Trump muddies GOP message on protecting the Constitution

Trump muddies GOP message on protecting the Constitution
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House Republicans on Thursday will roll out their plan to restore constitutional liberties and push back on what they see as President Obama’s executive overreach.

But the unveiling could prove awkward, with some arguing the GOP’s presumptive presidential nominee is showing flagrant disregard for the Constitution and the separation of powers. 

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In recent weeks, Donald TrumpDonald TrumpSenate Dems offer 'corrected' version of WH press release on Trump's first 100 days Trump to meet with Australian prime minister next month Liberal group files complaint on Mar-a-Lago promotion MORE has banned The Washington Post and other media outlets from his campaign events — something many see as an assault on the First Amendment. He took aim at the judicial branch, launching attacks against a Mexican-American federal judge presiding over a fraud case against Trump University.

And the billionaire businessman has pledged to build a wall on the southern border and block immigration from a number of Muslim nations, with or without help from Congress.

Those threats risk undermining the GOP leaders’ argument against Obama, who they say is violating the Constitution by taking unilateral actions on immigration policy. 

Republicans say their argument still stands.

“Unless [Trump] chooses to mimic President Obama’s pattern of executive overreach, he would need Congress. That’s the way the Constitution is supposed to work,” said a senior House GOP lawmaker. “And ignoring the Constitution has been core to our fights with President Obama over the last eight years.”

Restoring the Constitution is the fourth plank of Speaker Paul RyanPaul RyanGOP gives ground on border wall, deportation in spending talks McConnell signals Republican-only path on tax reform Georgia campaigns keep up pressure ahead of runoff vote MORE’s (R-Wis.) election-year agenda, dubbed “A Better Way.” It comes after years of battle between House Republicans and Obama over executive actions, particularly his 2012 move deferring deportation of immigrants who illegally came to the U.S. as children.

But like Ryan’s other recent policy rollouts, this one in the Capitol’s ornate Statuary Hall, could be upstaged by Trump’s controversial comments and policies.

“Is it sometimes inconvenient? Yeah. But it’s the reality. You gotta say what you think is right and I think Paul does that,” said Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho), who has not endorsed Trump. “Admittedly, Mr. Trump is making it very difficult for many of us that are not Hillary [Clinton] supporters and in the ‘Never Hillary’ camp to justify voting for Trump.

“And some of us, many of us, are having second thoughts.”

Leading Republicans condemned the New York businessman and reality TV star this week after he doubled down on his proposal to ban Muslims from entering the United States in the wake of the deadly terrorist attack at an Orlando nightclub. 

If Trump were to attempt to enact such an unprecedented plan as president, it would likely set up a showdown between the executive and legislative branches. 

A Ryan spokeswoman declined to comment for this story. But the Speaker this week argued that such a ban amounts to a “religious test” that breaks from conservatism and is unconstitutional, a violation of the freedom of religion protected by the First Amendment.

There’s also a question of what would happen to Muslim-American citizens who leave the country and try to return. The Speaker and other GOP leaders have pushed for tougher vetting of refugees from war-torn countries like Syria and Iraq.

“We can’t ban people from our country based on their religious faith. It is both unconstitutional and un-American,” Rep. Luke Messer (R-Ind.), chairman of the Republican Policy Committee, said Wednesday.

But in his post-Orlando national security address, Trump argued that the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 authorized the president to block “any class of persons that the president deems detrimental to the interests or security of the United States.”

“I will use this power to protect the American people,” Trump declared.

It was coverage of the candidate’s other Orlando remarks earlier that day that prompted him to ban all Washington Post reporters from future campaign events.

The candidate suggested Obama might sympathize with radical Islamic terrorists, which the Post initially reported as Trump suggesting the president was involved in the attack. 

Team Trump got upset with the headline and issued a statement revoking press credentials for all Post reporters  — a step the campaign also has taken with other news outlets, including BuzzFeed, the Huffington Post, Politico and the Daily Beast. 

“We no longer feel compelled to work with a publication which has put its need for ‘clicks’ above journalistic integrity,” the Trump campaign said of the Post. “They have no journalistic integrity and write falsely about Mr. Trump.”

Some congressional Republicans, most of whom interact with the press on a near-daily basis at the Capitol or back in their districts, panned Trump’s growing media blacklist. So did media organizations like the White House Correspondents’ Association.

“The idea of a free press, in essence an unfettered press, is essential to democracy,” said Rep. Reid RibbleReid RibbleWith Trump, conservatives hope for ally in 'War on Christmas' GOP rushes to embrace Trump House stays Republican as GOP limits losses MORE (R-Wis.), a frequent Trump critic who is good friends with Ryan. “Look at the First Amendment, freedom of the press, freedom of religion — these are core, essential things that a democracy needs to survive. 

“I’ve been disappointed at the lack of transparency at the White House, and I’m certainly disappointed by the idea that we’re going to ban a reporter a political campaign because you don’t like the tone and tenor of what they write about you,” Ribble continued. “We need more information, not less in this world. ... We need more transparency, not more things hidden.” 

Other Republicans said it’s Trump’s right to decide who he admits to his campaign rallies because they are private events and he hasn’t been elected. But they said it’s not something they would have done as a presidential candidate. Trump, for his part, said this week that he wouldn’t boot reporters from the White House Briefing Room. 

“If he’s going to do that for unfavorable coverage, he’s pretty soon going to be there by himself,” quipped Rep. Lynn Westmoreland (R-Ga.), a member of the GOP whip team who is backing Trump. 

“Obviously, speaking to the press is part of the process,” added vulnerable freshman Rep. Barbara Comstock (R-Va.), who has not endorsed Trump and who represents suburbs outside of D.C.

“I would not have done it,” said Rep. Dennis Ross (R-Fla.), a Trump supporter. “I believe the public has a right to know, you [the press] have a job to do and I’ve got a job to do, and what I do is fair game.”

Rep. Justin AmashJustin AmashGreens take climate fight to GOP town halls US pressure on Saudis can help promote peace in Yemen Who will replace Chaffetz on Oversight? MORE (R-Mich.), chairman of the libertarian-leaning House Liberty Caucus, argued that Trump’s treatment of the press doesn’t violate the First Amendment but still called it a “bad idea.”

“I think it’s a bad idea but the Constitution and specifically the Bill of Rights are there to protect us against government, and he’s not really government at this point,” Amash, an attorney, told The Hill.

“But it’s certainly getting into the more dangerous area when he starts to do that if he becomes president.”

Ribble, who serves in the Wisconsin delegation with Ryan, said he’s urging the Speaker to stop talking about Trump. He’s simply become too much of a distraction. 

“Based on how the press is dealing with the Speaker, everything Trump says steps on what [Ryan is] trying to do,” Ribble said. “So there’s always going to be this conflict now, and it’s really unfortunate that Paul’s got to answer so much stuff about Trump when we are an equal and separate branch of government.”

“I would rather the Speaker stop answering questions about Trump.”