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Trump’s Lame Duck Tantrum

We're tracking Trump's most corrupt, norm-breaking, dangerous, and unjust actions during the lame duck session.

President Donald Trump’s administration is winding down, but his cruelty, recklessness and cronyism isn’t.

That’s why Public Citizen is tracking some of his most corrupt, norm-breaking, dangerous, and unjust actions during the lame duck session.

And we’re barely scratching the surface. From attempting to steal the election to gutting critical regulations to protect the public interest, Trump continues to put himself, corporations, and his cronies over the rest of us – and our democracy.

Is there something we should add to this tracker? Email us at zstone@citizen.org and let us know.

Last updated: January 6, 2021


Over the past four years, the Trump administration has gutted key regulations to protect people and our environment. Although the Trump era is coming to an end, his political appointees in the federal agencies are still working away and finalizing major policy changes. The following actions have occurred since November 3rd.

  • Removing Protected Status for the Gray Wolf. On election day, the Interior Department issued a final rule to removed endangered species protections for the gray wolf. Gray wolves were nearly wiped out by overhunting in the United States by the 1960’s. The wolf population has slowly but not fully recovered after receiving federal protection under the Endangered Species Act. Wolves are a crucial part of establishing and maintaining an ecosystem’s balance. Read More.
  • Approving Coal Ash in the Environment. On November 11, the Environmental Protection Agency finalized a rule that outlines a process for approving existing unlined coal ash pits. Coal ash, a toxic biproduct of the coal combustion process, is one of the most common forms of industrial waste in the US. Coal producers store coal ash in large, unlined landfills that pose major environmental risks. Read More.
  • Limiting Socially Responsible Investing. On November 11, the Labor Department issued a rule that limited pension fund managers investment decisions to financial, non-social factors only. Sustainable investment strategy, or environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) investment, is emerging as a way for investors to attain returns and positive societal impacts. Fossil fuel companies and anti-labor groups oppose the move towards ESG investment. Read More. 
  • Allowing Air Polluters to Avoid Oversight. On November 19, the Environmental Protection Agency changed its interpretation of the Clean Air Act to benefit polluters. In the past, the EPA required power plants that emitted a certain amount of hazardous pollutants to install control technology. Even after installation, those plants would be considered major pollution sources subject to the law. Now, those pollution sources can be reclassified, allowing the plants to go back to prior levels of air pollution without government oversight. Read More.
  • Expanding Federal Execution Methods. On November 27, the Department of Justice finalized a rule permitting federal executions to take place by means beyond lethal injections, including by firing squad and the electric chair. The rule allows federal prisoners to be executed in a state-approved manner when lethal injection is not practicable in that state. The rule would also allow prisoners to be transferred to states that permit the execution in ways other than lethal injection. The Trump administration has fast-tracked federal executions in the final days of his term. Read More.
  • Facilitating Predatory Debt Collection. On November 30th, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau finalized a rule that places no limits on the frequency that debt collectors can harass consumers through email and text message. The rule includes extremely lax limits on debt collection calls, allowing phone calls seven times a week This is a particularly egregious action considering the millions of unemployed Americans suffering through the pandemic. Read More. 
  • Letting Industry Off the Hook for Disaster Cleanup. On December 12th, the Environmental Protection Agency relieved major polluters from financial obligations for environmental disaster cleanup. The agency action did away with an Obama administration proposal requiring chemical manufacturers, oil and gas producers and coal plants to set aside money for clean up in the event of an oil spill, explosion or other event. Read More. 
  • Defining Flyer Protections on Airlines’ Terms. On December 7th, the Transportation Department handed the airline industry a major victory by finalizing a definition of unfair and deceptive practices that very few, if any, consumer could meet. The rule would serious weaken agency enforcement of airline passenger protections by adding procedural barriers to any attempt to protect flyers. Read More. 
  • Providing a Faith-Based Right to Discriminate. On December 9th, the Labor Department significantly expand eligibility for federal contractors to claim a religious exemption from non-discrimination rules. Any contractor that is loosely affiliated with a religious purpose would have an excuse to discriminate against LGBTQ people without fear of legal jeopardy. Read More. 
  • Handing Energy Efficiency Oversight to Industry. On December 11, the Energy Department finalized a rule that gives appliance makers a path to test the energy efficiency of their products without input from the government. By essentially doing away with oversight of efficiency testing, DOE is inviting companies to invent their own standards. Under the new rule, consumers will have no independent guarantee that a energy efficiency claim on a product is authentic. Read More. 
  • Dismantling the Migrant Asylum System. On December 11, the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security finalized a regulation that would effectively end asylum for migrants coming to the U.S. fleeing extreme violence and political persecution. On December 16, the Justice Department is expected to finish a rule that would eviscerate the procedural rights of immigrants seeking appeals in court. Read More.
  • Retaining Outdated Air Pollution Standards. On December 18, the EPA finalized its decision to keep current air pollution standards for industrial soot. The agency took the same action for ozone emissions on December 31. Under the Clean Air Act, the EPA must update air pollution standards every five years. Despite pleas for stricter standards from agency experts and the public health community, EPA’s political appointees maintained the status quo. Internal documents show that EPA ignored evidence that current standards led to worse health outcomes for minority and low income communities. Read More.



