Photo credit:© Kenneth Lu, https://www.flickr.com/photos/toasty/
Sunday, I found out there’s too much going on to try to do a whole week retrospective news summary. I’m going to start thinking about yesterday’s news instead.
<tl;dr> The immigration ban, rearranging the National Security Council, and forgetting the Jews on Holocaust Remembrance Day share a pattern. Whether intentional or not, these actions are testing the country’s response to stances unpopular with the majority, appeasing the President’s minority core supporters, and setting the stage for future actions. At the end, find a list of actions you can take to support democracy, whatever your political affiliation.
What is going on?
After Friday night’s Executive Order with a permanent ban on Syrian refugees; a 120-day freeze on non-Syrian refugees; and a travel ban on nationals from seven predominantly Muslim countries (including US legal residents, aka Green Card holders), the nation’s airports became the focus of protests. Immigration lawyers waited at airports with signs saying “Immigration lawyer – do you need help?” Translators came to the assistance. Hundreds of lawyers and translators donated their time.
Federal courts in several states declared that the ban was illegal and ordered immigration officials to let people through. In some states, the officials did so; in others they did not. Acting Attorney General Sally Yates declared that she would not uphold the ban; the President fired her Monday night and replaced her with Dana Boente.
Protests continued at the airports. Photos of immigration lawyers working on their laptops on the floors of major airports circulated around the country through social media. A late stage cancer patient joining her family and numerous US military translators who had been promised asylum in exchange for their help were featured in news stories.
The White House appears to have pulled back from detaining legal US residents (Green Card holders), although the order still stands with its original wording.
National Security Council
While the world’s attention focused on airport protests and photos of refugees, news came out Monday that the President had appointed his chief advisor, Stephen Bannon to the National Security Council. Before working for the President, Bannon was the head of Brietbart News, a mouth-piece for radical right-wing politics, including white-supremacist world views. In the same order, the director of National Intelligence and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (branches of the military) were removed from permanent status. This appears to be in violation of the legal set up of the National Security Council, which lists the director of National Intelligence and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff as statutory members of the council, i.e. their presence on the council is required by law.
Previous presidents have deliberately avoided having their closest advisors permanently in the council, in order to preserve the Council as a genuine second opinion. Despite this precedent, Mr. Bannon is not explicitly prohibited from joining the Council. Robert Gates, Secretary of Defense under both George W. Bush and Obama, described this conditional attendance of the director of National Intelligence and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff as a “big mistake.”
Update 1/31/2017: A friend pointed me to the wording of the 1947 law creating the National Security Council. It appears that the chairman of the Joint Chiefs and the Director of National Intelligence are there only on the will of the President:
(e) Participation of Chairman or Vice Chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff
The Chairman (or in his absence the Vice Chairman) of the Joint Chiefs of Staff may, in his role as principal military adviser to the National Security Council and subject to the direction of the President, attend and participate in meetings of the National Security Council.
However, it does appear that Stephen Bannon is supposed to have the consent of the Senate in order to be a member of the council: “the Secretaries and Under Secretaries of other executive departments and of the military departments, when appointed by the President by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, to serve at his pleasure.”
(It is actually not clear from this portion of the law that Bannon meets those requirements as he is not an official cabinet secretary.)
The National Security Council appears to have control over the “targeted killing” list from the CIA. In the past, the US has avoided deliberate assassination, but after September 11, 2001 this policy unofficially changed. This 2011 article from Reuters describes the role of the National Security Council in targeted killings.
For more on targeted killings, see this Council on Foreign Relations “Backgrounder” on the policy. [Media Bias Fact Check lists the CFR as a think tank with a right of center bias, with high factual reporting.]
The White House appears to have pulled back from the removal of the Director of National Intelligence and the Joint Chiefs of Staff, although the order stands in its original wording.
