For the ongoing soap opera that is the White House, the impression coming off from most media outlets is that the President has accomplished nothing since he has not succeeded in passing any major legislation. The federal government’s reach and scope is much larger, however, than just crafting new laws, and the President has seen success when it comes to regulatory reform and his agenda items being implemented by various government agencies. Much of these changes fly under the radar because the media is focused on the big items, like health care, tax reform, or the the President’s latest tweet.

The Atlantic chronicles some of the ways that the Trump administration is having an effect despite congressional gridlock:

Things are going considerably better for the shadow government. With the Trump administration’s chaos sucking up all the attention, it’s been able to move forward on a range of its priorities, which tend to be more focused on regulatory matters anyway. It is remaking the justice system, rewriting environmental rules, overhauling public-lands administration, and greenlighting major infrastructure projects. It is appointing figures who will guarantee the triumph of its ideological vision for decades to come.

The trick here is that the administration and this shadow government are one and the same. Even as the public government sputters, other elements of the Trump administration are quietly remaking the nation’s regulatory landscape, especially on the environment and criminal justice.

On border security and immigration:

One of the two biggest victories has come on border security, which was one of Trump’s top campaign priorities. Border crossings have already plummeted, suggesting that rhetoric making it clear to immigrants that they are not welcome is effective in its own right. Customs and Border Protections report that apprehensions of unauthorized people are down nearly 20 percent from the same time in 2016.

On the federal judiciary, where a large vacancy of judges leaves many opportunities for the President to shape the bench for decades to come:

Trump may get to appoint several more justices to the high court. And in the meantime, he’s filling up lower courts with lifetime appointees. As the veteran Democratic official Ron Klain wrote recently, “A massive transformation is underway in how our fundamental rights are defined by the federal judiciary. For while President Trump is incompetent at countless aspects of his job, he is proving wildly successful in one respect: naming youthful conservative nominees to the federal bench in record-setting numbers.”

On environmental regulations and changes at the EPA:

There are the quiet, far-reaching changes. Getting back to Pruitt, the environment is one of the places where the Trump administration has had its largest impact. The most prominent move was Trump’s June 1 announcement that the U.S. will withdraw from the Paris climate accord. But the EPA is moving on other fronts as well. It’s working to dismantle Barack Obama’s Clean Power Plan, a signature policy aimed at reducing greenhouse-gas emissions. In June, following a February executive order from Trump, the EPA began the process of rescinding the 2015 Waters of the United States rule, which aimed at protecting smaller bodies of water and streams in the same way that larger ones had been. In December, in the closing weeks of his administration, Obama banned drilling in the Arctic and parts of the Atlantic Ocean; the Trump administration promptly set about undoing that ban.

The New York Times found in June that Pruitt’s EPA “has moved to undo, delay or otherwise block more than 30 environmental rules, a regulatory rollback larger in scope than any other over so short a time in the agency’s 47-year history.” And it might have done more if not for constraints imposed by judges. EPA tried to abandon an Obama-era rule on methane emissions, but a court on Monday forced it to continue enforcing the rule.

On oil pipelines and natural gas exploration:

The State Department reversed an Obama-era decision, clearing the way for the Keystone XL pipeline to begin construction. The Interior Department is considering reversing a rule on fracking on public lands, and might also reverse some equipment regulations on offshore drilling equipment implemented after the 2010 Gulf oil spill. The department has rolled back a ban on coal mining on public lands.

On criminal justice, voting rights, and Justice Department policy:

Despite Trump’s recent, very public dissatisfaction with Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the Justice Department has been particularly effective in changing the policy landscape. Sessions, a long-time conservative crusader for tough-on-crime policies, has moved to enforce them. Over the objections of libertarians and civil libertarians, and contrary to a bipartisan move toward criminal-justice reform over the last decade, he strengthened the federal government’s power of civil-asset forfeiture, a practice that allows police to seize cash and goods from people suspected (but not convicted) of crimes, and one that is often abused. Also contrary to recent trends, he has reversed Obama-era policy by encouraging prosecutors to pursue the harshest sentences for low-level drug offenses. Even if Sessions doesn’t last long in his job, those handed long prison terms will still be behind bars.

