Active Trump on EPA, Chicago, Voter Fraud, Supreme Court, Wall

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump has had a very busy first few days in office, and his office made sure everybody knows it.

Supreme Court

He said Wednesday he intends to announce his nominee for the Supreme Court on Feb. 2, and three federal appeals court judges are said to be the front-runners to fill the lifetime seat held by the late Justice Antonin Scalia, a conservative icon.

The leading contenders, who have met with Trump, are William Pryor, Neil Gorsuch and Thomas Hardiman, according to a person familiar with the process who was not authorized to speak publicly about internal decisions and discussed the search on condition of anonymity. The three, ranging in age from 49 to 54, were on the list of 21 potential high court picks Trump announced during his presidential campaign.

Pryor, 54, is an Alabama-based judge on the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Gorsuch, 49, is on the Denver-based 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Hardiman, 51, is based in Pittsburgh for the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. All were nominated by President George W. Bush for their current posts.

Trump has promised to seek someone in the mold of conservative icon Antonin Scalia, who died nearly a year ago after serving on the Supreme Court for more than 29 years. Senate Republicans prevented President Barack Obama from filling the seat, a political gamble that paid off when Trump was elected.

It’s hard to know what might persuade Trump to choose one instead of the others, said John Malcolm, a senior lawyer at the conservative Heritage Foundation. “He’s got to feel comfortable with the guy. It’s a part of his legacy, a very important part of his legacy,” Malcolm said.

Justices often serve for decades after the president has chosen them leaves office. The longest serving justice currently on the bench, Anthony Kennedy, was a Ronald Reagan appointee who joined the court in 1988.

Democrats and liberal interest groups, fuming over the Republican refusal to consider Obama’s nomination of Judge Merrick Garland to the court, are ready to fight any Trump nominee who is “outside the mainstream,” Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said after a White House meeting about the court vacancy Tuesday.

Conservatives said the contenders all share Scalia’s commitment to the text and meaning of the Constitution. “These are not stealth candidates. Their records are there for everyone to see and to understand. Their judicial philosophy is well within the mainstream of American legal thought,” said Leonard Leo, a conservative lawyer who has been advising Trump on the filling the vacancy.

Of the three leading candidates, only Pryor faced significant opposition when nominated to the appeals court. Senate Democrats refused to allow a vote on his nomination, leading Bush initially to give Pryor a temporary recess appointment. In 2005, the Senate confirmed him 53-45, after senators reached an agreement to curtail delaying tactics for appellate judgeships.

Gorsuch was approved by a voice vote in 2006. Schumer and Feinstein were among the 95 senators who voted for Hardiman’s confirmation in 2007. Hardiman is a colleague of Trump’s sister, Judge Maryanne Trump Barry.

Pryor has a reputation as staunch conservative with a taste for academic rigor. He once called the landmark 1973 decision legalizing abortion the “worst abomination in the history of constitutional law.” As Alabama attorney general, he also angered some conservatives for urging a judicial discipline panel to remove Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore from office after he refused to obey a court order take down a Ten Commandments monument from the lobby of the state judicial building.

Some conservatives also have recently criticized Pryor for his vote in 2011 in favor of a transgender woman who sued for sex discrimination.

Gorsuch is the closest on Trump’s list to a Washington insider — the son of former EPA administrator Anne Gorsuch, educated in the Ivy League and at Oxford, law clerk to Justice Anthony Kennedy and Bush-era Justice Department official.

His opinions and outside writings, praised for their clear, colloquial style, include a call for courts to second-guess government regulations, defense of religious freedom and skepticism toward law enforcement. He has contended that courts give too much deference to government agencies’ interpretations of statutes. He sided with groups that held religious objections to the Obama administration’s requirements that employers provide health insurance that includes contraception.

Hardiman has sided with jails seeking to strip-search inmates arrested for even minor offenses and has supported gun rights, dissenting in a 2013 case that upheld a New Jersey law to tighten requirements for carrying a handgun in public. Last year, he joined two 3rd Circuit colleagues in affirming the $1 billion settlement of NFL concussion claims, rejecting complaints that men with depression and mood disorders were left out of the deal. A Massachusetts native, he settled in Pittsburgh, where his wife comes from a family of prominent Democrats.

Chicago

Trump is serving notice he’s ready to “send in the Feds” if Chicago can’t reduce its homicide figures.

Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson responded late Tuesday, saying: “The Chicago Police Department is more than willing to work with the federal government to build on our partnerships with DOJ (Department of Justice), FBI, DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration) and ATF (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms) and boost federal prosecution rates for gun crimes in Chicago.”

Mayor Rahm Emanuel criticized Trump on Monday for worrying about the size of the crowd at his inauguration. Emanuel, a longtime political ally of former President Barack Obama, also acknowledged his own frustration with Chicago’s crime rate.

Earlier this month, before he took office, Trump tweeted that Emanuel should ask for federal help if he isn’t able to bring down the homicide rate. Last year, the death toll soared to 762 — the most killings in the city in nearly two decades and more than New York and Los Angeles combined.

This year’s numbers cited by Trump were slightly different to the latest tally from the Chicago Police Department. As of Tuesday, Chicago police said 234 people have been shot in 2017, including 38 who died. At this point last year, according to Chicago police, there had been 227 shot in 2016, including 33 deaths.

Trump isn’t offering specifics about how the federal government could help. The White House website says: “Our country needs more law enforcement, more community engagement and more effective policing.”

Voter Fraud

A spokesman says Trump’s belief that there were millions of illegal votes cast in the November election is based on “studies and evidence.”

But spokesman Sean Spicer did not provide examples of that evidence.

Trump first made the false claim during the transition. He reiterated the statement in a meeting Monday night with lawmakers, blaming illegal ballots for his loss of the popular vote.

Spicer says Trump “continues to maintain that belief.” There has been no evidence to support the claims that there was widespread voter fraud in the election.

Spicer’s only attempt to support Trump’s assertion was to point a 2008 Pew Research survey that showed a need to update voter registration systems.

Widespread voter fraud has been largely discredited, and the Justice Department previously found virtually no evidence of it occurring over a five-year period.

Wall

Trump tweeted out plans to begin work on his infamous “wall” between the United States and Mexico.

President Donald Trump will begin rolling out executive actions on immigration Wednesday, beginning with plans for building a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border and other enforcement measures, according to two administration officials.

Trump is also expected to roll out plans for restricting refugee flows to the U.S. later in the week.

Trump campaigned on pledges to tighten U.S. immigration policies, including beefing up border security and stemming the flow of refugees. He also called for halting entry to the U.S. from Muslim countries, but later shifted to focus on “extreme vetting” of those coming from countries with terrorism ties.

The officials insisted on anonymity in order to confirm the plans ahead of Trump’s official announcement. The president is expected to sign the actions Wednesday during a trip to the Department of Homeland Security.

EPA

The Trump administration is moving to delay implementation of at least 30 environmental rules finalized in the closing months of President Barack Obama’s term. That could be a potential first step in seeking to kill the regulations.

A summary of actions published Tuesday in the Federal Register includes rulings that updated air pollution standards for several states, renewable fuel standards and limits on the amount of formaldehyde that can leach from wood products.

Trump signed a directive shortly after his inauguration Friday ordering a “regulatory freeze pending review” for all federal agency rules that had been finalized but have not yet taken effect.

The action sets the new effective date for all 30 regulations as March 21.

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(© Copyright 2017 The Associated Press and CBS D.C. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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