U.S. Government & governance 2018

Written by  //  July 13, 2018  //  Government & Governance, U.S.  //  No comments

U.S. Government & governance 2017 – 18
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13 July
Trump tightens control over regulatory judges
(Politico) President Donald Trump moved to tighten control over the in-house judges that implement much of the federal government’s regulatory agenda — his latest step to consolidate political power throughout the sprawling bureaucracy.
An executive order signed Tuesday gives agency heads greater discretion over the selection of so-called administrative law judges. These judges, typically promoted out of the federal civil service, make legal rulings that drive regulatory actions across the federal government.
Giuliani works for foreign clients while serving as Trump’s attorney
(WaPost) Rudolph W. Giuliani continues to work on behalf of foreign clients both personally and through his namesake security firm while serving as President Trump’s personal attorney — an arrangement experts say raises conflict of interest concerns and could run afoul of federal ethics laws.
Giuliani said in recent interviews with The Washington Post that he is working with clients in Brazil and Colombia, among other countries, as well as delivering paid speeches for a controversial Iranian dissident group. He has never registered with the Justice Department on behalf of his overseas clients, asserting it is not necessary because he does not directly lobby the U.S. government and is not charging Trump for his services.

25 June
Republicans press ahead with narrow fix to migrant crisis created by Trump … all but abandoning efforts for a far-reaching immigration overhaul that would fund a border wall and deal with the fate of young undocumented immigrants.
With Trump proving to be an unpredictable ally, deeply divided Republicans say they have little hope of rallying support for a broad package of reforms. However, GOP leaders are eager to adopt legislation that would make sure migrant children can remain with their parents at the border.
Haunting images of children in metal cages and reports of the government struggling to reunite families have touched off an international outcry that weighs heavily on the GOP five months before the midterm elections

24 June
Trump Suggests Suspending Rule of Law for Undocumented Immigrants
(New York) Trump does not (yet) have the power to suspend laws unilaterally, and his retreat on the family-separation policy last week shows that public outrage remains a potent force in American politics.
But the president is being more forthright than ever about the authoritarian playbook he’s working from. He has conjured an immigration crisis where none exists, continues to terrify his supporters about a group that is more peaceful than native-born Americans, and has become increasingly bold about his desire to revoke that group’s basic human rights.

9 June
In the Trump Administration, Science Is Unwelcome. So Is Advice.
As the president prepares for nuclear talks, he lacks a close adviser with nuclear expertise. It’s one example of a marginalization of science in shaping federal policy.
Mr. Trump is the first president since 1941 not to name a science adviser, a position created during World War II to guide the Oval Office on technical matters ranging from nuclear warfare to global pandemics. As a businessman and president, Mr. Trump has proudly been guided by his instincts. Nevertheless, people who have participated in past nuclear negotiations say the absence of such high-level expertise could put him at a tactical disadvantage in one of the weightiest diplomatic matters of his presidency.

5 June
Law professors torch Trump legal memo
A recently published letter from President Donald Trump’s attorneys claiming that the president could not have obstructed the federal investigation into ties between his campaign and Russia is deeply flawed, 14 prominent law professors and legal scholars said Monday in a pointed rebuttal sent to top lawyers at the White House.
“The Office of the President is not a get-out-of-jail free card for lawless behavior,” the professors wrote in their letter, obtained by POLITICO. “Indeed, our country’s Founders made it clear in the Declaration of Independence that they did not believe that even a king had such powers; they specifically cited King George’s obstruction of justice as among the ‘injuries and usurpations’ that justified independence. Our Founders would not have created — and did not create — a Constitution that would permit the President to use his powers to violate the laws for corrupt and self-interested reasons.”

4 June
(The Atlantic Daily) Pardon Power: President Trump asserted on Twitter that he could pardon himself if indicted in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, thus implying the executive branch has no power to check presidential misdeeds—and unwittingly making the case for impeachment. Over the weekend, a new report from The New York Times revealed that Trump’s lawyers sent a letter to Mueller’s team arguing that it’s impossible for a president to obstruct justice. Benjamin Wittes explains the merits—and the flaws—of their case.

