Will Donald Trump ever release his tax returns? That depends which Kellyanne Conway you believe.
In the “no” column, there’s the Kellyanne Conway who told ABC’s The Week, “The White House response is that he’s not going to release his tax returns.”
“We litigated this all through the election. People didn’t care,” the top aide said. “They voted for him, and let me make this very clear: Most Americans are—are very focused on what their tax returns will look like while President Trump is in office, not what his look like.”
Or you can believe the Kellyanne Conway who tweeted Monday morning:
On taxes, answers (& repeated questions) are same from campaign: POTUS is under audit and will not release until that is completed. #nonews— Kellyanne Conway (@KellyannePolls) January 23, 2017
The president himself seems to be leaning toward the first model. During his sole press-conference as president-elect earlier this month, a reporter asked Trump whether he would release his tax returns to prove his claim that he has no dealings in Russia.
“I’m not releasing the tax returns because as you know, they’re under audit,” he said. (Trump has not offered any evidence that he is in fact under audit.) Then he added: “You know, the only one that cares about my tax returns are the reporters, OK? They’re the only who ask.” He said he didn’t think the public was concerned: “No I don’t think so. I won, when I became president. No, I don’t think they care at all. I don’t think they care at all.”
Conway and Trump are incorrect—polls show a majority of voter want him to produce the documents—but this process of give-and-take allows Trump to put off fulfilling his promise to release his taxes indefinitely. He’s never quite breaking the promise, since there’s always the possibility that he could do so in the future, when the alleged audit is concluded, but in the meantime, the constant (false) invocations of public opinion help smooth the way for Trump to never actually release them. The repeated insistence that the public doesn’t care might even have the perverse effect of convincing the public that it doesn’t care.
All politicians make campaign promises, though few made them with the abandon, spontaneity, and flamboyance of Donald Trump. During the campaign, he would casually guarantee vast and circumstantial shifts in policy, often saying he’d do them on day one. (The Washington Post tallied up an eyepopping 282 promises the Republican nominee made.) These ranged from the monumental—the famous wall Trump vowed to build on the U.S. border with Mexico, with Mexican funds—to the vague (what does it mean to drain the swamp, exactly?) to the highly concrete, like his outlined expansion of the U.S. military.
In this jaded age, it’s customary to assume that campaign promises are just that and won’t be remembered. But studies have found that most politicians do in fact keep most of the promises they make to voters while running for office. Will Trump follow through on his array of guarantees? Or will a president who developed a vast record of dishonesty in private life and as a politician fall short of his promises as president?
We’ve assembled a list of some of the Trump’s most notable and circumstantial promises here. The list is not comprehensive, but it touches on most of his biggest priorities. (Think we missed one? Get in touch to recommend an addition.) As President Trump advances in his term, we’ll track his progress (or lack thereof) toward the goals he’s laid out, updating this article regularly.
Build a Wall ...
Promise: No idea was so central to Trump’s run for president as his promise that he would build a wall stretching across the U.S. border with Mexico, in order to prevent illegal immigration.
Outlook: Setting aside whether or not the wall is an effective solution to illegal immigration, some analysts have long suggested that the idea to build a wall was either prohibitively expensive or topographically impossible, due to the various landscapes on the border. The government might also have to employ eminent domain to acquire the land on which to build the wall, which could produce protracted legal fights and be politically unpalatable, especially for Republicans. But there are those who believe a wall could be built. That’s assuming Trump wants to build it, of course. Several top Trump supporters have suggested the wall might be “digital,” “a metaphor,” “virtual,” or “technological.”
Status: Incomplete. On January 25, 2017, Trump issued an executive order about the wall, though it didn’t really add much beyond reaffirming his intention to build one. It left the door open to a more fence-like barrier, but left it to the Department of Homeland Security to recommend. On March 13, 2017, the Trump administration issued its “skinny budget” proposal, which asks for “$2.6 billion in high-priority tactical infrastructure and border security technology, including funding to plan, design, and construct a physical wall along the southern border.” Four days later, the federal government issued a request for proposals to construct a “physically imposing” wall of reinforced concrete, ideally 30 feet tall but no less than 18 feet. It would prevent tunneling or digging under for at least six feet, be angled at 45 degrees, and withstand one hour of attempts at damaging. The U.S. side must also “be aesthetically pleasing in color.”
