A Look at How Trump Is Pushing Wholesale Corporate Takeover of the Government
There has been a wholesale corporate takeover of the government. That’s the conclusion of a new report that came out on February 20 by the watchdog group Public Citizen. The report looks at how corporate America has benefited from Trump’s first month in office. Rex Tillerson, the former CEO of Exxon, is now secretary of state. Goldman Sachs alum now serve several top posts: Steven Mnuchin as treasury secretary, Stephen Bannon as Trump’s chief strategist and Gary Cohn as director of the United States National Economic Council. Trump has also signed executive orders to help undo the Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform law and repeal rules requiring financial advisers to give advice based on their customers’ best interests. We speak to Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen.
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
JUAN GONZÃLEZ: There’s been a wholesale corporate takeover of the government. That’s the conclusion of a new report coming out today by the watchdog group Public Citizen. The report looks at how corporate America has benefited from Trump’s first month in office. Rex Tillerson, the former CEO of Exxon, is now secretary of state. Goldman Sachs alum now serve several top posts: Steven Mnuchin as treasury secretary, Steve Bannon as Trump’s chief strategist and Gary Cohn as director of the United States National Economic Council. Trump has also signed executive orders to help undo the Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform law and repeal rules requiring financial advisers to give advice based on their customers’ best interests. Last week, President Trump bragged about his plans to cut regulations across all industries.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We’re cutting regulations big league. We are really cutting them by massive amounts. The auto industry just left a week ago. They were here in the same room. And they are very happy with what—what we’re doing. And everyone is. I think just about everyone. The financial industry—we’re having a lot of the different industries in. And we’re cutting regulations in just about every industry. In fact, I can’t think of any that we’re not.
JUAN GONZÃLEZ: Joining us now is Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen.
Welcome to Democracy Now!
ROBERT WEISSMAN: Hey, Juan. Good to be with you.
JUAN GONZÃLEZ: Well, talk to us about this month that’s transpired here in terms of what’s happened with corporate America.
ROBERT WEISSMAN: It’s really been astounding. And I think, to some extent, it’s been overlooked, as people are rightfully outraged about the Muslim ban, threats to the First Amendment, whatever kooky thing Trump has said today, the mix over Russia. But the real straight theme through the administration—this is through the first month, and we should expect it for the entirety of this administration—is bestowing gift after gift after gift on corporate America.
We have by far the most corporate Cabinet in the history of the United States. And, of course, you only mentioned a few of the many people coming from the corporate class into the administration. We have the president consorting with chief executives and corporate leaders nonstop. First thing he did on his first working day was meet with corporate executives. He sat down with the CEOs of the auto industry, Big Pharma, the airline industry.
Each time he leaves and says, "We’re going to cut regulations on you," which means "We’re going to free you of the restraints on health and safety and worker rights, and let you profiteer without restraint." He has signed a series of executive orders designed to dismantle the Affordable Care Act, to undo Dodd-Frank and to make it virtually impossible to issue new regulatory protections for Americans, meaning we’re going to see more unsafe food, more dirty air, more dangerous autos, more dangerous drugs on the market, reduced protections for workers on the job, whether it’s health and safety or overtime rules or prevention against wage theft, and on and on. When he says he’s deregulating every industry in America, he means it. And it’s been a remarkable gift from the administration to corporate America. We’ve seen an amazing amount—he can take credit for that, I suppose—in the first 30 days, and there’s a lot more to come.
And then you add onto that, of course, all of the corruption around his personal businesses, and we see a kind of kleptocracy coming together with a corporatization of the government that is absolutely unprecedented in our history.
JUAN GONZÃLEZ: Well, I wanted to ask you about the reducing regulations, what I call, I guess, his two-for-one executive order. Getting for every one executive order you produce, you’ve got—for every one regulation you produce, you’ve got to get rid of two more. Could you talk about that and how that’s going to affect rulemaking?
ROBERT WEISSMAN: Yeah, it’s sort of laughably stupid, except it’s actually in place, and it’s going to seize up all rulemaking to protect health and safety, consumer interests and workers. The executive order says that for every new rule adopted, an agency has to do two things: They have to look at the cost of the new rule and offset it by costs they’re going to eliminate from existing regulations, and for every new rule they adopt, they must eliminate at least two existing rules. So, for example, if the car safety agency wants to adopt a new rule on brake safety, they’re going to have to get rid of rules on headlights and steering columns. Absolutely utter lunacy, unless your only goal is to make it impossible to do any new regulation, which is in fact the objective of the executive order.
Now, we think this executive order conflicts with a whole range of existing statutes, because, for example, the Environmental Protection Agency’s job, under the Clean Air Act, is to advance clean air. It’s not—and when they do rulemaking, they’re supposed to look at a particular issue, not try to offset it against other existing costs. And that’s true across the government. So we have sued. Along with Natural Resources Defense Council and the Communication Workers of America, we’ve sued the administration, saying this executive order violates a number of statutes and violates separation of powers, so it’s both illegal and unconstitutional. And we hope we can get this thing struck from the books, because it will mean no new protections for Americans during the course of the next four years, assuming he’s in office that long.
JUAN GONZÃLEZ: Well, Robert, Politico has obtained leaked audio of Trump speaking in November to members of his Bedminster, New Jersey, golf club. He welcomed club members to stop by while he interviewed potential Cabinet picks.
PRESIDENT-ELECT DONALD TRUMP: Tomorrow we’re here, and Sunday we’re here. We’re going to be interviewing everybody. We’re—Treasury. We’re going to be interviewing secretary of state. We’re going to have everybody coming in. And we’re going to have—and I don’t know if you want to come around, but if you want to, it’s going to be unbelievable. It’s going to be an unbelievable day. So you might want to come along.
JUAN GONZÃLEZ: This whole idea, whether that’s his golf—at his club there or Mar-a-Lago, the ability of his members to be close to him while he’s making these so-called decisions, have access to him?
ROBERT WEISSMAN: Right. So, it’s another piece of this astounding corruption. That tape and then new reports from The New York Times about Mar-a-Lago make very clear that he’s at his clubs, where people pay to be members—in the case of Mar-a-Lago, now $200,000 a head for an initiation fee—at his clubs, he mingles with the members. Well, they’re not regular people. And he asks them for their advice, or they offer advice on their own. So you have this direct access to the president, based on ability to pay and prior relationships with him, that is absolutely unprecedented.
There is one example, though, that stands out above all the others, which is Carl Icahn, who’s an old friend of the president, who has been named his special regulatory adviser. He’s not an actual government employee, but he has this special—at least according to the administration. He’s got this special advisory role. And he’s reportedly had a decisive impact over choosing who would lead the Environmental Protection Agency and the Securities and Exchange Commission—the two parts of the government that most directly relate to his business empire and his investment empire. And, of course, we’ve got a guy running the EPA who is as hostile to the agency as is possible, who sued it 14 times and aims to destroy it. And we’ve got a guy nominated to run the Securities and Exchange Commission—
JUAN GONZÃLEZ: We’ve got about 10 seconds more. Go ahead.
ROBERT WEISSMAN: —who is very likely to adopt rules that will benefit the giant investor Carl Icahn himself.
JUAN GONZÃLEZ: Well, Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen, thanks for joining us. That does it for today’s show. I’m Juan GonzÃ¡lez. Thanks for joining us for another edition of Democracy Now!