White House weighs options after ruling on immunity as Democrats react with outrage

WASHINGTON — The White House is considering its options for a response to the Supreme Court’s blockbuster ruling on immunity that handed Donald Trump a major victory, as President Joe Biden warns that an amoral future president could abuse those powers.

“We are reviewing the decision and certainly will be exploring what could be done to address it to better safeguard democracy and the rule of law in the future, given this dangerous precedent,” White House spokesperson Ian Sams told NBC News.

Congressional Democrats reacted with outrage to the 6-3 decision, which fell along ideological lines. But when it comes to action, the party’s leaders have offered a scattered message and struggled to outline a clear vision for what to do next — legislatively or otherwise — prompting criticism from some liberal advocates.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., blasted the “disgraceful decision by the MAGA Supreme Court” but didn’t say whether he’d pursue any legislative action in response. Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said the court has decided presidents are legally “immune from abusing the levers of government to overturn an election or engage in other misconduct.”

“In ruling that Donald Trump is ‘absolutely immune from prosecution for the alleged conduct involving his discussions with Justice Department officials,’ the Court has stripped the Justice Department of its valued independence and undermined its commitment to the rule of law,” he said.

Durbin’s office said it had nothing specific to share when it was asked whether there will be a response in committee.

Democrats ‘caught flat-footed’

The Justice Department declined to comment when it was asked whether it is working on setting forth legal guidance in light of the ruling.

Liberal advocates were critical that there wasn’t a swifter response from Biden or Congress, even they’d known for months that a decision was coming. The options are limited — the Biden administration can’t bind a future president to its legal guidance, and Democrats lack sufficient power in Congress to pass bills without Republican support or even enforce subpoenas in a Senate they control.

Still, some allies wanted Democrats to be prepared with a more aggressive message, using their investigative powers and articulating a legislative vision to rally voters in the 2024 election.

“This is a ‘break glass’ moment for American democracy. The Republican justices … rewrote the Constitution to give a president near-monarchical powers,” said Alex Aronson, the executive director of the liberal group Court Accountability and former chief counsel for Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I. “In the face of this total assault on American democracy, Democrats have somehow been caught flat-footed.”

He said Senate Democrats should have been ready to announce hearings and conduct investigations into “corruption and conflicts of interest,” arguing that Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito in particular should have recused themselves (Thomas for his wife’s role in trying to overturn Biden’s victory and Alito for an upside-down American flag at his home that Jan. 6 rioters also used.) He said they should also use the occasion to shore up support for imposing stricter ethics rules and constraints on the court.

Alarmed Americans “are looking to their elected leaders in Congress — particularly in the Senate, where Democrats hold a majority — to offer them real solutions,” Aronson said.

In the House, Democrats are in the minority and have limited power. Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., vowed that his party will engage in “aggressive oversight and legislative activity with respect to the Supreme Court” to bring “far-right justices” into “compliance with the Constitution.”

Biden vows to ‘respect the limits’ of power

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., said on X that the Supreme Court was embroiled in “a corruption crisis beyond its control” and that it’s “up to Congress to defend our nation from this authoritarian capture.” She added, “I intend on filing articles of impeachment upon our return.” (Her office didn’t respond when it was asked whom she’d seek to impeach.)

Sen. Tina Smith, D-Minn., reiterated her calls to expand the Supreme Court by four seats. That proposal, the Judiciary Act, has only three sponsors and hasn’t added any since last year.

In the decision, the Supreme Court decreed that presidents have presumptive immunity for official acts, handing Trump a big win that’s likely to delay his pending criminal trials until after the election and potentially derail them entirely. Trump celebrated the ruling, writing on social media: “Big win for our Constitution and democracy. Proud to be an American!” Numerous prominent Republicans similarly praised the decision, while others, like Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., stayed quiet.

Biden promised in a speech Monday that he’d “respect the limits” of the kinglike power he said the court has given presidents, warning that Trump “will now be free to ignore the law” if he returns.

He said it means there will be “virtually no limits on what a president can do.” He said he agrees with the liberal justices’ dissent, which noted that Trump’s lawyer had argued that ordering the military to assassinate a political rival could be deemed an official presidential act that is now shielded from liability.

“The only limits will be self-imposed by the president alone,” Biden said. “The American people must decide if they want to entrust the president — once again, the presidency to Donald Trump.”

Meanwhile, Trump quickly moved to throw out his conviction in New York on 34 felony counts, citing the Supreme Court’s ruling.

This article was originally published on NBCNews.com

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