Why did Trump rescind his executive order that barred former White House employees from lobbying the government?

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Just before leaving office, President Trump rescinded his 2017 executive order which limited lobbying by former government officials:

In the final hours of his term, President Donald J. Trump rescinded early Wednesday an executive order he had issued years earlier to bar former White House employees from lobbying the government after they leave their jobs. ...

The original order issued in 2017 was one of the few concrete steps that Mr. Trump took in his pledge to “drain the swamp.”

It expanded on rules adopted during the Obama administration and included a five-year ban for former officials lobbying the agencies they once worked for.

Since "draining the swamp" was one of his core promises, and this EO was one of the few broadly popular parts of his legacy, is there any explanation for why he did this as what is, essentially, his last action in office? Was there any official explanation?

divibisan

Posted 2021-01-20T18:17:09.233

Reputation: 19 513

I am not sure it can be answered other than speculating on what was going through his head. – Joe W – 2021-01-20T18:26:41.567

2@JoeW There are usually official statements explaining or justifying EOs. Barring that, I’d expect former members of the administration to be asked about it and give statements – divibisan – 2021-01-20T18:30:27.827

2Yes but it also appears that this was done in a way that attempted to hide that he did it as long as possible. – Joe W – 2021-01-20T18:44:21.697

3Maybe I'm missing something obvious here, but it isn't simply that the "swamp" at that time referred to pre-Trump employees, whereas resciding the order now would benefit employees from Trump's administration? Not posting as an answer because I have no evidence that this was the actual reason. – JBentley – 2021-01-21T15:29:30.503

Answers

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There was no official explanation given by the Trump administration in the new executive order that he signed to revoke the ethics executive order (13770), as noted by Politico.

However, the Clinton administration had issued an executive order (13184) close to the end of his term revoking a similar ethics executive order (12834). There also did not appear to be official reasons given for that action.

Nevertheless, the Washington Post reported then:

A number of current and recently departed Clinton appointees had privately pressed top presidential aides to take the action the White House did yesterday, in part because many of them face bleak job prospects after Bush's inauguration, said sources knowledgeable about the discussions.

[ ... ]

White House officials reject those claims. They echo the view of many Washington lobbyists as well as government employment experts who say the five-year ban was excessive and needed to be removed.

NPR also noted at the time when Trump signed the ethics executive order that "what Trump is doing is derivative of what his two immediate Democratic predecessors did". The article also compared the similarities between those executive orders.

Clinton ended up revoking his order in his final weeks in office, allowing his appointees to go straight into lobbying after all. And the Obama administration granted some waivers to its ethics order. It remains to be seen, of course, if Trump sticks hard and fast to his ban.

Panda

Posted 2021-01-20T18:17:09.233

Reputation: 41 470

Good answer, and the comparison to Clinton provides some very helpful context. I'm going to leave this open for a while in case more direct primary sources come up, but +1 – divibisan – 2021-01-20T19:19:53.703

40Just to state the obvious: in 2017 that order were "political points" for "free" (no members of his own administration would be affected by it, since they were still active). Nowadays the situation is reversed, Trump has no use for those "political points" and may want to help former underlyings so he has no reason to keep the restriction in place. Same applies to Clinton's decision, of course. – SJuan76 – 2021-01-21T00:15:19.733

5Thinking about it from the other way, why did any of them sign the executive order in the first place? One answer if as @SJuan76 says, to get political points. But, in addition, staff have an incentive to stay with the administration since they have less prospects in the private sector. So, when they are no longer president, they have no need for that incentive anymore. – John L – 2021-01-21T16:53:39.720

@JohnL well, if you think of it in a positive way, you could argue than once the administration they worked for is over the former staff has way leverage and inside knowledge of the inner workings of the new administration. Specially if the new president belongs to a different political party. But if that is the reason, then the original orders could have been worded differently to foresee this scenario, instead of getting them cancelled at a later date. – SJuan76 – 2021-01-21T17:20:40.073

3Just my interpretation, but it seems like the policy is more to prevent recently released appointees from being able to lobby during the current administration's term - i.e. prevent people who are upset from being let go to cause problems - and when the administration's term is up, they don't care how much trouble their appointees cause to the new administration. – Bardicer – 2021-01-21T17:46:29.347

exactly @Bardicer. There is a benefit (to the serving president) for having the executive order only while they are in office. – John L – 2021-01-21T18:14:22.293

@Bardicer That's a really interesting idea that I've never thought of. I always though of these orders as a "lobbying is bad" signal to the public, but never considered the benefit to the President while they're in office. Perhaps consider writing an answer around that? – divibisan – 2021-01-21T18:21:18.307

@divibisan I can do that... it's really just speculation on my part, which is why I did it as a comment. – Bardicer – 2021-01-21T23:33:54.020

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@divibisan FWIW President Biden signed a similar executive order yesterday.

– Panda – 2021-01-22T02:26:15.290

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As a disclaimer, this is just speculation on my part. But when politics are involved, every action should be looked at as a power play - either to gain power for the actor and their allies, or to take power from their enemies.

As such, one possibility of the issuing of a "no appointees allowed to lobby" order could be to prevent appointees who leave the current administration from being able to cause problems by lobbying, during that same administration's tenure. A "five year ban" would also cover preventing appointees during the first term from being able to lobby during the second term if the president is re-elected.

Once the current administration is no longer in office they can revoke the ban because they have nothing to lose and everything to gain. Those previous appointees cannot cause problems for them since they are no longer in office and their "current/loyal" staff being able to lobby immediately (while they still have fresh/current contact/favors/strings/etc. with other politicians) can definitely be more dangerous to the enemy party by being able to scheme and plot with their allies.

Bardicer

Posted 2021-01-20T18:17:09.233

Reputation: 170