Executive Branch

Can Donald Trump make it happen? Expanding presidential powers could pave the way for his policies

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Donald Trump

Donald Trump. Photo by a katz / Shutterstock.com

Donald Trump has made some sweeping promises as he campaigns for president. He wants to build a wall, suspend immigration from some countries, repeal the Affordable Care Act and execute cop killers. But how much can he accomplish on his own?

Presidential scholars say Presidents Barack Obama, George W. Bush and others have used expanded powers to accomplish their goals, and that could help Trump bring many of his ideas to fruition, the Washington Post reports.

Some policies would require congressional action, the article points out. Trump couldn’t abolish the Affordable Care Act, cut taxes or expand Social Security without Congress’ help. Nor could he build a wall without congressional approval because he would need funding—unless Mexico agrees to pay and construct it on its side of its border, according to a June New York Times article by University of Chicago law professor Eric Posner. And Trump could not impose the death penalty by executive order on those who kill police officers.

But Trump would have the power to carry out many other policies, according to the articles. Trump could try to renegotiate the nuclear deal with Iran, and could claim authority for action against the Islamic State, the Washington Post says.

“Trump could justify an all-out assault on the Islamic State by pointing to the same kinds of authority that allowed the Bush administration to use torture against alleged terrorists and allowed the Obama administration to expand the use of drones to kill terrorist suspects,” the Post article says. “In recent decades, presidents have stretched their ability to act unilaterally, bypassing Congress through executive orders, executive memos, national security orders, findings, signing statements and prosecutorial discretion.”

Trump could also deport immigrants who are in the country illegally, could bar Muslims from entering the country, could impose tariffs on China, could disavow the Paris climate change agreement, and could refuse to enforce environmental regulations, according to Posner.

Trump could run into pushback from courts, “but they would need to reverse their long-standing practice of deferring to the president in matters of foreign affairs and domestic regulation,” Posner writes. “The Supreme Court could, for example, declare an entry bar on Muslims unconstitutional. But it’s hard to predict how Mr. Trump would respond.”

What about Congress? College of William & Mary law professor Neal Devins says that, over the last few decades, Congress has demonstrated it “lacks both the will and the way to check the presidency.”

“Today’s system of checks and balances,” he tells the Washington Post, “is an abject failure.”

“No one knows what Trump would really do, which is why people are so freaked out,” Devins said. “If he did push the boundaries dangerously, it really would depend on Congress, and it would take an awful lot for Republicans to join with the Democrats to assert themselves and slap him down.”

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