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Tuesday, February 07, 2017


The president apprentice

by Tom Sullivan

President Donald Trump regularly poses for publicity shots of him signing executive orders with members of his team in tableau behind him. He's promoting a kind of Oval Office reality show for which he's assembled a cast of colorful misfits. Trump's a little slow on the uptake, but reality itself is slowly sinking in.

The presidency isn't the job Donald Trump thought it was.

Trump isn't The Boss. He isn't the owner. He is not CEO of USA, Inc. Not of Congress. Not of the courts. He is in charge of executive branch agencies, but even then, under law many simply will not bow to his whim or comply with illegal orders.

He is a public employee. HE reports to U.S. That is not at all Trump's idea of winning.

So the run-in with the courts over his immigration executive order must be killing his buzz. When over the weekend Trump unleashed a barrage of tweets aimed at U.S. District Judge James Robart for halting portions of Trump's travel ban, it became clear what I've said repeatedly: Republicans don't want to govern, they want to rule.

Some of the more seasoned of Trump's colleagues understand how (at least in theory) things really work. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) told CNN's “State of the Union” Sunday, it is “best to avoid criticizing judges individually.” Vice President Mike Pence defended Trump's speaking his mind, but conceded the judge "certainly does" have the authority to stay Trump's order.

The Tweeter-in-Chief thinks otherwise. As does Mike Huckabee, who rejects that checks and balances apply to Republican presidents.

Dahlia Lithwick and Mark Joseph Stern write at Slate:

But Huckabee doesn’t see it that way—and neither, it seems, does Donald Trump or Trump’s Justice Department. The government’s brief urging the 9th Circuit to lift Robart’s injunction questions whether the judiciary should have the power to review Trump’s order at all. Robart’s injunction, the brief states, “harms the public by thwarting enforcement of an Executive Order issued by the nation’s elected representative … and second-guesses the President’s national security judgment.” Later, the brief reiterates that “judicial second-guessing of the President’s national security determination in itself imposes substantial harm on the federal government and the nation at large.”

These passages are both puzzling and unnerving. It is literally the judiciary’s job to “second-guess” the government. That’s called judicial review—or, in terms even Huckabee’s ninth-grade civics class would understand, checks and balances. The argument that judicial review itself “imposes substantial harm” on the government and the nation is downright bizarre. It would seem to undermine the bedrock of Marbury, creating a new, diminished constitutional role for courts: Scrutinize the legality of government decisions, except when the government says you shouldn’t. (It’s worth noting that the Supreme Court has already considered and rejected government efforts to limit the court’s ability to hear constitutional claims in the realm of national security.)
The only checks Trump recognizes are those he can cash; the only balances he cares about are the ones he won't disclose from his portfolio. He expected to rule. The president-apprentice is just finding out that's not how this works.

Welcome to the party, pal.