Politics & Policy

A Whole Year of Draining the Swamp

(Reuters photo: Larry Downing)
. . . or at least of legislation that promises to.

Editor’s note: This piece is adapted from one published by Arc Digital.

Every presidential election has its memorable slogans. The 2016 election had three: “I’m With Her,” “Make America Great Again,” and “Drain the Swamp.” (Mercifully, the Hillary campaign spared us from “because it’s her turn.”)

Of these, arguably the most significant this year has been the last. When it comes to tracking Trump’s progress, there are few better yardsticks to use. And as it happens, we’ve had a full year of draining the swamp.

Not a full year of actually draining it, necessarily, but a full year of considering legislation that promises to drain it. There have been no fewer than five bills named after the slogan. None passed, though one was basically implemented via executive order.

Let’s take a look at them in chronological order.

H.R. 484, the DRAIN the SWAMP Act

Sponsor: Rep. Peter A. DeFazio (D., Ore.)

“DRAIN” stands for Deter Revolving-door Appointments In our Nation, while “SWAMP” stands for Stop Washington Appointees from becoming Manipulative Petitioners. And despite the bill’s title being a reference to a Trumpian prerogative, none of the bill’s sponsors or co-sponsors were remotely Trump-friendly.

Representative DeFazio had originally introduced this bill during the waning days of the 114th Congress, but he released an updated version just prior to Trump’s inauguration. It has two goals. The first is to codify Trump’s pledge, made while president-elect, to impose a five-year lobbying ban for administration officials who leave the White House. The second is to place a lifetime ban on administration officials’ becoming foreign agents or lobbying for foreign governments. The impetus is a sense that the Obama-era ban of two years was quite simply inadequate.

DeFazio’s bill was upended by an executive order just eight days into the Trump presidency. Trump’s order carries out more or less everything contained in the DRAIN the SWAMP Act.

H.R. 796, the Drain the Swamp Act of 2017

Sponsor: Rep. Ron DeSantis (R., Fla.)

Unlike the DRAIN the SWAMP Act, the Drain the Swamp Act of 2017 is sponsored and co-sponsored by Republican congressmen who almost always vote in line with Trump’s interests. And as it came after the executive order, it needed to offer some kind of tweak to the president’s own reforms. And it does.

The executive order applies only to executive-branch staff and appointees. DeSantis’s bill extends the five-year ban to members of Congress and their staff — and would also give the reform greater durability, given that federal statutes are not as vulnerable as executive orders.

The bill contains other refinements as well. It would enlarge the definition of “lobbying” to include “consulting and advising,” and enlarge the definition of “lobbyist” to include a former federal employee or official who spends at least 10 percent of his or her time lobbying for a single client in a three-month period.

There has been no action on it since March.

H.R. 826, the Drain the Swamp Act of 2017

Sponsor: Rep. Warren Davidson (R., Ohio)

Same name alert! H.R. 826 tried to outmuscle H.R. 796 by coming out the very next day, seeing as there’s only so much swamp to drain. These bills share a co-sponsor, Rep. Todd Rokita (R., Ind.), too — maybe he didn’t remember which one he liked and slapped his endorsement on both.

H.R. 826 is a significant departure from the past two. It proposes moving the headquarters of executive agencies to locations outside of Washington, D.C., by 2023. To ensure that the new HQs function as actual rather than nominal centers of action, it allows no more than 10 percent of the agencies’ employees to reside in the nation’s capital.

Other than an additional co-sponsor signing on in October, though, there’s been no action on this bill since February.

H.R. 2494, the Drain the Swamp and the President’s Assets Act

Sponsor: Rep. Adriano Espaillat (D., N.Y.)

A product of anti-Trump Democrats, H.R. 2494 proposes to amend a prior law called the Ethics in Government Act of 1978. Specifically, it would require the president to place any financial “conflicts of interest” into a blind trust, as many called on him to do during the 2016 campaign. The bill explicitly provides for impeachment should the obligation be flouted.

Upon being introduced in May, it was referred to the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. There has been no action since.

H.R. 4014, the DRAIN the Swamp Act of 2017

Sponsor: Rep. David N. Cicilline (D., R.I.)

In this bill’s title, only the “DRAIN” part stands for something: Determining if Regulatory Actions are in the Interest of the Nation or the Swamp. It had eight co-sponsors, by far the most of any “Drain the Swamp” legislation out there — though one, John Conyers, Jr. (D., Mich.), has since resigned in the wake of sexual-misconduct allegations.

H.R. 4014 would require agencies to report whether major regulatory actions will financially benefit Trump or senior White House officials. These actions — rules that affect the economy to the tune of $100 million or more, or rules that trigger a huge increase in costs for consumers — would not go into effect until the Government Accountability Office has received the aforementioned report.

The bill takes aim at Trump’s perceived penchant for flouting norms regarding conflicts of interest. It has languished in committee since October.

Final Verdict

None of the bills stand a good chance of getting passed. But that may not matter, at least to the sponsors, as several were intended from the start as symbolic gestures to use during reelection campaigns or for fundraising purposes.

Was the swamp drained in 2017? Not by a long shot. But we sure came up with some snappy bill titles.


No, the Swamp Won’t Be Drained

Paul Manafort: ‘The Swamp’ Personified

Trump Slogans, Operative and Inoperative

— Berny Belvedere is the editor-in-chief of Arc Digital.


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