President Trump’s May 31st tweet “Despite the constant negative press covfefe” generated headlines as the nation speculated on what exactly the tweet meant. Now in June it’s prompted a congressional bill that could prevent Trump from deleting social media postings.
Although many believe Trump meant to type “coverage,” the tweet became perhaps the most talked-about news story of the day by prompting rounds of speculation about what Trump actually meant. (Even if he had typed “coverage,” the tweet still would have been incomplete.) Trump himself refused to answer, teasing those people obsessed with the story by tweeting later that day “Who can figure out the true meaning of ‘covfefe’ ??? Enjoy!”
Yet amid all the jokes, there was actually a legitimate issue of public policy concern. Trump deleted the original tweet a few hours after its posting, despite a National Archives and Records Administration advisory opinion from April that Trump’s presidential social media postings should be preserved for the historical record. But that advisory opinion doesn’t have the force of law.
And while the two official governmental Twitter accounts of @POTUS[President of the United States] and @WhiteHouse are both subject to National Archives records since their creations during the Obama Administration, the “covfefe” tweet came from Trump’s personal account @RealDonaldTrump, created in March 2009 years before he even ran for office. As president, Trump has preferred to use that account for communications with its 32.2 million followers more so than the two governmental accounts with their far fewer followers.
What the bill does
Rep. Mike Quigley (D-IL5) introduced the COVFEFE Act, H.R. 2884, to permanently archive all of a president’s social media posts, including tweets from any personal non-governmental accounts used during their term(s) of office. It would add the phrase “any personal and official social media account” to the Presidential Records Act of 1978.
With the full name of the Communications Over Various Feeds Electronically for Engagement (COVFEFE) Act, the bill is attracting attention for its acronym but actually addresses a legitimate issue.
White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer recently claimed that Trump’s tweets from his personal account should be treated as “official communications.” Rep. Quigley believes Trump’s personal account thus shouldn’t be exempted from archived records, especially because it’s used personally by President Trump more often.
What supporters say
Supporters argue the bill closes a loophole in the existing Presidential Records Act of 1978, which needs an updated provision for the digital age to account for personal Twitter accounts created before a presidency begins. (Twitter was created in 2006 during the George W. Bush presidency but only became truly popular during the Obama presidency.)
“In order to maintain public trust in government, elected officials must answer for what they do and say; this includes 140-character tweets,” House lead sponsor Quigley said in a press release. “President Trump’s frequent, unfiltered use of his personal Twitter account as a means of official communication is unprecedented. 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.”
What opponents say
Opponents argue the bill is nothing more than a Democratic-led attempt to embarrass President Trump.
They also point out that there’s no way that any social media post from a sitting president, whether Trump or otherwise, would ever realistically be “lost” given screenshotting technology and the high volume of public attention. Trump’s “covfefe” tweet, for example, can still easily be found through screenshots, despite the original post being deleted from Twitter. ProPublica maintains an active list of deleted Trump tweets, which includes more a dozen since he became president.
Odds of passage
The bill has attracted 10 House cosponsors, all Democrats. It has not yet received a vote in the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.
Democratic-introduced bills inspired by President Trump featuring corresponding acronyms — of which GovTrack Insider has covered several including the MAR-A-LAGO Act and the DRAIN the SWAMP Act — are unlikely to receive a vote in this Republican-controlled Congress.