Although the Justice Department had staunchly opposed a Texas voting law that has repeatedly been smacked down by courts as discriminatory, Sessions switched the department’s position, and it has now told courts the law ought to be allowed to remain. The attorney general has also sought to cut off funding to so-called sanctuary cities, though his legal authority to do so is disputed.

On social issues:

Curiously, since he campaigned as an atypically LGBT-friendly Republican, Trump has also made a range of changes on gay issues. Last week alone, the Justice Department announced that sexual orientation was not covered by Section VII, and the president said that transgender people would not be allowed to serve in the military. The administration has also rejected Obama-era protections for transgender students.

In fact, Dr. Ben Carson, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, went on the record to say he sort of appreciates the President running block and offering up daily distractions because it helps him work quietly and uninhibited, according to the Washington Examiner:

One of President Trump’s highest-profile Cabinet nominees, Carson has maintained one of the lowest profiles of any Cabinet secretary.

And that’s the way he likes it, Carson says.

“Let me put it this way,” Carson told the Washington Examiner in an interview on Wednesday, “I’m glad that Trump is drawing all the fire so I can get stuff done.”

Meanwhile, the retired neurosurgeon has remained one of the Cabinet members most unscathed by the administration’s raucous first six months. Carson has instead remained out of the spotlight, focusing on initiatives such as Housing First, his push to end homelessness and help move individuals into the “engine” of America.

“The goal is really to get these people off the streets where they’re in danger, and where they actually cost society more than if you go ahead and take care of them,” Carson said. “We also have to think about the fact that every single human being has potential, and I look at them as human capital, and if we develop that, we’re talking about them becoming part of the engine, and if we don’t develop it, part of the load.”

As the Atlantic notes above, changes made by government agencies are not as difficult to undo the way legislation is. The next administration in 2020 or 2024 could could simply rollback some of the changes that the Trump administration makes, just like some Obama administration regulations are being rolled back now.

On the other hand, the federal bureaucracy has become large enough that filling out the cabinet and letting them go to work at the various levels of government can lead to permanent change in some instances, such as approval of the Keystone XL pipeline which, once built, is not something that a future administration would be able to simply undo with a policy change.

The President is still searching for a big legislative victory, but until then, he’ll have to rely on watching his cabinet picks work his agenda at the agency level.

21 COMMENTS

  1. Is it a requirement that your articles must be so long? After awhile I say enough all ready.

    However, you make good points.

  2. The error here is placing Trump and success in the same sentence. For example, the dip in illegal immigration is by no means a constant. It will simply rise again when nothing happens.

    • It is so obvious as to what you are doing. You want to make it seem that you oppose our great President Trump, when I believe that you secretly admire him.?

    • That’s why I think it’s rather shortsighted and foolish for the President to take credit for the surging stock market. What goes up must come down, and who will be to blame then? Not smart politically to take credit where credit is not due.

      • Nate: Naw. Trump only sees one day at a time. He takes credit for anything good (“The sun came up, thanks to me!”), but when things go badly, he’ll either ignore it, or blame it on Obama. And since he brags all the time, his base only hears the good stuff.

          • Funny, but Obama never called out George W by name as the sole cause of a failed war and a failed economy. George W didn’t do it all by himself. If you can find one quote where Obama individually blamed George W please offer it up.

            • I read all twenty one of your attachments. Nowhere did it say that Obama was individually blaming George W for the sad conditions he inherited when he became president. Can you give me the quote you speak of?
              Anyway you cut it, Obama inherited a fiscal disaster. almost $11 trillion in Treasury debt, and deficits of more than $1 trillion a year for the foreseeable future. That meant a $30,000 burden on every man, woman, and child in America. Not to mention the housing bubble, the bank meltdown, the bailout scandals – or the failure of our federal government to honestly account for robbing our most important programs for war costs: Medicare, Social Security, and Medicaid. The disaster was caused from Dick Cheney and the cabinet being in control of the Oval Office policies instead of George W. Would he actually have handled it otherwise? I like to think he would have.

