President Trump in October said "perhaps no administration" had done more in its first nine months than his. That was before he succeeded in overhauling the decades-old tax code and repealing Obamacare's individual mandate.
Despite all the criticism Trump received during his first year in office for inflammatory tweets, West Wing feuds, controversial policies, and diplomatic stumbles, he will nevertheless enter year two with a laundry list of achievements.
Read more: Donald Trump's 2018 agenda
Below are nine major accomplishments the Trump administration saw in 2017:
1. Judicial appointments
President Trump shattered an all-time record earlier this month when the Senate confirmed his 12th federal appeals court nominee, marking the only time in history a U.S. president has made more than 11 appellate appointments during his first year in office.
With those appellate appointments, a new Supreme Court justice, and his investiture of several other low-court judges, Trump has rapidly and radically changed the federal judiciary this year. The president’s close relationship with conservative groups like the Heritage Foundation and Federalist Society has ensured that nearly all of his judicial nominees fit the mold of Justice Neil Gorsuch, a strict originalist who succeeded the iconic conservative Justice Antonin Scalia after being confirmed by the Senate last April.
“There’s been a serious effort to identify people who are seriously committed to doctrines and modes of analysis rather than just being seen as conservatives or Republicans,” Ilya Shapiro, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute wrote recently.
Many conservatives see the president’s judicial appointments as his biggest accomplishment yet, noting that Trump’s progress in this area will likely be the most enduring element of his post-presidential legacy. With 59 nominations (including U.S. Attorneys) and 19 confirmations in the Senate so far, even legal conservatives who begrudgingly voted for Trump are likely to be pleased.
2. Tax reform
Very few political strategists thought Trump could pass a tax bill earlier this fall after congressional Republicans failed to fulfill their promise of repealing and replacing Obamacare.
Months of intreparty squabbling, disagreements between Republican leaders and White House officials, and provocative tweets from the president ultimately doomed GOP efforts to undo healthcare law. But when it came to overhauling the tax code – a top priority for Trump and House Speaker Paul Ryan – things changed on Capitol Hill.
Stricter messaging by Trump and the threat of entering a midterm year without one major legislative victory led to the president’s signing of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act on Dec. 22. In addition to slashing the corporate tax rate from 35 to 21 percent, the landmark legislation cut individual rates for all income tax levels, doubled the child tax credit to $2,000, and dramatically increased the standard deduction.
In the end, the bill negotiated by House and Senate conferees and passed by Congress just before Christmas featured the largest tax cuts since 1986.
3. Individual mandate repeal
Through tax reform, Trump fulfilled another key campaign promise: repealing Obamacare’s individual mandate.
Senate Republicans included a measure to kill the mandate in their initial tax bill, paving the way for its subsequent inclusion in the final tax reform package that cleared the president’s desk. The mandate, which required Americans to carry health insurance or pay an annual penalty as part of Obamacare, was long seen by GOP voters as the worst element of the 2010 healthcare law.
Public opinion polls taken in the months leading up to the final healthcare vote showed between 51 and 65 percent of self-identified Republicans opposed the individual mandate.
The White House has already signaled its eagerness to undo the rest of the healthcare law when Trump returns to Washington for his second year in office.
During its monthslong legislative dry spell, the Trump administration touted deregulation as an area in which the president continued to make progress despite congressional gridlock.
Trump came into office promising to slash two existing regulations for each new one his administration enacts. The president has since said the White House beat its goal “by a lot” this year, as officials canceled or delayed more than 1,500 regulations in the first 11 months of Trump’s presidency.
The administration has said Trump ultimately cut 22 regulations for each new one enacted this year, saving taxpayers billions of dollars over the coming years.
Trump has repeatedly credited his deregulation push with the economic growth that has flourished during his first year in office.
5. Cutting government waste
Less than three months into his presidency, Trump issued an executive order directing every federal agency to determine “where money is being wasted [and] how services can be improved.” Though the order never set a desired number for the cuts, several Cabinet-level departments have since found ways to shrink their payroll and consolidate internal programs.
The most attention-grabbing reforms have occurred at the State Department, where Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has eliminated several coordinators for sanctions policy, offered early retirement incentives to hundreds of career employees, and promised to “redesign” the agency.
Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney has also been busy overseeing the reduction of duplicative programs and wasteful spending. His agency killed 59 guidance and policy documents in June that officials had deemed “obsolete” or inefficient.
Not everything Trump has done, however, has helped cut bureaucracy or reduce government spending. Both the president and several Cabinet secretaries have come under fire for continuing to live lavish lifestyles – sometimes on the taxpayer dime. Department of Air Force records obtained last week by the conservative group Judicial Watch showed that American taxpayers paid approximately $6.6 million just in airfare this year for Trump to visit his Mar-a-Lago club in West Palm Beach, Fla.
