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'Xenophobe. In. Chief.': Democrats blast Trump's plan to suspend immigration to U.S.

The president could sign an executive order closing off the country as early as this week.
Image: Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., speaks after being elected chairman of the House Democratic Caucus for the 116th Congress at the Capitol.
Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., tweeted that President Donald Trump is the "Xenophobe. In. Chief."J. Scott Applewhite / AP file

WASHINGTON — Congressional Democrats slammed President Donald Trump after he announced that he plans to suspend immigration to the United States, arguing that such a move would do nothing to protect Americans from the coronavirus and deflect attention from his handling of the outbreak.

House Democratic Caucus Chairman Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., tweeted that Trump is the "Xenophobe. In. Chief."

Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-Texas, chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, tweeted: "This action is not only an attempt to divert attention away from Trump's failure to stop the spread of the coronavirus and save lives, but an authoritarian-like move to take advantage of a crisis and advance his anti-immigrant agenda. We must come together to reject his division."

Shortly after 10 p.m. ET Monday, Trump announced in a tweet: "In light of the attack from the Invisible Enemy, as well as the need to protect the jobs of our GREAT American Citizens, I will be signing an Executive Order to temporarily suspend immigration into the United States!"

There were no additional details. A senior administration official said Trump could sign the executive order as early as this week.

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The tweet came as the death toll in the U.S. from COVID-19 topped 42,000 people, according to Johns Hopkins' Coronavirus Resource Center.

Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., the Democrats' 2016 vice presidential nominee, called it a "pathetic attempt to shift blame from his Visible Incompetence to an Invisible Enemy."

Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., a possible vice presidential pick for Joe Biden, said Trump has "failed to take this crisis seriously from day 1. His abandonment of his role as president has cost lives."

Rep. Bill Pascrell, D-N.J., tweeted: "Tonight we have crossed 790,000 infections and 42,000 dead. This corrupt buffoon will will try any poisonous distraction and blame anyone to deflect from his failures that are killing our fellow Americans."

A co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., tweeted that the president was "giving into racism & xenophobia."

The administration official said the ban "had been under consideration for a while."

In a statement provided to NBC News on Tuesday, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said: "President Trump is committed to protecting the health and economic well-being of American citizens as we face unprecedented times. As President Trump has said, 'Decades of record immigration have produced lower wages and higher unemployment for our citizens, especially for African-American and Latino workers.' At a time when Americans are looking to get back to work, action is necessary."

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House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., who played a key role in Trump's impeachment, said in a pair of tweets that Trump is seeking to distract people from his "fumbled" response to the coronavirus and is showing himself as "small and ineffective."

Few Republican members of Congress have reacted to the immigration announcement, although two conservatives praised him Monday night on Twitter.

"Wow! One thing about@realDonaldTrump, he knows how to put American citizens first!" said Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Ala.

And Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz., wrote, "Thank you, @realDonaldTrump! All immigration to the United States should halt until every American who wants a job has one!"

Trump's announcement comes after he decided in January to restrict travel by foreigners from China and similarly decided in March to restrict travel by foreigners from Europe.