Published December 11, 2016
President-elect Donald Trump left the door open Sunday on how exactly he plans to overhaul the regulation-heavy agenda pursued by the Obama administration, suggesting he wouldn’t dismantle all that his predecessor has done – while making clear the government needs to be more business-friendly.
Asked in an exclusive interview with “Fox News Sunday” whether he’d take a “wrecking ball” to President Obama’s legacy, the construction magnate responded:
“No. I don't want to do that at all. I just want what's right.”
The answer may have surprised those watching Trump’s recent Cabinet selections, which have included: a prominent ObamaCare critic to lead the Health and Human Services Department; a foe of Obama’s overtime pay expansion to lead the Labor Department; and a state attorney general currently suing the Environmental Protection Agency to lead that very agency.
Trump, at the same time, has sent mixed signals about his plans, meeting in recent days with prominent climate change activists Al Gore and Leonardo DiCaprio.
Asked on “Fox News Sunday” about the implications of those meetings as well as his Cabinet selections, Trump indicated his interest is in making the government more efficient and responsive to business.
At the EPA, he said, “You can't get things approved. I mean, people are waiting in line for 15 years before they get rejected, okay? That's why people don't want to invest in this country.”
Trump said: “So we're going to clean it up. We're going to speed it up and, by the way, if somebody is not doing the right thing we're not going to approve. … We can't let all of these permits that take forever to get stop our jobs.”
Trump steered clear of committing to specific actions regarding projects that have pitted environmental interests against the energy industry, while suggesting economic considerations are paramount to him.
On the long-disputed Keystone pipeline that was halted by the Obama administration, Trump said “you’re going to have a decision fairly quickly.”
Asked about the Dakota Access Pipeline, which the Army Corps of Engineers wants to re-route following protests, Trump said he did not want to answer right now.
“But I will tell you, when I get to office, if it's not solved, I'll have it solved very quickly,” Trump said, before adding: “Something will happen. It'll be quick. I think it's very unfair. So, it’ll start, one way or the other.”
Trump, meanwhile, said he is still studying the Paris climate agreement – a pact, backed by the U.S. and dozens of other nations, committing countries to curb the global rise in temperatures – but, “I don't want that agreement to put us at a competitive disadvantage with other countries.”
When asked where he stood on the environment and climate change, Trump would not be pinned down. “I'm very open-minded. I'm still open-minded. Nobody really knows,” Trump said. “Look, I'm somebody that gets it and nobody really knows. It's not something that's so hard and fast. I do know this: other countries are eating our lunch.”
Taken together, Trump’s comments, meetings and appointments speak to an incoming president still weighing his options on how drastically he wants to reverse or halt the Obama regulatory agenda.
In an indication that the incoming administration may be preparing for big changes with regard to energy sector programs and rules, his transition team reportedly has sent around a questionnaire asking the Energy Department for a list of appointees and senior executives – and details on who has spearheaded the agency’s clean energy initiatives.
One unnamed department official described the questionnaire as a hit list, according to an Associated Press report. The memo sparked alarm among some Democrats, as did Trump’s decision last week to name Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt to lead the EPA.
Pruitt has been involved in lawsuits against the Obama EPA, including over the controversial Clean Power Plan and waterway regulations. He also has suggested the debate over global warming – and the impact of human activity on global temperatures – is unsettled.
Former Democratic presidential candidate and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders suggested Sunday that the Pruitt pick suggests the meetings with Gore and others are not informing policy decisions.
“I’m glad they reached out to Gore, but apparently they are not hearing what Gore has to say,” he told CBS News’ “Face the Nation.” Sanders said it’s troubling Trump would appoint a climate change “denier” to lead the EPA.
Trump’s first order of Obama legacy business may be the Affordable Care Act, with congressional Republicans eager to send a repeal bill to his desk next year. Trump has said he plans to nominate Georgia Rep. Tom Price to lead HHS, which would put an outspoken ObamaCare critic at the helm of the agency that implemented the law.
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., told Fox News’ “Sunday Morning Futures” that the Obama administration “pushed investment out” with its raft of rules and predicted a shift toward what he called “common-sense regulation,” including with health care.
“Our No. 1 focus is jobs [in the House],” he said. “[ObamaCare] is going to collapse on itself. We have to look at health care in a new form and have a new health care system.”