Jan 23, 2017

Presidential Transition Update

After more than a year and half of cross-country electioneering and a nonstop, 24-hour campaign-focused news cycle, the big day finally arrived for Donald J. Trump, as he was sworn in as the 45th president of the United States on Jan. 20. On the crowded Capitol portico filled with four past presidents, the full Supreme Court, and hundreds of senators and congressmen, President Trump and Vice President Pence took their respective oaths of office, cementing the peaceful succession of power that has been the cornerstone of American democracy since the country’s founding. Noticeably absent from the event were the 67 House Democrats, led by Rep. John Lewis (D-GA), who skipped out on the inauguration in protest of Trump’s presidency.

Repeating themes from his historic and bruising campaign, President Trump delivered a fiercely populist and somewhat downbeat inaugural address, promising to transfer power in Washington from the political establishment to the people and vowing to put "America first” throughout his upcoming policy agenda.

After a celebratory parade down Pennsylvania Avenue, signing nomination papers for his Cabinet choices, and attending a luncheon with bipartisan lawmakers in the Capitol’s Statutory Hall, President Trump arrived at the White House. There, he signed executive orders "minimizing the economic burden" of Obamacare and implemented a freeze on several midnight regulations enacted during the waning days of Obama’s presidency.

The national media noted the lower in-person turnout for the inaugural as compared with Obama’s 2009 festivities. The Department of Interior got its social media privileges revoked by the new administration after it tweeted a side-by-side comparison photo of Obama’s record-breaking 2009 inauguration to this one. As an interesting note of contrast, former President Clinton’s 1993 inauguration was attended by 800,000 people and former President Bush’s 2001 inauguration was attended by 300,000.

Referencing the media reports at his first briefing room appearance on Jan 21, Sean Spicer, President Trump’s press secretary, declared that “these attempts to lessen the enthusiasm of the inauguration are shameful and wrong,” and that Trump’s inauguration day attendance “was the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration — period — both in person and around the globe.”

Metro ridership data released by the Washington Area Metropolitan Transit authority (WMATA) show 783,000 trips taken on Obama’s inauguration day in 2013, but only 571,000 on Trump’s 2017 inauguration day. There were 1.1 million trips on Obama’s inauguration day in 2009, the biggest day in Metro’s history. Another interesting data point, Nielsen Ratings reported that Trump’s inauguration drew a broadcast audience of 30.6 million people, while 37.8 million watched Obama’s first inauguration on television in 2009.

Jan. 21, 2017, saw hundreds of thousands of women and men descend on the nation's capital for a peaceful protest on the national mall. The crowd of approximately 500,000 assembled to show their opposition to the new president and promote women’s rights. A group of mostly women senators and other politicians took the stage together at one point. The Washington demonstration was amplified by gatherings around the world, with march organizers listing more than 670 events nationwide and overseas.

In the days prior to his inauguration, President Trump continued to fill out his White House team, nominated a candidate for Secretary of Agriculture, announced a list of Obama administration officials who were asked to remain in their posts, and had info about expected cuts in his potential FY 2018 budget leaked to the press.


Trump Asks 50 Obama Officials to Stay Temporarily for “Continuity of Government”

At a Jan. 19 Trump transition press conference, President Trump’s press secretary, Sean Spicer, announced that Trump has asked roughly 50 senior Obama administration officials to temporarily remain in their roles to "ensure the continuity of government.” The Obama holdovers include key national security, state department and treasury officials. While a complete list has not been released, thus far, confirmed Obama officials remaining include:

  • Brett McGurk, Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL
  • Adam Szubin, Acting Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence
  • Robert Work, Deputy Defense Secretary
  • Tom Shannon, Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs
  • Nick Rasmussen, Director of the National Counterterrorism Center
  • Dabney Kern, Director of the White House Military Office
  • Chuck Rosenberg, Acting administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration
  • Kody Kinsley, Treasury Assistant Secretary
  • Michelle Lee, Director of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office
  • Susan Coppedge, United States Ambassador-at-Large to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons
  • Dr. Francis Collins, Director of the National Institutes of Health

At the final Trump transition press conference on Jan. 19, Vice President Pence, who also serves as the Trump transition chairman, lauded the achievements of his team. He relayed that 27 Senate-confirmable positions had been named, with 536 temporary political appointees to land at federal agencies on Jan. 23. “We’re wrapping up this transition on schedule and under budget,” Pence said, echoing one of Trump’s favorite lines to describe his real estate projects.