… And Make Mexico Pay for It
Promise: Of course, one reason it was easy for Trump to guarantee such a sprawling project was that he also insisted Mexico would pay for the work.
Outlook: Mexico’s president, as well as other current and former officials, insist that the country will not pay. Trump laid out a series of steps he believes will force it to ante up. Uri Friedman walks through how effective they might be and what repercussions they could have.
Status: Dubious. Trump’s plan was always more complicated: He planned to build the wall, then force Mexico to pay ex post facto. Mexico continues to insist it will not; in an April interview, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said he had not discussed the matter with his counterpart. Speaker Paul Ryan says the House will fund the wall, but it might add to the deficit. Asked whether Mexico would pay for the wall, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said in March, “Uh, no.”
Expand the Ranks of Immigration and Border Patrol Agents
Promise: Trump says he will triple the staffing at Immigrations and Customs Enforcement and add 5,000 agents to the ranks of the Border Patrol. He made the pledges in his August speech about immigration policy in Arizona.
Outlook: The main question here is money—Aaron Blake estimates more than $15 billion.
Status: In progress. Trump issued an executive order on January 25, 2017, ordering the the new Border Patrol hires. Secretary of Homeland Security ordered the 10,000 ICE hires in a February 20 memo. Hiring is expected to be slow and expensive, however, and the Department of Homeland Security might eliminate polygraphs from the testing process, though it says standards will not be dropped.
End “Catch and Release”
Promise: Currently, some immigrants who are caught entering the United States without authorization are given summons to appear in court. Trump has said he will halt the practice.
Outlook: Here again, it’s a matter of money: Incarcerating people takes money and facilities.
Deport Undocumented Immigrants
Promise: Trump’s specific ideas about deportations fluctuated at points during the campaign. At the bare minimum, he said he would deport 2 million undocumented immigrants who are criminals who are in the country now. (Experts say that figure is exaggerated.) He has at other times said he would mount a mass-deportation effort to expel all unauthorized immigrants.
Outlook: Deporting large numbers of people requires funding and serious political will, since it could be a intrusive process. Trump will also struggle to deport 2 million criminal aliens if there aren’t that many. Speaker Paul Ryan told 60 Minutes, “We're not working on a deportation force.”
Promise: Trump says he will reverse Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, the Obama program that allows people who came to the U.S. without authorization as children to apply to stay in the country.
Outlook: It appears that Trump could fairly easily reverse DACA, which Obama created through an executive order, with an executive order of his own.
Withdraw Funding for Sanctuary Cities
Promise: Trump railed against “sanctuary cities,” municipalities that have installed policies of not alerting federal authorities about unauthorized immigrants. (They still prosecute them for other crimes.) He has said he will block federal funding for such cities.
Outlook: It’s unclear how broad Trump’s authority to block funding for cities would be, even in concert with Congress.
Ban Muslim Immigration, or Institute Extreme Vetting for Refugees
Promise: Early in the campaign, Trump said he would ban all Muslim immigration to the United States, and that statement remains on his website. At other times, he has said he would only ban Muslim immigration from countries with a history of terrorism, or that he would institute “extreme vetting” for refugees in order to prevent the entry of would-be terrorists.
Outlook: A Muslim ban would likely run into constitutional difficulties, though some scholars believe it could be structured to withstand scrutiny. Trump has not made a cogent explanation for how his “extreme vetting” would differ from the existing vetting process.
Promise: Trump says he will demand a better deal from NAFTA, the free-trade agreement with Canada and Mexico that entered force in 1994. He says that if the other signatories will not agree to that he will withdraw the United States from the agreement.
Outlook: Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto says Mexico is willing to discuss “modernizing” NAFTA, and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau signaled openness to renegotiation. But Trump might or might not be able to make changes to NAFTA or renegotiate it without congressional approval. Some experts say that withdrawal could spark a trade war that could damage the American economy.
Punish Companies That Offshore Manufacturing With Tariffs
Promise: Throughout the campaign, Trump repeatedly threatened to slap a 35 percent tariff on goods produced outside of the U.S. by companies that have offshored jobs from the United States. He reprised that vow as recently as December 4. He also called for a 45 percent tariff on all Chinese imports.
Outlook: Congress, rather than the president, generally has the power to enact tariffs. Republican leaders in Congress, who are closer to the traditional GOP dogma in favor of free trade, tend to take a dim view of Trump’s tariffs. Adding new tariffs could produce a trade war and higher costs to U.S. citizens.
