THE MORNING PLUM:
Two of the biggest news stories of the moment — the court’s remarkable rebuke to President Trump’s immigration ban on Thursday night, and the continuing controversy over Kellyanne Conway’s staging of a White House commercial for Ivanka Trump’s clothing line — together suggest that something with potentially lasting significance may be happening right now.
It’s this: The outlines of a meaningful blueprint for resisting Trump are now taking shape.
This applies both to the battle against Trump’s authoritarian impulses and serial shredding of our democratic norms, and to the battle against the various ways in which Trump will work with Republicans to advance a more conventional GOP agenda. This blueprint has five crucial components:
1) Have (guarded) faith in our system. The battle over Trump’s immigration ban is not over — the question of whether it will remain on hold goes to the Supreme Court, and the underlying legal dispute still must be resolved. But Thursday’s unanimous decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit — which kept the hold in place for now — is significant. Crucially, the decision affirmed the role of the courts in “reviewing the constitutionality of actions taken by the executive to promote national security … even in times of conflict.”
Whatever the legal significance of that declaration in this case, as a statement of principle this may loom large later, given what we might expect Trump to try to do on national security grounds, particularly in a “time of conflict.”
It’s also significant that this first setback emerged from a challenge originally brought by states. Jay Inslee, the governor of Washington state, the lead challenger, has argued that this is template for further resistance by states, in the courts and out, that could make a difference in other areas where Trump may unleash regressive and destructive onslaughts, such as Obamacare, climate change and other aspects of his promised immigration crackdown.
2) Keep pressuring Republicans to exercise real oversight on Trump. The fact that House Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) agreed to rebuke Kellyanne Conway for her on-air commercial for Ivanka’s clothing line is an indication that congressional Republicans cannot ignore any and all of the Trump White House’s ethical transgressions forever.
Chaffetz faced angry crowds at a town hall meeting last night, and there was one particular exchange that went viral. A schoolteacher stood up and demanded to know: “Where is your line in the sand?” Chaffetz tried arguing that Trump is legally exempt from conflicts of interest, which is just misdirection, but if more conflicts and corruption emerge, this posture may not be sustainable forever. Democrats are largely powerless in Washington, but one thing they can do is keep pressuring Republicans to hold Trump accountable — they can keep asking that schoolteacher’s question. People are very politically engaged right now, and they will be watching the GOP Congress closely.
3) Fight hard in the Senate with all available procedural weapons. Congressional scholar Sarah Binder has a good piece Friday that details all the procedural tools that Senate Democrats can use to “focus attention on controversial parts of the president’s agenda and force Republicans to cast potentially unpopular votes.” They can also “offer unrelated amendments to bills under debate, affording Democrats the chance to create discord among Republicans and between Republican senators and the White House.”
Democrats will lose a lot of legislative battles, but they have all kinds of means at their disposal to try to throw the actual GOP agenda into sharper relief in the eyes of the public.
4) Keep looking to civil society and try to fortify it where possible. The Atlantic’s Jonathan Rauch has a nice piece arguing that if Trump does continue shredding basic democratic and governing norms, civil society — a loosely knit coalition of legal and political groups, given ammunition by intense scrutiny from watchdogs and media outlets, and backed up by meaningful, sustained public mobilization — can have a real illuminating and constraining impact. As Brian Beutler notes, the early indications are actually somewhat positive: “Our democratic and civil society institutions, however flawed and weakened, are still working.”
Of course, maintaining civil society also requires work on our part: We need to do more to make our case for the virtues of liberal democratic governance, and the need to respect the rules and norms that enable it to function, than we have. But that’s a good challenge to grapple with — perhaps, over the long haul, it will prove reinvigorating.
5) Keep Trump distracted and off balance, to minimize the damage he can do. It is often argued that Trump throws out chum about trivial matters to distract the press from covering more damaging stories. But I’m going to suggest an alternate possibility: Trump’s cause is also harmed by trivial, petty and burlesque distractions.
Trump stews endlessly about perceived slights, humiliations and losses, leading him to lash out wildly in all directions. And there is clear evidence that his impulsiveness can work against him. The White House’s initial volley of insane attacks on the press — over its accurate reporting on his inaugural crowd size — showed how Trump’s hallucinatory obsessiveness can end up steeling the media to hold him more accountable, not less. Trump’s own tweets lashing out at the judiciary — as well as the reckless internal processes that seem to have taken hold at the White House, which ultimately reflect his own distracted state — may now be undermining his demand that the judiciary show him near-absolute deference on national security matters.
