November 9, 2018

There has been some argument over whether President Trump violated the Vacancies Reform Act when he appointed Matt Whitaker acting attorney general, bypassing Senate-confirmed candidates and ignoring the Justice Department's statutory line of succession. But that's beside the point, argue prominent lawyers and Constitution defenders Neal Katyal and George Conway III in a New York Times op-ed published Thursday. Trump's installation of Whitaker "is unconstitutional," they argue. "It's illegal. And it means that anything Mr. Whitaker does, or tries to do, in that position is invalid."

The constitutional issue involves Article II, Section 2, Clause 2, known as the Appointments Clause. "Under that provision, so-called principal officers of the United States must be nominated by the president and confirmed by the Senate under its 'Advice and Consent' powers," explain Katyal, an acting solicitor general under former President Barack Obama, and Conway, a prominent conservative lawyer most famous for being married to White House counselor Kellyanne Conway. "A principal officer must be confirmed by the Senate" and answers only to the president. They continue:

We cannot tolerate such an evasion of the Constitution's very explicit, textually precise design. Senate confirmation exists for a simple, and good, reason. Constitutionally, Matthew Whitaker is a nobody. ... Because Mr. Whitaker has not undergone the process of Senate confirmation, there has been no mechanism for scrutinizing whether he has the character and ability to evenhandedly enforce the law in a position of such grave responsibility. The public is entitled to that assurance, especially since Mr. Whitaker's only supervisor is Mr. Trump himself, and the president is hopelessly compromised by the Mueller investigation. That is why adherence to the requirements of the Appointments Clause is so important here, and always. [The New York Times]

On CNN, Jake Tapper's panel looked at the legal arguments but took special interest in Conway's role and the concurrence of Fox News pundits. Watch below, and read the entire op-ed at The New York Times. Peter Weber

October 30, 2018

Presidential historian Michael Beschloss told The Washington Post on Monday that "almost any president of my lifetime would have canceled the campaign rally" President Trump held Saturday night, hours after a gunman murdered 11 Jewish congregants inside their Pittsburgh synagogue. "Even at a time of national crisis like this," you see Trump "dividing in order to conquer," he added. "He has shown himself completely incapable of healing our wounds." Presidential daughter Patti Davis made a similar argument in an op-ed in the Post on Sunday night.

Davis pointed to moments when her father, Ronald Reagan, and his successors Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama offered "comfort and solace to a grieving nation," and "we didn't doubt that their hearts were breaking along with ours." Trump, she added, "will never offer comfort, compassion, or empathy to a grieving nation. It's not in him. When questioned after a tragedy, he will always be glib and inappropriate. So I have a wild suggestion: Let's stop asking him. His words are only salt in our wounds."

CNN's Jake Tapper asked Davis about her op-ed Monday evening. After watching Trump's first remarks to reporters after the Pittsburgh tragedy, she said, "I thought, Why are you even asking him? You know, there's no law that says that reporters have to question the president while he's walking to the helicopter or to the plane. What if you just don't ask him at times like this, and don't give him that opportunity to literally rub salt in our wounds?"

Tapper told Davis that George Conway, Kellyanne Conway's husband, had retweeted part of her op-ed, and Davis seemed surprised, agreeing with Conway that Trump doesn't have anything inside to communicate. "At some point, we do show what is inside of us, and Donald Trump has never shown compassion, ever," she said. "He didn't just burst on the scene — he's been in the public eye for over 40 years." Peter Weber

October 25, 2018

If Democrats win control of at least one branch of Congress in November — the House is the likeliest to flip — they have expressed a strong interest in obtaining President Trump's tax returns, which the Ways and Means Committee should legally be able to do. On Wednesday, Trump ally and informal adviser Newt Gingrich said Trump isn't worried.

"I don't think he has any fear of the Democrats' ability to investigate," Gingrich told The Washington Post. "But he's been raising that fear out there on the campaign trail," noted Washington Post reporter Karen Tumulty. "Sure, that's because he wants everyone to go vote," Gingrich said. "And what about if they subpoena his tax returns?" Tumulty asked. "Then they'll be trapped into appealing to the Supreme Court, and we'll see whether or not the Kavanaugh fight was worth it," Gingrich said.

One reason Trump is believed to have chosen Justice Brett Kavanaugh for the Supreme Court, and stuck by him amid accusations of sexual assault in his teenage years, is because Kavanaugh has demonstrated an expansive view of presidential powers and protection from legal action (at least after Bill Clinton's presidency). And if you're interested in more about Gingrich's martial, zero-sum view of politics, read the profile of him by McKay Coppins in The Atlantic. Peter Weber

October 16, 2018

China's detention of religious and ethic minorities, notably Uighur Muslims, is the "largest internment of civilians in the world today," outgoing U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said Monday night. "It may be the largest since World War II," she added, labeling the arrangement "straight out of George Orwell."

