And another week of Trump’s presidency is in the books. This week’s news was dominated by Trump’s sudden flurry of flip-flops on all sorts of campaign promises, both foreign and domestic. This included shifts in his positions on getting involved in Syria, our stance toward Russia,the value of NATO, China’s currency manipulation (or lack thereof), whether to keep the Export-Import bank, Janet Yellen’s leadership of the Federal Reserve, and whether (and when) he wants to pursue a new health care reform plan.
All of these changes happened within the span of a week, and it was absolutely warranted for the media to spend much of its energy focused on this story. But what else happened that you might not have heard about?
1. One policy area in which Trump has not shifted is his harsh stance on immigration (though even here, he’s already had to backtrack on his promise that Mexico would pay for the wall). The Washington Post reports that the Trump administration is building up its “deportation force” around the country. The Department of Homeland Secutity has located 33,000 more beds around the country for housing undocumented immigrants after they’ve been detained. And they’ve discussed giving local police forces authority to enforce immigration law. They’re also considering seriously relaxing their vetting practices for new hires:
The agency also is considering ways to speed up the hiring of hundreds of new Customs and Border Patrol officers, including ending polygraph and physical fitness tests in some cases, according to the documents.
2. And CNN reports that Trump has hired two “hard-line” anti-immigration activists to two high level positions at two different immigration agencies within the Department of Homeland Security. Both new hires come from think tanks known for opposing both illegal and legal immigration. Both think tanks were founded by a man named John Tanton who openly embraces eugenics.
3. In the meantime, Trump’s budget director Mick Mulvaney is demanding that the temporary spending bill (which must be completed by April 28, just days after Congress returns from recess) contain a provision to cut federal grants for sanctuary cities. (This is in addition to Trump’s demand for funding for his border wall).
Democrats obviously oppose Mulvaney’s proposal, but many Republicans are also against the idea of forcing it into this must-pass bill because they know they need Democrats in order to get the bill through the Senate. But Mulvaney is pushing the sanctuary cities provision in an attempt to satisfy the Freedom Caucus. But he may just end up leading them into a government shutdown instead.
4. With so many foreign conflicts and meetings in the news this week, this didn’t get a ton of pick up on Thursday, but it seems like a pretty big deal. The Guardian reports that the British spy agency GCHQ “became aware” as far back as 2015 of “suspicious interactions” between members of Trump’s campaign and known or suspected Russian agents. GCHQ shared this information with the United States.
The Guardian has been told the FBI and the CIA were slow to appreciate the extensive nature of contacts between Trump’s team and Moscow ahead of the US election. This was in part due to US law that prohibits US agencies from examining the private communications of American citizens without warrants. “They are trained not to do this,” the source stressed.
“It looks like the [US] agencies were asleep,” the source added. “They [the European agencies] were saying: ‘There are contacts going on between people close to Mr Trump and people we believe are Russian intelligence agents. You should be wary of this.’
“The message was: ‘Watch out. There’s something not right here.’”
5. Additionally, it came out in the news this week that the FBI obtained a FISA warrant last summer to monitor Trump foreign policy adviser Carter Page. In order to obtain a FISA warrant, the FBI must present a request to a FISA court, and the standard for being granted a warrant is very high. In this case the FBI reportedly convinced the FISA judge that “there was probable cause to believe Page was acting as an agent of a foreign power, in this case Russia, according to the officials.”
6. It was also revealed this week that both Democrats and Republicans who’ve had the opportunity to review the classified documents that Rep. Devon Nunes got all excited about say that there was nothing in them indicating that the Obama administration did anything illegal or even unusual. Also, the more recent claim by Trump and his backers that Susan Rice did something illegal by “unmasking” either his name or the name of someone close to him is also contradicted by the material they reviewed.
One congressional intelligence source described the requests made by Rice as “normal and appropriate” for officials who serve in that role to the president.
