Jan 10, 2017

Presidential Transition Update

With a new 115th Congress sworn in on Jan. 3, Republicans will begin an aggressive push on a range of long-awaited conservative policies that President-elect Donald Trump can sign into law. The focus in January will be on initiating a repeal of the Affordable Care Act and voting to confirm many of President-elect Trump's Cabinet nominees. There will also be debate concerning Russia's hacking interference in the 2016 presidential election.

With confirmation hearings beginning this week, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is aiming to secure confirmation for many of Trump's top national security and economic team members around the time of the president-elect’s Jan. 20 inauguration day. While Senate Democrats don't have the needed votes to block any of Trump's nominees because former Majority Leader Harry Reid eliminated the filibuster for most presidential appointments, they are indicating a harrowing and messy battle, with plans to leverage the high-profile committee hearings to draw contrasts between the parties on key issues like health care, the environment and foreign policy.

House Republicans were quick off the blocks on their first day in session, introducing legislation that included the Regulatory Accountability Act, which attempts to dramatically redress how the executive branch promulgates new rules and regulations. According to Politico, the bill is a quilt of sections of House-passed bills from previous Congresses. It includes measures like “requiring that agencies opt for the lowest-cost option when considering regulations, eliminating judicial doctrines that require deference to agencies when rules are challenged in court, blocking rules that have an economic impact of $1 billion or more from taking effect until the courts have completed review,” and requiring agencies to account for impacts of new rules on small businesses.

Also this week, news outlets reported rumors of Trump’s intentions to revamp some of the nation’s top intelligence agencies, including the CIA and the office of the director of national intelligence. Moreover, President-elect Trump continued to round out his White House team and administration, with his appointment of over a dozen new senior White House staffers, a Director of the National Intelligence, and a new Chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission. He also got into a twitter war with actress Meryl Streep after she criticized him during her Golden Globes speech.

Vice President-elect Pence, meanwhile, held a closed-door meeting with the GOP conference to firm up the party’s plans to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA), while President Obama concurrently met with Congressional Democrats to develop a strategy to try to save his keystone healthcare legacy. Finally, the 58th Presidential Inauguration added four prominent guests to its RSVP list, with former Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton and former First Ladies Laura Bush and Hillary Clinton confirming their upcoming attendance at Trump and Pence’s swearing-in ceremony.


Obama, Pence Try to Build Support for Respective Parties’ Healthcare Plans

On Jan. 4, President Obama and Vice President-elect Pence took to Capitol Hill with dueling healthcare agendas, meeting with members of their own parties to come to a party consensus on strategy for 2017. During this Congress, Republicans will begin their effort to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA), while Democrats, who don’t have the numbers to stop GOP repeal efforts, will be making every attempt to salvage as much of the ACA framework as possible.

During his closed-door discussions with Democrats, President Obama rallied his party to hold the party line on his landmark healthcare bill, urging them to promote the ACA’s benefits to constituents as much as possible. In particular, he called on them to tout the regulation’s effects on extending the solvency of Medicare, reducing the uninsured rate, and enhancing consumer protections. They hope the PR campaign will put political pressure on some GOP members and delay ACA repeal. He also called on party members to start popularizing the term "Trumpcare" to refer to whatever replacement plan or plans the Republicans develop. He hopes this helps to link any fallout under the new system (people losing insurance, premiums skyrocketing, etc.) to Republicans and to Trump, while also setting up a tongue-in-cheek tagline comparison to Obamacare. CNN has more on the story here.

Vice President-elect Pence, on the other hand, huddled with the Republican Party conference to determine which politically popular sections of the ACA to preserve and the length of the transition period needed before a GOP replacement plan takes hold. The far right members of the party, which includes the House Freedom Caucus, have been calling for a transition period as brief as six months, while other members of the party were considering a delay as long as four years (keeping elements of Obamacare in place past the 2020 elections); at this point, however, the party seems to be coalescing around transition lengths of two or three years. In addition to a repeal-and-replace timeline, Republicans must also determine whether ACA taxes — including the Cadillac and medical device taxes that raised billions of dollars to pay for the law — should be repealed or merely delayed for a few years. Keeping the taxes in place would help shelter Republicans from the political kiss of death: having to raise taxes to fund their own replacement plan. Politico has more on the story here.

Worth noting, on Jan. 5, Rep. Chris Collins (R-NY), a member of President-elect Trump's transition team, told CNN there will be no changes to the Affordable Care Act in 2017 or 2018. "Immediately, what we're saying is we're not going to pull the rug out from under anyone. There's not going to be any changes in 2017. There's not going to be changes in 2018 … Those products have already been approved by the state insurance agencies, or for the 2018 time, are in negotiation right now," he continued. "So we're talking about new plans in 2019 or later that will be more affordable, let patients pick their doctors." The Hill has more on the story here.

