Jan 11, 2020 12:00 PM

White House considering dramatic expansion of travel ban

Posted Jan 11, 2020 12:00 PM
President Trump signed the travel ban executive order in January of 2017 photo courtesy White House
President Trump signed the travel ban executive order in January of 2017 photo courtesy White House

WASHINGTON (AP) — The White House is considering dramatically expanding its much-litigated travel ban to additional countries amid a renewed election-year focus on immigration by President Donald Trump, according to six people familiar with the deliberations.

A document outlining the plans — timed to coincide with the third anniversary of Trump’s January 2017 executive order — has been circulating the White House. But the countries that would be affected if it moves forward are blacked out, according to two of the people, who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the measure has yet to be finalized.

It’s unclear exactly how many countries would be included in the expansion if it proceeds, but two of the people said that seven countries — a majority of them Muslim — would be added to the list. The most recent iteration of the ban includes restrictions on five majority-Muslim nations: Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria and Yemen, as well as Venezuela and North Korea.

A different person said the expansion could include several countries that were covered in the first iteration of Trump’s ban, but later removed amid rounds of contentious litigation. Iraq, Sudan and Chad, for instance, had originally been affected by the order, which the Supreme Court upheld in a 5-4 vote after the administration released a watered-down version intended to withstand legal scrutiny.

Trump, who had floated a banning all Muslims from entering the country during his 2016 campaign, criticized his Justice Department for the changes, tweeting that DOJ “should have stayed with the original Travel Ban, not the watered down, politically correct version they submitted to S.C.”

The countries on the proposed expansion list include allies that fall short on certain security measures. The additional restrictions were proposed by Department of Homeland Security officials following a review of security protocols and “identity management” for about 200 countries, according to the person.

White House House spokesman Hogan Gidley declined to confirm the plan, but praised the travel ban for making the country safer.

“The Travel Ban has been very successful in protecting our Country and raising the security baseline around the world,” he said in a statement. “While there are no new announcements at this time, common-sense and national security both dictate that if a country wants to fully participate in U.S. immigration programs, they should also comply with all security and counter-terrorism measures -- because we do not want to import terrorism or any other national security threat into the United States.”

Several of the people said they expected the announcement to be timed to coincide with the third anniversary of Trump’s first, explosive travel ban, which was announced without warning on Jan. 27, 2017 — days after Trump took office. That order sparked an uproar, with massive protests across the nation and chaos at airports where passengers were detained.

The current ban suspends immigrant and non-immigrant visas to applicants from the affected countries, but it allows exceptions, including for students and those who have established “significant contacts” in the U.S.. And it represents a significant softening from Trump’s initial order, which had suspended travel from Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen for 90 days, blocked refugee admissions for 120 days and suspended travel from Syria.

That order was immediately blocked by the courts, prompting a months-long effort by the administration to develop clear standards and federal review processes to try to withstand legal muster. Under the current system, restrictions are targeted at countries the Department of Homeland Security says fail to share sufficient information with the U.S. or haven’t taken necessary security precautions, such as issuing electronic passports with biometric information and sharing information about travelers’ terror-related and criminal histories.

The new proposal was also quickly drawing sharp criticism.

“Different Muslim Ban – same xenophobic Administration,” said Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash. “An expanded Muslim Ban will worsen our relationships with countries around the world. It won’t do anything to make our country safer. It will harm refugees, alienate our allies and give extremists propaganda for recruitment.”

An official with Refugees International, a nonprofit that advocates for the displaced worldwide, said the news was very disappointing.

“The news that President Trump is planning to add countries to his travel ban should be heartbreaking to all Americans,” said U.S. Senior Advocate Yael Schacher. “Thousands of people have been cruelly and unreasonably separated from relatives because of the already existing ban. They have been stranded in conflict zones like Syria, Yemen, and Somalia. This is a shameful attempt by the President to misuse his power to expand a ban that principally impacts individuals from the Muslim world.”

Under the existing order, Cabinet secretaries are also required to update the president regularly on whether countries are abiding by the new immigration security benchmarks. Countries that fail to comply risk new restrictions and limitations, while countries that comply can have their restrictions lifted.

The discussions come as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi prepares to transmit to the Senate the articles of impeachment the Democratic-led House passed against Trump late last year, launching a formal impeachment trial just as the 2020 election year gets underway. Trump in December became just the third president in history to be impeached by the House. The Republican-controlled Senate is not expected to remove him from office.

Trump ran his 2016 campaign promising to crack down on illegal immigration and spent much of his first term fighting lawsuits trying to halt his push to build a wall along the southern border, prohibit the entry of citizens from several majority-Muslim countries and crack down on migrants seeking asylum in the U.S., amid other measures.

He is expected to press those efforts again this year as he ramps up his reelection campaign and works to energize his base with his signature issue, inevitably stoking Democratic anger.

Just this week, a coalition of leading civil rights organizations urged House leaders to take up the No Ban Act, legislation to end Trump’s travel ban and prevent a new one.

The bill introduced last year by Rep. Judy Chu, D-Calif., with Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., in the Senate, would impose limits on the president’s ability to restrict entry to the U.S. It would require the administration to spell out its reasons for the restrictions and specifically prohibit religious discrimination.

