Despite President-elect Joe Biden’s intention to create a clean break from the Trump era, several of the current administration’s major accomplishments are likely to remain intact for the foreseeable future.
Biden, who is set to be inaugurated later this week, has been signaling for months that when he enters the White House, his administration will take a bevy of steps to indicate a national “turning point” has occurred. The president-elect’s intentions were further confirmed on Saturday when a memo made public by his incoming chief of staff, Ron Klain, outlined a blitz of executive orders the Biden administration would issue in its first 10 days in office.
“President-elect Biden will take action — not just to reverse the gravest damages of the Trump administration — but also to start moving our country forward,” Klain wrote in the memo.
The executive orders, which incorporate progressive priorities and grievances from the last four years, are meant to “demonstrate” to both United States citizens and global leaders “that America is back,” according to Klain’s memo.
Regardless of the rhetoric emanating from the president-elect and his incoming chief of staff, a number of President Donald Trump’s major accomplishments are likely to remain intact under the new administration.
The United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA):
During the 2016 presidential race, Trump captured the White House, in part, thanks to the defection of blue-collar workers from the industrial midwest. Although such voters had backed Democrats for decades, polling showed that they were drawn to Trump’s populist stand on issues like trade and manufacturing. That election cycle, Trump’s harangues against the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and other free trade agreements, led to narrow victories in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan — states that put Republicans over the top in the electoral college, despite a three-million popular vote deficit.
When Trump took office in 2017, the U.S. began the process of renegotiating NAFTA with trade officials from Mexico and Canada. Those efforts in October 2018 resulted in the USMCA. The new agreement, which kept much of the original NAFTA consensus in place, specifically tightened trade rules and practices pertaining to the auto industry.
Under the new agreement, 75 percent of vehicle parts need to be manufactured within the U.S., Mexico, or Canada to remain tariff-free. The USMCA also mandates that 45 percent of car components have to be made in the three-nation region by factory workers making at least $16 per hour.
The agreement also expanded access into Canada for U.S. dairy farmers and included updated regulations on digital trade. Most importantly, however, the agreement included a six-year sunset provision. The expiration date will present an opportunity for the three countries involved to negotiate updates to the pact as trade and economic practices evolve and change in the future.
When introduced in the Senate for ratification, the USMCA proved to be popular across the aisle. Not only was the agreement endorsed by the nation’s largest union group, the AFL-CIO, it also received the support of ardent fair traders, including Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH). Brown, who had fought against NAFTA and every other major trade deal since joining Congress in 1993, wound up supporting the USMCA because of provisions to prevent the off-shoring of American jobs.
Given that the USMCA was ratified by the Senate in an overwhelmingly bipartisan vote (89-10), the incoming Biden administration is unlikely to find the political support for any rollback of the agreement. In fact, Biden, who was forced to defend his support for NAFTA and free trade from both Democrats and Republicans during the 2020 campaign, has named Katherine Tai as his incoming trade representative. As the chief trade counsel for the House Committee on Ways and Means, Tai was instrumental in helping negotiate Democrat support for the USMCA last year.
Another potential policy that the incoming Biden administration will choose to keep in place is the Opportunity Zone program created by the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. Opportunity Zones, which were proposed by Sens. Tim Scott (R-SC) and Cory Booker (D-NJ), are meant to encourage investment and job creation in low-income areas across the country.
The program allows state governments to designate upwards of 25 percent of census tracts in low-income areas as opportunity zones. Individual investors or corporations are then allowed to place pre-tax capital gains income into opportunity zone funds, certified by the Internal Revenue Service. The individual funds are then used to pursue investment projects within a specific opportunity zone.
For investors, the benefit is that the longer their capital gains income remains with the funds, there are delays and decreases in the amount of capital gains tax owed. If an investment is held for at least 10 years, no capital gains taxes will be assessed on either the original investment or any return associated with the opportunity zones fund.
Although the program is complex, it has proved successful. Since its inception, nearly 9,000 opportunity zones have been created across the country to funnel investment in communities that would otherwise be overlooked.
“Over the last several years, Opportunity Zones have spurred $75 billion dollars in private sector investment and have created at least 500,000 new jobs in designated Opportunity Zone tracts,” a senior administration official at the Department of Housing and Urban Development recently told Breitbart News.
Opportunity Zones have also elicited praise from Democrats, including Gov. Gavin Newsom (D-CA), a noted Trump critic.
“We all heard about these opportunity zones. We were a bit perplexed,” Newsom told the San Francisco Chronicle in March 2019. “A lot of us, at least on my side of the political aisle said, ‘That actually sounds like a good idea…. it came out of which administration?’”
While Biden has not officially taken a position on the program, the president-elect has promised to expand federal investment in low-income and minority communities. There is also the fact that any attempt to dismantle the Opportunity Zone program would require congressional approval, which could be difficult to ensure given the program’s bipartisan praise.