There are 1,212 senior leaders, including the Cabinet secretaries and their deputies, the heads of most independent agencies and ambassadors, who must be confirmed by the Senate, as well as 353 presidential appointment positions, which make up much of the White House staff. Some people involved in the transition believe that more positions have been filled than have been publicly announced, but are confounded as to why the hires are being held so close to the vest.

Pence Meets With U.S. Mayors, Touts Infrastructure Plan to Build Support

Politico reported that on Jan. 17, now-Vice President Pence spoke before the Conference of Mayors’ winter meeting, calling for unity ahead of Trump’s inauguration on Jan. 20. In his speech, he pledged that the Trump administration will be a partner to American cities in the years ahead.

“We’re all working for the people, after all. The president-elect and I are determined to forge strong partnerships between the federal government and the cities of this country. Make no mistake about it, we both believe that you have some of the most important jobs in public service,” Pence said.

With President Trump losing to Hillary Clinton by wide margins in most U.S. large metropolitan areas, there remains significant resistance to President Trump’s policy agendas in America’s cities. Sizeable demonstrations and marches took place in cities around the country on both inauguration day and Jan. 21 to show opposition to the new president.

In his speech, Vice President Pence did not fail to tout an area where the mayors and the administration can work together: infrastructure. Pence said he spoke with President Trump before attending the meeting, and the president-elect sent along a message for the mayors: “He said, ‘tell ’em we’re going to a do an infrastructure bill and it’s going to be big.’” As a candidate, Trump outlined a $1 trillion infrastructure plan to improve bridges, airports, railroads, ports and energy pipelines, in part through tapping public-private partnerships and using a “deficit-neutral system of infrastructure tax credits” to attract new private infrastructure projects.

Trump Visits CIA HQ to Make Nice With Intelligence Community

On Jan. 21, President Trump visited the Central Intelligence Agency’s (CIA) headquarters in Langley, Va., to reconcile with CIA employees. “Nobody feels stronger about the intelligence community than Donald Trump,” the president said. “I love you. I respect you. There’s nobody whom I respect more. We are going to start winning again."  Blaming the “dishonest” media overplaying his concerns about intelligence officials, he asked the crowd for a fresh start and made promises to rely on them for guidance as he makes weighty national security decisions. Following his private meeting with top CIA leaders, Trump said the U.S. had been "restrained" in its efforts to combat terrorism, calling the threat "a level of evil we haven't seen." 

His visit follows a tumultuous past couple of weeks, after Trump suggested last week that outgoing CIA Director John Brennan may have leaked an unofficial dossier on him containing embarrassing and highly suspect allegations, even comparing the situation to living in “Nazi Germany.” Also straining Trump-CIA relations was the U.S. intelligence community’s suggestion that Russia interfered in the 2016 campaign to help him beat Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.

Fox News has more on the story here.


With a new president sworn into office, the Senate can officially begin confirming his Cabinet. Senate Democrats agreed to hold confirmation votes on inauguration day for two of Trump’s nominees: Gen. James Mattis, the president’s pick to head the Department of Defense; and Gen. John F. Kelly, the nominee for Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security. Nominations for both passed by wide margins and President Trump presented them with signed commissions that same day.

While Democrats readily endorsed Trump’s generals, they continue to withhold support from almost all of Trump’s other Cabinet nominees, threatening to slow-walk proceedings on the floor if the President doesn’t force his picks to go back to the committees to answer more questions. At this time, it is unclear whether they will be able to persuade any Republicans to join them in their opposition, as Democrats cannot ultimately reject any of the nominees without GOP support. On Jan. 22, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) predicted that would not happen. "I believe we'll be able to confirm the president's entire Cabinet," McConnell said on Fox News Sunday. "There's great enthusiasm."

Also big news, President Trump completed his roster of Cabinet nominations Jan. 18 by choosing former Georgia governor Sonny Perdue as his Secretary of the Department of Agriculture. He still has one Cabinet-level position to fill, a candidate to chair the Council of Economic Advisers. Critics say President Trump has the least diverse Cabinet of any president, Republican or Democrat, since the 1981 inauguration of former president Ronald Reagan. His is also the first since 1989 not to include a Latino member.

