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Taking the ‘Lame’ Out of ‘Lame Duck’

FEW EXPECTED THAT President Donald Trump would go quietly if he was defeated for reelection.

But the bombastic commander in chief is going all-out, using his last months in office as an opportunity to settle grievances, take last-minute actions that may or may not be undone by President-elect Joe Biden, and generally leave a defiant imprint meant to take the "lame" out of "lame duck."

He's fired people, pardoned people, and is preparing to have a few people executed. He's feverishly trying to build as much of his politically divisive border wall and made plans to claw back $455 billion in federal COVID-19 relief aid, making it harder for the incoming Biden administration to dole out the money approved by Congress and signed by Trump.

He's escalating tensions internationally, while undermining public faith in the democratic process domestically, claiming that the 2020 race he lost by more than 6 million votes was "rigged."

Outgoing presidents are supposed to use the 2-1/2 month-transition period to tie up loose ends and help prepare their successors for the takeover, so government and diplomacy continue to flow. But Trump seems determined to make Biden's ascension as rocky as possible.

"This is unusual and abnormal," says Terry Sullivan, executive director of the nonpartisan White House Transition Project, a public-private consortium that provides advice to campaigns and incoming presidents to assure a smooth handover of power.

While many of Trump's moves have public policy implications, "this is more a reflection of his insistence on (having) his way," Sullivan says. "It's a personality thing. It's not really going to establish a record."

Some of Trump's lame-duck moves have been deliberately in-your-face. After the election, he fired Defense Secretary Mark Esper and fired or accepted resignations of other top Pentagon officials, who were replaced by Trump loyalists. Esper had sent a memo to Trump warning that conditions for withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan – another Trump transition goal – had not been met.

He fired Chris Krebs, who was director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, after Krebs said the election was not only not rigged but "the most secure in American history." Attorney General William Barr, who has been extremely supportive of the president, is now on thin ice after saying the Department of Justice had found no evidence of widespread voter fraud.

Others whose jobs may be on the line are not boldfaced names: Under a new "Schedule F" job classification, Trump has given authority to federal agencies to take away civil service protections for certain workers and put them in political, at-will posts, paving the way for a last-minute personnel housecleaning.

"Anybody who becomes categorized as Schedule F is basically a political employee," says Jacqueline Simon, policy director for the American Federation of Government Employees, a union representing federal workers. "You can be hired based on personal loyalties or fired for political loyalties – or for any or no reason," Simon says. "He can do a tremendous amount of mischief with this."

She says the union does not have any information on whether anyone has lost a job because of the new policy, which is first being implemented at the Office of Management and Budget and the Office of Personnel Management.

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