Live Coverage

Today's News: Jan. 31, 2017

Trump nominates Neil Gorsuch for the Supreme Court, scandal in the French presidential election, and more from the United States and around the world.

Neil Gorsuch and President Trump Kevin Lamarque / Reuters

—President Trump nominated Neil Gorsuch to fill the 11-month-old vacancy on the U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday night, fulfilling his campaign promise to appoint a staunch conservative justice to replace Antonin Scalia. More here

—French presidential candidate allegedly paid his wife and two of their children nearly 1 million euros for jobs they may not have held. More here

—We’re tracking the news stories of the day below. All updates are in Eastern Standard Time (GMT -5).


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Schumer Votes Against McConnell's Wife

J. Scott Applewhite / AP

The Senate is a famously cordial legislative body—a small country club with voting privileges, where pleasantries are exchanged, decorum is observed, and courtesies are extended even in the most partisan political environment.

One of those courtesies is that when the Senate majority leader’s wife is up for a Cabinet post, she’ll face little opposition from the minority party. So it drew plenty of notice on Tuesday when one of the six Democrats to vote against Elaine Chao’s nomination to be transportation secretary was the party’s leader, Senator Charles Schumer of New York. Schumer had voiced no objections to Chao—a former labor secretary who is married to Mitch McConnell—before the vote and notably omitted her from the eight Trump nominees that Democrats were planning to fight aggressively. She had won praise from other Democrats as perhaps the most qualified and least controversial of the president’s Cabinet picks.

Moreover, Schumer and McConnell are known to have a solid working relationship. When they aren’t battling over policy, the two party leaders must collaborate frequently on the Senate floor schedule, since almost any action McConnell takes is subject to unanimous consent from senators.

Schumer is under increasing pressure from liberal activists to fight Trump at every turn following the protests over the president’s executive order on immigration. The New York Democrat was asked on Tuesday if he was trying to send a message with his vote against Chao. Schumer said he wasn’t, but he laid down a new standard for any nominee to get his support: “My view,” he told reporters, “is that every nominee to the Cabinet should state their position on this executive order.” Schumer said Chao did not respond when Senator Bill Nelson of Florida asked for her opinion on Monday, and therefor he voted against her nomination on the floor.

Read more about the Senate’s busy day handling Trump’s nominees in our Cabinet Tracker.

White House Press Secretary: Sally Yates 'Was Rightfully Removed'

Carolyn Kaster / AP

At the White House briefing Tuesday, Press Secretary Sean Spicer defended President Trump’s decision to remove the acting attorney general Monday night after she refused to enforce his executive order on refugees and immigration, framing Trump’s decision as proper and in line with executive-branch norms.

“When she, as the acting attorney general, is not only responsible but required to execute lawful orders and defiantly says no, as someone who was chosen to lead a department, she was rightfully removed,” Spicer said. Yates was a President Obama appointee who the Trump administration asked to temporarily lead the Justice Department before his nominee, Jeff Sessions, is confirmed. “That is a position of leadership that is given to somebody who is supposed to execute orders that are handed down to them properly.”

Since Trump’s executive order was issued Friday night—leading to widespread protests and disorder at the nation’s airports—legal experts, members of Congress, and the public have debated its constitutionality and questioned its chaotic rollout. Spicer suggested that Yates’s decision didn’t “jive” with that of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, which had previously signed off on the executive order. But in her public statement, released Monday evening, Yates had explained how her job as attorney general differs from that office’s:

OLC’s review is limited to the narrow question of whether, in OLC’s view, a proposed executive order is lawful on its face and properly drafted. Its review does not take account of statements made by an administration or it surrogates close in time to the issuance of an executive order that may bear on the order’s purpose. And importantly, it does not address whether any policy choice embodied in an Executive Order is wise or just. …

My role as leader of this institution is different and broader. My responsibility is to ensure that the position of the Department of Justice is not only legally defensible, but is informed by our best view of what the law is after consideration of all the facts.

Yates added that she didn’t think defense of the order was “consistent with [my] responsibilities nor am I convinced that the executive order is lawful.” In the hours after her statement, liberals and other Trump opponents hailed Yates as a hero for rejecting the order, which curbs immigration from majority-Muslim nations and halted the country’s refugee program. The White House, meanwhile, worked quickly to replace her.

Asked by a reporter if Trump intends to remove other officials who defy his orders, Spicer suggested Trump’s move wasn’t unusual. “I think that that kinda comes with the job, right?” Cabinet members and appointees know “they serve at the pleasure of the president,” who is supposed to lay out an agenda and a “vision” for the country, he said. Officials’ job “is to fulfill that, and if they don’t like it, then they shouldn’t take the job.”

DHS Secretary Defends Travel Ban

Andrew Harnik / AP

Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly said Tuesday that he knew of the executive order on immigration that targeted seven Muslim-majority countries, but did not offer any detail on what he knew of the order ahead of time. “I did know it was under development,” Kelly told reporters.

President Trump’s executive order on immigration that was signed on Friday prompted backlash across the country. The order suspends refugee admission for 120 days, bars Syrian refugees from being admitted to the country, and imposes a temporary ban on those traveling to the United States from Iraq, Iran, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, Sudan and Libya. Lawmakers and officials, including possibly Kelly himself, were reportedly left in the dark about the language in the order. The directive sparked protests at airports across the country over the weekend, and the acting attorney general was fired Monday night after instructing Department of Justice attorneys not to defend the ban, arguing it could be unlawful.