"At least a million Uighurs and other Muslim minorities have been imprisoned in so-called 're-education camps' in western China," Haley reported, accusing Beijing of using torture to force them "to renounce their religion and to pledge allegiance to the Communist Party."

China on Tuesday responded with its most significant defense of the camps to date, tacitly admitting detainees are held at length against their will. Shohrat Zakir, chair of the government in the Xinjiang autonomous region where many Uighurs live, told state-run media the facilities are "humane" vocational training centers with amenities including air conditioning, sports, and movie screenings. He described them as a useful tool for opposing "terrorism and extremism."

"Today's Xinjiang is not only beautiful but also safe and stable," he said. "No matter where they are or at what time of the day, people are no longer afraid of going out, shopping, dining, and traveling." Zakir is himself an ethnic Uighur. Bonnie Kristian

October 15, 2018

Actor Alec Baldwin called on voters to "overthrow" the government Sunday night, but he's not ready to haul out the guillotines.

"The way we implement change in America is through elections. We change governments here at home in an orderly and formal way," Baldwin said at a fundraising dinner in New Hampshire for the state's Democratic Party. "In that orderly and formal way and lawful way, we need to overthrow the government of the United States under Donald Trump." Baldwin may have been using "government" in the parliamentary sense, which is similar to how Americans commonly use "administration."

To support his case, Baldwin highlighted issues including gender equality, gun policy, criminal justice reform, and immigration. "There is a small cadre of people currently in power," he said, "who are hell-bent on continuing a malicious immigration policy that has set this country up for human rights violations charges by the global community."

The day before these comments, Baldwin reprised his role as President Trump on Saturday Night Live. Bonnie Kristian

October 14, 2018

In typically dramatic fashion, President Trump slammed Democrats and praised Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell at a campaign rally in Richmond, Kentucky, Saturday night.

"The Democrats have become the party of crime; the Republicans are the party of safety," the president claimed, saying Democratic immigration policy would "open America's borders and turn our country into a friendly sanctuary for murderous thugs from other countries who will kill us all."

McConnell he declared "the greatest leader, in my opinion, in history," praising the Kentucky senator's handling of the contentious confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. "There's nobody tougher, there's nobody smarter," Trump said. "He stared down the angry left-wing mob. ... He's better when I'm president than he ever was when anybody else was president." Bonnie Kristian

October 7, 2018

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Saturday predicted the controversy surrounding Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh's confirmation will be a "shot of adrenaline" to get GOP voters to the polls at the midterm elections.

Protest of Kavanaugh "has actually produced an incredible surge of interest among these Republican voters going into the fall election," he told USA Today. "We've all been perplexed about how to get our people as interested as we know the other side is. Well, this has done it."

McConnell was equally cheerful in conversation with The Hill. "Our base is on fire," he said. "I talked to a couple of my political advisers yesterday, and this has been a shot in the arm for us going into the fall election because it underscores the importance of the Senate and our role in personnel, and of course the most important personnel decisions we make are the courts, and particularly the Supreme Court."

President Trump similarly used Kavanaugh as a campaign issue at a rally in Kansas Saturday night. Watch his comments here. Bonnie Kristian

October 4, 2018

Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh is asking for a mulligan. In an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal published online Thursday night and in print on Friday, when he faces a pivotal vote in the Senate, Kavanaugh steps back to the day he was nominated, when he "explained" that "a good judge must be an umpire — a neutral and impartial arbiter who favors no political party, litigant, or policy." That's the kind of justice he would be, Kavanaugh insisted, not the "very emotional" man whose "tone was sharp" and who "said a few things I should not have said" as he "forcefully and passionately denied the allegation against me" in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee last week.

Kavanaugh says that he was so "forceful and passionate" because he'd been "subjected to wrongful and sometimes vicious allegations" and was distressed "at the unfairness of how this allegation has been handled." He does not mention Christine Blasey Ford, who testified the same day that he had tried to rape her in high school, and he doesn't address the false things he said under oath. But he does insist he won't act that way again. "Going forward, you can count on me to be the same kind of judge and person I have been for my entire 28-year legal career: hardworking, even-keeled, open-minded, independent, and dedicated to the Constitution and the public good," he writes. "I have not changed."

More than 2,400 law professors, retired Justice John Paul Stevens, and other jurists have cited Kavanaugh's testimony in withdrawing their support for his nomination. "The Brett Kavanaugh who showed up to Thursday's hearing is a man I have never met, whom I have never even caught a glimpse of in 20 years of knowing the person who showed up to the first hearing," Lawfare editor-in-chief Benjamin Wittes writes in The Atlantic. His partisan testimony "blew across lines that I believe a justice still needs to hold," and "it was not just an angry and aggressive version of the person I have known. It seemed like a different person altogether." You can read Kavanaugh's assertion that it won't happen again at The Wall Street Journal. Peter Weber

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