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Trump fights back over travel ban criticisms

President Donald Trump has attacked airlines, the media and Democrats over the protests and criticism of his administration that emerged over the way he executed a ban on people from seven Muslim-majority nations entering the US.

In a series of tweets and comments at the White House, Mr Trump tried to shift the blame for the chaos that ensued after more than 100 refugees and migrants from seven predominantly Muslim nations were detained at US airports because of a presidential order implementing the first stage of his extreme-vetting programme.

“Only 109 people out of 325,000 were detained and held for questioning. Big problems at airports were caused by Delta computer outage, protesters and the tears of Senator Schumer,” Mr Trump tweeted.

The White House felt emboldened to issue the policy because Mr Trump won the election on a platform that vowed to tighten immigration procedures. “There is nothing nice about searching for terrorists before they can enter our country. This was a big part of my campaign. Study the world!”, he tweeted.

Mr Trump has chafed at suggestions that it was a ban on Muslims, even as he himself suggested that Christians from the seven countries could receive priority when applying for refugee visas. But his team has failed to explain why countries such as Saudi Arabia and other predominantly Muslim countries where some of the 9/11 hijackers came from were not included on the list of targeted countries.

The White House is frantically pushing back against claims that the executive order — which targets citizens of Syria, Iraq, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia and Yemen — was implemented with little guidance. Mr Trump said it was imposed with little notice to avoid tipping off terrorists targeting the US. “If the ban were announced with a one week notice, the ‘bad’ would rush into our country during that week. A lot of bad ‘dudes’ out there!” he tweeted.

The controversy and ensuing chaos comes days after Mr Trump sparked his foreign policy crisis by tweeting critically about Mexico, prompting Mexico’s President Enrique Peña Nieto to cancel a visit to the White House. While Republicans on Capitol Hill have been publicly supportive of Mr Trump since his inauguration, privately some are expressing concern about the way his team is making policy with little input from federal agencies.

Democrats, joined by a handful of Republican senators, have called on Mr Trump to reverse what they have described as an un-American policy. Chuck Schumer, the top Senate Democrat, has called on Mitch McConnell, the Republican Senate majority leader, to allow a vote to reverse the actions outlined in the executive order, although congressional aides suggested Mr Schumer was grandstanding and that a vote was unlikely. Mr Trump on Monday accused Mr Schumer of shedding “fake tears” in his public comments on the issue on Sunday.

“I noticed Chuck Schumer yesterday with fake tears. I’m gonna ask him who is his acting coach because I know him very well, I don’t see him as a crier. If he is, he’s a different man,” Mr Trump said.

The tighter immigration rules have generated rebukes from many foreign leaders, including Angela Merkel, German chancellor, and, belatedly, Theresa May, British prime minister. They have wreaked havoc, as airlines around the world were forced to turn away passengers from the seven designated nations.

Iran announced that it would implement a reciprocal ban on Americans entering the country. And the Iraqi parliament has called on the government in Baghdad to retaliate against the US. Many security experts in the US have argued that the ban will fuel terrorism by providing terrorists with an anti-US placard to rally more supporters.

While many Trump supporters appear to support the ban, which is a watered-down version of the blanket ban on Muslims that Mr Trump proposed during the campaign, the executive order has prompted a huge outcry around the US, particularly after it appeared that green card holders — permanent residents of the US who are not citizens — were affected. John Kelly, secretary of homeland security, issued a statement on Sunday evening that green card holders would not be affected by the new immigration rules. But companies, human rights groups and other organisations are all scrambling to clarify who exactly is affected.

The Air Line Pilots Association has urged US-based pilots from the seven designated countries not to fly outside the US for now. “We recommend that green-card holders from the above countries not accept assignments outside the US until the government has confirmed that they will be permitted to return to the US without challenge,” the association said.

The confusion also tripped up professional athletes. The National Basketball Association said it had contacted the US state department to “understand how this executive order would apply to players in our league who are from one of the impacted countries”. Two players were born in Sudan and now hold dual citizenship, one with Australia and one with the UK.

Over the weekend, Hollywood actors took to an awards stage to criticise the president and proclaim their support for immigrants and diversity. “This immigrant ban is a blemish, and it is un-American,” said Julia Louis-Dreyfus, who stars in the HBO satire Veep. The actor Mahershala Ali, accepting an award for his performance in the film Moonlight, spoke about his own experience as a Muslim to call for acceptance rather than persecution.

There was renewed confusion outside America about who was targeted on Monday after US embassies in Europe began to contradict advice issued by the UK government. On Sunday, London claimed to have extracted a “clarification” from the White House about the status of Britons who held dual nationality.

The UK said only British citizens travelling directly from one of the seven affected nations — and who also held passports for that country — would be affected. But that position was thrown into doubt when a number of US embassies in Europe later put out a statement saying that any “national, or dual national” from the seven affected countries should not schedule a visa or attend an existing visa appointment.

Mr Trump had accused the media on Sunday of “falsely reporting” his policy as a “Muslim ban”. The White House measure bars refugees from entry for 120 days and indefinitely prohibits entry for Syrian refugees. It also bars citizens from the seven targeted Muslim countries from entering the US for 90 days.

The immigration measures have provoked uproar from civil liberties campaigners, tech industry executives, a handful of Republican senators and foreign governments. Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook, said the US should be proud to be a nation of immigrants and focus on excluding only people who posed a threat. Leaders of Google, Apple, Netflix and Twitter, which recruit heavily overseas, joined the criticism.

Ms Merkel said it was no way to fight terrorism. The chancellor’s spokesman said she “regrets” the order and had expressed Germany’s misgivings during a 45-minute phone call with Mr Trump on Saturday.

Mrs May, who was initially wrongfooted by the travel ban, which was signed shortly after she left Washington on Friday after a cordial meeting with Mr Trump, said on Sunday the UK did not agree to such an approach.

During the campaign, Mr Trump called for a complete ban on Muslims entering the US. At the time, his rhetoric sparked a harsh reaction from Democrats and many Republicans, who said such a move would be unconstitutional, including Mike Pence, then governor of Indiana who now serves as vice-president.

Following Friday’s order, many leading Republicans fell into line behind the president or offered only muted criticism. Paul Ryan, Republican speaker of the House, who criticised Mr Trump when he proposed a blanket ban, said Mr Trump was “right to make sure we are doing everything possible to know exactly who is entering our country”.

However, Republican senators Lindsey Graham and John McCain said in a joint statement that the executive order could become a “self-inflicted wound” in the fight against terrorism by sending a signal, intended or not, that America does not want Muslims coming into the country. Mr Trump hit back on Twitter by accusing the senators of being “sadly weak on immigration” and urging them to “focus their energies on Isis, illegal immigration and border security instead of always looking to start World War III”.

Asked on Sunday why Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Egypt were not included on the list even though terrorists who had killed Americans had originated there, Reince Priebus, White House chief of staff, said the initial list was focused on seven most-watched countries, but added that “perhaps other countries need to be added”.

Additional reporting by Joe Rennison, Erika Solomon and Shannon Bond

Follow Demetri Sevastopulo on Twitter: @dimi

Via FT