President-elect Trump announces choices for several Cabinet positions, DOI protects fossils, and more…
IN THE NEWS
- In one of several Cabinet announcements this week, President-elect Donald Trump announced Oklahoma attorney general Scott Pruitt as his nominee for administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Pruitt has expressed skepticism over climate change, asserting that there is continued disagreement in the scientific community “about the degree and extent of global warming and its connection to the actions of mankind,” and during his tenure as Oklahoma attorney general, has been a strong opponent of the Obama Administration’s environmental regulations, including through his current involvement in a lawsuit over the Administration’s Clean Power Plan.
- President-elect also Donald Trump announced Ben Carson as his nominee for Secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Carson, a retired neurosurgeon and former candidate in the Republican presidential primary, has been a vocal critic of the Obama Administration’s rule on reporting racial bias in housing patterns, and has reportedly been praised by the President-elect as a “brilliant mind” who is “passionate about strengthening communities and families within those communities.” However, some have reportedly cited his lack of government experience as a cause for concern.
- In another Cabinet announcement, President-elect Donald Trump reportedly announced his intention to nominate Andrew Puzder, the CEO of CKE Restaurants, a major fast food company which owns the Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s chains, to be the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Labor—a choice reportedly opposed by labor groups, who argue that Puzder’s criticism of raising the minimum wage and the Labor Department’s overtime rule signal that he will not support worker-friendly policies, but supported by industry groups, who see Puzder’s business experience as an asset.
- The U.S. Department of the Interior proposed a rule that would aim to protect paleontological resources, including fossils, on land controlled by the federal government. The proposed rule falls under the Paleontological Resources Preservation Act and “would address the management, collection, and curation of paleontological resources from federal lands,” with the goal of making sure “that these federally owned resources are available for current and future generations to enjoy.”
- The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced that the Army will not approve an easement requested by the builders of the Dakota Access Pipeline which would have allowed the pipeline to cross under Lake Oahe—a route which has been protested by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and others for many months—and instead will conduct an environmental impact statement, including a public comment period, in order to consider alternate routes for the pipeline. The announcement was reportedly welcomed by the Standing Rock Sioux and members of the environmental community, but criticized by North Dakota’s elected officials.
- The Ohio Legislature passed a bill which would prohibit all abortions after a fetal heartbeat can be detected—or about six weeks into a pregnancy—and which, if it is signed into law by Ohio Governor John Kasich, would be one of the most restrictive abortion laws in the country. The bill’s passage was opposed by pro-choice groups, and Ohio Right to Life has reportedly remained neutral on this bill, but supports another bill moving through the Legislature, which would ban abortions after 20 weeks.
- President-elect Donald Trump has reportedly selected Iowa Governor Terry Branstad to serve as U.S. Ambassador to China, someone who enjoys “extensive ties to China and a personal friendship with Chinese President Xi Jinping that dates back decades.” A Chinese government spokesperson reportedly described Governor Branstad as “an old friend of the Chinese people.” The expected nomination comes on the heels of a U.S. presidential election campaign that often raised contentious issues about trade and currency policy.
- The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) issued a final rule that establishes “minimum training standards” for new bus and truck drivers. Those subject to the requirements—including first-time applicants for a commercial driver’s license, an upgrade of their driver’s license, or an endorsement for hazardous material, school bus, or passenger use—will have to complete a new “entry level driver training” program through an entity approved by FMCSA, which will then provide documentation of completion to the state agencies that actually license drivers.
- A federal District Court judge in California reportedly stayed a lawsuit against Dignity Health—one of the largest healthcare systems in the country—by an operating room nurse who claims that Dignity Health’s insurance policy is “discriminatory” because of its “refusal to provide insurance coverage for medically necessary” sex-reassignment surgery. The order places the case on hold until the Supreme Court rules on a case from Virginia—involving a transgender student’s request to use his school’s boys restroom in accordance with his gender identity—that raises similar questions about how federal anti-sex discrimination laws should be interpreted.
WHAT WE’RE READING THIS WEEK
- The Surgeon General released a report asserting that use of e-cigarettes by young Americans now constitutes a “major public health concern,” after use increased among high school students by 900 percent from 2011 to 2015. The report also noted that use of e-cigarettes has become more prevalent among youth than any other form of conventional tobacco product, and while not all of the risks are entirely understood yet the Surgeon General believes that “we currently know enough to take action to protect our nation’s young people from being harmed by these products.”
- Writing for The Hill, Alice Rivlin, a Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution and a former director of the White House Office of Management and Budget, offered her thoughts on how President-elect Donald Trump can craft a strong replacement for the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Rivlin argues that a key element to the success of “TrumpCare” is giving states greater flexibility in their use of Medicaid by either expanding the existing waiver process or creating block grants. Rivlin stressed the importance of having a replacement ready when the ACA is repealed, arguing that failing to do so could result in “an unnecessary calamity.”
- In an Urban Institute issue brief, Linda J. Blumberg, Matthew Buettgens, and John Holohan consider what the implications would be if Congress partially repealed the Affordable Care Act through budget reconciliation, a process which would allow Congress to change only the parts of the legislation which affect the federal budget. The issue brief concludes that the key effects of a reconciliation bill becoming law would include a 103 percent increase in the number of uninsured people and a $1.3 trillion reduction in federal government spending on healthcare from 2019 to 2028.