Donald J. Trump

Donald J. Trump

President of the United States

President Donald J. Trump in his first term has pursued a foreign policy that reflects his campaign pledge to place America first in his administration’s dealings abroad. A skeptic of international institutions, he has withdrawn from major multinational agreements on climate, arms control, and Iran while renegotiating U.S. trade deals, feuding with U.S. allies, imposing new immigration restrictions, and launching a tariff battle with China. 

Born and raised in Queens, New York, he ran the Trump Organization, a global real estate development business, for more than four decades and hosted the reality television show The Apprentice from 2003 to 2015.

China

Trump has sought to confront China over what he says is a suite of economic abuses: intellectual property theft, currency manipulation, export subsidies, and economic espionage. He says aggressive action is required to protect American workers and to reduce the United States’ large bilateral trade deficit.

  • Trump has entered into an escalating trade war with China, applying tariffs on hundreds of billions of dollars worth of Chinese goods in several stages, drawing Chinese retaliation. High-level trade talks, including directly between Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping, have been ongoing but unsuccessful. 
  • The Trump administration has condemned “Made in China 2025,” an industrial policy led by Beijing that seeks to make China a world leader in advanced technology. U.S. policymakers have been skeptical of the plan’s reliance on state subsidies, intellectual property theft, and foreign acquisitions.
  • Trump backed a 2018 reform giving U.S. regulators greater power to review foreign acquisitions by China and others, and he has blocked several attempted sales of U.S. technology companies to Chinese firms.
  • He has also ramped up restrictions on major Chinese technology firms operating in the United States, including telecommunications giant Huawei, worrying that such firms can be manipulated by Beijing. 
  • He argues that China has gamed the World Trade Organization (WTO) by taking advantage of special rules for developing countries, and he says the United States “will leave [the WTO] if we have to.”
  • In 2018, the administration issued tariffs on all imported steel and aluminum, which Trump argues was necessary to protect U.S. producers from “excess global capacity” largely originating in China. 
  • In 2019, the administration officially labeled China a currency manipulator, a step Trump had threatened for years, though the designation has no immediate effect. 
  • He has met with representatives of the Uighurs, a persecuted Muslim minority in western China, but his administration has held off on sanctioning Chinese officials over the widely reported mistreatment of the group. 
  • In 2016, he became the first U.S. president or president-elect since 1979 to speak directly with his Taiwanese counterpart. He has increased U.S. Navy patrols in the Taiwan Strait and pushed for more arms sales to Taiwan. 

Climate and Energy

Trump has repeatedly questioned the science of climate change, expressing doubts about whether human activity is responsible. He has advocated for expanded domestic fossil fuel production and has pushed for rolling back environmental regulations implemented by his predecessors. 

  • Soon after taking office, he announced the U.S. withdrawal from the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate, in which nearly two hundred countries agreed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The United States’ withdrawal is set to take effect in 2020.
  • He directed his Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to rescind the Obama-era Clean Power Plan, a regulation that would have required states to move away from coal-based power plants. His budgets have repeatedly tried to slash EPA funding by nearly a third.
  • He has spearheaded a broad reduction in environmental regulation, rolling back nearly eighty separate regulations. These include requirements to reduce methane emissions, factor carbon emissions into federal decision-making, and limit pollutants from fracking. 
  • He has sought to open nearly all U.S. waters and protected lands to oil and gas drilling, including the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, though many of his executive orders are still being challenged in federal court. 
  • He has pressed for new oil pipelines to “unleash American energy,” reversing President Barack Obama’s decision to deny permits for the Dakota Access Pipeline and the Keystone XL, and using executive orders to streamline the permitting process for new pipelines. 
  • He is seeking to weaken industry-wide automobile fuel-efficiency standards implemented under Obama, including by withdrawing a waiver that lets California and other states apply stricter standards. 

Counterterrorism

Trump has called for an approach that combines increased domestic surveillance, expanded use of drone strikes in Africa and the Middle East, and tighter limits on immigration and refugee admissions. 

