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A Look Behind the Curtain
February 1, 2017
Our running list of actions you may have missed that impact America. This is the start of a new feature we will include in our regular newsletter and on our website.
The vast majority of my constituents, more than have ever been in touch with my office, are outraged by the first weeks of the Trump Administration and by the actions of the Republican Congress. Let me be clear, I do NOT believe that everything we care about will be demolished in one giant fell swoop. There will be a few frontal attacks — such as the Affordable Care Act. But I think our principles are most in jeopardy from repeated small acts that occur below the radar — the proverbial slow death by 1,000 cuts.
I fear the old game of deception — pay attention to the shiny object before you, ignore what’s going on behind the curtain. I also fear the “mobbing” approach — do so many thing at one time that most will go unnoticed. It has already started.
Earlier this year, when several high profile confirmation hearings were on TV, the President was being sworn in, and demonstrations were occurring across the nation, the House passed a bill that will significantly undermine consumer protection for investors. The President also signed an Executive Order that will effectively deny millions of lower income women their right to control their own bodies. Late Friday, we learned that Executive Orders had been issued banning refugees and suspending immigration from 7 countries. These created chaos and were apparently written without consulting the Departments of State, Justice, and Homeland Security or the Chairs of any relevant Congressional Committees.
Certainly, we will fight to save what we have accomplished: a social safety net, affordable health care, civil rights and equal opportunity; commonsense regulations to protect both the workplace and the environment; and so much more. We will uphold our principles, defend generations of progress, and, whenever possible, seek improvements in policy and approach.
I believe the most important way to fight back is to make sure people know what they are losing. With news breaking seemingly every hour, as the President spins his “alternative facts”, we must remain vigilant to even the smallest actions. I think shining a light on as many of them as we can is important. We shouldn’t wait until many small cuts add up to an irreversible loss.
So this week we are starting a new feature. We will keep a running list of the actions taken by the Administration and the House of Representatives that I believe have an important and relatively obvious and direct impact on the American dream and on programs that help improve our lives. We will leave Senate actions for others to watch. The full list will be on our website and we’ll update you regularly via our newsletter. There will be some overlap when legislation reported in the newsletter ends up on the list but we think it’s important to be as comprehensive as we can.
Many of you have asked us what you can do to make sure your voice is not lost in the new Administration. This is difficult to answer in Massachusetts because our Congressional delegation is all on the right page. One thing you can do is talk to your friends about what’s on this list, especially friends who don’t live in Massachusetts. Educate your friends and family about these changes in policy and approach.
By the way, the Federal government is huge — we are bound to miss something. If you know of something we missed that you think belongs on this list, please let us know.
I know this is long, but I am afraid we will have many additions in the days and weeks ahead. When legislation we highlight becomes law, we will update the list. Let us know if there is something you think should be included and thanks for reading.
NOTE: We have reversed the order of Behind the Curtain entries so the newest items will now lead the list, although numbering remains the same.
- On January 12, 2017, the House passed H.R. 78, the SEC Regulatory Accountability Act, which adds requirements to the Securities and Exchange Commission whenever they issue a regulation. Sounds great right? Not when you realize that the SEC will now have lots more work to do without adding a single staff member or penny to their budget. The real result is a diminished ability to police bad actors.
- On January 12, 2017 the House passed H.R. 238, the Commodity End User Relief Act. The legislation adds requirements to the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) regulation of the derivatives market. It places significant burdens on the CFTC’s ability to regulate both the domestic and international swaps market. Remember, it wasn’t too long ago that AIG’s abuse of the swaps market almost brought down the world economy.
- On January 20, 2017 President Trump signed an Executive Order halting a planned reduction in Federal Housing Administration (FHA) fees. This will increase the cost of mortgages for anyone using FHA insurance to buy a home. On average, 750,000 homeowners will pay $500 more per year for the life of their mortgage — that adds up to $15,000 more on a 30 year mortgage.
- On January 23, 2017 President Trump signed an Executive Order reinstituting the Global Gag Rule. This will block federal funding for international non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that provide abortion services. It’s important to point out that current law already prohibits federal funds from being used for abortion services. The funds in question are being used by NGOs for other health care services. This Executive Order prohibits NGOs from even discussing it or referring patients who request information to other providers. In reality, this policy forces health care providers to cut services for women, increase fees and could close health care clinics.
- On January 24, 2017 the House passed H.R. 7, the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion and Abortion Insurance Full Disclosure Act of 2017. As noted above, federal law ALREADY prohibits taxpayer money from being used for abortion services. This legislation takes away tax credits from small businesses offering PRIVATE insurance to their employees if that insurance provides coverage for abortion services. Also, people who buy insurance through the ACA’s Health Insurance Marketplaces will not be eligible for premium tax credits if the insurance they choose provides abortion coverage. This legislation has nothing to do with taxpayer money and everything to do with attacking choice.
- On January 25, 2017 President Trump signed an Executive Order denying federal grant funding to “Sanctuary Cities” who do not comply with requests to hold undocumented immigrants for deportation. Sanctuary Cities generally do not go out of their way to determine someone’s immigration status when making a routine traffic stop for example. It is very important to note that those committing more serious transgressions do have their status reviewed. The Executive Order places an extraordinary burden on local law enforcement without additional resources. It also chills communication between public safety officials and their immigrant communities.
- On January 25, 2017 President Trump signed an Executive Order facilitating the construction of a wall along the Mexican border. After months of insisting that Mexico will pay for the $15-$20 billion wall we got a “surprise”. It turns out that American taxpayers will get the project started. Does anyone really believe that will change? Also interesting, the President recently implemented a federal hiring freeze then announced 15,000 NEW openings for enforcement and border security.
- On January 27, 2017 President Trump signed Executive Orders suspending the Syrian refugee program and blocking persons from Iraq, Iran, Syria, Libya, Sudan, Yemen and Somalia from traveling to the United States. This resulted in chaos at our nation’s airports and overseas as travelers with approved visas were prevented from boarding planes bound for the U.S. or sent back to their home countries. The President’s actions also ensnared legal permanent residents because the orders were so sloppily drafted they did not make it clear that persons already issued green cards, after a lengthy application process, could reenter the U.S. This separated U.S. citizens from family members and created great fear and uncertainty. Scholars, researchers and students, with valid student or exchange visitor visas, were also prevented from entry. While these Executive Orders were widely covered, we felt they should be included.
- On January 30, 2017 President Trump issued an Executive Order requiring that for every federal regulation issued, two other regulations had to be repealed. This is a blunt instrument designed to reduce regulations on businesses. It completely disregards the substance and need for each regulation. Remember, there are federal regulations for everything from food safety inspections and air quality to airline safety.
- Late in January the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) approved a Fannie Mae/Blackstone Group deal. Blackstone will use Fannie Mae backed bonds to buy foreclosed homes, which the hedge fund will then sell or rent out for a profit. This is using taxpayer money to help a hedge fund make a profit on foreclosed homes. The deal denies working families the chance to buy one of those homes because they can’t compete with a hedge fund buying properties in bulk. It also drives up rents, mostly in poor neighborhoods.
