WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump used his State of the Union address to make the case for his reelection, claiming success in delivering on promises, especially the economy.
“Unlike so many who came before me, I keep my promises,” Trump said at an event marked by partisan acrimony.
The tensions played out live on national television, with Trump refusing to shake House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s hand at the start of his address and her dramatically ripping a copy of his speech into pieces when he was done.
Trump delivered his speech the night before the Senate is expected to acquit him on Democratic-initiated impeachment charges of abuse of power and obstructing Congress. But the partisan hostilities also can be linked to significant policy differences on issues such as border security, immigration and tax cuts.
Here’s are some of Trump’s key campaign pledges and his record so far in office:
Border and immigration
Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign was just a few minutes old when he made a bold promise.
“I will build a great, great wall on our southern border – and I will have Mexico pay for that wall,” Trump vowed after riding down an escalator into the gilded lobby of Trump Tower, where he formally announced what some considered to be a quixotic campaign for president.
To those doubters in the room and around the country, Trump wrapped his campaign promise in a three-word coda: “Mark my words.”
Perhaps no other issue animated Trump’s campaign as much as immigration. From his proposed “impenetrable physical wall” on the U.S. border with Mexico to the dramatic changes he proposed to the legal immigration system, Trump hammered away at what he described on the campaign trail as one of the “greatest challenges facing our country today.”
During a major address on immigration in the summer of 2016, Trump laid out 10 policies he promised to pursue, from building the wall and requiring Mexico to pay for it to ending “catch and release” to blocking funding for so-called “sanctuary” cities that decline to cooperate with some requests from the Department of Homeland Security.
Trump has cracked down on illegal immigration – and curtailed legal immigration as well – but on the specific promises he made during his campaign, the administration has a mixed record. That’s partly because the White House has been unable to make deals with Democrats, has pursued its policies unilaterally and has been repeatedly shut down in court.
“He’ll claim success but from our point of view the goalposts are quite different,” said Frank Sharry, executive director of America’s Voice, a Washington-based group that advocates on behalf of immigrants.
Roy Beck, president of NumbersUSA, gave the president generally high marks for meeting his promises on immigration. “A lot of this is effort,” he said. “If the courts stopped you, that’s not necessarily your fault.”
The president’s border wall is among the most illustrative examples.
The administration said this month it had built 100 miles of border wall, for instance, but virtually all of that construction has replaced barriers that previously existed during the Obama administration. That is despite a government shutdown in 2018 over wall funding and an emergency declaration that allowed Trump to free up military funding for the wall. Mexico has not paid for the wall and its government has vowed it will not do so.
Still, the president is aggressively campaigning on the wall this year as well, promising to build 450 miles of barrier by the end of 2020.
“I’ve always thought of it more as a metaphor and rally change than anything close to being an effective” immigration strategy, Sharry said.
On other immigration fronts, Trump signed an executive order in 2017 to block “sanctuary” cities and counties from receiving federal funding, but much of that order has been struck down or is pending in federal courts.
There were nearly 1 million border apprehensions in the 2019 fiscal year, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection data. That’s almost double the year before but still below several peaks in the 2000s, when Border Patrol was routinely catching more than a million people a year. Trump promised to remove immigrants in the country illegally, but the number of deportations under Trump – about 267,000 in 2019 – remains lower than virtually every year of the Obama presidency.
Trump, meanwhile, approved a plan last year to cap the number of refugees admitted to the United States to 18,000 – the lowest level in four decades ago – and he recently expanded a travel ban he implemented early in his term to six additional countries.
Trump’s travel ban, which the administration re-worked after a series of court losses, suspends the issuance of certain types of visas from countries the administration says does not adequately screen visitors to the U.S. The initial version of the travel ban, which Trump had promised on the campaign trail, led to chaos and protests at U.S. airports and was struck down by federal courts over concerns that it discriminated against Muslims.
Trump promised annual economic growth of at least 3% on a sustained basis but dangled the possibility of “4, 5, and maybe even 6%.”
That hasn’t happened.
Unemployment is at a 50-year low, and the economy has expanded an average 2.5% during the first three years of his term, somewhat faster than the 2.2% post-recession average before he took office. The federal tax cuts he spearheaded, along with government spending increases, juiced growth to 2.9% in 2018 but gains slowed to 2.3% in 2019 and are expected to throttle back to slightly less than 2% this year and in 2021.
An aging population and weak productivity growth are restraining the U.S. and global economy over the long term.