Trump to Hold Press Conference This Week

President-elect Trump tweeted Jan. 3 that he will hold his first post-election press conference on Jan. 11. While he did not say specifically what issues he’ll be addressing before the press, some have speculated that the president-elect might comment on conflicts of interest as they relate to his future involvement in his various businesses. Trump tabled his original post-election news conference, originally slotted for Dec. 15, when he was supposed to discuss how he would handle his potential business conflicts as president.

While he has been tweeting, speaking at rallies, speaking off the record with his press corps, and doing interviews with a select few reporters, his choice not to do a formal news conference until now has been fueling some nervousness about how he will handle the press once he reaches the Oval Office. Trump’s critics have seized on his lack of press conferences to criticize that he is evading the level of transparency and accountability expected of a president-elect. The Democratic National Committee conveniently continues to email reporters daily with a reminder of how long it has been since President-elect Trump last held a news conference, a streak that has lasted since July.


With only two high-profile agency appointment announcements this week, the Trump transition team has focused its staffing notices on open senior positions within the Office of the White House, including the Domestic Policy Council; Political, Legislative and Intergovernmental Affairs and Implementation sections; and Operations and White House Personnel offices. The Office of the Vice President also saw some senior positions filled.

President-elect Trump will need to fill more than 4,000 vacancies by presidential appointment in his new administration. Positions range from senior advisors and Cabinet positions to ambassadors, small agency directors and special assistants. The Trump transition team has received more than 65,000 résumés from job seekers thus far.

An evolving list of rumored Trump appointees can be found here.

Chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission

President-elect Trump announced on Jan. 4 his choice of attorney Jay Clayton to chair the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). Clayton is a partner at Sullivan & Cromwell LLP with years of experience advising the financial industry. His regulatory experience stems from guiding banks on dealings with the government and assisting several financial institutions with their mortgage securities court settlements. If Clayton is confirmed, he may have to recuse himself from some matters. A similar inquest was applied to Mary Jo White, the SEC’s current chairwoman. Clayton’s nomination is likely to fuel criticism that Goldman Sachs could wield too much influence in the Trump administration, particularly given Clayton’s role in advising Goldman Sachs on perhaps its most infamous deal, the $5 billion investment by Warren E. Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway amidst the financial crisis.

In recent years, many in the Republican Party have blasted the Obama-era SEC for focusing too much of its attention on enforcement efforts and not enough on its other agency responsibilities, including drafting new regulations that encourage capital formation. Reuters reported that “legal experts have said that Clayton's background is more in line with some past SEC chiefs, and points to less regulation and perhaps a shift away from previous Chairman White's policy in which the agency fined firms for smaller violations in an effort to deter bigger ones.” Clayton received his J.D. from the University of Pennsylvania School of Law, where he is currently an adjunct professor. The New York Times has more on his appointment here.

Director of National Intelligence

On Jan 7, President-elect Trump nominated former Republican Indiana Sen. Dan Coats for the position of Director of National Intelligence. Coats, who is considered a rank-and-file Republican, served in the Senate for a combined total of 16 years and was the U.S. ambassador to Germany during the George W. Bush administration (2001-2005). He also worked as a contract lobbyist for a period, counting foreign firms and governments as some of his clients — an issue that will likely be raised at his Senate confirmation hearing. Coats was considered markedly hawkish toward Russia during his tenure in the Senate; as a member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, he called for even heavier sanctions on Russia as a penalty for President Putin’s territorial aggression and military backing of separatists in eastern Ukraine.

Coats’ nomination comes at a time when the incoming Trump administration’s views on the value and quality of U.S. intelligence-gathering are ambiguous at best. The Wall Street Journal reported Jan. 4 that President-elect Trump is working with advisors on a plan that would restructure and scale down the country’s highest spy agency. Tweets (here, here, and here) from President-elect Trump this week also seemed to criticize the intelligence community, with him specifically casting doubt on their confirmed conclusion of senior Moscow officials’ state-sponsored sanctioning of the hacking of the U.S. presidential election. After a “constructive” intelligence briefing on the issue on Jan. 6, Trump said he’d create a team to stop foreign hacking.

The Washington Post has more on Coats’ nomination here. A press release from the transition team on Coats’ nomination can be found here.

