It’s hard to believe Trump’s new travel ban was just released this past Monday morning. With the GOP’s “repeal & replace” plan for Obamacare sucking up all the news oxygen since then, it feels like that was a month ago. And with those two items dominating the news this week, pretty much everything else got drowned out. So what else happened this week?
1. Mitch McConnell was asked by Politico if he thinks Mexico is going to pay for Trump’s border wall. His answer: “Uh no.”
It’s good to see him acknowledging reality, but then there’s also this unpleasant reality: we’ve learned that in order to fund the border wall – along with the crackdown on illegal immigrants – the Trump administration is considering making big cuts to agencies that actually contribute to our national security (unlike his new policies), such as the FEMA, the Coast Guard and the TSA. Experts say these cuts would actually undermine Trump’s national security goals.
2. China has granted Trump 38 more business trademarks (last month I told you about a trademark they’d just awarded him that he’d been trying to win for a decade before becoming President) for things as varied as hotels, golf clubs, real estate companies, bars, private escort services and more. The applications for the trademarks were made in April of 2016, right in the middle of the presidential campaign.
Trump spent much of the campaign railing against China for taking advantage of the United States with unfair trade practices and also criticizing American companies for doing business in China instead of keeping their business in the good ol’ U.S. of A. Aside from that hypocrisy, the trademarks also raise ethics questions for Trump, because the Constitution forbids the U.S. President from receiving anything “of value” (formally known as “an emolument”) from a foreign government.
Dan Plane, a director at Simone IP Services, a Hong Kong intellectual property consultancy, said he had never seen so many applications approved so quickly . . .
Richard Painter, who served as chief ethics lawyer for President George W. Bush, said the volume of new approvals raised red flags.
“A routine trademark, patent or copyright from a foreign government is likely not an unconstitutional emolument, but with so many trademarks being granted over such a short time period, the question arises as to whether there is an accommodation in at least some of them,” he said.
3. And speaking of China, former ambassador to China under President Obama, Jon Huntsman, has been selected by Donald Trump to be his ambassador to Russia. Seems like that might be a significant post under this President. It’s a good thing he chose someone he respects so highly:
4. And on the topic of Russia, a CNN poll out this week shows that 65% of respondents want a special prosecutor to look into the possible contacts between Russia and the Trump campaign.
5. The New York Times reports that in the less-than-two-months since the inauguration, Trump and the GOP have already overturned more than 90 federal regulations:
In many cases, records show that the changes came after appeals by corporate lobbyists and trade association executives, who see a potentially historic opportunity to lower compliance costs and drive up profits. Slashing regulations, they argue, will unleash economic growth.
On a near daily basis, regulated industries are now sending in specific requests to the Trump administration for more rollbacks, including recent appeals from 17 automakers to rescind an agreement to increase mileage standards for their fleets, and another from pharmaceutical industry figures to reverse a new rule that tightens scrutiny over the marketing of prescription drugs for unapproved uses . . .
“By any empirical measure, it is a level of activity that has never been seen,” said Curtis W. Copeland, who spent decades studying federal regulatory policy on behalf of Congress while at the Congressional Research Service and the Government Accountability Office. “It is unprecedented.”
This week, it’s being reported that Trump is expected to undo an Obama administration rule on fuel efficiency standards for vehicles. This rule was a big part of Obama’s efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the fight against global warming.
6. Owners of a Washington D.C. restaurant are suing Trump over his D.C. hotel, claiming unfair competition. They say that his association with the hotel (and the restaurants in it) puts other area restaurants at a competitive disadvantage, because anyone who wants influence with the President will choose to dine at, or hold parties at, his hotel. The suit also claims that Trump, his family and White House staffers continue to promote the hotel while he’s in office. And with Trump actually showing up at the hotel on occasion, people know they may even get an opportunity to meet and interact with him.
The restaurant owners are not seeking money damages. Their suit asks the court to put a halt to the “unfair” competition, which would mean that either the businesses in the hotel stop running while Trump is President or Trump & his family fully divest (or a third option: Trump could step down from the presidency!). This will be an interesting suit to watch, because this might be the first lawsuit brought so far against Trump over one of these ethics type issues where the Plaintiffs are actually able to show some sort of injury. That’s required for them to actually keep the lawsuit going (this compares to the other suits, which have all been brought by ethics watchdogs, who will likely have a more difficult time showing injury).
7. A little bright spot coming from Trump’s election win: gun purchases have plummeted. Leading up to November (when Hillary was expected to win), sales were “brisk.”
8. Trump’s government is way understaffed, and it’s causing gridlock in lots of key agencies. And the reason for the staffing shortage? Trump won’t approve anyone that his cabinet heads want unless he considers them “our people.” This means they have to have the correct political views (even for non-political jobs) and of course have had lifelong loyalty to Trump, never uttering a negative word in his direction.
9. And on the topic of staffing, E.P.A. Chief Scott Pruitt is managing to get his staff filled out. And he’s loading it up with climate change skeptics:
Mr. Pruitt, a former Oklahoma attorney general who built a career out of suing the agency he now leads, has moved to stock the top offices of the agency with like-minded conservatives — many of them skeptics of climate change and all of them intent on rolling back environmental regulations that they see as overly intrusive and harmful to business.
Mr. Pruitt has drawn heavily from the staff of his friend and fellow Oklahoma Republican, Senator James Inhofe, long known as Congress’s most prominent skeptic of climate science.
10. And finally, late Tuesday night, on the eve of International Women’s Day and the Day Without a Woman Protest, the lights on the Statue of Liberty went out. All of Lady Liberty, except for her torch, went dark. Twitter, of course, had a field day with messages about the symbolism and speculation about whether the blackout was intentional. (Even President Obama’s former advisor David Axelrod couldn’t resist getting in on the jokes, as you’ll see below). But the National Park Service spoiled the fun by announcing later that it was just a “temporary, unplanned outage” caused by the installation of a backup generator.