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The GOP’s Favorite Democrat Goes To Syria

Representative Tulsi Gabbard is traveling to Syria and Lebanon for what her office called a fact-finding trip—her latest controversial move that will likely frustrate her fellow Democrats.

A statement from her office declined to comment on who Gabbard will specifically meet in Syria, citing security concerns, but noted she would meet with “a number of individuals and groups including religious leaders, humanitarian workers, refugees and government and community leaders.” It’s unclear if those government officials include Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who will likely welcome the prospect of meeting an elected American lawmaker as he tightens his grip on power. News of her trip was first reported by Foreign Policy.

The Obama administration and its Western allies have called for Assad’s ouster, and have backed some rebels groups opposed to him in the more than five-year civil war that has spawned a humanitarian disaster. President-elect Trump says the U.S. should focus on the real enemy: ISIS, which is one of many groups fighting Assad. Gabbard holds that view, as well. She recently introduced the Stop Arming Terrorists Act, which would make it unlawful for the U.S. government to support groups allied with and supporting terrorist organizations, some of which are fighting Assad. Still, her visit to Syria, in theory, may constitute a violation of the Logan Act, which prohibits unauthorized individuals from contacting a foreign government that’s engaged in a dispute with the U.S. It’s worth pointing out, however, that no one has ever been prosecuted for alleged violations of the act.

Gabbard is an Iraq War veteran and two-term Democratic congresswoman from Hawaii. She supported Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primary, was born in American Samoa, and is the first Hindu to be elected to the Congress. She was mentioned as Trump’s likely choice for U.S. ambassador to the UN—the job ultimately went to South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley—and even met with him after the November election.

In a statement after their meeting, she said said the two discussed foreign policy, and criticized what she called “interventionist, regime change warfare.”

Gabbard’s worldview aligns closely with Trump’s stated foreign-policy positions: For instance, she says she believes Assad should remain in power while the U.S. targets ISIS (as does Trump). She has praised Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, the Egyptian strongman, who has cracked down on Islamist groups in his own country after a military-backed coup ousted the democratically elected Muslim Brotherhood-inspired president (Trump called him “a fantastic guy.”) She has also lauded Narendra Modi, the Indian prime minister whose political party draws inspiration from Hindu nationalism and some of whose members have been linked to anti-Muslim violence (Trump called Modi a “great man.”) And, much like Trump and his supporters, she has criticized President Obama over his reluctance to calls ISIS an “Islamic” group, saying the president “is completely missing the pointing of this radical Islamic ideology that’s fueling these people.”

It is for such positions that The Washington Post dubbed Gabbard “The Democrat that Republicans love and the DNC can’t control.” Gabbard is reportedly a favorite of Steve Bannon, the former CEO of Breitbart News who now is the president-elect’s chief strategist. Bannon, who has described Breitbart as a “platform” for alt-right views, which combine white nationalism and economic populism, has praised Gabbard’s views on guns—she supports some gun restrictions, but not others; her alignment with Republican senators on Syrian refugees coming to the U.S.; and, of course, Islamist terrorism. Indeed, Gabbard’s name was not among the 169 Democratic lawmakers who wrote to Trump criticizing his hiring of Bannon.

Gabbard’s family background is no less interesting. Her father, Mike Gabbard, is a Hawaii state senator, who is perhaps best known for his vocal opposition to same-sex marriage, a position his daughter shared until, she said, she went to Iraq and experienced “what happens when a government basically attempts to act as a moral arbiter.” The elder Gabbard, a Republican turned Democrat, is a practicing Roman Catholic, but has been tied to an extreme form of Hinduism that has been called a cult. Her mother, Carol, is a practicing Hindu, and Gabbard converted to the religion while in her teens. The congresswoman has been a vocal advocate against the persecution of Hindus, especially in Muslim-majority countries, but denies she supports Hindu nationalists groups in India. Gabbard also denies her religion has shaped her opinion of Islam, telling Quartz that her views were shaped by “serving in the Middle East.”  

Before she was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, Gabbard served in the Hawaii House of Representatives from 2002 to 2004. She was 21 at the time of her election. She joined the National Guard during her term, deployed to Iraq in 2004 as part of a field medical unit, attended Officer Candidate School, and returned to Iraq in 2009. Between the two deployments, she worked as a legislative aide to Daniel Akaka, the longtime U.S. senator from Hawaii. In 2010, she was elected to the Honolulu City Council. Two years later, she was elected to Congress, where she served on the Armed Services and Foreign Affairs committees, and was spoken of as a future governor of Hawaii or U.S. senator. With her visit to Syria, Gabbard is likely to remain in the foreign-policy conversation for some time.

President Obama's Final Message To The Press: You Can't Be Sycophants For Those In Power

  • PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I have enjoyed working with all of you. That does not of course mean that I've enjoyed every story that you have filed, but that's the point of this relationship. You're not supposed to be sycophants, you're supposed to be skeptics, you're suppose to ask me tough questions, you're not suppose to be complimentary, but you're supposed to cast a critical eye on folks who hold enormous power and make sure that we are accountable to the people who sent us here and you have done that. And you have done it for the most part in ways that I could appreciate for fairness even if I didn't always agree with your conclusions.
  •  And having you in this building has made this work place better. It keeps us honest, makes us work harder. You have made us think about how we are doing what we do and whether or not we're able to deliver on what's been requested by our constituents, and for example, every time you asked why haven't you cured Ebola yet or why is there still that hole in the Gulf it has given me the ability to go back to my team and say "will you get this solved before the next press conference."
  • I spent a lot of time in my farewell address talking about the state of our democracy. It goes without saying that essential to that is a free press. That is part of how this place, this country, this grand experiment of self-government has to work. It doesn't work if we don't have a well-informed citizenry and you are the conduit through which they receive the information about what's taking place in the halls of power.
  • Trump Wants To Flood White House Press Briefings With Sycophants And Propagandists
Media Matters for America / Media Matters | January 18, 2017, 4:14 pm

