Sunday, February 5, 2017

Inside White House-Cabinet battle on border order

The Departments of Homeland Security and State are following the Seattle judge's order that put a nationwide hold on President Trump's immigration and refugee ban.   A furious Trump sent out this tweet:   "The opinion of this so-called judge, which essentially takes law enforcement away from our country, is ridiculous and will be overturned!"

So we have Cabinet Secretaries pushing back against the president's unconstitutional wishes,  Trump doesn't have much of an argument to force them to disobey a court order, rather than the constitutional process of appeal.   It will probably go all the way to the Supreme Court.   So far, all but one of the judicial decisions have put a delay on implementation. but this is the first 0ne to apply nationwide, which makes it more significant.

But there's also another aspect of the conflict brewing in this new administration that Josh Rogin wrote the following about for the Washington Post.  It's titled "Inside the White House-Cabinet Battle Over Trump's Immigration Order," and it essentially points at the showdown looming already between Steve Bannon and the Secretaries of Defense, State, and Homeland Security.

One has to wonder:   who is leaking this stuff?   Rogin attributed it to "two administration officials."  My guess is that they're not Trump-Bannon fans.

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"On the evening of Saturday, Jan. 28, as airport protests raged over President Trump’s executive order on immigration, the man charged with implementing the order, Homeland Security Secretary John F. Kelly, had a plan. He would issue a waiver for lawful permanent residents, a.k.a. green-card holders . . . .

"White House chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon wanted to stop Kelly in his tracks.  Bannon paid a personal and unscheduled visit to Kelly’s Department of Homeland Security office to deliver an order: Don’t issue the waiver. Kelly, according to two administration officials familiar with the confrontation, refused to comply with Bannon’s instruction. That was the beginning of a weekend of negotiations among senior Trump administration staffers that led, on Sunday, to a decision by Trump to temporarily freeze the issuance of executive orders.

"The confrontation between Bannon and Kelly pitted a political operator against a military disciplinarian. Respectfully but firmly, the retired general and longtime Marine told Bannon that despite his high position in the White House and close relationship with Trump, the former Breitbart chief was not in Kelly’s chain of command, two administration officials said. If the president wanted Kelly to back off from issuing the waiver, Kelly would have to hear it from the president directly, he told Bannon. . . ."

[Trump did not call to tell Kelly to back off.  Instead, there was a high level, 2 am conference call with the national security team, the White House Counsel, and Secs. Kelly, Mattis and Tillerson.]  Rogin writes further:

"One White House official and one administration official told me that Kelly, Mattis and Tillerson presented a united front and complained about the process that led to the issuance of the immigration executive order, focusing on their near-complete lack of consultation . . . .

"Bannon and Miller pushed back, defending the White House’s actions and explaining that the process and substance of the order had been kept to a close circle because the Trump administration had not yet installed its own officials in key government roles and other officials were still getting settled into place.

"Flynn, according to the White House official, partially sided with the Cabinet officials, arguing that they should be included in the process, even if the White House ultimately decided not to adopt their recommendations. . . . 

"Later on Sunday, a larger senior staff meeting was convened with White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, senior adviser Jared Kushner and Trump himself, where all tried to make sense of the process and chart a path forward.

"The president made a decision at that meeting that . . . all other executive orders would be held up until a process was established that included the input of key officials outside the White House. . . . [i.e., the Cabinet secretaries and their staff]

"The weekend’s events were the first major dust-up between the White House political leadership and the powerful figures Trump has appointed to head the national security bureaucracies. The Cabinet members stood up for themselves and their agencies and successfully pushed for a policy tweak that the administration later embraced in a memorandum to “clarify” the executive order.

"The Cabinet members also demonstrated that they had something to offer the White House besides their policy input; they are the most credible spokespeople for controversial White House policies in the eyes of the public. . . .  White House press secretary Sean Spicer told reporters at the daily briefing that 'there was proper coordination . . .  between the White House and the DHS.

"If the White House is now serious about working with the Cabinet, that’s a positive sign and means that this series of events had a constructive impact on policymaking. But there’s a good chance that this won’t be the last time Kelly, Mattis and Tillerson will have to confront Bannon and Miller. Score their first battle as a tie."

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I agree, it's very good for Bannon to get his wings clipped this soon and, by implication, Trump too.  But they are not going to just roll over this easily.   There will be more battles.   The other advantage is that it clarifies where the problem clearly lies.   Bannon plays into Trump's worst instincts, urges him on to rash action -- and now there are at least a few adults to say "not so fast."   Maybe in the future it will happen before, rather than after, implementation.


PS:   After this was written last night, it was reported that the White House had strongly challenged the veracity of Rogin's reporting, saying that there was no such confrontation between Bannon and Kelly, that Rogin had not sought to verify the facts with the White House.  The Post did append an editor's note to the published article, admitting some errors but reiterating that there was a conflict between the two about the green card orders.

Frankly, I'm much more inclined to believe the original story.   This sounds to me like vehement push-back from a beleagured White House and bullying demands from Bannon to change the narrative.  I'm sure we'll hear more about it.

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