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Trump Doubles Down on Muslim Ban

Confusion reigned over the weekend due to President Trump's executive order to ban people from seven majority-Muslim countries from entering the U.S.—including green-card holders from those countries, who have a legal right to enter and live in the U.S. In the face of domestic and global outrage over the ban, lawsuits were filed and protests were organized. After a string of judges ruled that, at least for the moment, the order could not be enforced, Trump insisted that it could be and would be enforced. But immigration officials were unsure of what to do.

Legality and morality aside, the order was drawn up in an extremely sloppy manner, in part due to Trump's desire to sign something—anything—quickly. He got a huge amount of blowback for banning the re-entry of green-card holders, dual nationals, and people who had already landed and were waiting in line at immigration at various airports. While these are corner cases, legislation that is carefully drawn up is usually very long precisely to deal with all the corner cases that might arise. Also, rules normally do not go into effect the instant the president's pen leaves the paper. If the order had stated that it will go into effect on, say, Feb. 1, then there would have been time for immigration officials to prepare better and prevent the chaos that happened during the weekend.

To add to the confusion, the attorneys general of 16 states, including New York and California, said they would use all their powers to fight the executive order, which they said is unconstitutional, as well as in violation of a 1965 law that stripped the president of the power to designate groups of people as inadmissible.

Democrats are nearly unanimous in their opposition to the executive order, while Republicans are beginning to fracture. Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) and Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE) said that the order goes too far. Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said that it could help ISIS recruit more terrorists. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) urged caution and noted that the U.S. needs Muslims to help fight terrorism. Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) said that the order was not thought through carefully.

The Koch brothers did not support Trump during the election and don't seem to be enthusiastic about him now either. The president of the Charles Koch Foundation, Brian Hooks criticized Trump yesterday, saying:

The travel ban is the wrong approach and will likely be counterproductive. Our country has benefited tremendously from a history of welcoming people from all cultures and backgrounds. This is a hallmark of free and open societies.

This is the first public statement from any Koch network official since Election Day. Lest Democrats think the Kochs are their new best friends, Charles Koch said that his network was planning to spend $300 million to $400 million in 2018, presumably all to elect Republicans. However, given their dislike for Trump, some of that may go to primary candidates who oppose Trump.

Meanwhile, the White House stonewalled, saying:

Saturday's ruling [from a Brooklyn judge] does not undercut the president's executive order. All stopped visas will remain stopped. All halted admissions will remain halted. All restricted travel will remain prohibited. The order remains in place.

This is dangerously close to, "We don't care what the courts rule. We're doing things our way." Kellyanne Conway defended the ban by saying that international travel disruption was a small price to pay for greater security. Sooner or later the Supreme Court is going to find this on its plate, and then it gets interesting. Will the soon-to-be-appointed justice recuse themselves from the case, possibly leading to a 4-4 tie? What will Trump do if he loses the case? We may soon find out. (V)

Cheney Opposes Muslim Ban

Nobody doubts that former vice president Dick Cheney is a dyed-in-the-wool conservative. And so, people took notice during the campaign when he slammed Donald Trump's travel ban in no uncertain terms. Appearing on Hugh Hewitt's radio show, Cheney said:

I think this whole notion that somehow we can just say no more Muslims, just ban a whole religion, goes against everything we stand for and believe in. I mean, religious freedom has been a very important part of our history and where we came from.

Cheney also described Trump's thinking as "mistaken," and suggested that it's necessary to examine why people leave their nations in the first place, if we wish to actually get a handle on terrorism. He has not walked back these comments since first delivering them, so presumably they still stand.

The remarks stand in stark contrast to those of a former vice-presidential candidate, namely Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI). Through a spokesperson, Ryan affirmed his support for the ban, and said that, "This is not a religious test and it is not a ban on people of any religion." He may be the only person who thinks that. In any case, if the GOP is going to push back against Trump, it looks like Paul Ryan won't be leading the charge. (Z)

Visitors to U.S. May Be Required to Disclose Social Media Accounts, Cell Phone Contacts

As the Trump administration attempts to flesh out a policy that was clearly implemented without much planning, word has leaked that officials are giving serious consideration to requiring foreign visitors to share their social media passwords and cell phone contact lists, at risk of being denied entry to the country.

