The President Declares a National Emergency Seeking Funds for Southern Border Wall

Citing a humanitarian crisis on the southern border, President Trump declared a national emergency yesterday from the White House. The declaration would allow the President to repurpose funds for the construction of a border wall along the U.S. border with Mexico.

The federal government shut down for a record 34 days over December and January over an impasse between the White House and Democrats in Congress over funding for the wall. The stalemate ended when President Trump agreed to a short-term funding resolution reopening the government for 3 weeks while a bipartisan conference committee negotiated a deal on border security.

That committee reached an agreement this week, but it provided $1.375 billion for construction of barriers along the southern border – substantially less than the $5.7 billion the White House requested. The amount was even less than the $1.6 billion contained in the Democrats’ offer to the President in December, before the shutdown.

President Trump, however dissatisfied with the agreement reached, indicated he would sign the spending bill, funding the government through the end of the fiscal year (September 30), and look for funds for the wall elsewhere.

The Trump administration as identified about $8.1 billion in funds available for use for the border wall, which includes $1.375 billion from the spending bill approved this week and around $6.7 billion in reprogrammed funds.

By declaring a national emergency the President says he can reallocate $601 million from the Treasury Forfeiture Fund, up to $2.5 billion from a Department of Defense counternarcotic activities fund and up to $3.6 billion from Department of Defense military construction projects.

The President downplayed the effect reprogramming the funds would have on military readiness.

“We had certain funds that are being used at the discretion…of the military. Some of them haven’t been allocated yet, and some of the generals think that this is more important,” the President said during a press conference from the Rose Garden.

“I was speaking to a couple of them. They think this is far more important than what they were going to use it for. I said, ‘What were you going to use it for?’ And I won’t go into details, but it didn’t sound too important to me,” he added.

Under the National Emergencies Act of 1976, Congress can pass a resolution striking down the declaration. That resolution would likely be vetoed by the President however and it is unlikely there are enough votes in Congress to override such a veto.

The President’s announcement, while not unexpected, drew criticism from congressional Democrats.

“The President’s unlawful declaration over a crisis that does not exist does great violence to our Constitution and makes America less safe, stealing from urgently needed defense funds for the security of our military and our nation,” read a joint statement issued by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.

“This is plainly a power grab by a disappointed President, who has gone outside the bounds of the law to try to get what he failed to achieve in the constitutional legislative process,” the statement added.

Some in the President’s own party also voiced concern about the move.

“Unnecessary, unwise and inconsistent with the U.S. Constitution,” Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) called the move.

“It is…of dubious constitutionality,” said Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME).

“We have a crisis at our southern border, but no crisis justifies violating the Constitution,” said Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, echoing warnings from Democrats that the step sets a dangerous precedent.

“Today’s national emergency is border security. But a future president may use this exact same tactic to impose the Green New Deal. I will wait to see what statutory or constitutional power the president relies on to justify such a declaration before making any definitive statement. But I am skeptical it will be something I can support,” he said.

Not all Republicans are against the move however. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), for example, has been calling for the President to declare a national emergency since January.

Importantly, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky has said he is in agreement with the President. “I’ve indicated to him that I’m going to support the national emergency declaration,” McConnell said from the Senate floor Thursday in making the announcement.

In addition to the congressional resolution, Democrats are likely to mount legal challenges against the declaration. Constitutional experts agree the Democrats’ case would be on sound legal footing, as the Constitution grants the power of purse solely to Congress.

President Trump acknowledged the tricky road ahead should such challenges come but said ultimately he will prevail.

“I’ll sign the final papers as soon as I get into the Oval Office…and then we will be sued…and we will possibly get a bad ruling, and then we’ll get another bad ruling. And then we’ll end up in the Supreme Court…and we’ll win in the Supreme Court,” the President said.

Photo by The White House

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President Trump Moves Up Mattis Resignation Date

President Trump announced that Secretary of State James Mattis will be leaving his post at the Pentagon sooner than expected. The President named Deputy Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan as the new head of the Department of Defense. The President made the announcement via Twitter this morning.

“I am pleased to announce that our very talented Deputy Secretary of Defense, Patrick Shanahan, will assume the title of Acting Secretary of Defense starting January 1, 2019. Patrick has a long list of accomplishments while serving as Deputy, & previously Boeing. He will be great!” the President wrote.

Mattis resigned this week in the wake of the President’s decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria. The U.S. currently has about 2,000 special ops personnel in that country. Their mission is to advise and train the Syrian rebel forces who are fighting ISIS. They have been stationed in the country since 2014.

Mattis reportedly strongly counseled the President against that decision. The President’s announcement caught many within the administration by surprise.

