Trump and Republicans launch unprecedented efforts to sabotage Biden’s administration
Not only did President Trump’s administration delay the transition, his administration and Congressional Republicans have launched efforts to sabotage the economy, light foreign policy fires, and cement harmful regulations before Biden takes office.
Note: This list is not exhaustive. Particularly regarding potential policy changes, it is difficult to predict which ones the White House is going to prioritize. For instance, there are 14 policy changes the White House is actively reviewing to finalize and there are 17 rule changes that have been put forward for consideration.
Senate Republicans have failed to prioritize legislation to alleviate the suffering of unemployed Americans and mitigate the fiscal crises facing state and local governments. Most recently, on Tuesday Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell rejected a proposed bipartisan coronavirus stimulus package worth $908 billion, saying he only supports up to $500 billion in new aid spending.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin is putting $455 billion in unspent Cares Act funding into the agency’s General Fund – an account that the Biden administration’s Treasury Secretary will not be able to access without authorization from Congress. While the move may not be upheld as legal, it will certainly delay the Biden administration from accessing funds to assist in pandemic recovery.
“Secretary Mnuchin is engaged in economic sabotage, and trying to tie the Biden administration’s hands,” Democratic Senator Ron Wyden said in a statement after Bloomberg reported on the Treasury’s plans.
The Fed said in response that it “would prefer that the full suite of emergency facilities established during the coronavirus pandemic continue to serve their important role as a backstop for our still-strained and vulnerable economy.”
Senate Republicans are attempting to stymie the incoming administration by installing Trump’s picks to the Federal Reserve. Two weeks ago, McConnell tried to advance controversial nominee Judy Shelton but failed to gain enough votes, with both Sens. Grassley and Scott in quarantine for the coronavirus. It is possible for McConnell to bring her up for another vote. Meanwhile, while not as controversial, later this week the Senate will vote on a second Trump nominee to the Fed: Christopher Waller. If both are confirmed, Trump will have chosen six of the seven sitting governors.
In response to an executive order Trump signed in October, the Office of Management and Budget has identified 88% of its workforce as eligible to lose key job protections. The order allows employees “in confidential, policy-determining, policy-making or policy-advocating positions” to be moved into a classification called Schedule F. Once re-classified, these employees can be dismissed at will. Civil service experts and union leaders estimate that anywhere from tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands of federal employees can be stripped of job protections under the new order.
The Office of Personnel Management is also rushing to shuffle many of its own roughly 3,500 employees into the new category, a senior administration official said. Other agencies are pulling together lists of policy roles, too — but the budget and personnel offices volunteered to be test cases for the controversial policy, this official said…
- On the flip side, the order would also allow the Trump administration to place political appointees into career positions, bypassing the merit-based system typically required in the hiring process. “Once they are in Schedule F, former political appointees have a more permanent status than they have today. So Schedule F is a huge gift to them.”
- House Democrats are pressing congressional appropriators to block the order in the next spending bill they need to pass by mid-December to keep the government funded.
Republicans on the Senate Appropriations Committee are advocating an across-the-board pay freeze for civilian federal workers in 2021. In their draft government funding bill, the GOP did away with Trump’s proposed 1% pay increase. A group of House Democrats led by Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-VA) is pushing for a 3% increase in federal civilian pay.
The White House fired Christopher Maier, the head of the Pentagon’s Defeat ISIS Task Force, and disbanded the office. A Defense Dept. statement said his duties would be transferred to offices led by Ezra Cohen-Watnick and Anthony Tata, two of the Trump loyalists installed in a recent purge of top Defense officials. The dissolution of Maier’s team came as they were answering “dozens of questions” from the Biden administration regarding terrorist threats and counterterrorism work.
…the move by the newly promoted Pentagon leadership to eliminate that central hub will almost certainly slow the flow of counterterrorism information to Biden transition aides in the coming weeks, several officials said.
At the end of last month, Iran’s top nuclear scientist, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, was killed in an alleged assassination that the country’s foreign minister linked to Israel. Though no official U.S. participation has been confirmed, Trump almost immediately retweeted a statement saying the killing was a “psychological and professional blow for Iran.” The attack will likely complicate Biden’s effort to revive the 2015 Iranian nuclear deal, which he has previously pledged to do.