  • He issued an executive order limiting travel from seven countries—Iran, Libya, North Korea, Somalia, Syria, Venezuela, and Yemen—deemed to not have “sufficient security,” a reworking of a broader previous order that was blocked by federal judges. Trump has repeatedly called for “extreme vetting” of immigrants and, during the 2016 campaign, he suggested barring all foreign Muslims from entering the country.
  • His administration has sharply reduced refugee admissions, calling the move a national security priority.
  • He is a supporter of controversial surveillance programs used by the National Security Agency (NSA) and other agencies, approving a 2019 extension of an NSA provision allowing for warrantless collection of Americans’ data. He has also pushed for the reinstatement of the NSA’s ability to examine Americans’ telephone records. 
  • He touts the “liberation” of Iraq and Syria from the self-proclaimed Islamic State after U.S.-led forces took the group’s last piece of territory in 2019. 
  • He has continued Obama’s use of unmanned drones to strike terrorist suspects outside of declared war zones, and gone further by giving commanders in the field more flexibility and waiving other restrictions. In 2019, he reversed an Obama-era requirement to publicly report civilian casualties caused by drone warfare.
  • He has supported waterboarding—widely considered torture—and other harsh interrogation methods, saying he will do “whatever it takes” to secure the nation and that torture “absolutely works.” However, administration officials have sworn off the practice, including his Central Intelligence Agency director, Gina Haspel.
  • He supports the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, signing a 2018 executive order to keep the prison—which Obama had vowed to close—open. His administration has sent no new detainees there, though Trump has floated the possibility of using it to house captured Islamic State fighters.

Cybersecurity and Digital Policy

Trump has feuded with a number of large U.S. technology companies, arguing that they are conspiring to defeat him in the 2020 election. Although he has often brushed aside concerns about Russian interference in U.S. elections, his administration has imposed sanctions and other measures against the Russian intelligence assets deemed responsible.

  • In 2018, Trump issued still-classified guidance giving U.S. Cyber Command more flexibility in carrying out offensive cyberstrikes, including against Russia and others.
  • He argues that Silicon Valley giants such as Google and Facebook are a bigger threat to U.S. elections than Russia, due to what he calls their anti-conservative bias. 
  • In July 2019, Trump’s Justice Department announced a broad antitrust review of “market-leading online platforms.” Although no specific companies were named, analysts say the investigation will focus on Amazon, Facebook, and Google. 
  • His campaign website lists a number of actions taken to counter Russian interference, including a collection of sanctions on Russian hackers, criminal charges against Russian intelligence officers for a major U.S. data breach, and the expulsion of Russian diplomats. 
  • In 2019, he issued an executive order to increase the number of federal employees working on cybersecurity issues.
  • He originally mocked allegations of Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election. He later acknowledged Russian hacking but added that China and others did so as well. He maintains that the results of the election were not affected and denies any collusion with Russian efforts.

Defense

Trump has championed the military, pushing for increases to defense spending, major new weapons programs, and a new branch focused on space. He has also promised to wind down U.S. troop commitments in Afghanistan and the Middle East while focusing on “great-power competition” with China and others.

  • He points to increases in the defense budget during his first two years in office, which reached $716 billion in 2019. He proposes some $750 billion for 2020.
  • The administration’s 2018 National Defense Strategy, the first such review since 2014, emphasized the importance of the Asia-Pacific and European regions, with a particular focus on competing with China and Russia.
  • He has said he wants to remove all U.S. forces from Afghanistan, currently some fourteen thousand personnel, after he increased the U.S. troop presence in 2017. Since 2018, he has pursued peace talks with the Taliban on and off, in a reversal of previous U.S. policy.
  • He issued an updated missile defense plan in 2019, the first such review since 2010, which emphasizes using new technologies and space-based systems to protect the United States and its allies.
  • He announced his intention to create a new, sixth branch of the military, a U.S. Space Force, and in 2019 he reestablished U.S. Space Command as one of eleven unified combatant commands as a first step in that direction.
  • The administration’s 2018 Nuclear Posture Review, the first update since 2010, announced plans for the first new nuclear weapons since the end of the Cold War and broadened the circumstances for the use of such weapons.
  • He withdrew the United States from the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty, citing Russian violations, but he has expressed hope for new arms-control negotiations with Moscow. 
  • He overturned an Obama-era policy allowing transgender personnel to serve openly in the military.

Diplomacy and Foreign Aid

Trump has withdrawn the United States from international agreements and commitments that he feels are a drain on U.S. resources, has feuded with longtime allies on issues from defense to trade, and has criticized global institutions that he says force the United States to “surrender sovereignty.” His budget proposals have sought to slash foreign aid and make it more conditional on support for U.S. policies. 

