Attacks on American judges are "disheartening and demoralizing." Those words don't come from a Democratic senator or establishment Republican — they are the view of Neil Gorsuch, President Donald Trump's nominee for the open seat on the Supreme Court.
They initially surfaced because a Democratic senator felt comfortable sharing publicly Gorsuch's comments in a private conversation — comments Gorsuch and the White House later confirmed. Trump tweeted Thursday that Sen. Richard Blumenthal, the Democratic senator who shared these comments, "misrepresents what Judge Gorsuch told him," despite confirmation from Gorsuch's spokesman. Trump also questioned Blumenthal's military record. (It should be noted that Blumenthal was in the Marine Corps Reserves during the Vietnam War and did not serve in combat. Trump, meanwhile, avoided the war with five deferments.)
This follows weeks of leaks, often denied by the White House or Trump on Twitter, and all of it raising questions about Trump's ability to do anything well. There were the recent allegations that the president regrets hiring his press secretary and that he called Michael Flynn at 3 a.m. for an explanation on the dollar. Last week, there were various accounts of troubled calls with Australia and Mexico. In the view of the media, where there's smoke, there's fire — and that creates an appearance of indecision, infighting and ineptitude.
That back-and-forth entirely overshadows any policy initiative or project Trump is moving forward. While leaks and judicial bickering dominated headlines, the repeal of the Affordable Care Act began to take shape, with conservative ideas some believe will wreak havoc on the system.
After a spate of executive orders — which Trump has consciously reined in — the White House is consumed by negative headlines and a looming decision on the president's immigration ban. Then, to pile it on, the president tweeted criticism of Nordstrom — and retweeted it from the @POTUS account — after the department store cut ties to his daughter, Ivanka Trump, because her products were not selling. (By the way, that's playing out great for Nordstrom.)
The question is not whether Trump will recover from this. Candidate Trump came back from far worse on the campaign trail. The real issue is this: Are these leaks wholly uncoordinated, not meant to advance a broader agenda — or are they part of a communications strategy built around the same distraction techniques deployed during the campaign?
To make things more interesting, a Democratic National Committee senior adviser said Thursday that leaking Gorsuch's comments could work in the White House's favor by making the judge appear moderate. "This is clearly a meaningless White House attempt to help Judge Gorsuch pretend he won't be a rubber stamp on Trump's administration," said Zac Petkanas of the DNC. And while Blumenthal advanced the story about Gorsuch's comments, he made clear he still has deep concerns about the Supreme Court nominee.
Would the White House want Gorsuch's comments leaked as a roundabout way to advance his nomination? Did Trump tweet to create the appearance of discord to lend credence to Gorsuch's views? Indulge your wildest conspiracy theories.
This is Mic's daily read on Donald Trump's America — and how it affects you. Welcome to the political newsletter Sen. Richard Blumenthal once leaked. Want to receive this as a daily email in your inbox? Subscribe here.
• Today: White House leaks, rhetoric and tweets cause continued chaos.
• More: How to deal with this communication strategy (or lack thereof)
• Even more: Jeff Sessions is your new attorney general — what that means for the Justice Department.
• Yes, more: An executive order is reportedly brewing that could target Muslims inside the U.S. A must-read from Mic.
• Trump's agenda today: Participating in the swearing-in of Sessions, calls with Middle Eastern leaders and keying in on the Supreme Court confirmation
As expected, it's Jeff Sessions
His final confirmation vote did not require a tiebreaker, but that didn't steer Jeff Sessions clear of controversy during the process to confirm him as U.S. attorney general. Democrats grilled Sessions in committee hearings, delayed a vote there and again held the Senate floor in a 24-hour protest of the Alabama senator's nomination. That came to a head Tuesday night when Sen. Elizabeth Warren was told to "take her seat" and formally quieted, the coup de gras after weeks of Senate dysfunction that captivated the media. Sessions was confirmed Wednesday by a vote of 52 to 47.
What Sessions will mean for the Justice Department: Sessions begins as attorney general amid a court battle over President Donald Trump's immigration ban. On the campaign trail and during his confirmation hearings, Sessions said he would support stronger immigration and law enforcement policies, but not a ban that specifically targeted Muslims. During confirmation hearings, the Republican said he "abhors" the Ku Klux Klan and would protect equally the rights of all Americans. His fellow GOP senators repeatedly defended and praised Sessions as a restrained, thoughtful legal mind who will strictly follow laws created by Congress — not strike out on his own with control of federal law enforcement. Republicans frequently said Barack Obama appointees Eric Holder and Loretta Lynch had wrongly legislated in the top role at the department.
Those words never placated Democrats. Black lawmakers like Sen. Cory Booker and Rep. John Lewis said Sessions' states rights ideology would translate to weakened protections for black voters in the South. Lewis, a civil rights icon, compared Sessions' focus on law and order to the state troopers who beat him as he marched over the Edmund Pettis Bridge decades ago in Selma, Alabama. The president of the NAACP testified against Sessions and helped stage a sit-in at one of his Alabama offices.
While Democrats were unable to stop two controversial Cabinet nominees, their long-term strategy is still paying off. The majority of Trump's Cabinet remains unconfirmed, and it's unclear who else will make it through the Senate this week. Trump's nominees to oversee health care, financial policy and environmental protections — all conservative picks liberals scorn — could come up for a vote by Saturday
Trump vs. American Muslims?
Something is brewing in the White House, and it could spell deep trouble for Muslims in America.
The White House is reportedly reviewing an executive order that would declare the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization. That move — which many conservatives support — could give the Trump administration an opening to go after other groups allegedly linked to the Brotherhood. This could lay the groundwork for mosques to be raided, the weakening of Muslim civil rights, the inability to accept donations and more. It's important to note a large majority of Brotherhood members, while endorsing a conservative view of Islam, denounced terrorism and violence decades ago. The Brotherhood has been targeted and persecuted by dictatorships across the Middle East and North Africa ever since, working in some countries to build grassroots support for democratic elections.
News and insight you cannot miss:
• The CEO of Intel announced a $7 billion investment in a factory in Arizona at the White House. It was another business "win" for Trump. But would that investment have happened even if he wasn't president? (Washington Post)
• More than a third of Americans do not know the "Affordable Care Act" and "Obamacare" are the same thing. (New York Times)
• "Easy D!": the tweet heard round the world. (Mic)
• No one wants to be Trump's communications director. (Politico)
• Why conservative Texas would the biggest loser in a trade war with Mexico. (Mic)
• Does a strong U.S. dollar sound good? Think again — it can seriously hurt American jobs and businesses. (Mic)