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Jan 11, 2020 12:00 PM
With Pompeo out, GOP can't dodge Kansas Senate race headache
Photo courtesy  Kris Kobach campaign

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s declaration Tuesday that he won’t run for Senate in Kansas returned some Republicans to worrying that they can’t block a polarizing conservative from winning the GOP nomination and putting the seat in play.

Pompeo’s decision to remain as the nation’s top diplomat, assuming he sticks by it, means the GOP can’t dodge the issue that had prompted top Republicans to woo Pompeo for months. They saw Pompeo as the best bet for torpedoing hard-right immigration policy advocate Kris Kobach’s bid for the Senate.

The turmoil in the Middle East that preceded Pompeo’s decision could help Kobach with hawkish GOP primary voters. Kobach, the former Kansas secretary of state, has spent two decades building a national profile partly by framing illegal immigration as a national security issue and touting his work with the U.S. Justice Department right after the 9/11 terror attacks.

Some anti-Kobach Republicans focused quickly on the race’s best-funded candidate so far, GOP Rep. Roger Marshall of western Kansas. But he still faced skepticism about his conservative bona fides and whether he can stop Kobach, particularly absent a one-on-one match.

“Everybody but Kobach probably should get together and say, ‘Now why are we doing this and what are we trying to gain?’ And pick somebody and go head-to-head,” said Tim Shallenburger, a former Kansas Republican Party chairman and state treasurer.

Pompeo’s decision complicates GOP efforts to defend their 53-47 Senate majority in November’s elections. The national party and its allies face the prospect of having to put resources into Kansas, even though Republicans haven’t lost a Senate race there since 1932.

Pompeo has said repeatedly that he’d remain secretary of state as long as President Donald Trump will keep him. But his travels to Kansas last year — and comments from Trump — kept buzz about a potential candidacy alive.

He told reporters Tuesday: “I said the same thing yesterday that I’ve said for months. No.”

Fears that a Kobach nomination could put the seat in play arose even as four-term Republican Sen. Pat Roberts, now 83, announced a year ago that he wouldn’t seek re-election. Kobach lost the Kansas governor’s race in 2018 to Democrat Laura Kelly — a contest many in the GOP thought winnable.

The National Republican Senatorial Committee questioned Kobach’s ability to win a general election when he announced his candidacy last summer.

And Scott Reed, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s chief political strategist, who ran Bob Dole’s 1996 presidential campaign, said, “We continue to think Kobach is a loser.”

Some Republicans want to winnow the field by urging candidates at the back of the field to drop out. Kelly Arnold, another former state GOP chairman, said if candidates can’t conduct effective fundraising, “it’s time for them to get out.”

Kobach said Tuesday that his independence bothers the Republican establishment — including U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell — and led it to woo Pompeo. His supporters argue that with Trump on the ballot in November, fears of losing the Kansas seat are misplaced.

“We’re seeing a race where conservatives are lining up behind me,” Kobach said.

Kobach also believes his background is an asset with tensions high in the Middle East. At the Justice Department, he helped develop a system that forced more than 80,000 foreign residents to register with the U.S. government so that it could know why they were there for security reasons. Widely derided by civil rights groups, it was abandoned in 2011 by President Barack Obama’s administration.

Photo courtesy Congressman Dr. Roger Marshall

Marshall spokesman Eric Pahls said the congressman’s seven years in the Army Reserve are more crucial.

“Kansans want to know there’s someone with military experience helping to make these decisions,” he said.

But Bob Beatty, a Washburn University of Topeka political scientist, said Kobach has built a reputation among Republicans as “someone who doesn’t back down.”

“A foreign policy crisis is going to bring out more conservative voters,” Beatty said.

The leading Democratic candidate is state Sen. Barbara Bollier, a retired Kansas City-area anesthesiologist who made national headlines by switching from the GOP at the end of 2018. She has endorsements from Kelly and former U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, a former two-term Democratic governor, and she already is pursuing moderate voters.

Bollier’s campaign announced Tuesday that she’s raised more than $1 million over the past three months — a sizable amount in a low-cost media state like Kansas.

But Marshall began his race with a sizeable balance from his House campaign and entered the final three months of 2019 with nearly $1.9 million in cash. That was twice as much as the combined total of his main GOP rivals, Kobach, Kansas Senate President Susan Wagle and Dave Lindstrom, a Kansas City-area businessman and ex-Kansas City Chiefs professional football player.

The U.S. Chamber helped Marshall win his congressional seat in 2016 by defeating tea party firebrand Rep. Tim Huelskamp. Reed said they’re considering helping him in the Senate race and the “onus is on him” to show he can win the nomination.

Marshall launched his first television ad before Christmas, describing himself as a foe to “Trump haters and their phony impeachment.”

Yet Marshall is hasn’t yet convinced some Republicans. Shallenburger sees his pro-Trump statements as “pandering” and says his ouster of Huelskamp has him perceived as a moderate, despite a conservative voting record.

Kobach is better known and, to some conservatives, just more exciting. University of Kansas political scientist Patrick Miller said Kobach excels “at the theater” of politics, while Marshall seems “vanilla.”

“If central casting called for a generic Republican congressman, that could be Roger Marshall, right?” Miller said. “Someone to just, like, be in the background of the movie shot.”