WASHINGTON (AP) — Late Friday night, some of President Donald Trump's top advisers huddled on the phone to craft a response to a court ruling that blocked the White House's refugee and immigration ban.
The White House statement slammed the order as "outrageous." But the president's lawyers quickly raised objections to that wording, according to a White House official. About 10 minutes later, a new statement was sent without the fiery characterization of the ruling.
The lawyers' warnings don't appear to have made their way to the president. On Saturday morning, Trump lashed out on Twitter at the "so-called judge" and called the judge's decree "ridiculous."
Later Saturday, Trump followed that tweet with another: "What is our country coming to when a judge can halt a Homeland Security travel ban and anyone, even with bad intentions, can come into U.S.?"
The episode illustrated just how little ability anyone in the White House has when it comes to restraining the president — not his lawyers, his aides or his family. Not even at a time when Trump's views of judicial independence could complicate the looming confirmation fight for his nominee to the Supreme Court, which holds one of the ultimate checks on presidential power.
Sen. Chuck Schumer, the top Democrat in the Senate, said Saturday that Trump's tweet "shows a disdain for an independent judiciary" and "raises the bar even higher" for Trump's Supreme Court nominee, federal appeals court judge Neil Gorsuch.
"His ability to be an independent check will be front and center throughout the confirmation process," Schumer said of Gorsuch.
While presidents have publicly disagreed with court rulings before, personal criticism of a judge is rare. The independence of the judiciary is enshrined through the Constitution's separation of powers, and judges are supposed to have freedom to decide cases impartially and without political pressure.
In 2008, President George W. Bush said he disagreed with a Supreme Court ruling upholding the rights of prisoners at the U.S. facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, but said his administration would "abide by the court's decision." During his 2010 State of the Union address, President Barack Obama rebuked the Supreme Court's decision in the Citizens' United campaign finance, though he opened his remarks by noting that his criticism was "with all due deference to separation of powers."
Trump's Twitter attacks were a sharp contrast to his measured, statesman-like introduction of Gorsuch during an address to the nation Tuesday night. Gorsuch, a 49-year-old conservative, has been widely praised by Republicans and his sterling credentials have put Democrats eager to block Trump any way they can in a bind over how hard to fight his nomination.
On Saturday, after Trump disparaged U.S. District Judge James Robart, some Democrats appeared to sense an opening. Sen. Patrick Leahy, top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, said Gorsuch must show an ability "to be an independent check and balance on an administration that shamefully and harmfully seems to reject the very concept."
Robart's ruling temporarily blocked Trump's executive order halting the entire U.S. refugee program and stopping all entries from seven Muslim-majority countries. The White House vowed to fight the ruling, even as government agencies moved swiftly Saturday to comply.
Republican lawmakers were largely silent about Trump's criticism of Robart, who was appointed by President George W. Bush and unanimously confirmed by the Senate in 2004.
Top GOP lawmakers did break with Trump during the presidential campaign, when he repeatedly criticized Gonzalo Curiel, a U.S.-born federal judge of Mexican descent, who ruled against him in a case involving Trump University, a for-profit education company.
At the time, Trump said Curiel's heritage meant he had an "an absolute conflict" in the case, given the then-candidate's hard stance on immigration and call for a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.
House Speaker Paul Ryan said then that Trump's comments about Curiel were "the textbook definition of a racist comment."
Trump has said his executive order, which was signed without robust input from the government agencies tasked with implementing the provisions, will keep Americans safe at home by keeping potential terrorists from entering the country.
"The president's order is intended to protect the homeland and he has the constitutional authority and responsibility to protect the American people," White House spokesman Sean Spicer said in Friday's statement. He also called the order both lawful and appropriate.
Experts have disagreed on the effectiveness of the order, which created chaos at U.S. airports and around the world. The State Department said up to 60,000 foreigners had their visas "provisionally revoked" to comply with Trump's directive.
Trump's order also sparked protests nationwide. More protests were planned for this weekend, including at Trump's estate in Palm Beach, Florida, where he is spending the weekend.
Associated Press writer Darlene Superville in Palm Beach, Florida, contributed to this report.
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