Archive

February 3rd, 2017

Trump is recklessly reversing Americans' progress in Iraq

    Though he campaigned with the urgent goal of defeating the Islamic State and reasserting American greatness, President Donald Trump has embarked on a policy that could in fact lead to the loss of U.S. influence in Iraq and the worsening of the Sunni-Shiite divide there.

    Whatever happens in the short term in the fight to liberate Mosul and other parts of the country from the Islamic State, this policy could lay the groundwork for the emergence of another similar Salafist group there.

    Trump would have taken us backward, not forward, in the fight against terrorism and seriously eroded our role in a key Arab state that so many Americans gave so much to free and then to help stabilize under two presidents.

    The immediate cause of our concern is the executive order Friday that prevented the movement of most Iraqis to the United States - including some who served and sacrificed alongside U.S. forces in the war there - along with citizens of six other nations in the region. But in fact the problem is broader and deeper.

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Supreme hypocrisy

    You want bipartisanship on Supreme Court nominations? Let's have a consensual moment around Sen. Ted Cruz's idea that having only eight Supreme Court justices is just fine.

    "There is certainly long historical precedent for a Supreme Court with fewer justices," the Texas Republican said last year when GOP senators were refusing even to give a hearing to Judge Merrick Garland, President Obama's nominee.

     Cruz cited a Democratic court appointee, Justice Stephen Breyer, to give his case heft. He noted that "Justice Breyer observed that the vacancy is not impacting the ability of the court to do its job."

    If that argument was good in 2016, why isn't it valid in 2017? After all, some Republicans were willing to keep the seat vacant indefinitely if Hillary Clinton won the presidential election. "I would much rather have eight Supreme Court justices than a justice who is liberal," Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said in October.

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Republicans must save this presidency. Now.

    To begin with: This was not the Saturday Night Massacre.

    Donald Trump fired a holdover acting attorney general, who would have been gone soon anyway once Trump's nominated choice is confirmed and sworn in, because she would not support a Trump policy in court. Richard Nixon, in October 1973, ordered his own attorney general to fire a special prosecutor who was investigating the president, his White House, and campaign staff; the attorney general resigned rather than fire the prosecutor, and then Nixon fired the next-in-line, after which the third-in-line was sworn in as the new acting attorney general and carried out the president's orders.

    What Trump did was orders of magnitude less of a shocking assault on constitutional government. This was a highly unusual situation -- usually, holdovers from the previous administration don't actively undermine the new administration (in large part because there are rarely similar situations) and Trump was well within his rights to act.

    Nevertheless.

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Steve Bannon's first major play is shaping up as a full-blown fiasco

    Steve Bannon got his Time magazine cover Thursday, and the accompanying piece offers an account of his astonishingly rapid consolidation of power inside the Trump White House. As the article details, Bannon's fingerprints are all over Trump's new immigration ban, making this a test case of sorts as to what the disruptions that Bannon and President Donald Trump promised will produce in the real world.

    Bannon, Time reports, continues to relish the massive blowback unleashed by Trump's executive order -- which bans refugees and migrants from seven Muslim-majority countries -- as proof that he is doing something right. He's shaking the elites to their core (he didn't even attend the exclusive Alfalfa Club dinner!!!), which, he crows, heralds the birth of a "new political order." But, for all of Bannon's bravado, the better interpretation of what's going on is that Bannon's first major effort to translate Trumpism into policy reality is a full-blown disaster:

 

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I work to prevent radicalization of young Muslims. Attacks on us make my job harder.

    "To God we belong and to God we shall return": Muslims are encouraged in the Quran to use this mantra as their instinctive reaction at the onset of calamity.

    When I first heard about the killings of six in an attack on a Quebec mosque Sunday night, I was in utter disbelief. I could not fathom how someone could enter a mosque and shoot at people engaged in prayer, bowing and prostrating themselves before God. Was nothing sacred anymore?

    Clarity set in as I reflected about the importance of this mantra. We are asked to remember God at the onslaught of calamity so that we react with a divinely infused response, as opposed to our raw human emotion. Our Muslim faith requires us to believe that God is ultimately in control and that there is a divine hand in even the most senseless and barbaric of tragedies. My role as an imam is to now inspire this conviction to all that are willing to listen -- even in the wake of an attack like this.

