DHS Secretary Kelly: In hindsight, I should have delayed the travel ban a bit to consult with Congress

He’s being an awfully good soldier here for his boss. “This is all on me,” Kelly insists in describing the initial confusion over Trump’s travel ban order. Is that so? Here’s how the Times reported the rollout of the order:

As President Trump signed a sweeping executive order on Friday, shutting the borders to refugees and others from seven largely Muslim countries, the secretary of homeland security was on a White House conference call getting his first full briefing on the global shift in policy.

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.

Supposedly Kelly was being briefed for the first time on the new policy literally as it was taking effect. CNN’s sources heard similar stories of him and DHS being blindsided, although in their timeline Kelly gets a peek at the final order shortly before Trump signs it:

It wasn’t until Friday — the day Trump signed the order banning travel from seven Muslim-majority countries for 90 days and suspending all refugee admission for 120 days — that career homeland security staff were allowed to see the final details of the order, a person familiar with the matter said…

Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly and Department of Homeland Security leadership saw the final details shortly before the order was finalized, government officials said.

That same story claimed that DHS had initially interpreted the order so that it didn’t apply to green-card holders — only to be overruled by Steve Bannon and Stephen Miller, who wanted green-card holders admitted into the U.S. on a case-by-case basis. That’s another reason for Kelly to take a “buck stops here” line on all of this during his congressional testimony today: He’s not just taking one for the team, he’s reclaiming some of his authority after it was undermined by stories like the ones above. Bad enough for the head of Homeland Security to be out of the loop on a major change to U.S. visa policy and taking orders from Steve Bannon on how to carry it out, but for a respected former general who’s trying to earn the confidence of his new departmental deputies, it’s intolerable. The point of Kelly insisting that he should have delayed the policy, I think, is to convey the idea that it was within his power to delay it, even if Bannon and Miller wanted it implemented ASAP. Whether that’s true or not, who knows.

He also offered this explanation for why the policy was rushed out on such short notice to agencies like DHS:

“The thinking was to get it out quick so that potentially people that might be coming here to harm us would not take advantage of some period of time they could jump on an airplane and get here,” he said.

That would make more sense if Trump hadn’t made strong borders and anti-terrorism some of the splashiest parts of his presidential campaign, replete with the idea of a temporary global ban on Muslims entering the U.S. in 2015. Any element of surprise that the borders might be shut, however briefly, if and when Trump became president is long, long, long gone. A jihadi intent on entering would have made his arrangements while Obama was still in office, knowing that travel could suddenly become much more difficult under the new administration. You can’t spend two years telegraphing a move like this and then insist that you had to act fast as an excuse for a sloppy, chaotic rollout, but Kelly’s doing his best here to work with what he’s got. If nothing else, the travel-ban snafu should guarantee a more orderly process in future implementation, starting with more input from Kelly and his agency. Reince Priebus will see to it.