News You May Have Missed: October 18, 2020

“Yemen IDPs 6” by IRIN Photos is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

These days, we need to know exactly where we stand. Thus, this week we have a special issue on regulations that are being forced through by the Trump administration even now–and what can be done about it.

The entire Sunday review section of the New York Times is devoted to the case against Donald Trump. Even if you think you know all you need to know, don’t miss this.

And if you want to be reminded of how we got here, see the excerpt from Amy Siskind’s list of Trump’s violations of basic norms. The Post offers 340 of her 34,000 items.

Georgetown Law School’s Institute for Constitutional Law and Advocacy has state-by-state fact sheets on the laws surrounding unregulated militias, as well as an information sheet on voter intimidation.

You can still sign up to be a volunteer to protect the vote, via Common Cause’s “Protect the Vote” project. Their site also has numbers to call if you encounter problems while voting. 

Read Rebecca Solnit’s piece on Facebook for October 18 if you need encouragement to get through till November 3–and then till January 20.

With everything going on, we may need to remind ourselves that the rest of the world continues turning. See in particular information below on the emergency in Yemen.


1. Search warrant would require all Facebook data–names, addresses, messages, content.

A coalition of 12 immigrant rights groups along with Public Citizen filed a motion to quash a search warrant seeking five days of all the data from the Facebook page “Free Them All VA,” according to the Washington Post. Someone from the organization painted “Free Them All” in English and in Spanish on the sidewalk in front of Virginia Attorney General Mark R. Herring’s home, a misdemeanor. The slogan was painted on the same day that ICE flew detainees–dozens of whom had the coronavirus–from one facility to another in order to justify flying federal agents to police the DC protests against the death of George Floyd (see our September 13th story 2, for more explanation). The perpetrators’ faces were briefly posted in the page, but Public Citizen argues that the warrant would jeopardize undocumented immigrants, who regularly post questions. Setting an alarming precedent, the warrant asks for information about “the page’s subscribers, including phone numbers, addresses, credit card information and IP addresses, as well as all posted content, messages, chats, photos, videos and deleted materials,” according to the Post. RLS

2. Republican drop box machinations in Florida, “unofficial” drop boxes in California, contested drop boxes in Texas

The Republican Secretary of State in Florida is trying to shut down ballot drop boxes, Slate reports. Florida has allowed absentee ballots for years, and two million people have already voted absentee. State law permits drop boxes, but the Secretary of State now insists that boxes be monitored 24 hours a day by election officials, who must scrutinize each ballot (now they are sometimes monitored electronically or by volunteers). The backstory, Slate proposes, is that since election officials are free to ignore the Secretary of State’s demand, if the election is contested, the use of drop-boxes could be grounds to nullify the count.

Perhaps the same plot is at work in California, where Republicans have openly set up over a hundred unsanctioned drop boxes in churches, gun stores and gas stations, despite a cease-and-desist order from the state, NPR reports. Though no one is signing the ballots that are dropped off and it is not clear who is monitoring them, the state has backed off enforcement efforts.

A federal judge on Friday ruled that Texas Governor Greg Abbott had to allow Texas counties to allow multiple ballot drop boxes, according to CNN. The judge said that the Governor had not persuasively shown that voter fraud was an issue. It looked briefly as if Harris County, which tends to vote Democratic (and is 60% Black and Latinx), could have 11 drop boxes, easing transportation concerns in an area bigger than the state of Rhode Island. However, another judge blocked the first judge’s ruling, allowing the Governor to authorize only one drop box per (enormous) county. RLS

3. Covert lawmaking

What happens in the pivotal months before and after a presidential election and the installation of a new administration? The administration that is departing (or is at risk of being voted out) rushes to finish off its list of regulatory changes, hoping to continue its impact. Recent reporting in the New York Times highlights ways the Trump administration is busy doing just that.

Ignoring Public Comments: The first tool for making last-minute rules changes is one the Trump administration has been using since its inception: simply ignoring the public comments submitted during the (usually) 60-day period that is required for rules changes. Changes to internet neutrality rules, which were overwhelmingly opposed in public comments (even with fraudulent supporting comments submitted in significant numbers) nonetheless went through. New rules that would allow liquified natural gas to be carried by freight trains–known as “bomb trains,” as they create a risk of deadly explosions and fires that would overwhelm first responders–were subjected to a similarly limited comment period. These rules changes regarding the transportation of liquified natural gas are now being challenged in the courts by a group of fourteen states.

Limiting Public Comment Periods: As noted above, federal rules changes are generally subjected to a 60-day comment period, but a number of recent rules changes have been limited to 30 days of public comment. Recent proposed rules changes open for limited public comment periods include new, more restrictive financial requirements for sponsors of immigrants (still open for comment–only 18 people have commented to date and the comment period ends on November 2 ). Other proposed rules provide for the collection of biometric data by the Department of Homeland Security and its agencies (also still open for comment); and new guidelines limiting which workers (primarily those working in the “gig economy”) can be considered independent contractors.  Only 133 people have commented on this last proposal; your voice could have an impact. Comment here.

“Interim” Final Rules: If an agency feels it has “good cause” to issue a new rule without public comment, it can issue that rule as an “Interim” Final Rule. The agency may, but is not required, to open the rule to public comments. It may also simply announce the rule as final at a later date without public comments. Recent interim rules changes include an exemption for many long-haul agricultural truck drivers from rules governing maximum continuous driving hours, and more restrictive rules governing visas for skilled workers; you can still comment on those rules here.

