On Friday, January 27, 2017 President Donald Trump issued an executive order banning immigrants from seven predominantly Muslim countries in the Middle East: Syria, Iran, Iraq, Sudan, Libya, Somalia and Yemen. The order barred refugees from anywhere in the world for 120 days and from Syria indefinitely. It also blocked any visitors from the seven countries for 90 days, as well as green card holders from returning to the United States. Although Trump had insisted he would ban all Muslims during his campaign, this abrupt order caused shock, condemnation and large protests across the country.
By Saturday, U. S. airports were scenes of confusion and chaos as incoming passengers were detained, and crowds of protesters loudly opposed the ban. There had never been a person from any of the seven countries who took part in 9/11 or lone wolf attacks against the United States. Most of the pilots on 9/11 were from Saudi Arabia. Thousands of angry people chanted outside the White House and marched, carrying signs in the streets of other cities. Trump defended his order late on Sunday in a written statement: “To be clear, this is not a Muslim ban, as the media is falsely reporting. This is about terror and keeping our country safe.” Earlier on Sunday morning, he had posted on Twitter, “ Christians in the Middle East have been executed in large numbers. We cannot allow this horror to continue.” He did not comment on the killings of Muslims in far greater numbers in Syria, Iraq and elsewhere.
Critics on TV and in newspapers described the ban as a stain on American values and ideals. Immigration lawyers flocked to airports to help the arriving passengers who were detained. Four Congressional Democrats were stopped by police at Dulles Airport when they tried to enter Customs and Border Protection offices. Republican senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham said, “This executive order sends a signal that America does not want Muslims coming into this country. That is why we fear this executive order may do more to help terrorists than improve our security.” Thousands of protestors gathered again at the White House, chanting “Shame! “ with signs that read, :We are a nation of Immigrants!” and “No hate, no fear. Refugees are welcome here!”
On Monday, January 30, Acting Attorney General Sally Yates, Justice Department Head, challenged the president’s executive order with a statement of principle and conscience. She wrote to the department lawyers that “ The Department of Justice will not present arguments in defense of the executive order , unless I become convinced it is appropriate to do so. At present, 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.” As a long time career prosecutor with sterling credentials, Yates knew what Trump’s response would be, but she felt the magnitude of the responsibility she held in her office. She became an instant hero to political observers and historians, who compared her to Attorney General Elliot Richardson who defied President Richard Nixon by refusing to fire Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox over Nixon’s incriminating White House tapes.
Trump did take action within hours, firing Sally Yates and appointing a U.S. attorney from Virginia as acting attorney general. He declared that Yates had “betrayed” the administration, completely oblivious to the critical explanation she wrote to her lawyers. In the days that followed , over one thousand State Department diplomats, and officers in embassies across the globe signed their names on a memo, against the Muslim ban. They wrote, “This ban stands in opposition to the core American and constitutional values that we, as federal employees, took an oath to uphold.” . The memo warned that the ban would also alienate key allies in the Middle East losing access to “the intelligence and resources needed to fight the root causes of terror abroad, before attack occurs within our borders.”
Tuesday, January 31, Donald Trump deliberatively changed the subject. He nominated his choice for the vacant seat on The Supreme Court—Neil Gorsuch. The seat had been empty for almost a year since Antonin Scalia died suddenly. However, Mitch McConnell led the Republicans in the senate in blocking Barack Obama’s legitimate nomination of Merrick Garland, the distinguished chief of the Second Circuit Court of Appeals. They refused to meet him or invite him to the Judiciary Committee for the traditional hearing. They refused to hold a hearing, with a vote in the committee. Thus, the full senate never had a chance to consider Garland and vote. It is important to stress that this has NEVER happened before in our history since the country was formed. When a justice dies or retires, the president has the duty to nominate a replacement. Barack Obama was denied that important constitutional duty when the Senate Republicans did not fulfill their constitutional duties.
Neil Gorsuch, 49, a federal appeals court judge in Denver, has a record of intellectual writings and conservative opinions that reflect an originalist approach to the law similar to Scalia. Gorsuch had clerked for Justices Byron White and Anthony Kennedy after Harvard Law School. He also holds a Ph.D. from Oxford University. His brief speech after Trump’s introduction on Tuesday evening was delivered with a humble demeanor. It is expected that a tough confirmation will follow since Democrats feel this is a “stolen seat” from President Obama. When the 20 members of the Judiciary Committee meet with Judge Gorsuch, there will be televised sessions closely watched by the public. The last Supreme Court hearings were for Justices Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor, both confirmed with over the necessary 60 votes.
Since the senate is now divided with 52 Republicans and 48 Democrats, the threshold of 60 may be difficult to achieve. Democrats may decide to filibuster Gorsuch, raising objections to his nomination. This is the only nomination requiring more than a majority vote since it is a lifetime appointment and the highest Court in the Judicial Branch. If Mitch McConnell invokes what is known as the “nuclear option”, it would lower the number to the majority vote of 51. However, this would be an irrevocable decision and could come back to haunt the Republicans if the Democrats gain control of the senate in the 2018 election. Trump has urged him publically to do that and confirm Gorsuch as soon as possible. But, McConnell may resent the president interfering in the senate’s activity and powers. The next weeks will reveal the answer to whether Neil Gorsuch will become a Supreme Court Justice.
Stephen Bannon built his power during the second week of the Trump administration. As chief adviser to the president, Bannon’s office is next to the oval office. He brought his years as head of Breitbart News to Donald Trump’s campaign, and he is now moving rapidly to consolidate his influence in the White House. Bannon wrote a large part of Trump’s inaugural address with its dark vision of “carnage in America”. On Saturday, January 28, Trump signed an executive order that gave Bannon an unprecedented permanent seat on the National Security Council, sitting with the secretaries of state, defense and other top officials. No political advisor has ever been given a permanent seat. He was also appointed to the N.S.C.’s principals committee. At the same time, Trump removed the director of national intelligence and the chairman of the Joint Chief of Staffs from permanent seats on the National Security Council. They are to attend “only where issues pertaining to their responsibilities and expertise are to be discussed.”
Bannon appears to wield far more political influence than chief of staff Reince Preibus and National Security Adviser, Michael Flynn. His main rival is Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law . On Tuesday, January 31, The New York Times lead editorial was titled, “President Bannon?” They conclude their analysis: “As a candidate, Mr. Trump was immensely gratified by the applause at his rallies to Mr. Bannon’s jingoism… Yet, now….those same ideas are alienating American allies and damaging the presidency. Presidents are entitled to pick their advisers. But, Mr. Trump’s first spasms of policy making have supplied ample evidence that he needs advisers who can think strategically and weigh second and third consequences beyond the immediate domestic political effects.”
Joyce S. Anderson