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Where Trump Could Make Major Shifts — Without Congress

NBC News logo NBC News 11/17/2016 Perry Bacon Jr. and Ken Dilanian and Aliyah Frumin and Mary Emily O'Hara and Hannah Rappleye and Amanda Sakuma
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Donald Trump could reverse Obama administration policies on immigration, pay and benefits for some federal workers and Cuba as soon as he enters the Oval Office.

On policing and health care, Trump's team can easily suspend some of Obama's policies, in effect killing off large swathes of what the president has achieved in office.

But the president-elect can't eliminate one of Obama's signature domestic policy achievements — the Affordable Care Act — without Congress.

It is a complicated process for Trump to stop Obama-backed agreements to reduce climate change and limit Iran's nuclear weapons program, because those are international deals that involve other nations deeply invested in them.

Related: Obama Races to Protect His Achievements From Trump

"The United States, the most powerful economy in the world, the second-largest emitter of greenhouse gases, must respect the commitments that were made," French President Francois Hollande said Tuesday, according to the Associated Press, in remarks aimed at Trump and the U.S.: "It's not simply their duty, it's in their interest."

Here's what Trump can and can't do on his own once in the Oval Office.

National Security and Foreign Policy

What Trump can do alone

Obama signed an executive order in 2009 banning so-called black sites — the secret detention facilities that were run by the CIA during the Bush administration. Then in 2013 Obama issued policy guidance limiting U.S. drone strikes unless there was "near certainty" that civilians would not be harmed.

Without any congressional authorization, Obama also took a number of steps to normalize relations with Cuba, including allowing U.S. airlines to run direct flights there.

All of these are presidential orders that Trump could reverse immediately if he chose.

Congress has allowed Obama to wage war with ISIS with little formal authorization from the legislative branch, which according to the U.S. Constitution is supposed to be the authority that declares war. Trump has said repeatedly he will bomb ISIS strongholds more aggressively than the Obama administration, although he has not given details of strategy.

Whatever his policy, Trump is likely to have largely unchecked authority in anti-ISIS efforts, based on the precedent of the last two years set by Obama.

Related: How Trump Can Gut Obama's National Security Policies on Day One

Where Trump faces limits

While Trump can limit U.S. involvement in international agreements, it has already been agreed with Iran and five other nations that international sanctions on Iran were lifted, in exchange for the country agreeing to closer inspections of their nuclear weapons facilities. The agreement would not end simply because the United States is not involved.

Similarly, the so-called Paris agreement between more than 100 nations, including the United States, to ensure the planet warms no more than 2°C, is unlikely to end simply because the U.S. withdraws. But Trump could unilaterally end U.S. involvement.

Trump has suggested that U.S military personnel should use whatever techniques are necessary to fight terrorism. But Congress approved and Obama signed a bill in 2015 that is intended to ban so-called enhanced interrogation techniques, such as waterboarding.

Immigration and the Border

What Trump Can Do On His Own

Trump has suggested he wants to deport as many as three million undocumented immigrants. Presidents generally have wide authority in setting priorities for deportation. Similarly, presidents generally have the power to determine how many refugees the U.S. accepts and from where — although a specific ban on Muslim refugees could be challenged in court.

Trump could also act unilaterally to end Obama's policy of stopping deportations of young people referred to as Dreamers. And if Trump suspended the DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) program, it does not mean that the beneficiaries will be deported, but rather they would lose specific protection from deportation.

"Dreamers would at best thrown back into the shadows. At worst they will be deported," said Frank Sharry, executive director of the pro-immigration advocacy group America's Voice. "If that happens immediately, culturally American young people are about to have their lives upended."

Related: Donald Trump's Deportation Plan Must Still Overcome These Roadblocks

Where He Faces Limits

The deportation force and the border wall Trump campaigned on would likely require need congressional funding.

Related: Donald Trump's Deportation Plan Must Still Overcome These Roadblocks

Image: Donald Trump attends the National Rifle Association's NRA-ILA Leadership Forum © Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump attends the National Rifle Association's NRA-ILA Lead... Image: Donald Trump attends the National Rifle Association's NRA-ILA Leadership Forum

Gun Control

What Trump Can Do on His Own

Earlier this year, Obama announced a series of executive actions on gun control, ones that he and his aides acknowledged were small-bore measures. The most important of these provisions was one that expanded the definition of who is a gun dealer and therefore who must conduct background checks on potential buyers — an attempt to regulate more tightly the growing number of gun sales over the Internet.

Trump could rescind this policy on his first day in office.

The Economy

What Trump Can Do On His Own

Obama used executive actions to require federal contractors to pay at least $10.10 per hour, offer seven days per year of paid leave to workers and require businesses to offer overtime pay for salaried employees who make less than $48,000 a year. Trump can unilaterally stop these moves.

Trump's appointees at the Securities and Exchange Commission and The Consumer Finance Protection Bureau could severely weaken enforcement of key planks of the Dodd-Frank law even if it is not repealed.

Where He Faces Limits

Reversing Obama's tax hikes on the wealthy — rates increased from 35 to 39.6 percent for individuals with incomes over $400,000 a year and capital gains and estate taxes — requires Congress, as do Trump's plans for major tax cuts on both individuals and corporations.

Criminal Justice

What Trump Could Do On His Own

Obama's Justice Department this summer announced a requirement that federal agents and prosecutors must undergo implicit bias training, a move aimed at reducing racial discrimination that some argue leads to the shooting of African-Americans in particular by police officers.

An attorney general tapped by Trump could eliminate that requirement.

Where He Faces Limits

Trump suggested that he would he look to institute nationwide stop-and-frisk policing practices. Most policing in America is done at the local level, so it's not clear Trump could do more than encourage police departments to adopt this approach. Expanded stop and frisk would almost certainly be challenged in court because civil rights experts say it is unconstitutional.

Related: How Trump Could Erase Key Parts of Obama's Legacy

Republican Presidential Nominee Donald Trump Holds Election Night Event In New York City © Vice president-elect Mike Pence and Republican president-elect Donald Trump shake hands during his e... Republican Presidential Nominee Donald Trump Holds Election Night Event In New York City

Obamacare

What Trump Could Do On His Own

Obama has been encouraging Americans to enroll in health insurance through the Affordable Care Act and encouraging states to expand their Medicaid programs as part of the law. Trump's team could discontinue that outreach, which would likely result in fewer people enrolling in Obamacare.

Where He Faces Limits

Major changes to Obamacare, such as ending its mandate that Americans buy health insurance, require congressional approval.

Related: Repeal Obamacare? Maybe Not, Says Trump

Other Issues

Courts have blocked Obama administration initiatives to ensure that transgender students can use the bathroom of the gender they identify as, impose strict limits on emissions from power plants and grant protection from deportation to about five million undocumented immigrants.

Trump is very unlikely to revive these policies.

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