Having watched the clip, the tears seem genuine to me. But then, Schumer has reasons to cry apart from the ban: The grassroots left seems to be in the process of turning him into its very own John Boehner, the caucus leader who’s too inclined to make deals with a president from the other party whom they despise. The standoff over the travel ban is a big test for Schumer’s willingness to confront Trump. Tears are just the start of what the base expects: In Congress, House Democrats are demanding meetings with DHS chief John Kelly to protest Trump’s order while Senate Democrats plan to introduce bills that would overturn it. The politics of that could be interesting, as several Senate Republicans complained about the ban over the weekend. There might be 51 votes for a rollback if McConnell somehow allows it to come to the floor — not enough to defeat a Republican filibuster and certainly not enough to override a potential Trump veto, but enough to embarrass the president. “Majority of Senate opposes Trump order” isn’t a good headline.
Which might explain why Kelly is backing down on a key part of it. Remember the confusion yesterday about whether the travel ban applies to green-card holders? Kelly’s now clarified that it doesn’t.
The language there about the “national interest” refers to a provision in the order that allows the secretary of DHS to make special exceptions to the ban for people whose presence in the U.S. is in the national interest. In theory, exceptions should be granted only in special cases, like for interpreters in Iraq who assisted the U.S. military. In practice, Kelly’s declaration will make exceptions for hundreds of thousands of permanent residents. Essentially, he’s using his discretion under the order to overrule the Bannon/Miller wing in the White House who wanted the travel ban to cover green-card holders too.
Much has been written already about how ineptly the order was executed but more is trickling out every day. The latest from the NYT:
Gen. John F. Kelly, the secretary of homeland security, had dialed in from a Coast Guard plane as he headed back to Washington from Miami. Along with other top officials, he needed guidance from the White House, which had not asked his department for a legal review of the order.
Halfway into the briefing, someone on the call looked up at a television in his office. “The president is signing the executive order that we’re discussing,” the official said, stunned…
Jim Mattis, the new secretary of defense, did not see a final version of the order until Friday morning, only hours before Mr. Trump arrived to sign it at the Pentagon.
Mr. Mattis, according to administration officials familiar with the deliberations, was not consulted by the White House during the preparation of the order and was not given an opportunity to provide input while the order was being drafted. Last summer, Mr. Mattis sharply criticized Mr. Trump’s proposed ban on Muslim immigration as a move that was “causing us great damage right now, and it’s sending shock waves through the international system.”
Customs and Border Protection reportedly didn’t get written instructions until 3 a.m. Saturday, hours after the order was already signed. Even agency managers seemed confused. “If the secretary doesn’t know anything, how could we possibly know anything at this level?” said one officer. Which brings us back to the key question in all of this: Why not wait a week or so to get input from DHS and the Defense Department, write up formal guidelines for agencies, then roll out the order at a scheduled time when everyone’s ready to go? Trump made the case on Twitter this morning that they couldn’t wait a week because that would have given “bad dudes” an extra week to sneak in before the ban is in effect, but that’s idiotic. Trump has been talking about banning visitors from war-torn Middle Eastern countries for ages, since early in his candidacy. His first iteration of the new policy announced in late 2015 was a temporary ban on all Muslims globally. Any “bad dudes” intent on entering the U.S. to wreak havoc have had endless warnings already that a ban of some sort would be coming. They wouldn’t have waited until Trump was actually sworn in to try to enter the U.S., as such. They would have been clamoring to do so since the day after the election.
It’s worth reading this short memo of dissent being prepared by State Department employees who are opposed to Trump’s order. That’ll do him more damage than Democratic protests of his policies, I think. It’s easy to dismiss Schumer’s tears as partisan nonsense, a bit harder to dismiss concerns coming from within one of Trump’s own agencies — although of course there are partisan actors there too, and they’ll be attacked as such. Increasingly this order seems like a test of wills: Can enough pressure get Trump to back down by either shortening the length of the ban (90 days for regular visitors, 120 for refugees) or by expanding the categories of people who aren’t subject to it? Kelly’s already given ground on green-card holders. We’ll see if more’s to come.