- On January 28, 2017 President Trump signed an Executive Order elevating his chief political strategist Steve Bannon to the “principals committee” of the National Security Council. At the same time, he reduced the roles of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Director of National Intelligence. This is a shocking and frankly frightening move. It elevates someone whose role is political strategy over military and intelligence professionals. So is politics now a more important consideration when it comes to issues of national security? UPDATE: President Trump finally removed Chief Strategist Steve Bannon from the principles committee of the NSC on April 5, 2017.
- On Wednesday February 1, 2017 the House passed H.J. Res. 41, which reverses a rule requiring companies involved in oil, gas or mineral extraction registered in the U.S. to report any payments they make to foreign governments over $100,000. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops opposed this roll back, raising concerns that it deepens poverty and empowers “autocratic leaders”. This reversal undermines our democratic principles. UPDATE: The President signed H.J. Res. 41 on February 14, 2017.
- On February 1, 2017 the House passed H.J. Res. 38, which invalidates a rule that prevented companies engaged in mountaintop removal mining from polluting streams. Without this rule, companies don’t have to consider whether their activity will poison a stream, don’t have to monitor the water quality and don’t have to restore the impacted land to its original condition. UPDATE: The President signed H.J. Res. 38 on February 16, 2017.
- On February 2, 2017 the House passed H.J. Res. 40 which prevents the Social Security Administration from reporting to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) the names of individuals with a severe, medically documented mental disability who also require a designated representative to oversee their benefits. This reporting requirement was included in 1968 gun safety legislation. This resolution makes it easier for someone with a documented mental disability to buy a gun. UPDATE: 14. The President signed H.J. Res. 40 on February 28, 2017
- On February 2, 2017 the House passed H.J. Res 37 which invalidates a rule requiring companies seeking federal contracts to report any safety or labor violations they have committed and information on how those violations were addressed. Revoking this rule makes it harder for those awarding federal contracts, which are paid for with taxpayer money, to know if a prospective contractor has ever violated federal labor or safety laws. Update: The President signed H.J. Res. 37 on March 27, 2017.
- On February 2, 2017 the House passed H.J. Res. 36 which invalidates a rule requiring oil and gas companies to limit the release of methane on federal lands. Without this rule, companies can keep sending methane gas into the air which has profound health and environmental consequences. UPDATE:On May 10, 2017 the Senate rejected H.J. Res. 36 which the House passed on February 2, 2017. Passage would have invalidated the rule requiring oil and gas companies to limit the release of methane on federal lands.
- On February 3, 2017 the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) removed all animal welfare inspection reports from their website, making them inaccessible to the general public. The documents removed include records of abuse and enforcement actions against research laboratories, zoos, dog breeding operations and other animal related facilities. These records are now only available via a Freedom of Information Request. Information once readily available has now vanished, shielding cases of animal abuse from the public. Now, we have no way of readily knowing whether the zoo in our community or the dog breeder our neighbor recommended violated animal protection laws.
- On February 3, 2017 the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) prohibited 9 companies from providing discounted high-speed internet service to low-income individuals. The ability to access the internet is no longer a luxury. It is an important economic tool and necessary for those seeking employment opportunities because most job openings are advertised online. Most job applications are now online as well.
- On February 3, 2017 the FCC withdrew an effort to keep prison phone rates down. In some instances, prisoners’ phone calls went as high as $14 a minute. With this recent FCC action, rates will once again soar beyond what is reasonable.
- On February 3, 2017 the FCC also chose not to pursue a proposal that would have reduced the cost of cable boxes. Until this month, the FCC had been advancing a proposal that would allow consumers to buy a cable box from a third party rather than be required to pay a monthly rental fee to their cable provider.
- On January 31, 2017 the federal government halted a regulation giving whistleblowers the ability to seek civil penalties against federal nuclear contractors who retaliate against them. This takes away important protections from workers who may have information to share about improper or dangerous practices. It may make them less likely to come forward.
- On February 15, 2017 the House passed H.J. Res. 66 ending a program giving states the authority to create workplace savings plans for private sector employees who don’t have access to one. Massachusetts is one of the states participating in this program, which simply helps qualified employees save for retirement.
UPDATE: On May 17, 2017 President Trump signed H.J. Res. 66, ending a program giving states the authority to create workplace savings plans for private sector employees who don’t have access to one.
- On February 15, 2017 the House passed H.J. Res. 67 ending a program giving counties and municipalities the authority to create workplace savings plans for private sector employees who don’t have access to one. This is basically the same measure as H.J. Res. 66; it just applies to different entities. UPDATE: President Trump signed H.J. Res. 67 on April 13, 2017.
- On February 16, 2017 the House passed H.J. Res 43 ending a requirement that states must make Title X grant money available to ALL qualified health care facilities, including Planned Parenthood. This federal money helps community health centers and other medical facilities provide family planning and preventive health services to low income individuals and their families. By nullifying this rule, states can withhold Title X money from any provider that also offers abortion services.UPDATE: President Trump signed H.J. Res. 43 on April 13, 2017.
- On February 21, 2017 the Trump Administration released updated instructions on undocumented immigrants, discontinuing priority enforcement and seeking to find and deport anyone in the United States illegally. New detention facilities will be erected and staff hired (despite Trump’s general hiring freeze for federal workers currently in place). Local law enforcement will be asked to participate in these directives. Regardless of how one might feel about our approach to immigration, these new instructions are just impractical. They will require billions of dollars to implement, for new staff and infrastructure. Local police already have important responsibilities. They should not also be asked to check the citizenship of everyone who runs a stop sign. We have provided more details above about the immigration instructions.
- On February 22, 2017 the Trump Administration rescinded directives from the U.S. Departments of Education and Justice related to Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972. These directives applied to transgender students. With this action, the Trump Administration abolished a policy that simply allowed transgender students to use the restroom they feel most comfortable in. That policy made life just a little easier for a vulnerable group of young people. This is an issue of civil rights and discrimination, not states’ rights.
- On February 28, 2017 President Trump issued an Executive Order requiring the EPA to start repealing “Waters of the United States”. This provided clarity on the bodies of water subject to Clean Water Act protections, including restoring those protections for small streams. More than 117 million Americans currently get their drinking water from small streams, including a million people in Massachusetts. With this action, small streams could now be more vulnerable to pollution, which would in turn have a negative impact on the drinking water of millions of people.
- The Department of Labor is proposing to delay for 60 days the effective date of a fiduciary rule that directs financial advisors to place the best interests of their clients before profits they may make when recommending an investment. The rule would have gone into effect on April 10. The DOL is only offering a 15-day comment period on the 60-day extension, until March 17th. If you would like to submit comments on this, you may do so here. UPDATE: The Department of Labor has decided it cannot delay the effective date of a fiduciary rule that directs financial advisors to place the best interests of their clients before profits they may make when recommending an investment.
- During the week of February 27, 2017 the Department of Justice announced that the federal government would no longer challenge a 2011 Texas voter ID law on the grounds that it discriminates against minorities. That particular law has been described as one of the most restrictive voting laws in the country.
- On March 2, 2017 the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) set aside a rule regarding personal data collection by internet service providers (ISPs). That rule required ISPs to obtain explicit customer permission before collecting personal customer data information such as websites visited or browsing habits. The FCC argues now that providers overseen by the Federal Trade Commission, such as Google, do not have to obtain permission before collecting customer data so ISPs shouldn’t be burdened either. Of course, that logic completely sets aside the customer, who may not want their ISP to use their personal information for advertising purposes.