“We’ve been fighting for a long time in Syria. I’ve been president for almost two years and we’ve really stepped it up and we have won against ISIS we’ve beaten them and we’ve beaten them badly we’ve taken back the land and now it’s time for our troops to come back home,” the President said in the announcement.

Many senior national security officials, including Mattis, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and National Security adviser John Bolton advised the President against pulling the U.S. out of Syria. Withdrawing U.S. troops from that country would allow ISIS to reconstitute and powers hostile to U.S. interests – namely Russia and Iran – to gain influence, they argue.

It also assures that Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian dictator who has twice been accused by the international community of using chemical weapons against his own people, stays in power for the foreseeable future.

In the end, the President was unconvinced by those arguments.

“Does the USA want to be the Policeman of the Middle East, getting NOTHING but spending precious lives and trillions of dollars protecting others who, in almost all cases, do not appreciate what we are doing? Do we want to be there forever? Time for others to finally fight…..” he wrote on Twitter after the announcement.

The decision was the last straw for Mattis, who has had differences of opinion with the President before.

The four-star general reportedly had fifty copies of his resignation letter printed out and ready to be distributed throughout the Pentagon upon his return from the White House. The letter, scathing, by senior military official standards, cites the reason for the resignation as a fundamental difference in outlook between Mattis and the President about the world order and the U.S.’ role in it.

“One core belief I have always held is that our strength as a nation is inextricably linked to the strength of our unique and comprehensive system of alliances and partnerships. While the US remains the indispensable nation in the free world, we cannot protect our interests or serve that role effectively without maintaining strong alliances and showing respect to those allies,” Mattis wrote.

“My views on treating allies with respect and also being clear-eyed about both malign actors and strategic competitors are strongly held and informed by over four decades of immersion in these issues. We must do everything possible to advance an international order that is most conducive to our security, prosperity and values, and we are strengthened in this effort by the solidarity of our alliances.”

“Because you have the right to have a Secretary of Defense whose views are better aligned with yours on these and other subjects, I believe it is right for me to step down from my position,” Mattis wrote.

Mattis originally set the end of February as his resignation date, citing upcoming Congressional hearings on the national military posture and a NATO Defense Ministerial meeting that month.

The President has reportedly been bothered by the fact that Mattis’ break with him was so public and the coverage that narrative was receiving in the national media. He decided to end Matts’ tenure earlier than planned. The White House described having a Secretary of Defense that was essentially a “lame duck” as untenable.

In another blow to the President, senior national security official Brett McGurk also announced his resignation in protest over Mr. Trump’s Syria policy. McGurk is the U.S. special envoy to the International anti-ISIS coalition.

“The recent decision by the president came as a shock and was a complete reversal of policy,” McGurk wrote in an email to his staff that was viewed by The Associated Press. “It left our coalition partners confused and our fighting partners bewildered with no plan in place or even considered thought as to consequences.”

McGurk’s departure however was downplayed by the President.

“Brett McGurk, who I do not know, was appointed by President Obama in 2015. Was supposed to leave in February but he just resigned prior to leaving. Grandstander? The Fake News is making such a big deal about this nothing event!” he wrote on Twitter.

However, reaction to the news of the week, specifically Mattis’ resignation, was strong from Capitol Hill Republicans.

“Just read Gen. Mattis resignation letter. It makes it abundantly clear that we are headed towards a series of grave policy errors which will endanger our nation, damage our alliances & empower our adversaries,” Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida tweeted.

“I am particularly distressed that [Mattis] is resigning due to sharp differences with the president on…key aspects of America’s global leadership,” wrote Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in a statement. “It is regrettable that the president must now choose a new Secretary of Defense. But I urge him to select a leader who shares Secretary Mattis’s understanding of these vital principles and his total commitment to America’s servicemembers.”

The early months of 2019 promise to be rocky as the Senate now has to confirm a new …

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Kavanaugh Confirmed

Judge Brett Kavanaugh was confirmed to the Supreme Court yesterday after a contentious nomination process that included recriminations of political double standards and accusations of sexual assault.

The vote, largely along party lines, was 50-48 in favor of confirmation. Republican Senator Steve Daines of Montana was not present for the vote because he was attending his daughter’s wedding. Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska was the sole Senator who broke with their party. She voted against advancing Kavanaugh’s nomination on Friday and for the full vote on Saturday voted “present.”

President Trump hailed the victory on Twitter. “I applaud and congratulate the U.S. Senate for confirming our GREAT NOMINEE, Judge Brett Kavanaugh, to the United States Supreme Court. Later today, I will sign his Commission of Appointment, and he will be officially sworn in. Very exciting!” he wrote.