George And Barbara Bush Hospitalized

  • Both former President Bush and his wife Barbara have been hospitalized in a Houston-area hospital:
  • The update described the 92-year-old Bush as “stable and resting comfortably” at Houston Methodist Hospital, but gave no details on how long the former president could remain under medical attention.
  • The former president was taken to the hospital Saturday for shortness of breath, and doctors performed a procedure to “protect and clear his airway,” the statement said.
  • In a tweet, Bush spokesman Jim McGrath wrote that he has “responded very well to treatments.” McGrath added: “Hope to have him out soon.”
Doug Mataconis / Outside The Beltway | January 18, 2017, 3:22 pm

EPA Nominee Scott Pruitt Refuses To Recuse Himself On Suits He's Filed Against The EPA

  • Warren went in on Trump University, saying it made her “curious” how the Trump administration would protect students from waste, fraud, and abuse by for-profit colleges.
  • Confronted at his confirmation hearing by Senator Ed Markey (D-MA), Trump’s nominee to head the Environmental Protection Agency consistently refused to recuse himself from issues arising from the cases he himself had brought against the agency.
  • Markey pointed up the 19 cases Pruitt has filed against EPA, and the important point that eight of those cases are still open. He asked Pruitt to commit to recusing himself in those cases where he would be “plaintiff, prosecutor, judge, and jury.”
  • But rather than giving any reassurance, Pruitt pled that each matter would need individual review and that he would “consult with EPA ethics council and follow their advice.” (Mark Sumner) / Daily Kos | January 18, 2017, 2:20 pm

Life Accordion To Trump (pretty Hilarious Video)

  • With the election of Donald Trump, AMERICAblog’s independent journalism and activism is more needed than ever.
  • Please support our work with a generous donation. (If you prefer PayPal, use this link.) We don’t make much on advertising, we need your support to continue our work.
  • John AravosisFollow me on Twitter: @aravosis | @americablog | @americabloggay | Facebook | Instagram | Google+ | LinkedIn.
John Aravosis / AMERICAblog | January 18, 2017, 1:22 pm

What Happens When A President Is Declared Illegitimate?

When was the last time America had a “legitimate” president?

You’d have to go back a ways to find a unanimous choice. Certainly not Donald Trump. Representative John Lewis, the civil-rights icon, has sparked a fury by saying, “I don't see this president-elect as a legitimate president.” Had Hillary Clinton won, she would not have fit the bill, either: Trump said repeatedly during the campaign that she should not have been allowed to run. Certainly not Barack Obama. Many opponents—none of them more prominent than Trump, yet again—argued, falsely and preposterously, that he was not even eligible to stand for the presidency because he had not been born in the United States. And certainly not George W. Bush, whom many Democrats viewed as illegitimate for several reasons: his popular-vote loss; questions over the final count in Florida; the fact that the Supreme Court effectively decided the election on a party-line vote.

Shoot, even Bill Clinton had his detractors. Well, detractor, singular. Representative Bob Dornan of California made a habit of going after the 42nd president, who he called “a small man in a big office and an illegitimate president” and on another occasion “this illegitimate president ... a serial adulterer ... a triple draft-dodger.”

The fact that you’d have to go reach back as far as 2000—or even 1992—for a  president unanimously accepted by Congress as legitimate doesn’t make the controversy over whether Trump is legitimate any less interesting. Lewis is only the most visible exponent of the argument. The Georgia representative cited what top U.S. officials, as well as Trump, have acknowledged as Russian hacking intended to influence the presidential election to hurt Hillary Clinton and aid Trump. There are now almost 60 Democratic members of the House who have publicly announced that they are skipping the inaugural festivities to register their disapproval of Trump. (Politico notes that skipping is actually not that unusual, but given the heavily mannered traditions of the the transfer of power, splashy announcements are unusual.)

There are other arguments for why Trump should be viewed as illegitimate. One is that FBI Director James Comey’s statements about the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server unfairly tipped the scales toward him. Another is that, like Bush, Trump lost the popular vote, though by a much larger margin.

Surely there is a hypothetical scenario in which a U.S. president might be widely and rightly considered illegitimate. Perhaps the discovery of ballot boxes full of hundreds of thousands of fake ballots, which if subtracted from the vote total would have swung the outcome. Yet most of the actual arguments about illegitimate presidents have trouble standing up to scrutiny. Did Russian hacking or Comey’s statements influence some voters’ decisions? Certainly. But isolating the specific effects of either is impossible. Meanwhile, there are other factors that also affected the final tally. Given the close margins in  several states, it’s conceivable that a better tactical approach by Clinton’s campaign might have produced a victory anyway.

Even so, the po-faced condemnations from some Republicans are rather hard to take seriously, given the fervor with which Trump and some other elected officials espoused the “birther” lie that Obama was not born in Hawaii, which was entirely baseless. Demands that Obama now speak forcefully against the crowd calling Trump illegitimate would be more credible had not so many Republicans—including quite a few, such as Mitt Romney, who did not espouse the birther lie themselves—been mostly willing to look the other way when conservative and GOP figures were insisting Obama was illegitimate. (Obama has, according to Trump aides, been helpful to Trump during the transition period, and during his farewell address last week offered a rousing defense of the transition to the new president.)