While we should obviously hope that Trump retains as much emotional balance as possible in making difficult decisions, particularly amid crises, we can also hope that he remains distracted enough by the loud noises in his head to undermine his own worst designs.
The situation is in many ways quite bleak, and Trump and Republicans are going to win a lot of battles. Merely limiting the damage may be the most we can hope for. But a blueprint for meaningful resistance is emerging.
* MICHAEL FLYNN, UNDER FIRE: The Post scoops that despite public denials, Trump’s national security adviser, Michael Flynn, discussed sanctions against Russia with that country’s ambassador to the United States, before Trump took office:
Flynn’s communications with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak were interpreted by some senior U.S. officials as an inappropriate and potentially illegal signal to the Kremlin that it could expect a reprieve from sanctions that were being imposed by the Obama administration in late December to punish Russia for its alleged interference in the 2016 election.
The Post account relies on nine officials with knowledge of the situation, and adds that “the FBI is continuing to examine Flynn’s communications with Kislyak,” so this story will continue.
* PRICE IS CONFIRMED, GIVING NEW PUSH TO REPEAL: Early Friday morning, the Senate confirmed Tom Price as health and human services secretary, and Politico comments:
The bitter opposition to Price’s nomination … served as a preview of the fight to come over the future of American health care. And Price could well start that fight immediately by using his authority as secretary to roll back or not enforce select pieces of Obamacare — the mandated benefit package, perhaps, or the hot-button birth control coverage rules.
While repeal has run into trouble, make no mistake: The undermining and repeal of large chunks of the law is still moving forward, and what happens after that remains a mystery.
* REPUBLICANS WANT PRICE TO HELP WITH TRUMP: The Washington Examiner’s David Drucker explains why Republicans think the Price confirmation will help with repeal’s momentum:
Republicans are counting on Price to clarify Trump’s bottom line position, freeing them to pursue Obamacare replacement legislation that doesn’t risk rejection by the White House. … The possibility the White House won’t go along with them has been a major source of anxiety for Republicans.
Good luck getting Trump to clarify what he wants in the replacement! Trump doesn’t want to be the guy who kicks millions off coverage, but Republicans won’t support anything that doesn’t do that.
* THE BIG COURT FIGHT IS STILL TO COME: Legal observer Benjamin Wittes has a good piece explaining that, while Thursday’s court decision was probably right to keep a hold on Trump’s travel ban, the bigger underlying dispute still lies ahead:
Eventually, the court has to confront the clash between a broad delegation of power to the President — a delegation which gives him a lot of authority to do a lot of not-nice stuff to refugees and visa holders — in a context in which judges normally defer to the president, and the incompetent malevolence with which this order was promulgated.
It would be a fitting end to this saga if the “incompetent malevolence” driving the ban — its hasty rollout for transparent political reasons; its obvious discriminatory intent — helped sink it.
* TRUMP’S EXECUTIVE ORDERS ARE MOSTLY P.R.: Charlie Savage looks at Trump’s latest executive orders on crime fighting and concludes there isn’t much new in them in terms of substantive policy. They seem to reiterate support for existing approaches. Per one expert:
“It sounds like he is attempting to make it appear as if he is pushing forward policy positions that he wants to take some credit for. He wants to be in the papers for having endorsed things he is generally in favor of, even though there’s nothing really new.”
This barrage of executive orders, including the most substantive one (the ban), is largely about portraying Trump as a “man of action,” as Kellyanne Conway put it.
* THE COMING TRUMP POWER GRAB: Paul Krugman speculates that Trump’s attacks on the judiciary foreshadow a major effort to seize and consolidate power in the wake of a terrorist attack or other crisis, and asks if there is anything that can stop it:
Don’t talk about institutions, and the checks and balances they create. Institutions are only as good as the people who serve them. Authoritarianism, American-style, can be averted only if people have the courage to stand against it … in the end, I fear, it’s going to rest on the people — on whether enough Americans are willing to take a public stand. We can’t handle another post-9/11-style suspension of doubt about the man in charge; if that happens, America as we know it will soon be gone.