Top Trump administration officials appeared on the Sunday politics talk shows to defend the president’s executive order barring refugees and travelers from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States. But few in the president’s inner circle seemed to have a game plan — or a clear sense of what the travel ban really means.
Travelers remained in limbo and reports emerged Sunday that immigration and border patrol agents were refusing to release detainees, despite a judge’s order Saturday that placed a stay on the entry ban.
Protests broke out at airports across the country Saturday, with demonstrators calling the ban un-American. A federal judge in New York blocked the deportation of already arrived travelers from the seven Muslim-majority countries blacklisted by Trump’s executive order.
The scenes of protesters blocking roads outside airports, the stories of family members waiting anxiously for their loved ones’ release, the federal judge’s ruling — these did not change the president’s mind. On Sunday morning, Trump doubled down on his call for “extreme vetting” of refugees and travelers from those seven countries.
Reince Priebus, White House chief of staff, even suggested that the ban may be expanded to include other countries, “like Pakistan.” Pakistan has been U.S. ally since the Cold War; the two countries have extensive economic, military, and social ties.
“Perhaps other countries need to be added to an executive order going forward,” Priebus said in an appearance on CBS’ “Face the Nation” Sunday morning. He added that the seven countries — Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Yemen and Syria — were selected because they had already been labeled by the State Department as either “state sponsors of terrorism” or “terrorist safe havens.” No foreigner from those countries has carried out a terrorist attack on U.S. soil since 1975, according to an analysis by the CATO Institute.
Priebus also seemed confused about the overall implication of the ban, and flip-flopped on whether it affected legal permanent U.S. residents from those countries. “As far as green card holders moving forward, it doesn’t affect them,” Priebus said. When NBC host Chuck Todd pressed him, Priebus backtracked. “Well, of course it does [affect green card holders]. If you’re traveling back and forth, you’re going to be subjected to further screening.” Priebus couldn’t say definitively whether the ban would affect U.S. citizens, and instead said it was left to the “discretionary authority” of border patrol agents to determine whether someone could enter.
Kellyanne Conway, a key Trump adviser, appeared on “Fox News Sunday” to say the judge’s order, which lawyers said would apply to up to 200 people who had arrived in the U.S. and were being held at airports around the country, “really doesn’t affect the [president’s] executive order at all.”
Rudy Giuliani, White House cybersecurity adviser, had gone on Fox News late Saturday night and appeared to take credit for the idea of a “Muslim ban” in the first place. Giuliani said Trump called him and said, “Put a commission together. Show me the right way to do it legally.”
On “This Week” on ABC, Martha Raddatz grilled White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer on the ban, which he downplayed as an “inconvenience” for certain travelers. Raddatz raised the story of Hameed Khalid Darweesh, an Iraqi interpreter who had worked alongside the U.S. Army in Iraq and was detained for 18 hours the airport in New York on Saturday. He was released after U.S. Reps. Jerry Nadler and Nydia Velazquez went to the airport to get him out.
Spicer shrugged. “That person was processed in,” he said. “I know that in some cases there’s going to be a bit of an inconvenience.”