To hear President Donald Trump tell it, his first six months in the White House should be judged in part by the legislation he has signed into law.
At rallies, in speeches and on Twitter, Trump repeatedly boasts of the bills he has signed — 42 as of this week. He has said no president has “passed more legislation,” conceding once earlier this year that he trails Franklin D. Roosevelt, who he notes “had a major Depression to handle.”
On Monday, he went even further, claiming to have bested all of his predecessors in turning bills into law.
“We’ve signed more bills — and I’m talking about through the legislature — than any president, ever,” Trump said at a “Made in America” event at the White House. “For a while, Harry Truman had us. And now, I think, we have everybody.”
Turning to Vice President Mike Pence, he added an aside about news media fact-checkers: “I better say ‘think’; otherwise they will give you a Pinocchio. And I don’t like Pinocchios.”
In fact, as he approaches six months in office Thursday, Trump is slightly behind the lawmaking pace for the past six presidents, who as a group signed an average of 43 bills during the same period. And an analysis of the bills Trump signed shows that about half were minor and inconsequential, passed by Congress with little debate. Among recent presidents, both the total number of bills he signed and the legislation’s substance make Trump about average.
President Jimmy Carter signed 70 bills in the first six months, according to an analysis of bills signed by previous White House occupants. Bill Clinton signed 50. George W. Bush signed 20 bills into law. Barack Obama signed 39 bills during the period, including an $800 billion stimulus program to confront an economic disaster, legislation to make it easier for women to sue for equal pay, a bill to give the Food and Drug Administration the authority to regulate tobacco and an expansion of the federal health insurance program for children.
Truman and Roosevelt both had signed more bills into law by their 100-day mark than Trump did in almost twice that time. Truman had signed 55 bills and Roosevelt had signed 76 during their first 100 days.
Trump has signed several significant bills, many in the works on Capitol Hill since well before he arrived in the Oval Office, as is often the case for new presidents.
Trump’s allies point to a bill he signed to improve accountability and overhaul services at the scandal-plagued Veterans Affairs Department. They note that the president signed into law spending plans that will significantly raise federal expenditures on the military and border security. And they say Trump and the Republican-led Congress worked to methodically reduce the burden of government regulation.
That effort to undo regulation involved 15 new laws, which were the result of an aggressive push to employ a little-used legislative tool to roll back government rules put in place by Obama. Those new laws could result in a significant shift in the way government regulates employee benefits, worker safety, the environment, public lands and education.
“These repeal bills are now law, which means those Obama regulations have been struck from the books — forever,” House Speaker Paul D. Ryan said recently.
And legislation is not the only tool presidents can wield to enact their agendas. His aides note that Trump has used executive orders, such as his ban on travel to the United States for refugees and those living in some Muslim countries, to get around what they say is unprecedented obstruction by Democrats. And he successfully won confirmation of Neil M. Gorsuch to the Supreme Court.
But almost half the other bills Trump has signed into law are ceremonial or routine. The president includes in his count laws like the one to rename the federal courthouse in Nashville, Tennessee, after Fred Thompson, the actor and former senator who died in 2015. Even the Republican leadership in the Senate does not count those kinds of bills when they tally their legislative achievements.
By contrast, Trump’s tally includes three laws to appoint members to the Smithsonian Board of Regents, another to seek research into better weather reports, and one to require the Department of Homeland Security to manage its fleet of vehicles more efficiently.
Marc Short, the president’s top legislative adviser, acknowledged that no one would try to claim that renaming a building should be considered “landmark legislation.” But he defended the president’s repeated promotion of the bills he has signed into law.
“It’s a response to a lot of media coverage that has tried to downplay what he’s accomplished,” Short said. “There’s an overarching coverage about what’s not been accomplished. The president is trying to point out what we actually have done.”
Trump has signed two budget bills that would be required of any president. He signed a law largely endorsing the budget for NASA that Obama had laid out. And Trump temporarily extended Obama’s program that gives veterans a choice of seeing a private doctor in certain cases.
The president complains that he has not gotten the news coverage he deserves for his legislative achievements, though his bill signings are often aired live on television and his push to reverse regulations has been widely covered.
Trump may yet assemble a more far-reaching legislative record. Getting comprehensive legislation through Congress and to the president’s desk takes time, even when the president’s party controls both chambers of Congress.
By the end of his tenure, Bush had signed major tax cuts, expanded surveillance with the Patriot Act, authorized votes to wage war, overhauled federal education laws, established free-trade deals and expanded Medicare to include prescription drugs. Obama eventually passed the Affordable Care Act and imposed new rules on financial services firms. Roosevelt created the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. and the Tennessee Valley Authority, enacted Social Security and started public works projects in response to the Great Depression, and began farm subsidies.
Since Trump took office, the House has passed a health care overhaul, and Republicans have talked about a major infrastructure bill and an overhaul of taxes.
But for him to compile major legislative achievements will take time, said David R. Mayhew, a professor of political science at Yale who tracks the legislative achievements of U.S. presidents.
“Generally speaking, Congress needs many months to do something big,” he said. Here is a rundown of the 42 bills Trump has signed into law:
Trump frequently points to his work on behalf of veterans, who supported him almost 2-to-1 over Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election, as evidence of his legislative success. At a recent rally on behalf of military families, Trump bragged that he had signed legislation that “went through the House, went through the Senate, and I signed it really fast.”
