Now that the GOP’s effort to repeal and replace Obamacare has crashed into the rocks, President Trump really needs to find some achievements — things he can actually get done that won’t split the Republican Party.
The lowest-hanging fruit out there that fits that description? Deregulation.
On Tuesday, the administration plans to announce a major new executive order that will start the process of trying to roll back President Obama’s climate change policies. Steve Bannon told Politico’s Tara Palmeri that this was part of an “action, action, action” strategy, and that there’s more to come later this week.
The order looks to build on what have been Republicans’ only real legislative accomplishments so far this year, which employed a special, filibuster-proof process — the Congressional Review Act — to strike down rules from the end of the Obama administration. Trump has signed three of these “disapproval resolutions” so far, and more are headed to his desk. (It’s one of the only legislative things Congress doesn’t need any Democratic support for.)
Still, there are problems with both strategies that could prevent Trump from getting the easy wins he so wants.
Efforts to roll back Obama regulations executively are hampered by the fact that laws governing the federal rulemaking process are pretty strict. As Brad Plumer explains, to actually get rid of Obama’s Clean Power Plan, Environmental Protection Agency head Scott Pruitt is going to have to “go through the formal rulemaking process, justify the change in court, and survive legal challenges from environmental groups” — all of which “could take years to resolve.”
The administration has tons of power to quietly hollow out regulations through revisions intended to gut them, or by refusing to enforce them. But that’s not exactly what a president who wants a big, flashy accomplishment is looking for.
In contrast, Congress’s “disapproval resolutions” are quick and effective, striking down executive branch rules right away. But the Congressional Review Act strategy has a few drawbacks too.
First, the rules actually being struck down aren’t really tailor-made for Republicans to brag about. One now-blocked Obama rule attempted to protect streams from coal mining debris; another required publicly traded oil companies to disclose payments they make to foreign governments. Next in Congress’s sights is a rule blocking ISPs from selling their users’ browsing history without permission. This is not exactly the kind of stuff you tout in campaign ads.
Second, the CRA can only be used to strike down recently finalized regulations, which in practice seems to mean rules finished after mid-June 2016. (Conservative think tanks are pushing arguments that it can be interpreted more broadly, but those arguments could face trouble in the courts.)
The upshot? The “deconstruction of the administrative state” that White House chief strategist Steve Bannon says Trump wants is a long way off.
Conservatives are complaining about ... Scott Pruitt?
Meanwhile, there are already grumblings from the right that Pruitt isn’t going far enough with his new climate order — because, importantly, he’s not overturning the EPA’s “endangerment finding” about greenhouse gases, which gives the agency the authority to regulate them in the first place.
This could well be a pragmatic move by Pruitt, since it could be difficult to defend a total rejection of the endangerment finding in court. But some on the right fear Pruitt is chickening out to preserve his future options for a political career, per recent reports from Politico’s Alex Isenstadt and Breitbart’s James Delingpole.
“This is the president’s one shot at winning this battle,” an anonymous source tells Delingpole, regarding the endangerment finding. “It’s like the French heavy cavalry at Agincourt: lose momentum and he’s going to get stuck in the mud being shot to pieces by the English longbows.”
What’s up with Devin Nunes?
Our daily politics news roundup will check in on several other big stories, so here’s a look at what else is in the news.
Last week, House Intelligence Committee Chair Devin Nunes (R-CA) announced that a confidential source had tipped him off that some people involved in the Trump transition had their communications swept up and perhaps shared too widely in government wiretapping of foreigners. But before briefing his colleagues on his committee — the main House committee charged with investigating Trump associates’ ties to Russia — Nunes rushed off to the White House to brief Trump’s team on what he learned. (Zack Beauchamp lays out the fuller timeline here.)
Many soon speculated that Nunes’s “source” was in fact someone in the White House trying to bolster Trump’s unfounded claims that President Obama wiretapped him (even though this leak doesn’t bolster that claim; it’s just vaguely related). This speculation grew louder when it was confirmed that Nunes was on the White House grounds the day before his announcement. (Nunes now tells Eli Lake “that his source was not a White House staffer and was an intelligence official,” which could mean any number of things.)