What happens after these declarations of illegitimacy? In the immediate term, they appear to make very little difference. Mostly, people come around and move on. Obama won reelection handily in 2012, and he leaves office with fairly strong approval ratings. George W. Bush won reelection in 2004, and while a few fringe figures argued the election was hacked, most accepted it. When Bush left office in 2009, he was intensely unpopular, but as a result of the policies he pursued, not because he was viewed as an imposter. As Carl Cannon and Caitlin Huey-Burns write in RealClearPolitics today, there’s an interesting footnote to the Bush story. John Lewis skipped that inauguration, too. When he announced his boycott this year, he claimed it was the first he’d missed since entering Congress, and then had to acknowledge he was wrong. Yet Lewis now says that he calls Bush “a friend.

So, is all well that ends with legitimacy? It’s hard to imagine that having three consecutive presidents who have been labeled illegitimate by visible portions of the opposition party doesn’t have a corrosive effect on democracy. Over time, the accusations seem to have migrated from the fringe—Dornan was a notorious crank, and the newly elected Republican Congress censured him in 1995 for his broadsides against Clinton—to the center, as represented by the chief birther’s ascension to the White House.

Trump’s election might represent the logical end of constant insistence that successive presidents are illegitimate. Trump was a historically dishonest candidate. Exit polls found that voters viewed him unfavorably by a wide margin, wider even than they did Clinton, and believed that neither his resume nor his temperament qualified him for office. And yet many of the same voters who held that view voted for Trump anyway. They were disgusted with America’s institutions, and told reporters time and again that while they had hesitations about the candidate, they wanted someone who would shake up the whole rotten system—which they believed Trump could do.

When the leaders of America’s political institutions are willing to label their opponents as illegitimate, they may end up convincing voters that the institutions themselves are corrupt—and that any change at all has to be for the better.

How Media Outlets Helped Trump Push A Fake News Story About Bikers And His Inauguration

  • Trump Tells Foreign Diplomats He Saw A “Scene” Of “Thousands” Of Bikers For Trump Traveling To Washington
  • Trump: “They Had A Scene Today Where They Had Helicopters Flying Over A Highway Someplace In This Country And They Had Thousands Of Those Guys Coming Into Town.” Speaking at the Chairman’s Global Dinner pre-inauguration event, President-elect Donald Trump claimed that he saw a scene of thousands of Bikers for Trump motorcycling into Washington, D.C., for the inauguration.
  • DONALD TRUMP: I also want to tell you, you know, so many people are talking about what's going on and now they’ve just announced we're going to have record crowds coming.
  • Hours Before Trump’s Comments, BuzzFeed Debunked Photos Of Bikers As “Fake”
Media Matters for America / Media Matters | January 18, 2017, 1:12 pm

Report: Eight Men Own As Much Wealth As Poorest Half Of The World

  • The report is timed to coincide with the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, where the richest people in the world gather to scheme on how to get even richer.
  • Oxfam estimates, if current wealth concentration trends continue, the world could see its first trillionaire in 25 years.
  • Currently, one in 10 people live on less than $2 a day, with seven out of 10 people living in a country that has seen a rise in inequality in the last 30 years.
  • When it comes to causes for increasing economic inequality, Oxfam points to corporate malfeasance and irresponsibility as the culprit, saying, “In order to maximize returns to their wealthy shareholders, big corporations are dodging taxes, driving down wages for their workers and the prices paid to producers, and investing less in their business.”
Dan Wright / Shadowproof | January 18, 2017, 12:22 pm

Search For Flight MH370 Officially Comes To An End

  • It’s been nearly three years since Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 left Kuala Lampur, Malaysia, only to disappear just as the plane was supposed to enter Chinese airspace.
  • SYDNEY — Australia’s Transport Minister Darren Chester said on Wednesday that experts will continue analyzing data and scrutinizing debris washing ashore from Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 in a bid to narrow down where it crashed in the southern Indian Ocean.
  • “When we get some information or data or a breakthrough that leads us to a specific location, the experts will know it when they see it,” he told reporters in the southern city of Melbourne.
  • The sonar seabed search ended on Tuesday, possibly forever — not because investigators have run out of leads, but because the countries involved in the expensive and vast deep-sea hunt have shown no appetite for opening another big phase.
Doug Mataconis / Outside The Beltway | January 18, 2017, 12:21 pm

Trump Demands Credit For 'new' Jobs That Are Old News, Rage-tweets When He Doesn't Get It

  • Companies are learning the Trump lesson: Give the man something to brag about, even if it’s not true.
  • A spate of companies have recently announced that they’ll be adding jobs or deciding against cutting jobs, with those announcements giving implied or explicit credit to Trump.
  • GM said its plan was approved before the election, but told Bloomberg it was "accelerated" under pressure from Trump, for example.
  • Wal-Mart's job creation plans are in line with its normal annual increase, and come after it has closed 269 under-performing stores and cut thousands of jobs. (Laura Clawson) / Daily Kos | January 18, 2017, 10:58 am

Trump's Ethics Train Wreck

Last week, President-elect Donald Trump’s lawyers issued a brief, largely unnoticed memo defending Trump’s plan to “separate” himself from his businesses. We believe that memo arbitrarily limits itself to a small portion of the conflicts it purports to address, and even there, presents claims that depart from precedent and common sense. Trump can convince a lot of people of a lot of things—but neither he nor his lawyers can explain away the ethics train wreck that will soon crash into the Oval Office.

It’s been widely acknowledged that, when Trump swears the Oath of Office, he will stand in violation of the Constitution’s foreign-emoluments clause. The emoluments clause forbids any “Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under [the United States]” from accepting any “any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State” (unless Congress explicitly consents).

By “emolument,” this provision means any benefit derived from dealing with a foreign government. It is well-settled that receipt of such emoluments is strictly prohibited for persons holding positions of trust with the U.S. government. A U.S. official need not also have an “office” with a foreign government in order to receive an emolument from it.