  • He withdrew the United States from a raft of major international agreements finalized by Obama, including the Paris Agreement, the Iran nuclear deal, and the Asia-Pacific trade deal known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). 
  • He has repeatedly questioned the relevance of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), an alliance founded during the Cold War, and has considered withdrawing the United States. He says NATO members must boost their defense spending to meet their obligations, a sentiment in line with his calls for other allies, such as Japan and South Korea, to pay more for U.S. protection.
  • He also withdrew from the UN Global Compact for Migration, a framework for managing growing cross-border migration, to “reassert sovereignty over our borders.”
  • Trump has often criticized international bodies such as the International Criminal Court and the UN Human Rights Council for threatening national sovereignty and “bashing America,” and he said that other countries must pay a greater share of the UN peacekeeping budget. 
  • He has feuded with longtime U.S. partners, including the European Union (EU), which he called a “foe” on trade.
  • He has been more willing than his predecessors to meet with authoritarian leaders, including adversaries of the United States. He has had direct talks with North Korea’s Kim Jong-un and has raised the possibility of meeting Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.
  • His budget proposals have sought to cut foreign aid spending by nearly a third and direct it only to “our friends.” Congress has not approved this, and Trump ultimately abandoned a 2019 plan to cut some $4 billion in aid. 

Economic Policy

Trump has emphasized tax cutting and deregulatory economic policies, which he says have spurred growth, innovation, and employment, even as the budget deficit and national debt have risen.

  • He pushed for the 2017 tax bill passed by Congress, which lowered the corporate rate from 35 to 21 percent, changed the way multinational firms are taxed, and lowered individual income tax rates, among many other provisions
  • Federal spending has increased, with the budget deficit growing to nearly $1 trillion in 2019 and the national debt surpassing $16 trillion. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates the 2017 tax reform will add nearly $2 trillion to the debt over the next ten years.
  • Trump has pushed broad deregulation across the economy, including in the energy, financial, health, infrastructure, and agricultural sectors.
  • He has sought to loosen oversight of Wall Street, saying that financial institutions have been “devastated” by overregulation. Trump signed a 2018 reform of the Dodd-Frank Act that lessens regulations on smaller banks, and his administration has sharply reduced enforcement of consumer protections.  
  • Trump proposed a $1.5 trillion infrastructure plan—based on $200 billion of direct federal spending and the rest generated by private-sector incentives—that was never taken up by Congress. In 2019, he agreed to a $2 trillion plan with congressional Democrats, which fell apart.

Immigration

Immigration is a signature issue for Trump and a major flash point between his administration and its Democratic challengers. Campaigning on a platform of sharply reducing both legal and illegal immigration, he has taken executive action to reshape asylum, deportation, and visa policy.  

  • He has long vowed to build an expanded wall on the U.S.-Mexico border that he claims would stop drugs and gangs from entering the country. In 2019, he shut down the federal government in an unsuccessful attempt to secure congressional funding for the wall. He subsequently declared a national emergency on the border, which allows him to divert funds to build out the barrier. He had previously said Mexico would pay for the wall. 
  • He threatened to shut down the border completely, and used the threat of tariffs to push Mexico to step up its own migration enforcement on its borders.  
  • He launched an initiative commonly known as the Remain in Mexico program, which directs asylum seekers to wait in Mexico. The administration has also sought “safe third country” agreements with Guatemala, Mexico, Panama, and others, which would allow U.S. authorities to send asylum seekers back to those countries. 
  • In 2017, he instituted a ban via executive order on immigration or travel from several Muslim-majority countries. The original order was rejected by the courts, but the Supreme Court upheld a more limited version.
  • He has reduced the number of refugees the United States accepts each year to less than thirty thousand, down from roughly eighty thousand before he took office. His Justice Department has also narrowed the scope of asylum protections, including no longer allowing victims of domestic violence to make asylum claims.
  • He has proposed broad immigration reform that would create a merit-based system, rather than the current arrangement that prioritizes family reunification. His plan, which has yet to be considered by Congress, would also increase border security and enforcement, including through a border wall and an employment verification system known as E-Verify.
  • The plan doesn’t address the United States’ estimated eleven million undocumented residents, or the Dreamers who were brought to the country as children. 
  • He has sought to end Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), an Obama-era executive action aimed at shielding Dreamers from deportation. The move raised legal challenges and is heading to the Supreme Court. He revoked similar protections for undocumented parents of U.S. citizens.
  • In 2018, he enacted a zero-tolerance policy for illegal border crossings, which led to mass detentions and the separation of children from their parents. The administration pledged to end family separations after public outcry. 
  • He has repeatedly threatened to deport millions of undocumented residents and has expanded interior enforcement efforts, including the largest workplace raids in over a decade. However, experts estimate that both arrests and deportations are well below the country’s peak numbers, during the George W. Bush and Obama administrations.  
  • He has tried to punish so-called sanctuary cities, or jurisdictions that refuse to enforce federal immigration directives, including through a 2017 executive order seeking to deny them federal funds. Those efforts have been blocked by the courts in most, but not all, cases.
  • He has ended temporary protected status (TPS)—a program that allows migrants from certain crisis-stricken nations to live in the United States for a limited period—for several countries.

