The GOP reacts

Some Re­pub­li­can law­mak­ers ques­tioned Trump’s order, but oth­ers de­fended it.

The Washington Post Sunday - - FRONT PAGE - BY KELSEY SNELL, KAROUN DEMIRJIAN AND MIKE DEBO­NIS kelsey.snell@wash­post.com Sean Sul­li­van and David Weigel con­trib­uted to this re­port.

Fac­ing in­tense crit­i­cism and dra­matic news cov­er­age of chaos and protests at air­ports world­wide, sev­eral con­gres­sional Repub­li­cans on Saturday ques­tioned Pres­i­dent Trump’s order to halt ad­mis­sion to the United States by refugees and cit­i­zens of seven Mus­lim-ma­jor­ity coun­tries.

House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) and Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Mitch McCon­nell (R-Ky.) were not among them.

Ryan was among the first law­mak­ers on Fri­day to back Trump’s order, and his of­fice re­it­er­ated his sup­port on Saturday.

“This is not a re­li­gious test, and it is not a ban on peo­ple of any re­li­gion,” spokes­woman AshLee Strong said.

Ryan and other Repub­li­cans de­fend­ing Trump’s ac­tions faced crit­i­cism from Democrats, hu­man rights ac­tivists and even some in the own party. Ryan’s de­fense and McCon­nell’s si­lence, some crit­ics said, amounted to a moral fail­ing that made them com­plicit in a hu­man­i­tar­ian cri­sis.

“To my col­leagues: don’t ever again lec­ture me on Amer­i­can moral lead­er­ship if you chose to be si­lent to­day,” Sen. Chris Mur­phy (D-Conn.) posted on Twitter along with the fa­mous im­age of a tod­dler boy who had died in 2015 while his fam­ily fled Syria and whose body had washed up on Tur­key’s shore.

The order blocks cit­i­zens from Iran, Iraq, Syria, Ye­men, Su­dan, So­ma­lia and Libya from en­ter­ing the coun­try for at least 90 days. It also bans refugees from any­where in the world for 120 days — and from Syria in­def­i­nitely. Trump said the goal is to screen out “rad­i­cal Is­lamic ter­ror­ists” and to give pri­or­ity for ad­mis­sion to Chris­tians.

Repub­li­cans de­fend­ing the ex­ec­u­tive order pointed to an ex­cep­tion for peo­ple al­ready in tran­sit and ar­gued that some el­e­ments, in­clud­ing the re­li­gious mi­nor­ity pref­er­ence, would not im­me­di­ately be im­ple­mented. But as ca­ble news footage brought scenes Saturday of chaos at air­ports around the coun­try, where busi­ness trav­el­ers, stu­dents and even le­gal U.S. res­i­dents were be­ing barred en­try, other Repub­li­cans be­gan weigh­ing in.

“This is ridicu­lous,” said Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.). “I guess I un­der­stand what his intention is, but un­for­tu­nately the order ap­pears to have been rushed through with­out full con­sid­er­a­tion. You know, there are many, many nu­ances of im­mi­gra­tion pol­icy that can be life or death for many in­no­cent, vul­ner­a­ble peo­ple around the world.”

Dent, who rep­re­sents a large Syr­ian com­mu­nity in the Al­len­town area, said he was con­tacted Saturday by a con­stituent whose fam­ily mem­bers were turned away early in the morn­ing at Philadel­phia In­ter­na­tional Air­port. Six fam­ily mem­bers who had se­cured visas and even bought a house in Penn­syl­va­nia ar­rived on a Qatar Air­ways flight but were turned back within hours, he said.

Dent called on the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion to im­me­di­ately halt ac­tion on the order.

“This fam­ily was sent home de­spite hav­ing all their pa­per­work in order,” Dent said. “So this 90-day ban could im­peril the lives of this fam­ily and po­ten­tially oth­ers, and it’s un­ac­cept­able, and I urge the ad­min­is­tra­tion to halt en­force­ment of this order un­til a more thought­ful and de­lib­er­ate pol­icy can be re­in­stated.”

