9 last-minute Obama moves to stymie Trump’s agenda
WASHINGTON — With the finish line in view, President Barack Obama is entering a sprint. He’s scaled up his executive power moves in a bid to solidify some of his legacy items before Donald Trump takes office. Many of his actions won’t be easily reversed. Here’s a look at what Obama’s done since Election Day, and what he’s expected to do in the coming weeks.
1. Russia sanctions
Obama action: Obama vowed to respond to Moscow for its cybermeddling in the US election, and officials were eager to put the punishment in place before Trump took office. Similarly, Obama asked his team for a full report on the Russian actions before he left. Those efforts could include new sanctions against six Russian individuals and five Russian entities as well as ordering Russian diplomats to leave the country.
This is the first time the names of Russian officials involved in the hacking have become public on the sanctions list.
Obama also said in a separate statement that 35 Russian diplomats have been ordered to leave the country, and two Russian compounds are being closed under Thursday’s actions.
Trump’s position: Get over it. He told reporters in Florida just before the new year that he thought the country and Republican senators like John McCain who chafed at the Russian meddling should move beyond the allegations.
“I think we ought to get on with our lives. I think computers have complicated our lives very greatly. The whole age of computer has made it where nobody knows exactly what is going on. And we have speed and a lot of things and I’m not kind the security that you need. And I have not spoken with the senators and I will certainly will be over a period of time,” Trump said.
2. Arctic drilling ban
Obama’s action: Last week Obama indefinitely banned drilling in parts of the Arctic and Atlantic Oceans. Unlike previous drilling bans, the move was made using a decades-old law that gives a President the power to limit future land leases. The plan was lambasted by Republicans, but the White House says Trump won’t be able to reverse course without a court battle.
Trump’s position: Trump has not said if he will attempt to undo Obama’s specific actions on drilling, but he has promised to do away with “job-killing” regulations related to the environment and he will be surrounded by voices likely to be frustrated by the move. His picks for secretaries of energy and the EPA have both supported increased drilling. His pick for secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, is leaving his post as CEO of Exxon Mobil, which has drilling interests in the Arctic.
3. Middle East peace process
Obama’s action: After years of failing to broker peace between Israelis and Palestinians, Obama took the step last week of allowing a UN resolution condemning Israeli settlements to pass. A few days later, his top diplomat John Kerry delivered a lengthy final address staking out the US position on Israel, including sharply criticizing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Trump’s position: Wait for January 20, Trump said after Kerry’s speech. He has nominated a hardline pro-settlement attorney to be his ambassador to Israel. “Let’s see what happens after January 20, right? I think you’re going to be very impressed,” Trump told reporters.
4. Obamacare enrollment push
Obama’s action: Democrats, with Obama at the helm, made a drive in the final months of this year to register people for health care through the Affordable Care Act’s marketplaces. The effort paid off: 6.4 million Americans signed up, a 400,000-person jump from last year. The White House hopes if more people are enrolled, the harder it will be for Republicans to repeal the law.
Trump’s position: Repeal it. The Republicans controlling Congress and Trump have all vowed to repeal Obamacare. There are some disagreements on how exactly that will occur and how fast it will happen. But undoing all or part of the Affordable Care Act and replacing it will be a major Trump priority.
5. New national monuments
Obama’s action: On Wednesday Obama created two national monuments in the American West: the Bears Ears area in Utah, and the Golden Butte in Nevada. Both come with controversy; opponents say the action could hamper the economy. But there’s little recourse for Trump to reverse Obama’s action. No president has ever reversed a national monument designation made under the Antiquities Act.
Trump’s position: The Trump team hasn’t issued an opinion on the designations, but Republicans in Congress from Utah and Nevada have made their displeasure clear. Jason Chaffetz, the Utah Congressman, said he’ll try to get Trump to repeal the act.
6. Closing national registry
Obama action: Obama’s Department of Homeland Security announced last week it was dismantling a Bush-era program that was used to track mostly Muslim and Arab men in the United States. Dormant since 2011, the program, known as NSEERS, could have provided the basis for a Muslim registry that Trump has promised. He could still set one up, but the existing framework is no longer in place.
Trump’s position: His team has not laid out specifics on what Trump will do with regard to Muslim immigration, but he has retreated from his previous idea for a wholesale ban on all Muslims entering the country. What his campaign manager Kellyanne Conway discussed on CNN’s “New Day” earlier this month was not unlike the NSEER program. She said Trump would focus on “countries where we know that they’ve got a higher propensity of training and exporting terrorists.”
7. Gitmo transfers
Obama’s action: The President has advised lawmakers of plans to transfer almost one-third of the remaining population at Guantanamo Bay to other countries before he leaves. Of the 59 prisoners remaining at Guantanamo, 22 are currently eligible for transfer, according to the Pentagon. Congressional officials would not say exactly how many the administration is seeking to transfer, although one official said it would be fewer than the 22 who are eligible.
Trump’s position: At a campaign stop in February, Trump promised not only to keep the prison open, but to send new detainees there. “I watched President Obama talking about Gitmo, right, Guantanamo Bay, which by the way, which by the way, we are keeping open. Which we are keeping open … and we’re gonna load it up with some bad dudes, believe me, we’re gonna load it up.”
8. Pardons and commutations
Obama action: Obama has reduced the sentences for more than 1,000 non-violent drug criminals and pardoned more than a hundred more. It’s part of an effort to instill fairness in the criminal justice system and bring existing sentences into line with current standards. Obama’s top lawyer has said the President will continue using his powers in his final weeks in office.
Trump’s position: It’s not exactly clear what Trump’s position on clemency is, but his pick for attorney general, Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, has been a vocal opponent of clemency for drug offenders. He has called past clemency efforts by Obama “an alarming abuse of the pardon power.”
9. Farewell address
Obama’s expected focus: Like past presidents, Obama is expected to deliver a formal farewell address before he leaves office. Widely expected to take place in Chicago, Obama could use the speech to push back against what he’s warned is a tribalistic and isolationist streak.
Trump’s inaugural: He’ll be writing his own “short” address, he told presidential historian Douglas Brinkley. A spokesman for Trump’s inaugural committee, Boris Ephsteyn said, “They will be talking about uniting America, bringing American together. We are now in the post-politics, post-campaign season and that’s the messaging around this inaugural.”