            • I had ask you to give one quote where Obama was individually blaming Bush as the sole cause of a failed war and a failed economy and your answer was “21 times, in fact”.

            • It’s not easy to find a quote, because No-Drama Obama was not a name-caller. He chose his words carefully, so we may not find the name “Bush” in the blame game. Instead, he said he inherited problems, which is the same thing. From the NYT:

              “The financial crisis this administration inherited is still creating painful challenges for businesses and families alike,” Mr. Obama said . . .
              “The Obama administration inherited a situation at Guantánamo that was intolerable,” James L. Jones. . .
              State Hillary Rodham Clinton defended the Obama foreign policy in the same vein. “We inherited a lot of problems,” she said.

              Whether a prior administration deserves blame depends entirely on your point of view.

            • Not to be argumentative, but one’s point of view should be based on actual facts regardless of political affiliation.

            • Wishful thinking. Points of view are about positioning.

              Remember the story of the blind men and the elephant.
              Each man inspected an elephant, and being there,
              actually touching the elephant, each relied on facts.

              The first bumped into its side and said an elephant is like a wall.
              The second felt its tusk and said an elephant is like a spear.
              The third felt its trunk and said an elephant is like a snake.
              The fourth felt the leg and said an elephant is like a tree.
              The fifth felt its ear and said an elephant is like a fan.
              The sixth felt its tail and said an elephant is like a rope.

              And, of course, they each firmly believed, and was right,
              but none of them comprehended the whole.

            • I have not read John Godfrey Saxe’s poem in a long time but as I remember it each blind man had a limited perspective on the objective truth, but that didn’t mean objective truth wasn’t out there. In fact, truth isn’t relative at all… It’s there to be discovered.

  3. Nate…A shadow government theory is a shabby excuse for the current conditions we find ourselves in.
    The easy life of an American has comprised individuals into paying little or no attention to the workings of government, so much so that they barely vote, let alone know who’s in office. Easily entertained, easily distracted, easily led, these are the ones who allow the government to follow it’s agenda, good or bad. Politicians garner votes getting us to remain divided, alienated from each other based on our politics, our bank accounts, our religion, our race and our value systems. As George Orwell observed, “The real division is not between conservatives and revolutionaries but between authoritarians and libertarians.”

    What victory on border security are you talking about? Under Trump’s proposed funding for Custom and Border Protection will rise over 21 per cent. The agency would also be charged with hiring 5,000 new border patrol agents, plus building fragments of a border wall.

    The Immigration and Custom Enforcement budget increased 30 per cent more to pay for detention centers and to pay for flight or bus tickets back to the immigrants homeland. Taxpayers, brace yourself, for it is you that will pay for all this.

    June 2017, the Trump Border Patrol caught 21,659 crossers compared to June 2016 Obama Border Patrol caught 45,722 crossers.

    There was so many incidents in your post that I’ll wait awhile to answer more.

    • I generally agree with your statements regarding shadow governments and the state of affairs in the country. People feel disconnected because the bureaucracy has become so large. And I also agree, politicians of all stripes divide us when it suits their agenda to pit one faction against another.

      I also do agree that it has basically become a battle of limited government versus expanding government, which is similar to the authoritarians and libertarians but not exactly the same. Right now, big government is winning, and it has for a few decades.

      Success is in the eye of the beholder, so it depends on whether you think the results are good or bad for the country. Mainly this article was an attempt to flip the coin of the problems in the administration and look at what, if anything, they’ve accomplished of their agenda so far, I’m not saying it’s good or bad, just reporting it as is.

      Some may view the increase in the border protection and 5,000 new border patrol agents as a good thing because they’re taking border security seriously. Others, as you pointed out, will see it differently.

      Just meant to create the discussion, which it did.

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