Neomi Jehangir Rao.

 

Neomi Rao, a top White House official under consideration for the Washington federal appeals court seat vacated by Justice Brett Kavanaugh, on Thursday lauded the Trump administration’s work to slash regulations and bring billions of dollars in savings to U.S. businesses.

Rao, administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, summarized the administration’s deregulatory efforts in economic terms, comparing the billions of dollars in estimated savings under the Trump administration to the $245 billion in new costs that came with regulations in the early years of the Obama presidency.

“So I think this is really a tremendous amount of progress in a short period of time. And one of the things that has been the result of these efforts is there’s been a slowing of the imposition of costly new regulations and guidance documents, and kind of a fundamental shift away from the inertia that has favored a steady expansion of the regulatory state,” Rao said during remarks at an American Bar Association conference on administrative law.

Rao credited the deregulatory agenda for helping to drive the job creation that President Donald Trump has repeatedly highlighted in speeches and tweets, describing regulatory reform as “one of the real success stories of this administration.”

“I think the reform efforts are part of what has stimulated economic growth and job creation and promoted technological innovation. And from my perspective, our reform efforts have really focused on promoting the rule of law and emphasized the productivity and potential of the American people that’s possible when you get rid of unnecessary economic burdens,” Rao said.

Rao noted that the deregulatory momentum is expected to continue into the coming fiscal year, with projected cost savings of $18 billion—an estimate that does not include the more than $120 billion in anticipated savings from revisions to fuel efficiency standards. Her appearance comes a week after she was reportedly interviewed by Trump for Kavanaugh’s former seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.

As administrator of OIRA, Rao has overseen the office that serves as a clearinghouse for rules and regulations from the federal government. After playing a leading role in the administration’s deregulatory agenda, Rao is now involved in another hallmark of the Trump presidency: the stacking of federal courts with conservative judges.

A former clerk for Justice Clarence Thomas, she was seen early on as a top contender for the nomination to replace Kavanaugh on the D.C. Circuit, the court most frequently turned to for challenges to regulations and other actions taken by the federal government. The court, in its reviews of those actions, regularly weighs how much deference is owed to federal agencies.

In her remarks Thursday, Rao said her office has worked closely with federal agencies to “ensure that they are relying on what we consider to be the best interpretation of the statute—not necessarily a strained interpretation that they believe will get deference in the courts but really the fairest and best understanding of what their authority is.”

“It’s important to ensure that agencies within the executive branch are respecting the lawmaking power of Congress by staying within the authority that was granted to them,” she said.

On Sunday, Axios reported that sources briefed on the meeting “got the strong impression that the president was not impressed with her.” However, Axios also reported that Trump has expressed an interest in nominating a minority woman, and is reconsidering his initial judgment of Rao.