Trump Announces Three More Deputy Chiefs of Staff

On Jan.4, President-elect Donald Trump announced Katie Walsh will serve as Deputy Chief of Staff to the White House, Rick Dearborn will serve as Deputy Chief of Staff for Legislative, Intergovernmental Affairs and Implementation, and Joe Hagin will serve as Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations. 

In her role as Deputy Chief of Staff to the White House, Walsh will assist Chief of Staff Priebus in overseeing senior staff as well as the scheduling operation and the Office of Public Liaison. She is currently the Chief of Staff for Chairman Priebus at the Republican National Committee (RNC). Walsh maintains close relationships in the U.S. Senate having worked at the National Republican Senatorial Committee and for Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-TX).

Dearborn will lead the White House Office of Legislative Affairs, Office of Intergovernmental Affairs, Cabinet Affairs, and Implementation. He is currently Chief of Staff to U.S. Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) and the Executive Director of the Presidential Transition Team. Dearborn has worked for six U.S. Senators, including two members of Leadership, and spent more than 25 years working on Capitol Hill. He was nominated by President George W. Bush and confirmed by the Senate to become the Assistant Secretary of Energy for Congressional Affairs, where he worked with the Senate, House and Tribal Governments on the President’s Energy agenda. 
Hagin will lead operations in the White House including Management & Administration, Advance, Security and the Military Office. He served in the White House for 14 years, working for the administrations of President Reagan, President Georg H.W. Bush and President George W. Bush. Most recently in government, he served as the White House Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations.

First Wave of Additional White House Staff Announced

President-elect Trump announced the appointment of 11 White House staffers on Jan. 4, making official a series of long-expected appointments.

  • Marc Short, assistant to the president and director of Legislative Affairs
  • John DeStefano, assistant to the president and director of presidential personnel 
  • Omarosa Manigault, assistant to the president and director of communications for the Office of Public Liaison
  • Keith Schiller, deputy assistant to the president and director of oval office operations
  • George Gigicos, deputy assistant to the president and director of advance
  • Jessica Ditto, deputy assistant to the president and deputy communications director
  • Raj Shah, deputy assistant to the president and deputy communications director and research director
  • Bill Stepien, deputy assistant to the president and political director 
  • John McEntee, special assistant to the president and personal aide to the president

Those specifically named to the office of the Vice President include:

  • Josh Pitcock, assistant to the president and chief of staff to the vice president 
  • Jen Pavlik, deputy assistant to the president and deputy chief of staff to the vice president 

“These individuals will be key leaders in helping to implement the President-elect’s agenda and bring real change to Washington,” said incoming White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus. “Each of them has been instrumental over the last several months, and in some cases years, in helping the President-elect.”

Transition Builds Domestic Policy Team, National Trade Council, Senior Advisor for Policy

The Trump-Pence presidential transition team announced on Jan. 5 the beginnings of a staffing framework for its White House policy team. Biographical information on each of the new staffers can be found in the press release.

The Domestic Policy Director and Council will report to the Senior Advisor to the President for Policy, Stephen Miller. The White House Domestic Policy Council will oversee issue areas including judiciary, budget, public safety, education, and immigration policy.

Domestic Policy Council, Staff Announcements:

  • Andrew Bremberg, Director of the White House Domestic Policy Council 
  • Paul Winfree, Deputy Director of the Domestic Policy Council and Director of Budget Policy
  • Katy Talento, Healthcare Policy 
  • Ja’Ron Smith, Urban Affairs and Revitalization
  • Rob Goad, Education Policy 
  • John Zadrozny, Justice and Homeland Security Policy 
  • Zina Bash, Regulatory Reform, Legal and Immigration Policy 
  • Peter J. White, Senior Policy Analyst

Additionally, the new team joining the Office of the Senior Advisor to the President for Policy will help to develop all policy and administer all functions under the umbrella of the office, such as the formulation of a pro-worker agenda — including support for affordable childcare and family initiatives.

Office of the Senior Advisor to the President for Policy, Staff Announcements:

  • Carlos Diaz-Rosillo, Director of Policy and Interagency Coordination
  • Vince Haley, Advisor for Policy, Strategy and Speechwriting 
  • Ross Worthington, Advisor for Policy, Strategy and Speechwriting 
  • Ryan Jarmula, Advisor for Policy Development and Speechwriting
  • Robert Gabriel, Special Assistant to the Senior Advisor

The following were announced as joining the National Trade Council (NTC); economist Peter Navarro is the Director of the NTC, which will work collaboratively with the other councils in the White House.

