Before the battle began over President Trump’s Supreme Court pick, Democrats, aided by the mainstream media concentrated their efforts to discredit the legitimacy of his presidency bu attacking him over his temporary immigration ban.
President Trump’s order put a 90-day ban on travel to the U.S. by citizens of countries where Obama’s administration declared terrorism is rampant, including Libya, Sudan, Somalia, Yemen, Iraq, Iran and Syria. It also halts the acceptance of refugees seeking asylum in the U.S. for 120 days. Federal officials have been ordered to institute “extreme vetting” procedures for visa and asylum applicants.
The executive order cuts the total number of refugees scheduled to be admitted to the U.S. in fiscal year 2017 from 110,000 to 50,000, and suspends the admission of refugees from Syria indefinitely. The visa ban does not apply to permanent residents of the U.S. who hold green cards. The executive order does allow for exceptions to the ban in the interest of national security on a case-by-case basis. The Pentagon is asking for such exceptions for foreign citizens who have helped the U.S. military abroad by serving as translators and local guides, thereby putting themselves at risk on America’s behalf.
Only eleven days out of office, former President Obama broke with precedent by issuing a public statement encouraging protesters who have been challenging Trump’s authority.
Obama suggested that the executive order threatens America’s “core values” by “discriminating against individuals because of their faith or religion.” The order does not mention religion, nor is there a religious test, it is a move to protect the country.
TRUMP FIRES JUSTICE DEPARTMENT HEAD
Shortly after Obama issued a statement encouraging resistance to the order, acting Attorney General Sally Yates rebelled against Trump’s authority and ordered Justice Department lawyers not to defend the order against lawsuits that have been filed against it in federal court. Yates was an Obama appointee and became the acting head of the Justice Department when Attorney General Loretta Lynch resigned on Inauguration Day. Trump did not force Yates out so she rose to fill the top position until the Trump nominee would be allowed to take over. She remained loyal to former President Obama, instead of the current president.
Liberal immigration rights lawyers and the Democrat attorney generals of 16 states have filed federal lawsuits challenging the legality of various provisions of the order.
The Justice Department’s Office of Legal Council had reviewed the order before Trump signed it and found it to be “lawful on its face.” Yates said she was “not convinced” that the order was just and “lawful.” A few hours later, the White House announced that Yates had been fired because she had “betrayed” the Department of Justice. The White House statement described her as “weak on borders and very weak on illegal immigration,” and declared, “it is time to get serious about protecting our country.”
Yates’ days at the Justice Department were numbered anyway. Trump nominated Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions to serve as attorney general. As a holdover interim cabinet official from the previous administration, Yates was expected to act strictly as a caretaker until her replacement was confirmed by the Senate, and not take any independent policy actions on her own. Regardless of her personal opinions, her allegiance while serving in the Trump administration cabinet should have been to the new president.
The White House announced that Dana Boente, the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, would serve as acting attorney general pending Sessions’ confirmation.
Boente immediately issued a directive to Justice Department lawyers revoking Yates’ instructions and ordering them to “defend the lawful orders of our President.” Meanwhile, Democrat Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer praised Yates as a “profile in courage” and Democrat House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi called her a martyr who was “fired for upholding the Constitution of the United States.”
TRUMP IS MOVING ON
Public protests against the executive order died down Monday as the flow of international passengers arriving without valid visas stopped, enabling the situation at the nation’s airport to return to normal.
While the media and Democrats did their best to keep the criticism and controversy over the immigration order going, the Trump administration was eager to move on to the next items on his agenda.
On Monday afternoon, as Trump met with a group of small business leaders and signed an executive order calling for a sharp reduction in federal regulations, he declared that he would announce the next day his nominee to fill the seat on the U.S. Supreme Court left by the death of Anton Scalia, thereby launching what promises to be another bitter confirmation battle with Senate Democrats.
But the media was still abuzz with emerging stories of recriminations within the Trump administration over the clumsy handling of the executive order.
