Reason Roundup

Trump's Latest Executive Actions Are Likely Ineffective and Possibly Unconstitutional

Plus: Hong Kong police arrest pro-democracy publisher Jimmy Lai, Portland demonstrators set fire to police union headquarters, protests erupt against "Europe's last dictator," and more...


President Donald Trump issued a series of executive actions Saturday intended to extend coronavirus relief measures in the absence of legislation by Congress. Their legality and practical effect are still being debated.

Of the four actions issued by the president over the weekend, the least controversial appears to be a memorandum allowing for the deferral of payments on federally held student loans until the end of the year. Trump had issued a similar order in March that deferred payments until September. That order was later codified in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

More contentious, but less impactful, is an executive order issued by Trump that attempts to limit evictions and foreclosures.

The CARES Act had suspended evictions at multifamily properties with a federally backed mortgage until July 24. It also granted homeowners up to 360 days of forbearance on federally backed mortgage loans.

The president's Saturday order does not reinstate that eviction moratorium. It instead asks the secretary of health and human services to "consider whether any measures temporarily halting residential evictions of any tenants for failure to pay rent" would be necessary to prevent interstate transmission of COVID-19.

It also orders the secretaries of the Treasury and the Department of Housing and Urban Development to identify available federal funds that could be used to provide temporary rent and mortgage assistance for those struggling to pay their housing bills. This falls far short of the national ban on evictions and $175 billion in emergency homeowner and renter assistance passed by the House back in May, and housing activists aren't happy about it:

Trump's memorandums dealing with payroll taxes and unemployment benefits have sparked the most controversy.

One memo orders a deferral, but not forgiveness, of payroll taxes for employees making less than $4,000 per biweekly pay period until the end of the year. Workers would still be on the hook for these taxes come the end of the year, although Trump's memo also asks the treasury secretary to "explore avenues, including legislation" to forgive this tax bill.

In addition, Trump issued a memorandum partially extending the now-expired federal unemployment aid provided for in the CARES Act. That bill had provided jobless workers with a $600 weekly unemployment bonus. The president's order calls for a $400 weekly unemployment benefit to be paid out of the Department of Homeland Security's Disaster Relief Fund.

The aid would continue until the $70 billion Disaster Relief Fund is drawn down to $25 billion, or until December 6, 2020—whichever comes first. State governors would have to ask for this funding before receiving it. They'd also be required to chip in $100 of the $400 unemployment benefit.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has called Trump's executive orders unconstitutional, while also saying they do too little to help struggling families.

In a Sunday National Review column, American Enterprise Institute scholars Yuval Levin and Adam White similarly argue that Trump's executive actions on payroll taxes and unemployment benefits, while potentially legal, undermine Congress' constitutionally granted power of the purse.

"If the Constitution is more than a law, if it establishes a system of government with a particular character, then there could hardly be any question that a presidential action explicitly setting out to change federal policy regarding both spending and taxing, and to do so precisely because Congress has declined to take these steps, violates that character," write Levin and White.

Rep. Justin Amash (L–Mich.) likewise criticized the president's actions as an example of executive overreach.

In the wake of these executive orders, Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin have both said they are willing to restart stalled talks on another relief package.


Hong Kong police have arrested business tycoon and publisher Jimmy Lai for violating the semi-autonomous Chinese city's new national security law.

Lai is the owner of Next Digital, which publishes the pro-democracy Apple Daily newspaper. Lai's two sons were also arrested, as were four other Next Digital executives. Police also stormed Apple Daily's offices. Videos posted to Twitter show officers rifling through journalists' papers.

A number of press freedom groups, including the International Press Institute and the Committee to Protect Journalists, have criticized Lai's arrest and called for his release.


  • Protests have erupted in Belarus after early returns show its longtime President Alexander Lukashenko, often called "Europe's last dictator," winning a sixth term in a landslide.

  • Amazon and mall operator Simon Property Group are reportedly in talks to convert shuttered Sears and J.C. Penney stores into fulfillment centers, reports The Wall Street Journal.
  • The Trump administration's plan to help the struggling camera maker Eastman Kodak remake itself as a pharmaceutical company with a $765 million loan underwritten by taxpayers is reportedly stalled following scrutiny from Congress and regulators. That loan, Reason's Eric Boehm noted last week, came after Kodak spent $870,000 on lobbying expenses.
  • Rioting broke out in downtown Chicago last night.
  • Protesters in Portland, Oregon, set fire to police union headquarters.
  • A California church held indoor services in violation of a restraining order issued by a judge declaring such gatherings a "menace to public health," reports the Los Angeles Times.
  • The New York Times has the backstory on how 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate were left sitting in a Beirut warehouse for seven years while Lebanese officials ignored warnings about the safety hazard they posed.
  • A proposed New York bill would mandate that "shampoo assistants" complete 500 hours of training before being allowed to legally ply their trade. Critics have decried that requirement as absurd and unnecessary. Proponents of the bill argue it would actually make the state's licensing laws less burdensome by making it clear that shampooers do not need to obtain a full cosmetology license, which requires 1,000 hours of training.