Crisis conditions aren't derailing White House agenda, tactics

Even now, Team Trump is reportedly rolling back environmental safeguards and purging officials whose loyalty to the president is in doubt.
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The White House is seen under dark rain clouds in Washington, DC, on June 1, 2015.ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS / AFP/Getty Images
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By Steve Benen

Given the circumstances, it's tempting to think the White House would have a singular focus: addressing the coronavirus crisis. Given its severity, its scope, and its consequences, any other consideration should obviously be put aside for a (much) later date.

Except, it's not quite working out that way. The New York Times reported yesterday, for example, that Donald Trump and his team are "pushing ahead with major reversals of environmental regulations," including targeting safeguards related to "automobile fuel efficiency standards ... toxic ash from coal plants, relaxing restrictions on mercury emissions and weakening the consideration of climate change in environmental reviews for most infrastructure projects."

The Times quoted David Hayes, director of the State Energy and Environmental Impact Center at the New York University School of Law, saying, "The administration is essentially taking advantage of the fact that the public is distracted and in fact disabled from fully engaging against this ideological push."

And this is hardly the only example of the larger point. Politico reported late yesterday on the ouster of Heather Swift, who served as the Department of Homeland Security's deputy assistant secretary of public affairs until late last week.

The White House removed a top public affairs official at the Department of Homeland Security in a move that shocked many in the department as it takes a lead role in handling the coronavirus pandemic, according to two former senior DHS officials familiar with the matter.

The reporting, which hasn't been independently confirmed by MSNBC or NBC News, added that Swift was pushed out after the Presidential Personnel Office "raised questions about her loyalty" to Donald Trump.

It was just last month -- which suddenly seems like ages ago -- when the public learned that the president had directed trusted White House aides to search the administration for those deemed insufficiently loyal to Trump. As a Washington Post report put it in mid-February, "What began as a campaign of retribution against officials who participated in the impeachment process has evolved into a full-scale effort to create an administration more fully in sync with Trump's id and agenda."

The New York Times added that even Republican political appointees will face scrutiny if they're considered "insufficiently committed to the president or suspected of not aggressively advancing his agenda."

As we discussed at the time, the result is a McCarthyite dynamic in which U.S. officials -- whose principal responsibilities are supposed to be to the public and the rule of law -- are evaluated based on their capacity for Trump sycophancy. Those deemed unworthy face career derailment.

Those who hoped the COVID-19 pandemic would temper the purge were apparently mistaken.