White House

Chaos over Trump immigration order may be just what he wanted

There was swift backlash from fellow Republicans, world leaders and thousands of angry Americans. A defiant Donald Trump again refused to soften his tough talk even as administration officials walked back some onerous portions of the president’s new policy.

As Trump insisted his order barring citizens of seven Muslim-majority nations from the United States was the right thing to do, aides charged with implementing the policy wavered back and forth Sunday before saying they would allow green-card holders from the seven nations to enter in the U.S. They blamed the media for the uproar and insisting nothing had changed.

“I am very happy to inform you that everything I said then is still true today,” a senior administration official with knowledge of the situation but not authorized to speak publicly said late Sunday. “Nothing has changed.”

Still confusion reigned at airports throughout they day as immigrants, including some green card holders, were detained or barred from entering or were denied access to attorneys.

“America is a proud nation of immigrants and we will continue to show compassion to those fleeing oppression, but we will do so while protecting our own citizens and border,” Trump said in a statement Sunday. “America has always been the land of the free and home of the brave. We will keep it free and keep it safe, as the media knows, but refuses to say.”

The White House always faces pressure to act when presidents start their first term. But with Trump, the pressure was magnified because he won a stunning victory by convincing millions of Americans he would act – and act fast – with a mandate from that part of the nation yearning for change.

Trump reiterated his support for the measure he signed Friday in a series of tweets and his late-afternoon statement, and his advisers said that while they accept the judicial orders allowing green card holders to enter the nation, they will continue to study whether to expand the number of nations from which citizens could not enter the United States.

“I think we will learn over the course of his presidency that Trump communicates by action, not by speeches,” said former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who has long advised Trump. “He tells us he's going to do something and then he does it.”

Scott Jennings, who worked in the George W. Bush White House, said Trump and his aides are dismissing the “hysteria” about the order as simply more criticism from the very people who didn’t vote for him anyway.

“I think everything they have done this week has been a direct response to what brought them to the White House,” he said. “This is a core issue that he ran on.”

On Sunday, Trump reiterated that the U.S. will be issuing visas to all countries again once “we are sure we have reviewed and implemented the most secure policies over the next 90 days.” And his administration lifted any restriction on green card holders and those with valid visas.

After campaigning on the issue, Trump signed an order late Friday freezing refugee admissions and temporarily blocking people from seven nations from entering the United States even with valid visas: Iraq, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia, Yemen and Syria.

In office for only a week when he signed the order, Trump still has not filled many top staff positions and the ones he has filled are occupied by political aides with little or no government experience.

That may account for confusion surrounding the immigration order, which was crafted in the White House based on ideas submitted in June by Rep. Mike McCaul, the Texas Republican who heads the House Committee on Homeland Security, and Rudy Giuliani, the former mayor of New York, McCaul told CNN Saturday.

McCaul said Sunday that he offered Trump additional advice on how to alter the order to allow those with valid visas, including those “who have risked their lives serving alongside our forces overseas” to be allowed in the United States.

Trump aides at the White House wrote the highly technical order, but it was not reviewed by the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, and reports published Saturday said it was only shared with Department of Homeland Security officials after the order was signed, though a White House official insisted Saturday that “Everyone who needed to be briefed was briefed.”

That process was consistent with how Trump operated his businesses, said Barbara Res, a former Trump Organization executive who spent 18 years working for Trump.

“He gets an idea and he says ‘just do it,’ ” Res said. “It’s very difficult to say no to him. . . . He has broad ideas – sometime good ideas – and people just do what he says.”

There were early signs, however, that Trump might scale back the impact of his order. Trump’s chief of staff, Reince Priebus, told NBC’s “Meet the Press” that green card holders would not be affected by the order “going forward,” anticipating Kelly’s statement hours later.

Trump himself promised in an afternoon statement that the U.S. would resume issuing visas to “all countries” after the 90-day temporary ban ends.

People familiar with Trump’s style said they wouldn’t be surprised if he was relishing the outrage his order had caused.

“His comfort zone is being combative, belligerent and aggressive,” said author Gwenda Blair, whose book “Trumps: Three Generations that Built an Empire” was recently republished. “Much of planet is an uproar . . . that’s a fantastic home run.”

Lesley Clark contributed.

Anita Kumar: 202-383-6017, @anitakumar01

Franco Ordoñez: 202-383-6155, @francoordonez