U.S. Politics

10 things you need to know today: March 16, 2017

AP Photo/Jon Elswick


1. Judges block Trump’s revised travel ban nationwide
A federal judge in Hawaii on Wednesday blocked President Trump’s revised temporary ban on travel to the U.S. from six predominantly Muslim countries. The judge, Derrick K. Watson of Federal District Court in Honolulu, wrote that a “reasonable, objective observer” would interpret Trump’s executive order as an attempt “to disfavor a particular religion, in spite of its stated, religiously neutral purpose.” Watson said letting the policy take effect Thursday at midnight, as scheduled, would have caused irreparable harm. Trump vowed to appeal and slammed Watson’s decision, saying his travel restrictions would give the U.S. time to improve the procedures it needs to screen visitors and keep out would-be terrorists. “This ruling makes us look weak, which by the way we no longer are, believe me,” Trump said late Wednesday at a campaign-style rally in Nashville. A second federal judge, presiding in Maryland, also issued a temporary block on the ban early Thursdaymorning.

Source: The New York Times, CNN

2. Trump budget includes broad cuts sparing only military, border security
President Trump unveiled his 2018 budget proposal Thursday, providing the clearest view yet of the policies he wants to use to deliver on his campaign promises. The plan includes a $54 billion increase in defense spending and a substantial bump for border security, while calling for deep cuts to most federal agencies, including roughly 30 percent cuts at both the Environmental Protection Agency and the State Department. Trump’s chief strategist, Stephen Bannon, has said Trump’s spending plan would aim to “dismantle the administrative state.” The president’s budget is considered a window into Trump’s thinking but it stands little chance of being enacted, as Republican congressional leaders have said major elements of the budget will be dead on arrival in Congress.

Source: The Associated Press, The New York Times

3. Fed raises interest rates for second time in 3 months
The Federal Reserve announced Wednesday that it was raising its benchmark interest rate by a quarter percentage point for the second time in three months. Fed policymakers had telegraphed the move, which lifts the rate to a range of 0.75 percent to 1 percent, by saying improving employment and inflation data showed that the economy was strong enough to justify raising rates. Some economists had expected the Fed to pick up the pace of its rate hikes, but the central bank’s leaders stuck with their forecast of two more increases this year and three in 2018. “The simple message is — the economy is doing well,” Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen said. U.S. stock futures gained early Thursday as a rally inspired by the Fed decision continued.

Source: USA Today, MarketWatch

4. House intelligence chair says no evidence exists to back Trump wiretap claim
The Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Rep. Devin Nunes (Calif.), delivered a sharp repudiation of President Trump’s claim that former President Barack Obama had his New York City skyscraper wiretapped during last year’s campaign. “We don’t have any evidence that that took place,” Nunes said. “I don’t think there was an actual tap of Trump Tower.” Attorney General Jeff Sessions said he never told Trump anything suggesting a wiretap. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) went so far as to say he would block Trump’s nomination of Rod J. Rosenstein to be deputy attorney general unless the FBI answers his questions about the matter.

Source: The New York Times

5. Dutch voters hand anti-Muslim firebrand Geert Wilders a defeat
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte declared victory over far-right anti-Muslim firebrand Geert Wilders on Wednesday in parliamentary elections that were seen as the first test of populist movements in Western Europe this year. Wednesday was “an evening where the Netherlands, after Brexit, after the American elections, said no to the wrong kind of populism,” the center-right Rutte told cheering supporters in The Hague. Wilders led opinion polls for months before tumbling in recent weeks. The vote was seen as a bellwether for upcoming elections in France and Germany, where other anti-immigrant candidates are challenging the political establishment.

