From travel bans that provoked sweeping protests all the way through to a massive tax reform package, Donald Trump's presidency has been marked by highs and lows for the commander-in-chief. But as the year winds down and Congress enjoys its winter recess, it's important to keep an eye on the future — and that means considering predictions for Trump in 2018, because it's all going to happen faster than you think.
The tricky part of predicting what goals Trump will champion in the coming year is that Trump himself is a wildcard. He's developed a reputation for ad libbing in his speeches, and he's been inconsistent in delivering on several key campaign promises. He has faced legal battles with his wide-sweeping travel bans and grappled with Congress over support for his Obamacare repeal, for example.
The biggest challenge Trump will likely face while pursuing his goals next year is maintaining congressional support. As 2018 picks up, midterm elections will be at the forefront of everyone's attention, and lawmakers will be hesitant to champion any bills that could put their chances of reelection at risk. That being said, Trump tends to fixate on certain goals wholesale, and if and when he picks up any of the following torches, he's likely to run with them.
Health Care Reform
One of Trump's key goals for his presidency has always been a total repeal of Obamacare, or the Affordable Care Act (ACA). He has failed at a total overhaul thus far, and has instead resorted to piecemeal peel-backs. The latest success came with the repeal of the individual mandate hitched on to the tax reform bill in December, the requirement that all Americans sign up for health insurance or face a tax penalty.
Following the failure by Congress to repeal Obamacare throughout 2017, Trump began unilaterally dismantling parts of the ACA with his executive power. Among those changes was an instruction that federal agencies examine ways to expand association health plans, and an opening of the definition of temporary health insurance policies so that they would be exempt from the individual mandate tax penalty. In 2018, Trump could feasibly continue issuing similar executive orders, or encourage Congress to keep sliding pieces of ACA-repeal into larger pieces of legislation, as they did with the individual mandate roll back.
Despite Trump's repeatedly insisting that Obamacare has been a failure, or that it's been bad for Americans, sign-ups during this year's open enrollment period surpassed predictions. Almost 9 million people signed up for coverage for 2018 — almost as many as the year prior — even with the enrollment period being halved to six weeks.
In the last few months of 2017, Trump has referred to a vague plan for infrastructure reform, which could mean legislation on transportation, communication, or any number of utilities.
Trump reportedly said that he would take up infrastructure reform after passing a tax bill, but aside from his response to a recent Amtrak derailment in Washington state, any clear path to that reform has yet to manifest. Additionally, his federal budget proposal would halt new funding for federal transit projects that are already approved.
Regardless, reports indicate that Trump plans to introduce a $1 trillion infrastructure plan early in 2018. According to Politico, the plan would encourage localities to raise a portion of the money they need for any proposed projects while also competing for federal dollars to round out their budgets. It is expected to be released before the end of January.
Decrease Federal Regulations
During the second week of December, Trump promised to scale back federal regulations to 1960 levels. In a dramatic photo-op on Dec. 14, he "cut the red tape" between two piles of paper, one representing the number of federal regulations in 2017 and one representing the number of federal regulations in 1960.
"When we're finished... we will be less than where we were in 1960 and we will have a great regulatory climate," he said. (The administration says it has already removed almost $600 million in regulatory costs, though according to The Washington Post, many of the "eliminated" rules were never implemented. Others simply expired.)
Setting the regulatory clock that far back will probably require legislative action, according to Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs Administrator Neomi Rao. But, since Trump believes that slashing federal regulations is good for the economy (because he thinks it makes the United States more appealing to businesspeople), it's possible that he will ask Congress to pursue deregulation.
The administration has made no secret that it favors reducing immigration, both legal and illegal, to the United States. One particular type of immigration it has recently been speaking out against is so-called "chain migration," where one person immigrates to the United States, obtains citizenship, and then acts as a sponsor for other family members.
It's a common and longstanding method of immigration, but the administration has couched it in terms of national security concerns. The frequent use of that term in the last two months of 2017 indicates that Trump may move to complicate the process again in 2018.
A possible proposal could be to pivot toward prioritizing "merit-based" immigration, which is a system that would prioritize immigration applicants who have achieved higher levels of education and employability. Proponents argue that it's unfair to prioritize family members in the face of, say, immigrants with advanced degrees because low-skilled immigrants could potentially compete with low-wage-earning citizens.
Escalating Conflict With North Korea
On Nov. 29, North Korea tested yet another ballistic missile, and in response, the United States, as a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, drafted additional international sanctions against the reclusive state. Those sanctions passed unanimously. North Korean officials reacted by describing the move as "an act of war."
Undeterred, the United States pressed further, announcing on Tuesday, Dec. 26, that it would unilaterally enact economic sanctions against two individual North Koreans — Kim Jong Sik and Ri Pyong Chol — two senior officials involved in the state's ballistic missile program. Any assets either might have in the United States may now be seized, and they are prohibited from doing business with any American citizens.
As the institutional tensions escalate, Trump has threatened North Korea and patronized its leader many times over the course of his first year in office. Famously, he referred to Kim Jong Un as a "Rocket Man," and has also threatened to use "fire and fury" against the state. Both leaders exchange barbs when one or both feel slighted, making the conflict appear not just political, but increasingly personal, meaning that the conflict could seemingly escalate at any time. Some have expressed concern that a war could erupt, though Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has said that diplomacy will continue "until the first bomb drops."
Whether or not Congress will make a meaningful attempt to overhaul "entitlement" programs, i.e. social safety nets like social security, Medicare, and Medicaid, is uncertain as Majority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Rep. Paul Ryan duke it out in the press. Ryan has long since made it known that he intends to prioritize reforming these types of programs, and said early in December that he believes he has made headway in convincing Trump to get on board. (Trump has historically taken a firm stance against anything that might cut Social Security.)
Meanwhile, McConnell told reporters about a week later that he doesn't plan to put safety net reform on the senatorial agenda because it would require Democratic support to pass. (The recent tax bill, for reference, only required a simple majority because it was passed under budget reconciliation, a procedural state that doesn't require a two-thirds vote to pass bills. Welfare reform would not fall under that special umbrella.) Trump, for his part, has said as recently as October that he is open to conversations about a 2018 safety net reform, but hasn't confirmed or denied that Ryan has successfully swayed him.
Throughout the uncertainty and confusion that has plagued the Trump era, the one consistent truth has been that the most transparent indicator of the administration's priorities is Trump's Twitter account. That being said, while it's difficult to pin down where Trump will direct his energy legislatively, one place to keep an eye on is, for better or worse, social media.