National Trade Council, Staff Announcements:

  • Alexander Gray, Deputy Director of the National Trade Council for the Defense Industrial Bas
  • Rolf Lundberg, Deputy Director of the National Trade Council for “Buy American, Hire American” 

“These knowledgeable, skilled and talented experts will make enormous contributions to the President-Elect’s America First agenda,” incoming Chief of Staff Reince Priebus said in a statement with the release.

Schedule of Senate Confirmation Hearings for Trump Cabinet Nominees

The next three weeks are expected to be a crazy, congested roster of Senate committee hearings to approve President-elect Trump’s Cabinet choices. Senate confirmation hearings begin this week for a number of the president-elect’s Cabinet picks, with several overlapping on a single day, Thursday, Jan. 11.

Below is a preview of the upcoming hearing schedule compiled by Politico thus far:

Tuesday, Jan. 10

Attorney General
Nominee: Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.)
Background: Alabama Republican congressman
Committee: Senate Judiciary
Confirmation Hearings: Jan. 10 at 9:30 a.m., and Jan. 11 in 325 Russell Senate Office Building 325
Hearing Link
Committee Press Release

Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security
Nominee: John Kelly 
Background: Retired Marine general, former U.S. Southern Command chief
Committee: Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs 
Confirmation Hearings: Jan. 10 at 3:30 p.m. in 342 Dirksen Senate Office Building
Hearing Link

Wednesday, Jan. 11

Secretary of the Department of Education
Nominee: Betsy DeVos 
Background: Billionaire, philanthropist, Republican donor
Committee: Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions 
Confirmation hearings: Jan. 11 at 10 a.m. in 430 Dirksen Senate Office Building
Hearing Link

Secretary of the Department of Transportation
Nominee: Elaine Chao
Background: Former Labor Secretary under the George W. Bush administration, deputy secretary of transportation under President George H.W. Bush
Committee: Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation 
Confirmation Hearings: Jan. 11 at 10:15 a.m. in 253 Russell Senate Office Building
Hearing Link
Committee Press Release

Secretary of the Department of State
Nominee: Rex Tillerson
Background: CEO of ExxonMobil 
Committee: Senate Foreign Relations
Confirmation Hearings: Jan. 11 at 9:15 a.m. in 106 Dirksen Senate Office Building
Hearing Link
Committee Press Release

Thursday, Jan. 12

Secretary of the Department of Defense
Nominee: Rt. Gen. James Mattis
Background: Retired U.S. Marine Corps general, 11th Commander of U.S. Central Command
Committee: Senate Armed Services
Confirmation Hearings: Jan. 12 at 9:30 a.m.
Hearing Link

Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development
Nominee: Dr. Ben Carson
Background: Retired neurosurgeon, former GOP primary rival
Committee: Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs 
Confirmation Hearings: Jan. 12 at 10 a.m.
Hearing Link

Secretary of the Department of Commerce
Nominee: Wilbur Ross
Background: Billionaire private equity investor and founder of WL Ross & Co.
Committee: Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation
Confirmation Hearings: Jan. 12 at 10 a.m. in 253 Russell Senate Office Building 
Hearing Link
Committee Press Release

Week of Jan. 16

Secretary of the Department of Labor
Nominee: Andy Puzder
Background: CEO of CKE Restaurants, which include the Carl’s Jr. fast food chain
Committee: Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions
Confirmation Hearings: The week of Jan. 16

Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services
Nominee: Rep. Tom Price
Background: Georgia Republican congressman, House Budget chairman
Committee: Senate Finance
Confirmation Hearings: TBD, the HELP Committee is tentatively set to hold a confirmation hearing on Jan. 18. This is a courtesy. 

Other Senate confirmation hearings are waiting to be scheduled.

Confirmation hearings give senators the opportunity to ask questions about particular issues of concern in the department or agency that new nominees will be overseeing. A well-placed question with a senator, either to be asked during the hearing or for the record, may provide a good opportunity for our clients to have a peek into what regulations are to come or how a particular policy area may be addressed differently than in past administrations. Please let us know if getting a question asked or on the record is of interest to you or your business.

Senate Democrats to Target Eight Trump Nominees During Confirmation

Senate Democrats have indicated plans to aggressively target eight of President-elect Trump’s Cabinet nominees in the coming weeks and are putting pressure on the body’s leadership to push confirmation votes into March — an unprecedented timeline compared to past administrations.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) confirmed the minority’s plan, telling The Washington Post that “any attempt by Republicans to have a series of rushed, truncated hearings before Inauguration Day and before the Congress and public have adequate information on all of them is something Democrats will vehemently resist. If Republicans think they can quickly jam through a whole slate of nominees without a fair hearing process, they’re sorely mistaken.”