Appointments to Advisory Boards: Many positions on advisory boards for federal agencies run independently of the four-year presidential term in office. As a result, recent Trump appointees to the Environmental Protection Agency’s Science Advisory Board will be able to remain on the board through 2023. This means that once climate-change deniers or heard-immunity supporters are appointed, they can continue to influence agency rule-making under a new administration.

The Congressional Review Act: There is a way to eliminate some of the last-minute rules changes made by an outgoing administration. The Congressional Review Act, which was signed into law during the Clinton administration, allows Congress the opportunity to both cancel and prohibit “substantially significant” rules passed during the last 60 legislative days of an outgoing administration through a joint resolution. The specification of legislative days is significant, since Congress generally meets four days a week and takes frequent, sometimes extensive, breaks.

Obama-Era Rules Revoked Using the Congressional Review Act: Generally speaking, the Congressional Review Act (CRA) has been used rarely. The Congress elected along with George W. Bush revoked only one Clinton Administration rule change via the CRA. The Congress elected along with Barak Obama revoked no Bush Administration rules using the CRA. In contrast, the Congress elected along with Donald Trump revoked 16 Obama-era rules using the CRA. According to Ballotpedia, these included rules involving educational accountability and teacher preparation; broadband consumer privacy protections; access to family planning; protections for Alaskan wildlife refuges; arbitration rules protecting consumers; workplace safety; water protections; and equity rules for loans used to purchased automobiles.

The Congressional Review Act: Looking Forward: A very rough estimate of the remaining days during which Congress will hold legislative sessions suggests that the CRA may cover Trump-era rules changes going back to early October of this year. What will determine whether the CRA can be put to use reversing Trump-era rules changes is the composition of both houses of Congress. Under the CRA, a joint Congressional resolution is required to revoke rules changes made by an exiting administration. If the U.S. is run by a Democrat-controlled House and a Republican-controlled Senate, which presumably would continue to be led by Mitch McConnell, the possibility of any action via joint resolution is beyond scant. In other words, the longevity of Trump-era rules changes hinges on electing not just a Democrat for President and a Democrat-controlled House, but also a Democrat-controlled Senate. S-HP

We recommend that you read the entire New York Times article to see more of what is being done in your name. If you want to comment on the rule changes that are still pending, the links to do so are in bold, above. If you wish to speak out on issues affected by last-minute Trump administration rules changes, this list explains how to do it.


4. Four million Yemenis at risk of starvation

Four million people in Yemen are on the brink of starvation, due to a drop in donor contributions, commentator Juan Cole reports. Malnutrition in Yemen was already widespread, due to the war being waged since 2015 by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates–and backed by the Trump administration, which approved arms sales to the Saudis without obtaining congressional approval, as we noted May 31. Foreign Policy in Focus, which produced a detailed piece on Yemen in September, observes that four years ago, the State Department was warned that the U.S. could be liable for war crimes charges due to its complicity in the death of civilians.

In Yemen, Cole says that a third of the infrastructure has been destroyed and 100,000 have been killed. According to Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Mark Lowcock, farms are targeted and humanitarian access has been refused. The United Nations has called on the United Arab Emirates to provide aid to Yemen, but they have refused; the Saudis and Kuwaitis were also asked, but they have provided less than is required. As Lowcock said, “The window to prevent famine in Yemen is closing.” RLS


5. No vaccine before the election

Lest you had your hopes up, there will be no vaccine before the election. Pfizer–the last company to possibly be on track to produce one–has said it will not be ready to request emergency authorization from the FDA, according to Politico. Against the recommendations of his own scientists, Trump promised a vaccine by November 3. Though researchers have been working at breakneck speed, Pfizer is still enrolling people in its trials and the FDA will want two months of safety data on at least half of its participants. Two other companies, AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson recently paused their trials based on safety concerns; each had one participant come down with a serious illness that may well not be related to the vaccine but that nevertheless must be investigated. Politico–and other sources–say that a vaccine is most likely to be available in January 2021, but as we noted in our story #10 last week, other issues in the supply chain, such as a shortage of syringes, may impede the launch. RLS

6. EU can test for Legionnaires disease but the US can’t/won’t

The EU now has the technology–and the political will–to test drinking water systems in every country for Legionella pneumophila, according to Euractiv. Legionella causes most cases of Legionnaires disease, an infection which can result in deadly cases of pneumonia. Rates of Legionnaires disease have been rising due to the effect of climate change on water temperatures, a German scientist told Euractiv last year. Ontario does investigations if two or more cases of Legionnaires disease are related but only does water sampling if there is an outbreak, according to Public Health Ontario. In the US, where 8,000 to 18,000 people are hospitalized with Legionnaires disease each year, water testing takes place on “an ad hoc basis, spanning from regulations that require some buildings to have water management plans that include monitoring of water samples for Legionella along with treatment, to no requirements at all,” according to a book on the topic published by the National Academies of Science. RLS


◉ The Americans of Conscience checklist offers ways to assist in election audits, report voter intimidation, support Indigenous sovereignty–and more.

Rogan’s List suggests ways to object to the way the census was cut short, how to help get out the vote and how to send pizza to voters standing in hours-long lines.

◉ Read Heather Cox Richardson nightly in order to make sense of unfolding events; last week she unpacked the bizarre story of Hunter Biden’s laptop and why it is absurd–even though Biden’s lead has slipped a bit because of it.