Norms Watch: Democracy, the Trump Administration, and Reactions to It (Sept. 2 – Sept. 8)

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IMMIGRATION 

Trump ends the DACA program, garnering immediate rebukes from Democrats, some Republicans, and business and educational leaders. Several state governments sue the administration over ending DACA. DACA recipients are concerned ICE could use application data to find and deport them. And a White House document suggests they self-deport before DACA ends.

Trump Ends DACA Program
Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced Tuesday that the Trump administration would be ending the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which provided protection from deportation for 800,000 undocumented immigrants, over the next six months. In a separate statement, President Trump blamed Obama for not passing immigration reform and called on Congress to act on immigration: “I am not going to just cut DACA off, but rather provide a window of opportunity for Congress…It is now time for Congress to act!”

Almost immediately, most Democrats and some Republicans, as well as business, educational, and religious leaders condemned Trump’s decision. Former Presidents Obama and Clinton and Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) among others released statements opposing the move, while protests broke out in front of the White House and Justice Department.

Though it was not clear how the DACA drawdown would be implemented, ABC News reports that the first step is that as of September 5, the government has stopped accepting new applicants. Current recipients with permits set to expire between September 5 and March 5, 2018 will be eligible to apply for two-year renewals. “People will be absolutely in terror from now on…because nobody knows what’s next,” said Leon Rodriguez, director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services under former President Barack Obama, told Politico.

Trump also tweeted Thursday reassuring DACA recipients that they would not need to worry about action being taken against them until the six-month period is up, at the behest of Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi. 

Democrats Take Over Senate Floor in Protest Against Ending DACA
Wednesday night, Senate Democrats held the Senate floor in protest against the Trump administration’s DACA decision. They demanded that Senate Republicans agree to vote on an immigration law to replace DACA this month, but Republican leaders have dismissed such a vote as unlikely, given their prioritization of tax reform and issues such as the debt ceiling. Democrats held the Senate floor until 10 p.m.

Trump Admin Could Use DACA Data to Find, Deport Recipients
The Daily Beast reports that, according to Trump administration officials, Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials can use the information that DACA recipients gave the government as part of their eligibility applications to locate and deport them instead. However, in an FAQ posted to DHS’ website Tuesday night, the department claimed that DACA application information “will not be proactively provided to ICE and CBP for the purpose of immigration enforcement proceedings,” unless the DACA applicant meets certain criteria, such as criminal activity.

But legal experts say the change in language the FAQ represents suggests a decrease in legal protection. In contrast to the FAQ, the DACA application itself had stated that such information would be “protected from disclosure.” Cleveland-based immigration lawyer David Leopold told Politico, “It’s a subtle way of saying the information is not protected…Whatever protection was there is now gone.”

The DACA application, administered by US Citizenship and Immigration Services, thoroughly screened applicants’ eligibility and asked for applicants’ ages, criminal histories, educational backgrounds, home addresses, height, weight, and phone numbers, among other personally identifiable information.

States, D.C. Sue Trump Admin Over Ending DACA 
Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson announced Wednesday that the Attorneys General of fifteen states and the District of Columbia had filed a lawsuit in a New York court challenging Trump’s plan to end the DACA program. Similarly, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra announced Wednesday that California would go forward with its own lawsuit against the Trump administration over ending DACA, because one-fourth of all DACA participants live in California and the state will suffer disproportionate harm.

The legal arguments in each lawsuit mirror each other and contend the new DACA policy was motivated by discrimination against people of Mexican origin. One legal expert, however, said that the argument from discrimination is weaker in the DACA context than in that of Trump’s travel ban.

“It might be able to muck up the works, maybe push off the effective date of the repeal, but I don’t see litigation being successful in the same way as the travel ban,” said Kari Hong, Assistant Professor of Law at Boston College Law School, in an interview with the AP.

Approximately half of those who have received DACA protection since the program began in 2012 live in California, Illinois, and Texas.

White House Talking Points Urge DACA Recipients to Deport Themselves Voluntarily
According to CBS News, a White House talking points document suggests that current DACA recipients should self-deport before their DACA protection ends.

The document reads, “The Department of Homeland Security urges DACA recipients to use the time remaining on their work authorizations to prepare for and arrange their departure from the United States — including proactively seeking travel documentation — or apply for other immigration benefits for which they may be eligible.”

While the 2012 Republican Party platform endorsed self-deportation, as did various Republican presidential candidates in 2016, it is uncommon for a cabinet department to encourage self-deportation as a matter of policy.