POOR INTERNAL COMMUNICATIONS
The Associated Press reported that Defense Secretary James Mattis, Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly and Trump’s nominee for secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, had told associates that they were upset because they were kept ignorant of the order’s details until Trump signed it Friday afternoon. Leading government intelligence officials were also not fully briefed in advance.
Despite a statement by White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer that “appropriate committees and leadership offices” on Capitol Hill were consulted, Republican congressional leaders complained that they had no input in the drafting of the executive order.
Bob Corker, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations committee, said that he first learned about the order from the media, “I think they [the White House] know that it could have been done in a better way.”
The order was largely written by Trump’s chief strategist, Steve Bannon, and Stephen Miller, a former aide to Senator Sessions who is now a White House policy adviser and spokesman. Before it was signed, the order’s provisions were deliberately kept secret by the White House. Trump explained in a tweet that secrecy was necessary because if the provisions of the executive order had been revealed in advance, the “bad dudes” would have rushed to enter the country before the ban took effect.
“GET WITH THE PROGRAM OR GO”
Dozens of career employees at the State Department signed a memo expressing their disagreement with the order’s temporary ban on visitors from the seven countries and the suspension of the asylum program. At the White House press briefing Monday afternoon, Spicer said the dissenting State Department employees should “either get with the program or they can go. If somebody has a problem with that agenda, then that does call into question whether … they should continue in that post or not.”
News coverage was dominated over the weekend by the demonstrations at airports and cities across the country staged by liberal and immigration rights activists. The focus of the protests was 109 travelers who were detained upon their arrival at American airports because their visas had been cancelled after their planes had taken off. Immigration officials confronted the arriving travelers whose visas had been canceled with a difficult choice. They could voluntarily withdraw their request to enter the country or be subject to involuntarily deportation, which would prevent them from being allowed to enter the country for the next five years.
Another 173 travelers from the banned countries were prevented from boarding flights to the U.S. at airports around the world after the terms of Trump’s executive order became known. As the inflow of passengers arriving without legal visas dried up, and the status of those who had been detained was resolved, the crowds of protesters and immigration activists at airports around the country disappeared, and the situation returned to normal by Monday.
GREEN CARD HOLDERS ARE EXEMPT
When the executive order was first signed, there was confusion about whether the entry ban applied to people who hold green cards (permanent U.S. resident status), or special immigration status. Immigration officials initially detained 81 such people upon their arrival at various airports, but they were later were granted waivers allowing them to enter the country. On Sunday, a statement by John Kelly, Secretary of Homeland Security, clarified that under the executive order, green card holders do retain a right to enter the country if there is no evidence that they pose a threat to national security.
White House chief of staff, Reince Priebus, said that green card holders are exempt from the entry ban because they have already undergone extra scrutiny to qualify for that status.
FEDERAL JUDGES INTERVENE
After the first 12 people were detained at JFK International Airport in New York City on Friday night, the ACLU and immigration lawyers were granted an emergency temporary injunction by federal judge Ann Donnelly in Brooklyn to prevent immigration officials from immediately deporting those who had been detained at JFK and other airports across the country. Two judges in Boston ordered immigration officials to release arriving individuals from the banned countries at Logan Airport. A federal judge in Alexandria, Virginia blocked the deportation of two green card holders who had arrived at Dulles airport outside Washington, DC, and another order by a judge in Seattle temporarily protected two immigrants who had arrived there from being deported from the country.
The Department of Homeland Security issued a statement Sunday night saying that it is complying with the court orders concerning the passengers who were being detained at U.S. airports, but that U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials were instructing airlines “to prevent travelers who would not be granted entry under the executive orders from boarding international flights to the U.S. Therefore, we do not anticipate that further individuals traveling by air to the United States will be affected [by the temporary ban].”
