Sunday, April 30, 2017

Sunday Week in Review, Loser Edition

What else did Donald Trump do this week?

He went up against Mexico, the City of San Francisco and Santa Clara County, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), a government watchdog group, the health care lobby, the Republican leadership in the House, and his own wife--and lost.

Mexico. On Tuesday, the World Trade Organization ruled against the United States in a dispute with Mexico over tuna fishing practices, permitting Mexico to implement $163 million in sanctions. The dispute predates Trump's administration, but the ruling came during the same week in which he provoked a trade dispute with Canada over timber and milk. With his eyes on the ticking 100-day clock he sometimes claims not to care about, Trump also threatened to abruptly withdraw the United States from the North American Free Trade Agreement, a move that even generally anti-NAFTA Republicans like Sen. John McCain said would be "a disgrace and a disaster." 

San Francisco and Santa Clara County. Trump lost the first battle in his attempt to deny Congressionally-appropriated federal funds to so-called "sanctuary cities" on Tuesday when a federal judge issued a preliminary injunction against his executive orders on the matter. The ruling found the Trump administration's interpretation of its own order "not legally plausible" and that the plaintiffs were likely to succeed on the merits of their constitutional claims.

Trump reacted in his usual fashion, blaming the court system in general and the judge in question in particular. Trump's administration has openly questioned why courts should have any power over him in the first place, but this week he suggested that the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals was the real problem. In an angry series of tweets, Trump pointed out that 80% of the Ninth Circuit's decisions are overturned by the Supreme Court, and accused the plaintiffs of "judge shopping"--that is, filing in a venue where they thought they would get a favorable result.

In his anger over the decision, though, Trump left out a few details. First, the decision was not made by any appeals court, but by a federal judge in the Ninth Circuit's jurisdiction. Second, all federal appeals courts have a high proportion of their decisions overturned by the Supreme Court because the Supreme Court only takes cases it is likely to overturn. Finally, it's not clear why the city of San Francisco would file a motion in a federal district other than the one that includes California. If they had filed it in Nashville (6th Circuit, 87% overturn rate) or Atlanta (11th Circuit, 85% overturn rate), Trump might have had a point about venue shopping.

Later in the week, Trump fantasized out loud about "breaking up" the Ninth Circuit.

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse. In an apparent violation of the Hatch Act, which prohibits federal officials from campaigning while acting in their official capacity, Trump's EPA director accepted an invitation to fundraise for the Oklahoma Republican Party. The advertisement for the event conveyed the impression that donors would be given "access to a federal employee discussing official actions already taken, and to be taken in the future," in the words of Whitehouse's request to the Office of Special Counsel for an investigation. The EPA immediately called the appearance an "error" and Pruitt withdrew.

Common Cause. For several weeks, the State Department had been promoting Mar-a-Lago, the private Florida club owned by Trump,  on various websites. The club doubled its membership fees when Trump was elected, and has enjoyed a steady stream of publicity from Trump's frequent visits there (which occasionally feature exciting interactive dinner theater).

Trump has always maintained that conflict of interest laws do not apply to him, which was part of his justification for refusing to sell assets like Mar-a-Lago and placing proceeds in a blind trust. The State Department is subject to laws about abuse of office for private gain, however, and took down the pages in the face of an ethics complaint from the government watchdog group Common Cause.

AMA, AHA, and AARP. One of the many reasons for the defeat of the AHCA (or "Trumpcare") in March was the scathing reviews the bill got from health care professional groups like the American Medical Association, the American Hospital Association, and the Association of American Retired Persons.

The AMA remains strongly opposed to the latest version of the bill. However, the AHA and AARP revised their stances, saying the new bill was worse. Once again presented with a sudden deadline by the White House, Congressional Republicans once again refused to hold a vote.

Melania Trump (pending). The Trump administration made oral arguments before the Supreme Court this week, claiming that it had the power to order deportations for any noncitizen whose otherwise valid immigration paperwork contained trivial errors or misstatements. As the conservative Chief Justice John Roberts noted, Trump's position as stated means that even naturalized citizens could be deported and stripped of citizenship for failing to disclose that they had ever broken the speed limit in the United States--even if they weren't caught.

Melania Trump is a naturalized citizen of the United States. It is not known whether she has ever broken any traffic laws, but Slate pointed out that--like most noncitizens in the modeling industry--she has worked illegally in the United States.

The White House has not yet indicated whether Melania Trump's status as First Lady will be enough to save her from losing her citizenship and being deported to Slovenia.

Why should I care about these things?

  • Presidents who want to save American jobs generally try to avoid trade wars.
  • Claiming that there are no restraints on executive power and punishing officials who disagree is what authoritarians do.
  • Presidents are responsible for the ethical behavior of the people they appoint.
  • The State Department has more pressing problems than shilling for a private club.
  • Immigration policies that would literally result in the president's own wife being stripped of citizenship and deported are maybe just a touch too harsh or stupid.