April 26, 2017
Moving into the White House is the easy part. Moving out the old administration's policies is something else altogether. President Trump is finding that out the hard way, as his team tackles mess after mess left behind by Barack Obama. With eight years to dig America into a social, economic, and military hole, climbing out of the pit takes time. With plenty of jobs still unfilled, the Trump administration has the unenviable job of combing through hundreds of thousands of pages of rules and policies to clean up and, in most cases, reverse the damage done by Obama's team.
If you think that's easy, think again. In 2016 alone, President Obama issued more than 97,110 pages of regulations -- shattering the record of every administration in history. And buried in those reams of federal paper are a whopping 3,853 policies dictating everything from environmental policy to gun control. If you can't legislate, regulate! That seemed to be the motto of the 44th president, who spent almost a decade stuffing the rulebooks at government agencies to get his way on agendas Congress would never pass -- or, in most cases -- give Obama the chance to rewrite laws it already did! To put the situation in perspective, Congress passed 115 laws in 2015. That means the Obama administration -- with its 4,000 regulations -- has a major advantage in setting public policy.
And these aren't insignificant changes either. They affect everything from your furnace to your family. So as much as President Trump has to do, he has just as much to undo. Of course, conservatives were hoping that one of his first targets would be the Obamacare mandate, the faith-crushing order that forces businesses, organizations, and even faith-based groups to cover pills and procedures that violate their pro-life conscience -- or face massive government fines. Spoiled by Trump's quick action on things like reinstating the Mexico City policy or giving states the final say on school bathrooms; some voters seem antsy that the White House isn't moving fast enough on the HHS mandate. Will he follow through, people are asking?
So far, he's given them no reason to believe otherwise. The Left can accuse the president of a lot of things -- but ignoring his campaign promises is not one of them. In the year and a half leading up to last November, Trump was clear, "I will make absolutely certain religious orders like The Little Sisters of the Poor are not bullied by the federal government because of their religious beliefs," he wrote in a letter to the Catholic Leadership Conference. This week, the media planted doubts to that effect, pointing out that the Department of Justice hadn't dropped its defense of the mandate in court. The DOJ, which is led by staunch pro-life Attorney General Jeff Sessions, fired back to the criticism, claiming "it needs more time to litigate the case because numerous Cabinet and subcabinet positions in several federal agencies remain unfilled."
In its filing at the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, the government's attorneys explain, "The new administration has been in place for only a few months." The mandate, on the other hand, has been in place for years. And, as conservatives argue, it's time for the policy to go. The Trump team doesn't disagree, insisting that the president "continues to support religious liberty, and this issue is an absolute priority for his administration."
One way for the White House can solve this attack on religious freedom is by issuing an executive order on religious liberty. Congressional, conservative, church, and community leaders have all asked for one in this era of unprecedented anti-faith hostility. As I told the Wall Street Journal, our First Freedom is not negotiable. And, as the administration knows, this religious constituency is critical to accomplishing his full agenda. There aren't many parts of his coalition that are as whole-hog for him as social conservatives. Accommodating conservatives with these common-sense protections will be a key piece of Trump's progress moving forward.
Tony Perkins' Washington Update is written with the aid of FRC senior writers.