It was his own staff who insisted it was not a travel ban. Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, spent much of one early briefing telling reporters not to call it that. “It’s not a travel ban,” Mr. Spicer insisted. “When we use words like travel ban, that misrepresents what it is.”
At the time, John F. Kelly, the secretary of homeland security, also rejected the phrase. “This is not a travel ban,” he said. “This is a temporary pause that allows us to better review the existing refugee an visa vetting system.”
Mr. Trump seemed to be reacting to a segment on “Morning Joe” on MSNBC on Monday that, just a few minutes before the president’s tweets, highlighted the administration’s past statements on whether the order was a travel ban. The issue was renewed on Saturday night when Mr. Trump responded to the London attack by arguing again for the order, which he called a travel ban. “We need the courts to give us back our rights,” he wrote that night.
On Monday, Mr. Trump expressed frustration that his administration rewrote his original order, which was thrown out by the courts, it in an effort to pass judicial muster. The second version was also rejected, and the administration last week appealed to the Supreme Court.
“The Justice Dept. should have stayed with the original Travel Ban, not the watered down, politically correct version they submitted to S.C.,” he wrote.
He added: “The Justice Dept. should ask for an expedited hearing of the watered down Travel Ban before the Supreme Court — & seek much tougher version!”
Mr. Trump’s tweets may undercut the administration’s efforts to revive the revised executive order. His lawyers have asked the Supreme Court to ignore statements by Mr. Trump during the presidential campaign, when he called for a “Muslim ban,” in assessing the constitutionality of the executive order. They have also said that the revised order addressed any judicial objections to the earlier one by deleting explicit references to religion.
But in calling the revised order “politically correct,” Mr. Trump suggested that his goal was still to make distinctions based on religion. And in calling the revised order “watered down,” he made it harder for his lawyers to argue that it was a clean break from the earlier one.
Mr. Trump’s language suggested that the decision was somehow made by someone other than him, even though the Justice Department acts on the president’s orders in matters of policy such as this. The second version he criticized on Monday took Iraq off the list of countries that would be affected and made clear that the restrictions did not apply to those who hold green cards or valid visas. It also eliminated a provision that seemed to prioritize Christian refugees for entry.
The revised version, like the first, barred all refugees from entering the country for 120 days and from Syria indefinitely. It barred entry for 90 days for any visitors from six countries: Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.
“In any event we are EXTREME VETTING people coming into the U.S. in order to help keep our country safe,” Mr. Trump wrote on Monday. “The courts are slow and political!”
The administration said it chose those six nations and Iraq from a list of “countries of concern” identified in a law signed by President Barack Obama in 2015. But experts have said that since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, no one has been killed in the United States in a terrorist attack by anyone who emigrated from or whose parents emigrated from any of those countries. Most acts of terrorism inside the United States in the last 15 years were committed by American citizens or legal residents.
Mr. Trump did not explain on Monday why two of the elements of the order were still needed, as the original rationale was a pause for visitors and refugees of 90 to 120 days to give the administration time to review vetting procedures and put new ones in place. The administration insisted at the time that it was not meant as a permanent action, other than on refugees from Syria. More than 120 days have passed.
This was not the first time the president has expressed second thoughts about revising the original order. In March, after a federal district court in Hawaii blocked the revised version, Mr. Trump complained that it was only “a watered-down version of the first order” and told a rally of supporters that “I think we ought to go back to the first one and go all the way” to the Supreme Court, “which is what I wanted to do in the first place.”
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