Perhaps most importantly, however, Opportunity Zones build off another federal program first initiated by the Clinton administration and supported by Biden.
The First Step Act:
Over the span of his term in office, Trump attempted to partner with Democrats to advance issues that had long been stalled under previous administrations. In 2018, the president and his staff worked to pass an overhaul of the nation’s criminal justice laws. The effort, known as the First Step Act, reformed federal prison and sentencing guidelines that had impacted communities of color disproportionately.
The Act received widespread bipartisan input and support from Democrats. Two of its major authors were Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL). The legislation’s broad support was evidenced when it passed without a single Democrat voicing opposition in December 2018.
“I don’t give a damn about politics when thousands of people are incarcerated unjustly,” Booker told Politico when announcing his support for the Trump administration’s bill. “This is about people, this is about justice, this is about righting wrongs.”
Given the bipartisan support, any efforts by the Biden administration to diminish the legislation would likely be met with stiff resistance. There is also the fact that Biden, a former champion of tough on crime measures like the 1994 Crime Bill, is unlikely to tackle federal sentencing policies in the near future, especially as crime rates have increased in recent months.
While there exist significant differences between Trump and Biden on foreign policy, there are at least two countries in the U.S.’s “back yard” where policy is likely to remain unchanged with the transition of power.
Although the Obama-era White House attempted to normalize relations with the then-Castro regime, even going as far as to attempt to end the trade embargo, Biden is unlikely to follow in those footsteps. President Barack Obama, himself, admitted as much in October 2020 while campaigning for the Democrat ticket in Florida. At the time, Obama promised that Biden would push a hard-line on human rights when it came to authoritarian regimes like Cuba.
“Joe Biden wouldn’t coddle dictators,” Obama said. “He’ll promote human rights around the world, including in Cuba.”
The shift is likely to be the result of politics just as much as policy. In the 2020 presidential election, Biden lost Florida by the largest margin of any Democrat nominee since 2004. Biden’s cratering in the state was partially the result of lost ground among Cuban-Americans.
Exit polls from the race indicate that Trump, who began his tenure in office by imposing strict sanctions on Cuba, received 56 percent support among Florida’s Cuban-Americans. Trump’s support was enough to ensure that Biden only won Florida’s Miami-Dade County, a heavily Democratic area that was key to Obama’s success in winning the state in 2008 and 2012, marginally.
Overall, Biden carried 53 percent of the vote in the country, compared to Trump’s nearly 46 percent. In 2016, by comparison, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton crushed Trump in the county, 63 percent to 33 percent.
Biden is similarly unlikely to deviate from the strong stance the Trump administration has taken on Venezuela and Nicolás Maduro, the country’s dictator. Maduro’s last legitimate presidential term ended in January 2019, though, through control of the military, he has refused to leave office.
Maduro has claimed that he won the presidential election of 2018, which has been widely lambasted as fraudulent. International ethics watchdogs, in particular, have cited the fact that the election attracted the lowest turnout in Venezuela’s history, as well as prohibitions Maduro made on opposition candidates running for office, as proof.
Given the contention, in January 2019, Venezuela’s National Assembly used its constitutional powers to appoint Juan Guaidó as interim-president until new elections could be held. Plans for a new election, however, have been complicated by Maduro’s refusal to cede power.
Trump supported Guaidó early in the dispute, officially recognizing him as president of Venezuela in January 2019. In August of that year, as Maduro refused to approve new elections, the Trump administration imposed economic sanctions on the country.
Biden has broadly supported Guaidó’s claims to power, while simultaneously alleging that Maduro is a “thug” who runs an “oppressive regime.” In recent weeks, Biden’s transition team has signaled that they will push for Maduro to secede power and open the country up to new and free elections.
Throughout its tenure in office, the Trump administration has undertaken a major effort to help stabilize the Middle East. One of its most noted steps towards that goal came in mid-2020 when Trump brokered a summit at the White House between the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain, and Israel.
The results of that summit and prior State Department talks was a peace deal between the three Middle East nations. The accords were the first normalizing relations between Israel and an Arab country since the early 1990s.
“For years you had blood in the sand … now you’re going to have peace and it will be a real peace,” Trump said during a public White House meeting with leaders from Bahrain, the UAE, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Following the summit, at least five other Arab countries expressed interest in normalizing relations with Israel. In late-October 2020 that proved to be true when the U.S. brokered a pact between Sudan and Israel normalizing relations. Another Arab nation, Morrocco, followed suit in December 2020.
It is unclear if the incoming Biden administration will prioritize further attempts to normalize relations between Israel and its Arab neighbors. The president-elect, however, has praised the Abraham Accords as a “historic step to bridge the deep divides of the Middle East.”