President Donald Trump’s second generation travel ban on individuals from several Muslim-majority countries could put his fellow Republicans in a tough spot.
The new order, signed Monday, comes after federal courts blocked an earlier version and despite polls showing most Americans oppose it.
Administration officials said Monday that the revised missive, which will go into effect March 16, restricts entry from individuals from six Muslim-majority countries for three months and halts any refugee flows for four months while U.S. officials review visa and other admission procedures.
The revised order applies only to future cases in which individuals from six Muslim countries try to enter the United States. Unlike the first one, it will not apply to citizens of Iraq. It also will not affect individuals with valid U.S. visas nor ones already in the country, the officials said.
“This is not a Muslim ban in any way, shape for form,” one of the officials said, adding that the countries it targets are “state sponsors of terrorism.” Because of the latter point, the U.S. government lacks the ability to properly vet refugees from those countries, this official said.
Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer didn’t buy that line of reasoning. “A watered down ban is still a ban. Despite the administration’s changes, this dangerous executive order makes us less safe, not more, it is mean-spirited, and un-American. It must be repealed,” the New York Democrat said in a statement.
Trump signed the new document out of the view of the press. There was no group of reporters allowed to witness his signature; last time, he did so at the Pentagon on live television.
The president issued the order just six days after telling a joint session of Congress that “our obligation is to serve, protect, and defend the citizens of the United States,” and saying his administration is “taking strong measures to protect our nation from radical Islamic terrorism.”
Citing Justice Department data, Trump said last week “the vast majority of individuals convicted of terrorism and terrorism-related offenses since 9/11 came here from outside of our country.” On Monday, a Justice Department official said the FBI is investigating 300 cases of refugees already inside the United States who might be involved in terrorism-related activities.
“We have seen the attacks at home, from Boston to San Bernardino to the Pentagon and, yes, even the World Trade Center,” the president told lawmakers last Tuesday night. “We have seen the attacks in France, in Belgium, in Germany, and all over the world. It is not compassionate, but reckless to allow uncontrolled entry from places where proper vetting cannot occur.”
Members of his own party reacted skeptically to the first order, which sparked protests from coast to coast. To that end, inside the House chamber on Tuesday night, GOP members who have been active on immigration, such as Sens. John McCain of Arizona, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Jeff Flake of Arizona, remained seated when Trump talked about his intention for “proper vetting” of immigrants.
Senior Republicans, like Speaker Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, called for stricter vetting procedures while distancing themselves from the eventually frozen order.
The first order would have temporarily denied entry into the U.S. by people hailing from Iraq, Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen. The second one drops Iraq after officials from that country assured the Trump administration it would comply with new U.S. vetting procedures, administration officials told reporters Monday morning.
Democratic lawmakers and some national security experts have noted, however, there have been no terrorist attacks on American soil by individuals from any of those countries.
Trump was forced to issue a second order after a federal court froze the initial one, then the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit upheld that decision.
The president reacted to that ruling on Twitter, calling the appellate court’s decision “disgraceful.” Last Thursday, during his fist solo White House press conference, Trump dubbed it a “bad decision,” but vowed to “keep going” in court while preparing a new order.
His aides say the order signed would achieve the same objectives of keeping out individuals from those countries in an effort to keep the country safe from potential terrorist attacks. And a Justice Department official said all legal challenges to the first order should be “mooted,” signaling the administration will cease fighting to have it restored.
A recent Economist/YouGov poll conducted found less than half of those surveyed (45 percent) were in favor of the initial order. The poll found the matter was just the latest to split Americans along party lines: 84 percent of Republicans supported the first missive, but 62 percent of Democrats opposed it. Independents were more divided, with 44 percent opposed and 34 percent in favor.
(The poll surveyed 1,500 people in web-based interviews, and had a margin of error of 3.1 percentage points. The Economist Group is the parent company of CQ Roll Call.)
Such polls and the Trump administration’s decision to issue a second order, as well as the president’s repeated attacks on the Judicial Branch, could pose political problems for congressional Republicans. For now, senior GOP leaders, including Ryan, are attempting to provide cover.
“He’s not the first president to get frustrated by a ruling from the court,” Ryan said of Trump’s recent tweeting about the federal judge who issued the stay on his immigration executive order. The speaker said the Trump administration is honoring the judge’s order, noting that’s what matters most.
After the second order was signed Monday, Ryan signaled he supported it.
“This revised executive order advances our shared goal of protecting the homeland,” the speaker said in a statement, adding, “We will continue to work with President Trump to keep our country safe.”
White House officials pinned part of the blame on the protests that immediately followed the first order and subsequent court battle over their own sloppy implementation. They have acknowledged they failed to discuss its contents or how agencies and departments should carry it out with key parts of the national security apparatus.
Officials who briefed reporters Monday morning said there has been “close collaboration” between the White House and relevant federal agencies in drafting and planning how to implement the new order. There should be “no chaos” or “alleged chaos” at airports across the country this time, the officials said. Those late-January protests are a big part of what created political headaches for GOP members.
The White House’s early missteps put pressure on Republican lawmakers who had to answer reporters’ and constituents’ sharp questions about whether they support religious tests for things like individuals seeking entry into the country.
“I don’t want to criticize them for improving vetting,” McConnell said on ABC’s “This Week” on Jan. 29. “I think we need to be careful. We don’t have religious tests in this country.”
Refugee advocates and human rights activists panned the first order, and continue to question the administration’s claims that individuals from the nations targeted by both missives are a true threat to the United States.
Refugees International President Michel Gabaudan, for instance, says “there is no evidence to President Trump’s claims that the U.S. refugee resettlement program has been linked to the admission of any individuals who have committed terrorist acts within the United States.
“The president’s totally unfounded claims that refugees are a security threat puts refugee lives at risk,” Gabaudan said, “and further encourages other countries to shirk their responsibility to provide shelter and safety to refugees and displaced people.”