Steve Bannon Blasts Catholic Church: “They need illegal aliens to fill the churches.”
On CBS This Morning Thursday, ex-senior Trump advisor Steve Bannon strongly criticized the Catholic Church for its opposition to ending DACA. “The Catholic Church has been terrible about this…They need illegal aliens to fill the churches. It’s obvious on the face of it. That’s what the entire Catholic bishops [are] condemning. They have an economic interest in unlimited immigration, unlimited illegal immigration.”

Bannon’s criticism was likely targeted at Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, who said last week that ending DACA “is certainly not Christian, and I would contend it’s not American.”

Dolan responded on Thursday that, “You might imagine I was rather befuddled to see [Bannon’s remarks]…I don’t really care to go into what I think is a preposterous and rather insulting statement, that the only reason we Bishops care for immigrants is for the economic because we want to fill our churches and get more money.”

DHS Cancels Largest Undocumented Immigrant Roundup in History Over Hurricane Damage
NBC News reports that Trump’s DHS had planned the largest nationwide undocumented immigrant roundup in ICE history, targeting 8,400 people, to occur later this month. But after the NBC report came out late Thursday, “the agency issued a statement saying it had cancelled nationwide enforcement actions due to Hurricane Irma and the damage caused by Hurricane Harvey.”

The roundup, called “Operation Mega” in an agency-wide memo circulated in August, was scheduled to occur over five days ending September 17. NBC writes that “The higher-than-usual target number may have been partially driven by an effort to reach a deportation goal by the end of the fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30, one of the officials said.”

The DHS statement read: “Due to the current weather situation in Florida and other potentially impacted areas, along with the ongoing recovery in Texas, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) had already reviewed all upcoming operations and has adjusted accordingly. There is currently no coordinated nationwide operation planned at this time.”

TRUMP-RUSSIA CONNECTION

Donald Trump Jr. testifies privately before Senate Judiciary about meeting a Kremlin-associated lawyer in June 2016. Facebook tells Congressional investigators that they sold a Russian-linked propaganda firm $100,000 worth of political advertising. Putin reminds reporters that Trump is “not his bride,” thus he can’t comment on the possibility of Trump’s impeachment.

Trump Jr. to Testify Privately Before Senate Judiciary Committee
Donald Trump Jr. testified privately for five hours before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday, answering questions about his meeting with a Russian lawyer and other issues related to Russian influence in the 2016 election. But he left many Senators unsatisfied, often telling investigators that he could not remember important information, and many of his statements to the committee bordered on directly contradicting his previous statements. Trump Jr.’s failure to satisfy investigators’ demands that he disclose everything he knew only adds to the controversy surrounding a Presidential candidate’s son’s unprecedented meeting with a foreign government-linked source to obtain opposition research on a campaign rival.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) told CNN: “His appearance today raised as many questions as it answered.”

In one particularly glaring example, Trump Jr. admitted to investigators that he was aware that there might be legal questions about accepting the meeting and getting information from the lawyer, but that he always planned on consulting a lawyer before using such information. That statement contradicts Trump Jr.’s earlier claim that he did not have any legal or ethical concerns about taking the meeting, and Trump’s own suggestion that it was an ordinary meeting that most people would have taken. Trump Jr. said in his statement to the committee that he took the meeting to see if he could obtain useful information on Hillary Clinton.

Trump Jr. also told the committee in his statement that he did not tell his father about the meeting, frustrating one of the central concerns of the committee in discovering what, if anything, the elder Trump knew about the meeting.

Trump Jr. further claimed he was unaware of the role the White House played in drafting his initial statement about meeting the Russian lawyer, which failed to disclose the opposition research component, despite the fact that the White House has admitted that Trump weighed in and gave suggestions on how to write it.

Democratic Senators have repeatedly called for Trump Jr. to present to the committee under oath in a public hearing, one where the Senators would run the session, as opposed to the primarily staff-run private hearing today. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said Wednesday that Trump Jr. is also to testify publicly at some later point as part of a deal struck to avoid testifying at a public hearing in July, and that if he failed to do so, he would probably be subpoenaed.

The integrity of the democratic process might be at stake, given that lying to Congress is a crime under the federal False Statements statute, about which Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) emailed reporters shortly after the hearing.

