WASHINGTON, Feb 10 (Reuters) - Fresh from a legal setback to his travel ban, U.S. President Donald Trump expressed confidence on Friday that his order would ultimately be upheld by the courts, and promised to introduce additional national security steps next week.
Trump’s executive order banning entry to the United States by refugees and by citizens of seven Muslim-majority was put on hold by a federal judge in Seattle last week, and that suspension was upheld by an appeals court in San Francisco on Thursday.
The White House is not ruling out the possibility of rewriting Trump’s Jan. 27 order in light of the court actions, an administration official said.
Trump’s order, which he has called a national security measure to head off attacks by Islamist militants, barred people from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen from entering for 90 days and all refugees for 120 days, except refugees from Syria, who are banned indefinitely.
“We are going to do whatever’s necessary to keep our country safe,” Trump said during a White House news conference with visiting Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
The Republican president did not answer directly when he was asked whether he would sign a new travel ban.
“We’ll be doing something very rapidly having to do with additional security for our country. You’ll be seeing that sometime next week,” Trump added. He did not make clear whether he was talking about a redrafted travel ban directive or some other initiative.
The president, who has made extensive use of executive action that bypasses Congress since taking office on Jan. 20, said his administration would also continue to go through the court process.
“And ultimately I have no doubt that we’ll win that particular case,” he added, referring to Thursday’s ruling by a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco.
The administration could appeal the 9th Circuit ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court as early as Friday. It also could ask the 9th Circuit to rehear its appeal with a larger panel of judges.
While Trump’s comments alongside Abe were measured, earlier in the day he used Twitter to condemn the 9th Circuit ruling as “disgraceful,” his latest expression of frustration with the week-old court-mandated suspension.
NBC News reported that White House lawyers were working on a rewrite of Trump’s executive order that could win federal court approval.
“The administration is looking through all the options on how to move forward. But we’d like to win the case in court,” the administration official told Reuters.
Thursday’s ruling related only to the decision by U.S. District Judge James Robart in Seattle to suspend the order, and did not resolve the underlying lawsuit against the ban brought by the states of Washington and Minnesota. Those states have argued the ban violated constitutional protections against religious discrimination.
The administration has also been defending Trump’s ban in more than a dozen additional lawsuits now moving through the U.S. court system.
BAN ON RED-HAIRED PEOPLE?
Justice Department lawyers argued in federal court in Alexandria, Virginia on Friday against a preliminary injunction that would put a longer hold on Trump’s executive order than the Seattle court ruling.
Judge Leonie Brinkema asked the administration for more evidence of the threat posed by citizens of the seven countries, adding that the government’s argument that the judiciary should leave matters of national security to the executive branch was weak.
Hammering home that point, Brinkema asked an administration lawyer whether the judiciary would have a right to weigh in if the president decided to ban every red-headed person from entering the country.
The Trump administration has argued that the legal basis for the ban is a statute giving a president the authority to bar or restrict foreigners from entering the country if they would harm U.S. interests.
The Virginia case focused solely on visa holders from the seven countries and not refugees or other aspects of the executive order. It was not clear whether a potential preliminary injunction against the ban would protect visa holders nationwide or only those wishing to enter Virginia. The state is home to Dulles International Airport, on the outskirts of Washington, D.C.
The Supreme Court is currently one short of its nine-member strength and ideologically divided, with four liberal justices and four conservatives, pending Senate confirmation of Trump’s conservative nominee, Neil Gorsuch, to the bench.
The administration would need five of the eight justices to vote in favor of reinstating the travelban while litigation continued in the lawsuit brought in the Seattle federal court by Washington and Minnesota. That would mean the administration would need to win over at least one of the liberal justices. A 4-4 split would leave the 9th Circuit ruling in place.
In Seattle, Robart ordered the Justice Department and Washington state on Friday to tell him by the end of Sunday how they want the case challenging the merits of Trump’s order to proceed while any appeal of the travel ban suspension continues.
The administration also filed a motion to dismiss a lawsuit against the executive order in Brooklyn, New York. It argued that the case brought there about the detention of people in U.S. airports was moot because they were no longer detained.
(Additional reporting by Mica Rosenberg in New York, Doina Chiacu in Washington and Daniel Levine in San Francisco.; Writing by Will Dunham; Editing by Frances Kerry)