President-elect Donald Trump plans to hit the ground running. He could sign his first executive orders within hours of taking the oath of office.
“I’ve asked my transition team to develop a list of executive actions we can take on Day One to restore our laws and bring back our jobs,” Trump said in a videotaped message in November. “It’s about time.”
Vice President-elect Mike Pence echoed that message in a meeting with reporters on Thursday.
“Our job is to be ready on Day One,” Pence said. “We are all ready to go to work.”
The incoming president has promised to:
- renegotiate trade deals,
- roll back regulations, and, of course,
- repeal his predecessor’s signature health care law
Trump, who’s accustomed to completing projects “on time and under budget,” will try to bring an unfamiliar business discipline to the nation’s capital. He may find that Washington is not as nimble or responsive to orders from the chief executive as his family-run business. His first couple of days will also be filled with ceremonial celebrations: the inaugural parade, Friday night balls and a Saturday church service. The real workout for the new president and his pen could start Monday.
“We’ll be doing some pretty good signings on Monday and Tuesday and Wednesday and Thursday and Friday,” Trump said during his news conference last week.
Trump plans to nominate a new Supreme Court justice to replace the late Antonin Scalia within his first two weeks in office. He’ll also direct military commanders to develop plans for battling the Islamic State and cyberattacks. And he’ll codify his “swamp draining” restrictions on government officials later going to work as lobbyists.
But the new administration’s initial priorities will focus on three areas:
Throughout the campaign, Trump repeatedly criticized U.S. trade deals and promised to renegotiate or scrap agreements such as NAFTA.
“We will negotiate fair, bilateral trade deals that bring jobs and industry back onto American shores,” he said in his November video.
Trump has also warned that companies that move jobs overseas but want to sell products domestically could be hit with a steep import tariff or “border tax.”
Congressional Republicans have shown little support for raising tariffs. Rather than punishing companies that leave the U.S., GOP lawmakers prefer to reward those that stay, with lower corporate tax rates.
Still, if Trump is determined to send a signal with targeted tariffs, he has the authority to impose them on his own.
“The president has a lot of power in this country,” said Simon Johnson of the Peterson Institute for International Economics, a pro-trade think tank in Washington. “It looks like President Trump wants to use some of that power relative to trade and particularly goods coming into the United States.”
Johnson conceded that Trump’s tough talk could be merely a scare tactic, aimed at encouraging domestic manufacturers to stay put. He cautioned if Trump were to follow through on his tariff threat, it would raise prices for U.S. consumers. And other countries could respond with their own tariffs, discouraging U.S. exports.
“We need to have a conversation about how to have better jobs for more people in the United States,” Johnson said. “But saying we’ll scrap the trading system or saying we’ll slap massive tariffs when we feel like it, that is actually back to the trading system of the 1930s. That did not have good overall economic outcomes either for America as a whole or for most American workers.”
Trump’s nominee for Commerce secretary, Wilbur Ross, agreed that the broad Smoot-Hawley tariffs of the 1930s were a drag on the U.S. economy and shouldn’t be repeated. Ross took a nuanced position on protectionist measures during his confirmation hearing this week.
“I am not anti-trade. I am pro-trade,” Ross told the Senate Commerce Committee. “But I am pro-sensible trade. Not pro-trade that is to the disadvantage of the American worker and the American manufacturing community.”
2. Energy regulations
Trump has accused the outgoing Obama administration of stifling development of fossil fuel energy. While oil and natural-gas production has surged over the last eight years, Trump insists that’s happened despite government roadblocks.
“I will cancel job-killing restrictions on the production of American energy, including shale energy and clean coal, creating many millions of high-paying jobs,” Trump said in his November video. “That’s what we want. That’s what we’ve been waiting for.”
The Interior Department and the Environmental Protection Agency hold considerable sway over energy development through access to public lands and environmental regulations. Fossil fuel producers expect Trump’s team to relax some of the restrictions they faced during the Obama years.
“Just as he’s been able to impose additional regulations and burdens on industries, likewise a new administration or a new president can reverse that course or at least make them smart, common-sense regulation and make them so they’re not so unduly burdensome,” said Jack Gerard, president of the American Petroleum Institute.
The incoming Trump administration could also give a green light to energy infrastructure projects that were blocked by executive actions on Obama’s watch.
“Things like Keystone XL pipeline, Dakota Access pipeline,” Gerard said, “we expect he’ll take some early action on a variety of those fronts to really free us up and allow us to achieve our energy potential.”
The incoming administration says repealing and replacing Obamacare will be its “first order of business.” And the House and Senate have already taken the first steps toward repealing large pieces of the health care law.
But while doing away with Obamacare was always a popular applause line at Trump’s campaign rallies, the incoming administration has also promised to move carefully to avoid further disruption in an already fragile insurance market.
“Nobody is interested in pulling the rug out from under anybody,” Trump’s nominee for health secretary, Tom Price, said this week. “We believe that it is absolutely imperative that individuals that have health coverage be able to keep health coverage.”
The need for a viable replacement plan for Obamacare was underscored this week when the Congressional Budget Office warned that partial repeal without replacement would leave tens of millions of people uninsured and cause a spike in insurance premiums.
Congressional Republicans are considering a variety of replacement plans and hope to reach a consensus on one at their retreat later this month. Trump, meanwhile, told the Washington Post he’s nearly completed work on his own plan to replace Obamacare. He says he’s keeping the details under wraps until Price is confirmed.