As of earlier this month, President Obama held the distinction of having granted clemency to more individuals than LBJ, and he continued that streak today with 153 commutations and 78 pardons today. The president is using his plenary power under the pardons and commutations clause to address a lifelong fight for justice: the lengthy imprisonment of nonviolent drug offenders.
The President said something in his recent interview with Trevor Noah that caught my ear: the federal government, he said, is more analogous to an aircraft carrier than it is to a speed boat. Turning it around 180 degrees is a time consuming, difficult process.
That may explain why President Obama is now engaged in a series of actions to protect liberal priorities. A lot of that is by executive order, but at least one big part of it is now law.
Earlier this month, in a rare victory for the administration in Congress, both the House and the Senate passed the renewed 21st Century Cures Act - the bill better known as Vice President Biden's moonshot bill. The bill was signed into law by President Obama on Tuesday, November 13. While the $1.8 billion in taxpayer investment into cancer research is the headline star of this bill, its $4.8 billion for the National Institutes of Health and streamlining of the drug approval process was something patient advocates from a wide ranging disease communities (including lupus, kidney disease and lung disease advocates) had been pushing. This was a major victory given the Republican Congress' aversion to science.
Moving on to more obvious and partisan liberal priorities, on December 14, the Obama administration finalized a rule prohibiting states from using federal dollars to discriminate against organizations like Planned Parenthood simply for providing abortion services. While these administrative rules are reversible (though such reversal may be subject to legal action), it requires the full rule-making process to be repeated, which gives advocates and activists time to create political groundswell against it.
The administration is also using the threat of Trump's imminent entrance to the White House as an effective recruitment tool for insurance plans under Obamacare. As enrollment surges amid fears that Donald Trump and his Republican Congress will take away the Affordable Care Act's subsidies for middle-class families to buy health insurance, actually taking those subsidies away will get that much harder. Not only will this year's enrollees have their subsidies for the next year, these will be people with an immediate, impending loss in the event Trump makes good on his threat. To top it off, the actual loss of the subsidies won't happen until 2018, the midterm election year.
Since the election, Barack Obama has also restricted offshore drilling, approved regulations to protect groundwater from coal mining operations, and blocked the Dakota Access Pipeline from traveling under Standing Rock. Not to mention that he plans to leave a unified intelligence assessment of unprecedented Russian interference in the American election - transmitted to Congress and declassified to the degree possible before Trump has a chance to make those documents disappear.
And this is where our fights against Trump must begin once he is inaugurated. Undoubtedly, Donald Trump and Republicans will try to reverse Standing Rock, rescind health care, drill-baby-drill, turn the wheels back on criminal justice, and undermine family planning. They have to. If they don't, their own voters will punish them. The fight against it will be uphill, fierce, and the toughest of our lives. But this is where we must draw battle lines; this is where we must fight. President Obama - by setting direction of the aircraft carrier - is buying us time.
We must use this time - and President Obama's legacy - wisely.