Obama joins fray over Trump order

Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaImmigrant advocacy groups shouldn't be opposing Trump's raids More adult Twitter users follow Obama than Trump: survey Trump's no racist; he's an equal opportunity offender MORE’s office on Monday criticized President Trump’s travel ban, hailing protests against the order and saying the former president disagrees with policies that discriminate against people because of their faith. 

Obama’s comments, his first public remarks since leaving office, heightened tensions surrounding Trump’s controversial executive orders, which have divided his party while winning universal disdain from Democrats.

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Trump’s far-reaching order halts the Syrian refugee program indefinitely, blocks all refugee admissions for four months and bans citizens of Iran, Iraq, Somalia, Syria, Sudan, Libya and Yemen from entering the U.S. for at least 90 days. 

The White House on Monday doubled down, decrying media coverage of the orders as overheated and insisting a majority in the U.S. was solidly behind Trump’s policies.

“The American people support what the president’s doing,” White House press secretary Sean Spicer told reporters during an intense daily briefing. “Everyone in here needs to get out of Washington once in a while and go talk to people throughout America that are pleased that this president is taking the steps necessary to protect this country.”

Democrats protested the order Monday evening on the steps of the Supreme Court, a setting that foreshadowed the fight to come Tuesday over Trump’s pick to replace Justice Antonin Scalia.

The statement from Obama was carefully worded and stopped short of labeling Trump’s policy a “Muslim ban” — a move many other Democrats have made. 

But Obama spokesman Kevin Lewis pushed back against Trump’s claim Obama enacted a similar policy against Iraqi refugees in 2011, saying the former president “fundamentally disagrees with the notion of discriminating against individuals because of their faith or religion.”

Lewis said Obama is “heartened” by the protests because he believes it’s important for people to speak out when “American values are at stake.”

Former presidents traditionally defer to their successors, and Obama long expressed a desire to stay out of the political limelight after leaving office. 

At his final news conference as president, however, Obama made it clear he wouldn’t be afraid to jump back into the political debate on some issues “where I think our core values may be at stake,” including “systematic discrimination.”

It only took him 10 days to do so, reflecting the level of concern among progressives about Trump’s restrictions on refugees and other travelers from the Muslim world. 

Obama’s statement could energize his supporters, but it’s unlikely to sway Trump or his backers.

Days after dozens of travelers were detained by authorities at airports around the country, the president and his team downplayed any negative effects, casting them as minor inconveniences in the name of public safety. 

“There is nothing nice about searching for terrorists before they can enter our country,” Trump wrote on Twitter. “This was a big part of my campaign. Study the world!”

Trump also mocked Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerLawmakers pay tribute to late Justice Stevens Trump administration denies temporary immigrant status to Venezuelans in US Colombian official urges more help for Venezuelan migrants MORE (D-N.Y.) for shedding “fake tears” when he choked up at a Sunday press conference denouncing the executive order. 

Opponents of the travel ban have sought to fight it in court. Schumer also sought a vote to overturn the order in the Senate, which was doomed to fail given the GOP majority.

The legal battle over the order is expected to play out over months and years. Federal judges in four cities over the weekend dealt Trump a handful of defeats. But those rulings were limited in scope, applying to travelers already in the U.S. or en route as the order was handed down. 

The first major suit challenging the executive order was filed Monday in an Alexandria, Va., federal court by the Council on American-Islamic Relations. 

There were also signs of resistance coming from within the State Department, where more than 100 officials have reportedly signed a draft memo protesting the policy, calling it counterproductive in the country’s fight against radical groups. 

The cable is expected to be formally submitted through the department’s “dissent channel,” a method for officials to voice alternative points of view that dates back to the aftermath of the Vietnam War. 

The dissent message carries added significance because it comes from one of the agencies tasked with implementing the order. 

But Spicer quickly shot down the warning, suggesting that career diplomats should leave the government if they are not on board with Trump’s policy. 

“The president has a very clear vision. … He’s going to put the safety of this country first,” he said. “If somebody has a problem with that agenda, then they should — that does call into question whether or not they should continue in that post or not.”