Secretary of the Department of Agriculture

On Jan. 18, Trump officially nominated former Georgia governor Sonny Perdue to be his Agriculture Secretary. While the news had been rumored for weeks, the selection is likely to please farming interest groups while irritating pundits who called for more diversity in his Cabinet. Gov.

Perdue served two terms as governor of Georgia and brings the agriculture qualifications of having grown up on a row farm in central Georgia and owning several agriculture-related businesses. If confirmed, Gov. Perdue will oversee several programs that some conservative members of Congress have suggested shrinking, including nutritional requirements in school lunch programs, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits for low-income Americans, and financial aid to farmers.  

Worth mentioning, Perdue’s friendlier views on trade and immigration do not entirely align him with the protectionist agenda advocated by President Trump. Perdue also is cousin to current Georgia Republican Senator David Perdue.

Politico has more on his nomination here.

Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC)

In one of his first acts as president, Trump tapped current Federal Communications Commissioner Aijit Pai to serve as the chairman of the FCC. For three years during the Obama administration, Pai served as the senior FCC Republican. If he chooses, he can take the new role immediately, as he wouldn't require approval by the Senate given his current confirmation as an existing commissioner.

A former attorney in the Office of the General Counsel of the FCC, Pai is a fierce and vocal critic of many regulations passed by the commission's Democratic majority, including the 2015 net neutrality rules. He is expected to pursue an agenda focused on deregulating burdensome bureaucracy for the industry. Pai’s elevation to chairman still leaves a Republican seat open, which Trump will need to fill; Pai also would need to be reconfirmed by the Senate this year if he were to continue serving as chairman.

Forbes has more on his nomination here.

Ambassador to the United Kingdom

On Jan. 19, the New York Times reported that President Trump nominated Woody Johnson, owner of the New York Jets football team, as the ambassador to the United Kingdom. President Trump referred to Johnson as "ambassador" and said during remarks at a luncheon in D.C. that he was "going to St. James." He also publicly congratulated Johnson on the apparent appointment to the Court of St. James’s, as it is formally called, considered a plum assignment often given to wealthy campaign benefactors. The position could prove more challenging during this administration, given Britain’s recent Brexit vote to leave the European Union. President Trump has voiced his support for Britain’s decision to exit the European Union, but also has said publicly that any future trade deals between the U.S. and Great Britain must favor the United States.

One of a dozen heirs to the Johnson & Johnson fortune, Woody Johnson served as a vice chairman of the Trump Victory Committee and helped to raise millions of dollars for Trump's campaign.

Schedule of Senate Confirmation Hearings for Trump Cabinet Nominees

Capitol Hill will host three confirmation hearings this week. The Washington Post highlights each of last week’s hearings here.

Below is a preview of the upcoming hearing schedule compiled by Politico.

Tuesday, Jan. 24

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: Jan. 24 at 10 a.m. in 215 Dirksen Office Building. The Senate HELP Committee held a "courtesy hearing" on Jan. 18 at 10 a.m. in 430 Dirksen Senate Office Building.
Hearing Link
Committee Press Release
The Washington Post has more on the nomination hearing here.

Director of the Office of Management and Budget
Nominee: Rep. Mick Mulvaney
Background: South Carolina Republican Congressman
Committee: Senate Budget and Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs 
Budget Confirmation Hearings: Jan. 24 at 10:30 a.m. in 608 Dirksen Senate Office Building
HSAC Confirmation Hearing: Jan. 24 at 2:30 p.m. in 342 Dirksen Senate Office Building
Budget Hearing Link
HSAC Hearing Link

Director of the Small Business Administration
Nominee: Linda McMahon
Background: Former CEO of World Wrestling Entertainment
Committee: Small Business and Entrepreneurship
Confirmation Hearing: Jan. 24 at 10:30 a.m. in 428A Russell Senate Office Building
Hearing Link

Thursday, Feb. 2

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 HELP
Confirmation Hearings: Feb. 2.
Committee Press Release

To Be Determined

U.S. Trade Representative
Nominee: Robert Lighthizer
Background: Trade attorney, former deputy U.S. Trade Representative under President Ronald Reagan
Committee: Senate Finance 
Confirmation Hearings: TBD 

Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs
Nominee: David Shulkin
Background: Physician, Obama’s VA undersecretary of health
Committee: Senate Veterans Affairs 
Confirmation Hearings: TBD

Secretary of the Department of Agriculture
Nominee: Sonny Perdue 
Background: Former governor of Georgia
Committee: Senate Agriculture 
Confirmation Hearings: TBD


Tuesday, Jan. 10

Attorney General
Nominee: Sen. Jeff Sessions
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
Hearing Link
Committee Press Release
Politico has key takeaways here.