This seems like a textbook example of security theater—measures taken to make people feel more safe without actually making them more safe. Collecting this information, and conducting even a cursory examination, would be very time-consuming. Meanwhile, as innocent people have hundreds of thousands of hours of their lives wasted collectively, any actual bad guys would surely just create fake "clean" accounts and contact lists. And that assumes that any bad guys actually attempt to enter the U.S. in this way; such a policy would have no impact on home-grown terrorists, nor on those who enter illegally by, say, sneaking across the Canadian border. One would hope that the futility of such a measure would quickly become self-evident but, given the events of the last 24 hours, that may overly optimistic. (Z)

ACLU Received $19 Million in Donations Since Saturday

The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit on Saturday on behalf of two men detained at JFK airport and threatened with deportation as a result of Donald Trump's executive order. Not only did it win the first round when federal Judge Ann Donnelly ordered that the men not be deported, but it also generated so much enthusiasm among Americans that 150,000 people joined the organization over the weekend and new donations exceeded $19 million, according to executive director Anthony Romero, who said he has never seen anything like this before. Normally, they get about $4 million in online donations per year. Undoubtedly, more lawsuits are in the pipeline. (V)

Senate Democrats Have to Make a Key Decision Very Soon

The Senate's filibuster rule is well known, but it also has many other arcane rules that the minority can use to really gum up the works. For example, there is almost nothing the Senate can do without unanimous consent, meaning that a single senator can withhold his or her consent and force the Senate to operate at a snail's pace. That means a single dissenting senator can force the Senate to waste 30 hours debating each cabinet nominee, and much more. The dissenting senator doesn't even have to be a Democrat. If Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) were to withhold consent, the Republicans couldn't even blame the Democrats, since Sanders is an independent.

With all the controversy about the cabinet appointments, executive orders, and more, the Senate Democrats really have to decide now if they are going all out for obstruction (as the Republicans did under Barack Obama) or try to co-operate with the Republicans where possible. The argument for obstructing everything is: That is what much of the Democratic base wants, and failing to use the available tools will further alienate much of the base. The argument for taking it easy and not blocking everything automatically is: On some issues there is a chance that a few Republican senators (e. g., McCain and Graham) might be willing to join them, thus depriving the Republicans of the needed 50 votes to approve nominees and pass bills. Either way, they probably have to decide soon. (V)

NSC Reorganization Flies Under the Radar

So much attention was given to Donald Trump's order banning visitors from seven majority-Muslim countries that another order he signed on Saturday got a minimal amount of attention. The document reorganizes the National Security Council, giving seats to White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus and Senior Adviser Steve Bannon, while declaring that the Secretary of Defense and Director of National Intelligence will only attend meetings "as needed."

Much of this is...unusual. Since the creation of the NSC (during George H. W. Bush's term), it has been customary to include the chief of staff, so that's not odd. But it's also been customary to include the defense secretary and DNI (or head of the CIA, prior to the creation of the DNI). Indeed, it is hard to imagine what security-related matter would not involve the armed forces or the intelligence establishment. Meanwhile, the inclusion of Bannon certainly affirms his importance to the Trump administration, and makes clear that he is essentially co-chief of staff. To have a clearly political figure on the NSC is really unprecedented. To some extent, Bannon fills the same role for Trump as Karl Rove did for George W. Bush—chief political adviser. But Bush had the good sense to explicitly ban Rove from attending NSC meetings because he wanted to keep them about national security, not about politics.

Barack Obama's National Security Adviser, Susan Rice—who presumably knows what she's talking about—was not impressed by the change. She tweeted:

This is stone cold crazy. After a week of crazy. Who needs military advice or intell to make policy on ISIL, Syria, Afghanistan, DPRK?

Rice also retweeted a user who wrote: "Trump loves and trusts the military so much he just kicked them out of the National Security Council and put a Nazi in their place."