“The Trump administration’s goal seems plain,” said Robert Malley, who leads the International Crisis Group and was a negotiator of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. The administration’s plan, he said, was “to take advantage of the time remaining before it heads to the exits to solidify its legacy and make it all the more difficult for its successor to resume diplomacy with Iran and rejoin the nuclear deal.”
Iran has promised retaliation and U.S. officials are quietly monitoring intelligence, trying not to inflame an already tense situation. Just days before the assassination, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had visited Israel and other Gulf countries to discuss Iran. 11 days prior, it was reported that Trump asked advisors for options “to take action against Iran’s main nuclear site in the coming weeks.”
After Mr. Pompeo and General Milley described the potential risks of military escalation, officials left the meeting believing a missile attack inside Iran was off the table… Trump might still be looking at ways to strike Iranian assets and allies, including militias in Iraq, officials said.
Furthermore, Israel Defense Forces have reportedly been told to prepare for the possibility the Trump will direct a military strike against Iran before leaving office.
The White House-led purge of Defense Department officials has only added to worries of rash action by Trump. Before his firing, Defense Secretary Mark Esper warned that withdrawing troops from Afghanistan and Iraq will put service members’ lives at risk, alienate allies, and erode credibility. Nevertheless, Trump replaced Esper and announced 2,500 troops will leave by January, just days before Biden’s inauguration, leaving another 2,000 or so U.S. forces in place.
The Trump administration is seeking to designate the Houthis, a Yemen militia group, as a Foreign Terrorist Organization. Experts have panned the idea, saying it will only disrupt international aid and impede U.N. peace efforts. Harsh actions against the Houthis will also risk driving the faction further into Iran’s arms, cementing divisions in the region that Biden will have to work hard to neutralize.
“If this is rushed through, we might see trade and financial flows dry up across Yemen, the diplomatic process blown up and the Houthis deciding they need to repay the favor by increasing the tempo of attacks into Saudi Arabia while turning to Iran for more support,” said Peter Salisbury, senior analyst for Yemen at the International Crisis Group.
Related: The Trump administration is pushing to finalize a massive weapons sale to the United Arab Emirates before Biden’s inauguration, increasing the instability in the Middle East. The deal is already facing bipartisan opposition in Congress and from numerous human rights groups.
Trump is reportedly planning to take actions to lock its hardline China policies in place and “box in the Biden administration.” This includes imposing additional sanctions and trade restrictions with Chinese companies and government officials, as well as moving China hawks into senior roles in U.S. government.
Shortly after the election, Secretary State Mike Pompeo embarked on a 10-day, seven-country trip in which he antagonized the leaders of France, Turkey, and Palestine. Bloomberg described it as a trip “calculated to offend” and full of “pronouncements likely to make Biden’s life difficult.” In Paris, he prioritized meeting far-right French media before seeing government officials. In Turkey, Pompeo demanded government officials come to him in Istanbul instead of meeting respectively at the capital of Ankara. In the Israel-occupied West Bank, he visited a pro-settlement winery occupying land taken from Palestinian families.
The biggest announcement of Pompeo’s trip was that the U.S. will allow goods produced in Israeli settlements to carry a “Made in Israel” label. Moves like that will be difficult for Biden to undo, subjecting him to criticism from Republicans running for president in 2024 — perhaps including Pompeo — that he’s weak in his support of Israel.
The U.S. officially withdrew from the Treaty on Open Skies, a decades-old pact meant to reduce chances of open conflict with Russia by allowing unarmed reconnaissance flights over each other’s territories. Significantly, Trump ordered not just withdrawal from the treaty but also the disposal of the airplanes that are used to maintain the current mutual surveillance regime.
An American withdrawal from the Open Skies treaty would give Putin more leeway to make forays into areas like eastern Ukraine, where he’d love to keep his actions concealed from western scrutiny… By withdrawing from the Open Skies treaty, the United States would fulfill Putin’s goals by effectively “driving another wedge into the NATO alliance,” [Kingston Reif, director for Disarmament and Threat Reduction Policy at the Arms Control Association] says.
