Roundup: Lame Duck Period
Nearly three weeks passed between the time the AP and all other major media organizations called the Presidential race for Joe Biden and the time that the Trump administration allowed the transition process to begin. These next 8 or so weeks should serve as an onboarding period for the new president and ensure a secure transfer of power. The president, however, has shown that 2 months provide plenty of time to stir up chaos. While many of the Trump campaign and fellow Republicans work to challenge the integrity of the election itself, others within the administration are finding ways to push forward President Trump’s agenda during this time.
The GOP and Trump are hard at work on measures they wish to roll out before January 20th. These actions will affect the judiciary, the economy, immigration, foreign affairs, and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. In this roundup, we share what the GOP and the Trump administration have planned in each key area outlined above.
The very resistance to transition endangers national security. In obvious ways, it allows less time for the President-Elect’s team to get fully briefed on important foreign affairs issues. In less obvious ways, it undermines the image of the U.S. as a place with peaceful transfers of power, which is a key indicator of health in a functioning democracy.
Chaos in foreign affairs began with the November 9th firing of Mark Esper, the secretary of defense. Naturally, firing your defense secretary over his open disagreement appears vindictive. Beyond this, however, it is also dangerous. The next way the President might further inflame our international position is by adopting some proposed new sanctions against Iran. In addition to these sanctions, the President recently approved more arms sales to Taiwan and the UAE, which will surely anger China and Iran.
In a bold move, President Trump has diverged with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell by calling for further withdrawals of troops from Iraq and Afghanistan. This abrupt withdrawal will fulfill certain campaign promises made in 2016, but it also threatens to destabilize the region further.
One of President Trump’s pet issues has been immigration, and he shows no signs of slowing down simply because he was not reelected. One way his administration plans to block more immigration is by finalizing stricter standards around H-1B visas. The new rules will make it harder for many companies, including tech companies, to hire highly-skilled foreign workers. This could cause major problems during the pandemic given that many recipients of these visas are foreign doctors who work in rural areas; these areas need doctors now more than ever among a crushing third wave of the pandemic.
Experts also expect that Republicans will mount new challenges to DACA after a federal judge invalidated certain new rules. There might also be executive orders around immigration, but only time will tell what they entail.
One of the Trump era’s major achievements for the GOP is the complete stacking of the judiciary. Fresh off confirming the third Supreme Court Justice during President Trump’s one term in office, the Senate has continued to forge ahead with lifetime federal judicial appointment. As of November 1st, there were 66 vacancies on the federal bench. If the GOP’s willingness to push nominees through before an election is any indication, we can expect many of these vacancies to be filled before Biden takes office.
President Trump and the GOP can also push appointments in other areas of the government. They have recently nominated new members to the Federal Reserve Board, the Federal Elections Commission, the Federal Communications Commission, and more.
There were talks of a new stimulus bill prior to the election to deal with the continued economic devastation wrought by the pandemic. However, those talks have cooled. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi are on the outs. If the GOP manages to pass a relief bill, it will be a targeted one, which is unlikely to have the sweeping effects much needed at this point.
Less directly, Trump’s wreaking havoc in other areas of the government will have direct implications on the economy as the stock market has shown volatility to mimic Trump’s own.
The U.S. has entered a period of record infections and has not seen a relief bill since the spring. As mentioned previously, these last 8 weeks could prove decisive in terms of coronavirus relief.
Trump and his team can continue to cause chaos in this arena by doing what he’s already done: undermine scientific expertise, sow confusion in the minds of Americans, and back governors who refuse to implement the safety measures needed to slow the spread of the disease.
In addition to specific policies (or lack thereof), the President’s refusal to concede threatens to exacerbate the pandemic’s impact by preventing Biden’s team from developing an effective plan to combat the pandemic. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the face of the COVID-19 response in the U.S., has reiterated this point.