Trump’s dirty dealing has only accelerated during the lame duck period. He’s made it his mission to reward allies, punish enemies, and burrow loyalists.

Where Are “Legal Defense” Donations Really Going?

Trump has raised hundreds of millions of dollars from his supporters for “legal defense” to overturn the election results. But where is that money really going? Much of it is actually going to fund Trump and his cronies’ further political ambitions – and cover campaign debts.

Rewarding allies:

Trump is trying to fill any and all open appointments in his remaining time in office. He’s using this opportunity to reward his allies, rushing through controversial hiring decisions even as the transition to a Biden administration is in full swing (while, remarkably, still in denial that the transition is taking place.)

Punishing Enemies:

Right after the election, Donald Trump went on a firing spree targeting national security officials that raised alarm bells.

Trump Fired:

Burrowing Loyalists:

Trump’s move to politicize the civil service – to ensure that his outrageous and radical political appointees stay in government long after he leaves – is one of the more egregious recent moves of his administration that is also hobbling the transition. “Burrowing” Trump appointees across the federal government will have lasting effects on our ability to reign in corporations, hold our leaders accountable, and protect people and the environment.

Presidential pardon power during lame duck will be especially useful for Trump, since a staggering number of former associates and members of his administration have charges against them.

Pardons, Pardons, and More Pardons:

Lame duck executive orders are just one more way Trump is helping to subvert democracy and enrich big business at our expense. In most cases, the orders are being used as public relations devices rather than serious tools of governance.

Lame Duck EOs:

Trump has refused to concede the election, and has done everything he can to hobble the incoming Biden administration. Presidential transitions require a high degree of coordination and cooperation – especially in times of crisis.  The Trump administration’s attempt to sabotage the Biden administration is bad for democracy, our health and safety, and our security.

The Headlines Say It All:

He Refuses to Accept Election Results, And Is Inciting His Base In The Process:

Lawsuits Are A Delay Tactic of Choice:

Transition Delays Threaten Our Health, Safety and National Security:

As the clock runs out on Trump’s presidency, he’s ramping up his handouts to the oil and gas industry. Whether it’s racing to open up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling, or putting climate deniers in roles where science is critical, he’s playing Santa with his “parting gifts” to fossil fuel CEOs.

Selling Out Climate Science for Oil Profits:

Trump’s administration is accelerating its cruelty, ramping up actions that harm vulnerable people, adding to the challenges of many who are already suffering. He’s speeding up federal executions, cementing his devastating legacy on immigration, making it harder to qualify for Medicaid, and much, much more.

The Cruelty Is The Point:

Reckless could be Trump’s middle name. Whether it’s privatizing critical resources for veterans, providing giveaways to weapons manufacturers that reward countries with human rights abuses, stripping away protections for migratory birds, or ignoring CDC guidance by throwing COVID holiday parties, the Trump administration is flouting common-sense rules and giving last-minute presents to corporations.

Trump’s Most Reckless Lame Duck Actions Include: