Trump Slams His Own Administration over “Watered Down” Travel Ban – Vanity Fair
The White House’s official position that Donald Trump’s executive order banning travel from several Muslim countries is not a “Muslim ban,” or even any kind of ban at all, exploded Monday morning as the president raged on Twitter against his own administration for having “watered down” what he insisted was, in fact, a travel ban.
“People, the lawyers and the courts can call it whatever they want, but I am calling it what we need and what it is, a TRAVEL BAN!” he tweeted, going on to lash out against the Justice Department for submitting a “politically correct” revision of his initial executive order to the Supreme Court, and criticized the judicial system for being “slow and political.”
Trump administration officials have been careful to describe the president’s executive action as something other than a ban, especially after a series of courts blocked the implementation of the first iteration of Trump’s order as unconstitutional. “First of all, it’s not a ban,” White House press secretary Sean Spicer said back in January. “When we use words like travel ban, that misrepresents what it is.” (When confronted by a reporter who pointed out that Trump himself had called it a ban, Spicer said that the president was only using words that the media had used first.) “This is not a travel ban,” agreed Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly. “This is a temporary pause that allows us to better review the existing refugee and visa vetting system.” Courts which reviewed the second, “watered down” version of the president’s order disagreed, citing Trump’s own words during his campaign to suggest that religious discrimination was, in fact, the motivating principle behind the policy.
But in recent days, Trump appeared to abandon his staff’s efforts to portray the order in a different light. “We need the courts to give us back our rights. We need the Travel Ban as an extra level of safety!” he tweeted Saturday after a terrorist attack in London left seven people dead and dozens wounded. On Morning Joe early Monday, MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough mocked the administration’s inconsistency. “His own administration, they can’t figure out whether it’s a travel ban or not,” he said, before playing a series of clips contradicting the president’s past statements. Minutes later, Trump starting tweeting.
All of which raises the question: does Donald Trump know the Justice Department works for him, and that he can appoint additional assistant attorney generals? (A half-dozen positions remain open, with no candidates nominated by the White House.) Is he aware that he signed the executive order he is now criticizing? Does Stephen Bannon need to remind him that he is, actually, president of the United States?
Perhaps more important, does Trump realize that by calling his executive order a “TRAVEL BAN,” he also undercuts the efforts of his Office of the Solicitor General? As George Conway, the husband of White House advisor Kellyanne Conway, noted on Twitter, “These tweets may make some ppl feel better, but they certainly won’t help OSG get 5 votes in SCOTUS, which is what actually matters.” Conway, who recently took himself out of the running for a top post at the Justice Department, hastily added that he remains supportive of his wife and Trump’s agenda. But “every sensible lawyer in [White House Counsel’s Office] and every political appointee at DOJ [would] agree with me (as some have already told me) [...] that tweets on legal matters seriously undermine Admin agenda and POTUS—and those who support him, as I do, need to reinforce that [point[ and not be shy about it.”
The president’s confused belligerence is, of course, nothing new, nor is his tendency to undermines his staff by acting impulsively (See his explanation for firing James Comey; his flip-flopping on NAFTA; his reportedly last-minute decision to delete any mention of Article 5 from his big NATO speech last month). Trump has a penchant for self-destruction, often sabotaging his own long-term strategic goals to achieve instant gratification. But Trump’s early-Monday tweet storm may also signal that he has given up on successfully defending his ban before the Supreme Court, and is instead opting to weaponize the issue. The Trump administration has notched no concrete legislative victories, but the president has been effective at exploiting wedge issues to fuel partisan divisions and rile up his base. Pitting his supporters against the media, court system, and “political correctness”—even at the cost of undermining the Justice Department’s appeal process—may be the best possible option for a president with few points on the board.
This article has been updated.