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Immigration Order Sows Chaos, Questions About Competency

First Read is a morning briefing from Meet the Press and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter.
Image: Demonstrators shout slogans during anti-Donald Trump immigration ban protests inside Terminal 4 at San Francisco International Airport in San Francisco
Demonstrators shout slogans during anti-Donald Trump immigration ban protests inside Terminal 4 at San Francisco International Airport in San Francisco on Jan. 28, 2017.KATE MUNSCH / Reuters

First Read is a morning briefing from Meet the Press and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter.

Immigration order sows chaos, questions about competency

The chaos that Donald Trump brought to the 2016 presidential campaign turned out to be an asset. It knocked his opponents off balance, allowed him to dominate the media coverage, and cast him as the change agent. But as we’ve found out in Trump’s first few day as president -- most notably with the introduction of the administration’s refugee/travel ban -- is that chaos doesn’t work as well when you’re in the Oval Office and managing the federal government. The reason: Chaos doesn’t always lead to competency. “The White House was left to defend what seemed to many government veterans like a slapdash process,” the New York Times’ Peter Baker writes about Trump’s travel ban. “Aides to Mr. Trump insisted they had consulted for weeks with relevant officials, but the head of the customs and border service in the Obama administration, who resigned on inauguration day, said the incoming president’s team never talked with him about it.” We learned that the Homeland Security secretary was being briefed over the phone on the ban as President Trump was signing the executive order on TV. And on Sunday, the administration reversed itself, with White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus saying on “Meet the Press” that Trump’s executive order temporarily restricting entry to the U.S. from seven Muslim-majority countries “doesn’t affect green card holders moving forward.”

Chaos doesn’t always lead to competency

Of course, competency -- or a lack thereof -- has been a stumbling block for past presidents, on matters big or small. Think Hurricane Katrina for George W. Bush or the Healthcare.Gov website for Barack Obama. But what’s extraordinary about all the chaos resulting from Trump’s travel ban is that it 1) came less than two weeks on the job, 2) came from an executive order, and 3) was on a campaign promise. So this wasn’t a response to a natural disaster, or a computer glitch caused by a contractor. It was an early priority for the administration -- and they didn’t have their act together. Also, note that much of the criticism coming from Republicans notes the competency angle. “The worldwide refugee ban set forth in the executive order is overly broad and implementing it will be immediately problematic,” Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) said. (Collins also said in her statement that "while it is appropriate to consider religious persecution when reviewing a request for refugee status, a preference should not be given to people who practice a particular religion, nor should a greater burden be imposed on people who practice a particular religion. As I stated last summer, religious tests serve no useful purpose in the immigration process and run contrary to our American values.")

Is the travel ban good public policy?

On Sunday, President Trump released a statement defending his executive order. “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.” But the question is: Is it good public policy? According to the libertarian-leaning Cato Institute, “the chance of an American perishing in a terrorist attack on U.S. soil that was committed by a foreigner over the 41-year period studied here [1975-2015] is 1 in 3.6 billion.” In addition, per both Democratic and Republican national-security experts, the Trump order will only inflame the Muslim World. As ex-National Security Agency and CIA Director Michael Hayden tells NPR, “What we're doing now has probably made us less safe today than we were Friday morning before this happened, because we are now living the worst Jihadist narrative possible -- that there is undying enmity between Islam and West.”

Is Trump’s order the same as what Obama did?

Also in his statement on Sunday, Trump said, “My policy is similar to what President Obama did in 2011 when he banned visas for refugees from Iraq for six months. The seven countries named in the Executive Order are the same countries previously identified by the Obama administration as sources of terror.” As NBC’s Ari Melber pointed out on “Today” this morning, the Obama policy towards Iraqi refugees was a slowing – but not a complete ban. More importantly, Melber notes Congress and Obama flagged those seven countries as dangerous TO VISIT for European citizens (and others) in the Visa Waiver program -- they were NOT designated as a source of immigrant-related terrorism in the U.S. In other words, the statute said tourists who crossed through those countries warranted vetting, not that immigrants leaving those countries posed a special threat inside the U.S.

How Republicans have reacted to the order

Per the Washington Post, 16 GOP senators or members of Congress have opposed Trump’s order, 23 have reservations or have declined to fully support, and 39 have backed it.

Steve Bannon on the National Security Council

“The Trump administration defended on Sunday a reorganization of the National Security Council that elevates the president’s chief strategist, Stephen K. Bannon — a political adviser with no direct national security role — to full membership and downgrades the director of national intelligence and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff,” the New York Times says. On "Meet" yesterday, Priebus said that the idea that DNI and the Joint Chiefs were downgraded is wrong. “They're included as attendees anytime that they want to be included … if you read the order,” he said. But here is what the order says: “The [Principals Committee] shall have as its regular attendees the Secretary of State, the Secretary of the Treasury, the Secretary of Defense, the Attorney General, the Secretary of Homeland Security, the Assistant to the President and Chief of Staff, the Assistant to the President and Chief Strategist, the National Security Advisor, and the Homeland Security Advisor. The Director of National Intelligence and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff shall attend where issues pertaining to their responsibilities and expertise are to be discussed.” (Emphasis is ours.)

Democrats -- leading from behind

Here’s the New York Times’ Jonathan Martin: “The swelling anger over Mr. Trump’s week-old administration is fueling a surge of spontaneous activism that some Democrats say they have not seen since the Vietnam War. The growing and seemingly organic energy offers Democrats a prime opportunity to ride a backlash to electoral success this year and next, the same way Republicans capitalized on Tea Party rage against President Barack Obama in 2010,” he writes. “But the fury is also spurring liberal voters to demand uncompromising confrontation and resistance from their elected officials to a president they believe poses an existential threat to the country. The Democrats’ increasingly assertive base wants the party’s leaders to eschew any cooperation with Mr. Trump: They are already expressing rage at some senators for confirming the president’s cabinet appointees, and for their willingness to allow a vote on his pick for a vacant Supreme Court seat.”

What were other new presidents doing on January 30?

  • News breaks that Barack Obama’s pick for Health and Human Services – Tom Daschle – failed to pay taxes for the use of a car and driver for three years. The controversy would eventually lead to Daschle’s withdrawal from the nomination.
  • George W. Bush advocates for his new faith-based and community initiatives
  • Bill Clinton takes his Cabinet for a weekend at Camp David; Bosnia peace hit an impasse, prompting negotiations to move to the U.N. Security Council
  • George H.W. Bush swears in Liddy Dole as Labor Secretary
  • Ronald Reagan announces the formation of a blind trust to handle and invest his personal assets.

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