The Framers included this provision in the Constitution to guarantee that private entanglements with foreign states would not blur the loyalties of federal officials, above all the president. Yet that lesson seems lost on Trump, whose continued significant ownership stake in the Trump Organization forges an unbreakable bond between Trump and a global empire that will benefit or suffer in innumerable ways from its dealings with foreign governments. Trump’s actions in office will thus be haunted by the specter (and perhaps reality) of divided interests.

As we have argued, the only adequate solution to this and other conflicts of interest, taken by presidents of both parties for the past four decades, is divestiture into a truly blind trust or the equivalent.

At last week’s unusual press conference, Trump—lawyer in tow—refused to take those steps. Instead, after marveling at his own generosity, Trump finally explained his big plan: keep an ownership stake in the Trump Organization, but resign from management and have his adult sons (joined by an executive) run the business during his presidency.

Trump’s lawyer then elaborated: The Trump Organization will make no new foreign deals while Trump is president; all new domestic deals will be subject to internal ethics review; Trump will not receive regular updates about the business; and the profits that Trump hotels make from foreign governments will ultimately be donated to the U.S. Treasury.

Several hours later, the law firm Morgan Lewis issued a memo entitled “Conflicts of Interest and the President.” In three short pages, this memo outlined why Trump’s plan purportedly complies with the Foreign Emoluments Clause.

First, it’s worth noting a critical concession in the memo. While some commentators have taken the extreme view that the emoluments clause doesn’t apply to the president—a claim that doesn’t withstand scrutiny—Trump’s lawyers did not rely on that position. In fact, they squarely rejected it, stating that the president’s “obligations under the Constitution” include “the obligations created by the … Foreign Emoluments Clause.”

From this promising start, however, the memo goes badly awry. It bases its defense of Trump exclusively on the proposition that the president may engage in arms-length, fair-market-value exchanges with foreign powers—on the theory that the phrase “emolument” covers only “payment or other benefit received as a consequence of discharging the duties of an office.”

There are two specific problems with this defense: First, it utterly fails to account for the many other ways in which Trump will still violate the foreign emoluments clause; and second, it is wrong on its merits.

The first problem alone is fatal. Trump has promised not to enter any new foreign deals, and, at the end of each year, to return “profits” from “hotels and similar businesses” to the U.S. Treasury. But this arrangement leaves open a vast universe of ways in which Trump will, by virtue of his continuing ownership interest, foreseeably benefit (or suffer) personally from how foreign nations interact with the Trump Organization. This is the core evil that the foreign emoluments cause sought to address.

In this light, the Morgan Lewis memo’s focus on hotels and unspecified “similar businesses” is arbitrary. The foreign emoluments clause is not limited to hotels; it encompasses any and all benefits that Trump collects from foreign governments. And since the whole Trump Organization is permeated with foreign money—and subject to an endless variety of potential advantages in foreign lands—a serious plan would have accounted for the whole empire, not just its hotels.

Consider the Trump Organization’s many existing overseas investments, loans from foreign-government-controlled banks, sales and rentals of real estate to foreign governments, and foreign benefits that grease the skids in financially valuable ways for its various projects. So long as Trump is both president and privately financially interested, these and other Trump Organization affairs could be magnets for special treatment in commerce, taxation, regulation, and investigation—benefits from foreign powers that qualify as gifts or emoluments.

But even following Morgan Lewis and focusing only on hotels, it’s unclear how “profit” will be defined, for purposes of returning monies to the U.S. Treasury that may constitute emoluments. Does profit mean everything above the actual cost of providing items or services? If so, how are those costs to be defined? If not, what does “profit” mean? And how will the Trump Organization quantify benefits such as the social cachet that may result from a foreign government deciding to host a series of lucrative events at a local Trump property?

Further, the emoluments clause applies not only to foreign states, but also to corporations they own or control. How, exactly, will the Trump Organization identify all such entities?

And by what authority will the U.S. Treasury take possession of the money that Trump Hotels makes in profit from foreign powers? Will the amount be publicly disclosed—and, if so, with what level of granularity?

Of course, public disclosure is a concern for other reasons, too. Based on the Morgan Lewis memo, there will be virtually no accountability or transparency at all. As Isaac Arnsdorf has argued, Trump’s “pledge to separate his private interests from public money depends almost entirely on him and his team following their own rules, with almost a total absence of public disclosure, outside oversight or independent verification.”

In sum, the Morgan Lewis memo—by focusing on hotels and “similar businesses,” and defending only fair-market-value transactions—simply misses a huge part of Trump’s constitutional violation.

But even with respect to this limited set of transactions, the Morgan Lewis memo is lacking.

The fundamental problem is that it loses sight of the purpose of the foreign emoluments clause. As then-Assistant Attorney General Samuel A. Alito, Jr. emphasized in 1986, the “answer to [an] Emoluments Clause question must depend [on] whether the [arrangement] would raise the kind of concern (viz., the potential for ‘corruption and foreign influence’) that motivated the Framers in enacting the constitutional prohibition.”

Given the undisputed purpose and sweeping text of the clause, it makes no sense under any approach to constitutional interpretation to say that an otherwise forbidden foreign payment to the president is allowed, but only if the president is not engaged in the specific duties of his office when he gives that foreign government its money’s worth in services. Imagine if the president owned a company that made billions of dollars annually, all as a result of profitable, fair-market-value transactions with Russia and China. Is it really conceivable that such an arrangement would be constitutional, given the basic purpose of the foreign emoluments clause?

For this reason, the Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel has, in its well-reasoned opinions, prohibited federal government employees from accepting any sort of payment—fair market value or otherwise—from a foreign government. Trump’s legal team doesn’t distinguish the logic of these opinions; it just asserts that they involve “different factual circumstances.” Of course, that could be said about pretty much any precedent, especially since Trump represents a sui generis conflicts maelstrom.