Facebook Sold $100,000 in “Divisive” Ads to Russian Propaganda Firm Trying to Influence 2016 Election
On Wednesday, Facebook representatives told Congressional investigators behind closed doors that the company has discovered that it sold $100,000 worth of ads to a Russian propaganda firm seeking to influence voters in the 2016 election, the Washington Post reports. Facebook said that the $100,000 in ads were generally about U.S. social issues, but a portion of them directly mentioned Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.

Facebook chief security officer Alex Stamos said on Wednesday that the social issue ads aimed to “amplify divisive social and political messages across the ideological spectrum — touching on topics from LGBT matters to race issues to immigration to gun rights.”

Rep. Adam B. Schiff (Calif.), senior Democrat on the House Select Committee on Intelligence, said regarding the disclosures: “Left unanswered in what we received from Facebook — because it is beyond the scope of what they are able to determine — is whether there was any coordination between these social media trolls and the campaign. We have to get to the bottom of that.”

Putin: Trump “Not My Bride”
During a news conference in China Tuesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin answered a reporter’s question by saying that Trump is “not my bride, and I am not his groom.” The reporter had asked if Putin takes into account the possibility of Trump being impeached, and Putin refused to answer directly, suggesting he could not comment on all aspects of U.S. domestic politics.

FOREIGN POLICY AND NATIONAL SECURITY

President Trump seeks a U.N. fuel ban against North Korea, while he creates a potential rift with South Korea over the response to the North, favors Japan’s leadership over that of South Korea, and bonds with the Kuwaiti emir over their shared dislike of the media. 

U.S. Seeks Security Council Resolution for Fuel Ban on North Korea
On Wednesday, the Trump administration circulated a draft U.N. Security Council resolution that would authorize U.S. military forces to interdict North Korean vessels, inspect them for weapons material or fuel being imported into the country, and enforce compliance with a draft fuel ban.

The administration’s support for an energy ban represents the culmination of shifting Trump policy statements on North Korea. Trump initially promised “fire and fury” should North Korea make any future threats against the U.S. Likewise, after North Korea’s nuclear test, he criticized allies like South Korea for calling for talks. On Wednesday, he appeared to reverse his initial statements by downplaying the military option: “Military action would certainly be an option. Is it inevitable? Nothing is inevitable…I would prefer not going the route of the military.” He added, “If we do use it on North Korea, it will be a very sad day for North Korea.”

As the Economist notes, a steadier American policy response to North Korea would be best for stability: “Deterrence works when red lines are reasonably clear. With Mr Trump they are not. That creates the danger that Mr Kim might miscalculate, with catastrophic consequences.”

U.S.-South Korea Alliance Appears Split on North Korea, Free Trade
South Korean officials are afraid of a split with U.S. on North Korea strategy, and a broader weakening of the U.S.-South Korean alliance, owing to a series of tough-minded Trump tweets and statements following the DPRK’s nuclear test last week.

While South Korean President Moon Jae-in has been pushing for negotiations with the North, Trump has rejected talks and even suggested that South Korea is appeasing the country. He tweeted, “South Korea is finding, as I have told them, that their talk of appeasement with North Korea will not work, they only understand one thing!” And on another occasion, “talking is not the answer!”

Trump’s tweets are in line with his initial statement in response to the North Korean nuclear test, where he warned that even a mere North Korean threat to use such weapons against the U.S. “will be met with a massive military response.”

Moreover, Trump created another, separate rift with South Korea by threatening to withdraw the U.S. from a five-year old free trade agreement with the nation over what he believes is unfair protectionist trade policy on the South’s part.

Trump Closer to Japan’s Abe than South Korea’s Moon in Wake of Nuclear Test
The New York Times reports that President Trump has had a very warm relationship with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan ever since they met just after Trump’s inauguration. In an illustration of the global security implications of the two leaders’ strong friendship, Trump called Abe twice on the same day as North Korea’s nuclear test, while he waited until the day after to call Mr. Moon.

Trump Bonds with Kuwaiti Emir Over Disdain for Media
At a joint press conference with the Kuwaiti emir, Trump bonded with him over having problems with the local news media. Trump had similarly shared a moment with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara about negative media coverage during a Tel Aviv trip in May, where Sara complained that the Israeli people loved them while the press did not. Though previous Presidents have battled with the media, none have gone so far as Trump to denigrate the role of the press in American democracy, such as by calling the press the enemy of the people back in February.

WHITE HOUSE AND ADMINISTRATION

Trump nominates a lawyer that has defended corporations against charges of discrimination to be head of the DOJ’s civil rights division, and nominates a White House lawyer to be a D.C. Circuit Court judge, opening up the possibility of a confirmation hearing that would delve into Trump administration legal battles.