- On March 1, 2017 the House passed H.J. Res. 83, Disapproving of the rule submitted by the Department of Labor relating to “Clarification of Employer’s Continuing Obligation to Make and Maintain an Accurate Record of Each Recordable Injury and Illness” which weakens the Occupational Health and Safety Administration’s (OSHA) authority requiring employers to retain records of serious injuries and deaths for 5 years. In 2012 a court sided with a construction company that failed to record hundreds of violations, noting that if OSHA had not investigated the incident within six months of it occurring, it could not then go back and fine a company for not reporting the incident. OSHA then issued a rule making it clear that if a company did not properly maintain records of an incident for 5 years, OSHA could impose a fine even after six months. This legislation repeals that rule. If it were to become law OSHA could no longer require public disclosure or impose fines on a company if action is not taken within 6 months. UPDATE: President Trump signed H.J. Res. 83 on April 3, 2017.
- On March 2, 2107 the House passed H.R. 1004, the Regulatory Integrity Act of 2017 which establishes such a broad definition of public communication that agencies would be significantly impeded from doing the work required to implement regulations. It requires agencies to make public details about every pending regulation, including timing and all public communication about it. The legislation also requires agencies to provide Congress with a record of every public communication related to the top 5 regulations every year. This includes every phone call, electronic communication and oral conversation. It should be apparent that no possible notion of transparency could justify these overly burdensome demands. The result would be more delay in implementing regulations.
- On March 7, 2017 the Trump Administration withdrew a rule requiring airlines and ticket agents to disclose fees for checked and carry-on bags at the beginning of an online customer fare search. Now they can continue to bury the information, making it harder for consumers to comparison shop and fully understand how much they will actually pay for a flight.
- The Department of Labor has removed from its website information on consumer protections for retirement investors. The page provided answers to FAQs clarifying a new fiduciary duty rule. This will make it harder for the average person saving for retirement to understand and protect their rights under the new rule.
- On March 9, 2017 the House passed H.R. 725, the Innocent Party Protection Act, which places new burdens on plaintiffs to show that a defendant has been properly added to a court action. This will make it easier for big business to deny the average person their day in court. It gives well-funded defendants another tool to slow down legal actions against them. It also negatively impacts the ability of states to shape their own laws.
- On March 9, 2017 the House passed H.R. 985, the Fairness in Class Action Litigation and Furthering Asbestos Claim Transparency Act of 2017, which places additional requirements on plaintiffs before they can join a class action lawsuit. It makes litigation easier for corporate defendants because it creates daunting obstacles for plaintiffs. The legislation also mandates that asbestos bankruptcy trusts disclose asbestos victims’ personal information benefiting none other than the companies responsible for these injuries.
- On March 10, 2017 the House passed H.R. 720, the Lawsuit Abuse Reduction Act of 2017 which overturns current court rules, taking away judicial discretion when it comes to imposing sanctions for frivolous lawsuits. HR 720 attempts to resurrect an old rule that the courts abandoned in the early 1990s because of its harmful impact, particularly in civil rights cases where plaintiffs often bring novel legal arguments that could be accused of being frivolous before being fleshed out. This bill will make it easier for well-funded defendants to claim that suits against them are frivolous, slow down the courts, and discourage plaintiffs from seeking justice. It’s an approach that was tried and rejected and has no good reason to be resurrected.
- On March 2, 2017 we learned that the Trump Administration skipped ethics training provided to cabinet nominees and other political appointees. In January, the General Services Administration (GSA) contacted the company conducting past training sessions to inform them their services were no longer needed. Ethics training may have prevented the missteps we have seen from the Administration such as asking agencies for lists of staffers working on programs they don’t like or promoting Ivanka Trump’s clothing line from the White House briefing room. It certainly looks like ethics is not a priority for this Administration. Congressional staffers are required to take ethics training every year — it doesn’t take long.
- On March 10, 2017 the Department of Housing and Urban Development withdrew a Federal Register notice on a proposal to require shelters, housing complexes and other HUD funded facilities to post notices that they are open to all individuals and families regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity or marital status. This Administration action sends the troubling message that equal access is not a priority.
- On March 16, 2017 the Department of Education reversed a directive preventing student loan collectors from charging additional fees on borrowers who default but then enter into a repayment agreement within a specific timeframe. Now loan collectors may charge new fees the moment a borrower defaults regardless of efforts to negotiate repayment. The fees alone can soar into the thousands of dollars for a loan of $15,000.
- On March 16, 2017 the House passed H.R. 1181 which alters current law requiring the Veterans Administration to provide the names of veterans who have been classified as “mentally incompetent” and cannot handle their own financial affairs to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). H.R. 1181 requires the VA to obtain a court determination before a veteran’s name can be sent to the NICS, although the legislation does not provide funding or a framework for this new court process, which currently does not exist. The legislation is also retroactive, which means that 170,000 people already on the NICS list would be automatically removed, making it easier for them to buy a gun.
- On March 13, 2017 the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced changes to its Annual Program Performance Report for Centers for Independent Living which surveys persons living with disabilities. Moving forward HHS will no longer collect information on sexual orientation and gender identity. HHS is also eliminating that data collection from its National Survey of Older Americans Act Participants. This is important because the data collection helps HHS determine which programs for older Americans and persons living with disabilities are working best, if they are reaching enough people and where improvements can be made. By eliminating this information, HHS will have a diminished ability to evaluate whether programming is effective and truly available to the LGBTQ community.
- On March 17, 2017 we learned that the Department of Justice switched sides in a case involving the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), a federal agency. The CFPB found that a home loan company was taking illegal kickbacks from insurance companies and overcharging its mortgage borrowers. The CFPB pursued the company, demanding they relinquish the money obtained illegally. The company in turn sued the CFPB seeking to nullify the agency's findings. One of the company's claims is that the CFPB is unconstitutional. Last week the Department of Justice filed an amicus brief supporting the company's claim that the CFPB is unconstitutional. President Trump cannot fire the CFPB director at will but can fire the director for cause - i.e. for "inefficiency, neglect of duty, or malfeasance in office." That may explain why the DOJ is now basically arguing in court that the CFPB is unconstitutional. If the DOJ prevails, we can expect a lot less consumer protection when it comes to student loans, payday lending, mortgage scams, Wells Fargo type fraud, auto lending discrimination, credit card and debit card fees and so much more.
- On March 20, 2017 we learned that first daughter Ivanka Trump was getting a White House office with security clearance, access to classified information and government issued communications devices to go along with it. However, Ivanka will not actually be a government employee, which means she won’t need Senate confirmation or have to be sworn in. This raises questions about application of anti-nepotism laws and conflicts of interest because she has not completely stepped away from either the Trump business empire or her own fashion business. By not making Ivanka an official employee even though that is what she effectively is, she won't have to abide by ethics rules that apply to other government employees. UPDATE: Ivanka Trump announced on March 29, 2017 that she changed her mind and would, in fact, become an official federal government employee subject to the same rules as other employees.
