Explainer

Donald Trump has 72 days left of full presidential power. Here’s what he could do

Few US presidents have governed with Mr Trump's disregard for White House convention, posing questions about what he could do before he leaves office.

Donald Trump delivers a statement on the election in the briefing room of the White House, Thursday, Nov. 5, 2020, in Washington.

Donald Trump delivers a statement on the election in the briefing room of the White House, Thursday, Nov. 5, 2020, in Washington. Source: AP

While Donald Trump has lost his bid the retain the White House, his influence as president remains. 

Joe Biden takes over the White House on 20 January, but in the 72 days left until then, there will be few constraints on Mr Trump’s presidential powers.

“There is no legal change in Trump's authority and power - he can do exactly as he's done as president,” Bruce Wolpe, a senior fellow at the University of Sydney’s United States Studies Centre, told SBS News.

Advertisement


While it is normal for a US president to remain active in their final weeks, few have approached the job as unconvetionally as Mr Trump, leading to speculation about what agendas he will seek to pursue before being replaced.

“We can expect almost anything," said Mr Wolpe, who is a former Democratic congressional staffer and chief of staff to former Labor prime minister Julia Gillard. 

Mr Trump has flagged plans to file a string of lawsuits in the coming week regarding allegations of voter fraud in the election, , but here are a few other things that he could do.

Fire officials

At a rally in Florida last week, Mr Trump suggested  fired. .

“Don’t tell anybody, but let me wait until a little bit after the election,” he said after supporters began chanting "Fire Fauci”. 

Dr Fauci - the country’s leading infectious-disease expert who is director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases – has taken issue with Mr Trump’s repeated downplaying of COVID-19, which has killed and infected more people in the US than anywhere else in the world.

Dr Anthony Fauci and President Donald Trump during a coronavirus task force briefing in the Rose Garden of the White House, Sunday, 29 March, 2020.
Dr Anthony Fauci and President Donald Trump during a coronavirus task force briefing in the Rose Garden of the White House, Sunday, 29 March, 2020. Source: AAP


It has also been reported Mr Trump was considering firing FBI director Christopher Wray, CIA director Gina Haspel and defense secretary Mark Esper, who have all pushed back against the president on different occasions. 

Mr Wolpe said he would not be surprised to see Mr Trump make “extensive firings”.

“If what he did after he was acquitted of impeachment is a playbook, he will seek retribution and vengeance against those who have he perceives that worked against him,” he said.

“I believe there will be extensive firings in the executive branch from people that he perceives as unfriendly to his re-election prospects.” 

Mr Biden has said he would rehire Dr Fauci if he was somehow sacked.

However, given Dr Facui does not report directly to Mr Trump, his firing is unlikely and would be a complex process layered with civil protections that would need to go through the National Institute of Health.

US President Donald Trump talks on the phone in the Oval Office of the White House, Friday, Oct. 23, 2020, in Washington.
US President Donald Trump talks on the phone in the Oval Office of the White House, Friday, Oct. 23, 2020, in Washington. Source: AP
  

Presidential pardons

There has also been speculation Mr Trump could move to pardon some of his associates, or even himself.

The power - which comes from the US Constitution and is one of the broadest available to a president - is not reviewable by other branches of government and the president does not have to give a reason for issuing one.

While pardons are typically given to people who have been prosecuted, pardons can cover conduct that has not yet resulted in legal proceedings.

“I think you'll you will see significant pardons issued by Trump, and then the really interesting political issue is will he try to pardon people in his businesses, his family, and will he try to pardon himself?” Mr Wolpe said.



But the pardon power is not absolute and only applies to federal crimes. That means pardons would not, for example, protect Mr Trump or his associates from investigations being conducted by state prosecutors.

Mr Wolpe said no president has ever pardoned themselves before, and if Mr Trump tried to, it would likely end up before the Supreme Court.

“I would expect the district attorney to take that to a court and test it and that would ultimately end up, I believe, in the Supreme Court, because it is an issue that has never been decided in law,” he said.

US Donald Trump signs a coronavirus aid package in the Oval Office of the White House, April 24, 2020
US President Donald Trump signs a coronavirus aid package in the Oval Office of the White House, April 24, 2020 Source: AP


It is fairly common for US presidents to issue pardons and commutations, another form of clemency that leaves the conviction intact but wipes out the punishment, in their final days in office. 

Barack Obama, for example, made the high-profile pardon of James Cartwright and commuted the sentence of Chelsea Manning. He also commuted the sentences of 330 non-violent drug offenders, the most acts of clemency ever granted in a single day by any US president.

During their final months, Bill Clinton pardoned his brother and Democratic donor Marc Rich, while George H.W. Bush did the same for six officials involved in the Iran-Contra affair.

Earlier this year, Mr Trump , who was sentenced to prison after being convicted of lying under oath.

Pursue foreign policy

Outside of issuing executive orders, Mr Wolpe said it was unlikely that Mr Trump’s final weeks would influence domestic affairs much, but he could look to make an impact abroad.

There has been no shortage of foreign policy efforts over the course of the Trump administration, which includes renewed attempts to denuclearise the Korean Peninsula, helping to , controversially moving the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, and pulling the US out from the Iran nuclear deal.

“He certainly has full authority in foreign policy, and he could try and do some diplomacy,” Mr Wolpe said.

“A nuclear missile agreement under negotiation with Russia has expired and he could try to get other nations in the Arab world to make peace with Israel. He could put more pressure on Iran as part of a farewell kiss.”



Mr Trump could also look to take action against China, which he has repeatedly clashed with during his presidency.

Mr Wolpe such a move would have implications for Australia.

“He could take very severe retaliatory action against China, as far as its ability to do business in the United States. He could even sanction Chinese officials,” he said.

“If he goes down that road, that will have direct consequences for Australia. Would Australia support retaliatory action against China, and if so, is Australia all-in with Mr Trump?

“And if Australia is, I imagine the Chinese would not take that very favourably.” 



What about the coronavirus?

With COVID-19 cases , the pandemic’s effect on the US shows no signs of abating.

The US is fast approaching 10 million coronavirus cases and more than 237,000 in the country have died of the virus, according to Johns Hopkins University. Some 10 million Americans thrown out of work during coronavirus lockdowns remain idle and federal relief programs have expired. 

But despite the pandemic reaching fever pitch again, Mr Trump has kept a relatively low profile over the past 48 hours and has been .

Mr Biden has said getting the pandemic under control is his number one priority as president.

He will push for masks to be worn nationwide, a change that health experts say could save thousands of lives, but his legal authority to enforce such a mandate is unclear. 

With Reuters. 


SHARE
7 min read
Published 9 November 2020 at 4:20pm
By Evan Young
Source: SBS