Trump Civil Rights Nominee Defends Prior Work on Discrimination Issues
Eric S. Dreiband, Trump’s nominee for head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights division, defended himself against controversy about the nominee’s previous legal work during his Wednesday confirmation hearing. While Dreiband was a partner at the Jones Day law firm, he defended large corporations and universities in lawsuits about discrimination based on religion, age, and pregnancy status. That work history has aroused opposition from various anti-discrimination groups, such as a letter to Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Cal.) signed by 47 LGBT groups opposing his nomination, and the NAACP’s issuing a June statement doing the same.

Dreiband argued before the Supreme Court in a 2015 case that Abercrombie & Fitch was justified in refusing to hire a Muslim applicant because her headscarf violated the company’s desired look of a “classic East Coast preppy style.” He also represented the Roman Catholic archbishop of Washington in a lawsuit seeking a religion exemption from providing contraceptive as part of ACA healthcare coverage. Similarly, he represented the University of North Carolina against a lawsuit brought by the DOJ demanding that the company allow access to bathrooms for transgender people.

Dreiband justified his past work by citing the ethical principle of zealous advocacy. “In private practice, lawyers are ethically bound to zealously advocate for their clients…I think it prepares you well to serve in public service,” he said.

David Lopez, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission general counsel during the Obama administration, saidDreiband is “walking into an administration that has been incredibly hostile to civil rights…The only question is whether he will dedicate his enormous capacity as a lawyer and intelligence to either rubber-stamping those efforts or to, in some way, mitigate those efforts.”

Trump Nominates White House Attorney for DC Circuit Court Judgeship
On Thursday, President Trump nominated deputy White House counsel Gregory Katsas to serve on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, sometimes viewed as the most important appeals court in the country. Because of Katsas’ work as an administration lawyer, his confirmation is set to potentially be a public airing of many of the legal controversies that have dominated Trump’s first seven months in office. The D.C. Circuit plays a unique role among appeals courts because it adjudicates the legality of executive actions and Congressional laws, and is often viewed as a stepping stone for justices along the path to Supreme Court appointment.

CONFLICTS OF INTEREST

Hundreds of Russians are flying to Florida for birthright citizenship tourism while staying at Trump properties, Trump himself has accepted a large volume of lavish gifts from Saudi Arabia, and the Trump International Hotel features an Ivanka Suite while she serves in government.

Russian Birth Citizenship Tourists Flock to Trump Properties in Florida, While Trump Does Nothing
The Daily Beast reports that an estimated hundreds of Russians travel to the U.S. every year to deliver their anchor babies, and super-wealthy Russians often choose to do so in Trump properties in Florida. Their investigation has uncovered multiple companies advertising birthright citizen tourist services to Russians prominently featuring rentals of Trump properties. And while the Trump Organization does not directly profit from subleases of its condos, it does profit when birthright companies advertise monthslong stays in Trump hotels as part of their services, and when wealthy clients patronize the nearby Trump International Beach Resort.

While Trump railed against “anchor babies” born to Mexican undocumented immigrants during the Presidential campaign, saying that “they are not American citizens” contra the Fourteenth Amendment, he has not said anything about the ongoing phenomenon of Russian birthright citizenship tourism utilizing Trump Organization properties.

Trump Accepts 83 Saudi Arabian Gifts
The Daily Beast reports that since his inauguration, Trump has accepted 83 separate gifts from Saudi Arabia, including artwork depicting Trump, gold and silver wool robes lined with tiger and cheetah furs, colored leather sandals, swords, dagger holsters, a dagger made of pure silver with a sheath made of mother of pearl, a canvas depicting a Saudi woman, and Arabic calligraphy artwork, among other things.

The Daily Beast article notes that the gifts “are emblematic of a more serious issue: Trump’s embrace of the Saudi regime, a stark reversal from his campaign rhetoric. During the campaign, Trump accused the regime of everything from being responsible for 9/11 to failing to ‘reimburse us the way we should be reimbursed,’ going so far as to threaten to stop buying their oil if they didn’t shape up.”

By contrast, Trump broke a long-standing Presidential tradition in making his foreign trip a visit to Saudi Arabia, and while doing so, “announc[ing] a $110 billion arms deal with the Saudis, totaling $350 billion over 10 years. This represented a decisive reversal of the Obama administration’s 2016 policy of blocking certain arms sales to the regime because of civilian deaths in Yemen.”