- On March 21, 2017 the Trump Administration delayed a rule requiring airlines to report data on damaged and missing wheelchairs. The delayed rule also required airlines to report more meaningful data on missing and mishandled baggage. Airlines currently report just the number of mishandled bags per passenger, so the numbers can be misleading if a lot of passengers don't check bags. Since many airlines now charge for checked baggage, the amount of carry-on luggage has increased. The new rule would require airlines to report both the number of mishandled bags as well as how many bags checked overall. The rule was scheduled to go into effect on January 1, 2018. It has now been delayed at least a year.
- On March 21, 2017 the Trump Administration delayed a rule requiring commuter and intercity passenger railroads to develop and implement a system safety program. This is a structured and proactive program to identify then mitigate or eliminate safety risks on a railroad. This rule was scheduled to go into effect on March 21, 2017. The rule has been delayed until May 22, 2017.
- On February 23, 2017 the FCC voted to remove reporting requirements for internet providers with 250,000 subscribers or less. The carriers no longer have to report on data caps, fees, and their network performance/management practices. This data is vital for informing policymakers on a carrier’s practices related to net neutrality.
- Right after the election, Trump tapped Carl Icahn, the billionaire activist investor, as a special advisor on regulatory reform. Icahn’s charge is to target for elimination whatever the Administration considers to be excessive federal regulation. However, just like Ivanka, Icahn is not technically a government employee and is not divesting himself from any business interests. On the contrary, he's still actively trading. Last month, he bought a stake in Bristol Myers Squibb, a giant pharmaceutical company regulated by any number of federal agencies – the Food and Drug Administration, Health and Human Services, Department of Justice, and the Securities and Exchange Commission to name just a few. None of these agencies have been declared off-limits to Icahn in his government role. The arrangement raises a host of potential conflicts of interest as well as the potential for insider trading as he obtains information in his government role that could affect any of the companies he's currently invested in or could seek to invest in the future. CVR Energy, Tropicana Entertainment, AIG, PayPal, HerbaLife, Xerox, Allergan and Hertz are just a few of the public companies in Icahn’s portfolio. Many of his other ownership stakes are held in opaque holding companies that make unclear the full extent of his portfolio.
- On March 23, 2017 the General Services Administration (GSA) ruled that President Trump is not benefitting from government property and therefore is not in violation of his D.C. hotel lease. This determination comes after Trump family members met with the GSA to address conflicts of interest related to the Old Post Office Building, which is now Trump Hotel. The GSA is satisfied that Trump will not benefit from the hotel while in office because his interest will be held in trust and he won’t receive any distributions until he leaves office. What a shock that a governmental agency would clear their boss, the President, from any suspicion. It reminds me of the famous quote from the classic movie Casablanca, when Captain Renault declares himself to be SHOCKED, SHOCKED to find that gambling was going on in the casino.
This is just nonsense. The hotel is within walking distance of the White House. Even if Trump is not benefitting financially from the hotel today, he will be as soon as he leaves office. Anyone wishing to influence or curry favor with the Trump administration, including foreign governments, has an easy way of showing they have helped contribute to the success of the hotel and the Trump brand. Additionally, the hotel is valued at $200 million. $170 million of this was financed by Deutsche Bank which is under investigation by federal regulators. Those regulators will now be appointed by Trump. Labor disputes with hotel employees may end up before the National Labor Relations Board. Those members will be also be appointed by Trump.
- On March 24, 2017 President Trump signed the Keystone XL Pipeline Permit. Previously, the President established a short 60 day window to review the permit even though the State Department has said the impact of the project could not be fully considered until the route through Kansas was selected, which still hasn’t happened. The President signed this permit without seriously considering all the issues, including environmental impact along the pipeline route.
- On March 28, 2017 President Trump signed an Executive Order directing the Environmental Protection Agency to scrap the Clean Power Plan, which was an effort to reduce carbon emissions from fossil fuels. The order also rolls back many Obama Administration efforts to protect the environment and plan for climate change. For instance it rescinds guidance issued requiring agencies to incorporate climate change into National Environmental Policy Act reviews, and would reopen previously off limits public lands to coal mining. The Clean Power Plan is perhaps the biggest item in the order. The EPA acted only after determining, based on scientific evidence, that greenhouse gas emissions are a public health threat. With this EO, the Administration will have to now argue against that science.
- On March 29, 2017 the House passed S.J. Res. 34, Providing for congressional disapproval under chapter 8 of title 5, United States Code, of the rule submitted by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) relating to Protecting the Privacy of Customers of Broadband and Other Telecommunications Services. This legislation nullifies the following FCC rule: Protecting the Privacy of Customers of Broadband and Other Telecommunications Service.
The practical impact of cancelling this rule is significant and deeply disturbing. Once the President signs this measure, internet service providers (ISPs) will be able to collect and sell our personal data without telling us or asking permission. This includes browsing history, personal information about us and our families, financial information, app usage and so much more. Just think about all the information you and your family members search for on the internet. You might not care if your ISP shares the news that you searched for a new home or a living room set or the updated recycling schedule for your community. What if your child is ill and you are concerned about her symptoms or the side effects of a prescribed medication? Or your mother has been diagnosed with a disease and you want to learn more about it? All of this information will now be available without your consent and you can’t do anything about it. I really cannot understand why anyone would think this is a good idea. UPDATE: President Trump signed S.J. Res. 34 on April 3, 2017.
- On March 29, 2017 the House passed H.R. 1430, the Honest and Open New EPA Science Treatment Act of 2017 which prevents the EPA from conducting any work on rules unless all scientific and technical research used to develop the rule is publicly available, can be reviewed by outside entities and can be replicated. Universities and research institutions are regularly consulted by the EPA for peer-reviewed research. In many cases, that research includes sensitive personal information, including details related to an individual’s health. The disclosure requirements in H.R. 1430 potentially make that information publicly available because the legislation gives the EPA Administrator the authority to release it to anyone. There is also a cost issue associated with this bill. Although $1 million is authorized to cover the costs associated with H.R. 1430, the Congressional Budget Office analyzed a similar bill and determined it would cost the EPA $1 billion over 4 years to comply.
- On March 30, 2017 the House passed H.R.1431, the EPA Science Advisory Board Reform Act of 2017 which imposes additional requirements for the EPA when choosing Science Advisory Board (SAB) members. The board must represent “balanced” views of scientific matters, including views that are not consistent with actual scientific evidence. It is fair to ask proponents of this legislation if they would require that SAB members be equally divided between those who accept climate change is real and those who don’t. Should there be one seat for those who believe the earth is round and another for those who believe it is flat? H.R. 1431 also permits up to 90% of all board members to be scientists working in the private sector. This would give big business an outsized role in determining the direction of the EPA. The legislation mandates that all SAB decisions are consistent with the positions of all board members. It further requires the board to accept public comments on all of their decisions and respond to every one. No additional funding is provided to assist the SAB in accomplishing these additional responsibilities.
- On March 24, 2017 in an interview with Forbes, Eric Trump announced that he will continue sharing quarterly profitability reports with his father, despite President Trump’s assertions that he has no conflicts because all his businesses have been handed off to his children and he won't talk to them about anything related to those businesses. Quarterly profitability reports certainly qualify as important information related to the President’s business empire. This sharing of information raises serious questions about who the President is really working for, the American public or his companies’ bottom lines.
