Deflecting Blame, Trump Hits Emotional Schumer for Airport Chaos

White House contends ‘Republicans on Capitol Hill wrote’ refugee order

Protests erupted at Dulles International Airport and others around the country following President Donald Trump's executive order restricting travel from several Islamic countries. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

President Donald Trump on Monday morning tried to deflect blame for weekend “problems” at U.S. airports by pointing the finger at Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer. Or, more precisely, his tears.

The chaotic start to Trump’s presidency continued over its second weekend as thousands protested in cities and at airports where individuals from seven countries covered by an order the new chief executive signed late Friday afternoon had been detained. The order blocks citizens and “nationals” from those Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States.

The order banned for 90 days citizens from Syria, Iran, Iraq, Somalia, Libya, Sudan, and Yemen. Syria, Iraq and Somalia were among the top five countries of origin for refugees entering the United States in 2016, according to the State Department.

Trump issued a statement Sunday that, in part, denied media reports that it is a “Muslim ban.” But the next morning, he called it a “ban” in a tweet.

U.S. Customs and Border Patrol agents detained 109 individuals between late Friday afternoon and Sunday evening as they tried to enter the country after getting off international flights. Chaos ensued, and Democratic lawmakers were denied access to the detained individuals as the dramatic scenes played out on cable news and social media.

The White House began a damage control effort on Sunday evening that continued into Monday. Officials’ message is that only 109 people were “set aside” for follow-on questioning, the official said, calling it “a massive success story as far as implementation.”

The White House said being detained for a few hours during an intensive security check is outweighed by the possibility of getting to live in the United States for the rest of one’s life.

While a senior administration official on a call with reporters Sunday night called the delays a “minimal” disruption for a fraction of the 325,000 people that Customs officers allowed into the country during the same span, Trump started his second Monday as president by blaming others.

The president’s list of causes of the “big problems” includes “the tears of Senator Schumer.”

Schumer appeared in New York over the weekend with refugees, at one point getting emotional.

 Trump also seemed to defend the airport chaos by tweeting there’s “nothing nice” about trying to stop “terrorists” from entering the United States.

Repeating what press secretary Sean Spicer said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” program, Trump later tweeted that his administration decided to have him sign the order without publicly describing its contents — and, by all accounts, not explaining to federal officers how to implement it — to avoid tipping off violent extremists.

On the Sunday evening call, the White House also attempt to shift some ownership of the controversial order to congressional Republicans.

“Republicans on Capitol Hill wrote it,” the senior administration official said, adding without naming names that the refugee order’s authors were the “top immigration experts on Capitol Hill.” The official then said it was Hill “staff” who wrote it rather than members.

The senior official, previewing the White House’s coming courtroom arguments, said a federal judge’s order to stay the executive order is not germane because it ruled on individuals who were already on their way to the United States when or shortly after Trump signed it.

Congressional Republicans at first remained notably silent about the order. But eventually, a steady stream spoke out against what they see as a religious test that discriminates against Muslims, urging the administration to instead craft more intensive vetting practices.

The senior official did not rule that out, at one point talking about instituting “higher standards” that people would have to clear to enter the United States. One of those would be “loving our people,” although it is not clear how a person would definitively prove that before entering any country.

After a weekend of confusion, the White House finally announced the order does not apply to green card holders. The senior official said it is important to the integrity of the green card program worldwide that those individuals are allowed to enter the country.

Trump’s executive action did not apply to countries whose citizens were linked to the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. Fifteen were from Saudi Arabia, two from the United Arab Emirates, one from Lebanon, and one from Egypt. Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates also are among countries where the Trump Organization reportedly is active. And critics have noted that excluded from the ban are Muslim-majority countries in which Trump’s companies do business or have contracts pending.

Bridget Bowman contributed to this report.

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