I’m sure Trump, Nunes & all the other accusers will be rushing right over to Obama & Rice with their apologies.
7. On Thursday, Trump – very quietly – signed a bill that overturns an Obama-era rule that would have protected federal family planning funding (under Title X) for clinics that provide abortions. States will now be free to strip such clinics of those funds.
Title X funding does not pay for abortions, because that is barred under federal law, but it does fund birth control, cancer screenings and both tests and treatment for sexually-transmitted diseases.
The GOP pushed this bill through the Senate using an arcane, nearly unprecedented maneuver that made it impossible for Democrats to filibuster the bill. This is the 12th Obama-era rule the GOP has reversed using this method (I explained how this method works here). They have plans to reverse dozens more Obama-era rules using this same maneuver. Until this year, this obscure method had only been used once, ever, to overturn a regulation.
8. Betsy DeVos has reversed two Obama administration rules that had been intended to help student borrowers. The Obama rules required that the third-party companies hired by the government to service student loans must be chosen based on how well the companies help borrowers manage their debt. So how well the company performed in the past was taken into account, and things like improper or abusive customer service would work against a company applying for a government contract.
Prior to Obama, the third-party servicers were chosen based on their success at collecting on the debts. With this reversal, we’ll return to the pre-Obama status, which student loan experts say will make things more difficult for borrowers and increase the likelihood of default.
9. In a previous news roundup, I told you about how Trump had been awarded a load of trademarks from China shortly after winning the presidency, and that it looked rather . . . shady, especially since he’d been trying (and failing) to get some of them for a decade before becoming president. Now the New York Times has a new report out about the wide range of lucrative trademarks Trump’s businesses are being granted all over the world. It appears that many of the trademarks have suddenly been granted only after Trump won the presidency.
As the Times article points out, this could be a violation of the emoluments clause of the Constitution, which prohibits any federal official (including the President) from taking gifts, or emoluments from foreign governments. It’s not clear whether these trademarks would be covered under this clause, because an issue like this has never come up, ever, in the history of the country. Every President before Trump has gone out of their way to clear up any potential conflicts before taking office and to avoid anything that could even potentially be an emoluments violation. So we’ve never had a court interpret exactly what the clause means. But government ethics experts believe there’s real reason for concern here.
10. The NY Times gives us some details about some of the lesser known programs that will be cut from the EPA if the proposed huge budget cuts actually go through. We’ll lose things such as grants to help monitor our tap water to know it’s safe for drinking, funding for regional cleanup programs such as the Great Lakes restoration project, funding for research into the effects of endocrine disrupters in the environment, and the Energy Star program for promoting energy efficient appliances, among others.
But one area where no expense will be spared apparently: EPA chief Scott Pruitt has requested an around-the-clock security detail, which would mean 10 additional full-time security staff. Normally the EPA head is accompanied by security only on the way to and from work and for travel to events and trips.
11. It appears Trump is not the only flip-flopper:
12. And, lastly, an entertaining read from the NY Times about what a massive undertaking it is to plan the annual White House Easter Egg Roll. The Trump administration’s skeletal staff seems to be slowing the preparations down a bit:
White House officials did not respond to several weeks’ worth of inquiries about the Easter Egg Roll, typically a heavily and enthusiastically promoted affair, and declined to provide basic information such as how many people are expected to attend. It is unclear, for instance, whether Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, will reprise his appearance in a bunny suit for the event, as he did a decade ago when George W. Bush was president and Mr. Spicer was an aide in the Office of the United States Trade Representative . . .
The evidence points to a quickly thrown-together affair that people close to the planning said would probably draw about 20,000 people — substantially smaller than last year’s Easter Egg Roll, which drew 37,000. It will be staffed by 500 volunteers, Ms. Grisham said, half the usual. Ms. Grisham said she did not have “firm numbers” on the overall number of attendees, and those who provided estimates did so on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to describe the plans for the Easter Egg Roll, which are still evolving just a week before the event.