News Sips 2/6: Patriots Win, Immigration Order Halted, Confirmation News, and Killer Putin

Here are the four things you need to know before your coffee gets cold, the February 6, 2017 edition:

 

Patriots Win the Super Bowl

In the biggest upset since Donald Trump’s election, the New England Patriots rallied from a 28-3 deficit to win the first overtime victory in Super Bowl history. Despite the Atlanta Falcons’ clear popular vote advantage and the analyst consensus in the third quarter that there was an over-90% chance that the Falcons would win, the Patriots, led by Tom Brady, pulled off a record-smashing comeback victory.

 

Immigration Order Halted

A sweeping order from a federal judge in Seattle that enjoined the enforcement of President Trump’s immigration pause from terrorist hotspots was upheld by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in California over the weekend. The ruling was not a final decision on the matter, but rather, the Court declined to use its authority to stop Judge James Robart’s decision blocking enforcement of the immigration order.

Effectively, this means that there is no pause on immigration from the seven countries identified by the previous Administration and put forward by the Trump Administration as terrorist hotspots. The pause has been characterized by the media as a “ban,” a term that the Administration has strongly opposed in the past week. The President forcefully warned that the Order was meant to keep Americans safe and that Judge Robart’s decision would cause floodgates to open and potential terrorists to come into the country during the time before, in Mr. Trump’s mind, an appellate court could put the Order back in place.

It is likely that the Ninth Circuit, based in San Francisco and widely-regarded as the most left-leaning of the Appellate Courts, will uphold Judge Robart’s ruling and that the Administration will need to seek review of the Order by the Supreme Court (which, currently, is only at 8 members). While it’s probably not a good idea to speculate on how a vote would come down on the Order from the Supreme Court, it seems unlikely that the Administration would get five Justices to agree with its position. Even if the Administration can convince four Justices to agree with its position, that would only mean that the Court reaches a 4-4 impasse and the decision of the Ninth Circuit would be upheld. We would expect that Mr. Trump’s folks understand how important confirming Neil Gorsuch is in this situation and will push for the Senate to tackle confirmation hearings immediately.

 

Confirmation News

Today, Mr. Trump’s nominee for Education Secretary, Betsy DeVos, will have her final confirmation vote in the Senate (it could be bumped to tomorrow, but all indications are that it will be this evening). It will be the closest vote for any Cabinet nominee in history and the Vice President will be on hand to break what is expected to be a 50-50 vote (the Vice President is the President of the Senate and, Constitutionally, has the authority to break ties). Two Republicans, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine have publicly stated that they will vote against Ms. DeVos. Both Senators did their part, procedurally, to advance Ms. DeVos’ nomination out of committee and through cloture. There are no other Senators on record defecting from their Party position. Certainly, there’s a possibility one Senator may shift at the last moment to tank DeVos’ nomination, but, if this change-of-heart were coming, the Senator would likely go to the leadership and let them know (who would then let the White House know), and Ms. DeVos’ nomination would likely be withdrawn rather than suffer the embarrassment of losing a vote on the Senate floor.

Other votes expected this week are on Jeff Sessions as Attorney General, Scott Pruitt for EPA Administrator, and Tom Price for Secretary of Health and Human Services. While the margins for each vote will likely be fairly small, the DeVos nomination looks (for now) to be the only one that will require the Vice President to act as a tie breaker. It’s important to note that, after Jeff Sessions is confirmed as Attorney General, there will only be 99 Senators and Republicans will only have a one-vote majority. While this will be quickly rectified by the Governor of Alabama (who will appoint a successor to Sessions), this process will still take a day or two before the Republicans get back the two-vote buffer. Again, there does not appear to be any nominee (aside from DeVos) who would need that extra vote, but things are never truly certain until the actual voting happens.

 

Killer Putin

Before the Super Bowl, the Fox network aired an interview between FoxNews’ Bill O’Reilly and the President. In the interview, there was a tense exchange between Mr. Trump and O’Reilly in which the President seemed to defend Russian President Vladimir Putin. Mr. O’Reilly directly alleged that Mr. Putin is a “killer.” This statement broadly encompasses allegations against the Kremlin of its clandestine operations to get rid of dissenting voices as well as Russian activities in countries like Syria. (Note: The Kremlin has requested that the Fox network apologize for the comment).

In response to Mr. O’Reilly’s comment, the President seemed to come to Mr. Putin’s defense by noting that the United States also does not have the best history as it relates to killing around the world. Cue hawks, neocons, and Democrats having a field-day with the assertion. Despite the fact that libertarian-leaning thinkers have been highly critical of American interventionism for decades, the fact that the President would be so open about America’s lack of clean hands in the discussion of international morality is a significant departure from his predecessors, and from the Party.

Compounding Mr. Trump’s assertion is that it comes as a seeming defense of Russia, a nation that has become the bogeyman to hawks on the right and Democrats who feel that Russian interference led to Hillary Clinton’s defeat (fact check: it was actually because they took Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania for granted). Suffice it to say that people are not debating the merits of drone strikes or clandestine operations in foreign nations, but are rather attacking the President for his apparent willingness to cooperate with Russia.

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Of course, there are more things going on in the world, but these should be enough to get your day started.

Matt McDaniel

Attorney and Political Commentator

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