Kavanaugh was sworn in a few hours later in a ceremony at the Supreme Court presided over by Chief Justice John Roberts and the Supreme Court Justice Kavanaugh is replacing, Anthony Kennedy. Supporters of Kavanaugh’s cheered his motorcade as it arrived for the ceremony. Protesters also gathered outside of the Supreme Court and were eventually pushed back from the building’s steps by police.

Kavanaugh is accused of sexual assault by Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, a professor at Palo Alto University in California. Ford says Kavanaugh lured her into a bedroom during a gathering at a home in suburban Maryland in the summer of 1982. She says he then threw her on a bed, got on top of her and tried to remove her clothes.

Ford says that when she attempted to scream for help, Kavanaugh covered her mouth with his hand. A Kavanaugh friend, Mark Judge, falling on top of the two and sending all three tumbling to the floor allowed Ford an opportunity to escape.

Ford, along with Senate Democrats pushed hard for an FBI investigation. Senate Republicans, along with the White House, under strong public pressure acquiesced to the demand. That investigation, limited in nature, concluded the middle of last week.

The findings of the investigation were made available to all 100 Senators but were not made public. Republicans declared that no corroborating witnesses were found to support Ford’s allegations, while Democrats decried the investigation as incomplete, citing the fact that neither Ford nor Kavanaugh were interviewed.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced Saturday morning that the final vote would be held between 4 P.M. and 5 P.M. in the afternoon.

“Judge Brett Kavanaugh is among the very best our country has to offer,” McConnell said from the Senate floor. “He unquestionably deserves confirmation.”

He also called the fierce opposition to Kavanaugh’s nomination a “great political gift.”

“I want to thank the mob, because they’ve done the one thing we were having trouble doing, which was energizing our base,” McConnell told The Washington Post.

Democrats urged their supporters to keep fighting. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, in remarks from the Senate floor criticized Kavanaugh as an unfit, partisan nominee, who would work hard to overturn landmark decisions important to progressives, such as Roe v Wade. He implored voters frustrated by Kavanaugh’s nomination process to channel their anger into Election Day action.

“If you believe Dr. Ford, and other brave women who came forward, and you want to vindicate their sacrifice, vote,” he said.

Photo by the Office of Senator Chuck Grassley via Wikimedia Commons

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Vote on Kavanaugh Supreme Court Nomination Delayed One Week

The confirmation of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court was delayed by at least a week when President Trump ordered an investigation into an alleged sexual assault involving Kavanaugh. The attack is alleged to have happened some thirty-six years ago. The investigation will not be broad and will be concluded in a week the President announced Thursday.

“I’ve ordered the FBI to conduct a supplemental investigation to update Judge Kavanaugh’s file. As the Senate has requested, this update must be limited in scope and completed in less than one week,” a statement issued by the White House read.

The developments surrounding the call for an investigation were fast moving and may have forced the President’s hand. The President had previously resisted calling on the FBI to open a probe into Kavanaugh’s past, laying the responsibility for any inquiry at the Senate’s feet instead.

“I would let the senators take their course. Let the senators do it. They’re doing a very good job. They’ve given tremendous amounts of time. They’ve already postponed a major hearing. And, really, they’re hurting somebody’s life very badly,” the President told reporters last week.

By Thursday the President’s position had changed. That change was precipitated by a dramatic development earlier in the day during vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee on Kavanaugh’s nomination. A nomination to the Supreme Court must pass out of that committee before heading to a full vote on the Senate floor.

Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona, a Republican from Arizona, was seen largely as a reluctant vote to advance Kavanaugh’s nomination out of the committee. Prior to the committee vote, Flake stood up from his chair walked across the dais and tapped Democratic Senator Chris Coons of Delaware on the shoulder. He motioned for him to follow him out of the committee room.

The two then retired to an anteroom just outside the main room. Flake remained outside of the committee room for more than an hour. As the minutes wore on, Flake’s fellow Republican Senators became increasingly concerned that he had changed his mind on the vote and had decided to vote Kavanaugh’s nomination down.

The Committee was set to vote at 1:30 P.M. ET but couldn’t because Flake was not in the room. Shortly thereafter Flake returned to the Committee room and was recognized to speak.

“I have been speaking with a number of people on the other side, we’ve had conversations ongoing for a while with regard to making sure that we do due diligence here and I think it would be proper to delay the floor vote for up to but not more than one week in order to let the FBI continue to do an investigation limited in time and scope to the current allegations that are there…limited in time to no more than one week,” he said.