- On March 29, 2017 the Federal Communications Commission Chairman announced plans to let states decide which companies are certified to participate in the Lifeline broadband program. This nullifies pending requests by dozens of small and rural Internet providers hoping to offer subsidized broadband connections to low-income Americans nationwide. This will hurt their ability to choose a good provider, particularly in rural or low-income areas. The Lifeline program, created during the Reagan Administration, supports seniors, veterans and rural Americans who otherwise cannot afford phone or Internet service.
- In April 2017 the Department of Homeland Security stressed a commitment to arrest victims of crimes for immigration violations, even if they are appearing in court to testify. Victims or witnesses of crimes, from theft to rape and murder, risk being arrested if they come forward to testify against someone accused of a serious crime. So it’s more important to arrest and deport the undocumented immigrant than secure the conviction of an American citizen accused of a serious crime?
- This development occurred before we launched Behind the Curtain, but we thought it was important to include on this list. In January, President Trump named his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, a senior White House advisor. Like his wife Ivanka, Kushner is a federal government employee. His portfolio at the White House keeps growing. In late March, he was named to head the new White House Office on American Innovation. This is in addition to his various responsibilities on domestic policy and foreign affairs.
- Oops — we realized we never added the Second Executive Order relative to Immigration. This order removed Iraq from list of banned countries, ended preferential treatment for Christian refugees (but kept 120 day ban on refugee entry — and 50,000 limit on refugee admissions for this year, of which almost 38,000 had reached US by 3/15/17), and permitted waivers of the ban on a "case-by-case" basis for several categories of persons, including immediate family of US citizens. This Executive Order has been stayed by Court action subject to appeals.
- At the end of March, it came to our attention that the Trump Administration has stopped disclosing troop deployments in Iraq and Syria to the public. This means that the American public will know less about the military engagements that the United States is involved in. Given the recent military action and the complexity of Syria specifically, the public has a right to know when our men and women in uniform are in harm’s way.
- On April 7, 2017 Twitter dropped a lawsuit against U.S. Customs and Border Patrol after the federal agency withdrew demands to unmask an anonymous Twitter account critical of the administration. Federal officials thought the account, @ALT-USCIS, looked like it might be run by an employee of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services division of the Department of Homeland Security. Federal officials ordered Twitter to turn over information about the account, including names, passwords, and ISP addresses associated with it. Federal officials noted that if the account owner wished to challenge the information demand they had one day to notify Twitter, with a certified copy of the letter sent to DHS. Of course, this action would require the user to unmask him or herself. Once Twitter started legal proceedings to protect its user, the government backed off and Twitter dropped its lawsuit. We think this example belongs on the list because it is a blatant abuse of power to silence a critic. The Trump Administration didn’t succeed this time but they will no doubt try again.
- On April 10, 2017 it was reported that AG Sessions would terminate the National Commission on Forensic Science, an advisory board of independent scientists focused on raising forensic science standards. This partnership was established to strengthen the scientific foundation of forensic evidence after the Justice Department determined some expert testimony was scientifically misleading. This can impact jury deliberation and could result in the conviction of innocent people. For example, one review of the FBI's hair analysis data found that over 20 decades experts gave flawed or overstated testimony in 90% of cases. The purpose of the commission was to strengthen forensic science when a clear need to do so was identified.
- In January the Trump Administration issued an Executive Order defining the parameters under which former lobbyists could work for the Administration and what restrictions they would be subject to upon leaving government service. The Executive Order weakens the rules President Obama put in place and are significantly less reform minded than the Trump campaign’s own “Drain the Swamp” Five Point Plan for Ethics Reform. While Trump Administration officials will face a 5-year ban on lobbying the agency they worked for, they will be free to lobby any other part of government after they leave. The Trump Executive Order also reduces to 1 year the previous 2-year ban on Administration officials contacting their former agencies. During the campaign, Trump promised to expand the definition of lobbyist because too many people today evade lobbying restrictions by calling themselves consultants or advisors. Breaking his own campaign promise, Trump’s Executive Order is limited to registered lobbyists. Obama and Trump both retained the ability to waive their lobbying bans on a case-by-case basis, but Trump has removed the requirement to report these waivers annually to the public. Since that January EO, some individuals have been hired to advise on issues for which they clearly lobbied past Administrations. By removing this public reporting requirement, the public does not know how many or to whom waivers have been granted.
- On April 14, 2017 the Trump Administration announced it would no longer make White House visitor logs public. This reverses an Obama Administration policy of sharing with the public who is entering the White House as well as whom they are meeting with. The current Administration’s reversal on this shows a stunning lack of transparency.
- On April 17, 2017 President Trump appointed former Congressman Scott Garrett to lead the Export Import Bank (Ex Im Bank). Garrett was one of the most vocal critics of this independent federal agency and in fact voted twice (in 2012 and in 2015) against renewing the bank’s charter. So is this a case of letting the fox inside the henhouse OR will this fox change his position as Trump claims to have done and now support the Ex Im Bank? This agency helps companies compete globally by giving them access to financing when private sector funding is not readily available. Eliminating or weakening the Ex Im Bank places American companies at a significant disadvantage when trading overseas which has an impact on jobs. Every other major country, including China, has a comparable institution.
- On April 17, 2017 the Administration indefinitely delayed an Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulation limiting worker exposure to silica. This is a mineral commonly found at construction sites – for example, in concrete, granite or sand. Silica dust can cause lung cancer. Delaying this rule impacts worker safety.
- On April 18, 2017 we learned that the Chinese government approved trademarks for Ivanka Trump’s company, awarding monopoly rights to sell her brand of jewelry, bags and spa services in China, the world’s second largest economy. The trademarks were approved the day after she sat next to the Chinese Prime Minister at dinner at Mar-a-Lago. Ivanka’s company has also applied for at least 9 new trademarks in the Philippines, Canada, Puerto Rico and the U.S. This is one more in a long line of conflict of interest issues raised by the Trumps' global businesses and their role as First Family. The Trump family has an advantage that no other business in this country can compete with.
- On April 20, 2017 the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted to eliminate price caps in the business broadband market by imposing a new standard that characterizes certain local markets as competitive even though only one broadband provider is operating. This will make it easier for broadband companies to raise prices in regions where they already have a monopoly, particularly in rural areas.
- On April 20, 2017 the Federal Communications Commission also voted to ease a limit on television station ownership. The current rule establishes how stations are counted in market share and places specific limits on companies owning television stations. One restriction is that they can’t have the ability to broadcast to more than 39% of U.S. households. Concentrated ownership of television stations limits consumer programming options and can hurt local news editorial operations.
- On April 26, 2017 we learned that Ivanka Trump had established a new entity, ostensibly to provide capital to female entrepreneurs. According to multiple news reports, some countries and corporations have already contributed to it. This is another in a long line of conflicts for the first daughter. She is a federal government employee, owns global businesses, and is now soliciting money for a private venture from sovereign nations and regulated corporations. This raises many questions - is this new venture a nonprofit, a foundation? Does she draw a salary, use her government position to raise money? Is this new entity tax-exempt?
