Trump Immigration Order Aggravates Nomination Wars

Democrats might focus particularly on Jeff Sessions

Passengers from a Saudi Arabian Airlines flight from Jeddah are greeted by protesters as they arrive at Dulles International Airport in Virginia on Sunday. The furor over President Trump’s executive order restricting travel from several Islamic countries is likely to spill over onto the Senate floor. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call/Pool)

The Senate should buckle up for a rough week.

The bipartisan concern and outrage over President Donald Trump’s executive order restricting access of immigrants from seven countries has likely ended any chance there will be smooth confirmation of additional members of the president’s national security team.

And it comes as Trump is preparing to announce his choice to fill the vacant seat on the Supreme Court, which was already sure to be a flash point.

Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker, R-Tenn., said in a statement Sunday that the order relating to immigrants and refugees “has been poorly implemented, especially with respect to green card holders.”

“The administration should immediately make appropriate revisions, and it is my hope that following a thorough review and implementation of security enhancements that many of these programs will be improved and reinstated,” Corker said.

Critics on both sides of the aisle have said the executive order amounts to a ban on Muslim immigrants from certain countries.

Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly determined Sunday that the re-entry of current green card holders into the country is in the national interest under the executive order issued by Trump. Kelly’s call came after lawful permanent residents were detained at international airports around the country.

But a senior administration official told reporters Sunday night that the order was, “a massive success story on implementation on every single level,” — language that echoed what Trump himself said, even as thousands of protesters raged across the nation, and in some foreign cities as well.

Senate Judiciary ranking member Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said Sunday she was planning to introduce two bills: one to nullify the executive action outright and another that would grant new powers to Congress to oversee determinations that exclude foreign nationals from certain countries from the United States.

“It’s one thing to screen people before they come to this country. We already do that. It’s quite another to say that individuals who are from a particular country, belong to a particular faith, or are refugees fleeing conflict are banned from the United States. Under this order, only Syrian Christians could be considered for the refugee program,” said Feinstein. “There is no legitimate national security reason to ban refugees — the vast majority of whom are women and children who have experienced the absolute worst of humanity.”

Speaking Monday on NBC’s Today show, Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer said he would be seeking a vote on legislation drafted by Feinstein.

Sen. Christopher S. Murphy of Connecticut also announced plans to introduce legislation to effectively upend the executive order, and fellow Democrats were planning a large press event outside the Supreme Court Monday evening.

But the real leverage would come from slowing confirmation of Trump’s nominees, particularly those for positions below the cabinet, where Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., might be less likely to want to exhaust days of floor debate.

There’s a debate-limiting cloture vote on the nomination of former Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson to be Secretary of State. The Democrats are expected to exhaust post-cloture debate time, which would set up a vote on Tillerson’s nomination on Wednesday.

Schumer said Monday that he plans to seek to delay the Tillerson votes given new questions and confusion about the immigration executive order by President Donald Trump.

“Tonight, another thing I will do is ask that they delay the nomination — the vote on Mr. Tillerson for Secretary of State — because when he was questioned in committee and asked about a future Muslim ban, because we didn’t know that it was occurring, he was very mealy mouthed,” the New York Democrat said on NBC.

“I think we’re going to ask about it for just about every one,” Schumer said. “Aren’t the American people entitled to know the positions of these cabinet people before they come in?′

The executive order fallout might have the most immediate effect on the tone of Tuesday morning’s Senate Judiciary Committee vote on advancing the nomination of Sen. Jeff Sessions to be attorney general.

“Several of the top immigration staff of Capitol Hill were involved in drafting the executive orders,” the senior Trump administration official said Sunday night, though there had been little sign of congressional involvement or notification.

But Sessions, an Alabama Republican who had been an early and enthusiastic supporter of Trump, has had former aides intimately involved in the Trump campaign and the transition, with some now working down of Pennsylvania Avenue in the White House. Most prominent among them is Stephen Miller.

It was already more than unlikely that Judiciary Democrats would back Sessions, but the immigration actions might cause them to be even more vocal in opposition.

One soon-to-be Trump official who will not be swept up in the immigration issue is Transportation Secretary nominee Elaine L. Chao. Under a unanimous consent agreement reached before last week’s GOP retreat, Chao will face a confirmation vote shortly after noon on Tuesday.

Bridget Bowman contributed to this report.Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call on your iPhone or your Android.