Middle East

Trump’s approach to the Middle East has been defined by strong support for Israel, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt, and a more confrontational stance toward Iran. He promises to bring what he calls the “endless wars” in the region to a close and withdraw U.S. troops. 

  • Trump calls Israel a “cherished ally.” Upon taking office, Trump backed away from previous bipartisan consensus by saying he wasn’t interested in a separate Palestinian state.   
  • In 2017, he recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and moved the U.S. Embassy there. In 2019, he recognized Israeli sovereignty over the disputed Golan Heights, territory Israel seized from Syria in 1967.
  • He has focused on confronting Iran, which he calls “the leading state sponsor of terrorism.” In mid-2019, he authorized but ultimately held off on a military strike on Iran in the midst of rising tensions in the Strait of Hormuz.
  • In 2018, he withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal and reimposed sweeping economic sanctions on the country. He also issued new ones, including direct sanctions on Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif. 
  • Trump has promised to withdraw all U.S. troops from Syria, saying that the Islamic State there has been “totally obliterated,” though ongoing troop reductions have been accompanied by a resurgence of Islamic State attacks in Syria and Iraq.
  • In October 2019, he announced the withdrawal of U.S. forces from northern Syria, where Turkey subsequently launched a military operation against Kurdish forces. Soon after, he announced sanctions on Turkey over the invasion. 
  • Beginning during his 2016 campaign, he repeatedly expressed his desire to let other countries, including Russia, take more responsibility in Syria’s civil war. However, in 2017 and 2018 he authorized U.S. air strikes on Syrian government targets in retaliation for the regime’s use of chemical weapons.
  • He has said that U.S. troops should remain in Iraq to fight the Islamic State and “watch Iran.” 
  • He has developed warm relations with Saudi Arabia, calling it a “great ally” and making his first foreign presidential trip to Riyadh.
  • He supported Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in the wake of the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, arguing that it was imperative that the United States maintain military cooperation with the kingdom.
  • In 2019, Trump vetoed a congressional resolution seeking to end U.S. support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen, and he also vetoed legislation that would have blocked U.S. arms sales to the kingdom. 
  • He has been a strong supporter of the government of Abdel Fatah al-Sisi in Egypt, and welcomed Sisi for White House visits in 2017 in 2019, something Obama declined to do over human rights concerns. 

North Korea

Trump has devoted significant attention to North Korea, launching unprecedented direct negotiations with the country’s leader, Kim Jong-un, in an attempt to persuade him to end his nuclear program. 

  • Trump began his term by imposing stronger sanctions on firms doing business with North Korea. He threatened the country with “fire and fury” in 2017 after it stepped up its missile testing efforts, language no other modern president has used. 
  • He subsequently launched direct negotiations with Kim over North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, meeting with him on three occasions between 2018 and 2019. Trump became the first sitting U.S. president to set foot in North Korea during their brief June 2019 meeting in the demilitarized zone (DMZ).
  • At their first meeting, in Singapore in June 2018, the pair agreed to continued talks and Trump pledged to end “provocative” joint U.S.-South Korea military exercises. Ahead of that meeting, North Korea released three American hostages. 
  • Their second formal meeting, in February 2019 in Vietnam, ended without an agreement after Trump refused Kim’s request for sanctions relief. North Korea has since resumed its missile testing.   
  • He has repeatedly called on China to apply more pressure on its North Korean ally to denuclearize, and he has suggested that his willingness to compromise with Xi on trade could be linked to Beijing’s ability to influence Pyongyang.
  • He has also demanded that South Korea pay more to the United States to cover the cost of the nearly thirty thousand U.S. troops stationed there. 

