Biden to halt or delay Trump's “midnight regulations” on January 20

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President-elect Joe Biden will issue a memo on his first day in office to “halt or delay” last-minute actions by the Trump administration, Biden’s transition team announced Thursday. 

The Biden-Harris White House plans to issue a regulatory freeze memo the afternoon of January 20 that will halt or delay so-called “midnight regulations” put into place by the Trump administration that won’t take effect until after inauguration day, said incoming White House press secretary Jen Psaki during the last transition team briefing before the new year. Such last-minute actions are typical of lame-duck presidents, she said. 

What are midnight regulations?

According to George Washington University’s Regulatory Studies Center, “the final months of an outgoing presidential administration typically generate a significant amount of regulatory activity.”

“The midnight period is typically defined as the period between the presidential election in November and Inauguration Day on January 20th of the following year,” writes the center, and has been “documented as early as the Carter administration’s transition to Reagan, and has accompanied every presidential transition since, regardless of political party.”

The Biden administration will quickly address changes made during this period, as other administrations have done, Psaki said. The freeze will apply to both regulations and also guidance documents, which agencies issue to explain or clarify rules and policies. 

Psaki singled out as an example a rule proposed by the Trump administration’s Department of Labor regarding companies’ authority over classifying workers as independent contractors, rather than employees, under the Fair Labor Standards Act. Independent contractors give up most benefits that employees get, such as overtime or minimum-wage protections, paid sick time, family leave and the right to start or join a union.  

“The Department of Labor is expected to publish a final rule before January 20 that would make it easier for companies to call their workers independent contractors to avoid minimum wage and overtime protections. If it takes effect, the rule will make it easier to misclassify employees as independent contractors, costing workers nearly $3.7 billion annually,” she said. Biden’s memo “would potentially freeze this rule and not allow it to implement it,” Psaki said. 

Asked what the Biden administration will do about potential forthcoming actions and executive orders that the freeze memo cannot stop — such as reports that the Trump administration will designate Cuba a sponsor of terrorism — Psaki acknowledged that there are “additional actions that the Trump administration and members of the team can take in the coming weeks ahead that are damaging and destructive to our policies, whether they’re national security policies or domestic policies.”

She and Yohannes Abraham, the Biden-Harris transition’s executive director, said delays and obstruction in the transition process have made it difficult to asses certain issues. She said the Biden team had hoped for “greater cooperation” from pivotal agencies, “including the Department of Defense.” 

The transition has coincided with significant delays in vaccine distribution. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s COVID Data Tracker, more than 2 million people have been vaccinated across the United States — far from the 20 million Trump administration officials promised by the end of the year

“The pace is not what it needs to be,” Psaki said, adding that the incoming administration will push for more vaccine distribution funding in the new year. “The bill that’s currently being discussed is not going to be enough.”

Biden will also rescind some of Trump’s “harmful” executive orders, Psaki said, and some of the incoming administration’s priorities will include “reinstating protection for Dreamers, rejoining the Paris Climate Accord, reversing President Trump’s environmental rollbacks,” and “protecting and strengthening the Affordable Care Act.”

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