The eight nominees targeted by Senate Democrats include: Steven Mnuchin, Treasury; Rep. Thomas Price (R.-GA), Health and Human Services; Sen. Jeff Sessions (R.-AL) Justice; Elizabeth DeVos, Education; Rex Tillerson, State; Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R.-SC), Office of Management and Budget; Scott Pruitt, Environmental Protection Agency; and Andrew Puzder, Labor.

Ethics Office Alarmed Over Pace of Trump Nominees’ Confirmation Hearings

On Jan. 7, the Office of Government Ethics (OGE) officially released a position arguing that the pace of confirmation hearings for President-elect Donald Trump's nominees is of concern.

In a letter to some Senate Democrats, OGE Director Walter Shaub indicated that that the agency has  yet to receive the mandatory financial disclosures for some nominees set to come before committees this week. He wrote that "the announced hearing schedule for several nominees who have not completed the ethics review process is of great concern to me" and the current schedule "has created undue pressure on OGE's staff and agency ethics officials to rush through these important reviews. More significantly, it has left some of the nominees with potentially unknown or unresolved ethics issues shortly before their scheduled hearings."

Shaub continued, "I am not aware of any occasion in the four decades since OGE was established when the Senate held a confirmation hearing before the nominee had completed the ethics review process."

Even after OGE raised its concerns about moving forward with confirmation hearings for nominees whose ethics reviews have not been completed, Senate Majority Leader McConnell (R-KY) rejected the minority’s demands to decelerate the pace of the confirmation of President-elect Trump’s Cabinet picks on Jan. 8, telling them to buck up and move on.

“I know how it feels when you’re coming into a new situation and the other guy’s won the election,” McConnell said on CBS’ Face the Nation. “What did we do? We confirmed seven Cabinet appointments the day President Obama was sworn in. We didn’t like most of them either. But he won the election. So all of these little procedural complaints are related to their frustrations. We need to sort of grow up here and get past that.”


Trump Team Requests Immigration, Border Security Records; Wall Plan Takes Shape

Reuters reported Jan. 3 that President-elect Trump's transition team has asked President Obama’s Department of Homeland Security (DHS) for all records and executive orders related to border security, immigration and physical border barriers.

In response to the transition team’s request, officials at U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) identified more than 400 miles along the U.S. southern border (at an estimated cost of $11.37 billion for pedestrian and vehicle fencing), and about the same distance along the U.S. northern border (at an estimated cost of $3.3 billion for vehicle fencing), where new physical fences could be constructed.

This news comes from an internal response memo responding to a meeting between DHS and the Trump transition team on Dec. 5 and could offer a peek into the upcoming Trump administration’s strategy for securing the U.S. borders and undoing many of the immigration executive orders put in place by the Obama administration. Worth noting, the transition team also probed the department’s ability to expand the usage and detainee capacity of its immigrant detention centers, as well as the restoration of an aerial surveillance program at the border that was disbanded during the Obama administration.

President-elect Trump made the building of a border wall financed by Mexico a cornerstone of his campaign. His transition team has alerted Republicans on Capitol Hill that he favors funding the border wall through the traditional Congressional appropriations process as early as April, breaking a repeated campaign promise that he would force Mexico to pay for the construction of the southern border wall; in October, however, Trump suggested for the first time that Mexico would reimburse the U.S. for the cost of the wall. Trump defended his reimbursement proposal in a Jan. 6 tweet, saying he would utilize the congressional appropriations process for the sake of expediency.

According to Politico, Republicans on the Hill and Trump’s transition team are currently mulling over utilizing a 2006 law from the George W. Bush era that authorized the building of more than 700 miles’ worth of “physical barrier” on the U.S.-Mexico border. The regulation was never fully implemented and did not include an expiration date, giving the president-elect the chance to start up the initiative, pending new appropriations money from Congress.

What to Watch Regarding Trump’s International Trade Overhaul

President-elect Trump has routinely pledged to rewrite global trade agreements to bolster protections for American jobs, workers and businesses; however, he has provided very little detail on his plans for doing so. Given his victory this past November, it is clear that a Trump presidency will usher in a new era of trade dealings, with policies and trade agreement rewrites that could create new tensions with major trading partners like China, Mexico and Japan. This is particularly noteworthy, in that trade policy has rarely been a topic of discussion during modern presidential campaigns — until 2016, when it formed a pillar of President-elect Trump's foreign policy platform. The Hill lists five trade policies to watch in the Trump administration here