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Column: Trump does his worst to make Biden’s job even tougher

President Trump plays golf Sunday at Trump National Golf Club in Sterling, Va.
(Associated Press)

When President Trump was running for reelection, he often struggled to describe a detailed agenda for his second term.

But now that he’s lost, he has quickly found an agenda for his last two months in office: kneecapping the presidency of his successor, Joe Biden.

Even though his administration has tacitly acknowledged Biden’s victory, Trump still claims that the results were illegitimate.

By approving the transition to President-elect Joe Biden, President Trump effectively surrendered his efforts to overturn the election results. What made him wave the white flag?

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“Rigged Election!” he declared Tuesday on Twitter, which quickly flagged the tweet as disputed.

Encouraged by Trump’s claims, about half of all Republicans believe Biden has “stolen” the presidency, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll.

If that view persists, it will create a problem for Biden: Republicans in Congress may hesitate to compromise with a president their voters consider illegitimate.

Meanwhile, Trump is missing in action on the two national crises that dominate his unfinished watch: the out-of-control coronavirus and the economic devastation the contagion has caused.

The president has abandoned his own pandemic task force, except to claim credit for vaccines developed by scientists in the United States, Britain and Germany, most of whom had no direct support from the White House.

As for the economy, Trump demanded before election day that Congress pass a new financial stimulus bill to help millions of unemployed workers and dying businesses — but since Biden’s victory, he appears to have lost interest. The stakes are huge: An estimated 12 million people will lose their benefits just after Christmas unless Congress acts. Economists warn that without more aid, the economy could spiral back into recession next year.

But next year’s economy will be Biden’s problem, not Trump’s.

It gets worse. The Trump administration isn’t merely sitting on the sidelines. It’s actively removing tools the Federal Reserve Board could use to bolster the economy.

Last week, Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin decided to end several emergency lending programs that were operated jointly by the administration and the Fed. He asked the Fed to return $455 billion to the Treasury, saying if the money hadn’t been used, it must not be needed.

Fed Chairman Jerome H. Powell, a Trump appointee, and his board disagreed. So did the mostly Republican U.S. Chamber of Commerce and a long list of economists from both parties.

The Fed said the funds play “an important role as a backstop” in case the economy runs into trouble next year.

But next year’s economy will be Biden’s problem, not Trump’s.

The president has mused about running again in 2024 and set up a post-presidential political action committee that’s collecting donations under the guise of contesting this election.

It’s fair to assume he’s not hoping too hard for a successful Biden administration.

The Trump administration is putting other obstacles in Biden’s path, beginning with a frenzy of last-minute regulations.

Last week, the Bureau of Land Management invited oil and gas firms to choose sites where they want to drill in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, a step toward holding a lease sale that could take place Jan. 17, three days before Biden’s inauguration.

Biden opposes drilling in the refuge. If the leases are sold, he can challenge them — but only at the cost of time, attention and political capital.

Trump aides are also considering more than 140 new regulations, including one to allow poultry plants to speed up assembly lines, potentially putting workers at risk, and a new industry-friendly system to evaluate restrictions on air pollution.

In foreign policy, Trump decided after the election to withdraw thousands of U.S. troops from Afghanistan, Iraq and Somalia before the inauguration, a decision that deprives Biden of the ability to set a withdrawal timetable of his own.

And Trump aides say they intend to impose additional economic sanctions on Iran. That could make it harder for Biden to revive the 2015 nuclear accord negotiated by President Obama and abandoned by Trump.

To be fair, most presidents engage in at least some lame-duckery, scrambling to put programs and regulations in place to make it harder for their successors to change course.

Obama, for example, issued 17 executive orders in the weeks before Trump’s inauguration in 2017, a record.

But it would be odd for Trump to follow the example of Obama, whom he has described as “one of the worst presidents in our history.”

There is an alternative model for a departing president during a national crisis: George W. Bush in 2009, when Obama was elected during a catastrophic financial crash. Bush ordered his aides to smooth Obama’s path and took politically unpopular actions so his successor wouldn’t need to.

Bush signed a $14-billion bailout for the automobile industry, a decision Obama and Biden claimed credit for after it succeeded. He asked Congress to release $350 billion to bail out financial institutions a week before Obama’s inauguration to spare the new president the political cost of obtaining it.

In his new memoir, Obama pays tribute to Bush, marveling that he was so willing to “go against public opinion and a lot of people in [his] own party for the sake of the country.”

But Bush wasn’t thinking about running for president again. He had only his legacy and the nation’s interests to consider.


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