FACT CHECK: Has Congress Done More To ‘Curtail Trump Authority Than Expand It’?

Kush Desai | Fact Check Reporter

ABC News claimed that Congress has done “more to curtail Trump authority than expand it” in an Aug. 4 article.

The article discussed a few examples of Congress curtailing President Donald Trump’s authority, including the recent passage of a sanctions act on Iran, North Korea, and Russia that included limits on Trump’s ability to roll them back in the future.

Verdict: True

The Daily Caller News Foundation analyzed every bill enacted by the current session of Congress. The analysis demonstrates that Congress has indeed done more to curtail Trump’s authority than expand it.

Fact Check:

TheDCNF compiled a list of all 45 public laws passed by the current 150th session of Congress. This session of Congress has not yet passed any private laws.

Of these 45 acts of Congress, the first – the TALENT Act – was signed into law by President Barack Obama during his last day in office. TheDCNF accordingly excluded the TALENT Act from its analysis.

TheDCNF then evaluated each act individually to determine which ones, if any, altered the Trump-led executive branch ’s authority compared to that of previous administrations.

Most of these acts neither expanded nor curtailed Trump’s authority. House Resolution (H.R.) 609, for instance, renamed a Pennsylvania Veteran Affairs medical center as the “Abie Abraham VA Clinic.” Similarly, Senate Bill (S.) 305 “encourage[s] the display of the flag” on National Vietnam War Veterans Day. Neither of these sort of bills alters what Trump and the government he commands can do.

TheDCNF then filtered this list down to the acts that materially expanded or curtailed the executive branch’s authority. As it relates to this analysis, TheDCNF considered an act “material” if it affected the range of all possible actions the executive branch can undertake at its will.

Examples of acts that immaterially expanded the executive branch’s reach and resources include S. 442, Congress’s $20 billion allocation for NASA to send astronauts to Mars. Another example is H.R. 1238, or the Securing Our Agriculture And Food Act. The act committed the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) to securing American food supplies from terrorism, codifying DHS’s authority to do something it already expends significant resources doing. Both acts increased the executive’s reach or resources, but neither expanded the universe of possible actions Trump can take.

TheDCNF’s analysis identified and deemed 11 acts as having materially altered the executive branch’s authority. The acts were then categorized into two groups: acts that materially expanded and acts that materially curtailed the executive’s authority and resources.

The ABC News article, for instance, underscored how Congress has curtailed the Trump-led federal government’s regulatory reach and powers over the economy. TheDCNF identified about a dozen acts that had the primary purpose of deregulation; about half of them materially cut back the executive branch’s reach.

Acts of deregulation that materially curtailed federal authority include acts such as Joint House Resolution (H.J.) 38; the act nullified the Obama-era Stream Protection Rule– a controversial environmental regulation that has been criticized as “federal overreach.”

Legislation That Has Materially Empowered Trump:

  • S. 84 – Exempted Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis from National Security Act of 1947 to be appointed secretary
  • S. 544 – Expanded Veterans Affairs’ role to also cover veterans’ medical costs of non-service related disabilities
  • H.J. 99 – Extended congressional appropriations to federal agencies to prevent partial government shutdown
  • H.R. 244 – Provided appropriations for most federal agencies through fiscal-year 2017
  • S. 1094 – Expanded VA managers’ powers to fire employees and expanded whistleblower protections

Legislation That Has Materially Curtailed Trump:

  • H.J. 41 – Scrapped certain anti-corruption regulations that require disclosing certain types of foreign payments
  • H.J. 38 – Tossed out the Stream Protection Rule
  • S.J. 34 – Backtracked certain privacy regulations on certain telecommunications providers
  • H.J. 67 – Scrapped certain regulations on retirement savings plans
  • S. 496 – Gutted some transportation planning regulations
  • H.R. 366 – Standardized protocol for the Department of Homeland Security’s vehicle management
  • H.R. 3364 – Enacted sanctions with limitations on executive modifications

An example of legislation that materially expanded the executive branch’s authority and resources is S. 84, which exempted Mattis from a National Security Act of 1947 provision prohibiting anyone less than seven years out of active service in the armed forces from being appointed secretary of Defense. The last and only other time that Congress made such an exemption was in 1950, United Press International reports. It did so again in 2017 by passing S. 84 and, in the process, empowering Trump to effectively override existing legal limitations on the presidency and appoint the secretary of defense of his choice.

TheDCNF acknowledges that there are possible arguments or contentions about how certain acts are categorized. These considerations aside, TheDCNF in total categorized four acts of this session of Congress as acts of Congress that materially empowered Trump and seven acts that materially curtailed Trump, confirming that ABC News’s claim is true.

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Kush Desai

Fact Check Reporter