In a YouTube video released Monday night, President-elect Donald Trump made a series of bold assertions about his priorities once he gets into office, but in a series of interviews, experts said many of his plans are easier said than done.
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While he can make use of executive actions to nullify some of his predecessor’s actions, in some cases, the experts said his goals can’t be accomplished as simply as he seems to think. In others, they suggested he didn’t know enough about the policy area he was seeking to change to do so effectively.
Here are four examples from the video, along with assessments from experts who have spent their careers in the relevant fields.
“On national security, I will ask the Department of Defense and the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff to develop a comprehensive plan to protect America’s vital infrastructure from cyberattacks and all other form of attacks.”
This statement is “cryptic,” said Gary Schmitt, a director of security studies at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, because Trump didn’t explain what he means by infrastructure, which could be physical facilities like roads and bridges as well as critical infrastructure such as the IT and financial services industries.
If he means the latter, Schmitt said, private corporations, which control much of what falls into that category, don’t necessarily want to share information about their systems with the government.
Barack Obama’s administration made efforts to secure the nation’s physical and cyberspace assets. He held a cybersecurity summit last year, but the CEOs of three of the biggest firms — Google, Yahoo and Facebook — declined to attend, which was seen as a sign of Silicon Valley companies’ unwillingness to compromise their privacy in the name of cybersecurity.
“Nobody has solved the Rubik’s Cube here yet,” Schmitt said.
He said it’s more likely that “responsible people” in the DOD and related agencies will submit a plan to Trump with legislative and regulatory options rather than a list of executive orders or actions for him to sign.
“There’s no 100-day plan that at the end of it allows [Trump] to simply secure things,” he said.
“On trade, I am going to issue our notification of intent to withdraw from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a potential disaster for our country.”
This item is completely doable, said Edward Alden, a senior fellow at the nonpartisan Council on Foreign Relations who specializes in U.S. economic competitiveness and supports the TPP. Congress has not ratified the agreement and is unlikely to do so during the lame-duck session, so “he can kill it outright,” he said. He added that Trump can also walk away from older trade deals like the North American Free Trade Agreement but that ratified trade deals are more complicated to leave.
“On energy, 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.”
Jonathan Adler, the director of the Center for Business Law and Regulation at Case Western Reserve University School of Law, said the rules and restrictions Trump wants to get rid of can’t simply be canceled, especially in the first 100 days of his administration. For most of them, “the administration will have to either a) get Congress to enact legislation to eliminate these restrictions or b) go through a lengthy administrative process to undo the regulations,” Adler said, adding that whatever process the agencies in question went through to adopt the regulations will likely have to be used to undo them as well. When asked about Trump’s assertions in the video, an Energy Department spokesman said he would not comment on the “potential policies of the incoming administration.”
“On immigration, I will direct the Department of Labor to investigate all abuses of visa programs that undercut the American worker.”
This is another pledge that Trump hasn’t made clear exactly what he’s referring to, Alden said, though he added that there is “no question” there is fraud in the visa system.
Trump could be referring to the so-called investor visa, which allows foreign entrepreneurs to obtain green cards if they’re investing in a job-creating enterprise in the United States. Alden said there have been cases of alleged abuse in that category, EB-5, one of which involved Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe who, before he became governor, urged U.S. Customs and Immigration Services to speed up applications for his then-company, GreenTech Automotive, to receive more than 200 visas. A Department of Homeland Security investigation into the episode found no evidence of violations. McAuliffe spokesman Brian Coy said at the time that McAuliffe was simply asking “DHS to fulfill its obligation to adjudicate the applications that were before them in a timely fashion.”
But Alden said it’s more likely Trump was talking about visas for skilled immigrants administered under the H-1B program, a constant target of Trump’s pick for attorney general, Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama.
Sessions and Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas proposed a provision that would require employers of H-1B workers to pay them at least $110,000 annually, in an attempt to curtail the number of workers on such visas. That bill failed to pass both houses of Congress, but Obama signed a bill in 2015 that imposes a hefty fee for outsourcing companies that rely heavily on H-1B visas.
But Alden said it hasn’t done much to stem the flow of H-1B workers — the most problematic of which, in Trump’s view, are those employed by outsourcing companies, mostly Indian ones like Tata and Infosys that provide back-office services to major corporations.
Alden said Trump will probably need congressional buy-in to accomplish most of his reforms, although he could roll back some Obama-era executive actions, including one allowing spouses of H-1B holders to obtain work permits.