Politics & Government

Angry congressional lawmakers erupt, seek ways to curb Trump immigration order

Members of Congress in both parties erupted with anger and concern Sunday over President Donald Trump’s order temporarily barring immigrants and others from seven Muslim countries from entering the United States.

But whether Congress will take action to overturn the order, or at least be able to get swift answers about how thoroughly the administration has considered its implications, was unclear.

The Senate is scheduled to vote Monday night on limiting debate on the nomination of ExxonMobil Chief Executive Officer Rex Tillerson as secretary of state, a vote and debate that could become an instant opportunity for upset lawmakers to protest Trump’s action.

“Mr. Tillerson should tell the full Senate where he stands on these anti-immigrant, anti-refugee executive orders,” said Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. “Was Mr. Tillerson consulted by the administration on these executive orders? Does he support them? Does he agree they are lawful and constitutional? Will he direct the State Department to enforce them if he is confirmed?”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., was circumspect about what could happen next, saying the next chapter in the executive order drama would come in the courts.

Asked if the order would have blowback in the world, McConnell told ABC’s “This Week,” “We’ll see. And it's important, however, to emphasize it's important to keep America as secure as possible and we'll see how it plays out.”

He said of the immigrant ban, “I think it's a good idea to tighten the vetting process. But I also think it's important to remember that some of our best sources in the war against radical Islamic terrorism are Muslims, both in this country and overseas.”

Republicans have 52 of the Senate’s 100 seats, and need 51 to limit debate. Republicans did not seem inclined early Sunday to stop Tillerson, but there were hints of turmoil ahead. At least four Republican senators – Ben Sasse of Nebraska, Susan Collins of Maine, Jeff Flake of Arizona and Rob Portman of Ohio – have said the order is extreme.

“It’s unacceptable when even legal permanent residents are being detained or turned away at airports and ports of entry,” Flake said in a Medium post.

“A lot of people think that this is just a smaller version of a Muslim ban, finding seven Muslim majority countries. By the way, none of the 9/11 hijackers came from any of these seven countries,” Portman told CNN’s “State of the Union.”

“I think it was not properly vetted. So, you have an extreme vetting proposal that didn't get the vetting it should have had,” he said. “And as the result, in the implementation, we've seen some problems.”

He wants Congress to have a closer look. “We ought to be part of this. We have been working on this,” he said.

In the House, House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., who in the past was opposed to any Muslim ban, supported Trump’s action. But Rep. Mark Sanford, R-S.C., is troubled by what he is seeing. "One of this country's greatest strengths has been our connection and engagement with the rest of the world," he said Sunday.

Beyond putting the United States at an economic disadvantage, he said there was a greater threat to consider in the nature of Trump's orders.

"Another of our country's greatest strengths has been that we have always been seen as predictable....that we were a nation of laws and not men," Sanford said. "Our founding fathers believed that man could be fickle and subject to whim and that kings and despots well illustrated this. Our system of checks and balances was designed to check this.”

McConnell was careful not to criticize the administration harshly.

“Look, the president has a lot of latitude to try to secure the country,” he said. “And I'm not going to make a blanket criticism of this effort. However, I think it's important to remember, as I said, a lot of Muslims are our best sources in the war against terror.”

But he’s been wary of any Muslim ban.

“If they're looking to tighten the vetting process, I mean who would be against that? But I am opposed to a religious tests. The courts are going to determine whether this is too broad,” he said Sunday.

Matt Schofield, Lindsay Wise, Sean Cockerham, William Douglas and Curtis Tate of McClatchy’s Washington Bureau contributed

David Lightman: 202-383-6101, @lightmandavid