As is typical of a lame-duck president, Donald Trump is rushing to issue a final blitz of policy changes on his way out of office. Some of the reported moves Trump is considering will be harder to undo than others. While President-elect Joe Biden can reverse changes made by executive order relatively easily, it will be more difficult for his administration to do so on other issues, such as matters involving national security, foreign policy, and criminal justice. Here’s what Trump is reportedly considering doing with his remaining time as president.
Pardon his cronies and the connected
Trump reportedly plans to issue a series of pardons and commutations before leaving office, including to allies who were convicted in cases stemming from special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. On Wednesday, Trump pardoned Michael Flynn, his former national security adviser, who pleaded guilty to lying to FBI investigators about his Russian contacts. Earlier this year, Trump commuted the sentence of Roger Stone, another associate charged in the Russia inquiry. Rick Gates and George Papadopoulous, former Trump campaign advisers who were also charged for crimes linked to Mueller’s investigation, are both hoping for clemency, according to the Times. Trump’s efforts may extend beyond his inner circle. Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and adviser, is leading a makeshift White House team “with a goal of announcing as many as hundreds of commutations for offenders now in jail for crimes ranging from nonviolent drug convictions to mail fraud and money laundering,” the Times reported.
Attack Iran’s main nuclear site
Trump reportedly asked his top national security aides about options to strike Iran’s nuclear-weapons program after the International Atomic Energy Agency revealed on November 11 that the country’s uranium stockpile had grown considerably. The president raised the possibility of attacking Iran’s uranium enrichment site in Natanz, where international inspectors reported the nuclear material stockpile was now 12 times larger than allowed under the Iran nuclear deal (which Trump withdrew from in 2018). Senior advisers “dissuaded” Trump from ordering such a strike, according to the Times. The Israeli government, Axios reports, recently instructed the Israel Defense Forces to take preparatory steps for a U.S. strike against Iran, which could cause Iranian retaliation against Israel either directly or through Iranian proxies in neighboring countries.
Trump is also expected to accelerate the current pace of troop withdrawal from Afghanistan and Iraq, which could upend U.S. strategy in the Middle East before Biden takes office. Pentagon officials said Tuesday that the U.S. military will halve troop levels in Afghanistan, and make smaller drawdowns in Iraq, by January 15. Trump campaigned on bringing troops home from Afghanistan in 2016 and has continued to both publicly and privately pursue the matter while in office.
Bring back firing squads
The Justice Department is proposing a rule that could bring back firing squads and electrocutions for capital punishment on the federal level, ProPublica reports. While the rule could be finalized any day — it cleared White House review on November 6 — its deadly consequences will likely never be put into practice: five lethal injections are scheduled before Inauguration Day — a record number of people to be executed by the federal government during a presidential transition period — and Biden has vowed to end the federal death penalty.
Make it easier to pollute
The Environmental Protection Agency is also close to finalizing a rule that would make it easier to pollute, according to ProPublica as well as a policy that would prevent stricter limits on particulate matter, which new research from Harvard’s School of Public Health has tied to coronavirus deaths. The last-minute environmental rules cap off four years of unprecedented deregulation, with the Trump administration weakening or dismantling more than 125 climate-protecting rules and policies since 2017, according to the Washington Post.
Preserve Confederate monuments
The president continues to oppose the effort to rename military bases that honor Confederate generals and is threatening to veto a defense-spending bill that includes a provision to do so. Trump has privately told Republican lawmakers, according to NBC News, that he will block the annual National Defense Authorization Act if it includes an amendment to rename the bases.
Make it even harder to claim asylum
Trump is close to finalizing a number of pending rules that would extend his exclusionary immigration legacy by “excluding people with criminal convictions (even those that have been expunged), drastically shortening the application time and giving immigration judges more latitude to pick and choose what evidence to consider,” according to ProPublica.
The Department of Homeland Security is reportedly also trying to curtail immigration by implementing last year’s Asylum Cooperative Agreements, which seeks to transfer asylum-seekers from the U.S. to other countries while their applications are processed — an effort aimed at driving down the number of people seeking asylum. The U.S. is at different stages of the agreements with Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras, but only in Guatemala has the process really been brought into force.