22 May
Congress just approved a bill to dismantle parts of the Dodd-Frank banking rule
“Banks are back to making record profits, but Washington insists on doing them more favors,” said Sen. Elizabeth Warren.
(NBC) Dodd-Frank was an attempt to reestablish oversight and control over financial institutions after the economic meltdown of the late 2000s. Major banks went bankrupt. Markets collapsed. Millions of homeowners fell into foreclosure or lost savings. Available credit dried up. The federal government fronted trillions of dollars to shore up the economy. The Federal Reserve bought toxic financial assets and slashed interest rates to stabilize the situation.
The 2,300-page bill included new regulatory requirements for banks, creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, expansion of oversight of hedge funds and private equity firms, increased bank reporting requirements, and the so-called Volcker Rule.
Congress Approves First Big Dodd-Frank Rollback
(NYT) The bill stops far short of unwinding the toughened regulatory regime put in place to prevent the nation’s biggest banks from engaging in risky behavior, but it represents a substantial watering down of Obama-era rules governing a large swath of the banking system. The legislation will leave fewer than 10 big banks in the United States subject to stricter federal oversight, freeing thousands of banks with less than $250 billion in assets from a post-crisis crackdown that they have long complained is too onerous.

21 May
Donald Trump Comes Unglued Amid Growing Pressure From Bob Mueller
(New York Magazine) Thought leaders and lawyers on Fox News and elsewhere — which is to say, Trump’s whisperers — have for months been beating the drum that the president can do no wrong in his dealings with law enforcement functions and functionaries: He couldn’t possibly obstruct justice in dismissing James Comey or even the special counsel because firing officials is a core executive function. He can’t be indicted at all while in office because that could destabilize the Executive branch. And forget about being subpoenaed to testify — that’s out of constitutional bounds, too

12 May
Clashing Views on Iran Reflect a New Balance of Power in the Cabinet
(NYT) The frantic final days before Mr. Trump’s announcement demonstrate that the Iran deal remained a complicated, divisive issue inside the White House, even after the president restocked his war cabinet with more hawkish figures like Mr. Pompeo and John R. Bolton, the new national security adviser.
Mr. Bolton is emerging as an influential figure, with a clear channel to the president and an ability to control the voices he hears. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, who opposed leaving the deal but did not push the case as vocally toward the end, appears more isolated. And Mr. Pompeo may play a swing role, a hard-line former congressman and C.I.A. director who, in his new job, seems determined to give diplomacy a fair shot.

13 July
Number of ousted NSC officials piling up under Bolton
(Axios) Jennifer Arangio, a top National Security Council official, was let go this week after a conflict with White House aide Stephen Miller and others over the administration’s immigration policy, reports Politico.
The big picture: NSC head John Bolton has cleaned house since his arrival as national security advisor in March. Arangio was ousted just two days after Joel Rayburn and Michael Bell, two senior officials working in the NSC’s Middle East section, were removed.
Politico: Bolton, a conservative with a long track record of hawkish views and suspicion of multinational bodies, formally took the reins at the NSC on April 9. He replaced H.R. McMaster, who[m] Trump ousted after months of increasing tension.
Bolton immediately began reshaping the NSC, including by forcing out Trump’s homeland security adviser, Tom Bossert. The NSC’s main spokesman, Michael Anton, also left, while its chief of staff and executive secretary, Keith Kellogg, joined Vice President Mike Pence’s staff

