Week In Politics: Appeals Court Upholds Stay On Travel Ban
ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
Now our Friday political commentators, columnists David Brooks of The New York Times, who joins us from Chicago this week. Hello, David.
DAVID BROOKS: Hello.
SIEGEL: And E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post and The Brookings Institution, who joins me in Washington. Hi, E.J.
E J DIONNE, BYLINE: Good to be with you.
SIEGEL: As we've just heard, the Trump administration is 0 for 2 in federal court in its first outing. E.J., is it a serious setback or a potential learning experience for President Trump?
DIONNE: It's 0 for 2, and the decision yesterday was 3 to 0. And I think that's a huge deal because the Republican-appointed judge signed this opinion that all three of them joined. And it was an enormous rebuke, both to their extraordinary claims of authority. But as Carrie pointed out earlier, I think it was really striking that in the oral argument the administration could offer no evidence that these heavily vetted - and they are already heavily vetted - refugees and travelers to the U.S. pose any threat to us.
And I think, in the long run, I don't know how they can rewrite these orders - there were rumors that they want to - without being charged that it's really directed against Muslims, especially if they continue to say, oh, we will accept Christian and other refugees. So I think this is a rebuke and an important one.
SIEGEL: In the executive order controversy, Trump called the trial judge a so-called judge. He tweeted after the appeals court ruling - see you in court, the security of our nation is at stake - in all caps. He called it a political decision. David Brooks, you wrote today that - and I'm quoting now - "with Trump we are relentlessly thrown into the Big Shaggy." (Laughter) What is that, and is that where we find remarks like those?
BROOKS: Yeah, the Big Shaggy is that dark place inside each of us where our fears and wounds and inner impulses come from. I got it from Maurice Sendak's "Where The Wild Things Are" - or at least resonance of that. And just Trump, whether it's this trial or anything else, sees the world as a very menacing, dangerous place. And he believes that the world - we can therefore act selfishly and ruthlessly because the world is so dangerous you need to do that to survive. And so what we see is this complex, whether it's this case or any of the others, whether it's immigration or China - or even Australia apparently - that he just is hypersensitive to threat and reacts viciously.
And so we get in any - like, the last 48 hours, he's attacked a couple senators. He's attacked a bunch of judges. We've got scandals with his communications director and his national security adviser. We just get all this incoming hostility I think, in part, emanating from his unconscious in a way that even defeats his own political philosophy.
DIONNE: Could I just say quickly any conversation that quotes Maurice Sendak is a good conversation? But I think one of the fascinating things that Trump seems to be doing is he's trying to heighten fears in the country, not only fears of terrorism but also fears of crime domestically. And this seems to have a political purpose, although I'm not quite sure yet what it is.
SIEGEL: Your take is that that's something strategic. That's something - or tactical may be the right word. David, do you agree with that or is he just incapable of seeing the world otherwise?
BROOKS: No, I think psychology is trumping strategy here. You know, he said this week that the murder rates were at a 47-year high. In fact, they're at a 57-year low, and this is just an untrue threat perception. Now, is - one of the questions for me, does he see the world as dangerous so he can justify his combativeness, or is he combative because he sees the world as dangerous?
But either way, we're in this mental cycle of threat, attack, threat perception, attack. And it's striking to me how much it's affecting the tone of the country. So much around the country, both on the right and left, whether it's silencing Elizabeth Warren or blocking Betsy DeVos from going through a school building today, the rate and level of enmity is just skyrocketing even over the last week.
SIEGEL: I want to return to Elizabeth Warren for a moment. The Senate debate over the confirmation of Jeff Sessions as attorney general provided that dramatic moment. The Massachusetts senator attempted to read a letter about Sessions that had been written by the late Coretta Scott King. She was silenced, and here's what happened next.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
ELIZABETH WARREN: Mr. President.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Unintelligible) Massachusetts.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: The senator from Massachusetts.
WARREN: Mr. President, I am surprised that the words of Coretta Scott King are not suitable for debate in the United States Senate. I ask leave of the Senate to continue my remarks.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Is there objection?
MITCH MCCONNELL: Object.
SIEGEL: That's Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. What's going on there? E.J., what's your take on that?
DIONNE: Well, I think Senator McConnell, as somebody said this week, took away her microphone and handed her a megaphone because it was extraordinary how much attention she got afterward. And I think there was - I think she got under the skin of the Republican senators. The part that she was reading really underscored one of the central reasons why Sessions is so mistrusted by liberals, civil rights groups.
There's a sentence, for example, in Coretta Scott King's letter written in 1986 when Jeff Sessions was rejected as a judge (reading) anyone who has used the power of his office as the United States attorney to intimidate and chill the free exercise of the ballots by citizens should not be elevated to our courts.
So she put the central issue on the table. The problem is if under Rule 19 you can't impute anything bad to a senator, well, that means you can't even debate any senator who's named for office. So it was a terrible moment.
SIEGEL: But she wouldn't have been silenced if the nominee was the governor of Alabama. The issue wasn't that she was criticizing a nominee. It was a fellow senator. That was the rule...
DIONNE: Right, but that - but again, the logic here is how can you debate a nomination if you can't criticize the nominee if he happens to be a senator? I guess that's a great way to get through without any debate at all.
SIEGEL: David Brooks, another point in relations between the administration and the Senate was it appears that Donald Trump's relations with John McCain are even worse than they were a week ago, which seemed hard. What happened?
BROOKS: Yeah. Well, he woke up and decided that John McCain was criticizing him again, so he went after him again for losing and losing. And I guess I go back to my point about the need for hostility. I mean, Donald Trump could have had an administration where he comes in with a populist agenda where he builds sort of an unpredictable alliance. I was sort of expecting him to lead with infrastructure spending and things like that. He'd get a bunch of Democrats. He'd get a Republicans - a few Republicans, and he'd cut crossways against our partisan divide.
He has done the opposite and even the worst. He's not even polarized upon Republican versus Democratic lines. He's shrunk the Republican base. And so the - his hostility - this is why I say his hostility or the tendency to lash out on this or any other subject - is defeating his own political philosophy.
DIONNE: And I think McCain will get his - some of his revenge in this controversy over Michael Flynn where he is being - it appears that he...
SIEGEL: The national security adviser.
DIONNE: The national security adviser who improperly spoke with Russia's ambassador before the administration started. McCain is a sharp critic of Putin's Russia. Flynn is going to be in trouble with him, I think.
SIEGEL: The question is, what did he discuss with the Russian ambassador? And when he assured Vice President Pence, who went off on television to back him up, that nothing untoward had been said about sanctions, was he being entirely straight? These are questions we'll obviously be hearing and reporting on in the coming days.
SIEGEL: E.J. Dionne, David Brooks, thanks once again.
BROOKS: Thank you.
(SOUNDBITE OF ALOE BLACC AND KING MOST SONG, "WITH MY FRIENDS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.