WASHINGTON (AP) — Defiant in the face of an international backlash, President Donald Trump pressed into his second week in office defending his sweeping immigration ban. Protests persisted at major airports, and concern mounted from U.S. diplomats and members of his own party.
Trump denied that his order, which suspends all immigration for citizens of seven majority-Muslim countries for 90 days, was to blame for weekend chaos at the nation’s airports, instead pointing to computer glitches, demonstrations and even the “fake tears” of Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer.
The president publicly shifted his focus, signing an executive action aimed at cutting regulations for small businesses and teasing his plans to unveil his Supreme Court pick Tuesday night.
But the immigration ban remained at the forefront of his first fortnight in the White House – and prompted predecessor Barack Obama to wade into politics for the first time since leaving office.
A spokesman for the former president said Monday that Obama “fundamentally disagrees” with discrimination that targets people based on their religion. Obama spokesman Kevin Lewis alluded to but did not specifically mention Trump’s order but added that Obama was “heartened” by the civil engagement being seen across the country.
Obama has said he will give Trump room to govern but will speak out if his successor violates basic U.S. values.
White House press secretary Sean Spicer said Trump’s order was “about the safety of America” the new president himself played down its impact, saying on twitter that just 109 people were detained and held for questioning. White House officials have said that was during the first 24 hours after the ban.
But nearly 400 legal permanent residents were delayed upon their arrival back in the United States between the time the travel ban was signed and Sunday evening, according to a federal law enforcement official. All of those people were ultimately allowed back into the country.
The official said one other green card holder is now facing deportation after an extra background check done after the executive order was signed revealed a criminal conviction. Details of that person’s case were not immediately.
The official spoke on the condition of anonymity because the person was not authorized to publicly disclose details of the travel ban’s implementation.
Trump’s order, which also halts all refugee admissions for 120 days, does not address homegrown extremists already in America. And the list of countries in his order – Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia and Yemen – doesn’t include Saudi Arabia, where most of the Sept. 11 hijackers were from.
Growing numbers of Republican lawmakers expressed concerns about Trump’s action. Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida and Tim Scott of South Carolina said in a joint statement that “the manner in which these measures were crafted and implemented have greatly contributed to the confusion, anxiety and uncertainty of the last few days.”
Washington state’s attorney general said he would sue Trump, making Washington the first state to announce a legal action against the administration. Democrat Bob Ferguson was one of 16 state attorneys general who released a statement Sunday calling Trump’s action “un-American and unlawful.”
A number of U.S. diplomats also prepared a memo criticizing the order. In a “dissent cable” being drafted for State Department leadership, the diplomats said the ban runs counter to American values and will fuel anti-American sentiment around the world.
The cable originated in the State Department’s Consular Affairs bureau, which handles visas.
Unfazed, Spicer retorted that if “career bureaucrats” have a problem with the order, “they should either get with the program or they can go.”
The president also mocked Schumer, the New York Democrat who grew emotional as he called the ban “un-American.” Said Trump: “I’m going to ask him who was his acting coach.”
Trump blamed an airline glitch for much of the disorder at the nation’s international airports that dominated the weekend’s news. Though a Delta systems outage Sunday night led to departure delays and cancellations of at least 150 flights, the chaos started the day before as protesters packed some of the country’s major airports.
Turning away from immigration, Trump signed an executive action Monday aimed at cutting regulations for small businesses. White House officials called the directive a “one in, two out” plan, requiring government agencies requesting a new regulation to identify two others they will cut.
Trump also announced he will reveal his pick for the Supreme Court at 8 p.m. Tuesday. The court has had eight justices since the death last year of Antonin Scalia. Obama nominated Merrick Garland, but Senate Republicans refused to take up the nomination.
Meanwhile, Vice President Mike Pence met with Jordan’s King Abdullah II on Monday and discussed Trump’s promise to relocate the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, a move Abdullah opposes. White House spokesman Spicer said the vice president reassured the king that decision making on that was in the “early stages.”
The issue will be a major topic for discussion at Trump’s first White House meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, which Spicer said was set for Feb. 15.
Spicer also defended a presidential statement on the Holocaust that didn’t include a clear reference to the 6 million Jews who were killed. He accused critics of nitpicking and said the statement was written with the help of an unidentified person who is both Jewish and the descendant of Holocaust survivors.
Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, is both.