And it’s hard to forget former Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, whom the president fired in late September after he was caught chartering private planes on the federal dime.
6. Travel ban
Despite initially attracting criticism from across the political spectrum for its botched rollout, Trump’s so-called travel ban scored a major victory later this year when the Supreme Court ruled to allow the entire policy to take effect.
The administration was forced to revise the policy in September following several lawsuits in federal court and a partial ruling by the Supreme Court. Administration officials added North Korea, Venezuela, and Chad to its list of countries from which immigrants would temporarily be blocked from entering the U.S., and removed Sudan. The original ban had drawn scrutiny from liberal critics of the administration for imposing a “religious test,” as it exclusively targeted seven Muslim-majority countries: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Sudan, Somalia, Syria, and Yemen.
Such legal complaints — brought by the state of Hawaii and the American Civil Liberties Union — failed to hold up when the revised version of the ban came before the nine-member Supreme Court in early December. Despite previous moves by lower-court judges to limit its scope, the high court permitted the updated ban to be implemented pending appeal.
“The Constitution and acts of Congress confer on the President broad authority to prevent aliens abroad from entering this country when he deems it in the nation’s interest,” U.S. Solicitor General Noel Francisco had argued in court papers ahead of the decision.
7. Defeating the Islamic State
Trump repeatedly credited his decision to ease restrictions on the rules of engagement with the military’s victory over the Islamic State in key strongholds this year.
When U.S.-backed coalition forces drove Islamic State fighters from their headquarters in Raqqa, Syria in October, the White House highlighted Trump’s efforts to give commanders on the ground more decision-making authority than his predecessor gave them. The liberation of Raqqa marked a pivotal moment in the war against the Islamic State.
Critics have claimed the defeat of the Islamic State came as a result of the strategy Trump’s predecessor put in place. However, the Trump administration made a series of strategic decisions that supporters say made the difference in the years-long battle against the extremist group in Iraq and Syria.
For example, Trump decided in March to arm the Syrian Kurds in their fight against the Islamic State, a move the Obama administration had considered but never executed due to Turkey’s strong objections. The Trump administration has since pulled support from the group.
The terror organization saw its numbers and territorial holdings decimated this year. A U.S-led coalition helped to free Mosul from the Islamic State in July, a victory that denied the extremist group the largest city under their control. In early October, coalition forces notched another victory when 1,000 Islamic State fighters surrendered as Iraqi Security Forces closed in on Hawija, the last of the terror group’s strongholds in Iraq.
8. Recognition of Jerusalem
Despite pressure to preserve a status quo that his predecessors had left untouched for decades in Israel, Trump made waves on the international stage this month when he formally recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and announced plans to move the U.S. embassy there from its present location in Tel Aviv.
Trump had vowed as a presidential candidate to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, and the White House framed his decision in early December as the fulfillment of a campaign promise. But administration officials also characterized the move as a natural step for a president who ascribes to a no-nonsense worldview, given the reality that Israel’s government is located in the city it has long recognized as its own capital.
Former presidents from Bill Clinton to Barack Obama had granted waivers that allowed the U.S. embassy in Israel to remain in Tel Aviv despite legislation Congress passed in 1995 that required the embassy to move to Jerusalem. Previous administrations cited concerns about the effects such a move would have on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process when delaying the embassy relocation effort for more than 20 years.
Trump, however, decided he could not sign the second waiver to arrive at his desk since taking office without signaling a policy change toward Jerusalem. Although Trump’s critics warned that his recognition of the contested city as Israel’s capital would spark violence and instability across the Arab world, the administration ultimately calculated that the move was worth any potential backlash.
Addressing criticism of the policy change in a speech earlier this month, Trump questioned why his administration should deny Israel recognition of its capital in an effort to preserve peace talks when years of following that exact strategy had yielded no progress.
9. Withdrawal from Paris climate agreement
Trump’s decision in June to pull the U.S. out of a sweeping international climate pact drew some of the loudest and most pointed criticisms from his liberal detractors to date. Proponents of the climate deal claimed the U.S. would forever lose prestige in the global community if it walked away from the agreement, which former President Obama had negotiated without congressional input.
But Trump ultimately followed through on a campaign promise to withdraw from the agreement despite objections from several of his closest advisers. The internal negotiations pitted his daughter and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, against some of his more populist advisers, such as then-chief strategist Steve Bannon and EPA chief Scott Pruitt.
The outcome of the battle behind closed doors in the West Wing was viewed at the time as a major victory for the nationalist wing of the White House staff, which had counseled Trump not to cave under pressure to soften his hardline position on the Paris deal by simply criticizing it or offering to renegotiate it.