“I will vote to advance the bill to the floor with that understanding. And I’ve spoken to a few other members who are on my side of the aisle that may be supportive as well, but that’s my position. I think that we ought to do what we can to make sure that we do all due diligence with a nomination this important,” Flake continued.

Immediately after, Kavanaugh’s nomination advanced out of the Committee. Soon after the vote however, several other Senators, mostly Republicans, announced that they too would only vote for Kavanaugh’s nomination in the full vote if an FBI investigation into the allegations were conducted.

At about 4 P.M. ET Thursday, the Senate Judiciary Committee formally asked the White House to order an investigation. Within the hour the President had made his announcement.

The White House, along with Senate Republicans, reiterated several times that the investigation will be narrow in purpose, focusing only on the accusations made last week by Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, a professor at Palo Alto University. Ford trains graduate students in clinical psychology.

Ford claims one day in the summer of 1982, Kavanaugh and a friend, described by Ford as both being “stumbling drunk,” lured her into a bedroom during a get together of teenagers at a home. Ford says she knew Kavanaugh and the friend, a man by the name of Mark Judge, as “friendly acquaintances” in the private-school circles they both were a part of in suburban Maryland.

Ford says Kavanaugh pinned her to a bed and got on top of her, attempting to pull off her clothes and grope her, all while Judge watched. When Ford attempted to scream, Kavanaugh put his hand over her mouth, she says.

“I thought he might inadvertently kill me,” Ford told The Washington Post. “He was trying to attack me and remove my clothing.”

Judge falling on top of the two and sending all three teenagers stumbling to the floor allowed Ford an opportunity to escape. She briefly locked herself in a bathroom before fleeing the house, she says.

Kavanaugh has denied the allegations. “Judge Kavanaugh ‘categorically and unequivocally’ denie[s] this allegation,” a statement released by the White House after the accusations became public read.

Kavanaugh, during congressional testimony last week attempted to characterize the accusations as part of a conspiracy to undermine his nomination as well as Mr. Trump’s presidency.

“This whole two-week effort has been a calculated and orchestrated political hit, fueled with apparent pent-up anger about President Trump and the 2016 election, fear that has been unfairly stoked about my judicial record and revenge on behalf of the Clintons,” Kavanaugh said.

Senate Republicans, while agreeing to the delay and the investigation, remained adamant that the inquiry will not be expansive, either in focus or in duration.

“I think what Jeff is trying to do is end this the best he possibly can, to accommodate some people on the other side, and to bring the committee together if possible. This is democracy,” said Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.

“A week is enough time…maybe less. We’re not playing this game of opening this up and …

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Trump Walks Back Comments on Russian Meddling

President Trump sought to clarify remarks he made during a joint news conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday during a meeting with Republican lawmakers at the White House yesterday.

“So I’ll begin by stating that I have full faith and support for America’s great intelligence agencies. Always have…Let me be totally clear in saying that — and I’ve said this many times — I accept our intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election took place. Could be other people also; there’s a lot of people out there,” the President said before a meeting with Republican members of Congress.

“I thought that I made myself very clear by having just reviewed the transcript. Now, I have to say, I came back, and I said, ‘What is going on? What’s the big deal?’ So I got a transcript. I reviewed it. I actually went out and reviewed a clip of an answer that I gave, and I realized that there is need for some clarification.”

“It should have been obvious — I thought it would be obvious — but I would like to clarify, just in case it wasn’t. In a key sentence in my remarks, I said the word ‘would’ instead of ‘wouldn’t.’ The sentence should have been: I don’t see any reason why I wouldn’t — or why it wouldn’t be Russia. So just to repeat it, I said the word ‘would’ instead of ‘wouldn’t.’ And the sentence should have been — and I thought it would be maybe a little bit unclear on the transcript or unclear on the actual video — the sentence should have been: I don’t see any reason why it wouldn’t be Russia. Sort of a double negative.”

“So you can put that in, and I think that probably clarifies things pretty good by itself.”

President Trump was asked on Monday whether he believes Russia meddled in the 2016 election and whether he raised the issue with Mr. Putin during their meeting. He responded by appearing to say that he didn’t “see any reason why it would be” Russia that did the meddling.

“But I have — I have confidence in both parties,” the President said. “So I have great confidence in my intelligence people, but I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today,” he added.

That apparent equivocation and the President’s seeming willingness to take President Putin’s word over the word of the U.S. intelligence community prompted sharp rebukes from lawmakers on Capitol, many of them Republicans.

“There is no question that Russia interfered in our election and continues attempts to undermine democracy here and around the world,” said Speaker of the House Paul Ryan. “The president must appreciate that Russia is not our ally. There is no moral equivalence between the United States and Russia…” he added.

