Tuesday,25 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1331, (9 - 15 February 2017)
Tuesday,25 September, 2018
Issue 1331, (9 - 15 February 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Rocky start for Trump

Amid an open confrontation between President Trump and the US judiciary, and daily street protests, analysts wonder whether an “American Spring” is in the making

Rocky start  for Trump
Rocky start for Trump

Late Monday, the US Justice Department urged a federal appeals court to reinstate US President Donald Trump’s “targeted travel ban” against nationals of seven predominantly Muslim countries. The department said that “immediate action” was “required to protect America from the global menace of terrorism”.

Last Friday, US District Judge James Robart suspended Trump’s ban, his most controversial act since taking office last month, opening a window for people from the seven affected countries to enter the country, at least temporarily.

The 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco started hearing arguments over whether to restore the ban from Justice Department lawyers and opposing attorneys for the states of Minnesota and Washington Tuesday.

In a tweet Monday night, Trump said: “The threat from radical Islamic terrorism is very real, just look at what is happening in Europe and the Middle East. Courts must act fast!”

Trump has said the entry denial measures were designed to protect the country against the threat of terrorism. He derided Robart, appointed by Republican President George W Bush, as a “so-called judge”.

In a brief filed Monday, the Justice Department said the suspension of Trump’s order was too broad and “at most” should be limited to people who were already granted entry to the country and were temporarily abroad, or to those who want to leave and return to the United States.

The administration’s brief was the last in a series of urgent pleas to the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, in San Francisco, which is now set to rule on the most ambitious and disruptive initiative of Trump’s new presidency. The ruling will almost certainly be followed by an appeal to the US Supreme Court.

The administration’s brief largely traced its earlier arguments that dismissing the ban outright would threaten national security and disregard presidential authority. But it also asked the appeals court, at a minimum, to reinstate at least part of Trump’s order — appearing to acknowledge the possibility that the government’s case might not be successful.

White House Spokesman Sean Spicer told reporters Monday that, “once we win the case, it will go right back into action.”

In a series of tweets that broadened his attack on the country’s judiciary, Trump said Americans should blame Judge Robart and the court system if anything happened.

Trump did not elaborate on what threats the country potentially faced. He added that he had told the Department of Homeland Security to “check people coming into our country VERY CAREFULLY. The courts are making the job very difficult!”

Vice President Mike Pence defended Trump Sunday, even as some Republicans encouraged the businessman-turned-politician to tone down his broadsides against the judicial branch of government.

“The president of the United States has every right to criticise the other two branches of government,” Pence said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” programme.

It is unusual for a sitting president to attack a member of the judiciary, which the US Constitution designates as a check on the power of the executive branch and Congress.

US Senator Patrick Leahy, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said Trump seems intent on precipitating a constitutional crisis.

Some Republicans also expressed discomfort with the situation.

“I think it is best not to single out judges for criticism,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said on CNN’s “State of the Union” programme. “We all get disappointed from time to time at the outcome in courts on things that we care about. But I think it is best to avoid criticising judges individually.”

Republican Senator Ben Sasse, a vocal critic of Trump, was less restrained.

“We don’t have so-called judges... we don’t have so-called presidents, we have people from three different branches of government who take an oath to uphold and defend the Constitution,” he said on the ABC News programme “This Week.”

The attorney generals for the states of Washington and Minnesota, which won the temporary stay of the ban, have asked the appeals court to refuse to reinstate it. They were backed in a court brief filed by 16 other US states.

And in an additional blow, a slew of Silicon Valley giants led by Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft and Twitter have filed a legal brief in support of the lawsuit.

The 97 companies speaking out against Trump’s travel ban said it harms recruiting and retention of talent, threatens business operations, and hampers their ability to attract investment to the United States.

The ruling by Robart could also be the precursor to months of legal challenges to Trump’s push to clamp down on immigration, including through the construction of a wall on the US-Mexican border, and complicate the confirmation battle of his US Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch.

The Senate’s top Democrat, Chuck Schumer, said Saturday that Gorsuch, a conservative federal appeals court judge from Colorado, must meet a higher bar to show his independence from the president.

Trump, who during his presidential campaign called for a temporary ban on Muslims entering the United States, has vowed to reinstate his controversial travel ban. He says the measures are needed to protect the United States from Islamist militants. Critics say they are unjustified and discriminatory.

Trump’s 27 January travel restrictions have drawn protests in the United States, provoked criticism from US allies and created chaos for thousands of people who have, in some cases, spent years seeking asylum.

Street protests have also been taking place on a nearly daily basis in several major cities, compelling several analysts to wonder whether an “American Spring” is in the making to confront Trump’s right-wing, and even racist policies such as the travel ban on the seven Muslim nations.

Chelsea Clinton, daughter of Trump’s defeated opponent Hillary Clinton, attended a protest at Battery Park in Manhattan, within sight of the Statue of Liberty, symbol of American openness to refugees and immigrants.

“We will keep standing up for a country that matches our values and ideals for all,” Clinton wrote on Twitter.

Reacting to the latest court ruling, Iraqi government spokesman Saad Al-Hadithi said: “It is a move in the right direction to solve the problems that it caused.”

In his ruling on Friday, Robart questioned the use of the 11 September 2001 attacks on the United States as a justification for the ban, saying no attacks had been carried out on US soil by individuals from the seven affected countries since then.

For Trump’s order to be constitutional, Robart said, it had to be “based in fact, as opposed to fiction”. The 9/11 attacks were carried out by hijackers from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Lebanon, whose nationals were not affected by the executive order.

In a series of tweets Saturday, Trump attacked Hobart’s opinion as ridiculous.

“What is our country coming to when a judge can halt a Homeland Security travel ban and anyone, even with bad intentions, can come into US?” he asked.

Trump told reporters at his private Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida late Saturday: “We’ll win. For the safety of the country we’ll win.”

The Justice Department’s appeal criticised Robart’s reasoning, saying the ruling violated the separation of powers and stepped on the president’s authority as commander-in-chief. It said the state of Washington lacked standing to challenge Trump’s order and denied it “favours Christians at the expense of Muslims”.

The US State Department and Department of Homeland Security said they were complying with Robart’s ruling.

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