By Jonathan Lemire
March 2, 2017
NEW YORK — President Donald Trump was barely in office when he signed an executive order restricting immigration from seven Muslim-majority nations. There was not a moment to waste, he said, because any delay would allow the “bad dudes” to rush into the U.S.
Then federal courts struck down his ban. The White House said a new version would be coming.
That was a month ago. The urgency seems to have faded.
There has been no further legal appeal. And announcement of a replacement order has been repeatedly postponed, a reflection of legal difficulties, shifting administration priorities and politics. It now won’t be unveiled until next week at the earliest, says a White House official.
“The holdup flies in the face of the mythology as to why they needed to rush the bill in the first place,” said Doris Meissner, who was head of the Immigration and Naturalization Service for President Bill Clinton. “It was a contrived argument and a reflection of inexperience and a rush to fulfill a campaign promise.”
The delay stands in stark contrast to the ban’s rollout, a swift action designed as the centerpiece of a barrage of executive orders to set a bold tone for the Trump administration’s first days.
Trump signed it late on a Friday afternoon, prompting widespread protests at the nation’s airports while hardening battle lines between the president’s supporters and opponents. But the rushed order, composed with little outside consultation, drew fierce bipartisan criticism as federal agencies, foreign governments and travelers were left confused to its contents, creating chaos at airports and leaving the White House to defend the rollout by saying that its speed was necessary.
“If we waited five days, 10 days, six months to begin establishing the first series of controls, we would be leaving the homeland unnecessarily vulnerable,” said senior policy adviser Stephen Miller who, along with chief strategist Steve Bannon, was the architect of the ban.
But the unveiling of a new order has been postponed at least three times since then, and the White House has shifted its tone on the ban — in part by not talking about it.
Shifting priorities, Trump has spent more time at events meant to boost his economic agenda and on Thursday appeared on an aircraft carrier to tout his plans for a military buildup. During his first speech to Congress on Tuesday, he did not specifically mention the ban, merely saying that the administration “will shortly take new steps to keep our nation safe.”
After Trump received high marks for that speech, aides scuttled plans to sign the new travel ban the next day, not wanting the controversial measure to overtake some of the best headlines of the young administration.
Moreover, public opinion has shifted against the ban. A Quinnipiac poll conducted in early January, before details were known, found that Americans supported “suspending immigration from ‘terror prone’ regions” by 48 percent to 42 percent.
But a follow-up poll after the ban was implemented found a 12 point net swing against the idea of a travel ban.
“This didn’t go right the first time: The optics at the airports were bad and constituents flooded their lawmakers with calls,” said Linda Fowler, professor of government at Dartmouth College. “The White House must know it has to get it exactly right this time. When this ban is released, more lawsuits are coming. To lose a second time would be devastating.”
Government lawyers who defended the ban in court the first time made its speed a crucial part of their argument. August Flentje, special counsel to the U.S. attorney general, told judges on the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that the need to quickly enforce the ban prevented the administration from gathering evidence that citizens from the seven countries, including refugees, pose a serious threat of terrorism, a claim the judges did not buy.
When the court rejected the ban, the White House vowed to immediately and simultaneously appeal the decision and craft a new order, though Trump later acknowledged that delaying the first order might have helped it surmount legal challenges.
“Now if I would’ve done it in a month, everything would have been perfect,” the president said in mid-February. “The problem is we would have wasted a lot of time, and maybe a lot of lives because a lot of bad people would have come into our country.”
But the government didn’t pursue its appeal. And the Pentagon and State Department have fought the White House about which countries should be included in the plan. And weeks have passed without the release of the new order, even though White House press secretary Sean Spicer said last week it was “finalized.”
The next rollout, he said, would be “flawless.”
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