“I’ve said a number of times and I say it again, the Russians are not our friends and I entirely believe the assessment of our intelligence community,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

“This is bizarre and flat-out wrong. The United States is not to blame. America wants a good relationship with the Russian people but Vladimir Putin and his thugs are responsible for Soviet-style aggression. When the President plays these moral equivalence games, he gives Putin a propaganda win he desperately needs,” said Sen. Ben Sasse.

“I am confident former CIA Director and current Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, DNI Dan Coats, Ambassador Nikki Haley, FBI Director Chris Wray, Attorney General Jeff Sessions and others will be able to communicate to the President it is possible to conclude Russia interfered with our election in 2016 without delegitimizing his electoral success,” said South Carolina Republican Congressman and Chairman of the House Oversight Committee Trey Gowdy.

The White House continued to defend the President’s walk-back of the comments today. “The president saw a need to clarify the position,” White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said during today’s press briefing.

“He saw how his comments were being interpreted, he looked at the transcript and clarified those comments.” President Trump “had misspoken and wanted to clarify what he said,” she added.

The President struck a defiant tone this morning on Twitter despite clarifying the comments yesterday however, implying he will be criticized no matter the actions he takes.

“Some people HATE the fact that I got along well with President Putin of Russia. They would rather go to war than see this. It’s called Trump Derangement Syndrome!” he wrote.

Photo by The White House

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Trump Performance at Press Conference with Putin Draws Harsh Criticism

President Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin met in Helsinki, Finland, yesterday for the first ever summit between the two leaders. The men discussed a variety of issues including nuclear proliferation, energy and the Syrian Civil War.

“I have just concluded a meeting with President Putin on a wide range of critical issues for both of our countries. We had direct, open, deeply productive dialogue. It went very well,” Mr. Trump said at the press conference that followed the meetings.

“Constructive dialogue between the United States and Russia affords the opportunity to open new pathways toward peace and stability in our world. I would rather take a political risk in pursuit of peace than to risk peace in pursuit of politics. As President, I will always put what is best for America and what is best for the American people,” he added.

President Putin touched on many areas where he believed cooperation with the United States could and should improve, such as economic issues, global terrorism & transnational crime and the Iranian nuclear deal. No specific steps or commitments were announced in the wake of the summit however.

What dominated the press conference and the commentary after the summit was the President’s responses to questions about Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

It is the widely held view of the U.S. intelligence community that Russian actors interfered in the presidential election, did so at the behest of the highest levels of the Russian government and with the intent of helping President Trump defeat Hillary Clinton.

An investigation headed by special counsel Robert Mueller into the affair has been going on for over a year.

President Trump said he raised the issue with Vladimir Putin during their meetings. The two men met privately for about 90 minutes with only a translator present before expanding the meeting to include a larger number of senior aides.

“With that being said, all I can do is ask the question. My people came to me — [Director of National Intelligence] Dan Coats came to me and some others — they said they think it’s Russia. I have President Putin; he just said it’s not Russia.”

“I will say this: I don’t see any reason why it would be…But I have — I have confidence in both parties….What happened to Hillary Clinton’s emails? Thirty-three thousand emails gone — just gone. I think, in Russia, they wouldn’t be gone so easily. I think it’s a disgrace that we can’t get Hillary Clinton’s 33,000 emails.”

“So I have great confidence in my intelligence people, but I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today,” the President added.

It was the seeming equivocation and the President’s willingness to take President Putin’s word over the word of the U.S. intelligence community that prompted sharp rebukes from lawmakers on Capitol, many of them Republicans.

“There is no question that Russia interfered in our election and continues attempts to undermine democracy here and around the world,” said Speaker of the House Paul Ryan.

“The president must appreciate that Russia is not our ally. There is no moral equivalence between the United States and Russia, which remains hostile to our most basic values and ideals. The United States must be focused on holding Russia accountable and putting an end to its vile attacks on democracy,” he added.

“I’ve said a number of times and I say it again, the Russians are not our friends and I entirely believe the assessment of our intelligence community,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

“This is bizarre and flat-out wrong. The United States is not to blame. America wants a good relationship with the Russian people but Vladimir Putin and his thugs are responsible for Soviet-style aggression. When the President plays these moral equivalence games, he gives Putin a propaganda win he desperately needs,” said Sen. Ben Sasse.

“I am confident former CIA Director and current Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, DNI Dan Coats, Ambassador Nikki Haley, FBI Director Chris Wray, Attorney General Jeff Sessions and others will be able to communicate to the President it is possible to conclude Russia interfered with our election in 2016 without delegitimizing his electoral success,” said South Carolina Republican Congressman Trey Gowdy. Gowdy is also Chairman of the House Oversight Committee.