5 July
What Finally Did in Scott Pruitt?
The EPA administrator’s departure Thursday caps a remarkable run of scandals.
(The Atlantic) By the time of his ouster, there were at least a dozen federal inquiries into Pruitt’s behavior. Until then, Pruitt had weathered a series of stories likely unparalleled in recent Cabinet history, because any other Cabinet member subject to as many damaging stories as him would likely have resigned or been pushed out long ago. In this way, Pruitt resembles the president, who has also withstood a remarkable number of damaging revelations.
Never before had an EPA chief been so expressly hostile to the agency’s mandate, and he came in for criticism from predecessors in both parties.
Inevitably, Pruitt’s agenda at EPA and his corruption became intertwined. Shortly after his confirmation hearings, thousands of emails from Pruitt’s time as Oklahoma attorney general were released, showing his close ties to industries he regulated. Critics charged that the Oklahoma state government had slow-walked the emails’ release until after a vote on Pruitt’s nomination. That was just a tease for what was to come. Over months, an elaborate picture of Pruitt’s questionable ties and behaviors emerged.
Read Scott Pruitt’s Bizarre Resignation Letter
He blasts the “unrelenting attacks” and praises Trump—and God

15 June
Promoted six times and then fired: Inside a 24-year-old political appointee’s wild ride in Trump’s Washington
(WaPost) Weyeneth’s story offers a fresh perspective on the chaos of Trump’s campaign and first year in office. He was among more than 250 political appointees to federal agencies and the White House who had left the administration as of mid-March, some of them after just weeks or months, according to a Post tally of White House departures and analysis of agency records released by the Office of Personnel Management under a Freedom of Information Act request.
It illustrates ongoing problems in Trump’s Presidential Personnel Office, a little-known but crucial operation that has filled fewer key government posts than the four prior administrations, according to the Partnership for Public Service, a nonpartisan group that teamed up with The Post to track appointments.
The administration’s haphazard appointment process is unlike any in recent memory and has left the federal government unsteadied at the highest levels.

10 June
‘Drama, Action, Emotional Power’: As Exhausted Aides Eye the Exits, Trump Is Re-energized
(NYT) … back home, he left behind a West Wing where burned-out aides are eyeing the exits, as the mood in the White House is one of numbness and resignation that the president is growing only more emboldened to act on instinct alone.
Mr. Trump, a former reality television star, may soon be working with a thinned-out cast in the middle of Season 2, well before the midterm elections. Several high-profile aides, including John F. Kelly, the president’s chief of staff, and Joe Hagin, a deputy of Mr. Kelly’s, are said to be thinking about how much longer they can stay. Last week, Mr. Kelly told visiting senators that the White House was “a miserable place to work,” according to a person with direct knowledge of the comment.
The turnover, which is expected to become an exodus after the November elections, does not worry the president, several people close to him said. He has grown comfortable with removing any barriers that might challenge him — including, in some cases, people who have the wrong chemistry or too frequently say no to him.

11 May
Top State Department Nuclear Expert Announces Resignation After Trump Iran Deal Exit
Officials warn of brain drain across government offices.
(Foreign Policy) Richard Johnson, a career civil servant who served as acting assistant coordinator in State’s Office of Iran Nuclear Implementation, had been involved in talks with countries that sought to salvage the deal in recent weeks, including Britain, France, and Germany — an effort that ultimately failed.
Johnson’s departure leaves a growing void in the State Department’s stable of experts on Iran’s nuclear program and highlights a broader problem of high-level departures from government.
Officials say the trend is particularly evident at the State Department, where Trump sidelined career diplomats and morale plummeted under former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. The office Johnson led has gone from seven full-time staffers to none since Trump’s inauguration.
Speaking out on torture and a Trump nominee, ailing McCain roils Washington
… his declaration Wednesday in opposition to Gina Haspel, President Trump’s nominee for CIA director, has uniquely roiled the political scene. The denunciation has prompted reactions from fellow senators and a former vice president, as well as intemperate remarks from some Republicans aligned with Trump, including a White House aide.
It’s Time for Trump Voters to Face the Bitter Truth
Republicans elected a president who promised to take on D.C.—instead, Trump has presided over an extraordinary auction of access and influence.
(The Atlantic) Donald Trump promised to “drain the swamp” while running for office. Voters gave him the opportunity to follow through when they propelled him to the White House. Instead, he surrounded himself with people who saw his victory as an opportunity to enrich themselves by selling the promise of access or influence.
This betrayal of the American public warrants more attention. Trump voters who wanted to rid Washington of sellouts should be most upset, but no one wants to admit that the person they voted for was misrepresenting his intentions.
The GOP base is drawn to media figures who support their president and quickly turn on those who criticize him as if they are guilty of a betrayal; for that reason, many populist-right pundits are reluctant to criticize the president or to delve deeply into the behavior of the swamp creatures he has enabled. Instead, they pander to the GOP base, keep them in the dark about important corruption—and so fail to keep the president and his associates accountable. That very betrayal of their audience is what creates the illusion of their loyalty