Priebus emphasized that the extreme vetting of visas and refugees “was a [campaign] promise that President Trump had made, and it is a promise he’s going to keep.”
When asked why the new immigration policy was introduced so suddenly, Priebus said that the administration was following the advice of border security experts who told them, “there’s no question of softening the blow. You need to pull the Band-Aid off.” The administration feared that had it publicized when the ban was going into effect terrorists would have scampered to enter the country before the extreme vetting would go into effect.
Priebus suggested that the temporary visa ban could be extended to other countries in the region, such as Pakistan or Afghanistan, if the security study which the administration has ordered concludes that similar extreme vetting measures are necessary for citizens of those countries.
Over the weekend, Trump sent out a series of tweets on the implementation of the executive order. He said that he thought the measure was “working out nicely,” and reiterated, “Our country needs strong borders and extreme vetting, NOW.”
FOLLOWING OBAMA’S LEAD
Trump pushed back on Sunday against the protests and media criticism, pointing out that his executive order was a continuation of some of President Obama’s policies. He said, “My policy is similar to what President Obama did in 2011 when he banned visas for refugees from Iraq for six months.”
The State Department stopped processing Iraqi refugee requests at that time after two al Qaeda Iraqi terrorists living in Kentucky as refugees admitted in federal court that they had attacked U.S. soldiers while they were still living in Iraq.
There was no comparable political reaction against the Obama State Department for banning the entry of Iraqis at that time, nor did anyone file a federal lawsuit to challenge the legality of that ban.
Similarly, nobody objected when President Jimmy Carter announced the cancellation of “all visas issued to Iranian citizens” in April of 1980, after radical Iranian students invaded the U.S. embassy in Teheran and took 52 Americans hostage, holding them for a total of 444 days.
Trump pointed out that the seven nations subject to the new ban, “are the same countries previously identified by the Obama administration as sources of terror.” Obama’s Department of Homeland Security announced last February that all visa applicants from those same seven countries would be subject to special scrutiny in accordance with the 2015 Terrorist Travel Prevention Act.
TRUMP DENIES IT IS A MUSLIM BAN
“To be clear, this is not a Muslim ban, as the media is falsely reporting.” Trump said. “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.
“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.”
Trump also pointed out that the disruption to normal travel patterns from his executive order were minimal. On Monday, he tweeted that “only 109 people out of 325,000 [arrivals] were detained and held for questioning,” and noted that many more airline passengers had been delayed and inconvenienced by a Delta computer outage over the same weekend.
SCHUMER’S FAKE TEARS
None of the weekend court orders preventing the detained travelers from being deported resolved the fundamental question of the legality of Trump’s executive order. Democrat Senators Chuck Schumer, Dick Durbin and Elizabeth Warren publicly condemned it.
A tearful Chuck Schumer called the executive order “mean-spirited” and “un-American” and demanded that it be revoked immediately.
Trump rejected the “fake tears” shed by Schumer and said he believed there was only a 5% chance that the tears were real. The president said he intends to ask the New York senator who his acting coach is.
Durbin said Trump’s order sends “exactly the opposite message we need to send to our allies. Thank goodness that this Brooklyn federal judge has tried to stop these executive orders.”
Warren declared the temporary ban to be illegal and unconstitutional.
A COURT FIGHT
However, most legal experts say the executive order appears to be authorized by a 1952 federal law. It gives the president the power to bar “any class” of immigrants if their entry would be “detrimental to the interests of the United States.” The president also has broad authority from the U.S. Constitution in his capacity as the commander-in-chief to take any actions necessary to protect the country from terrorist attacks.
The legality of the executive order is being challenged by 16 Democrat attorney generals, who issued a joint statement Sunday calling the executive order “un-American and unlawful.”
Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson announced that he was filing a lawsuit in a federal district court in Seattle against the Trump administration to challenge the executive order’s legality. He was joined in the suit by Washington’s Democrat Governor Jay Inslee and two Seattle based corporations, Amazon and Expedia, which claim that the order will negatively impact their business and employees.
