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Things Donald Trump Can And Can’t Do With His Executive Power

From Obamacare to Roe v. Wade to climate change initiatives

On the campaign trail, President-Elect Donald Trump made many claims to deprive citizens of many hard-won rights they hold dear. Before we lose all hope, let’s remember Trump cannot act on these promises alone—there are several influential leaders in the House and Senate (both Democrat and Republican) who will defend those rights. Let’s take a look at what Trump can and can’t do with his executive power.

Registering and Banning Muslims

Trump has made it clear that he intends to keep a registry of all Muslims living in the United States and plans to ban not just Muslims, but people “from any nation that has been compromised by terrorism.” According to Slate, this could be enforceable since immigrants entering the United States have some Constitutional rights, but not the full arsenal that citizens enjoy. As for a registry/database/watch list (or whatever term Trump chooses to go with), it isn’t outside the realm of possibility considering the government already utilizes watch lists. According to the American Civil Liberties Union, the federal government has several lists, though they lack coordination and uniformity. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Trump expand these efforts to monitor U.S. citizens.


By law, Trump will have a lot of say when it comes to immigration. According to the Los Angeles Times, Trump could increase deportations and dismantle Obama’s program that protected children of illegal immigrants. It’s unlikely Congress will agree to provide funds for his proposed wall along the Mexican border, but there’s a chance he could pull existing funds from the federal budget. One thing’s for sure: Mexico will not be paying for it.

Stop-and-Frisk Policies

Trump does not have the executive power to enforce “stop-and-frisk” policies—aka racial profiling—largely because the federal government does not oversee police departments. In fact, lack of control on a federal level has led to widely varying clearance rates, but that’s an issue for another day.


There’s the very real possibility our Republican-controlled Congress will repeal Obamacare. How they plan to replace it is another issue entirely. If repealed, roughly 20 million people would be deprived of health care, so a replacement would have to be proposed before Trump could dissolve the Affordable Care Act altogether. Considering how deeply interwoven Obamacare is in the health care system, it will likely take some time before they come up with an alternative. Even then, it likely won’t be as dramatically different as Trump supporters might hope for.

Same-Sex Marriage

Because the Supreme Court decided on the legality of same-sex marriage, it would be nearly impossible for Trump to overturn their decision. It helps that a majority of Americans currently support same-sex marriage.

Roe v. Wade/Women’s Health Care

Like same-sex marriage, the decision would have to go to the Supreme Court where Roe v. Wade has been consistently defended. Trump would have to appoint enough conservative justices to counter the prevailing attitude that continues to support legal abortions, and while anything is possible, it would be unlikely. There is the route of pushing for a constitutional amendment, though that would require the approval of two-thirds of both the House and Senate along with ratification from 75 percent of the states.

Trump has promised to defund Planned Parenthood, but as with most of his claims, there’s no telling how serious he is about delivering on them. If he does push for this, the decision would have to move through both the House and Senate, and the Republican party currently dominates both. Luckily, Barack Obama is in the process of enacting a rule change that would prevent certain family planning services from getting defunded. Besides, federal money largely supports basic health care services, not abortions. Though, as Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards pointed out, there are concrete ways you can help women get access to health care today. Friday morning, she tweeted a list of ways you can support the organization that not only provides safe abortions but also provides crucial health care to women who need it most.

Climate Change

Efforts to curb global warming could suffer the most under Trump’s presidency. At worst, Trump could use his executive power to uplift the environmentally disastrous coal and fossil fuel industries, derail the progress we’ve made, and appoint Myron Ebell, a proud climate change skeptic, to lead the EPA. At best, he could keep regulatory efforts to protect the environment tied up in court. Luckily, he’s legally unable to pull out of the Paris Agreement during his term, though his opposition to a worldwide push for action could seriously hurt the positive momentum gained in recent years.

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