New York Times:
By Matt Flegenheimer
January 31, 2017
WASHINGTON — Speaker Paul D. Ryan on Tuesday stood by President Trump’s executive order closing the nation’s borders to refugees and people from predominantly Muslim countries, ending days of public silence on the matter with only gentle criticism that “regrettably, the rollout was confusing.”
“We need to make sure that the vetting standards are up to snuff,” Mr. Ryan told reporters at the Capitol, saying he remained broadly supportive of the order and citing a “very good conversation” with John F. Kelly, the Homeland Security secretary.
“Now, I think it’s regrettable that there was some confusion on the rollout of this,” Mr. Ryan added. “No one wanted to see people with green cards or special immigrant visas, like translators, get caught up in all of this.”
The speaker’s cautious handling of this early flash point highlights the path he has chosen, at least so far, in the tumultuous age of Trump: For now, anyway, Mr. Ryan does not want to make enemies at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue.
For some allies and longtime admirers of Mr. Ryan, the episode has been difficult to stomach. They had watched the speaker position himself last year as the party’s conscience, consistently breaking with the Republican nominee. Since the election, dissent has been muted and relations have improved.
“It’s got to be just exquisitely painful for him,” said Charlie Sykes, a longtime conservative Wisconsin radio host and friend of Mr. Ryan’s. “It’s this ongoing calculation that you need to be allied in order to get your agenda put through. And yet the price tag keeps going up all the time.”
Despite the concerns raised by some prominent Republican voices, like Senator John McCain of Arizona and Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Mr. Ryan’s position appears to closely resemble that of most Republicans in the House, where Mr. Trump’s order seems to enjoy considerable support.
Several House Republicans, meeting before Mr. Ryan’s remarks, defended the order and the president’s behavior in recent days, shrugging off any turmoil that has resulted.
“I don’t sense any split in the Republicans ranks,” said Representative Mark Meadows of North Carolina, the chairman of the Freedom Caucus.
The chaos that Mr. Trump has wrought in Washington “was not a focus” of the meeting, Mr. Meadows said. “Any comments would have been minor in scope.”
Mr. Trump’s firing of Sally Q. Yates as acting attorney general after she refused to defend his executive order drew praise.
“She was a political hack,” said Representative Louie Gohmert, Republican of Texas. “I thought it was terrific.”
Before Tuesday, amid the explosive fallout from the president’s order — global confusion, raging protests in numerous cities and often blistering bipartisan criticism of the administration’s efforts — Mr. Ryan had effectively removed himself from the fray.
The speaker, perhaps Mr. Trump’s most prominent Republican detractor at times during the 2016 campaign, initially weighed in on the order shortly after Mr. Trump signed it last Friday. “President Trump is right to make sure we are doing everything possible to know exactly who is entering our country,” Mr. Ryan said then.
But as several Republican lawmakers voiced concerns about the chaotic execution of the order — and, in rarer cases, the thrust of the order itself — Mr. Ryan held his tongue. His office issued a statement over the weekend saying the order was “not a religious test and it is not a ban on people of any religion,” rejecting any inconsistency in this position and Mr. Ryan’s criticism of Mr. Trump’s proposed ban on Muslim immigration during the campaign.
At times on Tuesday, Mr. Ryan lurched toward testiness. “We’re not here to debate, we’re here to answer your questions,” he told a reporter who interrupted one of his answers on the order.
Genial and often expansive with the news media, Mr. Ryan took questions for less than five minutes.
Still, those close to Mr. Ryan say his chief goals are shepherding legislative priorities like tax overhaul and repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act. He has grown accustomed to the broadsides, they say, particularly from left-leaning sources. (These have not been in short supply lately: Gavin Newsom, the former Democratic mayor of San Francisco, wished Mr. Ryan a happy birthday on Twitter using a picture of the Cowardly Lion from “The Wizard of Oz.” And a Wikipedia user added Mr. Ryan’s head shot to a list of invertebrates, beside horseshoe crabs and jellyfish.)
Members of what has often been an unruly Republican conference — particularly under Mr. Ryan’s predecessor as speaker, John A. Boehner — have also cheered Mr. Ryan’s position.
“He knows that when you’re talking about pieces of legislation that have to be signed by the president, it’s helpful to have a good working relationship,” said Representative Lee Zeldin, Republican of New York.
Mr. Ryan’s office says he and the president speak daily, or close to it. He is known to call the president “Donald.”
Such access, it seems, does not always guarantee advance warning on policy. Mr. Ryan learned of the order, he said on Tuesday, “pretty much at the time it was being issued.”
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