How effectively have recent presidents achieved their aims?

When evaluating the successes and failures of US presidents it's important to remember the structural and cultural context.

1.  The United States Constitution deliberately sets out to create limited government with the separation of powers and strong checks and balances on presidential power. If presidents achieve their policy goals, they are often required to make major compromises.

2.  The rise of partisanship has had a major impact on the effectiveness of presidents. When presidents govern under divided government, the opposing majority in Congress makes it even more difficult to achieve policy goals (compared to an era when party unity was lower). This has led to legislative gridlock with presidents struggling to reach their desired goals.

3.    There is arguably a distinction between foreign policy (where the president is more easily able to achieve policy goals) and domestic policy (where he is not). This is referred to as the Dual Presidency Theory. Presidents may bypass constitutional checks and balances using the tools of the imperial presidency.

Obama Policy Success and Failure

Policy                                                                                                                           Evaluation

 Introduce health insurance for all (2008 campaign)

 Mostly achieved with the passing of the Affordable Care Act. Obama compromised on the public option, dropping his desire for a federal health insurance company to compete in the marketplace.

Close Guantanamo detention centre (2008 and 2012 campaigns)

Remove US troops from Iraq and increase US involvement in Afghanistan (2008 campaign)

Stimulus package for the economy (2008 campaign)

Immigration reform to allow more people to have a path to citizenship (2008 and 2012 campaigns)

Failed. At the end of his presidency Guantanamo still held 41 people. The number did decline hugely however, with 242 detainees at the start of the Obama Presidency and 197 being transferred, repatriated or resettled by 1 January 2017.

Largely achieved with troops being removed from Iraq and Congress agreeing to a troop surge in Afghanistan in Obama's first term.

Achieved with legislation being passed in 2009 that led to additional spending of $787 billion.

Failed to pass Congress in the first and second terms. Obama had partial success using executive orders to achieve some of his goals, although some of these were struck down by the Supreme Court.

What kind of President was Trump?

The Presidency today is significantly different even from the one which Ronald Reagan experienced  40 years ago. That change can really be summed up in one word — partisanship.

President Trump has the same powers — to recommend legislation, to nominate executive and judicial branch officials, to veto legislation, to act as commander-in-chief — are the powers that George Washington had back in the eighteenth century. But But while presidential powers are constant presidential power  is a variable. Some presidents including Trump take a very broad view of their power. Unitary Executive Theory 

Though he's been perhaps the most controversial and divisive president in modern US history, Trump has had a remarkably steady approval rating due to his staunchly loyal supporters. 

Judicial Appointments: Success

Trump's most lasting impact on the country will be the reshaping of the federal judiciary.

Thus far, Trump has installed two Supreme Court justices and 187 judges to the federal bench — all for lifetime appointments. 

Trump nominees now make up roughly 25% of all US circuit court judges, according to an analysis by The Washington Post. He's appointed 50 judges on the 13 US circuit courts — and still has roughly a year left in his first term. To put this into perspective, former President Barack Obama appointed 55 circuit judges in his two terms in the White House. The courts get the final say in US politics, setting precedents that can shape the country for years to come. Even if Trump is not reelected in 2020, his presidency will continue to have an impact on the direction of the US due to the sheer number of conservative federal judges he's installed. 

Space Force: Achieved

In signing a $738 billion defense spending bill just a few days before Christmas, Trump officially established the sixth branch of the US Armed Forces — the Space Force. The Space Force is the first new military service since the US Air Force was created in 1947.

Tax Cuts: Achieved

Three years into his presidency, Trump's signature legislative achievement remains a Republican tax bill that made sweeping changes to the tax code — the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.

Trump in 2016 campaigned on reducing undocumented immigration, pledging to take a hardline approach. He made good on that promise when coming into office, but has been accused of human rights abuses and violating international law by the UN. The Trump administration's "zero tolerance" policy on illegal border crossings led to the separations of at least 5,500 families and saw children placed in cages. The president of the American Academy of Pediatrics at the time described the practice as "nothing less than government-sanctioned child abuse."After widespread backlash, Trump issued an executive order in June 2018 to halt the family separations, and a federal judge ordered the Trump administration to reunite all those it had separated. But the fallout from the separations is ongoing.  Trump has falsely blamed his predecessor, former President Barack Obama, for the policy that saw thousands of children separated from their parents. Meanwhile, at least six migrant children have died in US custody since September 2018, leading to widespread condemnation of conditions in detention facilities.

The UN human rights chief, Michelle Bachelet, in July said she was "shocked" by the US government's treatment of migrant children and the conditions they faced in detention facilities after crossing the border from Mexico. 