Sarah Leah Whitson, executive director of Human Rights Watch’s Middle East division, told the Beast: “The Trump administration has gone well beyond any prior U.S. administration in its embrace of Saudi Arabia, not only with its vastly expanded, unrestricted arms sales to Saudi, but in a deliberate refusal to criticize the country’s atrocious domestic rights record and reckless, catastrophic, military campaign in Yemen.”

Trump Hotel’s “Ivanka Suite” Suggests Trump Organization Profiting from Ivanka’s Government Service
The Trump International Hotel in Washington, DC features the first suite and spa, the Ivanka Suite, and The Spa by Ivanka Trump, that prominently feature Ivanka’s name rather than the Trump brand generally. But now that Ivanka serves as an official White House employee, she is subject to strict federal employee ethics rules that prevent her from participating in administrative or other matters in which she has a financial stake. Thus, she would not be allowed to do anything that might serve the promote the Hotel in her official capacity. Given her large financial stake in the Hotel, it would appear she should have recused herself from its management before she joined the government in April, but the details of her recusal from the Hotel, if one has occurred, remain private.

Moreover, Trump has been making profits on the Trump International Hotel, as has Ivanka, ever since the inauguration.

DISCRIMINATION AND LGBT RIGHTS

The Trump administration files an amicus brief in support of a baker who refused to serve a same-sex couple, in contradiction to public accommodation laws.

Trump DOJ Files Supreme Court Brief in Support of Baker Who Refuses to Serve Same-Sex Couples 
The Trump Justice Department filed an amicus brief Thursday in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, a Supreme Court case that could establish that religious beliefs can justify not complying with anti-discrimination in public accommodations laws, so long as the service provided is communicative enough. The principle the DOJ brief is citing is the First Amendment’s prohibition on government compelling speech except in certain circumstances, and the brief argues that public accommodations law, as applied to a communicative, artistic service like providing a wedding cake, forces bakers to participate in the communicative event of their customers’ same-sex weddings. Thus, such an application of those laws constitutes the government forcing communication in violation of a person’s religious beliefs.

Moreover, as Think Progress notes, the brief focuses on extremely narrow grounds for ruling in favor of the baker: “the brief offers what may be the narrowest possible grounds that the Court could rely on to rule in favor of the cake baker…[that] may be enough to convince wavering conservative justices that they can safely hand the baker a win here.” In doing so, the brief “ runs aground on the shores of unmanageable distinctions and a limiting principle that proves much less limiting than it initially appears.” The White House’s position represents a stark shift from the previous administration, which once lit the White House in rainbow lights to show solidarity with the LGBT community.

THE PRESS AND PUBLIC DISCOURSE

The Richmond Times-Dispatch reports that an activist group hung effigies of clowns dressed in KKK robes tied by nooses to trees in a local Richmond, Va. park Wednesday night. The art collective INDECLINE posted video of four men putting the effigies up in the park at night, and said in a news release that the installation was in “protest of the White Nationalist uprising in the United States.” The installation was condemned by all sides, including the Richmond branch of the NAACP, the largest Richmond African-American voter outreach group, and the Richmond Mayor, with particular emphasis on its apparent support for political violence.

FINANCIAL REGULATIONS

In an editorial Friday, the New York Times Editorial Board writes that “Step by step, the Trump administration has made it clear that it is on their side, that Wall Street need have no real concern about Dodd-Frank’s provisions and that the lessons of the financial crisis will be ignored.”

The Treasury Department is expected to release next month the second in a series of policy reports on Dodd-Frank. The first report called for Dodd-Frank “rollbacks includ[ing] loosening restrictions on bank traders, easing up on annual stress tests of a bank’s ability to withstand financial shocks, and advising regulators to rethink capital levels that big banks find onerous but that should be higher to make sure banks can absorb losses without bailouts.” It did not call for alternative bank regulations to replace those provisions of the bill.

The editorial concludes that, because of the Trump administration’s signaling via these reports and its personnel choices in regulatory positions, “Financial corporations are being given the nod to re-establish their unholy alliances, in which vast interconnections through lending, borrowing, derivatives and other transactions spread and amplify risks throughout the financial system — while regulators look the other way.”

Image: Getty/John Moore 

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About the Author(s)

Artin Afkhami

Associate Editor at Just Security You can follow him on Twitter (@artinafkhami).