President Donald Trump’s feud with the free press is nothing new, but for him to go out of his way to muzzle his own staff from speaking openly about pivotal information that will influence the American political climate, is absurd.
Yet, that’s exactly what Donald Trump’s administration has done. Late last week, Mick Mulvaney drafted and issued a memo to Cabinet heads and agency officials that instructed them to not speak to the media about the details in Trump’s federal budget.
This is a budget that has been met with fierce opposition due to profoundly backwards priorities, such as funnelling money out of programs and services which assist Americans (particularly vulnerable Americans), and instead into the military.
Probably in light of this, the memo Mulvaney sent out referenced a 53-page document entitled the Budget Blueprint which had specific chapters for each agency. This document, as Mulvaney pointed out, is an outline of what officials can and cannot say to the press about Trump’s budget.
‘[A]ll public comments of any sort should be limited to the information contained in the Budget Blueprint chapter for your agency.’
The Republican camp has been very adverse to labelling this memo as a gag order however, as they claim President Obama issued a similar memo when he released his federal budget in 2009.
While it is true that the Obama administration sent a similar memo out in ’09, the 2009 budget proposed by President Obama was far more specific in terms of program and service effects, and the memo did not restrict officials from speaking on many of those impacts. This administration’s federal budget however, is very vague with respect to how specific programs and services will be affected. Therefore, when Mulvaney claimed that officials shall “not make commitments about specific programs if they are not expressly mentioned in the budget,” he effectively silenced them.
Top House Appropriations Committee Democrat Nita Lowey articulated it best perhaps when she explained that likely, this gag order, is a relief to many officials right now:
‘I can understand why no one from the administration would want to come up to the Hill — or is allowed to come up to the Hill — to defend the budget. DeVos doesn’t want to come up here to defend the cuts to afterschool programs. And who wants to come up to the Hill to hear from members about cuts in heart research, cancer research, autism, diabetes, and on and on?’
The gag order is in effect until mid-May when the final version of the budget is expected to be released. This mid-May release date is far later in the year than is typical with budgets of this kind in recent presidential administrations, meaning also that these officials will be unable to speak on the budget for a longer period of time.
Among the changes proposed to after-school initiatives mentioned above, it also outlines cuts to some profoundly important Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) programs and services pertaining to environmental sustainability, the United States Institute for Peace and Occupational Health and Safety grants through the Department of Labor. In total, approximately 62 agencies and programs will be facing significant cuts to their federal funding, rendering most obsolete.
Yet, officials won’t be able to warn Americans about what is coming, because Trump is hell-bent on controlling his image, and if that means he needs to control White House staff (or anyone really), he won’t hesitate.
Feature Image via Getty Images/Chip Somodevilla.