WASHINGTON ― Congress may need to take action to curtail President Donald Trump’s executive order blocking all refugees and specific foreign nationals if lawmakers don’t start getting answers, a number of Senate Republicans said on Monday.
Not a single Senate Republican out of the 10 that The Huffington Post talked to had been consulted before Trump signed the order Friday afternoon. The White House did not release the final text until 2½ hours later, and even then left major issues unclear, such as whether legal permanent residents, also called green card holders, should be subject to the ban. As a result, many people who live in the U.S. returning from travel were detained in airports across the country. On Sunday, Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly announced that green card holders can be admitted case by case.
Senate Republicans were left scrambling to answer questions from constituents over the weekend without understanding the full implications of the ban. By Monday, many senators still didn’t have their questions answered and, even with the clarification concerning green card holders, thought the order was still too sweeping.
“Obviously the communication was not there, interagency process was not there, folks here on the Hill were not aware of what was getting ready to happen, people around the world were not aware,” Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) told reporters Monday. “Chaos ensued.”
Corker, who wasn’t approached by the administration for advice ahead of the rollout, said he was “immediately” contacted by a White House official after issuing a statement Sunday calling the order “poorly implemented.” Now the administration is keeping an open channel to help him fully understand the ban, but Corker left the door open for “legislative action.”
“In a few days, if there are still some concerns, then possibly,” Corker said when asked if Congress should step in. “But right now I’d rather them more fully develop what it is they really have initiated.”
Trump’s executive order is far more dramatic than what Republicans have voted for in the past. It suspends the entire refugee resettlement program for 120 days and blocks Syrian refugees indefinitely. It also bars from the country travelers and immigrants from seven Muslim-majority nations ― Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen ― for 90 days.
A number of Republicans who spoke out against the ban objected specifically to the fact that it swept up green card holders, while others said it was done with too little consultation or was harmful to U.S. national security efforts.
Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) said Trump should have at least consulted the departments of homeland security, justice, state and defense before issuing the order.
Asked if Congress should take action to revise it, Collins said she was “hoping that between the courts and administration making revisions that that will take care of it.”
Presently, she added, the order is “still overly broad.”
“I’m concerned about Iraqi translators and bodyguards who worked for our military, saved the lives of our troops and our diplomats, and whose own lives are at risk if they stay in Iraq,” Collins said of those potentially caught up in the ban. “We do need better vetting ... but to have a blanket ban on refugees just does not make sense, and I am also very concerned about anything that is akin to a religious test for admission into the U.S. That is contrary to our American values and likely unconstitutional.”
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) told reporters he still couldn’t get his questions answered about the ban and called it a “mistake” on the administration’s part not to coordinate with the necessary agencies.
Rubio said his staff was told the State Department “was ordered not to talk to Congress about this issue” but wasn’t given a reason why.
“We reached out to state, and we were told that the directive was that they were not to share any information today,” Rubio said. “I suppose it’s because [they’re] not clear what they’ll tell us yet, but that cannot be a permanent position. We expect answers here fairly soon. We have constituents calling.”
Outside of the thousands of “very vulnerable people living in dangerous places” that have been shut out with the halting of the entire refugee resettlement program, Rubio said, he received calls over the weekend from companies asking if they could get employees off cruise lines and onto shore, and from constituents asking if they’d be allowed back if they traveled overseas.
“Right now we have more questions than we have answers, and I hope that’s going to change here, and if it doesn’t, then perhaps there’s a role” for Congress to take action, Rubio said.
Sen. John Isakson (R-Ga.) was also open to the idea of Congress stepping in, saying “it may be necessary” but that it’s up to party leaders and committee chairs.
Other Republicans struggled to defend Trump’s actions since they were still rushing to catch up with the specifics of the order. A few blamed former President Barack Obama for the way Trump decided to rollout the ban.
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) said he hopes Trump consults with lawmakers in the future, but now that the issue concerning green card holders has been clarified he doesn’t have much of a problem with the order.
“People who do not live here do not have constitutional rights,” Paul said. “You don’t have a constitutional right to immigrate here.”
Pressed on the administration’s messy rollout on a Friday afternoon without asking for any input, Paul blamed it on Trump’s predecessor.
“Well, they’re following the lead of President Obama, who used his executive order and executive power to do many things, but many of things we’re going to see undone are being undone [because they] were executive orders to begin with,” Paul said.
This particular executive order, however, isn’t undoing any of Obama’s.
Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) fumbled with the elevator button and waited for the doors to start closing between him and reporters before finally answering if he was disturbed by Trump taking action without talking to Republican lawmakers first.
“Umm, we’ll see where it goes from here,” Flake said.
Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) chalked it up to Trump being Trump, but added it “could have been helpful” if the president had consulted with the Hill in advance.
“He’s doing some things that are unconventional, and that’s not a bad thing, if they work,” he said.
“We have a president that moves at the speed of business, not the speed of government,” said Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.) before escaping onto an elevator.
Trump’s speed sent federal officials into a tailspin, and many did not have directives on how to carry out the executive order. Over the weekend, thousands flocked to airports to protest the ban as many individuals with proper paperwork were detained for hours and denied access to legal counsel.
Elise Foley contributed reporting.