Trump sets himself up to win whatever the courts decide on travel order
Hundreds of thousands of people listened to government lawyers defend President Donald Trump’s executive order on immigration in court—but that didn’t stop the president from restating the argument himself on live television Wednesday.
Trump’s position—that his executive power to make national security decisions should supersede the judiciary—is as much about politics as the law itself. With the White House bracing for a setback from the San Francisco-based Ninth Circuit court, the president cast his policy blocking refugees and visa-holders from seven Muslim-majority nations as a common-sense move thwarted by the establishment.
“That was a preemptive strike, what Trump said today,” said a source who speaks with the president frequently. “He’s already playing the usual cards, saying ‘The system is rigged’ and accusing liberals of regulating from the bench.”
Trump used a speech to a law enforcement conference in Washington morning as a platform for making his most direct public pitch for the immigration order since he signed it on Jan. 27.
“It was done for the security of our nation, the security of our citizens,” he said. “So that people come in who aren’t going to do us harm. And that’s why it was done. And it couldn’t have been written any more precisely. It’s not like ‘Oh gee, we wish it were written better.’ It’s written beautifully.”
The political equation is simple: nearly nine in 10 Republicans support Trump on the travel ban, while 90 percent of Democrats oppose him, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released this week. Whatever the outcome of the legal case, Trump will use it to galvanize supporters in opposition to the news media but and the country’s judicial system.
“He can’t lose on this politically,” said one senior White House adviser.
The president has been blunt about preemptively shifting the blame for any future terrorist attacks, suggesting in recent days that the judiciary was complicit in continuing to let potentially dangerous people into the country. The White House also put out a lengthy list of violent episodes it described as terrorist attacks and wrongly said the media had failed to cover.
Trump did take care to tone down the more incendiary language of his initial response to the ruling halting the implementation of the order nationwide. The president initially tweeted about the decision of the “so-called judge” last weekend.
Rather than asserting a belief Wednesday in the executive branch’s constitutionally granted authority to make decisions impacting national security, Trump simply urged the courts to what he wants them to do because, he said, it’s “right.”
“I don’t ever want to call a court biased, so I won’t call it biased,” Trump said. “But courts seem to be so political, and it would be so great for our justice system if they would be able to read a statement and do what’s right.”
Trump’s harsh criticism of the judiciary, the independence of which is a pillar of American democracy, could complicate the upcoming confirmation battle over his Supreme Court nominee, Neil Gorsuch.
Democrats have seized on the comments in an effort to re-frame the confirmation fight around Trump’s apparent view that the nation’s courts should be subservient to him. Gorsuch, who likely needs to win over eight Senate Democrats to be confirmed, acknowledged that Trump’s comments are “disheartening” and “demoralizing” during meetings with Democratic lawmakers on Capitol Hill Wednesday afternoon.
At the daily White House briefing Wednesday afternoon, press secretary Sean Spicer attempted to frame the issue as a matter of executive power. “I guess at some point, if you don’t look at that statute and say that the president has the power that Congress and the president have deemed necessary to keep this country safe, you’ve got to wonder how far you’re going to allow that to get eroded,” Spicer said.
But even Republicans in Congress, who weren’t given any heads up about the order itself, have acknowledged that the rollout has been a mess. When it went into effect 11 days ago, the order sparked confusion at major airports across the country, as well as spontaneous protests.
Trump has lashed out at the protesters, dismissing them as paid political activists.
Although the legal fight may continue all the way to the Supreme Court, Trump is presenting his own impatience as a matter of national security, not personal pride.
“Believe me; I’ve learned a lot in the last two weeks, and terrorism is a far greater threat than the people of our country understand,” Trump said. “But we’re going to take care of it. We’re going to win.”