Politico

5 things Trump did this week while you weren't looking

Written by Lisa

President Donald Trump’s unexpected dalliance with the other party continued this week as he appeared—maybe—to agree with the Democratic leadership over the so-called Dreamers brought to the U.S. as children. He also met with moderate Democrats about tax reform, even saying the rich won’t benefit “at all” from his plan.

But despite all the news attention, nothing actually happened on those fronts. What did happen took place in the background—and despite the ideological anxiety Republicans may be feeling toward those headline meetings, there’s not much doubt about the direction his administration is taking on real-world policy. This week, the push to roll back Obama-era rules continued—from new business-friendly guidelines on driverless cars to regulatory rollbacks at the Environmental Protection Bureau and Department of Labor. Here’s how Trump changed policy this week:

1. DHS suspends some visas for four countries
When the government orders someone deported from the U.S., that deportation doesn’t just happen automatically. It requires approval from the receiving country; the U.S. generally can’t just leave people in other countries. Most countries routinely approve such removal orders, but about a dozen countries are uncooperative, preventing the U.S. from actually deporting those individuals.

On Wednesday, the Trump administration took its first step to force greater cooperation when it imposed visa sanctions on four especially recalcitrant countries—Cambodia, Eritrea, Guinea and Sierra Leone. “These four countries have not established reliable processes for issuing travel documents to their nationals ordered removed from the United States,” the Department of Homeland Security said. According to DHS numbers, the government has been unable to remove around 700 Eritrean, 1,900 Cambodian, 2,100 Guinean and 800 Sierra Leone nationals. The sanctions vary for each country. For instance, senior Cambodian diplomatic officials and their families will be unable to get a B visa, which allows temporary entry into the U.S. for business or pleasure. In Eritrea, no one can get a B visa.

The move is just the latest front of Trump’s immigration crackdown, and follows on his January executive order in which he directed DHS and the State Department to enter negotiations with such “recalcitrant countries”—and, if those negotiations fail, enforce sanctions.

2. The first Trump-era guidelines on driverless cars
Last September, the Obama administration issued the first guidelines on driverless cars, recommending industrywide standards to support the growth of the burgeoning industry. The guidelines, which were nonbinding, requested that automakers submit to a 15-point “safety assessment,” touching on everything from the testing of driverless vehicles to the prevention of vehicle hacking.

On Tuesday, the Trump administration issued the first update to those guidelines, replacing the 15-point safety assessment with 12 “safety elements” that touch on many of the same issues. Consumer groups and industry officials said the plan was more industry-friendly, with significant emphasis on the voluntary nature of the guidelines. (The word “voluntary” appears 57 times in the 36-page document, compared with just five times in the original 116-page guidelines.) Critics said that the plan effectively imposes no rules on automakers, while industry officials said the light regulatory touch is essential to continued technological improvement.

This is just the beginning of what’s likely to be a long drama over federal driverless-car policy; both the House and Senate are considering legislation that would enable greater federal oversight over the industry, which, in some instances, actually wants the rules to avoid a patchwork of state laws. Expect more in the months and years ahead.

3. EPA’s regulatory roll back continues
Another week brought more regulatory rollbacks at the Environmental Protection Agency.

On Wednesday, the EPA delayed for two years parts of an Obama-era rule limiting the dumping of toxic metals, like mercury, from coal-fired water plants. The delay affects two provisions of the 2015 rule, relating to specific waste products, while allowing the remainder of the rule to take effect as planned. The news wasn’t exactly a surprise, as EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt has previously said the agency intended to change parts of the rule. He now has plenty of time to do so.

Also on Wednesday, Pruitt sent a letter to industry officials—released on Thursday by the environmental group Earthjustice—saying that the EPA would “reconsider” another Obama-era rule, issued in 2015, that set standards for the disposal of “coal ash,” which is a byproduct from burning coal. That rule was the first national standard on coal ash disposal and also imposed new inspection rules to prevent leaks or spills. A formal reconsideration process doesn’t necessarily mean that the agency will change the coal ash rule, but it gives them the opportunity to do so. Any changes would have to go through the full rule-making process, including notice and comment.

4. Trump blocks the Chinese purchase of a U.S. company
For years, Chinese companies have been on a buying spree in America, investing around $45 billion in U.S. companies in 2016, according to one estimate. The surge in investment has raised questions about Beijing’s ultimate aim and has focused renewed attention on the agency that reviews foreign investments for national security risks, the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States.

On Wednesday, the Trump administration made its first big statement about Chinese investment when it blocked the acquisition of a U.S.-based semiconductor company, Lattice Semiconductor Corp., by a Chinese venture capital fund. The move came after CFIUS, which is chaired by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, recommended that the administration block the sale. The White House immediately blasted out a statement on the deal, using its bully pulpit to gain extra attention. It’s a sign that Trump intends to be vigilant about Chinese investment in American companies, which should delight experts who have called for a more comprehensive and wide-ranging approach to U.S. policy on China.

5. Labor Department makes two moves
This week, the Department of Labor took two moves, one that actually continued to uphold an Obama-era rule and another that pushed one back.

The first was Obama’s 2014 executive order that established a minimum wage for federal contractors. Under that order, federal contractors and subcontractors were required to pay their workers $10.10 per hour, starting in 2015. Trump could rescind that order with the stroke of a pen—but he hasn’t. That was made clear this week when the Labor Department issued a notice that the contractor minimum wage would rise to $10.35 next year, an annual inflation update required under the order. It’s unclear how many contractors are affected by the order; in fact, there isn’t an exact estimate for how many federal contractors are used by the government. But the Obama administration estimated it was hundreds of thousands.

Also this week, the Mine Safety and Health Administration, within the DOL, delayed a rule regarding workplace examinations of metal and nonmetal mines. MSHA had already delayed the rule, which was finalized on Jan. 23 and initially set to take effect on May 23. It was first delayed until Oct. 2; the new proposed rule would extend that deadline until March 2, 2018. The agency also proposed changes to the rule regarding when daily inspections must take place and exempting from the examination record any safety or health problems that are quickly corrected.

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Lisa

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