Still, Trump’s economic record “has been very solid,” said Douglas Holtz-Eakin, president of the American Action Forum, a nonprofit group that promotes center-right policies.
Trump’s rollback of federal regulations that stymied business growth “has been stunningly large and impactful,” Holtz-Eakin said. And many of the corporate reforms included in the tax cuts and jobs package passed in late 2017 will benefit businesses for years, he said.
Trump vowed the $1.5 trillion in sweeping tax cuts he spearheaded in 2017 wouldn’t increase the federal deficit because they would pay for themselves through faster economic growth that swells government revenue.
But the tax law is projected to add $1.8 trillion to the deficit over the next decade, according to the Committee for a Responsible Federal budget. While faster economic growth is forecast to generate about $570 billion in additional revenue, that will be offset by higher interest payments on a bigger national debt, the committee says.
Trump also said the tax cuts would spark a wave of business investment as a result of both lower rates and changes allowing businesses to deduct capital spending more rapidly. A study by the International Monetary Fund found the legislation did boost investment but by 3.5 percentage points, but that was below the average 5.3 percentage point increase that was forecast. About 80% of the tax savings was channeled into stock buybacks, dividends and other similar activities while just 20% went to capital spending or research and development.
Trump kept his promise to withdraw the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a 12-nation trade deal negotiated by his predecessor, Barack Obama. On his third day in office, Trump signed an executive order pulling the U.S. out of the agreement, which he had once called “a rape of our country.”
Trump also lived up to a pledge to negotiate a new trade agreement with Mexico and Canada. Just last week, Trump signed into law the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement, a revised trade pact that puts in place rules for moving products among the three countries and replaces the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA, a quarter-century-old trade pact that Trump had mocked as “the worst trade deal ever.”
On the campaign trail, Trump promised to “cut a better deal with China that helps American businesses and workers compete.”
After months of on-again, off-again negotiations and a trade war in which the two countries slapped billions of dollars in tariffs on each other’s products, Trump signed a limited “Phase One” trade deal with China in January. The agreement calls for China to buy an additional $200 billion worth of U.S. goods and services over the next two years, including $32 billion in agriculture products. Trump said negotiations would begin soon on a broader agreement that he said could be completed after the 2020 election.
Regardless, Trump gets a B-minus on trade policy from Daniel Griswold, a trade expert at The Mercatus Center at George Mason University.
Part of the reason, Griswold said, is the new trade deal with Mexico and Canada looks a lot like NAFTA, which Trump had disparaged. At the same time, many parts of the new trade pact were lifted directly from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the deal Trump abandoned after taking office.
What’s more, Griswold said, the nation’s trade deficit has risen by 25 percent under Trump when compared to Obama’s last year in office – despite Trump’s campaign promise that, under his administration, the trade deficit would drop “like you’ve never seen before.”
U.S. duties on $360 billion in Chinese imports and China’s counter-tariffs on U.S. exports to that country lowered economic growth by three-tenths of a percentage point last year and are expected to cut growth by a tenth of a point in 2020, said Gregory Daco, chief U.S. economist for Oxford Economics. And Trump’s trade fights have shaved U.S. employment by 340,000 jobs, said Mark Zandi, chief economist of Moody’s Analytics.
On the positive side, the Phase One trade deal requires China to buy an additional $200 billion in agricultural and other goods from the U.S. over the next two years, more than doubling current exports. Daco said it’s questionable whether China “has the desire and drive” to boost shipments that much. In any case, he said it doesn’t appear the U.S. has the capacity to produce that much more without shifting its exports to China from other countries, leaving economic growth unchanged.
“Everybody is getting a tax cut, especially the middle class,” Trump promised when he was a candidate.
Not everyone got a tax cut. But many Americans did.
An analysis by PolitiFact found that, under the tax cut and jobs package that passed Congress at the end of 2017, every income group would pay less taxes in 2019, but that the benefits would flow disproportionately to wealthier taxpayers.
By 2027 every income group below $75,000 would see a tax increase, while only those income ranges above $75,000 would still see a cut, PolitiFact found. The primary reason is some of the individual tax cuts phase out after 2025.
Trump also embraced daughter Ivanka Trump’s push for paid family leave when he was running for office. At a campaign stop in Pennsylvania, Trump called for six weeks of paid maternity leave as part of a package of childcare initiatives.
That idea went nowhere in Congress. But some 2.1 million civilian federal workers will be eligible for 12 weeks of paid leave after the birth of a child, adoption or the start of foster care under a deal struck last year.