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
Committee Press Release
The New York Times summarized the hearing here.

Wednesday, Jan. 11

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
Politico has an article summarizing the hearing here.

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
The New York Times has an article summarizing the hearing here.

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
Business Insider has an article summarizing the hearing’s big takeaways here.

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
The Hill reports on the key takeaways from the hearing here.

Director of the Central Intelligence Agency
Nominee: Mike Pompeo
Background: Kansas Republican congressman, member of House Intelligence Committee
Committee: Senate Intelligence
Confirmation Hearings: Jan. 12
Hearing Link
Politico summarizes the key moments of the hearing here.

Tuesday, Jan. 17

Secretary of the Department of the Interior
Nominee: Rep. Ryan Zinke
Background: Montana Republican congressman, former U.S. Navy SEAL commander 
Committee: Senate Energy and Natural Resources 
Confirmation Hearings: Jan. 17 at 2:15 p.m. in 366 Dirksen Senate Office Building
Hearing Link
Committee Press Release

The Washington Post has a summary of the hearing here.

Secretary of the Department of Education
Nominee: Betsy DeVos 
Background: Billionaire, philanthropist, Republican donor
Committee: Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions 
Confirmation Hearings: Jan. 17 at 5 p.m. in 430 Dirksen Senate Office Building
Hearing Link
The Wall Street Journal has more on the hearing here.

Wednesday, Jan. 18

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. 18 at 10 a.m. in 253 Russell Senate Office Building
Hearing Link
Committee Press Release
The New York Times outlines highlights from the hearing here.

Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency
Nominee: Scott Pruitt
Background: Oklahoma attorney general
Committee: Senate Environment and Public Works 
Confirmation Hearings: Jan. 18 at 10 a.m. in 406 Dirksen.
Hearing Link
Committee Press Release

Politico has a summary of the hearing here.

Ambassador to the United Nations
Nominee: Nikki Haley
Background: Governor of South Carolina
Committee: Senate Foreign Relations 
Confirmation Hearings: Jan. 18 at 10 a.m. in 419 Dirksen Senate Office Building
Hearing Link

Politico summarized key moments from the hearing here.

Thursday, Jan. 19

Secretary of the Department of Energy
Nominee: Rick Perry
Background: Former governor of Texas 
Committee: Senate Energy and Natural Resources 
Confirmation Hearings: Jan. 19 at 10 a.m. in 366 Dirksen Senate Office Building
Hearing Link
The Hill has more on the hearing here.

Secretary of the Treasury
Nominee: Steven Mnuchin 
Background: Former Goldman Sachs executive, Trump’s national finance chair for the campaign
Committee: Senate Finance 
Confirmation Hearings: Jan. 19 at 10 a.m. in 215 Dirksen Senate Office Building
Hearing Link

Politico has composed a summary of the hearing here.

Trump White House Hires for Strategic Initiatives, Intragovernmental and Technology Initiatives

On Jan. 17, President Trump announced two new senior White House staff appointments: Chris Liddell as director of strategic initiatives, and Reed Cordish as assistant to the president for intragovernmental and technology initiatives. Both men previously worked on Trump’s transition team.

“Chris Liddell and Reed Cordish have led large, complex companies in the private sector, and have played instrumental roles throughout the transition,” Trump said in a press statement. “Their skill sets are exactly what is needed to effect substantial change, including system wide improvement to the performance of the government. I am delighted that they will be part of my executive team.”

Before joining the Trump team, Liddell worked as chief financial officer at Microsoft and General Motors. Liddell also worked on Mitt Romney’s 2012 transition team as executive director.

A longtime Trump family friend, Cordish formerly worked as a real estate developer as a principal and partner of the Cordish Companies and president of Entertainment Consulting International. He has been involved in some of Baltimore’s largest developments, including Power Plant Live and the Maryland Live Casino.

