Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell did not wait to be asked about Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump's call to exclude Muslims from entering the United States.
Before turning to the upcoming passage of an education overhaul and end-of-the-year business, the Kentucky Republican on Tuesday said the proposal was "completely and totally inconsistent with American values."
McConnell said the Trump plan might well exclude Arab allies such as King Abdullah II of Jordan from visiting the United States. But he did say he would support the Republican presidential nominee.
Judiciary Chairman Charles E. Grassley concurred with McConnell's assessment of the Trump proposal. The Iowa Republican told Roll Call that since Monday night, he has had a chance to review Trump's comments and he does not agree with them.
"I've come to the conclusion that as chairman of the Judiciary Committee that, even though ... I have suggested a halt in Syrian refugees, I could not back a blanket, just a blanket statement of what he made of no Muslims coming into the country." Grassley declined to respond to a question about whether Trump's comments could hurt Republicans more broadly.
But Alabama Republican Jeff Sessions, a senior member of the Senate Judiciary panel, said after a Senate vote Tuesday he still was not entirely sure what Trump intended.
"I think our immigration policies are surging at the highest levels ever, and we'll soon reach the largest percentage of non-native born Americans in our history, and so I think it's appropriate for us to slow down and evaluate where we are going," Sessions told Roll Call outside the Capitol. "We need to do it in a lawful and principled way."
Asked if there should be a focus on a particular religion, Sessions said, "it needs to be evaluated on what's in the national interest, what serves the national interest."
"We've had in the past dramatic priorities to certain countries over other countries, so I think it's appropriate that our policies should serve the national interest, but I haven't figured out the right solution."
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, also a presidential hopeful, was more stridently against the idea of barring Muslims from coming to the United States on the basis of their religion.
"I disagree with that proposal. I like Donald Trump. A lot of our friends here have encouraged me to criticize and attack Donald Trump. I'm not interested in doing so, but I believe we need a plan that is focused on the direct threat, and the threat we're facing is radical Islamic terrorism," Cruz said. "It's why I've introduced legislation focused on suspending for three years, putting in place a moratorium on refugees from countries where ISIS or al-Qaeda controls substantial territory."
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