We’re not even two months into Donald Trump’s presidency, and his agenda is in deep trouble.
What was to be his most significant executive action — his immigration and travel “ban” aimed at refugees and people from several predominantly Muslim countries — was dealt another blow Wednesday night, when a federal judge blocked a revised version of it just hours before it was set to go into effect.
Unlike the first version of the order, which was hastily and sloppily drafted by the White House with little consultation from agencies before being blocked in the courts, the administration took its time with the “ban 2.0.” The newer version was scaled back and carefully vetted, in an effort to withstand legal scrutiny.
That wasn’t enough: Judge Derrick Watson issued a restraining order against it, writing that “a reasonable, objective observer” would conclude that it “was issued with a purpose to disfavor a particular religion.”
Trump’s biggest problem here is that it’s not clear that any changes to the order would be enough to win over Watson. That’s because the ruling repeatedly cited statements that Trump and his close aides made in the past to make the case that the policy likely had religiously discriminatory intent — suggesting they’re trapped by their own words.
‘There is nothing “veiled” about this press release: “Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States,”’ Watson wrote.
Now, it’s important to keep in mind that there have been no rulings on the “ban” on its merits yet. Watson writes that he thinks it’s “likely” the government will lose when the case is fully argued, but that hasn’t happened yet. And even if it does, other judges and courts could well come to different conclusions than him.
But Trump himself isn’t exactly helping his team’s case that the revised order is a completely different, and nondiscriminatory, policy implemented for security reasons.
At a rally in Nashville, the president called the new version “a watered down version of the first order,” and proclaimed, “I think we ought to go back to the first one and go all the way, which is what I wanted to do in the first place!” You can expect to see those statements quoted in future rulings.
Meanwhile, the GOP’s Obamacare repeal effort is on the ropes
Trump’s top executive action remains on ice — and it’s becoming clear that his top legislative priority is in very serious trouble too. As I wrote yesterday, the things that need to happen for the American Health Care Act to reach Trump’s desk aren’t yet happening.
Instead, swing Republicans are turning against the GOP bill after this week’s dismal CBO report, while conservatives continue to criticize it from the right. Speaker Paul Ryan now admits the bill can’t even pass the House as is, let alone the Senate.
Ryan is weighing a major revision of the bill before taking it to the House floor. But it’s difficult to see how he can please both the Freedom Caucus (which wants deeper cuts) and the Coverage Caucus (which is concerned about millions of people losing coverage). The upshot is that Trump lacks a significant legislative accomplishment and doesn’t seem to be close to getting one.
If this effort does fail, it could have very serious consequences for his presidency. Rich Lowry writes that it “could poison President Trump’s relationship with Congress for the duration,” splitting the president away from GOP leadership and ideological conservatives.
So while Trump professed optimism about his ability to pass health reform at the rally, he also made a revealing remark about what he really wants to do. “I want to get to taxes," he said. "I would have loved to put it first, to be honest.”
Policy-watch: what Trump is doing
I’m focusing on the rough going for Trump’s two biggest initiatives so far, but that certainly doesn’t mean he’s done nothing of consequence.
- He’s putting into practice other sweeping executive orders that will ramp up deportations of unauthorized immigrants, as Vox’s Dara Lind has written.
- He’s loosened Obama-era engagement rules meant to protect civilians in parts of Yemen — and he could soon make similar changes elsewhere, the New York Times’s Charlie Savage and Eric Schmitt wrote.
- His administration signaled earlier this week that they’ll be receptive to states that want to require people to work to receive Medicaid benefits, as the Wall Street Journal’s Stephanie Armour and Louise Radnofsky reported.
- He’s working with Congress to kill several regulations from the end of Obama’s presidency through a sped-up, filibuster-proof process called the Congressional Review Act. (Basically, Republicans can use it to kill any rule Obama finished after mid-June 2016.)
- And just yesterday he announced he’ll order the EPA to review Obama’s fuel economy standards for cars — though like with many efforts to roll back environmental rules, this is merely the start of a complex legal and regulatory process, as Vox’s Brad Plumer explains.
Stat of the day
Seven percent. That’s how many registered voters think President Trump’s top priority should be repealing and replacing Obamacare, according to a new Fox News poll. Overhauling the health law came in sixth place out of the options offered, behind “create jobs,” “destroy ISIS,” “cut taxes,” “put Constitutionalists on the Supreme Court,” and “Other/None of the above.”
It’s a poll that makes me think it might not be so bad for the president if this whole Obamacare debate just … went away.
Weirdness of the day
“Trump pointed to Reince Priebus and said he may one day run a car company or maybe not.” (That’s per BuzzFeed News’s Adrian Carrasquillo, describing the president’s visit to an automated vehicle testing facility in Detroit yesterday afternoon in the White House pool report.)