Trump aides want to ensure conservative policies and Trump’s norm-breaking views on immigration and trade hold for as long as possible. Inside the Trump White House, Meadows, senior adviser Jared Kushner and White House counsel Pat Cipollone are leading the various discussions on last-minute policymaking.
“The people who want to make sure their China policy sticks will attempt to take advantage of that moment in time,” said one former senior administration official, citing actions on Chinese apps and interfaces or strengthening sanctions as potential moves.
“Since taking office, President Trump has never shied away from using his lawful executive authority to advance bold policies and fulfill the promises he made to the American people, but I won’t speculate or comment on potential executive action,” said White House deputy press secretary Judd Deere.
The White House discussions come as Trump and some of his aides act like they are starting a second term — even as Biden unveils a transition website, starts to vet potential White House staffers and Cabinet members and announces teams of aides and volunteers who will work inside of agencies once the formal transition process begins.
“Regardless of who is president on Jan. 20, there’s plenty of work left to do this year,” said Dan Eberhart, the CEO of the energy company Canary and a Trump donor. “The Trump administration should be dotting its I’s and crossing its T’s on its priorities. The president is understandably focused on the ballot counting, but at some point soon, he needs to turn his attention back to the lame-duck session and putting a capstone on his first four years.”
In addition to rolling out executive orders and actions, Trump’s plans for the next several weeks include firing Cabinet officials who have irked him or refused to follow his lead on investigations. He kicked off the axings Monday by tweet-firing Defense Secretary Mark Esper. In the coming weeks, Trump may also fire CIA Director Gina Haspel and FBI Director Christopher Wray. Haspel was spotted in Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s office on Tuesday afternoon.
Presidents from both parties have long used the lame-duck period to cement their agenda and create headaches for the next administration. In 2008, as President George W. Bush’s administration neared its end, the federal government finished 105 regulations. In 2016, the Obama administration moved to complete 127, according to data from the George Washington University Regulatory Studies Center.
Typically, the process of overturning an unwanted regulation takes at least one year, while undoing an executive action can be accomplished with a signature, said Susan Dudley, who directs the Regulatory Studies Center and formerly oversaw the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs under George W. Bush.
“Not every midnight regulation is improper, but it becomes more troublesome if they are rushed without adequate analysis or review or engagement,” Dudley said. “Without impugning motives, it also ties the hands of the next administration. It means the next administration will have to devote resources to deciding if they want to change it.”