What will happen to Obama's legacy policies under Trump?

President Barack Obama meets with President-elect Donald Trump in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, Thursday, Nov. 10, 2016. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

President Barack Obama's constant presence on the campaign trail to shore up a Democratic successor demonstrated a real concern that after eight years in the White House, his legacy could be at risk under a President Donald Trump.

On the eve of the election, Obama told voters in Michigan that they faced the choice to continue his legacy under Hillary Clinton, "or whether it all goes out the window."

Trump's Thursday visit to the White House almost certainly involved opening that window.

Back in October, Trump announced a list of priorities for his first 100 days in office that included rolling back or repealing what Obama might consider the hallmark achievements of his two terms in office.

The policies most immediately on the chopping block are repealing Obamacare, withdrawing the United States from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), lifting environmental restrictions on fossil fuels, and reversing Obama's executive orders on immigration.


Among the top items in Trump's extensive to-do list, is to work with Congress to "fully" repeal and replace Obamacare, or the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The Department of Health and Human Services reports that Obamacare has reduced the number of uninsured by 20 million over the last six years, but the reform is still wildly unpopular, and double-digit increases in health insurance premiums for 2017 have not helped the cause.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is optimistic that a Republican president and Congress will "address that issue" of repealing Obamacare, telling reporters on Wednesday that dealing with the unpopular health care law is a "high item on the list" of Republican priorities.

After the ACA passed without a single Republican supporting it, the House has voted to repeal the healthcare law more than 50 times. In January 2016, the Senate massed a majority and voted to overturn major portions of the Affordable Care Act. The repeal soared through the House, and, to no one's surprise, was vetoed by President Obama.

The feasibility of repealing and replacing the already complicated health care law is up for debate, with some experts wondering how a Trump administration will manage the transition.

"People in D.C. are definitely scrambling," chair of health policy at the Vanderbilt School of Medicine, Melinda Buntin, told Fox17 News in Nashville. "I woke up this morning with a lot of questions as did a lot of health policy experts," she said.

House Republicans did unveil a 37-page report with a plan to replace Obamacare with a more competitive health insurance system, including Health Savings Accounts, and the ability to purchase insurance across state lines, consensus positions that largely mirror Trump's.


Regardless of whether Trump or Clinton won the White House, the Asia-Pacific free-trade agreement was likely to be a casualty of the 2016 election. Under negotiation for the past ten years, the TPP treaty was signed in February and marked a crowning achievement in Obama’s so-called pivot to the Pacific.

Trump has repeatedly vowed to withdraw the United States from TPP or renegotiate the treaty altogether to ensure that American workers are treated fairly in international trade deals.

Miles Kahler, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations is an expert in the Asia Pacific and international economics. He suggested that with the majority of the foreign policy establishment in Washington in favor of TPP for economic and geopolitical benefits of the deal, Trump may soften his position.

"It is possible that when Trump considers the foreign policy ramifications of TPP, that he may decide to fudge the issue by renegotiating it in some way," Kahler said.

Congress gave Obama fast-track authority to conclude the TPP negotiations last year, but on Capitol Hill there are serious doubts that the controversial trade deal will be ratified during the lame-duck session.

Trump's tough talk on China is a matter that could have very serious ramifications, particularly if his pledge to label China a "currency manipulator" is backed with economic sanctions or other punitive measures. China can always counter-punch and do so in a way that could harm both the U.S. and world economy.

Moreover, if China disapproves of economic measures taken by a Trump administration, they may move to restrict American investors' access to Chinese markets, creating a two-fold problem for Trump: American corporations at home and an increasingly closed off Chinese economy that still has plenty of trading partners in the Pacific.

"[Trump] seems to be operating under the assumption that the United States has all the leverage in these circumstances, and I think it’s pretty clear that we don't have that kind of overwhelming leverage," Kahler advised.


Climate change skeptics and fossil fuel advocates have found a powerful friend in Donald Trump, who promised voters that he would cut the red tape and allow trillions of dollars worth of new energy projects to get underway, including moving forward with the stalled Keystone Pipeline. Trump's denunciation of what he termed the Obama administration's "war on coal" helped him win sweeping victory across coal country and the formerly industrial Midwest. But some in the environmental community have their doubts as to whether he will be able to deliver on his promises.

In this video from May 26, 2016, Trump talks to voters in North Dakota about U.S. energy policy and the Paris climate deal.

"Luckily, the president is a president and can’t just snap his fingers and wish away law and practice," said David Goldston with the Natural Resources Defense Council. For example, restarting work on the Canada-US Keystone XL oil pipeline would require a new permit to determine whether the project is in the national interest. Even then, it could be challenged in court, slowing Trump's progress on his energy goals.

On climate change specifically, Donald Trump has alleged that global warming is a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese. On the campaign trail, he vowed to scrap the 195-nation Paris climate agreement, another legacy item of the Obama presidency which aims to substantially reduce global carbon emissions by 2030 and pledged to cancel U.S. payments to United Nations climate change programs in his first 100 days in office.

Goldston underscored that Trump represents a real threat to environmentalist goals, "but he does not have the kind of unilateral authority that he seems to think he has." As it has done with other politicians, the environmental movement could also organize a strong public backlash against Trump.


On his very first day in office, Trump could effectively cancel President Obama’s executive actions relating to immigration. The executive actions that could vanish overnight include the law allowing some minors who illegally immigrated to the United States to remain in the country under Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), and Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA).

Both DACA and DAPA were disputed in court by 26 states, but because the Constitution grants the federal government the right to determine immigration law, the case was dropped.

All told, with the stroke of a pen, Trump can rescind Obama's executive actions on immigration, or in his own words, "cancel every unconstitutional executive action, memorandum and order issued by President Obama."

After deporting more than 2.6 million illegal immigrants between 2008 and 2015, and receiving intense criticism from immigration groups for "night raids" by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), it is hard to argue that Obama's immigration legacy will be damaged under Trump.

Still, Trump's campaign posture arguably represents the most severe posture on immigration of any modern American president. If Trump is true to his campaign promise, within the first 100 days there will be legislation in the works for the construction of a southern border wall, with Mexico "reimbursing" the United States in full for the cost.

The controversial policies like the wall and deportation force to remove the 2 million illegal immigrants living in the United States will continue to be a lightening rod for Trump opponents and members of the immigration community.

After Trump was announced as the President-elect, the immigrant youth of United We Dream announced that they will resist "mass deportation."

The Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, one of the country's largest Latino civil rights legal organizations, issued a more practical appeal to Trump, calling upon the President-elect to "revisit and revise" the immigration policies that he built his campaign on.

La Raza, the largest Hispanic advocacy organization in the United States, was more forceful, warning that if the Trump administration moves ahead with its "extreme proposals," the group will "fearlessly resist" any of his policies that they see as undermining the interests of the Latin-American community.

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