap the caps.

One thing seems clear: Trump will not get everything he wants. No president checks off every item from his State of the Union address. How much will he achieve? The answer is another cliché — time will tell.

PoliZette senior writer Brendan Kirby can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter.

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