It is not hard to see that Steve Bannon is pulling the strings here, consolidating as much power in his own hands as is possible. It's hard to imagine that the current status quo can last long, however; men like James Mattis and Michael Flynn are not going to be happy to play second banana to a person with no political experience, no military experience, and no particular expertise in national security. (Z)

Is Steve Bannon the Second Most Powerful Person in the World?

Donald Trump is surely the most powerful person in the world, but who is #2? Vice President Mike Pence? Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI)? Vladimir Putin? Maybe it is none of the above. A good case can be made for former Breitbart News CEO, white nationalist, and anti-Semite Steve Bannon. Not only did he worm himself onto the National Security Council (see above), but he appears to have a major hand in almost everything the president has done so far. Politico has a good piece today on Bannon and his influence.

Bannon has been responsible for setting Trump's "action plan" for the first weeks, including developing executive orders and the timing for each one to be signed. For example, the ban on people from seven Muslim-majority countries was his idea. He also played a key role in picking the cabinet. Bannon is also a great fan of pushing the idea that the media are dishonest and Trump's enemy.

Bannon is a self-made millionaire and Trump sees him as a peer he can respect, rather than a mere employee, like everyone else who works in the White House (except Jared Kushner, Trump's son-in-law). Trump also likes Bannon's history of being a foe of the Washington establishment, including (maybe especially) Paul Ryan. Bannon doesn't appear frequently on television, like Kellyane Conway, but prefers to work quietly behind the scenes making things actually happen his way. (V)

Trump is No Andrew Jackson

Donald Trump likes to compare himself to Andrew Jackson, a 19th-century populist. Trump even had a portrait of Jackson installed in the Oval Office. Jackson was a strong supporter of slavery and treated the Native Americans extremely harshly, but that is probably not what Trump has in mind. It is Jackson's image as a man of the people that Trump likes.

However, one a leading historian of Jackson, H.W. Brands, has written a piece saying that a comparison of the two presidents is far-fetched. To start with, Jackson really was a man of the people. His father died before he was born and his mother died when he was 14, leaving him a penniless orphan. Everything he achieved in life, he did on his own. Trump, of course, was born to an extremely wealthy father, who gave him a large loan to follow in his footsteps in the real estate business.

Jackson was a strong believer in women's honor. He killed a man in a duel for insulting his wife. He considered his mother a saint and defended the honor of his war secretary's wife, Peggy Eaton. He would have been appalled by a man who grabs women by the p***y.

Unlike Trump, Jackson had extensive government experience before being elected president. He was a circuit judge in Tennessee and helped write the Tennessee constitution. He was governor of Florida when it was a territory. He was a successful general in the War of 1812 was acclaimed as second only to George Washington as a military hero. He served in both the House and Senate.

In the 1828 election, he beat an incumbent president, John Quincy Adams 56% to 44%, yet his inaugural address was quite modest and was delivered to the largest crowd to hear an inaugural address up to that point. As president, Jackson really lived up to his reputation as a friend of the ordinary American. Whether Trump will as well remains to be seen, but his choice of cabinet members suggests otherwise. (V)

SAG Awards Turn into the Anti-Trump Show

It's awards season in Hollywood, which means that there will be a gathering of Hollywood elites nearly every weekend until the Academy Awards on February 26. Sunday, it was the Screen Actors Guild Awards which, to nobody's surprise, devolved into a consistent stream of Trump jokes and criticism.

For example, actor Ashton Kutcher welcomed, "everyone in airports that belong in my America." Actress Julia Louis-Dreyfus read a statement opposing Trump's policy, and also thanked the "million" people in the room—a clear swipe at The Donald's inauguration crowd obsession. Actor Bryan Cranston was recognized for his performance as Lyndon B. Johnson, and channeled the 36th president in his advice to Trump: "Just don't piss in the soup that all of us got to eat." Every speech had some reference to this weekend's events, whether a call for inclusiveness, an embrace of diversity, or a suggestion that people donate to the ACLU.

