What will Donald Trump’s presidency be like?
His priority is reversing key Obama policies, but that could be trickier than he thinks
Once Donald Trump ascends the steps to the United States Capitol on Friday afternoon, after swearing the 35-word presidential oath and hearing a 16-year-old America’s Got Talent runner-up sing The Star-Spangled Banner, he will have at his fingertips more than the power to tweet.
He will have access to the world’s most powerful levers.
All those brags about being the “greatest jobs producer that God ever created” and the boasts to “make America great again” will be tested.
As the 45th US president the billionaire tycoon can no longer sound near-apocalyptic warnings that play on the anxieties of Americans concerned about their future but must enact policies to address those fears.
The first president never to have held public office or a military command will be charged with overseeing government for a population of 320 million people, presiding over policies affecting a $16 trillion economy and making national-security and foreign-policy decisions affecting 1.4 million military personnel.
So what will Trump do on day one? At his first press conference in almost half a year, the president-elect said this week that he would be effectively taking the weekend off, deferring the first decisions of the Trump administration to the following Monday, when he has promised “some pretty good signings”.
“That will be our really first business day, as opposed to doing it on Friday, because on Friday people are going to have a very good time at the inauguration and then Saturday, as you know, we’re having a big church service and lots of good things are happening. So our first day – you’ll all be invited to the signings,” he said.
His “signings” are the executive orders carrying Barack Obama’s signatures that Trump plans to reverse.
In a video released two weeks after his election, in November, the president-elect outlined his priorities for his first 100 days in office, centred around his plan of “putting America first”.
They included a promise to withdraw from negotiations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, cancel Obama’s environmental restrictions on the coal and shale energy industries, cut regulations on businesses and investigate “all abuses of visa programmes that undercut the American worker”.
These require more than his signature: he must secure the support of Congress, and this is where this political novice may run into obstacles.
Obamacare, or the Affordable Care Act – the law panned as a “job killer” by Republicans for imposing too many costs on businesses – could be the battleground issue that teaches Trump a lesson on congressional stasis.
Although Republicans control both the Senate and the House of Representatives – and the party has 52 seats in the Senate, more than the 50 votes required to repeal Obama’s healthcare law – it does not have the 60 needed to overcome a likely filibuster, the congressional roadblock that would stop any replacement for the law.
Congress has begun the process of taking votes on budget resolutions to roll back major parts of Obamacare in time to put a Bill on Trump’s desk when he takes office.
Republicans are, however, still nowhere close to consensus on a replacement.
This has sparked fears about a political backlash against repealing a law that withdraws health insurance from 20 million people without a replacement to support them.
Trump appeared unperturbed about the Republican hand-wringing on Capitol Hill when he spoke to the press on Wednesday.
He said that a plan would be offered as soon as his choice of health secretary, Tom Price, a congressman, was confirmed. His Senate confirmation hearing takes place on Wednesday.
Although Price has experience of congressional logjams, Trump’s cabinet choices from the ranks of billionaires, former Wall Street executives and the private sector, all lacking government experience, present further challenges. Without an experienced team carefully bulletproofing his actions against constitutional challenges, Trump could face the possibility of courts striking them down.
“It is not to say that every action that the president-elect takes in the first two weeks will be toothless or will be unconstitutional or problematic, but it does suggest that if he doesn’t have his team in place you won’t see a flurry of executive actions effectively reversing the entire Obama legacy,” John Hudak, a deputy director of the centre for effective public management at the Brookings Institution think tank, says.
“That is going to take time and care and thought, and if the president-elect thought that in January he will be able to throw out every single thing with Obama’s name on it, he sorely misunderstands government.”
Despite Mexico’s refusal to pay for Trump’s border wall, the Republican insisted this week that he would build it – although he shifted position slightly, saying that Mexico would reimburse the US for the wall rather than being required to pay for it from the start.
“What’s the difference? I want to get the wall started. I don’t want to wait a year and a half until I make my deal with Mexico,” he said at the press conference.
The idea that Congress would sign off on funds to build the wall is a myth, according to the analyst.
“Simply because the Republicans control both houses of Congress does not mean that they are there to serve the president’s every want,” he says.
“The Congress is a coequal branch [of government]. It will function as such. I think it will frustrate the president. It will make the president take to Twitter and criticise Republicans in Congress, but it is not going to change the constitutional order.
“That means the Republican Congress will at times be a fairly serious check on the president.”
As for Trump’s manner of governing, his first press conference as president-elect suggests he has no plans to adopt a presidential tone and is happy to continue with the pugnacious style of his campaign.
Ross Baker, a political-science professor at Rutgers University, in New Jersey, expects President Trump to be no different from candidate Trump.
“We will see laid to rest one of the most venerable axioms of American politics: what it takes to campaign is different from what it takes to govern. You are going to see the same freewheeling, even reckless, marauding style,” he says.
Baker expects an adversarial relationship with the press to include a policy of excluding media deemed hostile and for Trump’s “slash-and-burn style” to extend to Congress and elected officials in his own party.
“So long as he retains the loyalty of the constituency that elected him he will, against all odds, be effective,” he says. “There is no playbook on this president; it will be an improvisational presidency.”