An obscure law could help Biden roll back Trump-era policies

The Trump administration’s last-minute haste to cement regulatory changes before President Joe Biden took office has left its legacy vulnerable to legal challenge, the watchdog group Public Citizen argues in a new report, released on Monday.

“In its rush to roll back as many regulatory protections as possible following the 2020 election, the Trump Administration violated an obscure regulatory law called the Congressional Review Act (CRA), making the last-minute regulatory rollbacks more legally vulnerable to reversal,”  the report’s authors Amit Narang and Matt Kent write.

They argue that Mr Trump’s final deregulatory push failed to submit new regulations to Congress in time under the act before Mr Biden took office, meaning they could fall under the common practice of presidential “freeze memos,” where new administrations review pending rules that haven’t taken legal effect yet.

“While these technical details usually don’t have much of a practical impact, during transitions from one Administration to another when every day counts for the outgoing Administration to lock in its final regulations that dramatically changes,” the report adds.

The group has identified at least 26 major rules that fall into this category, covering everything from safety protocols for offshore drilling, to clean air rules, to federal executions and faith-based discrimination.

“Yet, this could be just the tip of the iceberg,” the report warns.

Lawmakers have previously used CRA violations to roll back regulations, such as when Senator Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania pushed to repeal a guidance from the Consumer Protection Bureau in 2018 that hadn’t been submitted to Congress before taking effect.

The former president, as much he painted himself as an anti-elite outsider, made eliminating regulations that affected big businesses a major priority.

Towards the end of his administration, as Mr Trump faced down an incoming Biden term, the former president had agencies skip their usual waiting period of 30 days and issue regulations put into effect immediately, arguing they were in the public interest.

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