The upshot is that it's war between the Trump administration and Hollywood. And when the actors and producers and directors stand on the biggest stage of them all in four weeks—the Oscar telecast—all bets are off. Anyone who loves fireworks should have their television tuned to ABC, and a web browser opened to @realDonaldTrump. (Z)

He Who Lives By the Twitter...

Speaking of Twitter, Donald Trump wields that platform with great effectiveness, circumventing middlemen to take his message directly to the base. The problem is that he is not the only one to have that tool at his disposal. And while he can sometimes control government agencies' official Twitter behavior, there is little he can do about the things government employees tweet on their private time, particularly if they do so under the cloak of anonymity.

The result, then, has been the proliferation of "alternative" government accounts, purporting to be the work of federal employees. The list of accounts now numbers more than 50, among them @Rogue_NSF, @ALTUSNPS, @RogueUSEPA, @viralCDC, @RogueNOAA, @ResistanceNASA, @AltHHS, @NastyWomenofNPS, and @BadHombreNPS. Based on the content of the messages, it appears very plausible that they are authentic, albeit sometimes focused on trivialities. And even if they are not, well, Trump has spent many months attacking the notion that some sources of information are more legitimate than others. It may not be long before he's spending all his waking hours waging Twitter battles. As opposed to just half his waking hours. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Jan29 Green-Card Holders Refused Readmission to the U.S.
Jan29 Fallout from Trump's Order Is Swift
Jan29 Jews Speak Out Against Trump
Jan29 Trump Signs Three More Executive Orders
Jan29 Trump's Approval Rating is Sinking
Jan29 Trump Apparently Uses Unsecured Phone
Jan28 Trump Meets Theresa May
Jan28 Trump Issues More Executive Orders
Jan28 Trump's Approval Rating is 36%...Unless it's 55%
Jan28 How Might Mexico Respond to the Wall?
Jan28 Wall Construction 101
Jan28 McCain Will Fight Trump on Lifting Russian Sanctions
Jan28 McConnell: We Are Not Going to Change the Senate Rules
Jan28 What Are Senate Democrats Doing?
Jan27 Fight with Mexico Heats Up
Jan27 Theresa May Meets Donald Today
Jan27 Trump's Staff and Family Registered to Vote in Two States
Jan27 Dow Hits 20,000
Jan27 DeVos Might Be in Trouble
Jan27 Why Does Trump Ask His Staff to Lie?
Jan27 Is Donald Trump Just Plain Crazy?
Jan27 Mar-a-Lago Raises Prices
Jan26 Trump Signs Two Executive Orders
Jan26 Trump Is Preparing More Executive Orders
Jan26 Trump Wants to Investigate Voter Fraud
Jan26 Congressional Republicans to Trump: Get with the Program
Jan26 Trump Says He Wants to Expand Gitmo, Resume Torture
Jan26 Trump's Inaugural Speech Was Well Received
Jan26 Another Path to Trump's Tax Returns
Jan26 Gillibrand 2020?
Jan26 The Clocks Are Striking Thirteen
Jan25 Three Candidates Emerge as Top Contenders for Scalia's Seat
Jan25 Trump Doubles Down on Voter Fraud
Jan25 Trump Administration Continues to Fall into Place
Jan25 Flynn May Not Last
Jan25 Secret Service Agent Wouldn't Take a Bullet for Trump
Jan25 Opponent of Net Neutrality Named FCC Chairman
Jan25 Oil Pipelines Are Back On, Maybe
Jan25 Jerry Brown Declares War on Donald Trump
Jan24 Trump Offers Red Meat to Three Key Constituencies
Jan24 Trump's Actions So Far Are Largely Symbolic
Jan24 McCain, Graham, and Rubio Will Back Tillerson
Jan24 Pompeo is Confirmed
Jan24 CIA Reactions to Trump's Visit are Mixed
Jan24 Trump Harps on Voter Fraud Again
Jan24 Media Are Starting to Call Out Trump on His Lies
Jan24 Did Obama Keep His Promises?
Jan23 Alternative Facts Are the New Normal
Jan23 Trump Aides Find First Weekend Worrisome
Jan23 Trump Temporarily Silences Park Service