'Truly grotesque': On way out the door, Trump prioritizes bringing back executions by firing squad and electrocution
Bill Barr and Donald Trump (AFP)

Among the slew of potentially destructive policy changes the Trump administration is rushing to implement on its way out of power is a rule that would authorize the return of electrocutions and firing squads for federal executions, an effort critics slammed as a twisted priority amid deadly public health and economic crises.

ProPublica reported Wednesday that the rule, first published in the Federal Register by the U.S. Justice Department in August, "has raced through the process with little notice but unusual speed—and deadly consequences."

"This rule could reintroduce firing squads and electrocutions for federal executions, giving the government more options for administering capital punishment as drugs used in lethal injections become unavailable," ProPublica noted. "The Justice Department surfaced the proposal in August and accepted public comments for only 30 days, instead of the usual 60. The rule cleared White House review on Nov. 6, meaning it could be finalized any day."

After carrying out the first federal execution in 17 years over the summer, the Trump administration last Friday scheduled the executions of three additional death row inmates, bringing the total number of federal executions planned just ahead of President-elect Joe Biden's inauguration to five. The executions are set to be carried out by lethal injection.

Given Biden's stated opposition to the death penalty and promise to work as president to bring about its end, it's possible that the Trump administration's rule reviving the firing squad and electrocutions will "never be put into practice," ProPublica noted.

But the effort to expedite the policy change—as well as dozens of others aimed at rolling back worker protections, gutting environmental regulations, and further restricting immigration—was viewed as a glimpse of the kind of damage Trump could do in the lame-duck session.

"Over 2,000 Americans died yesterday and 266,000 are dead and the gangsters in this regime are focused on bringing back the electric chair and making it easier to spew poison in the air," tweeted Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.). "The Republican Party is unfit to govern."

Other last-minute changes the Trump White House is working to finalize ahead of Inauguration Day, according to ProPublica, include proposals to:

Make it more difficult to justify federal pollution restrictions;

Make it easier for companies to classify workers as independent contractors and deprive them of employee benefits;

Raise speed limits on poultry lines; and

Shorten application times for asylum-seekers.

Matthew Kent, a regulatory policy associate with Public Citizen, said the flood of rules could be difficult for the Biden administration to quickly reverse.

"The bottom line is the Trump administration is trying to get things published in the Federal Register, leaving the next administration to sort out the mess," Kent told ProPublica. "There are some real roadblocks to Biden being able to wave a magic wand on these."