First things first

FIRST THINGS FIRST…. George W. Bush relied heavily on federal regulations to make the government more in line with his ideological agenda. Barack Obama, shortly after taking office, told executive branch agencies to put an immediate hold on all Bush regulations.

In its first hours, the Obama administration took an initial step to put its imprint on the government, ordering work halted on all federal regulations left unfinished at the end of the Bush era until they can be reviewed by the new president’s team.

White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel dispatched a memo yesterday afternoon to federal agencies and departments, directing them to stop pending rules until the new administration has time to conduct a “legal and policy review” of each one. The directive has become a first-day tradition among presidents, dating to Ronald Reagan in 1981, helping incoming administrations put their own philosophical stamp on the regulatory work that is a subtle but potent tool of presidential power.

Though it’s unclear how many of Bush’s regulations have not yet taken effect, the former president’s administration issued 100 final rules since Obama won the election. The review should take a while.

Also, as Hilzoy noted overnight, Obama also took steps to stop legal proceedings at Guantanamo.

In one of its first actions, the Obama administration instructed military prosecutors late Tuesday to seek a 120-day suspension of legal proceedings involving detainees at the naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba — a clear break with the approach of the outgoing Bush administration.

The instruction came in a motion filed with a military court in the case of five defendants accused of organizing the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States. The motion called for “a continuance of the proceedings” until May 20 so that “the newly inaugurated president and his administration [can] review the military commissions process, generally, and the cases currently pending before military commissions, specifically.”

This is obviously an encouraging development, but as mcjoan explained, the president’s authority here is limited. Obama ordered prosecutors to suspend further proceedings, while administration attorneys consider what to do next, but military judges may decline the request, and some defense attorneys may object.

Still, as the Post noted, the White House’s instructions, which were applauded by the ACLU and defense attorneys, are “a first step toward closing a detention facility and system of military trials that became a worldwide symbol of the Bush administration’s war on terrorism and its unyielding attitude toward foreign and domestic critics.”