The underlying concern here is that it is precisely Trump’s beneficial government services that foreign powers may hope to purchase for their money whenever they patronize or advantage his businesses. That is, foreign powers (and their agents) may pay Trump, in his capacity as owner of valuable business assets around the world, so that Trump, in his capacity as president, will play in their interest and push U.S. policies in their direction. It may be impossible to prove this on a case-by-case level, given the complex and often hidden motives guiding presidential conduct, but the whole theory of the foreign emoluments clause is to guard against the very possibility of transactions raising this creeping danger.

Trump’s lawyer, Sheri Dillon, has said that “Trump wants there to be no doubt in the minds of the American public that he is completely isolating himself from his business interests.” But if that were actually true, Trump would have done more—much more—to separate himself from his global business empire. Instead, he adopted the mere shell of a plan, utterly inadequate to the demands of the Constitution.

Trump will thus place himself in clear violation of America’s basic charter from the very first instant of his presidency.

When Journalists Investigated Trump's Nominee For Education Secretary, They Found Scores Of Unanswered Questions

  • Billionaire Betsy DeVos Set To Face Questions At Senate Confirmation Hearing
  • GOP Mega-Donor And Privatization Activist Betsy DeVos “Could Face Unusually Stiff Resistance” In January 17 Confirmation Hearing For Education Secretary.
  • Nominees for secretary of education have typically breezed through confirmation by the Senate with bipartisan approval.
  • Her wealth and her politics seem likely to make her confirmation hearing unusually contentious, and possibly drawn out.
Media Matters for America / Media Matters | January 18, 2017, 10:07 am

Abbreviated Pundit Round-up: Do Republicans Really Know What They Are Doing?

  • xProbably gonna take a LOT more than that to get GOP Senators to vote against confirming their megadonor— Sam Stein (@samsteinhp) January 18, 2017
  • It must be said that the whole business of questioning a president’s right to hold office is pernicious.
  • The Republican campaign to discredit the Affordable Care Act is a catastrophic success.
  • xThe "thermostat" returns: w/boost from low-income GOPers, support for gov't-ensured health care rises to highest level since Bush presidency— Patrick Egan (@Patrick_J_Egan) January 16, 2017 (Greg Dworkin) / Daily Kos | January 18, 2017, 7:52 am

The Trump Promise Tracker

All politicians make campaign promises, though few made them with the abandon, spontaneity, and flamboyance of Donald Trump. During the campaign, he would casually guarantee vast and circumstantial shifts in policy, often saying he’d do them on day one. (The Washington Post tallied up an eyepopping 282 promises the Republican nominee made.) These ranged from the monumental—the famous wall Trump vowed to build on the U.S. border with Mexico, with Mexican funds—to the vague (what does it mean to drain the swamp, exactly?) to the highly concrete, like his outlined expansion of the U.S. military.

In this jaded age, it’s customary to assume that campaign promises are just that and won’t be remembered. But studies have found that most politicians do in fact keep most of the promises they make to voters while running for office. Will Trump follow through on his array of guarantees? Or will a president who developed a vast record of dishonesty in private life and as a politician fall short of his promises as president?

We’ve assembled a list of some of the Trump’s most notable and circumstantial promises here. The list is not comprehensive, but it touches on most of his biggest priorities. (Think we missed one? Get in touch to recommend an addition.) As President Trump advances in his term, we’ll track his progress (or lack thereof) toward the goals he’s laid out, updating this article regularly.


A U.S. Border Patrol agent scans the U.S.-Mexico border in Sunland Park, New Mexico. (John Moore / Getty)

Build a Wall ...

Promise: No idea was so central to Trump’s run for president as his promise that he would build a wall stretching across the U.S. border with Mexico, in order to prevent illegal immigration.

Outlook: Setting aside whether or not the wall is an effective solution to illegal immigration, some analysts have long suggested that the idea to build a wall was either prohibitively expensive or topographically impossible, due to the various landscapes on the border. But there are those who believe a wall could be built. That’s assuming Trump wants to build it, of course. Several top Trump supporters have suggested the wall might be “digital,” “a metaphor,” “virtual,” or “technological.”

Status: Incomplete

… And Make Mexico Pay for It

Promise: Of course, one reason it was easy for Trump to guarantee such a sprawling project was that he also insisted Mexico would pay for the work.

Outlook: Mexico’s president, as well as other current and former officials, insist that the country will not pay. Trump laid out a series of steps he believes will force it to ante up. Uri Friedman walks through how effective they might be and what repercussions they could have.

Status: Incomplete

Expand the Ranks of Immigration and Border Patrol Agents

Promise: Trump says he will triple the staffing at Immigrations and Customs Enforcement and add 5,000 agents to the ranks of the Border Patrol. He made the pledges in his August speech about immigration policy in Arizona.

Outlook: The main question here is money—Aaron Blake estimates more than $15 billion.

Status: Incomplete

End “Catch and Release”

Promise: Currently, some immigrants who are caught entering the United States without authorization are given summons to appear in court. Trump has said he will halt the practice.

Outlook: Here again, it’s a matter of money: Incarcerating people takes money and facilities.

Status: Incomplete

Deport Undocumented Immigrants

Promise: Trump’s specific ideas about deportations fluctuated at points during the campaign. At the bare minimum, he said he would deport 2 million undocumented immigrants who are criminals who are in the country now. (Experts say that figure is exaggerated.) He has at other times said he would mount a mass-deportation effort to expel all unauthorized immigrants.

Outlook: Deporting large numbers of people requires funding and serious political will, since it could be a intrusive process. Trump will also struggle to deport 2 million criminal aliens if there aren’t that many. Speaker Paul Ryan told 60 Minutes, “We're not working on a deportation force.”

