Inside This White House

The current lull in presidential actions is bound to end soon enough, but in the meantime I’ve been reading a number of interesting takes on what is really going on behind the scenes. I’ll cite three of them.*

There are other interesting articles he has written recently, but I found T. A. Frank’s February 6 article in Vanity Fair, Decoding Stephen Miller’s Nationalist Mind to be particularly helpful in understanding a key player in the drafting of presidential documents.

Likewise, Jamelle Bouie writing for Slate reviews several of the important top aides to POTUS 45 in his cover story dated February 6, Government By White Nationism Is Upon Us.  In it he makes a compelling case for how that ideology is going to be dominant with this presidency.

The day before (February 5), the New York Times published a bit of an expose written by Glenn Thrush and Maggie Haberman entitled Trump and Staff Rethink Tactics After Stumbles that gives an insiders’ view of how the White House is adjusting to some of the negative reactions to the past two weeks. Today, Sean Spicer is reported to have pushed back on this as not being an accurate depiction, but so far apparently there has been no official request from the White House to the NY Times to correct anything in that story.

In some respects, as this administration plays out, it appears likely we will know more about the inner workings than any other in recent times. The unprecedented number of leaks seem to bear that out. I keep hoping it will be a short-lived presidency, but so far, the Republicans in Congress have shown few signs of anything but compliance so as to get their own conservative legislative agenda enacted.

* Tip of the hat to Ross Douthat who suggested via Twitter (@DouthatNYT) the first two articles cited here as a worthy “double header” reading on the issue.

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Fiduciary Rule

As of February 4, a memorandum to the Secretary of Labor directing a review of the new Fiduciary Rule that is due to be phased in beginning April 10, 2017 is the only executive action related to this item posted on the White House website. News reports refer to an executive order that delays implementation of 180 days, but so far there is no evidence of such an order.

I have done some online searching for information related to this rule and memorandum, and found at least some of the news reports to be either flat out wrong or at best less than accurate. For example, this Business Insider article is both helpful and misleading. It is helpful in that is posts the full text of the memorandum, but very misleading, especially in this sentence:  “The executive order gives power to the Secretary of Labor to rescind or revise the rule.” First, it is not an official executive order, and second, the Secretary of Labor does not have the power to rescind or revise rules unilaterally, even if directed by the president to do so.

At least an Investopedia article gives a more nuanced view and reports that many industry groups have supported the rule and will be unhappy if it is rescinded.

The official memorandum directs review of the new Fiduciary Rule and where changes are deemed needed “…then you shall publish for notice and comment a proposed rule rescinding or revising the Rule, as appropriate and as consistent with law.” This sentence at least recognizes the legal process for establishing or rescinding rules for implementation of legislation.

As I understand the fiduciary rule, I believe it is very important and should be kept, not revised or rescinded. Investors have not had the protections needed and the old rule dating back to 1974 needed revision in light of so many changes in the financial world since then.

[Ed. Note: Again in this memorandum, bad editing of the document posted on the website is evident. This time I had the version published by Business Insider to compare with the White House website version. In the White House version, the first paragraph is printed twice, both times ending without a period. The second paragraph is missing the first part that cites the law the rule applies to. Pretty shoddy work. I hope the official, signed version was not full of errors. That would be pretty embarrassing for the official archive.]

Presidential Memorandum signed February 3, 2017.

Presidential Executive Order on Core Principles for Regulating the United States Financial System

A relatively brief order, it essentially does two things: 1) declares six core principles; and 2) directs the Secretary of the Treasury to review all laws, regulations, etc. and report within 120 days how they relate to the core principles.

Here are the core principles:

(a) empower Americans to make independent financial decisions and informed choices in the marketplace, save for retirement, and build individual wealth;

(b) prevent taxpayer-funded bailouts;

(c) foster economic growth and vibrant financial markets through more rigorous regulatory impact analysis that addresses systemic risk and market failures, such as moral hazard and information asymmetry;

(d) enable American companies to be competitive with foreign firms in domestic and foreign markets;

(e) advance American interests in international financial regulatory negotiations and meetings;

(g) restore public accountability within Federal financial regulatory agencies and rationalize the Federal financial regulatory framework.

[Ed. Note: Whoever drafted and reviewed this order failed to notice that alphabetically, item (e) should be followed by (f) not (g). I suspect an earlier draft had an item (f) that was deleted from the final version. I missed this typo on first reading, but discovered it after cutting and pasting from the original to here. Such typos are very easy to create in document revisions, but this is evidence of haste and a less than fully effective process for systematic review before signing presidential actions.]  Update: After seeing the errors in the memorandum signed the same day as this order, it appears the editor of the White House website is the problem and the typo may not be in the official signed document.

