White House wants it both ways on revised travel ban – Politico
The White House has spent more than a month retooling President Donald Trump’s suspended executive order barring travel and immigration from Muslim countries, all along promising the public that the revised version would be substantially the same as the original—while telling courts just the opposite.
In rolling out version 2.0—which could come this week—Trump and his team face a crucial test of their willingness to compromise in order to see their policy goals realized, at least in part.
Story Continued Below
About two dozen lawsuits were filed against Trump’s first ban, resulting in a series of court orders blocking the key parts of the directive. The broadest block on Trump’s initial travel ban order came from Seattle-based federal judge James Robart on Feb. 3. The Justice Department asked the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals to reverse Robart’s order, at least temporarily, but a three-judge panel chose to leave the injunction in place.
Attorneys representing several states, the American Civil Liberties Union and other immigrants’ rights groups are poised to return to court as soon as Monday to challenge whatever new order Trump issues.
Robart on Friday highlighted one of the challenges the administration will face in defending the new order: statements of White House officials indulging Trump’s reluctance to cave in under fire are in tension with Justice Department lawyers’ promises that the new directive will be “substantially revised.”
“Fundamentally, you’re going to have the same basic policy outcome for the country,” one of the architects of the both the old and new orders, Trump adviser Stephen Miller said on Fox News last month.
In a scheduling order, Robart said Justice Department lawyers did not appear to be on the same page as the president and his aides. “The court understands Plaintiffs’ frustrations concerning statements emanating from President Trump’s administration that seemingly contradict representations of the federal government’s lawyers in this and other litigation before the court,” the judge wrote.
The White House has invested heavily in preparation for the revised order, including consultation with senior officials at the Justice Department, State Department and the Department of Homeland Security.
Trump had dinner Saturday at his Mar-a-Lago resort with top staff and appointees involved in revising the order, including Miller, strategist Steve Bannon, Department of Homeland Security head John Kelly, and Attorney General Jeff Sessions. White House Counsel Don McGahn also attended.
McGahn has also been involved in exchanges with lawyers at other agencies about the new order, officials said. Some congressional leaders have also been briefed on the new plan, according to a top administration official.
“Everyone will know this time,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
One of the most significant changes expected in the new order: removing Iraq from the list of seven countries targeted for limits on travel to the U.S. Iraq’s inclusion on the original list prompted anger among Iraqi officials at a time when U.S. and Iraqi troops are engaged in delicate operations against the Islamic State terror group.
Iraqi officials agreed to new cooperation with the U.S. that will allow for better screening of travelers and refugees from that country, a senior administration official told POLITICO.
However, blocking the arrival of refugees who had served as translators for American troops generated significant blowback from U.S. lawmakers, including Republicans sympathetic to other aspects of Trump’s anti-terror agenda.
A State Department memo obtained by POLITICO reported that an Iraqi official called the ban “both surprising and insulting to Iraqis,” while stating that the Iraqi government was willing to pull the plug on GE’s expansion into the region in the health, transportation, and aviation sectors.
Aside from Iraq, the original order listed Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.
That order prompted protests at airports around the country, led to delays for some travelers and others being turned around and put on flights out of the country.
Nevertheless, Trump claimed publicly that roll-out of the earlier ban was “perfect.”
Trump first suggested a new order was in the works back on Feb. 10, indicating it would emerge within a few days. Timing of an announcement was repeatedly pushed back for a couple of weeks, undercutting Trump’s claims that the order was initially rushed because of concerns about national security.
The most advanced planning for a roll-out came last week, as aides prepared for a signing of the new order at the Justice Department on Wednesday, the day after Trump’s prime-time address to Congress.
However, White House aides scuttled the executive order signing event late Tuesday night after positive reviews for Trump’s speech began to roll in. Administration officials told reporters that they wanted to allow Trump to bask in the rare positive publicity rather than immediately confront another round of critical travel ban coverage.
It’s unclear whether courts will be more inclined to give the Trump team credit for taking a more deliberate approach the second time around or whether judges’ skepticism will be fueled even further by indications that public relations concerns played a key role in the timing of an order the administration insists was prompted by urgent national security concerns.
If the order is “tailored” to previous court rulings, as Trump has pledged, it could fare better in the courts. Still, the legal gauntlet could prove challenging for the administration. Any of the variety of judges handling the cases scattered across the country could block aspects of the new directive.