Status: Incomplete

Cancel DACA

Promise: Trump says he will reverse Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, the Obama program that allows people who came to the U.S. without authorization as children to apply to stay in the country.

Outlook: It appears that Trump could fairly easily reverse DACA, which Obama created through an executive order, with an executive order of his own.

Status: Incomplete

Withdraw Funding for Sanctuary Cities

Promise: Trump railed against “sanctuary cities,” municipalities that have installed policies of not alerting federal authorities about unauthorized immigrants. (They still prosecute them for other crimes.) He has said he will block federal funding for such cities.

Outlook: It’s unclear how broad Trump’s authority to block funding for cities would be, even in concert with Congress.

Status: Incomplete

Ban Muslim Immigration, or Institute Extreme Vetting for Refugees

Promise: Early in the campaign, Trump said he would ban all Muslim immigration to the United States, and that statement remains on his website. At other times, he has said he would only ban Muslim immigration from countries with a history of terrorism, or that he would institute “extreme vetting” for refugees in order to prevent the entry of would-be terrorists.

Outlook: A Muslim ban would likely run into constitutional difficulties, though some scholars believe it could be structured to withstand scrutiny. Trump has not made a cogent explanation for how his “extreme vetting” would differ from the existing vetting process.

Status: Incomplete


Coal miners in Welch, W.Va. (David Goldman / AP)

Renegotiate NAFTA

Promise: Trump says he will demand a better deal from NAFTA, the free-trade agreement with Canada and Mexico that entered force in 1994. He says that if the other signatories will not agree to that he will withdraw the United States from the agreement.

Outlook: Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto says Mexico is willing to discuss “modernizing” NAFTA, and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau signaled openness to renegotiation. But Trump might or might not be able to make changes to NAFTA or renegotiate it without congressional approval. Some experts say that withdrawal could spark a trade war that could damage the American economy.

Status: Incomplete

Punish Companies That Offshore Manufacturing With Tariffs

Promise: Throughout the campaign, Trump repeatedly threatened to slap a 35 percent tariff on goods produced outside of the U.S. by companies that have offshored jobs from the United States. He reprised that vow as recently as December 4. He also called for a 45 percent tariff on all Chinese imports.

Outlook: Congress, rather than the president, generally has the power to enact tariffs. Republican leaders in Congress, who are closer to the traditional GOP dogma in favor of free trade, tend to take a dim view of Trump’s tariffs. Adding new tariffs could produce a trade war and higher costs to U.S. citizens.

Status: Incomplete

Job Creation and Economic Growth

Promise: Trump says he will create 25 million jobs, and in particular “bring back” manufacturing jobs. He also set a target of 4 percent annual economic growth.

Outlook: It’s an ambitious target, some 2.5 more jobs than Obama created—working from the depth of a recession—and more even than Bill Clinton, the recent record holder. Many economists believe simply bringing manufacturing jobs back from overseas will be impossible because of structural changes in the economy. They are also skeptical of the growth promise.

Status: Incomplete. Trump has already scored a major PR victory by convincing Carrier to preserve some jobs in Indiana—though the economic benefits are much less clear.

Withdraw From TPP

Promise: Trump says he will withdraw the United States from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the multilateral deal with 11 countries.

Outlook: Since Congress has not ratified the treaty, and has shown little appetite to do so, Trump should be able to achieve this fairly easily on his own.

Status: Incomplete

Bring Back Coal Jobs

Promise: Trump said he would restore jobs in coal mining in Appalachia that were lost under President Obama’s presidency, blaming the losses on environmental regulation.

Outlook: Experts met Trump’s claims with overwhelming skepticism. A major factor behind the decline in coal is simple market forces: As natural gas becomes easier to extract, it has become cheaper, cutting into coal’s advantage. Coal reserves in Appalachia are also lower than ever. He might have better luck rolling back Obama’s Clean Power Plan, which he could refuse to defend in court or attempt to reverse via executive order.

Status: Incomplete

Eliminate the National Debt

Promise: In March, Trump told The Washington Post that he would eliminate the national debt, which currently stands at nearly $20 trillion, in eight years.

Outlook: Trump has not offered any viable plan for paying off the debt. An analysis of Trump’s proposals overall as of mid-September found that he would sharply increase both budget deficits and the national debt.

Status: Incomplete


Military personnel listen to U.S. President Barack Obama speak about counter-terrorism during his visit to MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Florida. (Kevin Lamarque / Reuters)

Renegotiate the Iran Deal

Promise: Trump was highly critical of the U.S. deal with Iran to stop nuclear proliferation, saying, in September 2015, “I will renegotiate with Iran.” He has not indicated how he would change the deal, but he also vowed to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.

Outlook: Without any sense of what Trump wants, it’s hard to know whether he can achieve it. Iranian leaders have reacted fiercely against the idea of renegotiation. This area could be a test for Trump’s hypothesis that he can get better deals simply through force of negotiating skill.

Status: Incomplete

Bomb the Hell Out of ISIS and Take the Oil

Promise: Trump says that his solution to ISIS will be to “bomb the hell out of them” (or slight variations thereon) and to claim petroleum reserves for the United States.

Outlook: The U.S. is already bombing ISIS, so it’s a question of degree. Who is to say when the shit is bombed out of them? As for the oil question, it’s thornier. It would require the U.S. to expropriate oil from Iraq and possibly Syria, which would likely elicit protests.

Status: Incomplete

Bring Back Torture

Promise: Trump has promised at various points to reinstitute torture. “Don’t tell me it doesn’t work—torture works,” he said in February. He also promised to “bring back a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding,” of which he said, “I like it a lot. I don’t think it’s tough enough.”

