Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

What Trump didn’t want you to see him signing

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Very interesting column in the Washington Post by James Hohmann. Three things from the column that Trump doesn’t want you to see him signing:


On Tuesday, Trump participated in a flashy photo op to sign two feel-good resolutions. The “Promoting Women in Entrepreneurship Act” authorizes the National Science Foundation to encourage females to become entrepreneurs. The “Inspiring the Next Space Pioneers, Innovators, Researchers, and Explorers Women Act” says NASA should urge young girls to study science. Neither of these measures provides even one dollar to help advance these worthy aims, which is why they passed Congress unanimously by voice votes.

During a lunch with the anchors from all the major networks, meanwhile, Trump suggested that he could get behind a grand bargain to enact comprehensive immigration reform. This turned out to be a big head fake, but it nonetheless dominated the conversation during the run-up to his maiden speech before a joint session of Congress that evening.

While the press corps was distracted and the cable channels aired footage of Trump surrounded by a bipartisan group of smiling women, behind closed doors and with no fanfare the president quietly signed a measure that killed a regulation enacted by the Obama administration to tighten gun background checks.

The rule required the Social Security Administration to send over the names of people who receive government checks for being mentally disabled and others who have been deemed unable to handle their own financial affairs to the FBI office that runs the national background check database. This is a universe of about 75,000 people.

The National Rifle Association says the rule curtails the Second Amendment rights of these people and persuaded GOP leadership to use the Congressional Review Act to undo it. Under the Constitution, Trump had 10 days to sign off. By waiting until the day before the deadline to do so, when there were so many big stories in the mix, he ensured it got minimal coverage.

In a normal time, with a conventional president, undoing this regulation would have been front-page news. Trump’s move would have sparked a national conversation about the country’s continuing failure to seriously address both gun violence and mental illness. Major publications would have run deeper stories about how flawed the national background check system is five years after the massacre at Sandy Hook, with an emphasis on the gun lobby’s role in keeping it that way.

But in the current news environment, with the Trump administration running a blitzkrieg offense and the attorney general embattled for concealing secret meetings with the Russian ambassador while under oath before Congress, it’s very hard for anyone to stay on top of everything. Not only does the media have limited bandwidth, but cable producers are always reluctant to give much airtime to issues that don’t have obvious visuals. (Three White House spokeswomen did not respond to a request for comment about the decision to sign the gun measure off camera.)


On the same day that Jeff Sessions was sworn in, Trump quietly signed an executive order to change the order of succession at the Justice Department if the attorney general resigns.

It was significant because the president had just fired Sally Yates as acting AG after she wouldn’t defend his travel ban. As he was entitled to do, Trump went outside the official order of succession to elevate Dana Boente, the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, to replace her. A week before his term ended, Barack Obama had (also without fanfare) changed the order of succession to remove Boente from the list.

Because the Senate hasn’t yet confirmed Trump’s nominee for deputy AG, Boente is now serving in that role on an acting basis. Sessions’s recusal himself from overseeing the FBI’s Russia investigation means it will be handled by Boente.

In an indication that they didn’t want to draw attention to this, it’s worth noting that Trump signed three other orders in front of reporters immediately after Sessions was sworn in. Each was noncontroversial: One would “break the back of the criminal cartels that have spread across our nation and are destroying the blood of our youth,” the president told the assembled press pool. The other would create a “task force on reducing violent crime,” he said. And the third would instruct DOJ to implement a plan to stop crime against law enforcement officers.

Basically no one noticed Trump’s fourth order. A USA Today reporter noticed that it was dated on a Thursday but didn’t appear on an official web site that lists such actions until Friday. The White House didn’t explain the discrepancy.


Last week, the Trump administration revoked federal guidelines specifying that transgender students have the right to use public school restrooms that match their gender identity. It is one of the most significant social policy shifts ushered in by the new president during his first 40 days, which means it was too big of a deal to bury.

But the White House kept the president himself as far away from it as possible, describing it in a statement as “a joint decision made … by the Department of Justice and the Department of Education.”

Anyone who knows anything about how government works knows that nothing like this happens without sign-off at the highest levels. In this case, Sessions and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos had been at loggerheads regarding timing and specific language. So others were involved.

The president could also have had the two department heads come into the Oval Office and made a statement with them behind him, or he could have made a show of signing the memorandum himself. Or he could have even tweeted about it. He didn’t. . .

Read the whole thing. There’s quite a bit more and it shows the drawbacks of secret government—that is, hiding government decisions from the public.

Written by LeisureGuy

3 March 2017 at 10:28 am

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