The paid leave policy was included in a compromise defense package. Congressional Democrats signed off on money for Trump’s Space Force program while Republicans agreed to demands on parental and family leave.
Paid family leave for everyone is “not going to happen this year,” Holtz-Eakin said. “That’s something he’s going to have to promise in a second term.”
Candidate Trump promised Americans he would repeal the Affordable Care Act, the landmark health care reform law enacted under Obama.
“Real change begins with immediately repealing and replacing Obamacare. What a mess,” Trump told a crowd at a political rally in Toledo on Oct. 27, 2016.
But three years after Trump took office, Obamacare is still in effect.
“The big promise was the repeal and replacement of the Affordable Care Act,” Holtz-Eakin said. “That hasn’t happened. Republicans in general had a fairly spectacular unsuccessful run at that.”
They have, however, managed to dilute parts of the law.
In their 2017 tax package, the GOP eliminated the penalty on people who can afford health insurance but choose not to buy it. The change wiped out one of the most unpopular provisions of Obamacare, but the law itself still stands.
Even so, Obamacare’s fate remains uncertain.
A federal judge ruled in Texas ruled in 2018 that the Affordable Care Act is unconstitutional, finding that the mandate that everyone buy insurance or pay a fine is so central to the law that it cannot stand now that Congress has rolled back the penalty. A three-judge appeals court panel has sent the case back to the Texas judge to decide which portions of the law can stand.
Repeal and replace?:3 promises Trump made about health care that repeal plans haven’t kept
Trump may be hard pressed to articulate any major foreign policy accomplishments, since many of his initiatives have yet to bear fruit. His push to oust Venezuela’s president, Nicholas Maduro, has stalled. His negotiations with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un have fizzled. His push for a peace deal with the Taliban in Afghanistan remains out of reach. What’s more, Trump’s recently unveiled Middle East peace plan – years in the making – was dismissed by regional experts as a nonstarter.
Trump has unquestionably made good on his promise to take a hard line on Iran. But while he yanked the U.S. out of the 2015 nuclear deal and reimposed severe economic sanctions on Iran, he has not been able to persuade Tehran’s leaders to negotiate a new agreement with him.
Instead, Iran has begun to abandon its commitments under the 2105 deal and appears to be inching toward acquiring a nuclear weapon. And while Trump has touted his decision to authorize a deadly strike killing Gen. Qasem Soleimani, the powerful Iranian military leader, it is not clear if that will make Americans safer.
Shortly after the Soleimani strike, Iran responded by launching ballistic missiles at an Iraqi air base in an attack that left more than 60 U.S. service members with traumatic brain injury. And while tensions have eased since Soleimani’s death, many experts believe Iran will continue to look for less overt, but still lethal, ways to retaliate against the U.S. for his killing.
Trump has met with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un twice since last year’s State of the Union address – in Hanoi last February and at the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea over the summer. The president has said his “bold new diplomacy” could result in “tremendous things” for U.S.-North Korea relations.
But Trump’s unconventional strategy of engagement – focusing on personal diplomacy at the highest level – has yet to produce any concessions that would put North Korea on the path to denuclearization.
Kim has not tested long-range ballistic missiles or nuclear weapons during the negotiations, but he has continued to test short-range missiles and other weapons. And the region is on a knife’s edge, after Kim promised to unveil a “new strategic weapon” and as Trump’s next move remains unclear.
In the meantime, experts say North Korea continues to improve its ballistic missile program and expand its nuclear arsenal with ongoing fissile material production.
Ending forever wars
Trump promised in last year’s State of the Union address that he would reduce America’s military presence in the Middle East – repeating his oft-cited campaign pledge.
“Our brave troops have now been fighting in the Middle East for almost 19 years,” he said. “Great nations do not fight endless wars.”
But Trump has deployed more American troops to the region, particularly in recent months amid escalating tensions with Iran.
After Trump authorized a deadly striking killing Iran’s Soleimani, the president sent an additional 3,000 troops to Kuwait amid increased threat levels in the region. According to the Associated Press, 14,000 U.S. troops have been deployed to the Middle East since May.
The president has successfully reduced U.S. troop levels in Syria after a successful military campaign against the Islamic State terrorist group.
But Trump was forced to back off his call for a complete withdrawal from Syria amid an uproar over what many saw as a betrayal of America’s Kurdish allies in Syria, who helped U.S. troops rout ISIS. He also endured withering bipartisan criticism for his decision to withdraw about 50 American troops from the Syria-Turkey border, a decision that paved the way for Turkey to invade Syria and attack the Kurds.