Outlook: As The New York Times reports, Trump would face some difficulties in reinstituting even the levels of torture that occurred during the Bush administration, to say nothing of more brutal tactics. Then again, before “enhanced interrogation” few expected the U.S. to torture.

Status: Incomplete

Make NATO Allies Shoulder More Weight

Promise: Trump complains that America is overextended globally and is contributing more to alliances than it receives. Noting low spending by some NATO members, he has said he will not fulfill mutual-defense obligations unless they increase their military spending to reach NATO’s mandatory minimums.

Outlook: NATO allies have reacted nervously to the prospect of the alliance falling apart. NATO leaders have insisted the defense pact is unconditional.

Status: Incomplete

Negotiate a Better Deal With Cuba

Promise: Trump said the agreement that the Obama administration worked out with the Cuban regime to reestablish diplomatic relations is too weak. He has promised to negotiate a better deal or else reverse the opening.

Outlook: Many Republicans in Congress were opposed to Obama’s Cuba opening and would prefer a harder line as long as the Communist government is in place. Generally, American public opinion favors an opening.

Status: Incomplete

Expand the Military

Promise: Trump has said he will expand the armed forces on every front. He wants to reverse the sequester for the Pentagon; expand the Army from about 480,000 to 540,000; grow the Marines from 182,000 to 200,000; raise the Naval fleet from a planned 308 (much larger than today’s 272) to 350; and add about 100 fighter planes.

Outlook: Regardless of whether this force is wise or necessary, the major requirement to achieving it is money. Experts expect it would cost an additional $100 billion or so over existing budgets.

Status: Incomplete

Stop North Korea’s Nuclear Program

Promise: After Kim Jong-Un said in a New Year’s address that North Korea was close to testing an intercontinental ballistic missile, Trump replied via tweet, “North Korea just stated that it is in the final stages of developing a nuclear weapon capable of reaching parts of the U.S. It won't happen!”

Outlook: Discerning North Korea’s true capabilities from its bluster is a constant challenge, but the experience of the George W. Bush and Barack Obama administrations has been that when the hermit kingdom’s technical capacities are real, the United States has little leverage over it.

Status: Incomplete

Withdraw From the Paris Climate-Change Accord

Promise: Trump said he would “cancel” the international climate agreement struck in Paris last year.

Outlook: It would be outside his power to “cancel” the whole agreement, but Trump could attempt to extricate the United States from the accord, which could in turn encourage others to exit. In theory, the U.S. cannot exit the deal before 2020, but the U.S. could withdraw from the framework behind the treaty with one year’s notice, effectively withdrawing from the treaty itself.

Status: Incomplete


House Speaker Paul Ryan swears in new members of Congress in the House Chamber January 3, 2017 in Washington, DC. for the start of the 115th Congress.

Repeal and Replace Obamacare

Promise: Trump says he wants to fully repeal the Affordable Care Act, including the individual mandate to hold insurance, and replace it with something that is “so much better, so much better, so much better.” He has offered few details on how to do that, though he has suggested health-savings accounts and interstate markets for insurance as ideas. He also says he wants to ensure that anyone who wants insurance coverage can get it and afford it.

Outlook: Repeal should be relatively easy, at least on a nuts-and-bolts level. Republicans in Congress are eager to do so, and much of it can be accomplished through the process of reconciliation, which removes procedural hurdles. But replacement will be more difficult, since it’s likely to be politically divisive. Removing benefits may also be politically perilous.

Status: Incomplete

Preserve Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid

Promise: Trump said repeatedly that he would preserve Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. “I’m not going to cut Social Security like every other Republican and I’m not going to cut Medicare or Medicaid,” he told The Daily Signal in May 2015. “Every other Republican is going to cut, and even if they wouldn’t, they don’t know what to do because they don’t know where the money is. I do.” In March 2016, he said, “They want to cut Social Security, which I'm not cutting...I'm the only one that's not cutting it.” However, he has also called for converting Medicaid into block grants to states, which can then handle the money as they see fit. He has seldom spoken about Medicare.

Outlook: This is an area where there could be serious tension between Trump and Republicans in Congress. They should find common ground on block-granting Medicaid, but many of them also want to cut Medicaid funding, convert Medicare into a voucher system, and privatize Social Security. That could conflict with Trump supporters who were adamant that he would help them keep entitlements.

Status: Incomplete

Cut Taxes

Promise: Trump has offered a tax plan that would lower marginal tax rates, reduce the number of tax brackets, and produce overall lower taxes. He wants to repeal the estate tax, and would lower the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 15 percent. Families would be able to deduct the average cost of childcare from their taxes. Trump would seek to close the carried-interest loophole, which allows hedge-fund managers and private-equity types, among others, to avoid paying income tax on large portions of their earnings.

Outlook: This appears to be an area where Trump and congressional Republicans have common ground, although there may be some specific differences in their optimal scenarios. Trump’s plan will be costly, though: The nonpartisan Tax Policy Center, in an October analysis, found that the Trump plan would reduce federal revenues by $6.2 trillion over a decade, and that the federal debt would increase by $7 trillion in that time.

Status: Incomplete

Spend Big League on Infrastructure

Promise: Trump has promised a $1 trillion infrastructure plan. Saying that the nation’s roads, bridges, electric lines, and other structures are crumbling, he wants to spend on rebuilding them, which he says would double as a jobs plan.

Outlook: In recent history, Democrats have been strongly in favor of infrastructure projects, while Republicans have opposed them. Republicans have expressed skepticism about Trump’s plan since the election, particularly on how to pay for it. Incoming Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer has suggested his caucus might be willing to work with Trump on infrastructure, but other Democrats have denounced the plan as really just a tax break for corporations.

Status: Incomplete

Roll Back Financial Regulation

Promise: Trump says he will roll back the Dodd-Frank financial-reform law, including eliminating the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau.

