Speaker defends Trump ban as veep addresses GOP concerns
WASHINGTON (AP) — House Speaker Paul Ryan defended President Donald Trump’s divisive executive order on refugees and immigration Tuesday, while Vice President Mike Pence promised frustrated Republican senators better communication on major policy issues going forward.
“The president has a responsibility to the security of this country,” Ryan told reporters after renewing his support for the temporary entry ban during a closed-door meeting with GOP House members.
While calling initial confusion over the rollout “regrettable,” Ryan added: “What is happening is something that we support, which is, we need to pause. And we need to make sure the vetting standards are up to snuff so that we can guarantee the safety and security of our country. That is what this does.”
GOP congressional leadership was frozen out of the drafting of the measure, and Ryan acknowledged he didn’t find out the details until Friday as Trump was signing the order to shut off the Syrian refugee program indefinitely and halt the U.S. refugee program and all entries from seven Muslim-majority nations for 90 days.
The action triggered mass confusion and chaos worldwide, split families and set off protests at airports across the country.
Some GOP lawmakers, including key senators, have complained that the administration kept GOP Hill leaders in the dark, sending them scrambling for information to help confused constituents. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., told reporters Monday that his staff had been informed the State Department was barred from talking to Congress.
Pence used a regularly appearance at a weekly closed-door Senate Republican lunch Tuesday to try to soothe some of those concerns, lawmakers said.
“He talked about the changes they’re making to address some of the problems and then he talked about really working to coordinate and communicate, both himself and the White House in general,” Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., said.
Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, said the White House realizes it could burn bridges to Capitol Hill by failing to keep congressional Republicans in the loop.
“I’ve got to believe they realize that,” he said. “What I don’t know yet is whether it’s a concern or not on their end,” Corker said. “It may be that this is the way they want to roll right now. So I think we’ll see.”
“They know that there’s more than just concern from a few senators,” Corker added of Pence’s visit.
Concerns seemed fewer on the House side, where Ryan reminded lawmakers that Trump’s executive order was similar to legislation they themselves had voted for in 2014 cracking down on refugee admissions, although the bill never got through the Senate.
Ryan warned lawmakers to expect protests at their offices, Rep. Phil Roe, R-Tenn., said, but assured them that the “rollout was a little bumpy, been a few potholes in the road, but the actual policy he agreed with.”
Another lawmaker, Rep. Dennis Ross of Florida, said the speaker’s message was, ”‘Look this shouldn’t be a surprise to anybody, this is what we all campaigned on ... We’re looking at eight years of a legacy that we’re essentially undoing.’”
Ryan’s reassurances weren’t enough to quiet frustration from some members.
“Basically, I think the thrust of the executive order should have been a very positive move,” Rep. Pete King, R-N.Y., said. “The way it was handled, though, put the Republicans on defense, and also caused great inconvenience to too many people. ... They’re losing political capital for no reason. It was a self-inflicted wound.”
Ryan also defended the surprising news, first reported by Politico, that the administration’s repeated claims that Hill Republicans were involved in drafting the executive order apparently referred to staffers on the House Judiciary Committee who acted without the knowledge of GOP leadership. “Congressional staffers help the administration all of the time,” Ryan said.
Associated Press writers Richard Lardner and Andrew Taylor contributed to this report.