Trump could essentially erase Obama’s presidency on his first day in office


It sounds like President-elect Donald Trump is going to have quite the busy day on Jan. 21. Judging by Trump’s video message on Nov. 21, his October 2016 “Contract with the American voter” and the pledges he made while campaigning, Donald Trump’s first full day in the Oval Office is currently set to include everything from starting the process of removing millions of undocumented immigrants to learning the difference between Hezbollah and Hamas.

But how much will he actually be able to accomplish on that one fateful day? His exact actions remain to be seen, but here’s what we know Trump can and cannot accomplish right away.

What Trump can’t do

Though Trump’s position as president clearly gives him a lot of power, the existence of Congress means that, in many cases, Trump’s immediate authority can only go so far. He cannot, for instance, repeal the Affordable Care Act, which would require congressional action — and, with the Republicans not having a clear enough majority to overcome a Democratic filibuster, a complete repeal of the law seems unlikely, though significant changes are possible.

Despite Trump’s climate change doubting, he also can’t immediately withdraw from the Paris climate change agreement, which contains a clause that countries must wait three years from when the treaty takes effect to pull out, nor can he dismantle existing Environmental Protection Agency regulations without the approval of Congress. Additionally, the New York Times notes, any attempt by Trump to dismantle the regulations set by the Obama administration on Arctic offshore drilling will likely be met with a lengthy legal battle.

Vice President of the United States

Originally, the Vice President’s main job was to preside over the Senate. But beginning in the 1970s, the Vice President’s powers grew. Former Vice President Dick Cheney, for example, is considered to have had a large role in shaping George W. Bush’s foreign policy. Former Indiana Gov. Mike Pence will take over the office from Joe Biden when Trump is inaugurated in January.

Pictured: Vice President-elect Mike Pence

(Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Secretary of State

The secretary of state serves as the President’s main adviser on foreign policy issues, negotiates treaties and represents the U.S. at the United Nations. Trump has yet to say who will replace current Secretary of State John Kerry in his administration, but former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, Sen. Bob Corker and retired General and former CIA Director David Petraeus are reportedly under consideration, though the New York Times reported Sunday that Trump is still interviewing candidates, so that list may still grow.

Pictured: Current Secretary of State John Kerry

(Photo by Samuel Corum/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Secretary of the Treasury

The secretary of the treasury is in charge of the administration’s financial and economic policies. Trump named hedge fund manager and movie financier Steven Mnuchin as his replacement for current Treasury Secretary Jack Lew.

Pictured: Trump’s pick, Steven Mnuchin

(Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Secretary of Defense

The secretary of defense is the president’s adviser on military and international security policy. James “Mad Dog” Mattis is Trump’s pick to fill the role, which is currently occupied by Ash Carter.

Pictured: Trump’s pick, James Mattis

(Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

United States Attorney General

Dubbed the “pople’s lawyer,” the attorney general helms the United States Department of Justice and advises the president on legal matters. The position is currently held by U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch. Trump has picked Sen. Jeff Sessions to fill the role. 

Pictured: Trump’s pick, Jeff Sessions

(Photo credit ZACH GIBSON/AFP/Getty Images)

Secretary of the Interior

Known to some as the “department of everything else,” the DOI “protects America’s natural resources and heritage, honors our cultures and tribal communities and supplies the energy to power our future” and is currently headed by Secretary Sally Jewell. Trump has yet to name his pick, but thedrilling advocates on his short list — which apparently includes former Vice-presidential candidate and Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin — have environmental activists concerned. 

Pictured: Current Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell

(Photo by Michael Kovac/Getty Images for Vanity Fair)

Secretary of Agriculture

Thomas J. Vilsack currently heads the United States Department of Agriculture, which oversees policies relating to food, agriculture and rural development. No word yet on who will fill that role in Trump’s administration, but one of the names Trump has mentioned is Sid Miller, the Texas agriculture commissioner and Trump adviser who once called Hillary Clinton a “cunt” on Twitter.

Pictured: Current Secretary of Agriculture Thomas Vilsack

(Photo by Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Secretary of Commerce

As the department’s mission statement puts it: “The Secretary of Commerce serves as the voice of U.S. business within the President’s Cabinet.” Businesswoman Penny Pritzker currently serves in the role, for which Trump has tapped billionaire investor and longtime Trump business associate Wilbur Ross Jr.

Pictured: Trump’s pick, Wilbur Ross Jr.

