WASHINGTON – Addressing the controversy surrounding President Trump’s executive order banning some travel to the United States, former Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) said the U.S. needs to have “adequate vetting” of foreign visitors even if it makes “some people disappointed and some people angry.”
Trump is expected to propose another version of his executive order that restricted travel from seven Muslim majority countries after it was blocked by federal courts. Some lawmakers and analysts have made the case that such a ban serves as a recruitment tool for terrorists by fueling a narrative that the West is at war with Islam.
“I don’t know, but I don’t see how it would benefit with terrorist groups,” Nelson said after his appearance at the National Governors Association Winter Meeting. “I think it could be an argument that they use or an argument that they use to try to radicalize others by looking bad in their eyes, but sometimes you just have to make those value judgments. You’ve got to have adequate vetting even if you make some people disappointed and some people angry, you’ve got to have adequate vetting, you have to work toward it.”
“My hope is they will spend more time trying to figure out how you adequately vet. I’m sure this is true in Europe as well; the vetting process has to work even though the data doesn’t show that more terrorist events happened from improperly vetted people than homegrown terrorists, but I do think there’s an important part of vetting,” the former governor added.
Nelson was asked how he would like to see the Trump administration change the original version of the executive order.
“I think it has to have some flexibility in it. The joke is that the 5-year-olds are being vetted for six years. It has to have some common sense associated with it so that it’s not just a strict ban like that, but there is some concern about vetting, making sure that people who are coming in are properly vetted to the extent possible,” he said. “I understand the basis for [the order], but you have to do it in a way that it is acceptable to the people and American people and this right now is not. Maybe it’s acceptable to his base, but it’s not acceptable to everyone.”
“And once you become president or you become governor like I did, you become the governor or the president of everybody, and so you need to have something that reaches out and satisfies more interest than just your base.”
Many congressional lawmakers have expressed support for an investigation of potential connections between Russia and the Trump campaign. Nelson was asked if agrees with that investigation or if he would like to see Democrats focus in other areas.
“I think they are appropriate. There was enough noise about it that we need to get to the bottom of it, or at least continue to make more noise and people will be unsatisfied that anything has been done on this,” he replied. “When you have outside interference being alleged and maybe some evidence of it in the presidential election here in our country, it sounds funny to say but it is more than serious business – it’s critical. It’s critical to a functioning democracy to have fair elections that can’t be intervened by foreign powers.”
President Trump has argued that seeking a better relationship with Russia isn’t wrong. Nelson was asked if he agrees with Trump.
“Depends on what you give up by having it and what you gain by having. If you give up too much to have it, that isn’t good. You’re never going to gain too much from your relationship with Russia because they are going to hold back,” he said. “We’ve tried this in the past, but it’s not an excuse not to try to have a relationship with them, but you can’t look the other way or create a blind eye to potential interference in our elective process.”
Nelson pointed out that the United States worked with Russia during the Obama administration on New START (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty), “reducing the number of nuclear weapons on a mutual agreement” that included checking “what weapons were there and trust but verify.”
“So I wouldn’t say that there’s no way to have a relationship, I just think you have to be careful to know what that relationship is and you don’t give up too much to get it,” he said.