Job Creation and Economic Growth
Promise: Trump says he will create 25 million jobs, and in particular “bring back” manufacturing jobs. He also set a target of 4 percent annual economic growth.
Outlook: It’s an ambitious target, some 2.5 more jobs than Obama created—working from the depth of a recession—and more even than Bill Clinton, the recent record holder. Many economists believe simply bringing manufacturing jobs back from overseas will be impossible because of structural changes in the economy. They are also skeptical of the growth promise.
Status: Incomplete. Trump has already scored a major PR victory by convincing Carrier to preserve some jobs in Indiana—though the economic benefits are much less clear.
Withdraw From TPP
Promise: Trump says he will withdraw the United States from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the multilateral deal with 11 countries.
Outlook: Since Congress has not ratified the treaty, and has shown little appetite to do so, Trump should be able to achieve this fairly easily on his own.
Bring Back Coal Jobs
Promise: Trump said he would restore jobs in coal mining in Appalachia that were lost under President Obama’s presidency, blaming the losses on environmental regulation.
Outlook: Experts met Trump’s claims with overwhelming skepticism. A major factor behind the decline in coal is simple market forces: As natural gas becomes easier to extract, it has become cheaper, cutting into coal’s advantage. Coal reserves in Appalachia are also lower than ever. He might have better luck rolling back Obama’s Clean Power Plan, which he could refuse to defend in court or attempt to reverse via executive order.
Eliminate the National Debt
Outlook: Trump has not offered any viable plan for paying off the debt. An analysis of Trump’s proposals overall as of mid-September found that he would sharply increase both budget deficits and the national debt.
Renegotiate the Iran Deal
Promise: Trump was highly critical of the U.S. deal with Iran to stop nuclear proliferation, saying, in September 2015, “I will renegotiate with Iran.” He has not indicated how he would change the deal, but he also vowed to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.
Outlook: Without any sense of what Trump wants, it’s hard to know whether he can achieve it. Iranian leaders have reacted fiercely against the idea of renegotiation. This area could be a test for Trump’s hypothesis that he can get better deals simply through force of negotiating skill.
Bomb the Hell Out of ISIS and Take the Oil
Promise: Trump says that his solution to ISIS will be to “bomb the hell out of them” (or slight variations thereon) and to claim petroleum reserves for the United States.
Outlook: The U.S. is already bombing ISIS, so it’s a question of degree. Who is to say when the shit is bombed out of them? As for the oil question, it’s thornier. It would require the U.S. to expropriate oil from Iraq and possibly Syria, which would likely elicit protests.
Bring Back Torture
Promise: Trump has promised at various points to reinstitute torture. “Don’t tell me it doesn’t work—torture works,” he said in February. He also promised to “bring back a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding,” of which he said, “I like it a lot. I don’t think it’s tough enough.”
Outlook: As The New York Times reports, Trump would face some difficulties in reinstituting even the levels of torture that occurred during the Bush administration, to say nothing of more brutal tactics. Then again, before “enhanced interrogation” few expected the U.S. to torture.
Make NATO Allies Shoulder More Weight
Promise: Trump complains that America is overextended globally and is contributing more to alliances than it receives. Noting low spending by some NATO members, he has said he will not fulfill mutual-defense obligations unless they increase their military spending to reach NATO’s mandatory minimums.
Outlook: NATO allies have reacted nervously to the prospect of the alliance falling apart. NATO leaders have insisted the defense pact is unconditional.
Negotiate a Better Deal With Cuba
Promise: Trump said the agreement that the Obama administration worked out with the Cuban regime to reestablish diplomatic relations is too weak. He has promised to negotiate a better deal or else reverse the opening.
Outlook: Many Republicans in Congress were opposed to Obama’s Cuba opening and would prefer a harder line as long as the Communist government is in place. Generally, American public opinion favors an opening.
Expand the Military
Promise: Trump has said he will expand the armed forces on every front. He wants to reverse the sequester for the Pentagon; expand the Army from about 480,000 to 540,000; grow the Marines from 182,000 to 200,000; raise the Naval fleet from a planned 308 (much larger than today’s 272) to 350; and add about 100 fighter planes.
Outlook: Regardless of whether this force is wise or necessary, the major requirement to achieving it is money. Experts expect it would cost an additional $100 billion or so over existing budgets.
