Democrats use Trump Syria strikes to renew travel ban talks
The horrific images of children gasping for breath and victims foaming at the mouth after the latest deadly chemical weapons attack in Syria moved President Trump to order a retaliatory missile strike. But Democrats are now trying to use Mr. Trump’s decision to retaliate against the Syrian government’s gas attack on its own people to rally political opposition against his executive order temporarily barring refugees from the United States.
Several sitting lawmakers were joined in their calls by groups advocating on behalf of refugees, as well as by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who lost the presidential election to Mr. Trump.
“I hope this administration will move forward in a way that is both strategic and consistent with our values,” Mrs. Clinton said Friday, speaking at a luncheon in Texas. “And I also hope that they will recognize that we cannot in one breath speak of protecting Syrian babies and in the next close America’s doors to them.”
The Trump administration is entrenched in a series of court battles over the president’s revised executive order on travel and refugees, which would temporarily ban travel to the U.S. by nationals of six majorityMuslim countries — including Syria — and would temporarily halt all refugee resettlement. Enforcement of the order is currently paused by federal courts.
The president said he was greatly disturbed by the images coming out of Syria, but administration officials said there was no discussion of changing the refugee policy as deliberations over Thursday’s military action took place.
“No, that wasn’t discussed as any part of the deliberations,” Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster said Thursday when asked about the refugee policy.
Democratic lawmakers, many of whom have previously spoken out against the executive order, say it’s difficult to square the president’s concern for victims of the Syrian sarin gas attack with his policy seeking to limit refugee resettlement.
“If President Trump is, as he claims, motivated by humanitarian impulses and a concern for the suffering of Syrian civilians, then we should see a redoubling of humanitarian efforts, an increase in humanitarian assistance funding and a lifting of the refugee ban. Cruise missiles alone are not a solution,” said Rep. Donald S. Beyer Jr., Virginia Democrat.
Sen. Kamala D. Harris, California Democrat, said the administration should consult with Congress on its path forward in dealing with Syria, including a reconsideration of its executive order. If the president was moved to act by images of slaughtered Syrian children, Ms. Harris said those images “should also compel the administration to rethink its misguided refugee policy and open our doors to the children and families fleeing ongoing violence and oppression in Syria and elsewhere.”
Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, Maryland Democrat, called for Mr. Trump to immediately rescind his ban on refugees.
The Justice Department, which is defending the executive order in court, declined to comment Friday on whether there have been any discussions of altering the policy. It’s unclear how the Justice Department might address the administration’s dramatic turnaround regarding the military strike in court filings that are due Friday in one key travel ban case.
Omar Jadwat, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Immigrants’ Rights Project, said if the president was able to reconsider his position on military strikes in Syria, he should also be willing to take a fresh look at the executive order.
“It appears that seeing firsthand footage of the atrocities in Syria caused President Trump to reassess his view on military action there,” said Mr. Jadwat, who argued one of the travel ban challenges against the administration. “By the same token, it should make him reassess his view on whether to allow people from Syria, who are seeking safety from exactly these types of actions, to come to the United States.”
The International Refugee Assistance Project, noting that the conflict in Syria has “caused the largest refugee crisis the world has ever seen,” urged the president to develop a humanitarian response.
“Rather than pay lip service to the plight of innocent Syrian children, President Trump should provide actual solutions for the children who have been languishing in refugee camps for years,” read a statement from the group, which was among those who have filed lawsuits against the administration over the executive order. “Many refugee children have been left in life or death situations following the President’s executive order, which suspends and severely curtails the U.S. resettlement program.”
“By the same token, it should make him reassess his view on whether to allow people from Syria, who are seeking safety from exactly these types of actions, to come to the United States.”
— Omar Jadwat, American Civil Liberties Union’s Immigrants’ Rights Project
President Trump was motivated to retaliate against Syrian forces in the wake of a chemical attack resulting in the horrifying deaths of children. Democrats are hopeful the president’s attention to the region’s suffering people will allow for an opening in renewing talks about rescinding Mr. Trump’s Middle East travel ban.