“It’s certainly not helpful for the President to express doubt about the conclusions of his own team,” said Sen. Susan Collins of Maine. “He has assembled a first-rate intelligence team handled by Dan Coats and I would hope that he would take their analysis over the predictable denials of President Putin.”

“Missed opportunity by President Trump to firmly hold Russia accountable for 2016 meddling and deliver a strong warning regarding future elections. This answer by President Trump will be seen by Russia as a sign of weakness and create far more problems than it solves,” wrote Republican Senator Lindsey Graham on Twitter.

“The bar was so low for this press conference,” said Democratic Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut. “All Trump needed to do was offer some mild pushback against the election interference, say something about the need for Russia to withdraw from eastern Ukraine and Crimea, and he couldn’t do any of that.”

“America is a whole lot weaker than we were going into this today,” he added.

The President was defiant in the face of the criticism however, claiming the meeting with Vladimir Putin was just as successful as the meetings he had with NATO leaders just days prior.

“While I had a great meeting with NATO, raising vast amounts of money, I had an even better meeting with Vladimir Putin of Russia. Sadly, it is not being reported that way – the Fake News is going Crazy!” the President wrote on Twitter.

Photo by The White House

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President Trump Nominates Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court

President Trump nominated Judge Brett Kavanaugh to fill the forthcoming vacancy on the High Court left by the retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy. Kennedy was nominated by then-President Ronald Reagan and has served for 31 years.

Although nominated by a Republican, Kennedy became a reliably independent voice, providing swing votes on such landmark issues as marriage-equality, affirmative action and the campaign finance case known as Citizens United.

Kavanaugh, Mr. Trump hopes, will follow in the same mold.

Kavanaugh, 53, currently serves as a federal appeals court judge but his ties to official Washington and the Republican establishment go back decades. He is a former aide to President George W. Bush and played a large role in independent counsel Kenneth Starr’s investigation of President Bill Clinton during the 1990s. Kavanaugh, working for Starr, was a strong advocate for, and laid out broad legal grounds to impeach Clinton.

Kavanaugh’s legal credentials are impeccable: He is a graduate of Yale and Yale Law School. He also actually clerked for Justice Kennedy, and currently teaches at Harvard, Yale and Georgetown. He reportedly impressed President Trump during his interview, and was also endorsed enthusiastically by White House Counsel Don McGahn.

“He is a brilliant jurist, with a clear and effective writing style, universally regarded as one of the finest and sharpest legal minds of our time,” President Trump said during his prime time announcement ceremony from the White House last night.

“There is no one in America more qualified for this position, and no one more deserving.”

But it is precisely his long track record working with, and against, past administrations that have some on the Republican side of the aisle worried. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell reportedly told President Trump that two other nominees whom he was considering, Judges Thomas Hardiman and Raymond Kethledge, would have an easier path to confirmation should they be nominated.

People familiar with the President’s thinking say McConnell’s warnings may have had the opposite effect on President Trump, pushing him closer to choosing Kavanaugh. McConnell called the pick “superb” after it was announced.

Democrats, unsurprisingly, took the opposing view, warning that with Kavanaugh’s selection, decisions in landmark cases such as Roe v. Wade and Obamacare are jeopardized.

“I will oppose Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination with everything I have, and I hope a bipartisan majority will do the same. The stakes are simply too high for anything less,” said Democratic Minority Leader Chuck Schumer in the wake of the announcement.

Still, it is unclear what Democrats can do to stop Kavanaugh’s appointment from going through. Because of a rule change made during the confirmation battle of President Trump’s first Supreme Court nominee last year, only a simple majority is needed to get Kavanaugh on the bench.

Republicans currently control 51 seats in the U.S. Senate and because Kavanaugh is perhaps the least conservative choice President Trump could have made, he is likely to enjoy wide support in the Senate.

With a second appointment to the Supreme Court, President Trump will have successfully tilted the Court’s slant rightward for perhaps a generation. Consequences of that shift have already been felt with the Court’s recent decisions on cases such as the travel ban and gerrymandering.

President Trump’s first appointee, Justice Neil Gorsuch, provided enough support to shift the decisions in those cases in the conservative direction.

Photo by The White House

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Massachusetts Signs Gun-Seizure Bill into Law

Massachusetts has become the latest state to allow law enforcement officials to remove firearms from individuals it deems to be a danger to themselves or to others. Governor Charlie Baker signed H. 4760 into law today, making The Bay State the twelfth state to pass a so-called “red flag” law.

