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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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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