While You Weren’t Looking: 5 things Trump’s Cabinet did this week besides separating families


This week, the nation’s attention was mostly laser-focused on the Trump administration’s policy of separating migrant families at the border.

But as the White House was forced to play defense amid vicious condemnation of the policy from all corners of the political spectrum, the rest of the Trump administration was able to fly under the radar with a number of policy decisions and potential scandals that might have been front-page news any other week.

Here are a few important stories you might have missed.

The Trump administration wants to merge the Labor and Education departments

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As part of a plan to reorganize the federal government, the Trump administration is reportedly considering a merge of the Departments of Education and Labor.

During a Cabinet meeting Friday, Office of Management and Budget director Mick Mulvaney laid out a proposal for combining the two agencies. Both Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta, one of whom could potentially lose their job under the proposal, attended the meeting.

The plan is just the latest in a series of proposals designed to shrink the size of the federal government by combining programs whose mandates conservatives are already skeptical of.

Two weeks ago, the Trump administration was reported to be considering a similar proposal to do away with the Department of Health and Human Services and combine all federal safety net programs in one agency.

Wilbur Ross did something that looks a lot like insider trading

Evan Vucci/AP

The New York Times reported Tuesday that Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross shorted stock in a shipping firm after he learned reporters were working on a negative story about his relationship to the company.

The Times was investigating Ross’s investments in the shipping company Navigator, which reportedly has ties to a Russian energy company. Three days after the paper emailed Ross a list of questions about his connections to Navigator — but before it published the story — Ross shorted stock in the company.

The investment website Investopedia defines insider trading as “the buying or selling of a security by someone who has access to material nonpublic information about the security.”

Though Ross appears to have acted on information from the Times that was not yet available to the general public, he strenuously denied allegations that what he did constituted insider trading, calling them “unfounded” and “false” in a statement to CNN.

The Trump administration continues to attack the Affordable Care Act from all sides

Carolyn Kaster/AP

Despite multiple failed attempts by Republican lawmakers to repeal the Affordable Care Act, the Trump administration barreled ahead this week with a plan to attack the law both administratively and in the courts.

Trump on Tuesday undermined key protections in the law by loosening restrictions on so-called association health plans. Those plans do not have to include many of the essential health benefits required by the ACA, such as maternity leave and mental health coverage.

Under the new rules, association plans will be available in all states and insurers will be allowed to choose the state with the lowest regulatory burden in determining what kind of benefits they have to provide, essentially allowing them to sell bare-bones plans nationwide.

Trump’s Justice Department is also declining to defend the ACA’s essential health benefits in a lawsuit brought by several Republican-controlled states. Those states are effectively arguing the ACA’s pre-existing condition coverage requirements are unworkable thanks to Republicans’ successful repeal of the individual mandate in their tax bill.

Should the lawsuit succeed, it could effectively spell the end of required coverage for pre-existing conditions.

Betsy DeVos kills more than 1,200 civil rights probes started under Obama

Carolyn Kaster/AP

A report from ProPublica found the Department of Education under Secretary Betsy DeVos has killed more than 1,200 civil rights investigations that began under the Obama administration and had lasted over half a year.

According to ProPublica, the cases included everything from potential discrimination in schools to allegations of sexual violence on college campuses.

“Where the evidence is insufficient for [the Office of Civil Rights] to prove a violation of law or the facts show that dismissal is appropriate on other grounds, OCR closes the case, which provides much-needed closure for both students and institutions,” department spokeswoman Elizabeth Hill said in a statement.

Scott Pruitt did more things this week

Evan Vucci/AP

It seems every week in the Trump era brings about a series of new reports concerning Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt. This week was no exception.

The Intercept reported Wednesday that the EPA had spent $2,749.62 on something called “tactical pants” and “tactical polos” — in other words, clothes for Pruitt’s security detail.

Pruitt is facing another mounting scandal over possible missing emails from his time in office.

An investigation by watchdog groups into Pruitt’s email communications show the department head sent only one email to officials outside the government over a period of 10 months, leading those groups to believe Pruitt could potentially be using private email or another form of communication.

“Administrator Pruitt works mostly in person through conversations,” EPA spokesman Jahan Wilcox told Politico.