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Trump's Order on Refugees Roils Capitol Hill

  • Michael Bowman

A protester carries a sign in front of the Supreme Court during a protest about President Donald Trump's recent executive orders, in Washington, D.C., Jan. 30, 2017.

President Donald Trump's order turning back refugees worldwide, as well as arrivals from seven majority Muslim nations, roiled Capitol Hill on Monday, uniting Democrats in full-throated opposition to the measure and shining an uncomfortable spotlight on Republicans.

The executive order prompted thunderous denunciations inside the Capitol and at a protest outside.

"No hate, no fear, immigrants are welcome here!" about a thousand demonstrators chanted in front of the Supreme Court building.

On the Senate floor, Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat, accused Trump of giving America's enemies a propaganda bonanza.

Farah Amer Kamal, from Iraq, speaks with Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, left, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California, and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York, and other members of Congress nearby in front of the Supreme Court about President Donald Trump's recent executive orders in Washington, Jan. 30, 2017.
Farah Amer Kamal, from Iraq, speaks with Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, left, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California, and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York, and other members of Congress nearby in front of the Supreme Court about President Donald Trump's recent executive orders in Washington, Jan. 30, 2017.

"They [Islamic State radicals] want nothing more than to paint the United States as a country at war with Islam," Schumer said. "This [executive] order feeds right into the perception ISIS and other extremists want to create. The bottom line: The policy will make us less safe, not more safe," he said, using an acronym for Islamic State.

Republican support

Democrats pressed for immediate Senate consideration of a bill that would reverse the executive order, but Republicans objected.

"I've heard lots of claims on TV about 134 Muslims who could be affected [by the order]," said Republican Tom Cotton of Arkansas. "Of course, that leaves 1.6 billion Muslims who are not affected."

Determining exactly how many people could be affected by the order is difficult. But at a minimum it would affect the roughly 200 million people living in the seven countries, and many others who were born there and left. It also will affect tens of thousands of refugees who could have been admitted under the previous administration’s ceiling, but will no longer be allowed in.

Republican lawmakers in the House of Representatives also voiced support for the move.

"President Trump's executive order simply restores sanity of America's immigration policy," said Republican Rep. Clay Higgins of Louisiana. "Now it's the time for strength and courage. … President Trump's order is not a betrayal of American values. His actions inspire hope to the millions of Americans who have watched our nation decline over the past decade."

Republican criticism

Some Republicans seemed intent on sidestepping the firestorm by speaking out on other matters. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky urged the chamber to confirm the president's nominees, including a pick for the Supreme Court, expected to be announced Tuesday. A few, like Senator John McCain of Arizona and Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, already had denounced the executive order before lawmakers returned from their weekend break.

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‘Un-American’

Democrats, meanwhile, sought to keep as much focus on Trump's order as possible.

"It's unnecessary, it's unconstitutional, and it's un-American. And it should be repealed immediately," said California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who authored the bill seeking to reverse the executive action.

"We are a nation founded by the descendants of asylum seekers that has been constantly invigorated and replenished and driven forward by immigrants, many millions of whom came under duress," Schumer said. "President Trump seems to want people to believe that all immigrants are terrorists or criminals. But when you meet immigrants, you see that they are not the face of terrorism. They are families just like ours."

White House response

The White House rejected such criticism outright.

"You don't know when the next attack's coming," said White House spokesman Sean Spicer. "And so the best you can do is to get ahead of it because if you wait, you're going to be reacting. And what I think I want to be clear on is the president's not going to wait. He's going to make sure he does everything in his power when he can to protect the homeland and its people."

White House press secretary Sean Spicer speaks during the daily news briefing at the White House in Washington, Jan. 30, 2017.
White House press secretary Sean Spicer speaks during the daily news briefing at the White House in Washington, Jan. 30, 2017.

‘Skin in the game’

Among the demonstrators outside the Capitol was local resident Allison McGill, who held up a sign saying: "As a Christian I Stand with All Refugees."

"I have skin in the game," McGill said, explaining that she recently applied to foster a refugee minor and is now unsure whether America's program to admit refugees will continue under the Trump administration.

"This is not what America is about," she added. "I'm not involved in any political things, but I feel very passionately about this. If we don't stop him [Trump] now, I don't know what's next."

Prominent Democratic lawmakers addressed the crowd, which, in turn, pressed them to do more to oppose Trump's agenda. Shouts of "Do your job!" greeted several Democrats who spoke.

VOA’s Katherine Gypson contributed to this report.

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