President Biden wants to immediately reverse much of what former President Trump has done over the last four years — but that is often easier said than done, and he has begrudgingly applauded some of Mr. Trump’s legacy.
Several of Mr. Trump’s policies, achievements and personnel decisions are likely to stand, because politics, logistics or finances make it too painful for Mr. Biden to change course. Or because he agrees with the policy.
Here are some of those policies:
Moving U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem
Mr. Trump enthralled pro-Israel advocates around the world when he followed through on his pledge to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
Mr. Trump formally recognized Jerusalem as the country’s capital in December 2017 and the U.S. Embassy moved in May 2018.
“While previous presidents have made this a major campaign promise, they failed to deliver,” Mr. Trump said in December 2017. “Today, I am delivering.”
Even as he criticized Mr. Trump’s policies in the Middle East, Mr. Biden indicated last year that he would not seek to reverse course.
“Now that it’s done, I would not move the embassy back to Tel Aviv,” he said at a fundraiser in April.
Mr. Biden also held out hope for engagement with the Palestinians and the prospect of an eventual two-state solution.
Arab leaders strongly condemned Mr. Trump’s move.
Jewish people long considered Jerusalem to be their true capital city, but Palestinians want East Jerusalem to be their capital as part of a two-state solution.
Mr. Biden said he would reopen a U.S. consulate in East Jerusalem to engage the Palestinians.
Reaching historic Abraham Accords
Mr. Trump helped broker peace deals that resulted in the historic normalization of relations between Israel and a growing number of Middle Eastern countries, including the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain.
The “Abraham Accords,” announced in September, marked the first time an Arab country announced normalized relations with Israel since 1994.
The initial agreement included the UAE and Bahrain.
Other countries such as Sudan and Morocco have since signed normalization agreements with Israel. Mr. Trump received multiple nominations for the Nobel Peace Prize for helping broker the deals.
Mr. Biden sent out a terse statement welcoming the initial announcements from the UAE and Bahrain.
“A Biden-Harris administration will build on these steps, challenge other nations to keep pace, and work to leverage these growing ties into progress toward a two-state solution and a more stable, peaceful region,” he said.
Antony Blinken, Mr. Biden‘s pick for secretary of state, said Tuesday that the incoming administration wants to take a look at some of the commitments that might have been made in the context of the agreements.
“But the work that was done to push forward on the normalization with Israel I applaud. It makes Israel safer. It makes the region safer,” Mr. Blinken told members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee at his confirmation hearing.
Rewrite of NAFTA
Mr. Biden said he won’t immediately roll back some of Mr. Trump’s initiatives on trade. He even acknowledged that the president’s rewrite of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) is an improvement on the original version, which Mr. Biden supported as a senator.
During the campaign, Mr. Biden begrudgingly conceded that the new U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) is a “better” deal than NAFTA.
Mr. Biden sent a strong signal on how he wants to approach the USMCA with his announcement of Katherine Tai, a congressional trade lawyer, as his choice to be U.S. trade representative.
Ms. Tai helped the Democrat-led House secure additional protections for labor in the revised deal as it made its way through Congress.
Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO labor federation, hailed Ms. Tai’s appointment and said Mr. Biden is thus far living up to his word on moving ahead, in line with Mr. Trump’s new approach on trade.
“For decades, administrations of both political parties have enacted harmful trade policies that held down wages and didn’t provide for better working conditions by creating incentives to ship good-paying jobs overseas,” Mr. Trumka said. “With Tai as the U.S. trade representative, we will be strongly positioned to advance a fair trade agenda that makes the world safer and workers stronger.”
Demanding bigger NATO payments from allies
Even critics of Mr. Trump’s foreign policy endeavors admit his public haranguing helped force NATO member countries to increase their defense spending to hit 2024 target amounts.
“Your leadership on defense spending is having a real impact,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told Mr. Trump at a joint press conference in December 2019. “This is unprecedented. This is making NATO stronger. And it shows that this alliance is adapting, responding when the world is changing.”
In 2014, NATO member countries said they would aim to boost their national defense spending to at least 2% of GDP by 2024 in light of Russia’s incursions into Crimea.
Mr. Stoltenberg said that since 2016, Canada and European allies have added $130 billion more to their defense budgets, a figure that is expected to increase to $400 billion by 2024.
Mr. Trump publicly urged countries to step up their spending, a goal Mr. Biden won’t rush to roll back.
Mr. Blinken said Tuesday that it’s certainly a good thing that NATO allies are investing more.
“For Biden coming in, it’s like OK, number one, to NATO and to the allies: burden-sharing is as important to us — either me as the leader or the Democrats — it’s just as important to us as it is to the Republicans and to Trump,” said Jim Townsend, a deputy assistant secretary of defense for European and NATO policy during the Obama administration.
The momentum got kick-started after Russia’s encroachment into Crimea, but Mr. Trump put the squeeze on countries with his public chastising, he said.
“He used a hammer that has never been used,” Mr. Townsend said. “It was a medicine that was very dangerous in the sense that that medicine harmed the patient.”
Banning bump stocks
Mr. Trump, who has been staunchly pro-gun since taking office, vexed gun-rights advocates in 2018 when he announced he was directing then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions to find a way to ban bump stocks, which attach to semiautomatic rifles to produce a rate of fire similar to machine guns.
The new regulation further riled gun advocates because the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) previously concluded that it lacked authority to ban bump stocks, concluding that they weren’t technically firearms.
Still, the ban took effect in March 2019 despite legal challenges from pro-gun groups.
Congressional Democrats praised the move but said Congress needed to back it up with legislation.
“If Republicans actually cared about banning bump stocks, they would pass legislation making it crystal clear that the government has the authority to ban these devices,” Sen. Chris Murphy, Connecticut Democrat, said after the Trump administration formally announced the ban.
Mr. Biden also is weighing how much of his agenda he can pursue via executive action instead of wrestling legislation through Congress.
It’s difficult to see Mr. Biden, who campaigned for stricter gun controls, acting administratively to loosen firearms-related restrictions unless Congress were prepared to immediately step in and replace the rule with a legislative ban.
“We do not foresee that a Biden administration would roll back the bump stock ban, so [we] will continue to challenge this ban in the courts,” said Erich Pratt, senior vice president of the group Gun Owners of America.