The Trump administration is rushing to complete regulatory actions on energy and the environment, hoping to lock in place harmful policies before Biden’s inauguration. If Republicans maintain control of the Senate, it will be difficult to repeal many of the last-minute rules under the Congressional Review Act. Some of these actions include:
- Finalizing the “Strengthening Transparency in Regulatory Science” proposal, which would require that scientists disclose all of their raw data, including confidential medical records, before the agency could consider an academic study’s conclusions. The measure would make it more difficult to enact new clean air and water rules because many studies detailing the links between pollution and disease rely on personal health information gathered under confidentiality agreements.
- Finalizing a rule to keep in place a 2012 standard on industrial soot pollution despite the research from the E.P.A.’s own scientists, who wrote last year that the existing rule contributes to about 45,000 deaths per year from respiratory diseases, and that tightening it could save about 10,000 of those lives.
Career E.P.A. employees are working to stymie Trump’s deregulation, hoping to hold the agency together until Biden’s inauguration.
The Trump administration has launched the process to sell oil rights in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, raising the prospect that a lease sale might happen just days before Biden’s inauguration. The coastal plain region, where land could be auctioned, is considered some of the country’s last pristine wilderness, containing dozens of polar bear dens, essential migratory bird habitat, and caribou calving grounds held sacred to the Gwich’in people.
Luckily, there is a potential path for Biden to reverse the sales:
If sales do occur before Biden takes office, it would be challenging – but not impossible – for Biden to walk back leases issued. “Even if leases are issued by the Trump administration, the Biden administration could seek to withdraw the leases if it concludes they were unlawfully issued or pose too great a threat to the environment,” Grafe said.
Last month, the Trump administration finalized new National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) rules that would make it easier to cut down trees and build new roads without having to engage local communities in the process. The rule change creates oversight loopholes across the 193 million-acre national forest system, amounting to a broad “permission slip” for logging and development without taking environmental harms into account.
The Trump administration is rushing to sell the rights to a sacred Apache Indigenous area outside of Phoenix, Arizona, to a mining company this month, a full year ahead of schedule. Democratic Arizona representative Raúl Grijalva and Senator Bernie Sanders have introduced a bill calling for the land transfer to be repealed. “If the land exchange happens, it will be difficult to roll back,” Grijalva told the Guardian.
The Bureau of Land Management is poised to approve a four-lane highway through protected wildlife habitat and public lands in Utah, ignoring vocal opposition from local conservation groups. The road would cut through the Red Cliffs Desert Reserve, critical habitat for the threatened Mojave desert tortoise. Conservation groups say BLM did not seriously consider alternative, less-damaging routes.
The Trump administration moved forward on gutting a longstanding federal protection for the nation’s birds, over objections from former federal officials and many scientists that billions more birds will likely perish as a result. The change could be made official within 30 days.
The wildlife service acknowledged in its findings that the rollback would have a “negative” effect on the many bird species covered by the 1918 Migratory Bird Treaty Act, which range from hawks and eagles to seabirds, storks, songbirds and sparrows.
Last month, Michael Kuperberg was removed from his job leading the program that produces the National Climate Assessment; he is likely to be replaced with a climate change denier. Appointing a climate change skeptic to the position would facilitate the contracting of researchers who reject climate science, keeping them in place after Biden takes office in January.
Senate Republicans are rushing to confirm Trump’s nominee to the Federal Communications Commission in order to create a 2-2 deadlock for the Biden FCC. On Wednesday, the Senate Commerce Committee voted to advance the nomination of Nathan Simington, a Republican in favor of greater government oversight of speech on the internet. Simington is viewed as a friend to the Trump administration’s desire to make changes to Section 230.
The Justice Department has rushed to expand possible execution methods to include electrocution and death by firing squad as they expedite a slew of scheduled executions in the final days of the Trump administration. The proposed rule cleared White House review on Nov. 6, according to the report, so it could be finalized any day.
…three inmates would be executed in the weeks leading up to President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration, bringing the total number of inmates scheduled to die during the lame duck session to six.
Trump is considering an executive action to target birthright citizenship in his final weeks in office. According to The Hill, “The administration is aware the order would be promptly challenged in court, but officials would hope to get a ruling on whether birthright citizenship is protected under the 14th Amendment…”
The Trump administration is also racing to make it harder for skilled foreign workers to gain visas, narrowing the definition of a “specialty occupation” eligible for a skilled-worker visa under the H-1B program. A second fast-track regulation would raise the wages that employers must pay to demonstrate foreign workers will not displace Americans in the same occupation and geographic area.