(Photo by Jin Lee/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Secretary of Labor

Thomas E. Perez is the current United States Secretary of Labor and is tasked with overseeing the welfare of U.S. workers. Trump has yet to officially announce his choice, but reports indicate that he is considering Obama-critic Andrew Puzder, the CEO of Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s parent company CKE Restaurants.

Pictured: Current Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez

(Photo by Pete Marovich/Getty Images)

Secretary of Health and Human Services

The Department of Health and Human Services oversees all health-related policy. Trump has tapped Rep. Tom Price, a staunch opponent of the Affordable Care Act, to replace current Secretary Sylvia Matthews Burwell.

Pictured: Trump’s pick, Tom Price

(Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Secretary of Housing and Urban Development

Earlier this week, Trump announced the nomination of one of his former Republican presidential primary opponents, neurosurgeon Ben Carson, for Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, despite his lack of formal qualifications. In that role, he will take over for Julian Castro as the president’s adviser on issues relating to housing and cities, including homelessness, sustainability and equal opportunity. 

Pictured: Trump’s pick, Ben Carson

(Photo by Mark Makela/Getty Images)

Secretary of Transportation

The Department of Transportation secretary became an official Cabinet post in 1967. Trump has chosen former Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao to head the department — which is currently under the guidance of Secretary Anthony Foxx — in what some have described as one of Trump’s more conventional picks.

Pictured: Trump’s pick, Elaine Chao

(Photo credit EDUARDO MUNOZ ALVAREZ/AFP/Getty Images)

Secretary of Energy

According to its mission statement, the Energy Department seeks to “ensure America’s security and prosperity by addressing its energy, environmental and nuclear challenges through transformative science and technology solutions.” The current secretary of energy is Ernest Moniz; Sen. Joe Manchin, a conservative democrat, is reportedly under consideration for the role in Trump’s administration.

Pictured: Current Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz

(Photo by Samuel Corum/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Secretary of Education

Trump’s selection of Betsy DeVos, a republican donor and so-called “school choice” advocate, has been met with significant criticism. DeVos, who would be Trump’s primary voice on educational policy, is considered the face of a struggling school system in her native Michigan. The department is currently run by Secretary John King. 

Pictured: Trump’s pick, Betsy DeVos

(Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Secretary of Veterans Affairs

Trump has promised to “fix” the VA, which is currently run by Secretary Robert McDonald. But some veterans advocates worry that the incoming Trump administration will gut the department, which is tasked with providing assistance to military veterans. Reports that Sarah Palin and former Texas Gov. Rick Perry are under consideration for the role add to concerns that the new administration will privatize the VA.

Pictured: Current Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert McDonald

(Photo by Ron Sachs-Pool/Getty Images)

Secretary of Homeland Security

One of the central tenets of Trump’s presidential campaign was immigration. His calls to build a wall on the border between the U.S. and Mexico, to conduct massive deportations of undocumented immigrants and to halt immigration from Muslim countries were among his signature tunes at campaign rallies. That potentially makes the head of the Department of Homeland Security, which was created in the wake of September 11th, one of the most significant roles in the Trump administration. The agency, which focuses on terrorism, national security and the enforcement of immigration laws, is currently headed by Secretary Jeh Johnson. Trump has yet to officially announce his secretary of homeland security pick, but Politico reported that top Trump aides have mentioned retired Marine General John Kelly as the top candidate. Far-right Milwaukee Sheriff David Clarke is also reportedly under consideration

Pictured: Current Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson

(Photo via REUTERS/Joshua Roberts)

Cabinet-level positions

There are currently seven positions that are not considered to be an official part of the president’s Cabinet, but that have Cabinet-level rankings. They are: the White House chief of staff, the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, the director of the Office of Management and Budget, the United States Trade representative, the United States mission to the United Nations, the chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers and the head of the Small Business Administration. 

On Nov. 13, Trump named Republican National Committee chair Reince Priebus chief of staff.

Pictured: Trump’s chief of staff Reince Priebus

(Photo credit JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)

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One of the other pledges Trump has made for his first day in office is to begin to impose term limits on elected officials in Congress and impose a five-year ban on government employees in Congress and the White House switching to lobbying roles. NPR notes, however, that any proposal for term limits would require a constitutional amendment, and the president has no constitutional role in that process. Congressional leaders are also not on board, with Sen. Mitch McConnell saying, “I would say we have term limits now — they’re called elections.” Congress is also unlikely to get on board with the lobbying restrictions, with many seeing high-paying lobbying jobs as a reward for their public service, according to NPR.

