By Larry Silverton*
This Week in Trump’s America
This is the first installment of a new weekly feature which will provide a brief summary of the week’s most prominent actions by the Trump Administration, as well as discussing some of their implications. The discussion of each topic will be relatively brief by necessity; please contact us if you feel we have neglected a significant action by the Administration or an important aspect of any issue.
- Executive Order 13769 – the “Muslim Ban”
Last Friday, Trump issued Executive Order 13769, which bans citizens of seven nations (all Muslim-majority) from entering the United States for 90 days, as well as barring refugees and suspending the US Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP) for 120 days. The executive order also includes provisions for the Secretary of State and Secretary of Homeland Security to reevaluate the criteria for visas and other forms of immigration permit. The order has been noted for targeting seven Muslim-majority nations while excluding others in which Trump has business ties; others observe that no radicalized Muslims from any of the seven listed countries have killed any US citizens since before the Sept. 11 attack, while the home nation of the Sept. 11 attackers is not listed. The order has met resistance from both without and within. Massive protests occurred across the nation, including here at UCSD, and Acting Attorney General Sally Q. Yates instructed Justice Department employees not to defend the order. Yates was then fired by Trump in a statement noted for its strong political language, which some call “incendiary”. The ACLU and the states of Washington, New York, Virginia, Massachusetts, and Minnesota have filed lawsuits challenging the order’s constitutionality, along with other activist organizations and private citizens. As of this writing, a federal judge from Washington State has issued a nationwide restraining order halting the ban.
- National Security Council Restructuring
This past week, Trump granted Steve Bannon a seat on the National Security Council’s “Principals Committee”. Bannon, the Assistant to the President and Chief Strategist, previously served as executive chair of Breitbart News and Chief Executive Officer of Trump’s presidential campaign. Trump also demoted the Director of National Intelligence and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff from the Principals Committee to “statutory advisers”; they will now only attend meetings “where issues pertaining to their responsibilities and expertise are to be discussed”. The restructured Security Council will also include CIA Director Mike Pompeo, a Trump appointee. Bannon’s inclusion on the Principals Committee and the exclusion of the DNI and chairman of the Joint Chiefs have sparked concern, in part due to Bannon’s focus on political issues and the NSC’s authorization of kill orders (primarily drone strikes). This “disposition matrix” system allows the NSC to order the assassination of any targets designated as potential terrorist threats without public record, including American citizens. Rep. Stephanie Murphy (D-Fla.) introduced a bill which would remove Bannon from the NSC and urge the White House to include the Director of National Intelligence and chairman of the Joint Chiefs in all NSC meetings.
- Supreme Court Nominees
On Wednesday, February 1, Trump nominated Judge Neil Gorsuch to fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court. Gorsuch currently serves as a judge on the US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit and was appointed under President George W. Bush. Judge Gorsuch is considered a conservative judge and widely compared to the late Justice Antonin Scalia. The Court currently consists of four Democratic and Republican judges each; if confirmed, Gorsuch would tip the balance to a Republican majority, though Republican Justice Anthony Kennedy is considered a “swing vote” and viewed as less conservative than other Republicans on the Court. In the face of possible obstruction by Democrats, Trump urged Senate Republicans to use the “nuclear option” if necessary, which would allow them to override a Democratic filibuster by simple majority; Democrats used the nuclear option in 2013 to end Republican obstruction of President Obama’s nominees to executive offices and lower courts;
- Regulation Reform – “1 in, 2 out”
On Monday, January 30, Trump signed an executive order requiring that federal regulatory bodies remove at least two regulations for every new regulation they seek to impose. To be specific, the order requires that the costs of any new regulation be completely offset by the savings gained in the removal of at least two existing regulations. It remains unclear how executive agencies are to reconcile this rule with their duty to enforce any regulations mandated by law. The order’s full text can be found here.
- Yemen Attack
Under Trump’s direction, Navy SEALS carried out a raid against Al Qaeda in Yemen. Accounts of locals indicate that at least 24 civilians died in the attack – nine men, six women, and nine children. A US Navy SEAL, Chief Special Warfare Operator William Owens, also perished. Some claim planning for the raid began under the previous administration; however, former Obama advisers dispute this. US military officials criticized the strike as approved “without sufficient intelligence, ground support or adequate backup operations”. The US-backed Yemeni government also spoke against the attack despite their historical support of US policy. One of the nine children reported killed in the administration’s first military operation was an 8-year-old girl named Nawar Al-Awlaki. Her father, the late Anwar Al-Awlaki, was the US-born leader of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and died in a US drone strike in 2011; the strike elicited controversy over the killing of an American citizen without trial. The killing of Al-Awlaki’s daughter evokes Trump’s late 2015 remarks on targeting the families of suspected terrorists; after the attack, Principal Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Sanders stated that “the United States does not and will not deliberately target family members of terrorists”.
- Keystone and Dakota Access Pipelines
On Monday, January 30, the White House published two Presidential Memoranda signed by Trump stating intent to resume construction of the Keystone XL and Dakota Access Pipelines. On February 3rd, the administration dispatched Bureau of Indian Affairs agents to remove protestors from the Dakota Access site; the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe recently passed a tribal resolution requesting that protestors leave the site and asking that the federal government help to close the camp, citing the Army Corps of Engineers’ agreement to an environmental review of the pipeline and heavy snowfall dangers. To protest Wells Fargo’s financial support of the Dakota Access Pipeline, the Seattle City Council voted unanimously to remove $3 billion from the bank in a bill which also requires prioritization of socially responsible business practices in future legislation. A link to the bill’s full text can be found here.
- Dodd-Frank Rollback
On Friday, February 3rd, Trump signed two executive orders related to financial regulations, which are widely perceived as an intended rollback of Dodd-Frank. The Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act was passed in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis, increasing the authority of regulatory bodies which oversee the stock exchange. One of Trump’s new executive orders commands the Treasury Secretary to reevaluate existing financial regulation according to six “Core Principles” outlined in the order, the full text of which can be found here. The other delays the implementation of the Fiduciary Duty Rule, an Obama-era Department of Labor regulation requiring retirement advisors to act in their clients’ best interests.
- Iran Sanctions
On Friday, February 3rd, the Treasury Department announced new sanctions against 25 people and companies linked to Iran’s ballistic missile program and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard’s Quds Force, a special forces unit. These sanctions come in response to Iran’s test launching of a ballistic missile last weekend, which some call a challenge to a UN Security Council resolution prohibiting Iran from working towards a ballistic missile program that can launch nuclear weapons. On the subject, Trump said that Iran was “not behaving”. Tehran criticized the sanctions as a violation of the Iran nuclear deal signed under President Obama.
*Due to the sensitivity of the topics discussed here and the reaction of the Trump administration, many writers have opted to use pen names when discussing the Trump Presidency. Likewise, some of our staff writers at Prospect Journal of International Affairs will be using pen names when writing about the Trump government.
Image by duncan c