Horse advocates fear the worst
WASHINGTON D.C.––Reports differ as to whether the Donald Trump administration has killed or just delayed new Horse Protection Act of 1970 enforcement regulations meant to protect walking horses from soring.
The new regulations, introduced by the USDA Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service on January 13, 2017, just a week before Trump’s inauguration, are meant to bring enforcement of the 47-year-old Horse Protection Act into line with the letter of the law as written, to prevent the use of a variety of cruel techniques often used to induce the “Big Lick” goose-step favored by show judges.
But the new regulations and similar regulatory proposals have been bitterly opposed for generations by the walking horse breeding and show industry.
New rules would affect Trump boosters
The walking horse industry centers on Tennessee and Kentucky, and is also politically influential in Alabama, Georgia, the Carolinas, and West Virginia, all bastions of Republican strength in general, and of support for Trump in specific.
The walking horse blog www.BillyGoBoy.com and a Change.org petition posted by Harold Marvin Wilson of Hampshire, Tennessee alleged on January 22, 2017 that as BillyGoBoy put it, “Shortly after viewing the Inaugural Parade, and before going dancing at the Inaugural Balls, President Donald J. Trump walked into the Oval Office and approved” a “memorandum presented to him by White House chief of staff Reince Priebus,” which “most likely kills the federal regulation to remove the pads and chains from ‘Big Lick’ walking horses which was set to be published in The Federal Register on Tuesday, January 24, 2017.
“Inside politics seem to be at play here,” alleged BillyGoBoy. “U.S. Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has received over $750,000.00 in ‘Big Lick’ Animal Cruelty money since 1988. His wife, Elaine Chou, was chosen by President Trump to be Secretary of Transportation,” after serving for eight years in the same capacity under former U.S. President George W. Bush.
But whether the Priebus memo does anything more than delaying the new Horse Protection Act enforcement regulations remains to be seen.
The Priebus memo ordered all directors of departments and agencies under the executive branch of the U.S. federal government to “send no regulation to the Office of the Federal Register until a department or agency head appointed or designated by the President after noon on January 20, 2017, reviews and approves the regulation.”
Added Priebus, “With respect to regulations that have been sent to the Office of the Federal Register but not published in the Federal Register, immediately withdraw them from the Office of the Federal Register for review and approval.”
Ordering a temporary freeze on new regulations issued by the previous administration is routine procedure after a new President is inaugurated, and does not necessarily mean the new regulations will not be implemented.
Delaying new regs not unusual for new administrations
Typically the new administration reviews pending regulations to ensure that they will be in line with new Presidential policy, but non-controversial regulations are often then allowed to take effect several weeks later.
Sometimes an incoming Presidential administration takes the opportunity to allow a potentially politically awkward new regulation to go into effect, which can then be blamed on the preceding administration.
Sometimes a President waits until just before leaving office to approve new regulations that might bring blowback from Congress.
Occasionally a President leaving office endorses regulations aware that either approving or rescinding them will be problematic for his successor.
Perdue & McConnell
Determining the fate of the new Horse Protection Act enforcement regulations will most likely be delegated primarily to newly appointed Secretary of Agriculture and former Georgia governor Sonny Perdue.
But Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell might have a considerable influence on Perdue’s decision, or might be able to overrule Perdue through the passage of pending legislation.
Blogged Mike Markarian, president of the Humane Society Legislative Fund arm of the Humane Society of the U.S., “In the first days of the 115th Congress, lawmakers are poised to take up the so-called Midnight Rules Relief Act and the REINS Act.
Midnight & REINS
“The Midnight Rules Relief Act of 2017,” introduced as H.R. 21, would amend the Congressional Review Act to allow disapproval of multiple regulations finalized during the last year of a President’s term.,” Markarian explained. “Such action would prevent due consideration of the merits of individual regulations.
“The Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny (REINS) Act of 2017, H.R. 26,” Markarian continued, “would require that both houses of Congress approve a major rule with no alteration, within a 70-day window. If both the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives are unable to swiftly approve a major rule, it would not take effect, and reconsideration during that Congress would be precluded.”
REINS “bars judicial review”
The REINS act also “bars judicial review of any actions taken under the REINS Act,” Markarian added.
“By doing nothing,” Markarian pointed out, “Congress could prevent existing laws from being implemented, including common sense, non-controversial rules affecting animal welfare.”
The very title of the REINS act hints that new regulations pertaining to horses are among the targets of it. The REINS act was introduced, Markarian mentioned, after “a bipartisan group of 182 Representatives and 42 Senators wrote to the USDA in support of the anti-horse soring rule, which corrects deficiencies in USDA’s current regulations in ways that mirror provisions in the PAST Act, legislation that had 273 House cosponsors and 50 Senate cosponsors in the 114th Congress.
Obama administration “dragged feet”
“The PAST Act was introduced,” Markarian recalled, “largely to force the agency to fix these very problems, many of which were identified by a damning 2010 USDA Office of Inspector General report. The USDA itself warned horse sorers that it was considering some of these changes in public notices going back to 1979. There was nothing nefarious or undercutting about this rulemaking,” Markarian said, “and if anything, the Obama administration dragged its feet on it, rather than rushing it through at the last minute.”