- On April 26, 2017 a Justice Department lawyer argued an immigration case before the Supreme Court. In an exchange with Chief Justice John Roberts we got another troubling look at the Trump Administration’s attitude towards immigration. The Department of Justice (DOJ) insisted that even a trivial or meaningless misstatement on a citizenship application could result in the revocation of citizenship even 20 years later, if it came to light. The DOJ actually insisted after a question from Chief Justice Roberts that if someone knowingly went 5 miles over the speed limit and didn’t include that on their application, their citizenship could be revoked. This is a telling window into the heartless attitude of this Administration toward immigrants. It’s worth noting that Melania Trump was paid for some modeling work she did while in the U.S. on a visitor’s visa. That activity is not permitted under that visa category. It does not appear that the First Lady disclosed this information on her citizenship application.
- On May 2, 2017 the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) removed all scientific data on climate change from their official website, including a section explaining exactly what it is. That particular section has been in place for twenty years. This is one more glaring indication of the direction that the Trump Administration plans to take our country on the environment.
- On May 2, 2017 we learned that Trump advisor and son-in-law Jared Kushner did not include some important information in his required ethics disclosure form. Kushner failed to disclose loans on properties worth over $1 billion, including a startup that partners with Goldman Sachs. This is one more in a rapidly growing list of ethics questions surrounding Trump advisors. Why didn’t Kushner fully disclose his business ties?
- On May 2, 2017 the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) rescinded nutritional guidelines for school lunches established by former First Lady Michelle Obama in her Let's Move Campaign, as well as through the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010. The intent of these efforts was to provide more nutritious school lunches to students. The practical impact of this USDA directive will be offerings that are lower in nutritional value than the meals currently being offered.
- On May 4, 2017 President Trump signed an Executive Order “Promoting Free Speech and Religious Liberty”. It directs the IRS to exercise "maximum enforcement discretion" over the Johnson amendment. This amendment prevents churches and other tax-exempt religious organizations from getting involved in political campaigns. The EO also gives "regulatory relief" to organizations that object on religious grounds to an ACA provision requiring employers to provide certain health services, including coverage for contraception. For decades the Johnson amendment has prevented houses of worship from being used in a partisan or political manner. While it would take an act of Congress to repeal the amendment, this EO damages that wall between church and state.
- On May 2, 2017 the House passed H.R. 1180, the Working Families Flexibility Act of 2017 which lets employers grant their employees compensatory time instead of overtime pay. This discretion is solely left to the employer, employees do not have a choice on whether or not they will receive overtime pay or time off. While certainly some employees would welcome additional time off, plenty of workers would rather have more money in their paychecks. There is also no guarantee that an employee will get the time off when requested. While H.R. 1180 requires employers to pay workers for any unused comp time, they don’t have to do that until the end of the year and they don’t have to add any interest no matter how long they are holding onto it, even though it technically belongs to the employee.
- On May 4, 2017 the House passed H.R. 1628, the American Health Care Act. The is the Republican attempt to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA). There is just too much wrong with this bill to keep it short so please see my May 5, 2107 e-Update.
- In January, then President-elect Trump announced he would put together a team to draft a cybersecurity plan after being briefed on Russian hacking in the November election. He promised that this team would have a plan ready for review in 90 days. We are now well past 90 days and not only is there no plan completed – there isn’t a team in place to review data and craft a plan.
- On May 8, 2017 it was reported that EPA Director Scott Pruitt did not renew the appointments of 9 scientists serving on a science review board that advises the EPA. While it is certainly common practice for new administrations to bring their own staffers on board, Pruitt made it clear that he wanted to replace the scientists with industry representatives to bring balance to the science review board.
- On May 8, 2017 in a statement upon signing the Fiscal Year 2017 omnibus spending bill President Trump listed the Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) Capital Financing Program as an example of a provision in the bill that allocates benefits on the basis of race, ethnicity and gender. The President stated that he would treat the program "in a manner consistent with the requirement to afford equal protection of the law under the Due Process Clause of the Constitution's Fifth Amendment." By raising this issue, the President suggests that federal financing for Historically Black Colleges and Universities may be unconstitutional which could lead to a loss of federal funding for HBCUs.
- On May 11, 2017 President Trump issued an Executive Order establishing the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity. The 15 person commission will be chosen entirely by President Trump and chaired by the Vice President. In November, the then President-elect claimed that 3-5 million people had voted illegally and promised to investigate it. Trump won the election, but lost the popular vote by 3 million. This commission is a colossal waste of taxpayer dollars. The Committee on House Administration conducted a survey of state election officials which found that the rate of attempted voter fraud is .00000010247. Even Republican leaders have repeatedly stated that there is absolutely no evidence of voter fraud. Widespread voter suppression, however, is a demonstrable fact. Fourteen states placed new restrictions on voting in 2016. These laws ranged from requiring a voter to present a photo ID, to eliminating early voting opportunities. Long lines at the polls and failing voting equipment are also real obstacles. National voter turnout rates in the last election were at a 20-year low.
- Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner are renting a townhouse for $15,500 a month from Andronico Luksic, a billionaire from Chile who just purchased the property in November. The Obama Administration prevented a company owned by Luksic from building a mine in Minnesota, citing environmental concerns. The company is now asking the Trump Administration to reverse this decision. Just one more in a growing list of conflicts of interest.
- The Obama Administration gave prosecutors discretion when seeking penalties for crimes committed, recognizing that the harshest penalties with strict mandatory minimum sentences are not always the best course of action. AG Sessions has taken the opposite approach, instructing federal prosecutors to seek the harshest penalties available for crimes.
- The Office of Government Ethics (OGE) is requiring Trump cabinet members and other top officials to complete extra ethics forms to ensure they really have taken the actions they pledged to take during their Senate confirmation. The OGE wants to know whether appointees followed through on pledges to resign from private-sector positions that posed conflicts of interest, divest financial holdings they had promised to sell and recuse themselves from any issues where they have had conflicts. OGE plans to post the completed forms online, along with the ethics agreement that the appointee signed during Senate confirmation.
- On May 5, 2017 President Trump appointed Keith Noreika temporary Chair of the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC), skirting the Senate confirmation process and ethics rules. Instead of appointing a career official, Trump chose a campaign supporter and bank lawyer. Apparently, Noreika himself suggested this while on the Trump Treasury transition team. The OCC classifies Noreika as a “special government employee,” retained to perform “temporary duties” for not more than 130 days. This designation typically is given to people serving on advisory committees, not for overseeing a federal agency. There is nothing preventing Trump from keeping Noreika there longer to avoid the confirmation process. He has not been vetted or confirmed by the Senate. He is under no obligation to comply with ethics rules, including Trump's own lobbying ban. Noreika is already indicating he will be an activist chair. He’s promised to revisit Dodd-Frank rulemakings which he considers to be overly burdensome. This position is particularly powerful because the OCC is led by a single director and not a commission. Noreika spent much of his career at the Wall Street legal defense firm Covington and Burling with banks and executives as clients. Once his time at the OCC is up, he’ll go right back to serving the same banks he did before he was OCC Chair, but this time with some unique experience. The OCC chief also sits on the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation Board and the Financial Stability Oversight Council.
