This is what’s known as hardball negotiation, and Donald Trump is the first Republican presidential politician in memory who understands its practical use.
The Trump administration has instituted what it described as a temporary media blackout at the Environmental Protection Agency and barred staff from awarding any new contracts or grants.
Emails sent to EPA staff since President Donald Trump’s inauguration on Friday and reviewed by The Associated Press detailed specific prohibitions banning press releases, blog updates or posts to the agency’s social media accounts.
The Trump administration has also ordered what it called a temporary suspension of all new business activities at the department, including issuing task orders or work assignments to EPA contractors. The orders were expected to have a significant and immediate impact on EPA activities nationwide.
Similar orders barring external communications have been issued by the Trump administration at other federal agencies in recent days, including the Agriculture and Interior departments.
Staffers in EPA’s public affairs office are instructed to forward all inquiries from reporters to the Office of Administration and Resources Management.
‘‘Incoming media requests will be carefully screened,’’ one directive said. ‘‘Only send out critical messages, as messages can be shared broadly and end up in the press.’
The Trump transition team’s communications director for EPA issues said he expects the media blackout would be lifted by the end of the week. That’s not an official statement, though, and as of right now there is no committee vote set for the nomination of Scott Pruitt, the Oklahoma Attorney General who has most recently sued the EPA over some rather obnoxious regulations involving power plant emissions and in so doing has made himself the bete noire of environmental activist groups, to run the agency.
And therefore what Trump has done is to essentially shut the agency down until Pruitt is confirmed. As of right now there might be an EPA payroll, but there is no actual EPA. And that’s going to be the case until Pruitt is installed as the agency’s head.
When we should all understand that as far as the Trump administration is concerned, it is hardly a problem if the EPA never resumes any of its activities. He’s presenting the Democrats who want to hold Pruitt up, and even some soft Republicans who might consider voting against his confirmation, with a Hobson’s choice; either confirm this man and suffer the consequences of his greatly scaling down the size and scope of the EPA’s regulatory leviathan, or fail to confirm him and spend the next four years with the EPA not doing anything at all.
You can present that choice to the Senate if you have one of two attitudes or thoughts about the EPA. First, that every state has an analogous agency to the EPA (in Louisiana it’s called the Department of Environmental Quality; other states have various similarly-named regulatory bodies governing environmental issues) and if the EPA were to go away altogether most of its functions would be assumed at the state level without any real damage to the environment. And second, you’d offer it if you honestly couldn’t give a tinker’s damn about the EPA and anything it does.
Trump will be accused of the latter by the Democrats he’s squeezing. And his response, publicly, will be something like “So?” From the start, he has brushed off their castigations as irrelevant without even caring to refute them – so if their damnations of him as a polluter or a global warming denier surface to occupy their time, they’ll be quite disappointed when he’s not dissuaded in the least.
This hasn’t happened in modern American politics, and it’s quite likely to explode the entire political infrastructure in Washington. Trump doesn’t care, and as such he’s immune to the weaponry designed to paralyze conventional politicians. What he knows is negotiation, and in his experience what wins is the kind of pressure that comes from presenting the man across the table with worse consequences to disagreement than to conceding to him.
Scott Pruitt will be confirmed, and soon, and he will all but dismantle the EPA monster that the Democrats have built. As unacceptable as that may be to them, no EPA at all is worse.