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With Senate Control, Here’s a Simple Way to Start Rolling Back Trump’s Legacy

Under the Congressional Review Act, Congress can rescind recently passed Trump administration rules that weaken protections for workers and the environment. Will Democrats use that power?

Donald Trump at the Cabinet Room of the White House on June 15, 2020 in Washington, DC. (Doug Mills-Pool / Getty Images)

If Tuesday’s election results hold, and Democrats end up securing full control of the executive branch and both houses of Congress, they will be in a position to immediately deliver the $2,000 survival checks president-elect Joe Biden promised people would receive if the party won the two Georgia Senate races.

Democrats would also have the power to do what Republicans did four years ago: invoke a law that lets lawmakers immediately repeal recent rules enacted by the outgoing administration.

The Congressional Review Act (CRA) is a twenty-four-year-old law that allows Congress and a new president to reject the recently enacted rules and regulations from a prior administration.

In 2017, Republicans used the CRA to repeal fourteen key Obama administration rules, including those designed to strengthen workplace safety, wage, environmental, and consumer protection regulations. At the time, then–Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell boasted that “the CRA has allowed us to stop a number of (Obama rules) in their tracks.”

Now the roles will be reversed — and already, the conservative editorial board of the Wall Street Journal has been sounding the alarm, warning that the law “would give Democrats a huge head start in reversing Mr. Trump’s successes, while writing their policy preferences into the regulatory books for a long time to come.”

Some Democratic lawmakers had been pushing to repeal the CRA, but the question now is whether they will invoke the statute to roll back recent Trump rules that weaken protections for the environment, workers, and farmers, while boosting the fossil fuel industry.

Here are some of the rules that were finalized by the Trump administration in just the last few weeks, or that are on their way to being finalized before Trump leaves office on January 20:

  • Labor Department rules reducing workers’ pay. One rule “gives employers of tipped workers a loophole allowing them to capture more than $700 million annually from workers,” according to the Economic Policy Institute. Another rule freezes foreign farmworkers’ wages.
  • Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rules protecting clean air and water as well as wildlife. One rule limits “what research (EPA) can use to craft public health protections, a move opponents argue is aimed at crippling the agency’s ability to more aggressively regulate the nation’s air and water,” according to the Washington Post. Another rule aims to limit the enforcement of the Endangered Species Act.
  • Labor Department rules designed to make it more difficult for institutional investors to divest from fossil fuel corporations and to use their shareholder voting rights to pressure companies to make more environmentally friendly business decisions.
  • An Energy Department rule limiting environmental review requirements for natural gas export terminals.
  • A proposed rule from the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency that critics say would force financial institutions to provide capital to fossil fuel companies and firearms manufacturers, even if they don’t want to.
  • An Agriculture Department rule that groups representing independent farmers say will “make it harder to prevail on claims (that) meat giants have abused their market power at a time when four large corporations control about 80% of U.S. beef processing,” according to Bloomberg News.