Wake Up To Politics - January 31, 2017
Tuesday, January 31, 2017
644 Days until Election Day 2018
1,372 Days until Election Day 2020
Good morning! Reporting from WUTP world HQ (in my bedroom), I'm Gabe Fleisher: this is your wake up call.
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Trump Travel Ban Backlash, Day 5: Acting AG Fired
- The backlash is continuing to President Donald Trump's executive order temporarily ending the refugee program and banning travel into the United States from seven predominantly Muslim countries. (If you need a refresher on the executive order, read yesterday's newsletter).
- President Trump fired Acting Attorney General Sally Yates, a holdover from the Obama Administration serving until the Senate confirms Trump's nominee for the post, on Monday after Yates had refused to enforce the executive order. In a memo to Justice Department employees earlier in the day, Yates wrote of her responsibilities to "ensure that the position of the Department of Justice is not only legally defensible, but is informed by our best view of what the law is after consideration of all the facts" and "remain consistent with [the] solemn obligation to always seek justice and stand for what is right."
- "At present," she continued, "I am not convinced that the defense of the Executive Order is consistent with these responsibilities nor am I convinced that the Executive Order is lawful." Yates concluded by ordering that "as long as I am the Acting Attorney General," the Department would not defend the order in court.
- Hours later, the White House released a statement announces that President Trump had "relieved Ms. Yates of her duties" and named Dana Boente, who has served as the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia since 2013, as the new Acting Attorney General. The statement called Yates, who was appointed Deputy Attorney General by former President Obama, "weak on borders and very weak on illegal immigration" and said that she had "betrayed the Department of Justice" by refusing to enforce the executive order.
- Immediately upon being sworn in, Boente formally rescinded Yates' guidance in a statement, declaring: "I hereby...direct the men and women of the Department of Justice to do our sworn duty and to defend the lawful orders of our President." Boente also said the executive order is "both lawful on its face and properly drafted."
- Congressional Democrats widely decried Yates' firing. Senate Minority Leader Chuc Schumer (D-NY) called it a "Monday night massacre" - a reference to the famed "Saturday Night Massacre" of 1973, when President Richard Nixon's Attorney General and Deputy Attorney General resigned, refusing to follow his order to fire the special prosecutor investigating Watergate. Yates "was fired because she would not enact, pursue the executive order on the belief that it was illegal, perhaps unconstitutional," Schumer said on the Senate floor. "It was a profile in courage. It was a brave act and a right act."
- House Judiciary Committee ranking member John Conyers (D-MI) echoed Schumer, calling the firing "Nixonian in its design and execution." House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) also praised Yates in a statement, writing: "What the Trump Administration calls betrayal is an American with the courage to say that the law and the Constitution come first."
- Republican members of Congress largely remained silent, although Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) tweeted disapproval of Yates' action: "It is fitting--and sad--that the very last act of the Obama DOJ is for the acting AG to defy the newly elected POTUS," he wrote. Trump senior advisor Stephen Miller, an architect of the executive order (along with White House chief strategist Steve Bannon) added on MSNBC that "it's sad that our politics have become so politicized, that you have people refusing to enforce our laws."
- Yates was not the only one inside Trump's own government to criticize the executive order. Over 100 career State Department diplomats signed a memo on Monday to object to the travel ban; the document will then be sent to Acting Secretary of State Thomas Shannon, an Obama Administration holdover, through the Department's "Dissent Channel," a Vietnam War-era tool for diplomats to formally notify superiors of their objections to foreign policy decisions.
- According to ABC, the memo says Trump's executive order "runs counter to core American values of nondiscrimination, fair play and extending a warm welcome to foreign visitors and immigrants" and "will not achieve its aim of making our country safer." White House press secretary Sean Spicer responded to the diplomats at his Monday press briefing, saying: "These career bureaucrats have a problem with it? I think they should either get with the program or they can go."
- In addition, more than 100 former national security officials signed an open letter to President Trump opposing the order, including Clinton-era Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, Bush-era CIA director Michael Hayden, and Obama-era National Security Advisor Susan Rice.
White House Watch
- The President's Schedule President Trump will focus on cyber security for much of the day, before announcing his Supreme Court nominee tonight:
- At 8:30am, he receives his daily intelligence briefing in the Oval Office, an item that has not appeared on Trump's schedule every day (unlike in past Administrations).
- At 9am, the President will meet with representatives of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) trade group.
- At 10:30am, he will sit down with his Chief of Staff, Reince Priebus.
- President Trump will then focus on cyber security, holding lunch with former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, his leading adviser on the issue, at 12:30pm in the Presidential Dining Room.
- At 2pm, he will hold a Roosevelt Room listening session with cyber security experts, before signing an executive order in the Oval Office at 3:15pm. CNN's Jim Acosta reported Monday that the executive order will cover cyber security.
- Finally, at 8pm, the President will announce his nominee to fill the Supreme Court seat left vacant by Antonin Scalia's death last February. The pick was originally supposed to come on Thursday, potentially moved up to divert attention from opposition to Trump's executive order. The primetime scheduling of the announcement is also notable: Trump would often schedule campaign rallies in this hour to ensure maximum media coverage.
- Who Will Trump Pick? In September, during the campaign, Trump announced a list of 21 individuals who he would consider appointing to the Court in the mold of Justice Scalia. The list, crafted mainly by the Heritage Foundation and the Federalist Society, was widely praised by conservatives, assuaging their fears about who Trump would pick.
- According to numerous media outlets, three federal appeals court judges from the twenty-one now make up President Trump's short list: Tenth Circuit judge Neil Gorsuch (based in Denver), Third Circuit judge Thomas Hardiman (based in Philadelphia), and Eleventh Circuit judge William Pryor (based in Alabama).