24 April
Trump Implies That Ronny Jackson Should Withdraw [from] VA Nomination
(New York Magazine) Reports that Jackson had been accused of misconduct had already thrown his nomination into doubt, with the Senate postponing his confirmation process. But President Trump made comments on Tuesday that indicated he’d like Jackson to pull out of the process altogether.
… in keeping with the Trump administration’s usual slapdash approach to personnel matters, Jackson wasn’t vetted in any traditional way. His central qualification: He impressed the president by trumpeting the president’s supposedly superhuman health at a news conference in January.

23 April
Why Mike Pompeo’s Senate confirmation is historic — and not in a good way for Trump
(WaPost) Update: Minutes before the Senate’s foreign relations committee was set to vote, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) announced he has changed his mind and will support CIA Director Mike Pompeo to be President Trump’s secretary of state. That means, instead of making history for the opposition to his nomination, Pompeo is expected to get approval from the committee and be confirmed by the full Senate later this week.
It has been more than 70 years since a cabinet nominee had such a hard time making it out of the Senate while still being confirmed. … There are a couple of factors that play off each other, making life hard for Pompeo and President Trump, but they mainly boil down to one: partisanship.

13 April
Joe Scarborough: Trump’s miserable crew has never been so desperate
(WaPost) These are desperate times for the quislings of Trump. The cost of collaborating with President Trump in the continued debasement of American democracy is becoming far too high. Fifteen months into his presidency, Trump has seen a national security adviser, a former campaign chairman, a foreign policy adviser and another high-ranking campaign official face charges of serious crimes.

5 April
Senators Sheldon Whitehouse and Tom Carper question whether Pruitt or one of his aides abused special hiring powers granted by the Safe Drinking Water Act.
(The Atlantic) The letter comes as Pruitt faces heightened ethical scrutiny over many of his decisions as EPA secretary. Five EPA officials—including Kevin Chmielewski, a political appointee and an early employee of Trump’s presidential campaign—seemed to suffer retaliatory demotions or reassignments after they questioned Pruitt’s handling of taxpayer money or the agency, The New York Times reported Wednesday.
The EPA’s internal ethics watchdog also expanded the scope of a review into Pruitt’s use of a $50-per-night condo on Capitol Hill, which was owned by the wife of a top energy lobbyist.

29 March
Surprise: Trump’s newest Cabinet nominee has no relevant experience
By Eugene Robinson
(WaPost) President Trump has announced he will nominate a medical doctor who has no discernible management experience to run the second-largest agency in the federal government. … In a New York Times op-ed, Shulkin wrote that he believed he was being sacked because he opposed a push by the Trump administration “to put VA health care in the hands of the private sector.” … Shulkin, by most accounts, had stabilized VA’s vast system of hospitals and health clinics. What he refused to do was support the notion of privatizing veterans’ health care — an idea pushed by some of the political appointees the White House had installed under him.
Trump just replaced the secretary of Veteran Affairs with the guy who does his physicalss.

