Politics Why Senate Democrats reversed few of Trump's 'midnight rules'
A bipartisan January 6 commission is probably dead. Democrats have a backup plan.
A House committee could be less vulnerable to GOP obstruction.Such a committee would differ from the proposed bipartisan commission in several key ways, but it could still take steps to ensure accountability for those involved in the insurrection. Notably, a select committee would be composed of members of Congress rather than outside experts, and the subpoena power would function differently — but, crucially, it could also be created with only a simple majority vote in the House.
Congressional Democrats made sparing use of a law that allows them to immediately overturn the Trump administration's last-minute— including measures that weakened environmental protections, permitted discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity and made it harder for shareholders to hold corporations accountable.
While the Democrats were juggling many priorities over the past several months — includingformer President Donald Trump and passing a massive — the inaction on many of the last-minute Trump rules disappointed some progressive advocates, who had to strike the rules as quickly as possible.
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"It's disappointing because it's so important," said Sasha Buchert, a senior attorney for Lambda Legal, a civil rights advocacy organization focused on LGBTQ issues. The group had pushed Congress to undo a Trump-era rule allowing social services providers receiving federal funds tobased on sexual orientation and gender identity, but lawmakers did not act in time to reverse it immediately.
The Congressional Review Act allows lawmakers to eliminate recently finalized regulations quickly, requiring only simple majorities in both the House and the Senate. (Such resolutions cannot be filibustered in the Senate.) But it allows a limited time to act: After a rule is finalized, lawmakers must introduce a resolution of disapprovalthat Congress is in session. In the early months of the Trump administration, the Republican-controlled Congress used the law to .
What Chuck Schumer can learn from Harry Reid
“I think the biggest lesson is never trust Republicans,” says one of Reid’s former staffers.The obstruction that finally pushed the Democratic leader to change the Senate’s rules in 2013 was the GOP’s refusal to consider three of President Barack Obama’s DC Circuit Court picks. But his frustration with Republican blockades had been building for months.
During the Biden administration, Senate Democrats passed resolutions to eliminate only three Trump rules during the same period — and the deadline for Senate action closed the last week of May. The resolutions would halt the Trump administration's, repeal a rule that gives employers certain advantages against them and stop lenders from circumventing . The resolutions still need the House's approval and President Joe Biden's signature to become law, although there is no deadline, and they are expected to be successful.
To reverse the scores of other last-minute Trump rules, agencies must now use the often long and laborious rule-making process — unless a court strikes them from the books sooner.
Among the Trump rules that progressive advocates had urged Congress to reverse was a measure that limited shareholders' ability to, workers' rights and other issues. Groups like Lambda Legal also supported the reversal of a rule forcing the Department of Health and Human Services to , or they would expire automatically. But while lawmakers introduced resolutions to scrap both rules, along with a third focused on a rule, the measures never went to the Senate floor for votes. Now it could take months or even years to dislodge them, taking up agency time, personnel and resources.
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AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Texas Republicans pressed ahead with their push for tougher election laws Tuesday, vowing to ensure Democrats' weekend victory over one the most restrictive voting measures in the country would only be temporary. GOP Gov. Greg Abbott prepared to call lawmakers back for a special session to revive the voting measure that died when Democrats staged a dramatic walkout from the state Capitol just before end of the legislative session Sunday night. Bolstered by GOP majorities in both the House and Senate, Abbott also was weighing whether to use the extra session to take up other top conservative priorities that had failed during the session.
"To undo a rule that is fully solidified could easily take more than half of Biden's presidency," said Jeff Hauser, a progressive strategist who advocated for more aggressive use of the Congressional Review Act. "I just don't think it was a priority."
James Goodwin, a senior policy analyst for the Center for Progressive Reform, an advocacy group, agreed.
"Democrats in Congress were definitely reluctant to make aggressive use of the Congressional Review Act," he said. "There are folks like myself scratching our heads and asking, 'Why didn't you guys get more done?'"