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Remember Merrick Garland

    "What I would expect from our Democratic friends is that the nominee be handled similarly to Clinton's and Obama's first two nominees in their first terms," Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters on Jan. 31. "They were given up-or-down votes."

    Is he kidding? How dumb does he think we are? Yes, we remember Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan. But we also remember Merrick Garland.

    Named by President Obama to the Supreme Court one year ago to fill the vacancy left by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, the universally respected Garland did not get an up-or-down vote. Nor did he get the opportunity to make his case before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Several Republican senators did not even extend him the courtesy of a handshake or meeting.

    With Garland, Republicans argued there was no need to exercise their constitutional "advise and consent" responsibility because the court was functioning just fine with only eight members. And, besides, they said, totally rewriting the Constitution, the people, not the president, should decide who makes the Supreme Court appointment.

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Trump's immigration ban is a policy disaster

    The Trump administration's first attempt at implementing complex policy via executive order has been blowing up on them since it was signed on Friday. As Benjamin Wittes put it at Lawfare, the immigration ban targeting seven Muslim-dominated countries was "malevolence tempered by incompetence," and it was met by massive protests, several legal setbacks, denunciation by most major religious movements (yes, including evangelicals), practically unanimous condemnation by Democrats along with a fair number of Republicans (including members of Congress), and a partial (so far) retreat by the administration.

    So why is the new administration botching things so badly?

    I've seen a strategic explanation, and I've seen a personality-based explanation for why this appears to be a gang that can't shoot straight. I'll supply a structural one: Perhaps it's because they're trying to do policy from the White House, and that's usually a recipe for disaster.

    Wittes explains that this is apparently a White House operation in full:

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President Trump is handing Democrats a gift on drug prices

    President Donald Trump said he wasn't like other politicians. He wouldn't sell voters out to lobbyists in Washington. He would "drain the swamp." One piece of evidence for this argument was his promise to break with GOP orthodoxy and support the government -- especially Medicare -- negotiating drug prices directly with the pharmaceutical industry, saving billions. In typical Trump fashion, he overestimated those savings, but the stand against the industry was nevertheless an important symbol, particularly to older voters.

    Less than two weeks in, Trump is already waffling on that stand. His softening -- and what it portends -- is an opportunity that opponents cannot afford to pass up.

    It turns out that it took only one visit from the pharmaceutical industry to get Trump singing a different tune. As recently as three weeks ago, Trump said drug companies were "getting away with murder." He added, "We're the largest buyer of drugs in the world, and yet we don't bid properly." On Tuesday, though, meeting with the bosses of some of the world's largest drug companies, he shifted the blame elsewhere:

 

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Trump's travel ban is an attack on religious liberty

    President Donald Trump's executive order barring the U.S. entry of refugees from seven majority-Muslim countries -- while prioritizing refugees who are religious minorities, namely Christians -- is a shameful display of discrimination against people who are by legal definition innocent and in danger of their lives. It also violates the constitutional value of equal religious liberty.

    Whether the constitutional violation could be used by a court to strike down the order is a more difficult question. Classically, the courts haven't interpreted the Constitution to protect the rights of noncitizens living outside the U.S. To get into court to challenge the order, its opponents will need to argue that it violates the rights of people physically in the U.S. That will take some ingenuity, but it's a hurdle that could be overcome. The trick will be to claim that visa holders from the seven countries who are lawfully in the U.S. -- for example, people on student visas -- can sue because the order blocks them from leaving and returning as they would otherwise be able to do.

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We cannot possibly confirm Judge Gorsuch before the election

    Look, Judge Neil Gorsuch seems like a lovely person. I would gladly let him be the spokesman for my travel website. He possesses a sharp jurist's mind (framing the sentence that way sounds as if he has it in a jar somewhere, but I do not mean that he has it in a jar), and those who know him seem to like him. He has a groovy last name that I am stunned does not appear anywhere in the Harry Potter series as the name of a winged creature that lives in a cave. He says that a judge who likes every outcome he reaches is not a good judge, and if he is willing to subject himself to the constant misery of making decisions he does not like, I will not stand in his way.

    But how can we in good conscience allow the appointment of a new justice to the nation's highest court when we have not yet had the results of a democratic election?

    "I believe that awaiting the result of a democratic election, rather than having a nomination fight in this partisan election-year environment, will give the nominee more legitimacy and better preserve the Court's credibility as an institution," said Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, once, and I agree with him.

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