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Transition to Trump: What former presidents will be thinking on Trump’s inauguration day

Ever since Donald Trump won the election on November 8, the news media has delighted in commenting on who wouldn’t be at his inauguration, in essence arguing that being associated with Trump makes one a pariah to the world. First they reported that the entertainment industry’s A-list talent was saying “no thanks” en masse to invitations to perform.

Then they seemed pleased Jimmy Carter was the only former president who said for sure that he would make Trump inaugurationthe journey.

Well, the chattering class can stop hooting now.

Ben Kamisar of The Hill reports, “Bill and Hillary Clinton will attend President-elect Donald Trump's inauguration later this month, aides to the Clintons confirmed to The Hill on Tuesday.

“Hillary Clinton, the 2016 Democratic presidential nominee, faced Trump in a brutal and contentious campaign, which culminated in a stunning Election Day upset for Trump, despite Clinton’s big edge in the polls and her victory in the popular vote.”

Trump’s victory wasn’t that stunning, but we’ve been over this. The Clintons’ announcement wasn’t the only one to come on Tuesday, either.

Matthew Nussbaum of Politico reports, “Former president George W. Bush and Laura Bush will attend President-elect Donald Trump’s inauguration, Bush’s office announced Tuesday.

“’They are pleased to be able to witness the peaceful transfer of power — a hallmark of American democracy — and swearing-in of President Trump and Vice President Pence,’ Bush’s office said in a statement.”

Former vice president Dick Cheney will also be there. If the “formers” keep signing up at this pace the organizers might have to set up more chairs.

Only George H.W. Bush won’t be there in two weeks, citing age as an excuse for non-attendance. At 92 years of age, Bush senior gets a pass.

Add in Barack Obama and now four former presidents will be there in person to watch as the unlikeliest of all presidential candidates takes the oath of office. One wonders what will be going through their heads as the ultimate outsider -- the one who defeated the Washington establishment of both parties, the consultants, the pundits, the “experts” – puts his hand on the Bible, raises his right hand and recites the words.

It’s a moment they’re not likely to forget, and neither will the hundreds of millions watching all around the world, for they know things are about to change.

America now has a leader who isn’t afraid to name the enemy or step on toes to advance America’s interests abroad or disguise the fact he’s for Americans first.

Maybe those former presidents will be thinking, ‘I wish I’d said back then what he’s saying now.’ If they had, who knows how far it might have taken them.

In one of the great political curiosities that always seem to accompany a new year and a changing of the congressional guard, it was reported recently that President Obama and the Democrats were considering a plot to try and sneak Judge Merrick Garland’s Supreme Court nomination through as a recess appointment before the new Congress was sworn-in.

The action was to take place yesterday at a few minutes before noon. The gap between congressional sessions lasts only about five minutes, so that’s a pretty darn short “recess” for an appointment (and the Supreme Court essentially already ruled out the possibility several years ago) – still the rumor persisted.

It turns out nothing happened. But the notion that Obama might try and usurp the system one last time was certainly intriguing…after all, he’s done it before on numerous occasions.

But as of January 20 the newly sworn-in President Donald Trump will be in charge of appointing a successor for the late Justice Antonin Scalia. And from what it sounds like, Trump is looking beyond the present circumstances to see who might be his next pick should 83-year-old Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg or 80-year-old Justice Anthony Kennedy step down (or otherwise) in the next four years.

Shane Goldmacher and Josh Gerstein of Politico report, “Donald Trump has narrowed his short list for his first Supreme Court pick down to roughly a half-dozen finalists but the president-elect and his top advisers are already thinking about a second selection, as they seek to quickly remodel the high court with a reliably conservative bent…

“[I]n the current search process, Trump’s team is also hoping to identify a conservative candidate — possibly a woman — who could be more politically palatable, or at least harder for Senate Democrats to oppose, if Kennedy or Ginsburg leave the court.”

I have to admit, as soon as it became clear on election night that Trump was going to be the next president, my mind wandered to the possibility of not only saving the Supreme Court with Scalia’s replacement but also reshaping the entire institution with Trump’s potential picks number two and three.

The Politico article indicates Trump is consulting a wide array of folks for advice on whom to choose and that he wants to make the decision early in his presidency. Of the people interviewed for the story, the consensus seems to agree that the new president should select boldly for the current vacancy and hold back perhaps someone more politically palatable to fill the next one.

It makes sense. Though the Democrats are likely to put up a good fight opposing any Court nominee Trump selects – especially if he or she is a proven limited government conservative – they’ll likely save their strongest objections until the confirmation process of a possible replacement for a liberal Justice arrives.

The ideological split prior to Justice Scalia’s death was 4-4-1, with four solid conservatives (Scalia, Thomas, Alito and Roberts -- Obamacare notwithstanding), four lockstep liberals (Ginsburg, Sotomayor, Kagan and Breyer) and one wishy-washy “swing” vote (Kennedy) who is now considered to be grouped in with the conservatives.

In other words, filling Scalia’s seat with a conservative will only return the balance to 4-4-1.

If a liberal like Ginsburg or Justice Steven Breyer (age 78) leaves the court during Trump’s presidency, any Republican appointment will bring out the full wrath of the left to try and stop it. Even replacing Kennedy as the “swing” vote would likely generate a last-ditch suicide mission from liberals.

