In what has already become a venerable tradition for the young Trump administration, Vice President Mike Pence went on this week’s Sunday morning talk shows to downplay his boss’s latest assault on the foundations of American democracy.
This time around, the big topic was judicial independence and separation of powers. After a federal judge James Robart ordered a temporary halt to President Donald Trump’s Muslim ban on Friday, the president replied by casting doubt on Robart’s legitimacy the following morning.
The opinion of this so-called judge, which essentially takes law-enforcement away from our country, is ridiculous and will be overturned!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 4, 2017
When This Week host George Stephanopoulos asked Pence about Trump’s remarks on Sunday, the vice president’s reply boiled down to the following: No biggie.
“Is it right for the President to say ‘so-called judge’?” asked Stephanopoulos. “Doesn’t that undermine the separation of powers in the Constitution, written right next door?”
“I don’t think it does,” said Pence. “I think the American people are very accustomed to this President speaking his mind, and speaking very straight with them.”
The vice president then acknowledged that the judiciary does, in fact, have the authority to order a halt on the Muslim ban.
While the vice president may think that Trump’s fusillade at a “so-called judge” is nothing more than a bit of refreshing straight talk, legal scholars say the president is attacking the very underpinnings of America’s constitutional system.
“As far as I know, no president has publicly challenged the integrity of a judge who has ruled against him,” said University of Chicago law school professor Eric Posner in an op-ed for the New York Times. “Mr. Trump, as in so many other cases, has broken new ground.”
While Pence ran interference for the administration, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) offered up the mildest possible criticism of the president.
It is, he told CNN on Sunday, “best to avoid criticizing judges individually.”
That’s not the stance McConnell took when Donald Trump was merely the Republican presidential nominee. Back in June, when Trump was battling accusations of fraud against one of his failed businesses, he accused the judge in that case of having an “absolute conflict” because he was Mexican-American.
When NBC’s Andrea Mitchell asked McConnell whether he was willing to say Trump was wrong for making that allegation, the majority leader chuckled and said he was “willing to say that Donald Trump is a different kind of candidate.”