Some con­ser­va­tives wor­ried that deny­ing en­try to per­ma­nent res­i­dents and green-card hold­ers could vi­o­late the Con­sti­tu­tion. Many wor­ried pri­vately that the order will face sig­nif­i­cant chal­lenges in court. Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) was among the few GOP mem­bers to air his con­cerns pub­licly. Amash posted on Twitter that the order “over­reaches” and “un­der­mines” the Con­sti­tu­tion.

“It’s not law­ful to ban im­mi­grants on ba­sis of na­tion­al­ity,” he tweeted. “If the pres­i­dent wants to change im­mi­gra­tion law, he must work with Congress.”

The state­ment from Ryan’s of­fice came af­ter sev­eral re­quests seek­ing com­ment on how the order dif­fers from the Mus­lim ban that Ryan re­jected dur­ing the cam­paign, whether such a ban is in line with Amer­i­can val­ues and if Ryan is con­cerned that the order is a first step to­ward a re­li­gious lit­mus test.

Ryan has been a con­sis­tent ad­vo­cate for in­creased vet­ting stan­dards and has fre­quently said he op­poses a com­plete ban on Mus­lims en­ter­ing the coun­try.

“Free­dom of re­li­gion is a fun­da­men­tal con­sti­tu­tional prin­ci­ple. It’s a found­ing prin­ci­ple of this coun­try,” Ryan told re­porters af­ter a closed-door morn­ing meet­ing at the Re­pub­li­can Na­tional Com­mit­tee in De­cem­ber 2015. “This is not con­ser­vatism. What was pro­posed yes­ter­day is not what this party stands for. And more im­por­tantly, it’s not what this coun­try stands for.”

The ma­jor­ity of Repub­li­cans in Congress were si­lent on the order Saturday — in­clud­ing McCon­nell. Calls and emails to more than a dozen top GOP law­mak­ers were not re­turned.

Con­gres­sional aides who did re­spond gen­er­ally in­sisted that Trump was merely adopt­ing a pol­icy that passed the House last year with a veto-proof ma­jor­ity. The seven coun­tries named in the order are cur­rently in­cluded in the list of as “coun­tries of con­cern” by the De­part­ment of Home­land Se­cu­rity. Peo­ple who have trav­eled to or lived in those coun­tries were al­ready sub­ject to ad­di­tional scru­tiny when ap­ply­ing for visa waivers.

One se­nior GOP aide said in an email that the ex­ec­u­tive order was “nar­row, a faint shadow of the pol­icy Trump ran on.” And sev­eral con­gres­sional aides who spoke on the con­di­tion of anonymity said that the ex­ec­u­tive order it­self does not sin­gle out a pref­er­ence for Chris­tians, and the tem­po­rary travel ban is fo­cused on ar­eas where ter­ror­ism is a par­tic­u­lar con­cern.

The House voted last year on leg­is­la­tion to sus­pend the ad­mis­sion of refugees from Syria and Iraq un­til the White House could cer­tify that no per­son en­ter­ing the United States would pose a se­cu­rity threat. Democrats blocked a vote on the leg­is­la­tion in the Se­nate, and it ul­ti­mately failed to reach Pres­i­dent Obama’s desk.

Aides also said it is not un­com­mon for an ad­min­is­tra­tion to pri­or­i­tize refugee re­quests on the ba­sis of re­li­gious per­se­cu­tion. How­ever, since the be­gin­ning of the Syr­ian civil war and the rise of the Is­lamic State, many more Mus­lims than Chris­tians have been killed or dis­placed be­cause of the vi­o­lence.

Ryan said Fri­day that while he sup­ports the refugee re­set­tle­ment pro­gram, he thinks it is time to “reeval­u­ate and strengthen the visa vet­ting process.”

“Pres­i­dent Trump is right to make sure we are do­ing ev­ery­thing pos­si­ble to know ex­actly who is en­ter­ing our coun­try,” the speaker said Fri­day.

Evan McMullin, a for­mer CIA of­fi­cer and House GOP pol­icy di­rec­tor who waged an in­de­pen­dent pres­i­den­tial bid in 2016, was one of a small num­ber of Repub­li­cans to pub­licly op­pose the ban.

Most Repub­li­cans, McMullin pre­dicted, would de­cline to crit­i­cize the ex­ec­u­tive or­ders. “Those who are si­lent on this will be de­fined by that si­lence,” he said.

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