Other Democrats and the mainstream media continue to deliberately misrepresent the order as a blanket ban on Muslims entering the country.
Congressman Keith Ellison, the first Muslim elected to the House, condemned Trump in the cruelest terms. “As the world is watching Syrian children dying in war, he’s saying those children have no refuge in America, and I find that un-American,” Ellison said.
CHANGES UP TO THE LAST MINUTE
The temporary ban on visas and refugees in the executive order fulfilled a campaign promise Trump first made in reaction to the terrorist shooting attack in San Bernardino in December 2015.
Trump discarded his initial call to apply the entry ban to all Muslims, and limited its scope to citizens of rogue or failed Middle East states where terrorism runs rampant. The Trump administration was fine tuning the executive order until the last minute. Draft versions which were circulated for comment a few days before the order was signed limited the duration of the visa ban to 30 days, and called for the U.S. to help establish a safe zone inside Syria for refugees. But the order signed Friday extended the ban to 90 days, and dropped the call for a safe zone.
Because immigration officials were ignorant of the details of the order up until the moment they were called upon to enforce it, there was a lot of initial confusion. Agents working at airports could not get clear answers to their questions about what to do with the people who were arriving with visas which had been cancelled while they were in flight. Even permanent U.S. residents holding green cards were improperly detained upon returning from abroad, before the policy was clarified.
HOW THE PROTESTS SPREAD
ACLU officials and immigration lawyers who flocked to JFK and other airports complained that Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) officials denied them access to passengers who had been detained, and were not complying with the emergency orders issued by the federal judges. However, by Sunday night, most of the initial confusion at the airports had been cleared up.
The airport protest which started at JFK over Shabbos quickly spread. New York City cab drivers, many of whom are immigrants, staged a wildcat sympathy strike Sunday, refusing to pick up the other travelers arriving at JFK, and urging riders to boycott the competing Uber service for refusing to join in the strike.
On motzoei Shabbos, protesters gathered around the Brooklyn federal courthouse where the judge would issue an order temporarily halting the deportations.
The protesters returned to downtown Brooklyn on Sunday for no apparent reason, and crossed into lower Manhattan to tie up traffic.
The intense media attention paid to the initial protests held at JFK airport, where 12 people were detained, were no doubt a huge boost to similar protests staged at other airports and major cities around the country.
Protests attracting thousands of demonstrators were held at the Dallas/Ft. Worth airport where 50 people were detained, at Washington DC’s Dulles airport where another 50 were held, and at LAX, where 50 Iranians were detained. Another 13 people were detained at Seattle-Tacoma and Chicago O’Hare airports, 11 at Hartsfield-Jackson airport in Atlanta, and a Syrian family of 6 were held when they arrived at the Philadelphia International Airport.
HUNTING FOR HORROR STORIES
The mainstream media went hunting for horror stories among those who were detained at the airports in an effort to make Trump and his executive order look bad.
The first detainee to be released from JFK airport was an Iraqi refugee named Hameed Khalid Darweesh. He had worked for the U.S. government in Iraq for ten years as a translator and in other capacities. He had been issued a special immigration visa for his service and probably should never have been detained. He was released after being held for 14 hours at the airport.
The media also featured the story of an 88-year-old blind man who was held for hours and had his medication taken from him at Dulles Airport.
PROTESTS PAID FOR BY GEORGE SOROS
A common denominator in the coordinated efforts to condemn and obstruct enforcement of Trump’s executive order and the legitimacy of his presidency is behind the scenes support from international financier George Soros. Conservative commentator Rush Limbaugh believes that Soros has bankrolled the anti-Trump protests, which are not as spontaneous as the media coverage makes them seem. Limbaugh believes that the organizations Soros supports have hired professional agitators to stand ready to launch protests whenever Trump gives them a pretense to do so.
