5 things Trump did this week while you weren’t looking
With the Las Vegas shooting dominating national news, and the awkward personal drama between President Donald Trump and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson captivating Washington, it was easy to miss just how much policy unfolded in the past week. On the diplomatic front, Trump kicked out 15 Cuban diplomats, a response to the strange attack on American personnel in the American Embassy in Havana. And on Friday, a trio of agencies issued new rules that roll back Obamacare’s birth control mandate.
But there was more: Across government, agencies continued to undo Barack Obama’s legacy and usher in a new era of conservative policy, including a big regulatory shift from the Treasury Department and a new tough-on-crime announcement from the Department of Justice. Here’s how Trump changed American policy this week:
1. Treasury keeps one Obama-era tax rule—and targets many others
In 2016, Barack Obama’s Treasury Department issued a rule to crack down on corporations that shift their headquarters overseas to avoid American taxes. The move provoked an outcry from Republicans who said Obama was unfairly punishing companies for Washington’s failure to reform the tax code—but it largely worked. The drugmaker Pfizer even abandoned a $160-billion acquisition that would have let it make the largest such shift ever.
After Trump won the presidential election, many tax experts predicted he would roll back the rule—which specifically targeted corporate inversions, a kind of merger in which companies are “taken over” by smaller firms headquartered in low-tax countries like Ireland. But this week, Treasury announced that it wasn’t going to repeal the anti-inversion rule after all. With the administration still pushing hard for tax reform to lower corporate rates and bring company revenue back into the U.S., the agency said repealing the rule now “could make existing problems worse.”
But the White House does plan to scrap a set of other Obama rules. The inversion news was just one part of an 11-page report issued by the agency recommending changes or rollbacks of a number of arcane Obama-era tax rules, many designed to crack down on tax avoidance schemes. Critics didn’t deny that such schemes existed but said the Obama administration’s solutions were vague and unworkable. For instance, one yet-to-be-finalized regulation, which Treasury now intends to withdraw, was intended to stop families from undervaluing their businesses to avoid the estate tax. Another rule relates to the definition of a political subdivision. The report itself does not actually change policy; Treasury will still have to go through a full rule-making process to modify or repeal any regulations. But it’s clear what direction Treasury intends to go.
2. DOJ revives a Bush-era approach to violent crime
In 2001, the Department of Justice created a program to reduce gun violence by focusing resources on violent crime and forging better ties with local law enforcement. The program, known as Project Safe Neighborhoods, became a lower priority under Obama, as violent crime hit record lows and prosecutors focused on white-collar crime in the aftermath of the financial crisis.
But on Thursday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced he was reinvigorating Project Safe Neighborhood, requiring every U.S. Attorney to implement an “enhanced violent crime reduction program” and improve ties with local police. Sessions called Project Safe Neighborhoods, which was generally considered a success at reducing violent crime, the “centerpiece of our crime reduction strategy.” Critics previously said the program unfairly targeted poorer communities, leaving too many young African-Americans with long prison sentences or criminal records for minor crimes—although reaction this week to Sessions’ announcement was limited.