Under assault from foreign governments, domestic CEOs, and thousands of protesters across the nation, members of the Trump administration were stern in their refusal to budge, and were unified in their support of the president’s sweeping executive order that bars refugees and people from seven nations from entering the U.S.
Repeating a phrase first uttered by Trump, top aides to the president denied that the immigration order amounted to a Muslim ban and pointed to the Obama administration for identifying the seven countries included in the order. The Trump team also defended the executive order’s at times botched implementation amid backlash from some lawmakers and Federal Judges blocking the partial immgiration order.
Among the more vocal defenders of Trump were top aide Kellyanne Conway, who on Sunday emphasized the importance of having safe borders, suggesting that the small number of people who were inconvenienced by the order was worth it to keep the country safe. She said 325,000 people “from overseas came into this country just yesterday through our airports.”
“You’re talking about 300 and some who have been detained or are prevented from gaining access to an aircraft in their home countries,” Conway said on “Fox News Sunday.” “Thats 1 percent. And I think in terms of the upside being greater protection of our borders, of our people, it’s a small price to pay.” She also echoed Trump and insisted the immigration order was not a Muslim ban, even as some Democratic lawmakers have argued the opposite.
“These seven countries, what about the 46 majority-Muslim countries that are not included? Right there, it totally undercuts this nonsense that this is a Muslim ban,” Conway said. “This is a ban on prospective travel from countries, trying to prevent terrorists in this country, from countries that have a recent history of training and exporting and harboring terrorists.”
Returning the attack, Conway said the list of seven countries included in the order actually came from former President Obama’s administration, which it did as per a DHS announcement from February 2016. In February 2016, the Obama administration added Libya, Yemen and Somalia to a list of “countries of concern” with respect to its visa waiver program. Iran, Syria, Iraq and Sudan were already on the list, according to a release from the Department of Homeland Security.
“These are countries that have a history of training, harboring, exporting terrorists,” Conway said. She added that the president will “certainly keep identifying threats and risks.”
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White House spokesman Sean Spicer also highlight the Obama administration’s role for initially flagging the seven “countries of particular concern.” “The Obama administration put these first and foremost,” he said on ABC’s “This Week.”
He similarly noted there are 46 other Muslim-majority countries not included in the seven listed and defended the president for following through on the promises he made during his campaign.
“This is nothing new,” Spicer said. “President Trump talked about this throughout the campaign and throughout the transition. The president is just implementing the policies he campaigned on” he added noting that protecting the nation and its people is the No. 1 priority of the Trump administration.
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In a testy exchange with Chuck Todd, White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus was the third to reiterate that the seven countries included in the order were identified by the Obama administration as “the seven most dangerous countries in the world in regard to harboring terrorists and affirmed by Congress multiple times.” Priebus also defended the order’s implementation, saying there shouldn’t have been a “grace period” put on the order.
“Then, people that want to do bad things to Americans would just move up their travel date two days in order to get into the country before the grace period’s over,” he said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
“I think it’s one of these things that, and if you ask a lot of people at the Customs and Border patrol, would just tell you you got to rip off the band-aid and you have to move forward.”
As noted earlier, Priebus also clarified the order, saying it doesn’t affect green card holders. “We didn’t overrule the Department of Homeland Security, as far as green card holders moving forward, it doesn’t affect them,” Priebus said on NBC’s “Meet The Press.” But Priebus noted if a person is traveling back and forth to one of the seven countries included in that order, that person is likely to be “subjected temporarily with more questioning until a better program is put in place.”
“We don’t want people that are traveling back and forth to one of these seven countries that harbor terrorists to be traveling freely back and forth between the United States and those countries,” he said. He clarified that it is up to the “discretionary authority” of a Customs and Border Patrol agent whether people traveling back and forth to these seven countries receive extra questioning. Priebus then added that other countries may need to be added to the executive order in the future.
“But in order to do this in a way that was expeditious, in a way that would pass muster quickly,” he said, “we used the 7 countries that have already been codified and identified.” He said the order was “done for the protection of Americans, and waiting another three days, waiting another three weeks is something that we don’t want to get wrong.”
Priebus’ bottom line: Trump won’t apologize for keeping Americans safe: “President Trump is not willing to get this wrong,” Priebus said, “which is why he wants to move forward quickly and protect Americans…. So we apologize for nothing here.”
Meanwhile the symbolic pressure from tens of thousands of protesters, 16 Democratic attorneys general who are seeking to overturn the Trump executive order, at least 11 Republican members of Congress, and countless civil rights groups and CEOs continues to mount with some confident that the matter will end up before the Supreme Court, and lead to even greater social polarization.