Transition Roundup: Trump Attempts Last-Minute Regulation Changes; Biden Appointee Confirmation Hearings Begin
Here’s today’s list of news updates and stories you may have missed.
President Trump issued a slew of executive orders on Monday, two days before he leaves office. One says that senior political appointees must sign off on regulation changes because “some agencies have chosen to blur these lines of democratic accountability by allowing career officials to authorize, approve, and serve as the final word on regulations.” The order “probably will be short-lived,” said Amit Narang, regulatory policy advocate for the nonprofit group Public Citizen.
“The only reason I can think of for doing this now is as a challenge to the next administration,” said Susan Dudley, director of the Regulatory Studies Center at The George Washington University. “If Biden revokes [it], is he explicitly condoning the practice of non-senior staff signing off on binding laws? With increased scrutiny over delegation by the legislature to the executive, what would courts say if the executive then delegates that further?” Here are some of the other recent headlines from over the holiday weekend and today that you might have missed.
Incoming White House Chief-of-Staff Ron Klain outlined in a memo, shared with the press, the Biden administration’s plans for its first 10 days in office. “We face four overlapping and compounding crises: the COVID-19 crisis, the resulting economic crisis, the climate crisis, and a racial equity crisis. All of these crises demand urgent action,” wrote Klain. “[Biden] will keep those promises and sign dozens of executive orders, presidential memoranda, and directives to Cabinet agencies in fulfillment of the promises he made.”
Biden announced on Sunday Rohit Chopra, currently a member of the Federal Trade Commission who is strongly aligned with Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., will lead the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Warren helped start the agency in 2010, following the financial crisis. Biden also named deputy secretaries of Interior, Agriculture, Health and Human Services, and Transportation, as well as the chair of the Securities and Exchange Commission.
Biden filled out his State Department team with Obama administration veterans and former career diplomats, which shows “his desire to return to a more traditional foreign policy after four years of uncertainty and unpredictability under President Donald Trump,” The Associated Press reported on Saturday.
Census Director Steven Dillingham is retiring about a year before his term expires, NPR reported on Monday. This comes about “a week after whistleblower complaints about his role in attempting to rush out an incomplete data report about noncitizens became public,” said the report.
Trump said on Monday night COVID-19 travel restrictions from the United Kingdom, Ireland, the Schengen Area (which consists of 26 European countries) and Brazil will be lifted on January 26, but the Biden transition team immediately countered the decision. Rather, “we plan to strengthen public health measures around international travel in order to further mitigate the spread of COVID-19,” Jen Psaki, incoming White House press secretary, tweeted.
On Saturday, acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller ordered National Security Agency Director Paul Nakasone to install a former Republican political operative as the top lawyer at NSA, The Washington Post reported. It isn’t clear yet what the agency will do. There are concerns that “the White House is seeking to ‘burrow’ [Michael] Ellis into the job,” said the report. “Nakasone recently got a verbal indication from the Office of Personnel Management that the policy did not apply to intelligence community employees, according to one U.S. official. On Thursday, he requested a written legal opinion on that point,” but “has not yet received that written opinion.”
The transition team is looking at how to fire Trump officials who have burrowed in and if they should ask inspectors general to investigate, Politico reported on Monday.
Miller issued a statement on Monday saying while they didn’t have intelligence showing threats from any of the 25,000 National Guard troops deployed for Inauguration, “we are leaving no stone unturned in securing the capital.” While, “this type of vetting often takes place by law enforcement for significant security events...in this case the scope of military participation is unique,” he said. “The D.C. National Guard is also providing additional training to service members as they arrive in D.C.” Read more about screening of troops for the inauguration on Defense One.
Two National Guard members were removed from Inauguration security, due to connections to “fringe right group militias,” but “no plot against Biden was found,” The Associated Press reported on Monday.
About 54% of respondents (the majority of which were federal employees or contractors) said they don’t feel safe about returning to their worksite or are unsure, following the Capitol riots on January 6, according to a new survey by Federal News Network. “Although a majority of workers who did not feel safe are located outside the National Capital Region, D.C.-area workers were split between feeling safe and not,” said the news outlet. “Common reasons some felt less than secure returning to their worksite included misgivings about building security, uncertainty about the political climate and overall mood of the country, and COVID-19.”
A top political appointee at the Federal Emergency Management Agency attended Trump’s rally on January 6, but claims he didn’t follow the crowd to the Capitol grounds, Politico reported. His “attendance at the Jan. 6 rally alarmed some FEMA staff, according to one person familiar with the matter, and several employees reported it to the DHS Inspector General and the FBI,” said the report.
HHS Secretary Alex Azar shared his resignation letter on Friday in which he lauded the administration’s achievements and said his departure is effective January 20. “Unfortunately, the actions and rhetoric following the election, especially during this past week threatened to tarnish these and other historic legacies of this administration,” he wrote. “I implore you to continue to condemn unequivocally any form of violence...and to continue to support unreservedly the peaceful and orderly transition of power.”
On Monday, 15 former Defense secretaries, deputies and service secretaries urged Congress to give a waiver to retired Gen. Lloyd Austin, so he can be eligible to serve as Defense secretary, Fox News reported. “We do not make this recommendation lightly” as “the principle of civilian control is foundational to the modern military,” they wrote. Confirmation hearings happening on Tuesday are for Biden’s Defense, State, Homeland Secretary and Treasury secretaries and director of national intelligence.
Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, wrote to FEMA administrator Peter Gaynor, who is serving as acting DHS secretary, on Friday, condemning his “last-ditch effort” to ratify Trump administration policies. It was “revealed that after improperly assuming the position of acting secretary, you delegated to [Chad] Wolf the authority to ratify actions that he could not legally enact during the 14 months he unlawfully led the department,” he wrote. “I urge that in the few days that remain in the Trump administration, you refrain from any other attempts to subvert the order of succession.”
The Biden administration will return to the process of releasing White House visitor logs, but visitations will be limited due to the pandemic, Psaki said on Friday.
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