Soros Open Society Foundation has spent an estimated $76 million supporting immigrant rights groups over the past decade. It gave the ACLU a $50 million grant in 2014.
Soros made his fortune as an international currency speculator. He is an outspoken critic of Israel and the main contributor behind the liberal political website moveon.org, which supported Obama and played a leading role in the attacks on Trump’s candidacy during last year’s election campaign.
Many of the emotionally-charged complaints issued by Democrats and protesters about Trump’s executive order do not stand up under close scrutiny. First and foremost, it is not a blanket ban on Muslims entering the country. It applies to the citizens of just seven countries with majority Muslim populations, all of which are widely viewed as failed states or hotbeds of terrorism. It does not apply to the residents of 46 other majority Muslim countries around the world.
Trump’s reduction of the total number of refugees to be admitted to the U.S. this year to 50,000 is a return to the norm over the past 15 years, before Obama began inflating the number during his second term in office.
David French, who was a prominent critic of Trump during the presidential campaign, and considered running against him as a conservative alternative, praised the executive order as necessary in light of the terrorist attacks over the past two years in the U.S. and Western Europe. He writes in the National Review, “Given the terrible recent track record of completed and attempted terror attacks by Muslim immigrants, it’s clear that our current approach is inadequate to control the threat. Unless we want to simply accept Muslim immigrant terror as a fact of American life, a short-term ban on entry from problematic countries combined with a systematic review of our security procedures is both reasonable and prudent.”
French says, “The Obama administration’s deliberate decision to leave a yawning power vacuum, in part through its Iraq withdrawal and in part through its dithering throughout the Syrian Civil War, exacerbated the refugee crisis in the first place. There was a genocide on Obama’s watch, and his tiny trickle of Syrian refugees hardly makes up for the grotesque negligence of abandoning Iraq and his years-long mishandling of the emerging Syrian crisis.”
French rejects liberal criticism of Trump for ordering immigration officials to “prioritize refugee claims made by individuals on the basis of religious-based persecution,” because that is one of the criteria explicitly cited by federal law in order for an alien to qualify for asylum in the U.S.
He notes that more than 99% of the 13,100 Syrian refugees the Obama administration admitted in 2016 were Muslims, while only 0.5% were Christians, who make up 10% of Syria’s population.
Trump was right when he tweeted on Sunday, “Christians in the Middle-East have been executed in large numbers. We cannot allow this horror to continue!”
There is nothing in the language of Trump’s executive order which mentions or even implies that it is a “Muslim ban.” For that reason, French praises it as “a dramatic climb-down from his worst campaign rhetoric.”
Trump’s executive order expands the authority of immigration enforcement officers. While the administration’s deportation efforts will focus on illegal aliens who are convicted criminals, the executive order says that those who are suspected but not convicted of criminal acts may also be targeted. The order calls for increasing the ranks of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers by 10,000, and for more immigration detention centers and courts to provide the capacity to arrest, try and deport more illegal immigrants.
The union of ICE officers endorsed Trump during the presidential campaign. It issued a statement saying that under Obama, ICE officers were “unable to arrest or [were] forced to release many of the most dangerous [criminals] back into U.S. communities due to unscrupulous political agendas and corrupt leaders.”
MEDIA ACTS LIKE AN OPPOSITION PARTY
President Trump was deeply annoyed by the front page coverage the New York Times gave to the protests at the airports and in the streets, and its wild accusations about the nature of his executive order.
“Somebody with aptitude and conviction should buy the FAKE NEWS and failing @nytimes and either run it correctly or let it fold with dignity!” Trump raged in a tweet on Sunday.
In an interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network, Trump echoed a statement made by Stephen Bannon, his chief strategist, that the mainstream media has dropped all pretense of political neutrality and is covering him with “dishonesty, total deceit and deception.” Trump said the media has displaced the role of the Democrats and is functioning like an “opposition party.”
