THE BIG IDEA: Reading some of the news coverage this weekend, one might get the impression that Donald Trump’s failure to repeal Obamacare is akin to Woodrow Wilson not getting the League of Nations ratified. In other words, a fatal blow to his presidency. That’s hooey.
-- Despite the chaos and the growing credibility gap, Trump is systematically succeeding in his quest to “deconstruct the administrative state,” as his chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon puts it.
He’s pursued the most aggressive regulatory rollback since Ronald Reagan, especially on environmental issues, with a series of bills and executive orders. He’s placed devoted ideologues into perches from which they can stop aggressively enforcing laws that conservatives don’t like. By not filling certain posts, he’s ensuring that certain government functions will simply not be performed. His budget proposal spotlighted his desire to make as much of the federal bureaucracy as possible wither on the vine.
-- Trump has been using executive orders to tie the hands of rule makers.
He put in place a regulatory freeze during his first hours, mandated that two regulations be repealed for every new one that goes on the books and ordered a top-to-bottom review of the government with an eye toward shrinking it.
-- Trump plans to unveil a new White House office today with sweeping authority to overhaul the federal bureaucracy and, potentially, privatize some government functions.
“The Office of American Innovation, to be led by Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser, will operate as its own nimble power center within the West Wing and will report directly to Trump,” Ashley Parker and Philip Rucker report.
“Viewed internally as a SWAT team of strategic consultants, the office will be staffed by former business executives and is designed to … create a lasting legacy for a president still searching for signature achievements. … Kushner’s team is being formalized just as the Trump administration is proposing sweeping budget cuts across many departments, and members said they would help find efficiencies.”
-- Personnel is policy, and Trump has appointed several people who openly oppose the missions of the agencies they lead.
“If you look at these Cabinet nominees, they were selected for a reason, and that is deconstruction,” Bannon explained at the Conservative Political Action Conference.
-- Sometimes who you don’t hire is just as important as who you do.
Trump recently told Fox News that he will not fill all the vacancies he’s entitled to. He explained that not moving to populate the cabinet departments is a feature, not a bug, of his administration. “When I see a story about ‘Donald Trump didn’t fill hundreds and hundreds of jobs,’ it’s because, in many cases, we don’t want to fill those jobs,” the president acknowledged. “Many of those jobs I don’t want to fill.” Those unstaffed jobs will be chokepoints to block action by the administrative state.
--- Trump’s biggest donors, who have been briefed on his theory of the case, are giving him a very long leash because they are playing the long game.
“The atmosphere was buoyant at a conference held by the conservative Heartland Institute last week at a downtown Washington hotel, where speakers denounced climate science as rigged and jubilantly touted deep cuts Trump is seeking to make to the Environmental Protection Agency,” Matea Gold and Chris Mooney report. “Front and center during the two-day gathering were New York hedge fund executive Robert Mercer and his daughter Rebekah Mercer, Republican mega-donors who with their former political adviser (Bannon) helped finance an alternative media ecosystem that amplified Trump's populist themes during last year's campaign.”
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