UC Berkeley students create news app in response to Trump’s federal funding threat

Ethan Epstein/Senior Staff

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After President Donald Trump took to Twitter on Thursday morning to threaten a federal funding cut for UC Berkeley, campus sophomore Akshat Bhat was inspired to begin building a phone application during lecture.

When class ended, Bhat met up with a longtime friend and roommate, campus junior Rohan Pai, and together, they created a nonpartisan app. The app — called Presidential Actions — pulls primary source documents such as executive orders and presidential memorandums directly from the White House website and onto the app user’s newsfeed. Trump’s threat came after a violent demonstration that resulted in the cancellation of Milo Yiannopoulos’ campus event and the widespread destruction of campus and city property.

“I think having this information accessible next to Snapchat on your phone will make people put that in the limelight of their lives and say … ‘What are these executive orders? Is power overstepping? Is it not overstepping? What do I think about this?’ ” Pai said. “So people can make better decisions.”

According to Jesse Choper, campus professor emeritus of public law, only Congress has the constitutional authority to allocate funds.

“(Trump) has to find statutory authorization and perhaps a regulation that’s pursuant to the statue to give him this power,” Choper said.

Choper added that although he doubts that such a cut will happen, it is technically possible for Trump to eliminate funds if he carries out a series of bureaucratic actions, including receiving congressional authorization and taking the matter up with the Department of Education. If attempted, however, the cut would be a gradual process, Choper said.

David Craig, treasurer for the Berkeley College Republicans, declined to comment on Trump’s threat.

Bhat and Pai noted that Presidential Actions was live on the App Store within a day, despite the Apple review process usually being much longer.

“We hope (the app) plays a major role in educating other students and everyone around the world who downloads it,” Bhat said. “I think a big thing as well is for people to be educated and to come up with their own opinions by reading the facts.”

Bhat and Pai finished designing an Android version of their app Monday. They are currently entertaining ideas of adding summaries to the White House documents as well as integrating news sources that represent different political perspectives.

Presidential Actions has received national and global attention. Bhat and Pai were thrust into the public eye after being covered by news outlets such as the Washington Post and the San Francisco Chronicle, and receiving feature recommendations from a constitutional conservative, a product manager from Facebook and a representative from Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign since the app’s launch. One woman from Spain even asked for a Spanish version of the app, according to Pai.

Pai said the app has already been downloaded thousands of times.

“It’s done an incredible job so far,” Bhat said. “Recently, we actually eclipsed Breitbart on the App Store in terms of (free news app rankings).”

Fionce Siow covers student life. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @fioncesiow.