The government shutdown that began on Saturday lasted just three days, leaving Washington without a spending deal and with a slight pause in its immigration wars. President Donald Trump and many of his officials jetted off to Davos, Switzerland for the annual World Economic Forum, where he held bilateral meetings and denied a bombshell New York Times report that he’d ordered his top lawyer to fire Special Counsel Robert Mueller last summer.
Back in Washington, behind those headlines, his agencies were hard at work as soon as the government reopened, overturning decades-long environmental policies and imposing a Trumpian stamp on government. His administration made long-awaited moves on trade, attempted to crack down on sanctuary cities and greenlighted a controversial 12-mile road that has been under review for three decades. Here’s how Trump changed policy this week:
1. The Justice Department continues its attack on sanctuary cities
During his presidential campaign, Trump threatened to withhold federal money from so-called “sanctuary cities,” which refuse to help the federal government enforce immigration laws, arguing that they put Americans’ safety at risk. But in office, Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions have run into real limits on their actual power to crack down on those jurisdictions.
On Wednesday, the DOJ took another shot at sanctuary cities when it sent letters to 23 cities threatening to issue subpoenas if they don’t produce documents that demonstrate their compliance or noncompliance with federal immigration laws. The move is the next step in a prolonged battle by Sessions to follow through on Trump’s campaign promise. Last July, the DOJ announced a new policy that cities could only receive their share of a valuable federal grant—the largest for local police departments at $347 million in 2016—if they cooperated with federal immigration enforcement. The letters ask cities to provide more information so the DOJ can determine whether they are complying with the new policy.
Leaders of sanctuary jurisdictions, like New York Mayor Bill de Blasio and New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, slammed the move and skipped a planned White House meeting Wednesday, calling the letters a “stunt” and refusing to back down. The sanctuary city battle continues.
2. A consumer watchdog backs down
It hasn’t taken long for Mick Mulvaney, the government-cutting White House budget director, to leave his mark on the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Though only acting head, the former South Carolina congressman has proceeded to overhaul the agency since he took the seat in November, stopping new enforcement proceedings, pausing any rule writing and even changing its mission statement.
On Tuesday the CFPB dropped an investigation into World Acceptance Corp., a South Carolina-based company that offers short-term loans to consumers. When the CFPB launched the inquiry in 2014, it said the company was suspected of "engaging in unlawful acts or practices in connection with the marketing, offering, or extension of credit.” World Acceptance, which consistently denied breaking the law, cheered the news, while financial reform groups argued that Mulvaney was ending the investigation because World Acceptance had previously contributed to the then-congressman’s campaign. The CFPB rejected that allegation.
Also this week, the agency delayed the effective date of its 2016 prepaid card rule, which was designed to protect consumers from fraud and abuse and imposes a new requirement on the disclosure of overdraft limits. Previously scheduled to take effect this April, the rule now won’t come into force until April 2019.
3. An air-pollution policy vanishes
Since 1995, the Environmental Protection Agency has been requiring any factory or site considered a “major source” of hazardous air pollution to install new technologies to significantly reduce the air pollution. And even once it did so, the site remained permanently on the EPA’s list, meaning it still had to comply with the tighter controls.
On Thursday, the EPA announced it was withdrawing this “once in, always in” policy so that factories or manufacturers could be removed from the list entirely once they are no longer considered a “major source” of hazardous air pollution. Environmentalists have called the policy a bedrock of the country’s air protections, ensuring that companies don’t meet the clean-up requirement and then ease up on their pollution controls. Industry groups—which have long argued that the policy unfairly stigmatizes cleaned-up sites and discourages new investments—cheered the decision.
4. Trump hits solar panels and washing machines with tariffs
For most of the first year of his presidency, free traders worried that Trump would unleash a series of protectionist moves, from pulling out of the North American Free Trade Agreement to cranking up a broad array of tariffs, and provoke trade wars with everyone from China to Germany. But he has largely held off any major decisions, repeatedly delaying trade sanctions against China and remaining in NAFTA as the U.S., Canada and Mexico renegotiate the trade agreement.
But on Monday, Trump’s protectionist agenda broke through when the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative imposed worldwide tariffs on the imports of solar panels and washing machines. The administration argued that the moves were necessary to protect U.S. manufacturers and workers from unfair subsidies that countries like China allegedly grant their producers. But unlike most trade sanctions, these tariffs were imposed on all imports of solar panels and washing machines—not just those from a particular country. Critics said the move would hurt consumers and the broader economy, but were at least relieved the tariff levels and period they will be in effect weren’t as stringent as many feared.
5. A road through a refuge gets greenlighted
In 2013, the Interior Department, under then-secretary Sally Jewell, rejected a plan from a tribal organization to build a 12-mile road through an Alaskan wildlife refuge that would have connected the 925-person town of King Cove to the rest of Alaska. King Cove has been seeking the road for three decades but has been repeatedly blocked by the government, which has sided with environmentalists who argue that the road would be too destructive to the natural habit.
But this week, the Interior Department announced that it was approving the road, officially allowing the tribal organization to transfer hundreds of acres of land to the federal government in return for the same acreage necessary to build the road. Environmentalists slammed the decision, vowing to continue fighting the road, while Alaskan officials cheered what they called long-delayed news. Said Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), “I have goosebumps.”