Days 56-62 of the Trump Administration

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Secretary of State Rex Tillerson

Trump’s second travel ban was shot down by a federal judge in Hawaii hours before it was set to take effect, as it was seen as a veiled Muslim ban. For now, visas will still be issued to people from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen. Judge Derrick K. Watson of the Federal District Court in Honolulu, Hawaii, argued in his decision against Trump’s second executive order that a “reasonable, objective observer” would see it as “issued with a purpose to disfavor a particular religion, in spite of its stated, religiously neutral purpose.” Meanwhile, Judge Chuang, an Obama-appointed federal judge in Maryland, also ruled against the travel ban on the grounds that President Trump’s public comments were “strong indications that the national security purpose is not the primary purpose for the travel ban.” In defense of the executive order, administrative lawyers argued that Trump was simply exercising his powers in the interests of national security. Jeffrey Wall, a lawyer in the United States solicitor general’s office, argued that no element of the order could be interpreted as a religious ban against foreign travelers. He drove to the Maryland court to deliver this argument and then relayed the same message to Judge Watson in Hawaii. The Trump administration remains confident that federal courts will eventually affirm the President’s power to enforce the travel restrictions.

In recent visits to Seoul, South Korea, and Beijing, China, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson revealed the administration’s goal of a harsher, more aggressive approach toward North Korea. “All options are on the table,” said Tillerson with regards to North Korea’s nuclear weapons program. This includes preemptive military action. The direction of relations with North Korea will largely be based around China’s response to the increased American pressure. China has long been an economic partner of North Korea and has done little to withdraw that support, which keeps North Korea afloat financially, despite pressure from the United Nations to do so. This is in part because China fears a refugee crisis or international turmoil on its border should it starve the North Korean economy. President Trump called China out on Twitter, stating that “China has done little to help!” However, in February China portrayed its willingness to punish its ally to the north, stopping all imports of North Korean coal by stating it had already imported the maximum annual amount outlined by UN sanctions (when in reality it had only imported 30%). “Let’s be very clear: the policy of strategic patience has ended,” said Tillerson at a news conference in Seoul. He was referring to the Obama administration’s policy for North Korea of waiting in anticipation that sanctions would eventually cripple Pyongyang, North Korea’s capital. Sanctions would then be lifted after it would give up its nuclear program. This statement comes in light of the advancements that North Korea has made in its pursuit of capable nuclear missiles in recent months. While its arsenal is currently small, fewer than ten nuclear missiles, it is believed that the country may now have enough plutonium and highly enriched uranium to expand its arsenal to build around twenty weapons.

In other news, FBI director James Comey publicly testified in front of the House Intelligence Committee, confirming that the FBI is investigating possible Russian influence on the 2016 presidential election, along with any potential linkage between Russian officials and the Trump campaign. Mr. Comey told the Committee that the FBI normally does not comment on important counterintelligence investigations, but revealed that the Justice Department gave him permission to do so due to the heightened public interest in the matter. The investigation has been ongoing since late July, 2016. National Security Agency Director Mike Rogers, who appeared before the Committee alongside Comey, revealed that no evidence exists showing that Russians actually changed votes. However, Comey revealed that Russian President Vladimir Putin “hated Secretary Clinton so much that the flip side of that coin was he had a clear preference for the person running against the person he hated so much.” Comey also denied Trump’s wiretapping claim, telling the Committee that no evidence exists that Obama monitored Trump Tower leading up to the election.

My Take

The American system of checks and balances is clearly at work—and that makes me optimistic. It gives me hope that Trump will not be able to force his controversial agenda into legislation unchecked. He will be fought along the way, as the American people saw with Trump’s failure to push his healthcare bill through congress. It is both fascinating and troubling to learn that the FBI has been investigating Russia since last July. I find it troubling because it signifies that while the Bureau has been taking the threat seriously, it has yet to come to any conclusions some eight months later. What is going on?

As far as North Korea goes, I agree that America has to do what it can in cooperation with China and South Korea to relieve international tensions and to quell the country’s nuclear weapons project. China’s newfound willingness to economically stress its longtime partner is promising; it shows a change in perspective regarding its ally, at least to some extent. This situation is tricky because diplomatic tactics and United Nation sanctions have done little to stop North Korea’s nuclear developments, and the risks of doing nothing are astronomical. Who knows what Kim Jong-un would do with a ballistic missile capable of reaching the United States. After all, he is quoted saying, “If the American imperialists provoke us a bit, we will not hesitate to slap them with a pre-emptive nuclear strike.”

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