It should be noted that Republicans and conservatives haven’t had the opportunity to replace a liberal on the Court since the early 90’s when Clarence Thomas was appointed (by George H.W. Bush) to fill the seat of retiring liberal Justice Thurgood Marshall. Twenty-five years later things have gotten even more partisan in the confirmation process, making the next “ideological switch” nominee extremely tricky politically.

Considering Trump has only been in politics for about a year and a half, he’s demonstrated excellent political instincts in choosing Mike Pence to be his running mate and the solid conservatives that will constitute his cabinet. So he’ll handle the “replacement” situation well when the time comes, I would expect.

The Politico writers added, “Those close to Trump’s search process say that the list now under more serious consideration is closer to a half-dozen, including (Judge William) Pryor and (Judge Diane) Sykes, as well as 3rd Circuit Judge Thomas Hardiman, 6th Circuit Judge Raymond Kethledge, 8th Circuit Judges Steve Colloton and Raymond Gruender, 10th Circuit Judge Neil Gorsuch and Michigan Supreme Court Justice Joan Larsen.”

If you would like a closer look at those on the “short list,” here is more information from Politico.

As Sykes and Larsen are the only women on the list, they could be “held in reserve” because they conceivably may have an easier time passing through the confirmation gauntlet. I doubt there will ever be anything “easy” about confirmation with the current makeup of the Democrats in the Senate, but having a female nominee could mean an extra vote or two from vulnerable Democrat senators.

There is also the “nuclear option” to consider, which would abolish the potential for a 60-vote Democrat filibuster on Supreme Court nominees. As is widely known by now, the Democrats trashed the filibuster in 2013 (for administration and lower court judicial appointments), but they kept it in place for Supreme Court nominees.

If Democrats prove to be unreasonable with Supreme Court nominees, Republicans may do a “nuclear option” of their own.

With the country currently deeply divided ideologically (as shown by this Gallup survey) there would be few, if any, potential “compromise” nominations that would enjoy wide bipartisan support. Common sense says anyone Trump nominates will face intense opposition from the Democrats and liberal groups. Should Trump try to find someone “acceptable” to the other side (with a Republican Senate majority in place), he would be making a huge political mistake.

Trump likes to be popular – at least among his supporters. Here’s thinking he wouldn’t settle for a compromise candidate.

It’s exciting to know we’re likely only a couple weeks away from discovering the name of the next Supreme Court justice. Let’s hope Trump listens to the wise counsel of his advisors and selects someone like Justice Antonin Scalia.

Conservatives will have to trust Trump on his trade policy and nominations

With only a few top level administration posts left to fill – and most of the “big” ones revealed weeks ago – it should come as no surprise that Donald Trump saved the announcement of his choice for U.S. trade representative until after the Christmas and New Year’s holidays.

Kyle Balluck of The Hill reports, “President-elect Donald Trump will nominate Robert Lighthizer for U.S. trade representative, his transition team announced early Tuesday...

“Trump’s team said Lighthizer will work closely with Secretary of Commerce-designate Wilbur Ross and White House National Trade Council head Peter Navarro on policies to ‘shrink our trade deficit, expand economic growth, strengthen our manufacturing base and help stop the exodus of jobs from our shores.’”

The Trump press announcement also indicated Lighthizer will “do an amazing job helping turn around the failed trade policies which have robbed so many Americans of prosperity.”

As would be expected, free trade proponents weren’t thrilled with the potential elevation of Lighthizer, arguing he loves tariffs and hates trade agreements. But doesn’t that describe Trump too?

In terms of Lighthizer’s background, Susan Crabtree and Kyle Feldscher of the Washington Examiner report, “As the administration's top trade negotiator, Lighthizer will square off with foreign governments to help the new president fulfill his campaign promises of scrapping mammoth multinational deals such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership in favor of striking bilateral pacts with individual countries.

“Lighthizer, a well-known lawyer in Washington, interviewed with Trump in Mar-a-Lago in December. He is a partner at the prestigious law firm Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher and Flom, and his clients have included large U.S. corporations in the heavy manufacturing, agricultural and high-tech sectors. He has also served as lead counsel in numerous anti-dumping cases.”

Considering most Americans have never heard of Lighthizer and know very little, if anything, about the intricacies of international trade, this appointment definitely falls into the “we’ll need to trust Trump” category.

Trump himself has never kept his trade views a secret and one can only assume his trade negotiating team will be following his orders to tear up existing “bad deals” and begin forging a new direction in U.S. policy where the interests of American workers come first.

Volumes of scholarly research have been compiled and written weighing the merits of free trade versus more of a nationalist/protectionist approach, with respected conservatives coming down on both sides of the argument. It’s certainly true that free trade makes products less expensive for everyone at stores like Walmart, which helps consumers buy their necessities and even some luxuries.

But if the people don’t have jobs to earn the money to buy the goods, what difference does it make what they cost? The same argument applies to immigration, where proponents claim bringing in unskilled immigrants to work for low wages benefits everyone.

We’ll have to see how Trump’s policies play out. Free trade agreements such as NAFTA have had their chance to be implemented. The results speak for themselves. At the very least, Trump deserves some leeway to try it his way. On the surface, Trump’s new get-tough rhetoric seems to be working to keep jobs in America.

It’s an idea worth exploring.

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