Repeal Obamacare : Fail

The late Sen. John McCain's iconic "thumbs down" vote denied Trump a full congressional repeal (even a "skinny repeal") of former President Barack Obama's signature health care law. However, Trump has had success in dismantling parts of the law. His tax bill included a roll back of the tax penalty for those who did not enroll in health care, and the Trump administration has had some success in the courts regarding the individual mandate. Earlier in December, a federal appeals court struck down a core part of the law — the individual mandate. It did not overturn the entire law, sending it back to a lower court, and leaving the fate of Obamacare uncertain as an election year focused on health care intensifies. What Trump has not done in his first three years is offer a replacement for the Affordable Care Act. As the Associated Press points out, as a candidate Trump promised "insurance for everybody" and a more immediate replacement to the nearly decade-old ACA. The president said he would introduce a "phenomenal health care plan," during an interview with ABC News.

Withdrawal from Paris Agreement- success

He withdrew from the Paris Agreement on climate change, signed by nearly 200 countries in December 2015 in an attempt to curb greenhouse gas emissions and contain global warming to 2C.

Travel Ban - Mostly fail

During the campaign, Mr Trump had crowds rallying around his idea for a "total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country's representatives can figure out what the hell is going on." During his first week in office, the President followed through and implemented a travel ban on six Muslim-majority countries from entering the US: Syria, Libya, Sudan, Somalia, Yemen, Iraq, Iran. The result was rampant chaos and thousands of protesters at American airports as well as lawyers offering free assistance to affected travellers. Federal courts in Hawaii and California put a hold on the travel ban citing that it was unconstitutional to discriminate against these legal travellers based on their religion.

A second version was drafted but omitted Iraq over objections from several regarding the status of Iraqis who fought for and helped the US military during the war.

This too was challenged in district courts but ultimately allowed to go through - in part - by the Supreme Court, which has since lapsed.

A third travel ban was then drafted to include travellers from North Korea and Venezuela in order to argue against the racial discrimination accusation and Sudan - much to the confusion of policy experts - was left off the ban. In its place, Chad was added to the list and the White House said it was due to the African nation's lack of proper immigration record-keeping. Chad is a frequent partner and ally of the US military in the fight against terrorism in the region. This ban has also been challenged and blocked in federal district courts in Hawaii and Maryland. The appeals process to take it up to the Supreme Court has begun.

Making Mexico pay for the border wall - Failure

The nearly 2,000-mile border wall with Mexico was a rallying cry during Trump campaign rallies throughout 2016 as the President repeatedly, vehemently promised potential voters that Mexico would be paying for it. However, when it came time to draw up a federal budget proposal the administration added line items for construction models and said costs could vary. Many estimates put the cost of the wall at closer to $25bn (£19.5bn) to account for repairs, new construction, materials, labour, land acquisition, and various terrain.

Former Mexican President Vicente Fox famously offered current President Enrique Pena Nieto some advice when he said on CNN: “you could use my words, ‘We’ll never pay for that f****** wall.”

Decertifying the Iran nuclear deal - Achieved

Under the Obama administration deal, Iran had agreed to curtail its nuclear programme if some relief could be provided on economic sanctions. “This deal if I win will be a totally different deal. This will be a totally different deal,” Mr Trump said on the campaign trail. Though Mr Trump did not fully withdraw from the deal, he did not re-certify the deal per the October deadline. sanctions could be reinstated and the deal could be dead from Iran’s view. Sanctions were reinstated and Iran's economy was pushed into recession with much hardship to its people. Trump also order the assassination of Iran's top general Qasem Soleimani

Improving the economy - Still to do

It could be argued that Mr Trump has already improved the economy, with his several tweets showing a rising stock market and good jobs numbers as evidence. The Dow Jones and other indices have reached or are near record highs, according to the New York Times

The same would apply to the down economy during the first few years of Mr Obama’s administration which was a holdover from George W Bush’s administration.Experts have warned that this may be a misleading uptick that began during Barack Obama’s administration. Companies and investors may still be spurred by the hope of deregulations and the tax reform Mr Trump and his team have been promising as well.

However, wages have not increased, particularly for those voters in counties that went for Trump in the election. 

Also the economy improved under Trump no faster than it was improving under Obama.

Dealing with Covid 19- Failure!!

President Joe Biden

Surprising success at 

Passing legisation & weathering the midterms

The first 100 days. Success in  signing a $1.9 trillion Covid relief bill into law less than two months into his term and issuing more executive orders so far than his three predecessors. He used his executive powers to expand food assistance, extend the federal moratorium on evictions and continue the suspension of federal student loan payments and interest charges.  Those efforts  paid off, with the administration reaching the milestones of 200 million coronavirus shots delivered and vaccine eligibility opened to everyone 16 and over before Biden's 100th day in office. Unemployment is falling, with new jobless claims hitting a pandemic low, and schools are reopening for in-person learning, returning kids and families to a semblance of normal life.