While the language of the principles sounds reasonable and good, for the most part, the intent of this order is to minimize regulation and maximize profits.

The real damage is yet to come via official regulation changes and new and/or repealed legislation.

Executive Order signed February 3, 2017.

Proclamation – February as American Heart Month

Finally, a non-controversial action.

On December 30, 1963, in a Joint Resolution, Congress requested the president to annually declare the month of February American Heart Month.

In addition, February 3, 2017 has been declared National Wear Red day, as is traditionally done the first Friday in February.

Presidential Proclamation signed February 2, 2017.

Presidential Executive Order on Reducing Regulation and Controlling Regulatory Costs

There is fundamentally only one point to this executive order and that is stated as:

“Sec. 2.  Regulatory Cap for Fiscal Year 2017.  (a)  Unless prohibited by law, whenever an executive department or agency (agency) publicly proposes for notice and comment or otherwise promulgates a new regulation, it shall identify at least two existing regulations to be repealed.”

The rest of the order is language that reiterates the two (or more) for one trade, establishes definitions, and determines how the order will be implemented.

While I certainly can support reduction of unnecessary regulation and limiting new regulations to those truly important and needed, the arbitrariness of this equation of two repealed for every one added is not only ridiculous, but ultimately not implementable.

Executive Order signed January 30, 2017.

Presidential Memorandum Plan to Defeat the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria

One item to note immediately in the title is a shift in language. The previous administration (and Democrats in general) used the term ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) rather than ISIS. (Here is a useful article to explain why and what the differences are.) I suspect the use of ISIS in this memorandum may simply be because this president wants to use the popular name that Republicans prefer, rather than any other reason.

The plan referred to here is to be coordinated by the newly re0rganized National Security apparatus as defined in the executive order on this same date. This “comprehensive” plan is to be developed and reported to the president in 30 days from the signing of this memorandum.

A stark observation and question: does he really believe a full and comprehensive plan to defeat ISIS can be developed in just 30 days when years have gone into the efforts to contain that organization with international cooperation?

Delusional at best.

Presidential Memorandum signed January 28,2017.

Executive Order: ETHICS COMMITMENTS BY EXECUTIVE BRANCH APPOINTEES

Some in the news media were looking for the now expected ethics order and finally it appeared Sunday.

It consists of a pledge all newly appointed administration officials will sign. Two notable points are: 1) when an official leaves this administration, he/she may not become a lobbyist for 5 years, and 2) any official coming from being a lobbyist may not act on anything related to that lobbying effort for at least 2 years. It also includes the typical “no gifts” clause. Other sections of the lengthy order include definitions of terms used.

Somewhat alarming:

Sec. 3.  Waiver.  (a)  The President or his designee may grant to any person a waiver of any restrictions contained in the pledge signed by such person.

(b)  A waiver shall take effect when the certification is signed by the President or his designee.

(c)  A copy of the waiver certification shall be furnished to the person covered by the waiver and provided to the head of the agency in which that person is or was appointed to serve.

This is a major loophole that allows for this whole order to be moot anytime the president wants to negate it!

Because this wording seemed to be so odd, and because I have so little trust this president will not abuse this power, I decided to research the previous presidential orders on ethics, and found an interesting NPR article about the similarities between this order and previous Democratic presidents’ orders. There is more similarity to Clinton’s and Obama’s, and much less similarity to the two Bushes’ orders.

Even though there are great similarities, there are significant differences when it comes to the waiver clauses. For example, the waiver clause in Obama’s order was far more restrictive and referred to current and past government employees not newly hired ones. Here is the corresponding Executive Order 13490 of January 21, 2009 by President Obama.

George W. Bush: Memorandum on Standards of Official Conduct

Interestingly, his is not an official executive order, but just a memorandum to department and agency heads. It contains no pledge requirements and no waiver clause.

William J. Clinton Executive Order 12834—Ethics Commitments by Executive Branch Appointees

The waiver clause requires a reason for each waiver. It also requires that waiver, including the reason for it, to be published in the Federal Register, an expectation not present in any of the three subsequent presidents’ orders.

George H. W. Bush Executive Order 12674—Principles of Ethical Conduct for Government Officers and Employees signed April 12, 1989.

I found it interesting that the date is substantially later than those by following presidents. His order also rescinds two previous orders – one by Reagan in 1986 and the other dating to 1965 – that are about financial disclosures for executive branch employees.

It appears that while this kind of ethics order has become more or less routine, the regularity of issuing it early in an administration did not begin until the 1990’s.

Would that ethical restrictions such as these also applied to the president.

Executive Order signed January 28,2017.