Stop North Korea’s Nuclear Program
Promise: After Kim Jong-Un said in a New Year’s address that North Korea was close to testing an intercontinental ballistic missile, Trump replied via tweet, “North Korea just stated that it is in the final stages of developing a nuclear weapon capable of reaching parts of the U.S. It won't happen!”
Outlook: Discerning North Korea’s true capabilities from its bluster is a constant challenge, but the experience of the George W. Bush and Barack Obama administrations has been that when the hermit kingdom’s technical capacities are real, the United States has little leverage over it.
Withdraw From the Paris Climate-Change Accord
Promise: Trump said he would “cancel” the international climate agreement struck in Paris last year.
Outlook: It would be outside his power to “cancel” the whole agreement, but Trump could attempt to extricate the United States from the accord, which could in turn encourage others to exit. In theory, the U.S. cannot exit the deal before 2020, but the U.S. could withdraw from the framework behind the treaty with one year’s notice, effectively withdrawing from the treaty itself.
Repeal and Replace Obamacare
Promise: Trump says he wants to fully repeal the Affordable Care Act, including the individual mandate to hold insurance, and replace it with something that is “so much better, so much better, so much better.” He has offered few details on how to do that, though he has suggested health-savings accounts and interstate markets for insurance as ideas. He also says he wants to ensure that anyone who wants insurance coverage can get it and afford it.
Outlook: Repeal should be relatively easy, at least on a nuts-and-bolts level. Republicans in Congress are eager to do so, and much of it can be accomplished through the process of reconciliation, which removes procedural hurdles. But replacement will be more difficult, since it’s likely to be politically divisive. Removing benefits may also be politically perilous.
Preserve Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid
Promise: Trump said repeatedly that he would preserve Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. “I’m not going to cut Social Security like every other Republican and I’m not going to cut Medicare or Medicaid,” he told The Daily Signal in May 2015. “Every other Republican is going to cut, and even if they wouldn’t, they don’t know what to do because they don’t know where the money is. I do.” In March 2016, he said, “They want to cut Social Security, which I'm not cutting...I'm the only one that's not cutting it.” However, he has also called for converting Medicaid into block grants to states, which can then handle the money as they see fit. He has seldom spoken about Medicare.
Outlook: This is an area where there could be serious tension between Trump and Republicans in Congress. They should find common ground on block-granting Medicaid, but many of them also want to cut Medicaid funding, convert Medicare into a voucher system, and privatize Social Security. That could conflict with Trump supporters who were adamant that he would help them keep entitlements.
Promise: Trump has offered a tax plan that would lower marginal tax rates, reduce the number of tax brackets, and produce overall lower taxes. He wants to repeal the estate tax, and would lower the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 15 percent. Families would be able to deduct the average cost of childcare from their taxes. Trump would seek to close the carried-interest loophole, which allows hedge-fund managers and private-equity types, among others, to avoid paying income tax on large portions of their earnings.
Outlook: This appears to be an area where Trump and congressional Republicans have common ground, although there may be some specific differences in their optimal scenarios. Trump’s plan will be costly, though: The nonpartisan Tax Policy Center, in an October analysis, found that the Trump plan would reduce federal revenues by $6.2 trillion over a decade, and that the federal debt would increase by $7 trillion in that time.
Spend Big League on Infrastructure
Promise: Trump has promised a $1 trillion infrastructure plan. Saying that the nation’s roads, bridges, electric lines, and other structures are crumbling, he wants to spend on rebuilding them, which he says would double as a jobs plan.
Outlook: In recent history, Democrats have been strongly in favor of infrastructure projects, while Republicans have opposed them. Republicans have expressed skepticism about Trump’s plan since the election, particularly on how to pay for it. Incoming Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer has suggested his caucus might be willing to work with Trump on infrastructure, but other Democrats have denounced the plan as really just a tax break for corporations.
Roll Back Financial Regulation
Promise: Trump says he will roll back the Dodd-Frank financial-reform law, including eliminating the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau.
Outlook: Republicans in Congress also dislike Dodd-Frank, meaning Trump should have some leeway to dismantle the regulations.