Under the terms of the law, once a petition is filed against a gun owner, a hearing is held within ten days to determine whether the individual indeed poses a risk. If the judge in the hearing determines the person to be a risk, the individual will be ordered to surrender all firearms and to stay away from any weapons for a period of twelve months. They will have to relinquish any permits and their names will be entered into a federal database preventing them from purchasing any other weapons.

The Massachusetts law also allows for emergency protection orders to be issued, under which firearms are seized without notice. Under that contingency, firearms are removed up to ten days ahead of a hearing, at which point the judge in the case can decide to extend the order for up to a year or end it.

Baker, despite being a Republican, had previously indicated that he would sign the bill into law, citing support from the state’s police chiefs.

Massachusetts becomes the seventh state to sign a red flag into a law since the deadly school shooting in Parkland, FL, earlier this year with the enactment of H. 4760. Prior to that incident, California, Washington, Oregon, Indiana and Connecticut were the only states that had red flag laws. Since the shooting, Vermont, Maryland, Rhode Island, New Jersey, Delaware and now Massachusetts, have passed red flag laws. A bill has passed the Illinois State Legislature and is awaiting the governor’s signature.

Despite outcries from students, parents and lawmakers, the Congress has failed to take concrete steps in passing gun control legislation in the wake of Parkland. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell seemed to acknowledge the futility of trying to get bipartisan gun legislation through Congress today when he said that any significant gun control measures would have to be passed at the local level.

“I don’t think at the federal level there’s much that we can do other than appropriate funds,” McConnell told a meeting of constituents in his home state of Kentucky Tuesday.

“It’s a darn shame that’s where we are but this epidemic is something that’s got all of our attention. And I know it’s got the attention of every school superintendent in the country,” he said.

Gun control advocates applauded Massachusetts’ move today.

“Today Massachusetts continues it’s [sic] incredible legacy of leading the country on gun sense laws. We are thrilled Gov. Baker, Rep. Decker and all lawmakers who supported this bill listened to their constituents, law enforcement officials, students and gun violence prevention activists, all of whom tirelessly advocated for this critical public safety law,” Molly Malloy, Volunteer with the Massachusetts chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America wrote in a statement emailed to ITN.

“Today’s Red Flag bill signing is an incredible victory for gun safety. We know this new law will save lives,” she added.

Gun rights advocates denounced the move. The Massachusetts-based Gun Owners Action League criticized the law as a violation of gun owners’ due process. “Its strict purpose is to take the gun, not provide help,” the group recently told The Huffington Post.

Photo by the Office of Gov. Charlie Baker

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Kennedy to Retire, Ensuring Second Trump Nominee to Supreme Court

Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy has announced his retirement. He will be leaving the High Court in July. The announcement was made yesterday in the public release of a letter he wrote to President Donald Trump.

“This letter is a respectful and formal notification of my decision, effective July 31 of this year, to end my regular active status as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, while continuing to serve in a senior status,” Kennedy wrote to the President.

“For a member of the legal profession it is the highest of honors to serve on this Court,” he added.

President Trump said Kennedy had visited the White House for thirty minutes prior to the announcement being made public. He and the President spoke for half an hour. During their meeting Kennedy informed the President of his decision and offered replacement recommendations.

Trump addressed Kennedy’s retirement while addressing reporters prior to a meeting with Portuguese President Rebelo de Sousa after the announcement.

“[Kennedy’s] been a great justice of the Supreme Court. He is a man who is displaying great vision. He’s displayed tremendous vision and tremendous heart. And he will be missed, but he will be retiring,” he said.

“He’s a very spectacular man. Really, a spectacular man. And I know that he will be around, hopefully for a long time, to advise. And I believe he’s going to be teaching and doing other things. So thank you to Justice Kennedy. Okay? Thank you.”

The President did not share the names of possible replacements with reporters but did mention he had a short list of about twenty-five names he had compiled during his election campaign of possible nominees should there be a vacancy on the Court.

The timing of the retirement should be a boon to Republicans, as it allows his replacement to become a key issue in the upcoming midterm elections.

Justice Antonin Scalia passed away in February of 2016 but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell refused to consider a replacement while President Barack Obama was still in office. He famously refused to meet with President Obama’s nominee at the time, Judge Merrick Garland.

President Trump’s election win in November 2016 allowed a conservative justice to be chosen to fill Scalia’s seat. The President nominated Neil Gorsuch who was confirmed in April of last year.

Democrats attempted to filibuster Gorsuch’s confirmation but Republicans invoked the so-called “nuclear option,” changing the number of votes required to confirm a Supreme Court justice from a filibuster-proof sixty to a simple majority of fifty-one.

