After President Trump signed off on four executive orders this weekend, Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany defends the legality of his actions at the press briefing.
Over the weekend President Trump signed four executive orders on coronavirus relief after Democrats and the White House failed to reach an agreement on the stimulus bill. The President announced he will delay the payroll taxes collection for those making under $104,000 a year, extend unemployment aid at $400 a week and defer student loan payments until the end of the year. He also called on top officials in Health and Human Services to “consider” halting evictions.
Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany started the press briefing by denouncing the “inaction” of the Democrats, namely, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.
“Amid inaction, President Trump stood up for every American who through no fault of their own needed relief. Politics as usual should find no place during this pandemic,” said McEnany. “... The American people are tired of games. They seek leadership and President Trump delivered.”
McEnany also praised the President for the action he took on the Tennessee Valley Authority, a federally owned utility who earlier this year notified over 100 employees that they were going to be let go. Last Monday, Trump fired two of the TVA’s board members. A few days later, the TVA reversed its decision and rehired the employees.
Trump had complained that the TVA was outsourcing its jobs and replacing American employees with foreign workers, even though the TVA only employs a small percentage of workers on H-1B visas, as almost all federal jobs require applicants to be U.S. citizens or nationals.
“President Trump boldly and resolutely intervened in defense of these hardworking Americans, rallying to their case, rushing to their aid, and taking action to restore their jobs,” said McEnany.
Though the Trump administration hopes to have the extended unemployment aid operating soon, there is no clear timeline as to when Americans can expect to see the extra $400 of unemployment insurance.
The extended unemployment aid Trump signed off on is largely dependent on states, since they will have to apply to receive this aid and also provide a quarter of the unemployment insurance.
“A lot of this will depend on states and them applying because, as you know, it's 75% federal government covering and 25% the states, and they can use CARES funding or even existing unemployment funds for that $100,” said McEnany.
McEnany did not discount the possibility of delays in distributing unemployment aid, but reiterates that the blame is on the Democrats. She said, “We will be working around the clock to make sure there's not a delay, but any delay that does exist, it's important to note, where that delay and the responsibility rests, with Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer.”
According to McEnany, Democrats were offered and rejected a clean extension of $600 a month of employment benefits. Trump settled on $400 after the two parties failed to reach an agreement.
The Washington Post, however, reported that Democrats wanted to continue unemployment aid at $600 a week while Republicans proposed $200. Last Tuesday, Democrats rejected a bill to extend the $600-a-week insurance for an additional week and allow for more time to negotiate.
“We encourage Democrats on the Hill to come back, as Secretary Mnuchin has said he's willing to review any proposal because the American people deserve better than the games and partisanship they've seen from Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer, and their Democrat colleagues,” said McEnany.
When asked if the President will provide aid for state and local governments, given that they are now expected to pay for a quarter of the National Party systems and a quarter of the unemployment insurance, McEnany suggested that Trump will be discriminatory in which states receive aid.
“The President's always been clear here that he wants to support state and local governments, but only for COVID related matters and he doesn't want to bail out blue states that had structural problems long before this,” she said.
Trump’s four executive orders, bypassing Congress, set off a flurry of concerns from those who questioned the legality of his action. Democratic leaders condemned his decision as “unconstitutional” and “unworkable.”
On Sunday, in an interview with Fox News’ Chris Wallace, Pelosi said “The president’s meager, weak and unconstitutional actions further demand that we have an agreement.”
Schumer said on ABC, “Unfortunately, the president’s executive orders described in one word could be paltry… In three words: unworkable, weak and far too narrow.”
Trump’s decision also drew backlash from Republican Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska, who said, “The pen-and-phone theory of executive lawmaking is unconstitutional slop.”
“President Obama did not have the power to unilaterally rewrite immigration law with DACA, and President Trump does not have the power to unilaterally rewrite the payroll tax law. Under the Constitution, that power belongs to the American people acting through their members of Congress,” Sasse continued.
When asked about the legality of Trump’s executive orders, McEnany had a prepared response. “First I would note that what we are doing is entirely within the executive capacity of the President,” said McEnany.
On student loans, McEnany referred to the Higher Education Relief Opportunities for Student Acts of 2003, of which a subsection authorizes the Secretary to waive or modify provisions of student financial assistance programs to ensure that individuals affected by the National Emergency are not worse off financially.
On unemployment, a clause in the Stafford Act states that the President, after the state applies for it, can provide assistance to people who have been adversely affected by a major disaster.
On payroll tax authority, 26 USC 7508 authorizes the Treasury Secretary to provide any taxpayer that has been affected by federally declared disaster with an extension of up to a year. McEnany noted that this was used before, when the Secretary extended the individual filing deadline for 2019 taxes from April to July.
Lastly, on evictions, the President only urged officials in HHS to “consider whatever legal authorities they have to protect Americans,” said McEnany.
Sign up for The Pavlovic Today Newsletter featuring news, scoops, exclusive interviews and expert analysis