Trump Announces 17 White House Hires

On. Jan. 19, the Trump transition team announced 17 new White House staff hires, including a number of veterans of the Republican National Committee, the campaign, and inaugural planning committee.

“These exceptional individuals will play key roles in supporting President-elect Trump’s America-first agenda,” incoming chief of staff Reince Priebus said in a statement. “I look forward to working with each and every one of them as we make the President-elect’s vision for our country a reality.”

The staff announcements include:

  • Bill McGinley, Deputy Assistant to the President and Cabinet Secretary
  • Sean Cairncross, Deputy Assistant to the President and Senior Adviser to the Chief of Staff
  • Gerrit Lansing, Chief Digital Officer
  • Michael Ambrosini, Director of the Office of Chief of Staff;
  • Lindsay Walters, Deputy Press Secretary and Adviser to the Press Secretary
  • Adeleine Westerhout, Executive Assistant to the President
  • Boris Epshteyn, Assistant Communications Director for Surrogate Operations
  • Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Deputy Press Secretary
  • Rob Porter, Staff Secretary
  • Justin Clark, Director of Intergovernmental Affairs;
  • Alexander Angelson, Special Assistant to the President for Legislative Affairs
  • Avrahm (Avi) Berkowitz, Assistant to Jared Kushner
  • Steven Cheung, Assistant Communications Director
  • Helen Aguirre Ferré, Director of Media Affairs
  • Stephanie Grisham, Deputy Press Secretary
  • Mallory Hunter, Executive Assistant for Reince Priebus
  • Cliff Sims, Assistant Communications Director for White House Message Strategy

Politico has more on the hiring announcement here.


Trump’s Inaugural Address Features Themes of Populism and Nationalism

In his first words to the nation and the world after being sworn in as commander in chief, President Trump delivered a speech echoing the populist and nationalist message of his campaign over the past 19 months, which built him a coalition of voters left behind by both the Republican and Democratic parties.

Shorter in length, darker in tone, and brusquer in language than any other inaugural address in modern history, the 16-minute address depicted the United States as “a land of abandoned factories,” economic angst, “rising crime” and dystopian “carnage.” He described the country as being in a shadowy time in American politics that calls for a return of power to the people and a rebellion against the political elite. "For too long, a small group in our nation's capital has reaped the rewards of government while the people have borne the cost," he said. "January 20th, 2017, will be remembered as the day the people became the rulers of this nation again.” He vowed continually to “put America First” again by bringing back jobs, tightening the borders, strengthening the military, rebuilding infrastructure and igniting a new era of prosperity.

His speech also promised a president that would act quickly and established a criterion by which he will be judged. He railed against “politicians who are all talk and no action” and declared, “Now arrives the hour of action.” He said he was leading "a historic movement the likes of which the world has never seen before." His rhetoric was more populist and nationalistic than was conservative — he made no references to the Republican Party, something that could be of concern to those in GOP leadership.

He painted himself as the beacon of hope for millions and used strong words to emphasize that he intends to deliver a plan of action on the issues for which he campaigned: immigration, trade, infrastructure, law enforcement and security. Above all, he spoke of protectionism for American jobs and pledged to “unite the civilized world against radical Islamic terrorism.”

Closing with the signature motto of his campaign, he said, “Together, we will make America strong again. We will make America wealthy again. We will make America proud again. We will make American safe again. And, yes, together, we will make America great again."

His speech did not, however, include any call for healing a deeply divided nation nor acknowledge the efforts of Hillary Clinton, who beat him by nearly 3 million in the popular vote.

USA Today summarizes the speech here.

Sweeping Executive Order Halts Midnight Obama Administration Regulations

Before going to his three inaugural balls Jan. 20, President Trump issued a memo ordering a sweeping freeze on all pending Obama regulations until his administration can review them. The move was expected and is routinely done by incoming administrations of the opposite party. Anticipating the regulatory freeze, the Obama administration made efforts to finish many regulations long before he left office; however, due to time constraints, his agencies continued to pump out regulations late into 2016, hoping that a President Hillary Clinton would continue his policy agenda. Even after Trump’s upset victory, some agencies were notably aggressive in publishing draft or final regulations in the last few weeks, hoping they could slip through in the haze of the transition.

