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Donald Trump era begins with Obamacare rollback and missile defence orders

The Guardian logo The Guardian 21/01/2017 Nicola Slawson

Donald Trump © Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images Donald Trump Donald Trump has begun his presidency with a series of seismic policy interventions, starting the repeal of Barack Obama’s healthcare policies, initiating a new US missile defence system and ushering in a new period of American protectionism.

The 45th president of the United States, who was sworn into office on Friday, began his four-year term of office with a series of executive orders that will set the tone for his government. It was, he said, a government that would “put only America first”.

Before attending a series of inaugural balls around Washington DC, the Republican sat down to sign an executive order aimed at undermining Obama’s signature healthcare law, known as Obamacare.

Using similar orders, the new president also signed into law a new national day of patriotism and signalled plans to build a new missile defence system to protect against perceived threats from Iran and North Korea.

The Trump White House stripped the official website of all mention of Obama’s key policy agendas, including climate change and LGBT rights along with the civil rights history section.

The various subsections of the White House website were replaced with just six; energy, foreign policy, jobs and growth, military, law enforcement and trade deals.

In his inaugural speech, Trump put forward a nationalistic vision for the country. “The American carnage stops right here, right now,” he said. “From this day forward, a new vision will govern our land. From this day forward, it’s going to be only America first. America first.”

He later said: “We will follow two simple rules: buy American and hire American.” This caused some British politicians to wonder what kind of trade deal the UK can realistically expect.

But in an interview with the Financial Times, Theresa May, the prime minister, said: “I’m confident we can look at areas even in advance of being able to sign a formal trade deal. Perhaps we could look at barriers to trade at the moment and remove some of those barriers to open up that new trading relationship.”

On a visit to Burma, Boris Johnson, the foreign secretary, backed May, saying he was very optimistic about striking a trade deal but adding: “It’s got to work for the UK as well.”

“I think that the new president has made it very clear that he wants to put Britain at the front of the line for a new trade deal and obviously that’s extremely exciting and important,” he said.

Although not expected to make her first official visit to the US until the spring, the prime minister is reportedly set to fly out to meet Trump next week, which would make her the first foreign leader to hold talks with the new US president. A spokesman for No 10 said nothing had been confirmed regarding May’s visit.

Trade will not be the only topic of conversation at the meeting. May has emphasised the importance of Nato and the European Union for security after Trump again provoked worries about his commitment to Nato at a time when Russia is showing increasing aggression.

The president complained that the US had “subsidised the armies of other countries” and “defended other nations’ borders while refusing to defend our own”.

Trump will have to wait a bit longer to meet Vladimir Putin. The Russian president was ready to meet Trump, the Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov was quoted as saying by Tass news agency, but preparations for the possible meeting may take months, not weeks.

“This will not be in coming weeks. Let’s hope for the best – that the meeting will happen in the coming months,” Peskov told the BBC, according to Tass.

He said Putin would call Trump in the coming days to congratulate him on taking office. He also told Tass that it was impossible to resolve Syria crisis in a constructive way without US involvement.

On Saturday, hundreds of thousands of women are expected to march on Washington in a protest that looks set to comfortably outsize Trump’s inaugural crowd. Millions of others will follow suit in cities across the US and across the world. Marches in Australia and New Zealand have already taken place.

Shortly after taking office, Trump sent his cabinet nominations to the Senate. He signed a waiver to allow the retired General James Mattis to serve as defence secretary, even though he left the military less than the required seven years ago.

Mattis, whose appointment has been approved by the Senate, was later sworn in by the vice-president, Mike Pence. Pence also swore in John Kelly as head of homeland security.

In a separate step on Friday, the White House chief of staff, Reince Priebus, issued a memo directing an immediate “regulatory freeze” to prevent federal agencies from issuing any new regulations. This echoed Trump’s pledge to repeal two existing regulations for new government regulation imposed by his administration. Trump also signed a proclamation declaring a national day of patriotism.

At his inauguration balls, Trump brought his signature style to the task of governing, sprinkling his comments at three inaugural balls with references to “phony polls”, campaign victories and social media.

“Let me ask you: should I keep the Twitter going?” he asked a cheering crowd of supporters before dancing with his wife, Melania, to My Way at the second of three inaugural balls. “The enemies keep saying: ‘Oh that’s terrible,’ but it’s a way of bypassing dishonest media.’”

Asked about his first day, Trump said: “It was busy but good – a beautiful day.’’

Trump is expected to visit the CIA on Saturday, meeting members of the nation’s intelligence community. The visit may be fraught with tension. Trump has sharply criticised the nation’s top intelligence officials for their assertions about Russian hacking and leaks about his briefings in the weeks before he was sworn in.

The White House spokesman Sean Spicer said before the inauguration that the visit would involve several departments and Trump intended to offer his appreciation for their service to the country.

Before this, Trump is due to attend a prayer service at the Washington National Cathedral, an Episcopal parish with a dual role as a civic gathering place. The cathedral has for years hosted a prayer service for the new president. But keeping the tradition has sparked debate this year among the congregation who are opposed to Trump’s policies.

It’s the latest example of the backlash against religious leaders, artists, celebrities and other participants in events surrounding the inauguration. While some in the largely liberal congregation objected to hosting the service, bishop Mariann Budde of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington wrote in a blogpost that she shared “a sense of outrage at some of the president-elect’s words and actions” but also she felt an obligation to welcome all people without qualification, especially those who disagree and need to find a way to work together.

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