When Donald Trump attacks a “so-called” judge, most Republicans in Congress say: No big deal.
The president’s extraordinary broadside last weekend against a federal judge who ruled against his immigration order raised doubts about his basic respect for an independent judiciary. But Republicans — who rebuked former President Barack Obama for weighing in on Supreme Court rulings — gave Trump a pass Monday, despite his far more personal, incendiary language. Trump even suggested the judge, James Robart, would be to blame if there’s a terrorist attack.
In the process, GOP lawmakers made clear that they’ll have Trump’s back in this fight between co-equal branches of government — not the judge appointed by a Republican president and confirmed unanimously by the Senate.
“I don’t think federal judges are equipped to deal with making national security decisions,” said Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn of Texas, himself a former state Supreme Court judge. “I was a little surprised at the judge’s opinion.”
“I certainly disagree with the judge’s ‘so-called’ legal opinion,” said Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), a Harvard Law graduate. “It does not offer any analysis, not even a reason, why he reaches the conclusion that the order is illegal.”
Robart’s ruling could be a precursor to a presidency embroiled regularly in court fights, given Trump’s flurry of executive orders in the first few weeks of his presidency. But Republicans who blasted Obama for singling out the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling and urging the court to protect Obamacare are now standing by Trump in his conflict with a sitting federal judge.
Not a single member of House GOP leadership, nor House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), came to Robart’s defense or rebuked Trump. Many senior House Republicans privately feel Trump’s comments are counterproductive, but they aren’t willing to criticize Trump publicly because they feel it distracts from their legislative messaging.
Trump took to Twitter over the weekend to deliver the broadside. “Just cannot believe a judge would put our country in such peril. If something happens blame him and court system. People pouring in. Bad!” the president wrote in one of several tweets. On Monday, White House press secretary Sean Spicer said it’s “somewhat sad to see a judge go rogue like this.”
Some Senate Republicans did chide Trump for the outburst — but in the gentlest terms.
“I don’t know if it’s unusual or not,” said Sen. Deb Fischer of Nebraska. “I don’t go after federal judges on a personal basis.”
“My personal feeling is: It’s OK to criticize a judge’s opinion … [but] that should be the extent of it,” said Sen. John Kennedy of Louisiana, a longtime practicing lawyer. “I believe in dealing with issues, not personalities. But that’s me. Not everybody agrees with that.”
But they and other Republicans said they were nonplussed that sustained attacks by Trump might undermine the judicial independence or potentially intimidate judges.
Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), who in 2010 said it was “rude” for Obama to rebuke the court for its Citizens United ruling in 2010, on Monday had no worries about Trump’s attack.
“You’ve got a very active, aggressive president who feels we’ve got to do something about immigration, more than what we’re doing. And you’ve got a judge who disagrees with him,” said Hatch, a senior Judiciary Committee member. “It’s easy to see why either of them have a sour disposition towards the other.”
The Republican reaction was notably more forgiving than during Trump’s June run-in with Judge Gonzalo Curiel, whom Trump said could not be impartial in a Trump University case because of his Mexican heritage. Several GOP lawmakers chastised the soon-to-be nominee; Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) called the attack “‘the textbook definition of a racist comment.”
There were some expressions of concern this time. Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.), a frequent Trump critic, said he didn’t “understand” why Trump would level the attack on Robart.
And Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) said “any president has to be careful in making comments that are specific to a judge rather than to his ruling. … It makes me uncomfortable when he singles out any specific judge.”
But for the most part, the criticism came mostly from Democrats.
“Our federal court system is the most independent, competent court system any country has in the world,” said Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), a former Judiciary Committee chairman. “If you have somebody tweeting that they’re not honest, not competent, that destroys one of the three main branches of our government.”
Politico on Monday attempted to contact every House Judiciary Committee Republican to gauge their reaction to Trump’s attack on Robart. All but four — including Rep. Trey Gowdy of South Carolina, a former federal prosecutor, and freshman Rep. Mike Johnson of Louisiana — declined request for comment or did not answer multiple emails. And of those who responded, none criticized Trump.
“I don’t anticipate that we’ll have a comment for you,” said Judiciary Committee GOP spokeswoman Jessica Collins.
Judiciary member and Oversight Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) also declined an interview request through a spokeswoman. Last summer, Chaffetz said it was “wrong” for Trump to suggest Curiel couldn’t perform his job fairly because of his Mexican descent.Read More...
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