Biden kicked off his presidency by naming the most racially diverse Cabinet in US history, disbanding the 1776 commission and taking steps to address racial economic inequality, including signing executive orders that could potentially help bridge the gap in homeownership between people of color and White people, strengthen the fight against bigotry faced by Asian Americans and ease the anxiety of families with incarcerated relatives.

Biden signed an executive order in January repealing a Trump-era ban on most transgender Americans joining the military.

Like all presidents Biden began by reaching out to his opponents and promising a new era of bipartisanship.

Early signs were not good. Not a single Senate Republican voted for the Covid bill

However: Democrats passed seven major pieces of legislation in the 117th Congress (along with a large number of smaller ones): 

 Just two of the seven — the ARP and the IRA — passed with no Republican support. The initial pandemic bill, also known as the American Rescue Plan, was about the size of Barack Obama’s two biggest legislative achievements—his initial economic stimulus package and the 2010 Affordable Care Act—combined. The legislation sent $1,400 checks to Americans across the country, nearly doubled the child tax credit, shored up state budget accounts, and funded testing, treatment, and vaccines to fight the pandemic. The politically named Inflation Reduction Act is actually the largest climate bill in U.S. history and allows Medicare to negotiate the prices of certain prescription drugs for the first time. A modest gun-safety bill expanded background checks (although not universally), made it easier to prosecute illegal gun trafficking, and provided federal funding for so-called red-flag laws. Congress also passed the CHIPS Act to boost domestic production of semiconductors, a long-stalled postal-reform bill, substantial military aid for Ukraine, and a reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act—all with fairly broad support from both parties. Biden’s executive actions on student-loan forgiveness and pardons for marijuana possession answered a pair of progressive demands 

But Biden has also failed to achieve many of his most progressive  promises such as paid family leave, universal pre-K, far-reaching voting-rights legislation, and a ban on assault weapons Biden’s biggest legislative disappointment in his first two years was the Senate’s failure to overcome a Republican filibuster of a major voting-rights-and-election-reform bill at the start of the year. (Democratic Senators Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona memorably refused to support an exemption to the Senate’s rules to pass the bill.) The shrinking of Biden’s Build Back Better agenda sacrificed another large chunk of the president’s initially transformative progressive vision. Democrats jettisoned plans for a $15 federal minimum wage, paid family and medical leave, universal pre-K, free community college, a huge affordable housing initiative, an expansion of Medicare, and an extension of the American Rescue Plan’s child tax credit. They also bowed to Sinema’s opposition to reversing tax-rate cuts enacted by former President Donald Trump.

Some of Biden’s plans never stood a chance. The Senate did not make a serious effort to pass comprehensive immigration reform or more aggressive gun-control measures, such as universal background checks or a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. Nor did Congress act on restoring the public insurance option left out of Obama’s Affordable Care Act.

Immigartion has proved to be a problem. Biden has signed several executive actions taking aim at Trump's hardline immigration policies, including reversing the former President's travel ban targeting largely Muslim countries and fortifying the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program after Trump's efforts to undo protections for undocumented people brought into the country as children. 

Biden created a task force focused on identifying and reuniting migrant families separated at the US-Mexico border as a result of Trump's controversial "zero tolerance" policy, and he revoked a Trump-era proclamation that limited legal immigration during the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Yet the Biden administration has struggled to keep up with the influx of migrants coming to the US southern border, particularly unaccompanied minors, who have been held in Border Patrol stations as officials scramble to find sites to accommodate them.

The Department of Health and Human Services, which is charged with the care of unaccompanied migrant children, announced or opened at least 11 new temporary facilities to try to get kids out of Border Patrol stations, which are akin to jail-like conditions and not suited for children.

Biden's Trump card: Not being Trump

A very differnt style from Trump. Biden has  pledged to return the presidency to what it looked like before his predecessor Donald Trump, replacing tweets with daily press briefings and bringing in a Cabinet and staff of seasoned experts.

Biden gives fewer press conferences and has taken more vacations.Biden’s lower profile is surely in part a reflection of his age, acuity and energy level. But it also seems to be a deliberate political strategy  Biden does not dominate our politics the way all our other post-Cold War presidents have: Another character reliably produces political drama and refuses to get off the stage. The midterm polls found that Trump was nearly as large a factor in voters’ decisions as Biden was.