Homeland Security chairman suggests changes possible to Trump refugee order

Homeland Security chairman suggests changes possible to Trump refugee order
© Greg Nash

House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-Texas) on Wednesday would not rule out using his committee to make legislative tweaks to President Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpHow to stand out in the crowd: Kirsten Gillibrand needs to find her niche Countdown clock is on for Mueller conclusions Omar: White supremacist attacks are rising because Trump publicly says 'Islam hates us' MORE’s executive order temporarily blocking travelers from seven Muslim-majority nations and suspending the resettlement of refugees in the U.S.

The GOP chairman’s comments to The Hill come just a day after Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanFormer Dem candidate says he faced cultural barriers on the campaign trail because he is working-class Former House candidate and ex-ironworker says there is 'buyer's remorse' for Trump in Midwest Head of top hedge fund association to step down MORE (R-Wis.) said he backed Trump’s executive order and seemed to suggest legislation was not needed to address bipartisan concerns about the plan.

“I think we’re going to look at both oversight and legislatively what we can do to better protect America and shut down terror pathways into the United States,” McCaul said when asked whether he planned to take up any legislative fixes in his committee. “That is the charge and mission of this committee.”

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McCaul, who advised the Trump campaign on national security issues and had been on Trump’s shortlist for Homeland Security secretary, declined to lay out specific concerns he had with the order. He’ll address them privately Thursday when he sits down with Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, who is scheduled to appear before McCaul’s panel in a public hearing next Tuesday.

“You’re going to see a lot of that oversight take place [Tuesday] and I think the executive orders will be an obvious topic of discussion,” McCaul said.

McCaul and another Trump adviser, Rudy Giuliani, authored a white paper for the Trump campaign last fall focused on ways to stop terrorists from entering the country. But it explicitly warned against a ban on Muslims, something Trump had called for on the campaign trail.

Like many top GOP leaders on Capitol Hill, McCaul had been kept in the dark about Trump’s travel ban and did not help draft it, only learning about it Friday when he saw Trump on live television signing the order.

McCaul quickly blasted out a statement that night praising Trump’s executive order. But the chairman backtracked once the White House said the ban would include U.S. permanent residents with green cards.

“In light of the confusion and uncertainty created in the wake of the President’s Executive Order, it is clear adjustments are needed,” McCaul said in a statement days later.

Since then, Kelly has clarified that legal permanent residents will not be affected under the Trump ban.

Huddling with a bipartisan group of lawmakers in the Capitol Tuesday night, Kelly defended Trump’s order and told the lawmakers that no additional changes are forthcoming.

Leaving that meeting, McCaul gave few hints about what changes he might be eying. He appeared to applaud Kelly for issuing a waiver to green-card holders. And he downplayed concerns from critics in both parties that the temporary refugee and travel bans might become permanent at the end of their allotted windows.

“It could, but I don't see any evidence of that,” McCaul said.

Mississippi Rep. Bennie Thompson, the top Democrat on the Homeland Security Committee, said he has problems with both the language and the “fuzzy” guidance that led to discrepancies in how the order was rolled out over the weekend.

“The problem that members are sharing is personal examples of what they had to contend with over the weekend, and how the lack of guidance created confusion,” he said while leaving the Kelly meeting. “If you're going to do an executive order, you need to have the guidance to go with it before you put it in the field.

“That's why what was [happening] at LAX wasn't [happening] at JFK,” he said.

Critics in both parties have raised concerns with the order, questioning whether it is constitutional and arguing it could help terrorist groups with recruitment. There have also been complaints that it could make it tougher to get Washington's Muslim allies to help with anti-terror efforts.

Some are also worried Trump’s order will become permanent policy.

“I'm worried that he's making good on all of his campaign promises,” Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) said Wednesday. “This is what he said he wanted to do. He didn't say for 90 days.”

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), a former House Foreign Affairs Committee chairwoman, shares that concern.

“I worry this temporary ban may become a permanent ban,” she told CNN. “People will say, 'Gee, we've had these 90 days, these 120 days, and we've been kept safe, so let's keep it up.' When in fact that ban and prohibition would have nothing to do with keeping us safe.”