Holocaust Remembrance Day
Numerous individuals and news outlets pointed out that the January 27 White House speech on Holocaust Remembrance Day did not mention the Jews. Anti-Semitism in the US, which appeared to be on the wane, has had a resurgence during the Presidential election, urged by white supremacist groups. Immediately after the election, much of the hate graffiti in the country targeted Jews. Jewish reporters and public figures have reported an increase in trolling and online targeting.
Much of the country suspected the omission of Jews in the Holocaust Remembrance Day speech was an oversight, but the White House issued a press release to the contrary, suggesting that since millions of non-Jewish people died in German death camps, it wasn’t a Jewish issue.
Conservative columnist John Podhoretz, writing in Commentary Magazine, wrote:
No, [White House spokesperson] Hope Hicks, and no to whomever you are serving as a mouthpiece. The Nazis killed an astonishing number of people in monstrous ways and targeted certain groups—Gypsies, the mentally challenged, and open homosexuals, among others. But the Final Solution was aimed solely at the Jews. The Holocaust was about the Jews.
The President’s 117 word speech for Holocaust Remembrance Day stands in its original wording. [Note, this link goes to the Google cache of the site, because all visits to the official White House page currently redirect to inauguration videos instead of the page you want.]
Sources: see my Week in Review January 29 for additional source material.
What do these three issues have in common?
On the face of it, an immigration ban on many Muslims, neglecting to mention the Jews on Holocaust Remembrance Day and a reshuffling of the National Security Council don’t seem to have that much in common.
All three, however, have the following things in common:
- The majority of Americans find them shocking and wrong.
- The President’s core base finds them satisfying.
- Most Republicans in Congress have condoned them through silence.
- In the case of the Immigration Ban and the National Security Council re-shuffling, the White House has responded by pulling back publicly to a less extreme position, without changing the order or original wording.
Jake Fuentes, writing for Medium.com in an essay entitled “The Immigration Ban is a Headfake and We’re Falling For It,” suggests that one interpretation of these radical policy maneuvers is that the administration is in effect making policy 20-percent harsher than they actually want, putting it out there, and testing how people, especially those in government enforcement, put up with it. With the outcry, they pull back the 20-percent to their original desire, but in the process, “tested the country’s willingness to capitulate to a fascist regime.”
I believe it is important to respond to these Executive Orders, but I fear that Mr. Fuentes has a very valid point about the over-reach and step-back dance. It reminds me of the incessant coverage of the President’s tweets.
I went to my top picks for legitimate news just now. In every single one, the National Security Council was entirely absent from the front page.
Meanwhile, out of sight
The National Security Council has an enormous amount of control over how we run our domestic and international policy. It appears to direct assassinations. Giving Bannon a permanent seat on the council compromises it severely. Given his ties with Brietbart and its message of nationalistic, white supremacy, we should be doing everything we can to reverse this decision or legislatively limit the powers of the NSC.
The Senate is continuing to do hearings on the President’s Cabinet Picks.
Here is the schedule of today’s hearings and committee meetings.
Here is NPR’s complete list of the President’s inner circle and cabinet nominees, including their current status.
I have not found an up-to-date official source for hearings and Senate votes which has been continually updated. This partisan Google Doc seems to be regularly updated and the most reliable source of information for timings of hearings and floor votes.
What to do?
My advice for my fellow Reluctant Activists on both sides of the aisle is to
- Offer pro-bono legal advice to those affected by the immigration ban if you’re a lawyer.
- Protest at the airports, but save time to —
- Contact your representatives in Congress about the National Security Council. Tell them you are opposed to Bannon’s permanent seat and request that they introduce bipartisan legislation to insist that the Director of Intelligence and the Head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff are present at every meeting.
- Write Letters to the Editor about the National Security Council
- Continue to stay involved with the Senate votes on Cabinet Members
- Sign up for Health Insurance — today’s your LAST CHANCE
- Continue to write letters to the editor of local papers and contact your representatives about health care. (See my blog here for Talking Point.)