The COVFEFE Act seeks to bring the Presidential Records Act into the 21st century and hold the POTUS responsible for his late night tweets.

At 9:06 p.m. on May 30, President Donald Trump sent out a tweet from his unofficial POTUS twitter. The tweet read: "Despite the constant negative press covfefe." The tweet sent the internet into a frenzy. What does it mean? Is it a typo? Is it a distraction? Is it a cryptic message?  "Covfefe" has inspired many-a-meme, and even trendy cocktails perfect for a casual viewing of James Comey's testimony before the senate intelligence committee. Now, one U.S. Representative has introduced a bill that takes the Covfefe confusion a little more seriously. [caption id="attachment_2532" align="aligncenter" width="555"]COVFEFE act One Twitter user thought POTUS's password might even be the word "Covfefe"[/caption] U.S. Representative democrat Mike Quigley of Illinois' 5th congressional district has presented the COVFEFE Act. The name of the COVFEFE act, as most good bills do, is an acronym that alludes to the bill's purpose and content. The Communications Over Various Feeds Electronically for Engagement, or COVFEFE Act seeks to add "social media" to the list of communications documented under the Presidential Records Act. The Presidential Records Act of 1978 changed the legal ownership of the official records of the President from private to public, and established a new statutory structure under which Presidents must manage their records. Directly from the National Archives:
"Specifically, the Presidential Records Act:
  • Defines and states public ownership of the records.
  • Places the responsibility for the custody and management of incumbent Presidential records with the President.
  • Allows the incumbent President to dispose of records that no longer have administrative, historical, informational, or evidentiary value, once he has obtained the views of the Archivist of the United States on the proposed disposal.
  • Requires that the President and his staff take all practical steps to file personal records separately from Presidential records.
  • Establishes a process for restriction and public access to these records. Specifically, the PRA allows for public access to Presidential records through the Freedom Of Information Act (FOIA) beginning five years after the end of the Administration, but allows the President to invoke as many as six specific restrictions to public access for up to twelve years. The PRA also establishes procedures for Congress, courts, and subsequent Administrations to obtain special access to records that remain closed to the public, following a thirty-day notice period to the former and current Presidents..
  • Requires that Vice-Presidential records are to be treated in the same way as Presidential records."
NPR writer Laurel Wamesly made the point that, while the COVFEFE act has a silly name, it addresses a very important issue. Wamesly wrote, "The PRA's framers in 1978 likely did not envision a future in which the president was making constant public statements, typos and all, immediately read and discussed worldwide." In other words, the original framers of the PRA didn't anticipate the complexity presented by Twitter and other forms of social media. Now, Quigley leads the charge of bringing the PRA up to speed. In a release about the act, Quigley said "In order to maintain public trust in government, elected officials must answer for what they do and say; this includes 140-character tweets...If the President is going to take to social media to make sudden public policy proclamations, we must ensure that these statements are documented and preserved for future reference.” Quigley wants to ensure that messages from Trump's personal Twitter account, @RealDonaldTrump, get archived in the same way as the official @POTUS account. Under the proposed law, deleting tweets, like the Covfefe tweet, would also violate the Records Act. This isn't the first time Quigley has gone after Trump's administration with a cleverly named act. The "MAR-A-LAGO Act" was proposed back in March; the "Making Access Records Available to Lead American Government Openness Act" sought to establish the requirement of the publication of White House visitor logs, something that was done regularly by the Obama administration but has since ended since President Trump took office. Since both of these acts need to pass through a Republican controlled congress, and be signed by the POTUS himself, its highly unlikely that either of them will pass.

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