Politics & Policy

Trump Cabinet Picks Should Fight Their Own Bureaucracies

Oklahoma attorney general Scott Pruitt in 2014 (Reuters photo: Nick Oxford)
We need more appointees who sued the agencies they’re chosen to run.

Donald Trump has selected Oklahoma attorney general Scott Pruitt to run the Environmental Protection Agency. Pruitt, it turns out, has sued the EPA, seeking to block lawless, expansive, job-killing environmental regulations. Many on the left think this is a terrible thing.

I think it’s fabulous.

There’s this ridiculous slander going around — that at least three of Trump’s appointees “have key philosophical differences with the missions of the agencies they have been tapped to run.” In other words, they don’t want to lead their agencies so much as “dismantle” them. How so? Ben Carson, Trump’s pick to lead the Department of Housing and Urban Development, has a “deep aversion to social-safety-net programs and fair-housing initiatives that have been central to that agency’s activities.” Betsy DeVos, Trump’s education-secretary nominee, has — gasp — a “passion for private school vouchers.” And Pruitt? Well, as noted above, he sued his own agency.

But these critics are wrongly equating the agency’s very mission with the progressive policies they favor. What if the costs of EPA regulations far outweigh any reasonable environmental benefit? Or what if its regulations exceed the scope of the agency’s congressionally delegated powers? What if “social safety net” programs do more to trap people in poverty than lift the poor into the middle class? And what if public schools are producing legions of students who aren’t prepared for college, much less to compete in a world economy? Is it the “mission” of the agency to keep pursuing failed, harmful policies?

Just for fun, I looked up the actual missions of each of the three agencies. They’re quite instructive.

The Department of Education’s mission is to “promote student achievement and preparation for global competitiveness by fostering educational excellence and ensuring equal access.”

The Department of Housing and Urban Development exists to “create strong, sustainable, and inclusive communities and quality affordable homes for all.”

The EPA’s “basic mission” is to “protect human health and the environment.” How so? By working to ensure “compliance with environmental laws passed by Congress.”

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to discern that these missions are focused on outcomes, not on methods. If a progressive regulatory regime isn’t actually promoting student achievement, then it’s entirely consistent with the mission of the organization to try a different method. The same analysis applies to HUD. If progressive ideas are failing, or if a conservative believes that his or her methods would improve outcomes, then it’s not just “consistent” with the mission of the organization to try a different approach, it’s imperative.

As for the EPA, note the key qualification. The agency does not have blanket power to do anything it wants in the name of environmental protection. Instead, it’s a creature of Congress, tasked with enforcing laws passed by Congress. When it acts lawlessly it, by definition, betrays that mission.

The Left built a regulatory house of cards, and it knows it.

All of this is blindingly obvious — so obvious that contrary arguments are frankly embarrassing. But something else is going on. The Left is realizing its vulnerability. The Obama administration didn’t have the popular support to pass its agenda through Congress, so it went around Congress on a massive scale, including through executive actions and regulatory rulemakings that had a dramatic impact on American industries, neighborhoods, and schools. All of that rulemaking and each of those executive actions are now subject to repeal — without any action from Congress and over the objection of the progressive career bureaucrats who staff the agencies.

This was not supposed to happen. The Left was secure behind its “blue wall” and comfortable with a “coalition of the ascendant” that was supposed to guarantee the White House in 2016 and for every cycle to come — unless and until the GOP got on the “right side of history.” Thus, regulatory rulemaking and executive actions were all upside. So long as they survived court challenges, then progressives could implement their agenda without the necessity of compromise.

#related#Those days are now over. The Left built a regulatory house of cards, and it knows it. So now it’s trying to change the rules of the game, trying to redefine its progressive policy ideas as the very “mission” of the organizations these conservatives are now set to lead. The only way this specious argument works is if progressives raise such a hue and cry that the Trump administration decides that change isn’t worth the trouble. In other words, if Trump or his Cabinet caves.

But I don’t think Scott Pruitt will cave. How do I know? He sued the agency he’ll soon lead. We need more men and women like him.

David French — David French is a senior writer for National Review, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

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