That law was the Veterans Affairs Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act,which will allow officials to remove bad employees and promote whistleblowing, passed in response to a scandal over manipulating patient wait times. The new law puts in place long-sought changes to overhaul management of the department and improve health care and benefits for veterans.
John Hoellwarth, the national communications director for AMVETS, called the new law “a positive step” but said it was a small part of overall improvements at the department that had been put in place, slowly, for years.
“A lot of the things that are moving the Department of Veterans Affairs in the right direction actually got underway before the Trump administration,” Hoellwarth said, noting that Trump had appointed a former Obama administration official to be his secretary of veterans affairs.
Another bill that Trump signed extended an Obama-era program that allows some veterans to see private doctors, and streamlined the way their deductibles and copays get processed. The law is essentially an accounting maneuver intended to give lawmakers more time to debate more substantive changes.
A third new law allows community policing grants to be used to hire and train veterans to be officers.
Reversal of Obama Regulations
Since becoming law in 1996, the Congressional Review Act has allowed presidents to use legislation to roll back his predecessor’s regulations. But until Trump took office, that power had been used only once — by Bush, who reversed a rule on workplace injuries. Working with the Republican-controlled Congress, Trump has used it 15 times to unravel what he said were overly burdensome regulations imposed on Americans and businesses.
Senate Joint Resolution 34eliminated a rule by the Federal Communications Commission that would have prohibited internet providers from collecting, sharing or selling consumers’ information without their permission. Another, House Joint Resolution 38, nullified a regulation that would have required coal companies to make sure that waste from mountaintop mining was not polluting local waterways.
Collectively, the 15 regulatory laws may represent the president’s broadest legislative impact, though they are less about doing things and more about undoing them. Signing the bills into law allowed the president, with the flick of a pen, to erase rules on the environment, labor, financial protections, internet privacy, abortion, education and gun rights.
“That’s saving about $18 billion a year in compliance costs,” Short said, including the impact of the president’s executive orders that seek to reverse regulations. “We think they are a huge part of the economic success of the first six months.”
But Trump can no longer use the tool.
The review act gives presidents and lawmakers 60 legislative days to rapidly roll back major regulations put in place by a previous administration. That deadline has passed. If Trump and Republican lawmakers want to overturn any more Obama-era regulations, they will have to do it through the normal lawmaking or regulatory processes, which can take years.
Space and Science
New presidents often use their first months in office to sign legislation that has broad bipartisan support. Four of the laws Trump cites as evidence of his success involved NASA or science and generated little opposition.
Trump signed legislation that approved nearly $20 billion in spending for NASA, keeping its financing level almost unchanged from Obama’s budget. The budget would allow NASA to pursue sending humans to Mars during the next two decades, and would continue work on rockets that have long been in development.
A separate law calls for research on improving weather reports, though it provides no additional funds for the effort. The Weather Research and Forecasting Innovation Act of 2017 requires the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to prioritize “weather data, modeling, computing, forecasts, and warnings for the protection of life and property and the enhancement of the national economy.”
Finally, two laws are aimed at encouraging women to participate more fully in scientific endeavors. The Inspire Women Act — Inspiring the Next Space Pioneers, Innovators, Researchers, and Explorers Women Act — requires the NASA administrator to “encourage women and girls to study science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, pursue careers in aerospace.” The Promoting Women in Entrepreneurship Act seeks to encourage the creation of entrepreneurial programs to recruit women for science, math and technical careers.
As a candidate, Trump vowed to wage an all-out assault on the federal bureaucracy. Stephen K. Bannon, the president’s senior strategist, has promised a daily fight for the “deconstruction of the administrative state.”
But Trump’s legislative assault has moved slowly. The four bills designed to improve government functions that he has signed into law since taking office have made only small tweaks.
One law, called the GAO Access and Oversight Act of 2017, gives the Government Accountability Office more power to compel other agencies to provide information during its investigations. The Follow the Rules Act clarifies whistleblower laws to make it clear that protections apply to employees who refuse a superior’s orders to break an existing rule or regulation.
The Modernizing Government Travel Act would give government employees the right to seek reimbursement for official travel by Uber, Lyft or other ride-hailing companies. Previously, the government would not reimburse such expenses. And the Stop Asset and Vehicle Excess Act — the SAVE Act — is a response to a 2015 inspector general’s finding that the Department of Homeland Security was wasting money by mismanaging its vehicle fleet.
The latest bill signed by Trump, the Securing our Agriculture and Food Act<em>,</em>directs the secretary of homeland security to take steps to safeguard the U.S. food system against terrorism and makes a few other tweaks.
Ceremonial and Routine Lawmaking
In addition to signing two budget bills, Trump signed a bill to improve processing of pension benefits for police officers. And he signed a dozen routine or ceremonial bills that attracted little attention.
One law, called the U.S. Wants to Compete for a World Expo Act, declares that the “sense of the Congress” is that the secretary of state should seek to rejoin the Bureau of International Expositions, which puts on world fairs.
One law established a name for a health care center in Center Township, Pennsylvania. Another named a community-based outpatient clinic in Pago Pago, American Samoa, the Faleomavaega Eni Fa’aua’a Hunkin VA Clinic. Another approved the location of a memorial to commemorate members of the military who served in Operation Desert Storm or Operation Desert Shield.
When Trump nominated Gen. Jim Mattis to be secretary of defense, he needed Congress to pass a law waiving the prohibition against appointing a defense secretary within seven years of the nominee’s retirement from active duty in the military.
Trump signed that bill into law, too.