The office of Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., declined to comment about the small number of resolutions that went to the Senate floor for votes.in March detailing his support for two of the resolutions that did pass, Schumer described the Congressional Review Act as "an opportunity to repeal some of the most harmful rules that the Trump administration put into place at the end of its term."
One of the biggest constraints, congressional staff members said, was an agenda that was packed from the moment Democrats took power, as they impeached Trump after the U.S. Capitol riot on Jan. 6, passedand confirmed Biden's political appointees. Under the Congressional Review Act's lawmakers faced an early April deadline to introduce resolutions to dislodge rules issued during the final months of the Trump administration. Only rules finalized from late August to January were eligible to be removed.
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Democratic campaigns can overcome some, but not all, of the Republican Party’s efforts to disenfranchise voters.On Sunday evening, Texas Republicans expected to pass Senate Bill 7, which contains several provisions making it harder to cast a ballot in Texas. But Democrats took advantage of two procedural constraints to temporarily block the bill.
"They had much bigger legislative priorities to deal with right at the beginning of the Congress," said Amit Narang, regulatory policy advocate for Public Citizen, a consumer advocacy organization. "Back in 2017, the GOP wasn't close to doing anything of that scale in terms of passing major legislation."
The list of potential targets also narrowed after court rulings halted some of the most contentious Trump rules early on, blockingand striking down . The EPA ruling cited the Trump administration's failure to follow proper rule-making procedures — a problem that undercut Trump's agenda .
Pending court decisions were another factor for Democratic leaders, who consulted with the Biden administration about which rules to target: The Supreme Court isthis year on whether government-funded groups can discriminate on the basis of religion, sexual orientation or gender identity. Democrats may have been reluctant to target the related Trump rule before the decision, said Buchert of Lambda Legal.
Democrats also faced political obstacles in using the Congressional Review Act. The law has historically been considered a tool for Republicans to combat government overreach: It not only provides a fast track for deregulation; it also prohibits agencies from issuing future rules that are "substantially the same."
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The Congressional Review Act "at heart is a deregulatory law," said Meghan Hammond, a Washington-based lawyer who represents the energy industry and hasthe law's use. The statute had been used only once to remove a rule before Trump became president, and never successfully by Democrats, some of whom want to .
Some advocates say the party could have used the Congressional Review Act to cement their policy priorities for years to come, because rules through the law would prohibit future presidents from enacting the same policies. While many of Trump's last-minute immigration rules had already been halted in court, for example, passing resolutions of disapproval "could have restricted a future administration from acting," said Aaron Reichlin-Melnick, policy counsel for the American Immigration Council, an advocacy group. "Congress missed an opportunity."
But while many Democrats have come around to embrace the law, the party would need the support of every caucus member in the Senate to pass a rule-reversing resolution, given the 50-50 split along party lines, and votes on contentious issues could have carried additional political risks.
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One Trump rule that has remained in place removed protections for Alaska's Tongass National Forest, the largest temperate rainforest in North America, which had drawn fierce criticism from.
"It would have been a good one to undo, because the Trump rule waived away 20 years of protections, opening things up for logging in the future," said Brett Hartl, government affairs director for the Center for Biological Diversity, an environmental advocacy group.
But there was no guarantee that Democrats had the votes to remove the rule, and bringing a resolution of disapproval to the floor could have risked alienating key members, like Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, who is often involved in bipartisan negotiations, Hartl said.
While the window for Senate action has closed, Hartl and other advocates remain hopeful that the Biden administration will act quickly to remove more Trump rules through the normal rule-making process. The White House, which did not respond to a request for comment, has already begunthat Trump undermined and that relaxed clean air rules, among other major changes.
In the meantime, however, many Trump-era rules remain in place. "Many of them will be on the books for a year or two or more," Hartl said.
Why Democrats are voting on bills that have no chance of passing .
A series of upcoming votes could build the case for eliminating the filibuster.A vote on the Paycheck Fairness Act this week marked the start of this process, which will soon include votes on a series of Democratic priorities that will likely fail. These votes are intended to demonstrate Democrats’ commitment to issues like voting rights protections and gun control, while underscoring how willing Republicans are to obstruct these policies.