Drain the Swamp
Promise: Late in the campaign, Trump laid out a program of anti-corruption steps that he labeled (somewhat grudgingly) “draining the swamp.” He said he would impose a five-year ban on executive-branch officials lobbying the government after leaving the government, and ask that Congress do the same; prevent a common practice in which former government officials do lobbying work but structure it so as to avoid registering as lobbyists; banning senior White House officials for life from lobbying for foreign governments; and asking Congress to prevent registered foreign lobbyists from raising money for U.S. elections. He also offered some vague rumblings about transparency. Trump promised a constitutional amendment to create congressional term limits.
Outlook: It all depends how you define it. Trump’s specific steps are fairly narrow. The steps focused on the executive branch should be reasonably straightforward. Whether Congress will oblige on the others is unclear, but it has shown little appetite for either a strong lobbying ban or term limits. In many other ways, it’s hard to take Trump’s slogan all that seriously. He continues to refuse to release basic disclosures, including his tax returns and has made little serious gesture toward resolving serious conflicts of interest. After assailing Clinton for speaking to Goldman Sachs, he has appointed several alumni of the bank to top posts. His children have repeatedly had to back off access-selling charity auctions. Two former aides have opened a lobbying shop that appears to mostly offer proximity to Trump. Moreover, despite the promise to bar officials from heading into lobbying, but his transition team was chock full of former lobbyists.
End Common Core
Promise: Trump has promised to end Common Core, a set of educational standards that have become a major conservative bogeyman.
Outlook: Bad. Despite the way it’s often portrayed, Common Core is not a federal program or law but rather a set of standards adopted by 42 state governments. The Obama administration did make some federal funding contingent on adopting the standards, which Trump could reverse, but the president doesn’t have the power to abolish the Common Core itself.
Loosen Gun Laws on Day 1
Promise: Trump made various vows related to guns during his campaign. “I will get rid of gun-free zones on schools, and—you have to—and on military bases,” he said in January. “My first day, it gets signed, okay? My first day. There's no more gun-free zones.” He also pledged to “unsign” President Obama’s executive orders related to firearms. He wants to allow concealed-carry permit holders to carry their guns in all 50 states. He also praised a Virginia project that introduced five-year minimum sentences for gun crimes, though mention has since disappeared from his site.
Outlook: Trump is almost certain to break his first promise, since gun-free zones are a product of legislation that would have to be repealed by Congress, which would probably take more than a day. Concealed-carry reciprocity bills have moved in Congress before, but would never have become law under Obama. Trump could likely reverse many executive orders with his own.
Create a Private Option for Veterans’ Health
Promise: Trump said he would improve the VA health system, but suggested that if wait times are long, veterans should be able to get private care, paid for by the government.
Outlook: Reforming the VA has proven a challenging task for presidents. The biggest challenge for a private-care alternative would likely be cost, but congressional Republicans have tended to look fondly on privatization of government functions.
Stop Killings of Cops
Promise: Trump spent much of the campaign criticizing police-reform advocates. In August, he said at a rally, “We're not going to shoot our police. We're not shooting our police. It's never been so dangerous to be a policeman or woman. It's never been so dangerous.”
Outlook: Trump is wrong on the facts—the number of officers killed in the line of duty ticked up slightly in 2016, but is still well below the recent average. It’s unclear how Trump would even go about preventing all killing of police officers.
Prosecute Hillary Clinton
Promise: During a presidential debate in October, Trump promised that if elected he would appoint a special prosecutor to investigate his opponent, Hillary Clinton. “I didn’t think I’d say this and I’m going to say it and I hate to say it .… If I win, I am going to instruct my attorney general to get a special prosecutor to look into your situation because there has never been so many lies, so much deception,” he said. He also led “Lock her up” chants at campaign events.
Take $1 as a Salary
Promise: Speaking to 60 Minutes shortly after the election, Trump said he would not take the $400,000 presidential salary. However, he is required by law to accept some pay, so he’ll take $1 per year.
Outlook: This should be no problem. Previous independently wealthy presidents John F. Kennedy and Herbert Hoover have also foregone salaries.
Release His Tax Returns
Promise: Trump says he is under audit by the IRS (a claim that is not independently verifiable) but that he will release his tax returns as soon as that is complete.
Outlook: Trump is the only major-party presidential candidate, to say nothing of elected president, in decades not to release his returns. At his sole press conference as president-elect, Trump said he was still under audit but also said he doesn’t think the American people care. (Polls show otherwise.) Top aide Kellyanne Conway said on January 22 that he would not release them, but on January 23 reversed that, saying the returns would emerge post-audit.