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Newsweek Column: Trump is ‘Not Actively Governing the United States’

Robert Reich wrote the lead last week in Newsweek that all lefty reporters dream to write: “Announcement: Donald Trump is no longer the president of the United States.”

“Oh sure, he has the title and he has the bully pulpit – from which he’s bullying everyone from NBA players to people protesting white supremacists to DACA kids,” Reich wrote. “But he’s not actively governing the United States. That work is happening elsewhere – in Congress, the courts, the Fed, the career civil service, lobbyists, and in the states.  Or it’s not happening at all.”

Reich ripped Trump for losing the battle to repeal Obamacare, saying he “never understood” the law and “played no part in developing Republican alternatives.” But he played a more active role than President Obama did in the passage of Obamacare, and he wisely left it to Congress to figure out legislation that had the best chance to pass.

Reich then said Trump’s budget, submitted in March, was “dead on arrival.” All presidential budgets are dead on arrival, according to some partisan from the other side.

He hit Trump for leaving “important decisions … to the tax-writing committees of Congress,” then, in the next paragraph, said the president’s relations with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan have become “so strained they have no interest in looping him into policies before they have to.”

Reich said President Trump has run out of Obama executive orders he can declare void. He says some regulations, such as the EPA’s Clean Power Plan, have to go through a legal process that could take years. He says Trump doesn’t realize this or he would not have said in a speech in Alabama, “Did you see what I did to that? Boom, gone.”

But work has stopped on complying with the Clean Power Plan and is unlikely to resume during those years the Trump administration gets it thrown out and environmental groups – and, sadly, some in the industry – fight him in court. He’s right. It’s probably “boom, gone.”

Reich continues with schoolyard taunts directed at Trump’s cabinet. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos just wants to spend on for-profit schools and colleges that cheat their students. Scott Pruitt is trying to strip the EPA of scientists – “another brainless scheme,” Reich says.

Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin is so dumb about dealing with Congress he asked Republicans in the House to support the dead-on-arrival budget “for me.”

In reality, the policies he’s disparaging represent vigorous governing.

DeVos is dramatically reworking the priorities of her department. She has restored school system autonomy on how to handle a variety of issues, including transgender bathrooms. She has removed the federal government from decision making on K-12 curriculum, brought an end to the kangaroo courts instituted by the Obama administration to deal with sexual abuse allegations and cleared the way for programs that allow poor children access to the same quality education as their wealthier counterparts.

The Obama EPA was obsessed with using global warming as a cudgel against property owners – doing everything from trying to put the coal industry out of business to the Waters of the U.S. Rule, abandoned immediately by Trump, which would have put even the smallest cattle ponds under EPA regulation.

The Trump administration refuses to spend a penny on global warming. It has removed all mention of it from government websites, withdrawn from the Paris Climate Accords, to which 192 of the world’s 208 nations were signatories, recalled its representatives to all UN and other international climate organizations and deprioritized it in foreign aid.  

He lashed out at the president for leaving so many top government jobs unfilled. We’re reaping millions of dollars in savings from that and finding out we had way too many top government jobs.

It’s hard to argue he’s not governing when he has dramatically changed our approach to North Korea, bombed a base shared by the Russians in Syria in response to a chemical weapon attack and called on leaders to confront terrorism and assert their sovereignty in his UN speech.

It’s hard when domestic policy – from health care to energy to property rights to education – is being dramatically changed.

Trump is governing, all right. Just not the way Reich would prefer.