- On May 18, 2017 the Federal Communications Commission voted to advance the “Restoring Internet Freedom” proposal, which eliminates net neutrality rules. Under current rules, internet service providers are treated like public utilities, or common carriers. This means they must treat all internet content the same. They cannot create so-called fast lanes, charging more money for faster content delivery. Reversing net neutrality rules would make it harder for everyone to access certain internet content. Only big businesses would be in a position to pay more money for easier access. It places small companies at a serious competitive disadvantage. This is not a done deal yet. A public comment period has opened, if you have an opinion on this, I encourage you to weigh in. https://www.fcc.gov/ecfs/search/filings?proceedings_name=17-108&sort=date_disseminated,DESC
- On May 2, 2017 the National Institutes of Health (NIH) announced plans to change the way grants are awarded. NIH plans to limit grants to no more than three per investigator. I have always supported the principle of peer review. Scientists, not politicians or bureaucrats, should decide which grants are funded and money should be invested in research that specialists in the field judge most promising. Scientists judge applicants on the basis of scientific excellence only. It should not come as a surprise that NIH money isn’t distributed equally among states. This artificial limit ignores the fact that a “Principal Investigator” could be a person of genius, a Jonas Salk or Albert Einstein, who could (in my district many do) mentor dozens of post-doctoral fellows on projects that should be judged on their merits, not artificially capped. This approach could jeopardize U.S. preeminence in biomedical sciences.
- The Department of Justice has issued a Cease and Desist order to the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, demanding the organization stop providing legal assistance to immigrants unless they are formally representing them in a court proceeding. This would make it difficult for the nonprofit to continue much of the legal work it does to help immigrants, including for those facing deportation proceedings. A federal judge has issued a nationwide temporary restraining order to prevent the DOJ from sending similar letters, but this action highlights the Trump Administration’s negative approach to dealing with immigration.
- The Office of Government Ethics (OGE) has asked all federal agencies to provide information about all the waivers they have issued to former lobbyists and industry lawyers now working in the Administration. OGE would like the information by June 6th with the intention of making them public. Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Director Mick Mulvaney is challenging the OGE's authority to even request this information and has demanded they rescind it. Without waivers being made public, there is no way of knowing how many employees working in the Administration are former lobbyists and industry representatives involved with the same issues they worked on in the private sector. We also don’t know who they are. Under the Obama Administration, any waivers granted were made public and explanations were given for why the waiver was appropriate. This is one more example of the apparent disdain this Administration has for transparency and the public's right to know.
- The Department of Transportation has delayed a rule requiring states to track greenhouse gas emissions from cars that use federal highways. The idea behind this effort is to compare from year to year how federal transportation investments are impacting greenhouse gas.
- On May 23, 2017 the Trump Administration released its Fiscal Year 2018 budget. For details, please read our e-Update for 5/26/2017.
- On May 24, 2017 the House passed H.R. 953, the Reducing Regulatory Burdens Act of 2017 which exempts the application of pesticides near water from regulations applied through the Clean Water Act.
- On May 22, 2017 the Trump Administration and the Republican-led House of Representatives requested an additional 90 days to resolve a lawsuit related to Affordable Care Act (ACA) subsidies. These subsidies help reduce premiums for people who are on the ACA exchanges. Insurers must submit rates in June for next year and this three month delay will raise questions about the continued availability of the subsidies. With the repeal and replacement of the ACA still not resolved, the Trump Administration is using this subsidy issue to create uncertainty for insurers and consumers. In fact, Trump has stated on numerous occasions that destabilized exchanges could help bring Democrats to the negotiating table.
- Businessman turned President-elect Donald Trump pledged that the Trump Organization would donate all profits his hotels made from foreign governments to the United States Treasury. Because the President has refused to divest his ownership in the Trump Organization, this was an important step to ensure he was not in violation of the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution – which bars federal government officials from taking gifts from foreign governments. On May 24, 2017, Rep. Elijah Cummings, Ranking Member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform sent a letter to the Trump Organization, raising concerns about their responsiveness in identifying profits made from foreign governments. The Trump Organization has basically argued that it’s too hard to identify every instance and that it would “diminish the guest experience of our brand.” Instead, the Trump Organization plan essentially seems to be that any foreign government representative spending money in a Trump hotel should simply identify him or herself and report expenses. This is, of course, wholly inadequate and raises more questions about ethical aspects of Trump’s business interests.
- On May 30, 2017 the Office of Management and Budget posted a draft rule reversing an Affordable Care Act requirement that employer offered health care plans must cover all FDA-approved contraceptive methods, as well as patient education and counseling. The posted rule would allow any employer citing a religious objection to opt out of offering coverage for birth control. There is already a limited exemption in place for certain religious organizations and some qualified private employers. If enacted, this expanded exemption would put millions of women at risk of losing access to contraception. More than half of non-elderly Americans have employer-sponsored health insurance. While not finalized, this is one of the ways that the Administration can weaken the ACA without Congress.
- On June 1, 2017 President Trump announced he was withdrawing the United States from the Paris Climate Accord. Once again, he is demonstrating a shocking unwillingness to even acknowledge the scientific reality of climate change. Further, he reveals an equally shocking refusal to recognize that rule of law nations abide by their international commitments. This agreement represents the resolve of 195 countries to protect the health of our planet and its people. With this reversal, the U.S. joins only Syria and Nicaragua in opting out of the accord. I am deeply troubled that the President is refusing to acknowledge the collective responsibility we all have, as citizens and as a nation, to address the underlying causes of climate change.
- The Trump Administration issued a new policy regarding responding to information requests from Members of Congress. Supported by a May 1st Justice Department Office of Legal Counsel opinion, federal agencies have been instructed to disregard information requests from Members of Congress unless they are from or supported by Committee or Subcommittee Chairs. Keep in mind that Republicans have the majority in the House and the Senate. Based on this policy, any time a Democrat asks for information the request has to be backed by Republican committee/subcommittee leadership. This significantly limits the ability of Democrats to get answers to questions for their constituents and for themselves.
- On May 31, 2017 the Trump Administration announced ethics waivers for 17 White House staffers, including Reince Priebus, Kellyanne Conway and Steve Bannon. President Obama issued 17 ethics waivers during his entire Presidency. These waivers exempt the employees from certain requirements, including prohibitions on communicating with former employers or clients. It raises serious conflict of interest questions.
- On May 23, 2017 the Office of Management and Budget approved a more extensive questionnaire for visa applicants that asks for all social media handles, emails, and telephone numbers for the last five years, as well as biographical information for the past 15 years. This additional scrutiny is part of an effort to tighten vetting of U.S. visitors and give more authority to consular officials to request private information. While the new questions are voluntary anyone who does not answer them may experience a delay or a denial of their visa application. This expanded questionnaire grants extensive new power to consular officials who have the sole authority to determine who is ultimately granted a visa.
- In a June 5, 2017 memo Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that the Department of Justice would halt the practice of reaching settlement agreements directing payouts to “third-party organizations” that were not directly involved in the lawsuits. Such settlements have gone to the National Urban League, Habitat for Humanity and the Legal Services Corporation. The purpose of the settlement agreements with the federal government is to assist those who were injured by the harmful conduct of the company in the first place. The Pipeline Safety Trust, which is the only non-profit focused on pipeline safety, was created by a settlement like this in a criminal case resulting from a pipeline explosion in Washington State.