According to a New York Times report published on Sunday, Kelly, who was on a Coast Guard plane en route to Washington, was “on a White House conference call getting his first full briefing on the global shift in policy” when an official noted that the president was already signing the executive order being discussed. Kelly conceded Tuesday that the agency had people involved in the order’s drafting, but added, “I didn’t get involved in correcting grammar or reformatting the thing.”

Kelly defended the executive order, which critics have called illegal religious discrimination. “This is not—I repeat—not a ban on Muslims. The Homeland Security mission is to safeguard the American people, our homeland, our values, and religious liberty is one of our most fundamental and treasured values,” he said.

Democrats Are Boycotting Trump Cabinet Votes

J. Scott Applewhite / AP

Senate Democrats are boycotting committee votes Tuesday on two would-be Cabinet officials: Tom Price, President Trump’s nominee to helm the Department of Health and Human Services, and Steve Mnuchin, his nominee for secretary of the treasury.

The Senate Finance Committee was slated to vote on both Price and Mnuchin Tuesday, advancing both nominations toward confirmation. Democrats cited, in part, recent negative news reports about the nominees as reason for their boycott, a move that will likely please liberals who’ve pushed in recent days for their representatives to uniformly oppose Trump’s nominees. According to Reuters, Senate Democrats “wanted more information” on Price’s investments in an Australian health-care company, which have raised questions about conflicts of interest. And Mnuchin, who formerly helmed the bank OneWest, has been criticized for allegedly misleading the Senate on his bank’s use of robosignings, a rapid method of approving property foreclosure documents.

At the mid-morning committee vote on Price, a congressman from Georgia, Senate Republicans condemned their Democratic counterparts for the boycott. “This is one of the most alarming things that I’ve seen in my whole 40 years in the U.S. Senate,” said Chairman Orrin Hatch. “I’m really disappointed in my colleagues,” he later added. “I hope that the cameras that are in this room focus on these empty chairs over here.” For now, the committee is adjourned.

Trump Will Keep Obama's Protections for LGBT Federal Workers

Carlos Barria / Reuters

The White House released a statement Tuesday promising the Trump administration will keep an Obama-era executive order protecting LGBT rights. The 2014 measure prohibits federal contractors that do over $10,000 per year in government business from discriminating against workers on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. In 1998, Bill Clinton signed an order prohibiting discrimination against federal employees on the basis of sexual orientation, which also remained in place under his Republican successor, George W. Bush.

At the time Obama’s order was signed, the order was praised widely by LGBT advocates, but it was criticized by religious groups that hoped for an exemption from the rule. “While the nation has undergone incredible social and legal change over the last decade, we still live in a nation with different beliefs about sexuality,” read a letter written by 14 prominent religious leaders at the time, including several involved in the Obama administration. “An executive order that does not include a religious exemption will significantly and substantively hamper the work of some religious organizations that are best equipped to serve in common purpose with the federal government.”

President Trump’s decision to keep the order—without a religious exemption, at least for now—is an interesting departure from conservative orthodoxy. Conservative groups had predicted that the president would address this issue early on in his term: For example, Kelly Shackelford of First Liberty Institute, a Texas-based religious-liberty litigation firm, thought Trump might rescind the order. But the White House statement suggests this decision came from Trump himself: “President Donald J. Trump is determined to protect the rights of all Americans, including the LGBTQ community,” it said.

No matter what, the president is unlikely to win the favor of LGBT advocacy groups. “Claiming ally status for not overturning the progress of your predecessor is a rather low bar,” the Human Rights Campaign said in a statement. “Donald Trump talks a big game on his support for LGBTQ people, yet he has filled his cabinet with people who have literally spent their careers working to demonize us and limit our rights.”

Israel Calls Iran's Reported Missile Test a Violation of UN Security Council Resolution

(Baz Ratner / Reuters)

Iran reportedly has tested a missile, leading Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to call it a “flagrant violation” of a UN Security Council resolution. It’s unclear what kind of missile was tested and whether it was successful, though The New York Times reported the “missile traveled about 600 miles, but its re-entry vehicle reportedly exploded before the flight was complete.” This is the latest Iranian missile test since it signed a nuclear deal with the U.S. and other world powers in 2015. The current UN Security Council resolution, adopted after the nuclear deal, “calls upon” Iran to refrain from activity related to “ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons.” That marked an apparent softening of language from a 2010 resolution that prohibited Iran from work on “ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear warheads.” Netanyahu said he’d raise the issue with President Trump during his visit next month to Washington, D.C. His hawkish views on Iran are more likely to find a sympathetic ear in the new administration. President Obama, who never hid his sentiments about Netanyahu, was a major proponent of the nuclear deal. The UN Security Council will hold a meeting today to discuss the missile launch following a request from the U.S.

Trump to Announce Supreme Court Pick

President Trump is scheduled to announce his nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court at 8 p.m. The choice would fill the vacancy created by Justice Antonin Scalia’s death last year. The day could also see more fallout from Trump’s decision last night to fire Sally Yates, the acting attorney general who instructed the U.S. Justice Department’s lawyers not to defend the president’s executive order restricting immigration from seven Muslim-majority countries. Also Monday, Sean Spicer, the White House spokesman, said U.S. State Department officials who disagreed with the Trump administration’s orders “should get with the program or … go.” That followed reports that State Department officials were circulating a memo expressing opposition to Trump’s executive order. Meanwhile, the White House also announced the Trump administration would continue to defend an Obama-era order that protected the LGBT community in the workplace—a marked departure from conservative Republican positions on the issue.