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The Trump admin's "evil genius" idea

Trump and Obama in the Oval Office
Trump and Obama in the Oval Office. Photo: Win McNamee / Getty

The Trump administration’s most audacious legislative idea ever will never see the light — but it shows how this White House has been looking for ways to salt the earth for its Democratic successors.

The theory: Last year, the head of the White House Domestic Policy Council, Andrew Bremberg, told senior administration officials and Hill staff about an idea he had to tie the hands of future Democratic presidents. The idea would be for Trump to introduce a series of hardcore left-wing regulations — e.g. on climate change, the environment, labor and health care. Then, the Republican-controlled Congress would disapprove of these regulations using a law called the Congressional Review Act. That would bar future administrations introducing “substantially similar” regulations.

Why it won't happen: Trump administration officials are no longer seriously entertaining this idea, largely because Bremberg and others have recognized that it's politically infeasible. Republicans only have a one-vote margin in the Senate, and there's no way Mitch McConnell would waste precious floor time on such a moonshot.

But there are two reasons Bremberg and some senior players in the conservative legal community took this idea seriously:

  • It could be good politics. If the plan was executed quickly and perfectly — within the space of a week, for example — congressional Republicans could take a victory lap, saying they've prevented future presidents from regulating the heck out of the economy like Obama.
  • It could be a policy win for Hill Republicans, who would say they're giving some predictability to the business community about future executive actions.

In their first year of controlling Washington, Republicans have used the CRA more than a dozen times to undo regulations.

Why this matters: Though a top Republican source calls it “an evil genius idea that unfortunately will never happen,” it shows that this White House is equal parts creative and devious, with top aides already looking to hamstring their Democratic successors.

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