Trump’s presidential promises have also been tough on trade — particularly with China — but his powers to enact tariffs on international businesses and countries are still still limited. The New York Times explains that tariffs require congressional approval, and though Trump has promised to call up business executives and threaten to impose tariffs if they move jobs overseas, tariffs against specific companies are banned in the Constitution.

Trump does have the power to retaliate by imposing “safeguard” tariffs against specific imports. Vox reported this could be done in an instance where the president determines an American industry is in “serious, immediate danger” because of competition from international imports and needs relief.

Of course, one of Trump’s central issues from the time he announced his candidacy has been immigration, and while there’s a lot he will be able to do on day one, there are some things that won’t be possible. Though Trump does have the power to deport undocumented immigrants who have been convicted of a crime without congressional approval, NPR notes, the actual logistics of beginning to deport this many immigrants are likely too daunting (particularly on day one). Vox reports that under the current immigration budget, the maximum number of illegal immigrants deported would be about 510,000 per year — only 100,000 more than the most deported in a year by President Barack Obama. Any sort of budgetary increase to allow for more deportations would likely be a process going far beyond Trump’s first day.

What Trump can do

For all the limitations he has, though, there’s a lot Trump can get done on his first day. Upon assuming the presidency, Trump will have the power to undo Obama’s 32 executive orders, which include everything from allowing federalfunding for international health groups who perform abortions to restrictions on the government’s greenhouse gas emissions.

“Trump spends several hours signing papers — and erases the Obama presidency,” a Republican close to Trump’s campaign told the New Yorker in September.

One of the primary mandates that Trump can easily repeal is the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which has temporarily authorized some 700,00 people who moved to the U.S. without documentation as children to remain in the country and be protected from deportation. By rescinding the law, Trump now has the ability to begin deporting these people, who have provided their information to the government through the program.

Another way Trump can make the country unsafe for undocumented people on his first day is by cutting off federal funding to “sanctuary cities,” municipalities in the U.S. that don’t actively prosecute undocumented immigrants.

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When it comes to fighting immigration from outside of the U.S., Trump will have even more power. Though his infamous proposed ban on all Muslims entering the U.S. is legally dubious, he can ban all immigrants coming from certain countries, using Section 212(f) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, which, as quoted in the Detroit Free Press, states, “Whenever the president finds that the entry of any aliens or of any class of aliens into the United States would be detrimental to the interests of the United States,” the president can prevent them from entering legally for “such period as he shall deem necessary.”

Trump, Vox notes, also has the power to order the Department of Homeland Security to slow or freeze the issuance of green cards, as well as stop issuing specific classes of visas — such as H-1B visas, which Trump has long criticized.

Additionally, Trump can also instruct the State Department to stop issuing visas for citizens of the 23 “recalcitrant” countries that don’t accept entry of their own citizens who were deported from the U.S. because they were convicted of a crime, NPR reported. These countries include Afghanistan, Cuba, Iran and Zimbabwe.

While, as mentioned previously, Trump’s first-day tariff powers are limited, he does have the power to label China a “currency manipulator” — though, the BBC notes, beyond annoying China, this labeling probably won’t have much impact. More significantly for trade, Trump will have the power on his first day to begin the process of withdrawing from NAFTA. CNN Money reports that under Article 2205 of the agreement, which Trump has cited in speeches, a country can withdraw from the agreement six months after providing written notice, which Trump can do without Congress *(though some experts disagree about this). Since the U.S. has not removed itself from a trade deal since 1866, however, it’s hard to know what would happen next.

Trump’s first day in office could also bring about a swift end to this week’s victory for the Dakota Access pipeline protesters. Trump will be able to authorize construction on both the Dakota pipeline and the Keystone XL pipeline — which is likely to happen, considering that Trump has reportedly invested in the companies behind both.

Other things that are well within the realm of possibility for Trump’s first day include beginning the process of appointing a new Supreme Court justice and dismantling the Iran nuclear agreement, which Vox reports could be done by issuing an executive order that re-imposes U.S. economic sanctions that were lifted as part of the deal. Trump has also said that he will call a meeting with military personnel on his first day in office, in which he will give them 30 days to formulate a plan to defeat ISIS.

And if all that isn’t power isn’t enough, there’s one more thing that Trump has unfettered access to on day one: the nuclear codes.

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