Outlook: Republicans in Congress also dislike Dodd-Frank, meaning Trump should have some leeway to dismantle the regulations.

Status: Incomplete

Drain the Swamp

Promise: Late in the campaign, Trump laid out a program of anti-corruption steps that he labeled (somewhat grudgingly) “draining the swamp.” He said he would impose a five-year ban on executive-branch officials lobbying the government after leaving the government, and ask that Congress do the same; prevent a common practice in which former government officials do lobbying work but structure it so as to avoid registering as lobbyists; banning senior White House officials for life from lobbying for foreign governments; and asking Congress to prevent registered foreign lobbyists from raising money for U.S. elections. He also offered some vague rumblings about transparency. Trump promised a constitutional amendment to create congressional term limits.

Outlook: It all depends how you define it. Trump’s specific steps are fairly narrow. The steps focused on the executive branch should be reasonably straightforward. Whether Congress will oblige on the others is unclear, but it has shown little appetite for either a strong lobbying ban or term limits. In many other ways, it’s hard to take Trump’s slogan all that seriously. He continues to refuse to release basic disclosures, including his tax returns and has made little serious gesture toward resolving serious conflicts of interest. After assailing Clinton for speaking to Goldman Sachs, he has appointed several alumni of the bank to top posts. His children have repeatedly had to back off access-selling charity auctions. Two former aides have opened a lobbying shop that appears to mostly offer proximity to Trump. Moreover, despite the promise to bar officials from heading into lobbying, but his transition team was chock full of former lobbyists.

Outcome: Incomplete

End Common Core

Promise: Trump has promised to end Common Core, a set of educational standards that have become a major conservative bogeyman.

Outlook: Bad. Despite the way it’s often portrayed, Common Core is not a federal program or law but rather a set of standards adopted by 42 state governments. The Obama administration did make some federal funding contingent on adopting the standards, which Trump could reverse, but the president doesn’t have the power to abolish the Common Core itself.

Status: Doomed

Loosen Gun Laws on Day 1

Promise: Trump made various vows related to guns during his campaign. “I will get rid of gun-free zones on schools, and—you have to—and on military bases,” he said in January. “My first day, it gets signed, okay? My first day. There's no more gun-free zones.” He also pledged to “unsign” President Obama’s executive orders related to firearms. He wants to allow concealed-carry permit holders to carry their guns in all 50 states. He also praised a Virginia project that introduced five-year minimum sentences for gun crimes, though mention has since disappeared from his site.

Outlook: Trump is almost certain to break his first promise, since gun-free zones are a product of legislation that would have to be repealed by Congress, which would probably take more than a day. Concealed-carry reciprocity bills have moved in Congress before, but would never have become law under Obama. Trump could likely reverse many executive orders with his own.

Status: Incomplete

Create a Private Option for Veterans’ Health

Promise: Trump said he would improve the VA health system, but suggested that if wait times are long, veterans should be able to get private care, paid for by the government.

Outlook: Reforming the VA has proven a challenging task for presidents. The biggest challenge for a private-care alternative would likely be cost, but congressional Republicans have tended to look fondly on privatization of government functions.

Status: Incomplete

Stop Killings of Cops

Promise: Trump spent much of the campaign criticizing police-reform advocates. In August, he said at a rally, “We're not going to shoot our police. We're not shooting our police. It's never been so dangerous to be a policeman or woman. It's never been so dangerous.”

Outlook: Trump is wrong on the facts—the number of officers killed in the line of duty ticked up slightly in 2016, but is still well below the recent average. It’s unclear how Trump would even go about preventing all killing of police officers.

Status: Incomplete


Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump speaks with Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton during the second presidential debate at Washington University in St. Louis, Sunday, Oct. 9, 2016. (John Locher / AP)

Prosecute Hillary Clinton

Promise: During a presidential debate in October, Trump promised that if elected he would appoint a special prosecutor to investigate his opponent, Hillary Clinton. “I didn’t think I’d say this and I’m going to say it and I hate to say it .… If I win, I am going to instruct my attorney general to get a special prosecutor to look into your situation because there has never been so many lies, so much deception,” he said. He also led “Lock her up” chants at campaign events.

Outlook: Trump has since backed off his promise, saying, “I don’t want to hurt the Clintons, and admitting it no longer “plays well.”

Status: Dubious

Take $1 as a Salary

Promise: Speaking to 60 Minutes shortly after the election, Trump said he would not take the $400,000 presidential salary. However, he is required by law to accept some pay, so he’ll take $1 per year.

Outlook: This should be no problem. Previous independently wealthy presidents John F. Kennedy and Herbert Hoover have also foregone salaries.

Status: Incomplete

Release His Tax Returns

Promise: Trump says he is under audit by the IRS (a claim that is not independently verifiable) but that he will release his tax returns as soon as that is complete.

Outlook: Trump is the only major-party presidential candidate, to say nothing of elected president, in decades not to release his returns.

Status: Incomplete

Ben Stein: Obama's Commutation Of Chelsea Manning Shows He's "Anti-Military"

  • NEIL CAVUTO (HOST): I did want to touch on this with Ben Stein.
  • BEN STEIN: I make of it the fact that we're seeing the real Barack Obama, an extremely left-wing ideologue, an extremel race-based left-wing ideologue, because let's be honest here, the great majority of these people whose sentences he's commuting are African-Americans.
  • STEIN: They absolutely have the constitutional power to do it, there's no doubt about it, but what I'm saying is, this is the real Democratic Party that, thank goodness, was defeated in the elections.
  • STEIN: I'm all for having better conditions in prison, I think it's absolutely vital.
Media Matters for America / Media Matters | January 18, 2017, 7:02 am