WASHINGTON — Fifteen state attorneys general and the District of Columbia vowed to use their powers to stop President Trump’s executive order blocking travel from seven Muslim-majority countries and refugees, while a senior White House official pinned the wording of the ban on Congress.
After protests erupted at international arrivals gates at airports around the country, and thousands of demonstrators poured down Pennsylvania Avenue in D.C., Trump issued a late afternoon statement Sunday reasserting “this is not a Muslim ban, as the media is falsely reporting.”
“This is not about religion – this is about terror and keeping our country safe. There are over 40 different countries worldwide that are majority Muslim that are not affected by this order,” Trump said. “We will again be issuing visas to all countries once we are sure we have reviewed and implemented the most secure policies over the next 90 days. I have tremendous feeling for the people involved in this horrific humanitarian crisis in Syria. My first priority will always be to protect and serve our country, but as president I will find ways to help all those who are suffering.”
The White House also released readouts from calls Trump made to Saudi King Salman and Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed, saying he spoke about establishing safe zones for Syrians with each of the Gulf leaders. The UAE’s official news agency said the sheikh told Trump “that extremism and terrorism have no religion or identity and the groups that preach false slogans and ideologies seek to disguise their criminal intention in spreading chaos and destruction.”
The administration said enforcement of the executive order would proceed as planned despite multiple orders from U.S. District Court judges; one compelled Customs and Border Patrol to let detained individuals have access to attorneys, but lawyers at Dulles airport said they were still blocked from client access more than 24 hours after the court order.
The attorneys general of California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Virginia, Washington state and the District of Columbia issued a statement Sunday asserting “religious liberty has been, and always will be, a bedrock principle of our country, and no president can change that truth.”
“As the chief legal officers for over 130 million Americans and foreign residents of our states, we condemn President Trump’s unconstitutional, un-American and unlawful Executive Order and will work together to ensure the federal government obeys the Constitution, respects our history as a nation of immigrants, and does not unlawfully target anyone because of their national origin or faith,” the statement said, noting the stays issued by multiple federal courts.
“We applaud those decisions and will use all of the tools of our offices to fight this unconstitutional order and preserve our nation’s national security and core values,” the attorneys general continued. “We are confident that the Executive Order will ultimately be struck down by the courts. In the meantime, we are committed to working to ensure that as few people as possible suffer from the chaotic situation that it has created.”
The Lawfare blog obtained a draft dissent memo they called “a major bureaucratic uprising on the part of career foreign service officers against the president” on the refugee order.
The draft notes the “near-absence” of terror attacks committed by those entering the country on a visa from the targeted countries — Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen — and emphasizes the “isolated incidents of foreign nationals entering the U.S. on a visa to commit acts of terror,” from countries not listed in the executive order.
The memo argues that the order will sour relations with Muslim-majority countries, increase anti-American sentiment and possibly be “a tipping point towards radicalization,” and will “impose terrible humanitarian burdens” as well as hurt the U.S. economy.
“The end result of this ban will not be a drop in terror attacks in the United States; rather, it will be a drop in international good will towards Americans and a threat towards our economy,” it adds. “Looking beyond its effectiveness, this ban stands in opposition to the core American and constitutional values that we, as federal employees, took an oath to uphold.”
A senior administration official told reporters on background Sunday evening that all of Trump’s executive orders “remain in full effect.”
The official said “the guidance from the beginning” was to exempt legal permanent residents, despite reports of green card holders being ensnared in the travel dragnet. “The proof of that is, as of, like, 12 o’clock this afternoon, 170 people applied for the waiver for LPRs and 170 people received the waiver for LPRs,” the official said, adding “some of the confusion stemming from the green card issue is just semantic in nature.”
The administration official added that the number of detained individuals was a “fractional, marginal, minuscule percentage of travelers to our airports on any given day” and called the order “really… a massive success story in terms of implementation on every single level.”
Asked about whether the White House had consulted with Republicans in Congress before releasing the order, the official replied, “Republicans on Capitol Hill wrote it… the top drafters of this were the top immigration experts from Capitol Hill.”
In a joint statement Sunday, Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said it was “clear from the confusion at our airports across the nation that President Trump’s executive order was not properly vetted.”
“Such a hasty process risks harmful results… ultimately, we fear this executive order will become a self-inflicted wound in the fight against terrorism,” they said. “…Our most important allies in the fight against ISIL are the vast majority of Muslims who reject its apocalyptic ideology of hatred. This executive order sends a signal, intended or not, that America does not want Muslims coming into our country. That is why we fear this executive order may do more to help terrorist recruitment than improve our security.”
Trump fired back on Twitter: “The joint statement of former presidential candidates John McCain & Lindsey Graham is wrong – they are sadly weak on immigration. The two Senators should focus their energies on ISIS, illegal immigration and border security instead of always looking to start World War III.”
Trump also slammed “the tears of Senator Schumer”; the minority leader said he’ll ask this evening for a vote in the Senate to block the order and for a delay in the nomination of Rex Tillerson to be secretary of State.
“The slap-dash way it was done was appalling and created the chaos. But much more importantly, this will make us less safe,” Schumer told NBC’s Today show of the executive order. “John McCain is exactly right. It will encourage lone wolves here in America. They are — they have created most of the terrorism. The biggest problems we’ve had with terrorism are not from these countries.”
Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) told CNN this morning that she fears what the White House now stresses is a temporary ban to review security measures will become set in stone.
“I worry this temporary ban may become a permanent ban,” Ros Lehtinen said. “People will say, gee, we’ve had these 90 days, these 120 days, and we’ve been kept safe, so let’s keep it up, when in fact that ban and prohibition would have nothing to do with keeping us safe.”