Donald Trump is attacking the "Justice Dept." — but DOJ didn't sign the second executive order. Donald Trump did.
Shortly after the first executive order was put on hold, Trump promised that his administration would work on a new one. Three of his Cabinet secretaries gave a press conference rolling it out on March 6. And it's only in effect now because President Trump himself, presumably, put his pen to the text.
But the minute the second executive order ran up against legal trouble, Trump started distancing himself from it.
First he said in Nashville that "I wasn't thrilled, but the lawyers all said, oh, let's tailor it. This is a watered down version of the first one. This is a watered down version. And let me tell you something. 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."
Now he appears to be washing his hands entirely — blaming it on his own Justice Department, rather than, say, the person who signed both of them.
The weird thing is that as a matter of policy, not a lot changed from the first executive order to the second. Iraq was taken off the list of blacklisted countries whose residents would be banned from entering the US for 90 days. Syrian refugees were no longer explicitly indefinitely banned from the US — instead, they'd just be part of the global 120-day ban on refugees, and subject to "extreme vetting" afterward. And a provision that would have allowed "religious minorities" to seek asylum even when others couldn't — which Trump said in an interview the day he signed the first executive order was designed to favor Christians in the Middle East — was taken out.
So it's hard to say exactly what the president sees as so impermissibly weak and politically correct in the new version of the executive order. Certainly, the president himself doesn't tend to talk about the policy in enough detail to figure that out.
What it looks like, from here, is that President Trump objected to the mere fact of having to change his executive order to pass muster with the courts. He's made it clear time and again that he has nothing but contempt for the deliberate pace of the judicial process, which he finds "slow and political."
And it's increasingly becoming clear that he isn't forgetting or forgiving the insult he feels he was served in being asked, by his own government lawyers, to tailor the executive order to pass judicial muster — only to discover that it still wasn't a slam-dunk case.
It's yet another sign of the president's near-pathological unwillingness to admit mistake or defeat, instead insisting on blaming others whenever anything goes wrong. And it's another sign that after having been president for more than five months, Donald Trump remains aggressively disinterested to the point of contempt in how the government actually works.
Trump makes no secret that he views any setback to his imposition of his power as a slap in the face and an act of unacceptable impertinence. The fact that this is not at all how the federal government is supposed to work, or how it actually works now, doesn't appear to have made much of an impression during the time he's been in office.
The only question is whether this is a reflection of total neglect for the job he's signed up for through January 2021 (or later), or an affirmative desire to bend the federal government to his capricious and would-be autocratic will.
Commentary by Dara Lind, a writer for Vox covering immigration. Follow her on Twitter @DLind.
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