Russia

Trump has cultivated cordial relations with Russian President Vladimir Putin and dismissed accusations that his campaign cooperated with Moscow’s interference in the 2016 U.S. election. He has argued for closer cooperation with Russia while also bending to congressional pressure to extend sanctions on Moscow, expanding military aid to Ukraine, and withdrawing from a major U.S.-Russia arms control treaty.

  • Trump has sought closer cooperation with Russia despite findings by U.S. intelligence services, which were confirmed by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, that Moscow heavily interfered in the 2016 presidential election. 
  • He says he “really believes” Putin’s assurance that he doesn’t meddle in U.S. elections. 
  • However, Trump’s 2020 campaign website lists a number of actions taken to counter Russian interference, including a collection of sanctions on Russian election hackers, criminal charges against Russian intelligence officers, and the expulsion of Russian diplomats. 
  • He has authorized lethal aid for Ukrainian forces fighting a Russia-backed insurgency in the country’s eastern provinces. However, his budget proposals have called for cuts to other programs to bolster the defense of Ukraine and other countries in Eastern Europe and the Baltics. 
  • Trump has faced an impeachment inquiry in the House of Representatives focused on whether he sought to withhold military aid from the Ukrainian government in order to pressure it to investigate the family of presidential candidate and former vice president Joe Biden. 
  • His administration maintained Obama-era sanctions imposed on Russia after its 2014 annexation of Crimea, and has expanded sanctions on Russian individuals and firms. Trump reluctantly signed a veto-proof bill in 2017 that levied new sanctions on Iran, North Korea, and Russia, calling it “seriously flawed.”
  • In 2018, he expelled sixty Russian diplomats from the United States over Moscow’s poisoning of a former Russian spy on British soil and subsequently imposed congressionally mandated sanctions over the incident. 
  • He withdrew the United States from the 1987 INF Treaty, claiming, along with U.S. allies, that Russia was violating it, but he has also expressed hope for new arms control negotiations with Moscow. 
  • He says his “inclination” is that Russia should be readmitted to the Group of Seven (G7) industrialized nations. Russia was expelled from the group, previously the G8, after it annexed Crimea in 2014. 

Trade

Throughout his presidency, Trump has taken aim at a global trading system that he argues is rigged against U.S. interests and responsible for large trade deficits, declining U.S. manufacturing, and the offshoring of American jobs. 

  • Trump withdrew from the Obama administration’s twelve-nation Asia-Pacific trade deal, the TPP, in his first week in office. 
  • He has entered into an escalating trade war with China, applying tariffs on hundreds of billions of dollars worth of Chinese goods in several stages, drawing Chinese retaliation. High-level trade talks, including between Trump and Xi, have been ongoing but unsuccessful. 
  • He renegotiated the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which he has called “one of the worst trade deals ever made.” The updated agreement with Canada and Mexico, the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement, was signed in 2018 but still requires congressional approval.
  • He finalized a new version of the U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement in 2018 that allows the United States to sell more of its cars into the South Korean market.
  • He stopped negotiations on Obama-era U.S.-EU trade talks, known as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. After Trump subsequently threatened tariffs on EU auto imports, he and EU leaders agreed to restart talks on a trade deal, which are ongoing.
  • Beginning in 2018, he applied tariffs on steel and aluminium imports, which he argued were necessary to combat Chinese overproduction but were broadly applied to all countries, including U.S. allies. He also applied tariffs on imported solar panels and washing machines.
  • He has called the World Trade Organization (WTO) a “disaster” and threatened to withdraw from the body. He accuses China and others of abusing WTO rules that give developing countries more flexibility.

Venezuela and Latin America

Trump calls the Nicolas Maduro regime in Venezuela a “dictatorship” and recognizes opposition leader Juan Guaido as the country’s head. He decries “corrupt communist and socialist regimes” in the region, especially Cuba, Nicaragua, and Venezuela. 

  • The Trump administration recognized Guaido as Venezuela’s rightful president in January 2019, along with most South American and European countries. Washington backed a failed April 2019 uprising against the government, urging the country’s military to turn against Maduro. Trump has said he won’t rule out U.S. military action to overthrow Maduro. 
  • He has ratcheted up sanctions on Venezuela, including penalties on more than one hundred individuals as well as the country’s state oil company. In August 2019, a fresh tranche of sanctions targeted Venezuelan assets in the United States.
  • He reversed most of the Obama administration’s efforts to liberalize U.S. relations with Cuba, which he said benefited the Raul Castro regime.

This project was made possible in part by a grant from Carnegie Corporation of New York.

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