Trump declares 'new era of justice,' swears in attorney general

Agence France-Presse
Sessions sworn in attorney general

US President Donald Trump watches with Vice President Mike Pence and Mary Sessions during a swearing-in ceremony for her husband, new US Attorney General Jeff Sessions (C), in the Oval Office of the White House on Feb. 9, 2017.

Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

US President Donald Trump declared a "new era of justice" Thursday as he swore in his attorney general and his hardline policies ran up against legal checks and balances.

Trump swore in Jeff Sessions in the Oval Office and signed three executive orders designed to burnish his law-and-order credentials.

"We face the menace of rising crime and the threat of deadly terror," said the Republican leader, doubling down on a dystopian vision of America.

"A new era of justice begins and it begins right now," he said.

Trump's tough talk belies a political and legislative agenda that has been beset by missteps and legal challenges.

The courts have frozen his ban on immigrants from seven majority-Muslim nations, prompting a stream of presidential invective directed at the judiciary.

The blowback from those outbursts continued Thursday, after Trump's own Supreme Court nominee described the president's comments as "disheartening" and "demoralizing."

Opposition Democrats echoed those criticisms, but also suggested the nominee, Neil Gorsuch, was trying to smooth his nomination by appearing as an independent voice.

A San Francisco federal appeals court is poised to rule by Friday on the legality of Trump's decree halting travel from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Sudan, Syria, Somalia and Yemen.

In a hearing Tuesday, the judges appeared skeptical of the White House's defense of the sweeping order, which critics say was aimed at Muslims in violation of US law.

Trump has blasted the ruling suspending his order, labelling the Seattle federal judge who issued it as a "so-called judge" and branding the courts "disgraceful" and politicized.

Echoing Trump, Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, who is in charge of enforcing the immigration ban, has said the courts do not understand the threat the country faces.

"In their world it is very academic, almost in a vacuum. In their courtrooms, they are protected by people like me," Kelly said in Congress Tuesday.

Popular support

Trump has been able to demonstrate a steady level of support from Republicans in Congress, who have almost unanimously backed his key administration appointments. 

Late Wednesday the Senate voted 52-47 to approve Attorney General Sessions, after Democrats stalled for weeks on a nominee whose civil rights record has come under intense scrutiny.

While being sworn in Sessions echoed Trump's view of the urgency of tackling violent crime.

The new administration has zeroed in on a recent uptick in violence, despite the fact studies show violent crime to have been steadily declining for three decades.

"We have a crime problem. I wish the rise that we're seeing in crime in America today was some sort of aberration or blip" but, Sessions said, it is a "dangerous permanent trend."

That kind of message appears to be resonating with supporters.

Trump won the election last November with 46 percent of the popular vote, and the RealClearPolitics average of polls shows his job approval at about that level, with the split largely on Republican-Democratic lines.

Trump trumpeted Wednesday a Morning Consult-Politico poll showing 55 percent voter approval for his immigration ban, with 38 percent disapproving.

Previous studies — which the president dismissed as "fake news" — had shown a majority of Americans opposing the measure.

Trump also cited the poll published Tuesday by London's Chatham House think tank showing 55 percent support across 10 European countries for a freeze on immigration from Muslim countries.