- On June 8, 2017 the House passed H.R. 10, the Financial CHOICE Act of 2017. This legislation repeals the most important provisions of the Dodd- Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010. It deregulates the largest financial institutions in the world, makes it harder for state and federal regulators to pursue bad actors, and brings back the Wild West environment that Wall Street enjoyed before the 2008 financial crisis.
- In June of 2017 the Department of Labor narrowed the definition of “employees” and joint “employers”. The Obama Administration defined employees in a way that ensured workers could not be considered free lancers and that joint employers were responsible for actions of their businesses. For example, a large corporation could exercise great control over their franchisees, but still try to avoid responsibility for an issue at one of them by insisting that franchises are separate entities. Freelance employees must pay higher taxes, do not have labor rights, and don't receive benefits such as healthcare. By narrowing these definitions, workers could get misclassified and consequently be treated as freelances, losing access to certain benefits and protections.
- In June 2017 the Trump Administration announced it would end the Family Case Management Program. This program helps vulnerable women and their children who have arrived here illegally seeking asylum. The program is simply a humanitarian way to house at-risk families while they wait for their case to be resolved. With the end of this program, these families will be forced back to crowded detention centers as their asylum request is considered. The end of this program is one more example of the Trump Administration’s callous approach to immigrants.
- On June 14, 2017 the Trump Administration announced that the Department of Education would review two rules relating to for-profit colleges, scheduled to take effect on July 1st. The rules were drafted after some for-profit colleges, including Corinthian College and ITT Technical Institutes, collapsed. Students were left with debt and without degrees. The rules would have given education officials the authority to consider a range of factors, including lawsuits and reports from accrediting agencies, in deciding whether a higher education institution would remain eligible for federal financial aid. The “gainful employment mandate” was also a factor that officials could consider. This means that officials can review the employment circumstances of graduates to determine if they are making enough money to pay off their student loans. The rules also gave student borrowers an expedited path to ease their student loan debt if their college had acted unlawfully.
- On June 12, 2017 The National Women's Law Center filed suit against the Trump Administration’s Department of Education to compel them to release data on federal enforcement efforts with respect to Title IX. This statute directs how schools handle cases of campus assault and sexual harassment. In the recently filed complaint, the Center argues that the Department of Education is withholding information that is rightly public record under the Freedom of Information Act. These records could shed light on how the Trump Administration will manage Title IX enforcement. This is particularly important because Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has not indicated how she intends to handle guidance the Obama Administration issued to schools on sexual harassment. It would be within her authority to withdraw them.
- A troubling pattern is emerging with respect to White House press briefings and we think it’s worth attention. On Monday June 19th White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer held the regular press briefing off camera and prohibited audio recording of it. The press briefings have also gotten shorter and less frequent. Spicer’s answers to questions, when he does take them, often consist of vague non-answers. On Tuesday, during an on-camera briefing (the first in 8 days) he was asked if Trump believes that Russia did in fact interfere in our election, a conclusion that 16 intelligence agencies have already reached. Spicer’s response? “I have not sat down and talked with him about that specific thing.” Sorry, but this answer simply defies belief. The White House has a responsibility to the American people to be accessible and answer questions about the work they are doing. This doesn’t mean they must know the answer to every question and it doesn’t mean they must hold formal briefings every single day. They have an obligation though, to do better. The journalists in the briefing room represent our window into the White House. The Trump Administration is slowly but surely closing that window.
- The Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Land Management published a notice in the Federal Register on June 15, 2017 indefinitely delaying a rule limiting methane emissions on federal lands. Methane is one of the most dangerous greenhouse gases. In May, the Senate rejected by one vote a move to invalidate this rule after the House passed it in February. Since efforts to limit methane emissions failed legislatively, Trump is moving forward administratively.
- On June 16, 2017 the Solicitor General reversed course to side with employers over employees in a case before the Supreme Court: NLRB v. Murphy Oil. The case considers whether arbitration agreements with individual employees that prevent them from pursuing work-related claims on a collective or class basis constitute an unfair labor practice and, as such, are prohibited. The Obama Administration supported the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), arguing such agreements are not legal because the National Labor Relations Act protects employees’ ability to participate in joint actions regarding the terms or conditions of their employment. The NLRB concluded that Murphy Oil USA, a gas station operator, unlawfully required employees at its Alabama facility to sign an arbitration agreement waiving their right to pursue class actions. The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the NLRB ruling and found in favor of Murphy Oil. It is now before the Supreme Court. The Administration’s reversal in Murphy Oil is a victory for companies who deny workers and consumers their right to have disputes settled in a court of law in a transparent proceeding where the results are grounded in the law and decided by an impartial judge and jury.
- On June 19, 2017 President Trump nominated Jim Clinger to chair the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC). The FDIC is an independent agency of the U.S. government that protects the bank deposits of American families and businesses against loss if an FDIC-insured institution fails. FDIC insurance is backed by the full faith and credit of the U.S. government. The Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act passed by Congress in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis enhanced the FDIC’s authority and tasked it with carefully winding down failing institutions to minimize the risk of failure to the economy as a whole as well as other financial institutions. Clinger is a former committee staffer for House Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling (R-TX). The House passed Hensarling's bill to repeal the Wall Street Reform Act on a party line vote on June 8th. If confirmed by the Senate, Mr. Clinger will be in a position to shape the priorities of the FDIC.
- On June 16, 2017 the New York Times reported that late last year, the Russian government renewed 6 expiring trademarks for Trump hotel and other business initiatives that the organization never started. The Trump Organization requested the renewal of these trademarks. This news is curious and seems to be inconsistent with the President’s repeated claims that he doesn’t have any business interests in Russia. The timing is also curious because four of those renewals were registered on Election Day 2016.
- In response to a February 3, 2017 Executive Order issued by President Trump, the Treasury Department on June 19th published a report offering recommendations on ways to loosen federal regulations on financial services. Some of the recommendations include: (1) pursuant to Dodd Frank, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) and the Federal Reserve oversee a process requiring big banks to create "living wills.” These are basically plans showing how the big banks would handle another severe market downturn without adversely impacting the rest of the economy. The FDIC has consistently taken a more critical view of the banks' submissions than the Federal Reserve. The FDIC has also been more likely to recommend consequences for banks who don’t produce satisfactory living wills. Trump's Treasury recommends removing the FDIC from this process. (2) Treasury recommends that every single bank, no matter how big they are or how much risky activity they engage in, be allowed to opt out of the Volcker Rule as long as they hold onto a certain amount of capital. The Volcker Rule prohibits banks from gambling with federally insured deposits. The problem with this recommendation is that if an institution is free to take on as much risk as it wants, whatever capital buffer exists could disappear fast. (3) The report includes many recommendations that would weaken the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). This is the ONLY federal agency whose sole mission is to protect consumers from risky or abusive financial products and practices. Some of Treasury’s recommendations include making the CFPB director removable at the will of the President instead of "for good cause" as required by current law; hide the consumer complaint database from the public which so far has tracked over one million complaints submitted by consumers in every state; repeal CFPB's supervisory authority over financial institutions, and lift the current cap on points and fees so that lenders can potentially gouge their mortgage customers as so many did during the financial crisis. These changes would require Congressional action, but given that the Republican-led House has already voted to gut Dodd Frank, it certainly seems likely they would support the Administration’s recommendations. Treasury’s report is also illustrative of the Administration’s approach to financial regulation and consumer protection.
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