The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion How Trump and the Republicans let a government agency leave Americans in danger

A sign outside Consumer Product Safety Commission's headquarters in Bethesda, Md. (Todd Frankel/The Washington Post)
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The mission of the Consumer Product Safety Commission, established in 1972, is to ensure we are safe from faulty products that can cause injury or death. But once again, Republicans are attempting to put roadblocks in front of the regulator so it can’t do its job. The Post’s Todd C. Frankel reported this week on how a temporary Republican majority at the agency earlier this fall managed to delay significant safety studies and rulings.

As a result, new standards for infant pillows, in an effort to prevent suffocation deaths, have been replaced by voluntary guidelines. An effort to tighten up rules for gas products to prevent carbon-monoxide poisonings has been postponed for at least the next 12 months. And they also put the kibosh on a small project designed to study the safety of products sold online.

How could an agency designed to promote consumer safety instead deliberately leave Americans in danger? Thank former president Donald Trump and congressional Republicans, of course. Two Republican commissioners, appointed by Trump, ran roughshod over established procedure.

When the Trump Republican appointees temporarily held a majority of the seats on the Consumer Product Safety Commission this fall, they used that power in an unprecedented way. In a maneuver that can best be described as government bureaucracy meets “Game of Thrones,” they bushwhacked the then-lone Democratic commissioner with last-minute changes to what should have been a routine vote on the agency’s yearly operating plan. When an in-house attorney declared the action illegal and sought to overturn it, the Republican commissioners prevailed in a vote declaring the lawyer’s action illegal.

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They were able to do all this because Senate Republicans had stalled votes on three Biden nominees to the commission. Since that time, one of the Democratic nominees was approved by the Senate — but only after the agency said it would not move to reverse all the Republican-approved shenanigans.

Republicans, repeatedly, enforce the fiction that regulation is bad for American business. Trump parroted the line incessantly, and said he would like to eliminate 70 percent of government rules, but promised, falsely, that those guaranteeing the safety of Americans would be untouched.

While Trump was president, his appointees to the Consumer Product Safety Commission attempted to stop a lawsuit filed by the agency to force the recall of a faulty child stroller. Similar actions occurred across the federal bureaucracy. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration barely enforced workplace safety policies. Environmental rules designed to save lives were gutted.

Trump and his minions did the same sort of thing elsewhere. Trump appointed Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-S.C.), a devout hater of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, to head the agency, where he tried — and mercifully failed — to do away with the CFPB’s database of consumer complaints. Under Betsy DeVos, the Education Department vehemently fought efforts to help students defrauded by dodgy for-profit colleges — to the point that a federal judge said she was “deeply disturbed” by “the sheer scale of the violations” at the department.

As a result of all this, President Biden inherited a hollowed-out federal regulatory structure in crisis. And even as he’s moved to address it, Republicans have attempted to block his efforts. In their quest to preserve power, it can seem as though there is no rule or custom that Republicans won’t run roughshod over, even when their actions are upping the odds that an infant might die as a result of a badly designed pillow. There are no adequate words to express how gross this all is.