Source: The Washington Post

6. Trump orders review of Obama fuel-efficiency standards
President Trump on Wednesday ordered a review of tough automobile fuel-efficiency standards imposed by the Obama administration. The decision was interpreted as a sign that Trump plans to ease fuel standards in what would be a significant victory for automakers and a bitter defeat for environmental groups and Democrats. “The assault on the American auto industry is over,” Trump told cheering union workers. He promised to “ensure that any regulations we have protect and defend your jobs, your factories.” Sen. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) said Trump’s move would hurt consumers. “President Trump’s roll-back of fuel economy emissions standards means families will end up paying more at the pump,” Markey said.

Source: Reuters

7. U.S. indicts Russian spies and hackers for Yahoo breach
Federal prosecutors on Wednesday unsealed indictments against two Russian spies and two criminal hackers in connection with a cyberattack that compromised the accounts of 500 million Yahoo users in 2014. The charges mark the first criminal hacking case the U.S. government has ever filed against Russian agents. The two Russian officials — Dmitry Dokuchaev and his superior, Igor Sushchin — are officers in Russia’s Federal Security Service, a successor of the Soviet-era KGB. The alleged hackers named in the indictment were Alexsey Belan, who is on the list of most-wanted cyber criminals, and Karim Baratov, a Kazakhstan-born Canadian citizen who was arrested in Canada.

Source: Reuters

8. U.S. weighing doubling of troops to back Syria offensive against ISIS
The U.S. is likely to send another 1,000 soldiers to support the fight to drive the Islamic State out of the Syrian city of Raqqa, the terrorist group’s de facto capital. The deployment could double the number of U.S. military personnel in Syria if it is approved by Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and President Trump. Trump accused former President Barack Obama of being too soft on ISIS and ordered the Pentagon to prepare a new plan to destroy the terrorist group. Mattis gave him an outline of his approach in late February.

Source: The Washington Post

9. 911 dispatcher in Tamir Rice case disciplined
Two years after a Cleveland police officer fatally shot 12-year-old Tamir Rice, Cleveland police are disciplining the 911 operator who handled the 2014 call for failing to tell responding officers that a caller said Rice, who was African-American, was “probably a juvenile” and his gun was “probably fake.” Dispatcher Constance Hollinger received an eight-day suspension, without pay, police Chief Calvin Williams wrote in a disciplinary letter dated March 10. Rice’s mother, Samaria Rice, said the penalty was “unacceptable,” according to family attorney Subodh Chandra. “Eight days for gross negligence resulting in the death of a 12-year-old boy,” Chandra said. “How pathetic is that?”

Source: CNN, The New York Times

10. Tillerson calls for change in approach on North Korea
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Thursday called for North Korea to halt its nuclear and missile programs, saying the isolated communist nation “need not fear” the U.S. Tillerson, speaking after meeting with Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida in Tokyo, said that it was time for a “new approach” to reining in Pyongyang’s “dangerous and unlawful” nuclear weapons program, because 20 years of efforts to denuclearize North Korea have failed. Tillerson’s trip — his first to Asia since leaving his job as Exxon Mobil CEO to become President Trump’s top diplomat — comes as tensions are high on the divided Korean Peninsula after the North’s latest missile tests, which it said were a response to U.S.-South Korea military drills it claimed were practice for an invasion.

Source: The Associated Press, Reuters

U.S. Politics

A Hawaii judge has just blocked President Trump’s revised travel ban

Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images


Shockingly, Trump is displeased.

A federal judge on Wednesday stopped President Trump’s second attempt to temporarily ban visa holders from several majority-Muslim countries — and nearly all refugees — from entering the United States, hours before it was supposed to take effect. The ruling found that the order likely violates a constitutional prohibition against religious discrimination.

It was a scathing rebuke for an order that administration officials spent weeks reworking, in hopes of avoiding the judicial blockade that the first attempt sailed into in January.

Trump immediately panned it, in a speech in Tennessee. “This is, in the opinion of many, an unprecedented judicial overreach,” he said.

