Trump tests limits as Cabinet members fan out to key states

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This photo taken Sept. 30, 2020, shows U.S. Environmental Protection Agency chief Andrew Wheeler during an appearance in Traverse City, Mich., where he announced an environmental justice grant for Detroit and pledged a more community-oriented focus in a second Trump administration. (AP Photo/John Flesher)

WASHINGTON – Education Secretary Betsy DeVos planned a “Moms for Trump” rally in her home state of Michigan. The Department of Homeland Security's top official was in Texas to celebrate completion of a section of the U.S.-Mexico border wall. The chief of the Environmental Protection Agency headed to North Carolina after visiting Georgia the day before.

That was just Thursday.

Members of President Donald Trump’s Cabinet are logging extra miles as mostly unofficial campaign surrogates in crucial states in the final days before Tuesday's election, blending politics and policy in ways that critics say skirt established norms and may even violate the law.

It's long been one of the benefits of incumbency that a president can enlist his Cabinet to promote administration accomplishments. But only to a point, with a law on the books since 1939 requiring a division between political and official activities for all federal employees except the president and vice president.

“The Trump administration has completely obliterated that line," said Austin Evers, executive director of American Oversight, which describes itself as a nonpartisan watchdog organization. "The White House is now the seat of government, where the president lives, and one of his chief campaign props. And that erosion of norms has spread throughout the entire administration.”

This criticism isn't new, but it's intensified in recent months. The administration, which came under fire for using the White House as a backdrop for the president’s acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention, insists it is adhering to the law known as the Hatch Act.

“The Trump administration takes the Hatch Act seriously and all events are conducted in compliance with the law,” White House spokesman Judd Deere said.

But already, at least one member of the administration has run afoul of the decades-old law in recent weeks.