The Trump administration moved earlier today to defuse one of the thorniest issues in its temporary suspension of travel between the US and seven high-risk countries. The White House counsel issued new guidance on the executive order signed and implemented on Friday that now exempts green-card holders from enforcement. The memo sent from Don McGahn notes “reasonable uncertainty” in the original order, and instructs all agencies that the key sections of the order “do not apply” to legal permanent residents.
Sean Spicer briefly announced the “clarification” in today’s presser:
President Donald Trump’s administration is reinterpreting its travel ban for residents of certain countries to now exempt legal permanent residents of the United States.
White House Counsel Don McGahn issued “authoritative guidance” on Wednesday clarifying that key parts of Trump’s controversial executive order, which is aimed at citizens of seven majority-Muslim countries, will no longer cover green card holders, White House press secretary Sean Spicer announced Wednesday afternoon. …
McGahn’s memo to the State, Homeland Security and Justice Departments acknowledges that the wording of the order Trump signed Friday was ambiguous.
“I understand that there has been reasonable uncertainty about whether those provisions apply to lawful permanent residents of the United States. Accordingly, to remove any confusion, I now clarify that Sections 3(c) and 3(e) do not apply to such individuals,” McGahn wrote. “Please immediately convey this interpretive guidance to all individuals responsible for the administration and implementation of the Executive Order.”
The memo from McGahn will no doubt be welcomed by the courts, which had already issued injunctions against enforcement of the order in regard to legal permanent residents, and to green-card holders planning on traveling in and out of the US. However, it still demonstrates that even five days later, significant confusion remained within the Trump administration about the intended breadth and scope of the order. From the start, the question of green cards was unclear, but what became rapidly clear was that it was the biggest threat to the overall policy. As Andrew McCarthy noted over the weekend, including them on enforcement along with the visa and refugee requests practically begged the courts to intervene — and gave the am entrée to dismantling the overall policy.
This “clarification” appears to be a belated way to head that off, along with an effort to get everyone on the same page. It’s a good first step to cleaning up a messy implementation of what would have otherwise been a reasonable policy — and one that still remains more popular than not. Dropping these cases will mean that the media will lose some of their story lines that have allowed them to personalize the story. It’s a smart move, but it will only work to unwind some of the controversy if the administration learns its lessons from this episode.