- All three jurists were appointed to the bench by President George W. Bush; they are aged 49, 51, and 54, respectively. Gorsuch and Hardiman are seen to be the frontrunners, although Trump may look outside of the rumored trio for his final decision.
- Gorsuch is more of a Washington insider, having grown up in D.C. while his mother served as EPA Administrator under Ronald Reagan. The Denver native later clerked for two Supreme Court justices, Byron White and Anthony Kennedy, before joining a Washington law firm and then serving as Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General under George W. Bush. He holds degrees from Columbia, Harvard, and Oxford. Gorsuch is known as an originalist, like Scalia, and for a 2013 ruling siding with religious groups objecting to an Obamacare provision requiring employers' insurance plans to cover contraception.
- Hardiman, meanwhile, has a much different background: he worked as a taxi driver while attending high school and college, and was the first in his family to graduate from college (he received degrees from Notre Dame and Georgetown). Hardiman worked as a lawyer in Washington, D.C. and Pittsburgh; Bush appointed him to be a U.S. District Court judge before promoting him to the Tenth Circuit. He is known for his support of the Second Amendment, including a 2013 dissenting opinion calling for a broader interpretation of the right to bear arms. Hardiman serves on the Tenth Circuit with Maryanne Trump Barry, the President's sister, who is reportedly advocating for his selection, which could hold weight with a Chief Executive known to listen to his family.
- Pryor is the much more controversial choice: he was confirmed to his current post by a 53-45 vote, while the other two were approved unanimously. Pryor is best known for his hardline position against abortion, and for once calling Roe v. Wade, the landmark Supreme Court case on abortion, "the worst abomination in the history of the law." He is boosted by his mentor in Alabama politics, Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL), Trump's nominee for Attorney General.
- But how much does who Trump picks actually matter? Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) told Politico on Monday that Senate Democrats will attempt to filibuster whoever Trump picks, not even waiting for a nominee to be announced. Merkley pointed to Senate Republicans' refusal to even hold a hearing or vote for President Obama's nominee for the seat, which he called "stolen."
- Although only one Supreme Court nominee in history has been filibustered, it is possible if 41 Democrats join Merkley in refusing to hold debate on the nominee. White House press secretary Sean Spicer accused Democrats of playing "political games" in not waiting even until a nominee was announced. "The default used to be, if qualified, confirmed," he said. "And it is now going to be, always no. And I think that's a pretty sad message."
- The irony of a Democratic Senate refusing to consider a Republican president's Supreme Court nominee, while the GOP White House calls them obstructionist, is ironic to watchers of recent months. As chief spokesman for the Republican National Committee, Spicer was a leading voice in calling for no hearings or votes to be held on Obama's nominee; when Democrats held the Senate majority, Merkley was a loud opponent of the filibuster.
- In fact, Merkley was instrumental in the Democratic deployment of the "nuclear option," which ended filibusters for Executive Branch nominees. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is now considering the same move for Supreme Court picks.
Capitol Hill News
- Today in Congress The Senate meets at 12pm today; the chamber's only scheduled vote is on confirmation of Transportation Secretary-designate Elaine Chao, after 20 minutes of debate on the nomination. Chao, who served as Labor Secretary under George W. Bush and is married to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, is expected to be approved with bipartisan support.
- In addition, six more Trump Cabinet nominees will receive committee votes today: Ryan Zinke (Interior), Rick Perry (Justice), Jeff Sessions (Justice), Steven Mnuchin (Treasury), Tom Price (Health and Human Services), and Betsy DeVos (Education).
- Just four of the President's nominees have been confirmed so far (compared to 14 at this point in the Obama Administration, and 15 in the Bush Administration), with the White House recently increasing calls for the Senate to approve Trump's picks. "When will the democrats give us our Attorney General rest of Cabinet!" President Trump tweeted this morning. "They should be ashamed of themselves. No wonder D.C. doesn't work!" He also tweeted Monday: "The Democrats are delaying my Cabinet picks for purely political reasons. They have nothing going but to obstruct."
- However, Senate Democrats are justifying confirmation delays by pointing to nominees they see as unqualified or radical. President Trump's recent executive order was also something of a turning point for Democrats, who are now calling for questioning of Cabinet nominees on their support for the travel ban.
- Since the executive order, Senate Democrats have deployed a number of procedural tools to prolong votes on Trump's Cabinet for as long as possible. On Monday, Democrats objected to a unanimous consent request to allow committee votes on Mnuchin and Trump's choice to lead the Small Business Administration, Linda McMahon. The Mnuchin vote was moved to today; a new date for the McMahon vote has not yet been set.
- After supporting the four nominees confirmed so far, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer announced Monday that he will oppose all nominees who support the ban, which other Democrats may do. In addition, after Secretary of State-designate Rex Tillerson's nomination was advanced by a 56-43 vote on Monday (with four members of the Democratic caucus voting "yea"), Democrats used much of the post-cloture debate time to speak against the executive order. The Tillerson debate continues today.
- Meanwhile, the House will meet at 10am and vote on 19 pieces of legislation, most of them related to homeland security, counterterrorism, and/or cyber security.
- Today's Trivia Who is the only Supreme Court nominee in history to be filibustered?
- Thank you know? Email me at email@example.com with your answer; correct respondents get their name in tomorrow's newsletter!
*All Times Eastern
For more on Wake Up To Politics, listen to Gabe on NPR's "Talk of the Nation", St. Louis Public Radio, the Political Junkie podcast, and on StoryCorps; watch Gabe on MSNBC's "Up with Steve Kornacki"; and read about Gabe in Politico, the Washington Post, Independent Journal, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Salon, the Globe, and the St. Louis Jewish Light.