Donald Trump’s words return to haunt him on travel ban

Alleged ‘animus’ towards Muslims lands president with another legal defeat

Donald Trump  during the Friends of Ireland Luncheon at the US Capitol in Washington on Thursday: The legal defeats this week leave his administration with few good options. Photograph: Olivier Douliery/Pool via Bloomberg

Donald Trump during the Friends of Ireland Luncheon at the US Capitol in Washington on Thursday: The legal defeats this week leave his administration with few good options. Photograph: Olivier Douliery/Pool via Bloomberg

 

A federal judge in Maryland yesterday dealt Donald Trump another defeat in his bid to block travellers from six majority-Muslim nations, saying the president’s statements made it clear the order was driven by “animus toward Muslims”.

The ruling followed an earlier decision by a judge in Hawaii that halted implementation of the ban just hours before it was scheduled to go into effect.

Mr Trump’s own words, including his campaign trail promise for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims” entering the US, hurt him in both cases.

In Maryland, US District Judge Theodore Chuang cited “explicit, direct statements of President Trump’s animus toward Muslims and intention to impose a ban on Muslims entering the [US]” in concluding the travel order fulfilled the president’s campaign promise.

In Hawaii, Judge Derrick Watson wrote that “any reasonable observer” would conclude that Mr Trump’s stated goal of protecting Americans from terrorism was eclipsed by a desire to bar Muslims from entering the US. Both judges noted comments from Trump advisers Stephen Miller and Rudolph Giuliani suggesting a similar purpose.

The legal defeats this week leave the administration with few good options. An appeal against the Maryland or Hawaii rulings faces an uphill fight

“There’s no question if the president had minded his tongue, all of these cases would have come out differently,” said Stephen Vladeck, a law professor at the University of Texas at Austin. “The ball is now . . . in the government’s court to figure out how they want to respond.”

Mr Trump also lost in Seattle, where a federal appeals court panel late on Wednesday declined to revisit a ruling by Judge James Robart, who rejected the president’s original travel ban.

Iraq dropped

After Judge Robart’s ruling, the administration rewrote its January 27th order to exempt legal permanent residents of the US and cover six nations: Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. Iraq was dropped after complaints from Iraqi officials whose troops are battling Islamic State alongside US forces.

The legal defeats this week leave the administration with few good options. An appeal against the Maryland or Hawaii rulings faces an uphill fight.

Six of the 15 appeals court judges on the Fourth Circuit, which includes Maryland, were named to the bench by President Barack Obama, as were judges Chuang and Watson.

Mr Trump’s chances in the Ninth Circuit, with jurisdiction over Hawaii, appear little better. Only five of the circuit’s 25 judges wanted to take up the administration’s request to reconsider Judge Robart’s February 3rd order, which the administration had assailed.

At a rally in Nashville following the Hawaii verdict, Mr Trump suggested that Judge Watson had acted “for political reasons”, vowed to take the issue to the Supreme Court and said he might revive his original seven-nation ban.

“I think we ought to go back to the first one and go all the way, which is what I wanted to do in the first place,” the president said.

That approach would almost certainly guarantee a Supreme Court loss, according to Leon Fresco, an immigration lawyer who served in the Obama DoJ. Even a legal fight to the finish over the revised ban risks a Supreme Court ruling that would limit a core presidential power, he said. A better approach might be to drop the contentious travel ban and tighten visa rules in another way, Mr Fresco said.

Meanwhile, the Trump administration yesterday unveiled a “hard-power budget” plan that would slash spending on the environment, diplomacy and foreign aid to fund increases in military spending and the president’s proposed wall along the border with Mexico.

Donald Trump’s budget, unveiled yesterday, includes cuts of about 30 per cent to the state department and Environmental Protection Agency and a 9 per cent boost for the Pentagon.

Priorities

It faces little chance of being passed by Congress in its current form and lawmakers are under no obligation to consider it. But it represents the first blueprint of White House priorities and a wish list for how it would finance them.

The proposal has already been criticised by Democrats and some Republicans for weakening “soft power” institutions that burnish the US image abroad through diplomacy and aid.

Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader in the Senate, has suggested that a bill with such significant cuts to state department spending would struggle to pass in Congress. Lindsey Graham, a Republican senator from South Carolina, has previously warned that such cuts would make the US less safe, predicting Mr Trump’s proposal would be “dead on arrival” in Congress.

The budget would increase defence spending by $52.3 billion while taking the axe to bodies ranging from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting to the Agency for International Development.

“A budget that puts #AmericaFirst must make safety its no. 1 priority – without safety there can be no prosperity,” Mr Trump tweeted.

Mick Mulvaney, the director of the Office of Management and Budget, said: “There is no question that this is a hard-power budget; it is not a soft-power budget. The president very clearly wants to send a message to our allies and our potential adversaries that this is a strong power administration.”

‘Morally obscene’

Opposition was firmest among Democrats, cultural groups and aid bodies, with senator Bernie Sanders dubbing it “morally obscene”. The International Rescue Committee called the proposed cuts to foreign aid spending “counterproductive, misguided and dangerous”.

The White House said it needed the increase in the Pentagon’s funding to implement its campaign to defeat Islamic State, also known as Isis, and “address critical budget shortfalls” for military personnel. The increase would be the biggest since the height of the Iraq and Afghan wars a decade ago.

On homeland security, Mr Trump has set aside another 7 per cent, including $1.4 billion for the first phase of construction for his proposed wall on the US-Mexico border.

Mr Mulvaney said the White House had crafted the budget “using the president’s own words” from his campaign speeches. “We turned those policies into numbers,” he said.

– Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2017