The anti-Trump bias in media coverage of the story was blatant. ABC interviewer Martha Raddatz seemed to be offended on Sunday when former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates defended President Trump’s executive order to improve the vetting process for those applying for visas.
Gates said that Trump’s goal is, “perfectly reasonable and totally legitimate. In fact, we would expect that of the president.” He added, “the key is doing it in a way that doesn’t risk creating more enemies than threats it deters, and that’s the balance that has to be weighed,” and expressed his dismay that, “the way the policy was implemented has caused confusion and hard feelings, at home and abroad.”
Gates is a veteran of Republican and Democrat administrations. He said they all “begin with a flurry of executive orders. . . so let’s just give him [Trump] a little time.”
SEEKING OUT REPUBLICAN CRITICS
The media eagerly sought prominent Republicans willing to publicly criticize Trump’s executive order. They found what they were looking for in a joint statement issued by Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham, who were highly critical of Trump during the election campaign and the transition that followed. In a joint statement, they warned that Trump’s executive order “may do more to help terrorist recruitment than improve our security” because it could alienate America’s Muslim allies.
Trump responded on Twitter by recalling that the two had supported the 2013 “Gang of Eight” immigration reform proposal. Trump called McCain and Graham “sadly weak on immigration,” and said they “should focus their energies on ISIS, illegal immigration and border security instead of always looking to start World War III.”
Republican Senator Ben Sasse, who was also critical of Trump during the campaign, called the order “too broad. If we send a signal to the Middle East that the U.S. sees all Muslims as jihadis, the terrorist recruiters win by telling kids that America is banning Muslims and that this is America versus one religion.”
Ohio Senator Rob Portman was much more cautious in his criticism of the executive order. He suggested that the Trump administration should “slow down” to avoid the initial confusion which was evident in the efforts to enforce it at airports over the weekend. “We gotta do it in a way that’s consistent with our values and consistent with our national security,” he said of proposals to tighten border screening and entry. “We are this beacon of hope and opportunity for the rest of the world.”
“You have an extreme vetting proposal that didn’t get the vetting it should have had,” Portman said.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell urged caution. “I think we need to be careful. We don’t have religious tests in this country.” He added that the president “has a lot of latitude to protect the country and I’m not going to make a blanket criticism of this policy.”
Republican political strategist Karl Rove said that Trump deserved credit for following through on his campaign promises but suggested that if the order had provided for some time before beginning enforcement of the visa ban, confusion at the airports over the weekend could have been avoided.
International criticism of the executive order was relatively muted. A spokesman for German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who created a lot of domestic opposition to her rule by inviting a million refugees to settle in Germany, said, “The chancellor regrets the U.S. government’s entry ban against refugees and citizens of certain countries. She is convinced that the necessary, decisive battle against terrorism does not justify a general suspicion against people of a certain origin or a certain religion.”
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau sent out a message to those affected by the U.S. travel ban saying Canada would welcome those fleeing “persecution, terror and war. . . regardless of your faith.”
British Prime Minister Theresa May, who had a very friendly meeting with President Trump at the White House on Friday, was initially reluctant to criticize his order.
After she came under criticism from the British media and her own Conservative Party colleagues for failing condemn the executive order, she issued a statement saying, “We do not agree with this kind of approach and it is not one we will be taking. If there is any impact on United Kingdom nationals, then clearly we will make representations to the U.S. government about that.”
Trump had phone conversations this week with several Arab heads of state, none of whom brought up the ban. Jordan’s King Hussein met with Vice President Pence on Monday in a cordial meeting.
The media furor over the visa ban will fade as other issues come to the fore. But the speed and intensity of the protests, which developed within hours of the executive order’s signing, and the media’s refusal to tell Trump’s side of the story are ominous warnings of the turbulent times ahead. Trump continues to keep his campaign promises and implement his agenda, regardless of the opposition. As the first citizen president elected to drain the swamp of career politicians pushes forward, the question remains who will blink first.