23 March
Trump is creating a toxic work environment at the US’s largest employer
(Quartz) The US government is also the country’s biggest employer, with federal agencies employing over two million people—500,000 more jobs than Walmart. Unpredictability in the White House is having a destabilizing influence throughout those agencies. Democrats, some Republicans, and even former Trump loyalists are upset. “There is no one in charge, and no one to stop it,” said a federal government veteran who advised the Trump transition team, and who voted for Trump in 2016.
Over 23,000 federal employees left during the first nine months of 2017, a 42% increase from departures in the same period during Obama’s first year in office. Last week’s notable resignations include the chief operating officer of the Consumer Finance Protection Board, the 1,600 pro-consumer agency that’s becoming less of a consumer watchdog, and a spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security’s immigration and enforcement, who said his bosses asked him to lie.
The White House is tasked with getting individuals “aligned with the president’s agenda” into the federal government, said the White House official. But House Democrats allege that the White House is going too far, and has planned an ideological purge of the State Department. In a March 15 letter, congressmen Elijah Cummings and Eliot Engel cited emails from a whistleblower that appear to show high-ranking officials and advisors discussing “cleaning” out people who weren’t considered loyal enough to Trump.

22 – 23 March
The second-most dangerous American

(WaPost) Because John Bolton is five things President Trump is not — intelligent, educated, principled, articulate and experienced — and because of Bolton’s West Wing proximity to a president responsive to the most recent thought he has heard emanating from cable television or an employee, Bolton will soon be the second-most dangerous American. On April 9, he will be the first national security adviser who, upon taking up residence down the hall from the Oval Office, will be suggesting that the United States should seriously consider embarking on war crimes.
The John Bolton I Knew
By Matthew Waxman
(Lawfare) Most of the commentary about John Bolton’s appointment as national security adviser has focused on his extreme policy views, especially with regard to military strikes against North Korea and Iran. I want instead to offer here a few firsthand thoughts about his formidable skills—which are what make him so dangerous.
Trump Chooses Bolton for 3rd Security Adviser as Shake-Up Continues
(NYT) President Trump named John R. Bolton, a hard-line former American ambassador to the United Nations, as his third national security adviser on Thursday, continuing a shake-up that creates one of the most hawkish national security teams of any White House in recent history.
… General McMaster also had a difficult relationship with the White House chief of staff, John F. Kelly, people close to the White House said. Mr. Kelly, they said, prevailed in easing out General McMaster but failed to prevent Mr. Trump from hiring Mr. Bolton, whom they said Mr. Kelly fears will behave like a cabinet official rather than a staff member. John Bolton, an Undiplomatic Voice for American Might
The Atlantic: The New NSA: Trump’s decision to replace National-Security Adviser H.R. McMaster with John Bolton has major implications for the president’s North Korea strategy. Bolton, who served in the Reagan and both Bush administrations, has been a foreign-policy hawk throughout his career. His regular appearances on Fox News might be one reason for the president’s choice—though the two men may not see eye-to-eye once Bolton takes office. As for McMaster, he now faces a choice about what details of his time in the Trump White House to make public.
(NYT Editorial) Yes, John Bolton Really Is That Dangerous “There are few people more likely than Mr. Bolton is to lead the country into war. His selection is a decision that is as alarming as any Mr. Trump has made so far.”
The Daily Beast I’ve Seen John Bolton Up Close. Yep, Be Afraid.
H.R. McMaster out, John Bolton in
Why Donald Trump has made a war hawk his national security adviser
(The Economist) …  add one last worry: Mr Bolton’s record as a much-feared, much-disliked manager when he was ambassador to the United Nations. the job of heading the National Security Council is one of the most important in the American government. The national security adviser acts as an honest broker in disputes between such power centres as the Pentagon, State Department and CIA, as a trusted intermediary with foreign governments and as a filter, ensuring that only the most important decisions reach the president’s desk, and that they arrive there accompanied by the highest-quality intelligence and analysis.
Mr Trump, of course, has shown that he does not care. He boasts of liking drama and conflict in his inner circle, though he is less keen on being reined in and actively hates it when aides correct him in any way that makes him feel slighted. He is the star. Chafing at mixed reviews for his foreign policy, he has hired a war hawk who will make him look tough. Hope that this is more showmanship, and that Mr Bolton’s belligerent instincts will not have full rein. But anything is possible now.

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