According to Politico, the executive order could stifle almost-completed regulations “expanding overtime pay, tightening pipeline safety, protecting imperiled bumblebees and imposing stricter safeguards on rail shipments of flammable crude oil, among other topics.” The freeze initiates what some determine will be a dramatic shift in policy under Trump, even after Obama’s agencies did their best to release their most politically ambitious policies before he left office. For Obama rules finalized before May 2016, President Trump will need the Republican Congress to utilize the Congressional Review Act to help him undo the regulations, including those targeting climate change and the Affordable Care Act.

For recently finished rules that have not yet taken effect, Trump’s order initiates a temporary postponement for at least 60 days. The memo also calls for the immediate withdrawal of regulations sent to the Office of the Federal Register but not yet published; the freeze order does, however, allow exceptions for emergency situations relating to health, safety, and financial or national security.

President Trump Signs Obamacare Executive Order

As one of his first policy actions as commander in chief, President Trump signed an executive order directing federal agencies to “ease the burden of Obamacare." While the order does not direct any specific agency actions, it does instruct the Department of Health and Human Services Secretary (HHS) to “exercise all authority and discretion available to them to waive, defer, grant exemptions from, or delay” parts of the law that would impose a fiscal burden on states, individuals or healthcare providers.

Because the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is engrained in statute, most of the provisions can’t be altered by HHS or the president; significant changes require action from Congress via the Congressional Review Act or a lengthy public comment period. It’s reasonable to assume, then, that the executive action targets things HHS can change, such as offering more exceptions for the individual mandate.

Trump made repealing the ACA a top priority during his campaign and transition period. He repeatedly promised to begin rolling back the law on his first day in office.

The New York Times has more on the impact of Trump’s new executive order here.

Trump Suspends Obama’s FHA Plan to Cut Mortgage Fees

On Jan. 20, not long after President Trump was sworn into office, his new administration undid one of Obama’s midnight economic policies: a pending mortgage-fee cut for Federal Housing Administration (FHA) loans, often popular among first-time home buyers and low-income borrowers. The cut would have reduced the annual premium for someone borrowing $200,000 by $500 in the first year.

Some Republicans were concerned that the rate cut could impose additional burdens on taxpayers if the loans were not repaid and FHA was unable to cover the losses. FHA requested a $1.7 billion bailout from the Treasury in 2013 after expanding its role in the early 2000s due to the collapse of the subprime mortgage market.

Mortgage lenders, builders and real estate agents had endorsed President Obama’s mortgage fee cut, saying it would help first-time and lower-income borrowers. The National Association of Realtors said the Trump administration's policy reversal could inhibit as many as 40,000 would-be homebuyers from investing in the market this year.

The LA Times has more on the story here.

The Hill: Expect Big Cuts in Trump’s Federal Budget

The Hill reported Jan. 19 that President Trump’s FY 2018 budget is expected to drastically cut a number of government programs to shrink the federal bureaucracy. His current blueprint calls for reducing federal spending by $10.5 trillion over 10 years and closely mimics a plan offered by the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank that helped staff the Trump transition. Many of the specific cuts were also included in the 2017 budget adopted by the conservative House caucus, the Republican Study Committee (RSC); by comparison, the RSC budget plan would have reduced federal spending by $8.6 trillion over the next decade.

According to The Hill’s report, “the departments of Commerce and Energy would see major reductions in funding, with programs under their jurisdiction either being eliminated or transferred to other agencies. The departments of Transportation, Justice and State would see significant cuts and program eliminations. The Corporation for Public Broadcasting would be privatized, while the National Endowment for the Arts and National Endowment for the Humanities would be eliminated entirely.”

The report notes that Cabinet officers have not been told how much money each one is going to lose, and that it is not yet known whether President Trump will keep his campaign promise not to touch Social Security and Medicare, two major items driving the federal deficit.

Many of the agencies and programs slated for elimination are ones conservatives dislike on ideological grounds:

  • The Minority Business Development Agency;
  • The Economic Development Administration;
  • The Office of Community Oriented Policing Services;
  • Violence Against Women grants;
  • The Legal Services Corporation; and
  • The Paris Climate Change Agreement.

