How Biden and the Democratic Congress can start undoing Trumpism
Our nation's new Congress could use a once-obscure law to try to roll back some of the worst Trump actions after Joe Biden is sworn in.
The Congressional Review Act, signed in 1996 by President Bill Clinton, requires a simple majority of the House and Senate and the president's approval. Rules that were published after Aug. 10 could be axed by Congress.
"It's the quickest way to get rid of policies that will cause significan harms to the health of Americans and to the quality of our environment," said Richard Revesz. He directs the Institute for Policy Integrity at the New York University School of Law.
Just since Election Day 2020, Team Trump has completed at least 44 rules. They include:
- Keeping the 2012 standards for microscopic soot that are linked to an estimated 45,000 deaths. The rule overrides advice from EPA scientists. Higher pollution appears to increase COVID-19 deaths.
- Relaxing environmental rules for exporting liquefied natural gas. New Fortress Energy, a publicly traded company founded by billionaire Wes Edens, wants to build a terminal in Gibbstown, N.J. to ship liquefied natural gas to the Caribbean. Edens co-founded a New York City hedge fund that was part of a deal to loan the Trump Organization $130 million to help build the Trump International Hotel and Tower Chicago in 2005.
- Expanding how inmates on federal death row can be executed to possibly include electrocution and death by firing squad. Federal executions resumed in July after 17 years. Two people are scheduled to be executed this year before Trump leaves office, including Lisa Montgomery, 52, who would be the first woman executed by the federal government in 67 years.
The Trump administration executed 10 federal prisoners in 2020, the most federal executions in a single year since 1896 when Grover Cleveland was president.
The act typically is used early in a president's first term when his party also controls both houses of Congress. President Barack Obama avoided using the Congressional Review Act, preferring to use regular rulemaking.
But before Trump took office, his aides, including Andrew Bremberg, Marc Short and Rick Dearborn, put together a spreadsheet of Obama rules they could undo. The 14 rules they succeeded in erasing early in 2017 included preventing coal companies from polluting streams by dumping waste in them and a rule meant to prevent people with mental health problems from buying guns.
Radical Republicans also used the rule in late 2017 and early 2018 to repeal two rules from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the independent agency that Team Trump neutered.
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