President Trump last night promptly fired acting U.S. Attorney General Sally Yates — an Obama administration holdover — after she declared that the Justice Department would refuse to defend his Muslim travel ban in court.
Yates had sought to throw a monkey wrench into the controversial ban, writing last night, “For as long as I am the acting attorney general, the Department of Justice will not present arguments in defense of the executive order, unless and until I become convinced that it is appropriate to do so.”
Yates didn’t last too long after making that statement. The White House press office said last night that Yates “has betrayed the Department of Justice by refusing to enforce a legal order designed to protect the citizens of the United States.”
The statement cast Yates as an Obama administration appointee “who is weak on borders and very weak on illegal immigration.” The president named Dana Boente, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, to replace Yates until his attorney general pick, Alabama U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions, is approved.
The Senate Judiciary Committee is expected to approve Sessions at a hearing this morning, and Republicans have the votes they need in the Senate to confirm him.
“The Democrats are delaying my cabinet picks for purely political reasons,” Trump tweeted last night before he canned Yates. “They have nothing going but to obstruct.”
The firing capped an explosive day of opposition to Trump’s order to temporarily suspend the U.S. refugee program and bar immigration from seven majority-Muslim countries.
Former President Barack Obama waited just 10 days in post-White House obscurity before emerging to encourage protesters who have fought the ban at international airports.
“Citizens exercising their Constitutional right to assemble, organize and have their voices heard by their elected officials is exactly what we expect to see when American values are at stake,” an Obama spokesman said.
Meanwhile, protesters gathered last night in front of the Supreme Court to fight the move.
More than 100 State Department officials also have expressed their concerns in a dissent memo, according to The Washington Post, but the Trump administration pushed back hard yesterday.
“They should either get with the program or they can go,” said White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer.
Trump’s executive action bans nationals from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen from entering the U.S. for 90 days and suspends the U.S. refugee program for four months. Syrian refugees are prohibited indefinitely.
Top Republican leaders have so far largely given Trump a pass. House Speaker Paul Ryan said through a spokeswoman over the weekend that the order was “not a religious test.”
And Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told ABC, “It’s hopefully going to be decided in the courts as to whether or not this has gone too far. I don’t want to criticize them for improving vetting.”
Trump’s ban remains largely intact. Though immigration attorneys had won victories over the weekend for those in limbo, Politico reported yesterday that the rulings so far don’t appear to have struck down the main points of the action.
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