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Six Months Into Presidency, Trump Battles Weak Polls, Fading Expectations


President Donald Trump speaks about health care during a meeting with service members at the White House in Washington, July 18, 2017.

President Donald Trump took the oath of office six months ago Thursday, vowing to rescue the country from what he said was an "American carnage" of shuttered factories and too many people trapped in poverty.

"The time for empty talk is over. Now arrives the hour of action," Trump pledged in his inaugural address.

What followed was one of the most tumultuous beginnings for any president in U.S. history, marked by protest, controversial tweets, weak poll numbers and an investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia that could cast a cloud over the administration indefinitely.

There were some early successes. Trump signed a flurry of executive orders, many of which overturned regulations from former President Barack Obama's tenure that Republicans opposed.

Trump also delivered on one of his major campaign pledges when the Senate confirmed his pick for the Supreme Court, conservative Justice Neil Gorsuch.

But there have been some major setbacks as well. Trump and the Republicans hit a major stumbling block in the Senate in their effort to repeal and replace Obama's Affordable Care Act, a disappointment for conservative voters who have demanded such action for years.

Other Trump priorities like tax reform and infrastructure expansion have been put off while Congress wrestles with health care.

Poll trouble

Trump's standing in public opinion polls is historically low. The Real Clear Politics average of several recent polls showed Trump's approval at 40 percent, with 54 percent disapproving.

"President Trump's approval rating has been historically weak for a new president," said University of Virginia analyst Kyle Kondik. "Typically, you have presidents that get something of a honeymoon period when they get elected. Trump really didn't have that."

Trump has been dogged by protests from his first day as president. Kondik said Trump's base is generally sticking with him, despite his troubles — "usually 80 percent [support] or better" — but a new NBC News-Wall Street Journal poll found that Trump's support was slipping in a number of counties around the country where he handily defeated Hillary Clinton last November.

No issue has cast a bigger shadow over the Trump administration than the allegation his campaign may have colluded with Russia to meddle in last year's election. Trump has repeatedly called the investigations into the matter a "witch hunt."

During his first six months in office, Trump has frequently blasted the news media, both on Twitter and in speeches to supporters. "The fake media tried to stop us from going to the White House. But I'm president and they're not," Trump told a crowd in Washington this month.

The Russia probe accelerated after Trump's firing of James Comey as FBI director in May. That led to the appointment of special counsel Robert Mueller to lead the Russia investigation.

Don Jr.'s emails

The case took another serious turn when recently released emails detailed a meeting between Donald Trump Jr. and a Russian lawyer offering damaging information on Clinton.

Democrats have kept up steady opposition, and their alarm over the Russia probe is growing. The Trump Jr. emails "should be the end of the idea pushed by the administration and the president that there is absolutely no evidence of an intent by the Trump campaign to coordinate or collude," Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer of New York said during a recent speech on the Senate floor.

The focus on Russia has been a major distraction for Trump's congressional agenda on health care and other issues, but some analysts contend that could change.

"I think the first six months is not a perfect gauge of when to judge a president on these matters," said John Fortier of the Bipartisan Policy Center said on VOA's Encounter program. "It often takes a long time to get legislation done."

There is little doubt that six months into his presidency, Trump has brought upheaval to Washington. But so far, a number of experts have noted the change he promised has turned out to be more style than substance.

"We've got a long ways to go. The Trump administration is still young," Kondik said. "There is time for things to get better for him, but there is also time for things to get worse."

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    Jim Malone

    Jim Malone has served as VOA’s National correspondent covering U.S. elections and politics since 1995. Prior to that he was a VOA congressional correspondent and served as VOA’s East Africa Correspondent from 1986 to 1990. Jim began his VOA career with the English to Africa Service in 1983.

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