Trump crams policy moves — real and imagined — into final weeks

Trump crams policy moves — real and imagined — into final weeks


President Donald Trump is cramming months of policy moves into the dwindling weeks before the fall election, with an eye towards boosting his faltering standing with critical voting blocs.

In recent weeks, Trump has made pronouncements that ran the gamut from stoking the culture wars to pacifying a specific voting demographic. He banned federal agencies from holding racial sensitivity trainings — an issue riling up Fox News guests. He named Wilmington, N.C., the first World War II heritage city — a ceremonial move that allowed him to travel to the swing state. He then barred oil drilling off the coast of several southern states — a move that cut against his previous record but appealed to prominent Republicans in must-win Florida.

And on Tuesday, Trump held a signing ceremony on the South Lawn of the White House with a giant audience for what is being called “the Abraham Accords,” an agreement to normalize diplomatic relations between Israel and two Arab countries — the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain. The event, full of formal pomp and circumstance, allowed Trump to literally stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, signaling solidarity with the conservative foreign leader to the American evangelicals who strongly support Israel and have slightly backed away from the president in recent polling.

The president is also still vaguely promising ill-defined developments on core voting issues like health care, taxes and immigration, after signing a flurry of executive orders in recent weeks on issues like drug pricing and temporary work visas.

The tactic is now familiar for Trump: Throw out a bunch of policy offerings — real or not — in the runup to an election in the hopes something will stick. In 2018, he promised a tax cut proposal that never materialized and turned a “caravan” of migrants into a scare tactic that he dropped shortly after the election. Now, it’s a series of executive orders, signing ceremonies and Twitter proclamations that are often oversold or appear micro-targeted to specific voting blocs.

“There’s a concerted effort to make good on promises from the 2016 campaign trail, as well as promises that have been made during President Trump’s first term in office,” said Trump campaign adviser Jason Miller. “Many of these things we have coming up have taken years to put together or move along, so this just happens to be when things are brought to completion.”

Critics say the rapidity of announcements and the campaign’s eagerness to spin them into ads demonstrates the underlying political motivation.

After Tuesday’s singing ceremony at the White House, Halie Soifer, the executive director of the Jewish Democratic Council of America said “any opening between Israel and its neighbors is a positive thing,” but added, “there’s no denying this ceremony was driven by domestic politics for Donald Trump.”

But Ralph Reed, a top surrogate for the Trump campaign and the executive director of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, a major social conservative group, hailed the event as historic.

“The fact that it plays well with some constituencies in no way diminishes the historic nature of the achievement or its potential to advance peace in the region,” said Reed.

There’s nothing new about incumbent presidents fast tracking policies or announcing diplomatic breakthroughs in the lead up to an election. In 1996, President Bill Clinton signed bipartisan welfare reform into law, taking the policy issue off the table for Republicans. And in 1964, President Lyndon Johnson, hoping to push back on criticism about his foreign policy credentials, signed the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, which enabled Johnson’s use of military force in Vietnam, and the Wilderness Act to help bolster his standing with conservationists.

“Within a matter of weeks in 1964 you saw Johnson addressing two weak spots, conservationists and the Roosevelt Republican world and foreign policy,” said presidential historian Douglas Brinkley. “It’s an advantage that a sitting president has that they can create a dramatic backdrop for whatever they do.”

Trump brought the presidential backdrop to Florida last week, where he made a show of signing a moratorium on oil drilling off the coasts of Florida, Georgia and South Carolina. The move gained kudos from Republicans in the tourism and real estate industries concerned about the potential impact offshore drilling could have on their businesses.

Yet Trump was essentially reversing his own initiatives with the move: He vowed in 2018 to allow oil and gas drilling in nearly all United States coastal waters, and just last month finalized plans to open up part of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska to oil and gas development. Trump has also rolled back Obama-era regulations on fossil fuels and exited the Paris Agreement on climate control measures, two moves that environmental advocates say will damage the climate and increase pollution.

Gina McCarthy, head of the Environmental Protection Agency under President Barack Obama and now CEO of the Natural Resources Defense Council, said the move was a “transparent attempt to manipulate Floridians two months before Election Day.”

Biden campaign spokesperson Andrew Bates said, “What families aren’t hearing from Donald Trump at these events is deafening: a coherent strategy to lift the country out of the worst public health crisis in 100 years and change the game for middle class families.”

Officials say similar announcements are expected in the coming weeks, although some might remain promises that never come to fruition.

The president will also continue his rallies at airport hangars, where Air Force One is always on display, interspersed with official events at the White House that regularly include political attacks on Biden.

Those events may focus on trying to show action on the Trump campaign promises that remain unfilled. Obamacare remains intact, Trump’s congressional proposal to overhaul immigration laws has not moved and numerous “Infrastructure Weeks” never produced a substantial bill. Several long-touted policy roll-outs, like Trump’s Obamacare replacement proposal, have similarly blown through months of self-proclaimed deadlines.

“Every September and October before the election you’re trying to do two things,” said Brinkley. “Develop dirt on their opponent and showcase your presidency.”

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