The temporary restraining order came from federal judge Derrick K. Watson, of the District of Hawaii. It prevents the Trump administration from going forward with its plan to stop issuing visas to residents of Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen; to stop allowing refugees to enter the US for 120 days; and to cut the US’s total refugee quota for the current fiscal year (which ends in September) in half.

The worst news for the administration is that the ruling suggests future revisions of the ban won’t help its chances of survival. Watson declared that the travel ban is, for all intents and purposes, a Muslim ban — that its reason for being fundamentally violates the First Amendment:

A reasonable, objective observer—enlightened by the specific historical context, contemporaneous public statements, and specific sequence of events leading to its issuance—would conclude that the Executive Order was issued with a purpose to disfavor a particular religion, in spite of its stated, religiously-neutral purpose.

The refugee and visa ban was the first major policy that Trump put into effect — but at this point, it’s been tied up in court for much longer than it was actually in force. After a week of widespread airport chaos and detentions, and contradictory legal interpretations from within the federal government, the original version of the order was put on legal hold.

After a series of defeats in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals (the same circuit where Wednesday’s ruling came down), the administration took the unusual step of all but conceding defeat, and the even more unusual step of seeking input from the rest of the federal government in order to tighten the legal and policy case for the ban.

It does not appear to have worked. Unless overturned by a higher court, Watson’s ruling means the administration won’t get the chance to demonstrate a smoother rollout of the travel ban, as it was planning to do Tuesday. And it might never get the chance to put visas and refugees on hold, at all.

The ruling is the clearest indication yet that the courts will see the travel ban as a Muslim ban

The temporary restraining order, like those issued by other federal judges against the original ban (which ultimately inspired the Trump administration to give up and try again with this version), is designed to keep the status quo in place while the case against the order makes its way through the courts. It’s not a ruling that the executive order is unconstitutional.

But the text of Watson’s order makes it pretty clear that he thinks the order violates the First Amendment’s establishment clause.

This was something judges were a little more leery of during the first round of travel ban fights. The state argued that Trump’s executive order should be seen as the “Muslim ban” that candidate Trump promised on the campaign trail. The federal government has denied this at every turn — pointing out, for example, that most Muslim visa holders don’t come from the six blacklisted countries.

Judge Watson was not having it:

The notion that one can demonstrate animus toward any group of people only by targeting all of them at once is fundamentally flawed. The Court declines to relegate its Establishment Clause analysis to a purely mathematical exercise.

But the federal government can’t write the allegation of animus out of the text of an executive order. And if Judge Watson, and the other judges hearing challenges to travel ban 2.0, sides with the state of Hawaii and the other travel ban challengers, the first big policy of the Trump administration will be permanently sunk.

The federal government is likely to try to get the hold revoked by a higher court — just as it did with the original executive order. Trump’s Department of Justice refused to commit to such a step Wednesday, but Trump himself told a crowd, at a Nashville rally, that he was going to fight the case all the way to the Supreme Court if he needed to.

Trump also said that he preferred the first version of the travel ban — and called the revised version, the one that his lawyers had painstakingly worked to put together, merely a “watered-down” version of the original.

In other words, he continued to make Watson’s case — that the revised executive order, despite its efforts to make a national-security case for selecting the 6 blacklisted countries, is just a further attempt to make a Muslim ban look constitutionally passable — for him.

If Trump wants to keep fighting for the “watered-down” ban, he’s going to have to go through the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals — the very same court that kept the first travel ban on hold. On Wednesday, the Ninth Circuit announced that it had decided not to reconsider that ruling with a fuller panel of judges (at least one judge on the bench had asked for it, but the majority of judges on the circuit wanted to let the first ruling stand).

In other words, the whole Ninth Circuit, more or less, agreed that the first version of Trump’s travel ban was impermissible, just as the president himself said the second one was just an inferior version of the first.

Taken together, Watson’s order, Trump’s reaction, and the Ninth Circuit’s retrenchment aren’t a final shutdown of the visa and refugee ban. But they’re not a simple pause either.

Dara Lind