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Hill Republicans duck Trump immigration furor

“I don’t want to criticize them for improving vetting. I think we need to be careful we don’t have religious tests in this country,” Mitch McConnell said. | AP Photo

‘The president has a lot of latitude to try to secure the country and I’m not going to make a blanket criticism of this effort,’ Mitch McConnell says.

Updated

President Donald Trump’s ban on immigrants from seven Muslim-majority countries is costing him little support on Capitol Hill, where GOP leaders are either defending him or dancing around questions about his hugely controversial action.

While there is a small but vocal contingent of Republicans who are openly critical of Trump’s ban on Syrian refugees and other countries, most Republicans are either sitting back to watch how it plays out or gently chiding him over the matter. They don’t like the rollout of Trump’s executive orders and they don’t know how it affects some American allies overseas, but GOP lawmakers — wary of Trump and his die-hard supporters — are largely standing behind him despite past criticisms.

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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) was critical of Trump’s campaign promises to enact a blanket ban on Muslims from the country as “completely and totally inconsistent with American values.” But McConnell seemed much less concerned with Trump’s actions this weekend to enact a temporary ban on seven majority Muslim nations.

“The president has a lot of latitude to try to secure the country and I’m not going to make a blanket criticism of this effort,” McConnell said on ABC’s “This Week.” “However it’s important to remember that a lot of Muslims are our best sources in the war against terror.”

The GOP leader said that he would not argue against tightening vetting of refugees but seemed to to draw a line in the sand on how Trump’s team talk about their refugee pause: “I don’t want to criticize them for improving vetting. I think we need to be careful we don’t have religious tests in this country.”

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Likewise, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) has largely defended Trump’s actions and said: “President Trump is right to make sure we are doing everything possible to know exactly who is entering our country.”

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who has jabbed Trump on trade, border and interrogation polices over the past week, was critical of the process Trump used rather than the action on Sunday. McCain praised the temporary nature of Trump’s actions but asked a litany of questions about how it could affect wartime interpreters trying to come to the United States and the ongoing war on Iraq against the Islamic State. He seemed most concerned with the lack of groundwork done in the roll out of the policy, observing that the effect of Trump’s actions “probably, in some areas, will give ISIS some more propaganda.”

“The good news is it’s only got to do with a pause. The bad news is that obviously that this process and these conclusions were not vetted,” McCain said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.” “There’s so much confusion out there.”

And even though Trump’s order will mostly affect Muslim refugees, it is not the broad “Muslim ban” that he once talked about and his surrogates defended it as far less sweeping on the Sunday shows. That left Republicans walking a fine line between criticizing Trump and avoiding rocking the boat in a presidency that is still less than 10 days old.

“It was not a ban, however, I think it was not properly vetted,” said Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “So you have an extreme vetting proposal that did not get the vetting it should have had. And as a result in the implementation we’ve seen some problems.”

Among the problems Portman listed was a Cleveland Clinic doctor who was forced to leave despite having a visa to be in the United States. Asked if sending her out of the country made the U.S. safer, Portman said: “No, because she’s been properly vetted.”

To be sure, a small faction of moderate and independent-minded Republicans are coming out against Trump. But fewer than a dozen of the hundreds of GOP lawmakers in Congress are clearly criticizing Trump. Most of them did not support his presidential campaign.

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Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) said the order was “too broad,” Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) called it “problematic,” and Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) said: “It’s unacceptable when even legal permanent residents are being detained or turned away.” None of them supported Trump.

“I object to the suspension of visas from the seven named countries because we could have accomplished our objective of keeping our homeland safe by immediate implementation of more thorough screening procedures,” said Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), one of a handful of House members coming out against Trump’s action.

GOP Reps. Carlos Curbelo (Fla.), Charlie Dent (Pa.), Brian Fitzpatrick (Pa.), Justin Amash (Mich.) and Barbara Comstock (Va.) all criticized Trump as well.

“The president’s Executive Order [goes] beyond the increased vetting actions that Congress has supported on a bipartisan basis and inexplicably applied to Green Card holders,” Comstock said. “This should be addressed and corrected expeditiously.”

But others who have been at odds with Trump were more muted. Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), who opposed Trump’s candidacy, said he had “technical questions” about Trump’s order but declined to explicitly ding Trump.

“National security is always the federal government’s top priority, so I am pleased that the White House is focused on protecting the American people,” Lee said in a statement.

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Source: POLITICO – TOP Stories

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