The two members of Trump’s transition team that have been examining and identifying the cuts at the White House budget office include Russ Vought, a former aide to Pence and director of the RSC, and John Gray, who previously worked for Pence, Sen. Paul (R-KY) and Speaker Ryan (R-WI).

The release of the administration’s “skinny” budget — a 175- to 200-page document that will divulge the main priorities of the incoming Trump administration, along with summary tables — is expected within 45 days of Trump taking office.

President Trump’s full FY 2018 budget, including appropriations language, supplementary materials and long-term analysis, is expected to be released toward the end of Trump’s first 100 days in office, approximately mid- to late April 2017.

The president’s budget is most important in setting policy and laying out the administration’s agenda; however, Congress is responsible for approving a federal budget and appropriating funds. Guiding President Trump’s budget plan through Congress could be difficult, particularly without support from the moderate parts of the Republican Party. In 2015, even with a Republican majority in the House, the RSC budget failed by a vote of 132 to 294.

Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-SC), Trump’s nominee to lead the White House Office of Management and Budget, has not yet weighed in on the proposed spending reforms, as he still awaits Senate confirmation.

Real Estate Developers to Steer Council for $1 Trillion Infrastructure Plan

President Trump announced that real estate developers Richard LeFrak and Steven Roth will be tapped as special advisers to lead a new council he is creating to monitor spending on his proposed $1 billion infrastructure plan to rebuild America’s roads, bridges and other public works.

In a Jan. 13 interview with the Wall Street Journal, he said the New York-based developers, whom he has known for decades, will oversee the council of 15 to 20 builders and engineers. “They’re pros,” he said. “That’s what they do. All their lives, they build. They build under-budget, ahead of schedule.” Trump envisions that his infrastructure plan will largely be privately financed, with tax breaks of up to 82 percent to encourage private investors to participate in public projects. In the interview, Trump said the council would throw out some proposed projects, and "some of the projects they'll expand. But all of the projects, they'll make sure we get a tremendous bang for the buck."

LeFrak is one of the country’s wealthiest developers; he is best known for his sprawling master-planned projects, including a 400-acre project on the New Jersey waterfront opposite Manhattan. His current projects include a $4 billion mixed-use development in North Miami that is a joint venture with the Soffer family.

Roth is chairman and chief executive of Vornado Realty Trust, a real estate investment trust that owns several high-profile office and retail properties in New York, Washington, D.C., and other metropolitan areas. Vornado also has 30 percent ownership stakes in two of President Trump's most valuable assets: office buildings at 1290 Sixth Avenue in Manhattan and 555 California Street in San Francisco.

President Trump’s private sector approach has been criticized by Democrats, who argue that direct government spending is necessary to create jobs and ensure that the program doesn't fund only projects attractive to investors, like toll roads. To that point, last week members of the Senate Commerce Committee elicited a pledge from Transportation Secretary nominee Elaine Chao that the Trump infrastructure plan would also include some direct federal spending.

Trump’s Day-One Actions Include Push to Renegotiate NAFTA, Withdraw From TPP

Shortly after Trump was sworn in, his new administration posted on its pledge to negotiate "tough and fair" trade agreements. The website noted a new trade strategy: “This strategy starts by withdrawing from the Trans-Pacific Partnership [TPP] and making certain that any new trade deals are in the interests  of American workers,” the website states. On Jan. 23, he it official by signing an executive action to withdraw from the negotiating process of the TPP.

“President Trump is committed to renegotiating NAFTA [the North American Free Trade Agreement],” it continues. “If our partners refuse a renegotiation that gives American workers a fair deal, then the President will give notice of the United States’ intent to withdraw from NAFTA.”

CNN reported that, at a White House event Jan. 22, President Trump said he had scheduled meetings with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to discuss the renegotiations. Persuading Mexico and Canada to renegotiate the terms of NAFTA — and convincing a majority Republican Congress, longtime supporters of free trade, not to try to block him from withdrawing from the deal — will certainly be difficult tasks.

Moreover, many critics argue that President Trump’s desire to withdraw from the 12-country TPP — which includes Canada, Mexico and Japan — contradicts his dogmatic anti-China rhetoric on trade. They view the trade deal — which excludes China, but includes other Asian countries like Malaysia, Singapore and Vietnam — as a way to limit China’s economic influence. At this point, all the countries in the TPP, except for the U.S., have at least initially signed onto the agreement.