Explained the USDA-APHIS media release announcing the new regulations, “APHIS enforces the Horse Protection Act, a Federal law that makes it unlawful for any person to show, exhibit, sell, or transport sore horses, or to use any equipment, device, paraphernalia, or substance prohibited by USDA to prevent the soring of horses” in show events.
Introducing independent inspection
“The final rule,” USDA-APHIS stipulates, “addresses recommendations made by the USDA’s Office of Inspector General. Under the final regulation, APHIS will license, train, and oversee independent, third party inspectors, known as Horse Protection Inspectors, and establish the licensing eligibility requirements to reduce conflicts of interest.”
The Horse Protection Inspectors will replace the use of Designated Qualified Persons to monitor walking horse shows, most of whom are well-connected horse industry insiders. But not immediately.
“To allow sufficient time to train and license Horse Protection Inspectors, and ensure an adequate number before the start of the 2018 show season,” USDA-APHIS added, “current Designated Qualified Person licenses will remain valid until January 1, 2018,” after which “management of horse shows, exhibitions, sales, and auctions that elect to use inspection services must appoint and retain a Horse Protection Inspector to inspect horses.”
Continued the USDA-APHIS announcement, “Beginning 30 days after the publication of the final rule, all action devices, except for certain boots, are prohibited on any Tennessee Walking Horse or racking horse at any horse show, exhibition, sale, or auction. All pads and wedges are prohibited on any Tennessee Walking Horse or racking horse at any horse show, exhibition, sale, or auction on or after January 1, 2018, unless such horse has been prescribed and is receiving therapeutic, veterinary treatment using pads or wedges.
“This delayed implementation,” USDA-APHIS explained, “allows ample time to both gradually reduce the size of pads to minimize any potential physiological stress to the horses and prepare horses to compete in other classes.”
The new regulations also require “management of Horse Protection Act-covered events” to “submit certain information records to APHIS, provide Horse Protection Inspectors with access, space, and facilities to conduct inspections, and have a farrier physically present to assist Horse Protection Inspectors” at shows of more than 150 inspectors, and to have a farrier on call at smaller shows.”
What might Perdue do?
If the new regulations are finally approved under the Trump administration, the effect of the delay might be minimal. Few major walking horse shows are scheduled before April.
Secretary of Agriculture appointee Perdue appears to have practically no history involving walking horses. While BillyGoBoy alleged that “Perdue was the choice of [the anti-animal advocacy group Protect The Harvest founder Forrest Lucas, who is pro horse slaughter and against the regulation of puppy mills,” citing the political periodical Politico as source, Politico mentioned only that Lucas had vehemently opposed several other candidates for Secretary of Agriculture, none of whom were nearly as well qualified.
Dogs & cats
Markarian on January 4, 2017 blogged that Perdue, as Georgia governor, “signed a law in 2008 to make dogfighting a felony and close loopholes on owning fighting dogs and being a dogfighting spectator. Perdue is a licensed veterinarian,” Markarian continued, “who graduated from the University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine, and a few years ago volunteered his time to perform a surgery at the Atlanta Humane Society to raise awareness for the spaying and neutering of pets and a special dog and cat license plate that supports Georgia’s statewide spay and neuter program.
“In 2010,” Markarian added, “Perdue signed a bill banning the use of gas chambers to euthanize shelter pets.”
The Trump inauguration ceremonies included one positive harbinger for horses, according to WLWT, the NBC affiliate in Cincinnati.
“A rags-to-riches story played out,” WLWT reported, “as an Ohio horse once slated to be slaughtered marched on one of the world’s biggest stages The Cleveland Police Mounted Unit was in Washington D.C. for Trump’s inauguration parade. With them was Jakar, a chestnut-colored gelding. Jakar was sold to be slaughtered, but was later rebought and donated to the Cleveland Police Department.”
Trump’s personal record on horses, on the other hand, is another matter. Summarized Natalie Schreyer for Mother Jones in October 2016, “In the spring of 1988, Steve Hyde, the chief executive of Trump’s casino business, was approached by a racehorse owner named Robert LiButti—who also happened to be a mob associate—who was selling a horse with an impressive pedigree and ‘Triple Crown potential,’ according to former Trump employee John O’Donnell’s book Trumped!. The asking price for the racehorse, named Alibi, was $500,000. Trump agreed to buy Alibi, on the condition that the horse be renamed DJ Trump.”
However, Schreyer continued, “Shortly after making the deal, Trump—as is his style—began trying to renegotiate it.”
After LiButti substantially discounted the horse, Schreyer summarized, “Trump insisted the horse be trained in vigorous workouts so that he could be delivered as soon as possible from Florida in racing shape.”
Instead the horse broke down.
“According to Michael D’Antonio’s book The Truth About Trump,” Schreyer wrote, “a veterinarian had to amputate Alibi’s front hooves to save him from death. The horse could no longer race, and when Trump found out,” he “promptly backed out of the deal.”
During the 2016 Presidential campaign, Trump said he “had nothing to do with” LiButti, described by the Wall Street Journal as a “major profit source” for the Trump Plaza casino, said to have dropped $11 million there between 1986 and 1989.
But Yahoo News chief investigative reporter Michael Isikoff discovered video showing Trump and LiButti together at a Wrestlemania event at the Trump Plaza, and the casino was fined $650,000 by the New Jersey Gaming Commission for allegedly failing to protect female and minority staff from harassment by LiButti.