The bigger picture, though, is that Nunes has been increasingly viewed as trying to protect Trump rather than trying to run an actual investigation. This led his Democratic counterpart at the top of the House Intelligence Committee, Rep. Adam Schiff, to call for Nunes to recuse himself from the investigation Monday. And this isn’t just a partisan thing — Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) has said that Nunes’s “disturbing” actions have cost him his “credibility,” and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said he was conducting an “Inspector Clouseau investigation.” (Yochi Dreazen has more on Nunes’s strange behavior.)
Meanwhile, Trump is complaining that Nunes’s House Intelligence Committee is investigating him instead of ... Bill and Hillary Clinton.
Why isn't the House Intelligence Committee looking into the Bill & Hillary deal that allowed big Uranium to go to Russia, Russian speech....— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 28, 2017
...money to Bill, the Hillary Russian "reset," praise of Russia by Hillary, or Podesta Russian Company. Trump Russia story is a hoax. #MAGA!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 28, 2017
Another shot at health reform? Maybe not so much.
Speaker Paul Ryan has changed his tone from Friday, when he proclaimed that Obamacare is “the law of the land.” On a call with donors Monday, Ryan promised that the GOP was “not going to just all of a sudden abandon health care,” and that he would “lay out the path forward on health care” at a donor retreat this weekend, per the Washington Post’s Mike DeBonis.
This might lead you to believe Republicans are headed back for another shot at health reform. But John Cornyn, the No. 2 Republican in Senate leadership, threw some cold water on that possibility yesterday, per the Associated Press’s Erica Werner:
Cornyn says flatly that health care will not be attempted again via reconciliation. "It's clear it needs to be done on a bipartisan basis."— Erica Werner (@ericawerner) March 27, 2017
Translation: If Cornyn is right, Republicans truly are done trying to repeal Obamacare, since they know they can’t get Democratic votes for repeal and they don’t have sufficient unity within their own party to ram it through. Their new House legislation may try to fix parts of the Affordable Care Act, or promote other health reforms, but the repeal effort is dead, and whatever Ryan is cooking up is probably more of a face-saving retreat so House Republicans don’t have to say they’ve abandoned a campaign promise.
A nuclear option showdown over Neil Gorsuch looks likelier
The background: Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch needs 60 Senate votes (so at least eight Democrats) to beat a filibuster. But if he doesn’t get them, Republicans will probably ram through a rules change so he can be confirmed with a simple majority. Democrats are facing pressure from their liberal base to filibuster Gorsuch, though some in the party have been arguing that they should save their powder for the next Supreme Court fight, which will probably be far more consequential.
The news: Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) announced Monday that he’d filibuster Gorsuch. Meanwhile, the most moderate Republican senator, Susan Collins of Maine, suggested to Politico that though she’d be “disheartened” about a rules change, “it would be unfair if we cannot get a straight up-or-down vote on Judge Gorsuch.”
What it means: Given that Nelson has a moderate temperament and has supported cloture for Republican Supreme Court nominees in the past, his backing of a filibuster is a bad sign for Gorsuch’s chances at getting 60. But if even Collins is on board with a rules change, Gorsuch is probably getting through one way or the other.
Republicans don’t seem to want to risk a government shutdown
The background: Congress has one month to pass a government funding bill, or there will be a federal government shutdown on April 29. But they need to win over at least eight Democratic senators in order to do so, and that will likely be impossible if they try to fund Trump’s border wall or defund Planned Parenthood in this bill, as some in the GOP have pushed for.
The news: Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK) is saying the GOP should ignore the Freedom Caucus and work with Democrats on a bipartisan bill, per Bloomberg’s Billy House and Erik Wasson. Politico’s Burgess Everett and Rachael Bade report that Republicans leaders in Congress may not even ask for border wall money in the bill.
What it means: The latest series of reports suggests that GOP leaders are on the defensive after their health reform debacle. They really do not want a shutdown and are exasperated enough with the Freedom Caucus to want to teach them a lesson.