Republicans currently control fifty-one seats in the Senate, a razor-thin margin that will undoubtedly be used as a rallying cry for both parties in the run-up to this year’s elections.

Kennedy was nominated to the Court in 1987 by then-President Ronald Reagan. Although nominated by a Republican, Kennedy became a reliably independent voice, providing swing votes on such landmark issues as marriage-equality, affirmative action and the campaign finance case known as Citizens United.

Court watchers believe that with another conservative confirmed to the Court, other landmark laws such as Roe v. Wade could be up for overturning as well.

The text of Justice Kennedy’s letter to the President appears below:

Supreme Court of the United States
Washington, D.C. 20543
CHAMBERS OF
JUSTICE ANTHONY M. KENNEDY
June 27, 2018

My dear Mr. President,

This letter is a respectful and formal notification of my decision, effective July 31 of this year, to end my regular active status as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, while continuing to serve in a senior status, as provided in 28 U.S.C. § 371(b).

For a member of the legal profession it is the highest of honors to serve on this Court. Please permit me by this letter to express my profound gratitude for having had the privilege to seek in each case how best to know, interpret, and defend the Constitution and the laws that must always conform to its mandates and promises.

Respectfully and sincerely,

Anthony Kennedy

The President
The White House
Washington, D.C. 20500

Photo by Steve Petteway via Flickr

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McConnell Cancels Senate’s August Recess

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has cancelled the Senate’s August recess it was announced this week. McConnell said the time was needed to work through a backlog of President Trump’s nominees which McConnell claims Democrats have been slow-walking.

“Due to the historic obstruction by Senate Democrats of the president’s nominees, and the goal of passing appropriations bills prior to the end of the fiscal year, the August recess has been canceled. Senators should expect to remain in session in August to pass legislation, including appropriations bills, and to make additional progress on the president’s nominees,” McConnell said in a statement.

The Senate recess had been scheduled to start on August 3 and run through until early September – until after Labor Day Weekend. The Senate will now recess for one week only starting on August 6 and remain in session through the end of the month.

The August recess is traditionally a time lawmakers use to hold town hall meetings in their states and districts. This year the recess is of special importance to the Senate as it is an election year. A third of U.S. Senators run for reelection every two years. The August recess is also traditionally a time for those Senators up for reelection to campaign.

McConnell had been under pressure to cancel the recess from outside conservative groups, as well as from members of his own party.

Ten GOP Senators wrote to McConnell in May asking him to cancel the recess.

“Our current Senate calendar shows only 33 potential working days remaining before the end of the fiscal year. This does not appear to give us enough time to adequately address the issues that demand immediate attention. Therefore, we respectfully request that you consider truncating, if not completely foregoing, the scheduled August state work period, allowing us more time to complete our work,” they wrote.

Also high on Republicans’ to-do list are the twelve spending bills that make up the federal budget. Both inter- and intra-party bickering make passing those bills virtually impossible. The result is usually last-minute brinksmanship that leads to government shutdowns – both real and threatened – punctuated by the passage of a massive, all-in-one omnibus spending bill that no one is satisfied with.

“The president’s made it quite clear he doesn’t intend to sign another omnibus, and in order to prevent that obviously we should do our work, which is to pass individual appropriations bills,” McConnell told reporters after his announcement.  The U.S. fiscal year ends Sept. 30.

The White House applauded the move.  “Mitch McConnell announced he will cancel the Senate’s August Recess. Great, maybe the Democrats will finally get something done other than their acceptance of High Crime and High Taxes. We need Border Security!” the President wrote on Twitter.

Democrats decried the cancellation as purely political, accusing McConnell of attempting to keep Senate Democrats off the campaign trail in crucial weeks heading into the fall elections.

Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson, who is facing a tough reelection this year, called the cancellation “a calculation of raw politics on the part of Mitch McConnell.” His general election opponent, Florida Gov. Rick Scott refuted that statement saying Florida residents “don’t get to take the month of August off, and neither should career politicians.”

Some actually questioned whether the recess would stay cancelled. “I guess if we moved everything we wanted to on the calendar,” said Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) said, part of the August recess could be salvaged. “If the Democrats were to cooperate with us on a lot of things,” he added.

Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) who is leaving the Senate this year echoed the sentiments. “Typically when people smell jet fumes they find a way to be a little more cooperative,” he said.

McConnell dismissed the notion however, saying the Senate had more than enough to keep them busy during that time. “It’s inconceivable to me that we can’t use these weeks,” he told reporters, “even with cooperation.”

Photo by Glenn Fawcett via DoD

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