WASHINGTON (NYTIMES) - President Donald Trump vowed to order new security measures by next week intended to stop terrorists from entering the United States, even as aides debated whether to ask the Supreme Court to reinstate his original travel ban that has been blocked by lower courts.
A day after a three-judge panel rebuffed him, Mr Trump said he might sign “a brand new order” as early as Monday (Feb 13) that would be aimed at accomplishing the same purpose but, presumably, with a stronger legal basis. While he vowed to keep fighting for the original order in court, he indicated that he would not wait for the process to play out to take action.
“We will win that battle,” he told reporters on Air Force One on Friday as he flew to Florida for a weekend golf outing with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan. Yet noting that it likely would not happen quickly, he also raised the possibility of “a lot of other options, including just filing a brand new order.”
Asked if he would do that, Mr Trump said: “We need speed for reasons of security, so it very well could be.”
The president’s pivot represented a short-term tactical retreat even as he insisted that he would prevail in the long run. The battle over his order, which suspended refugee flows and temporarily banned visitors from seven Muslim-majority countries, has come to define Mr Trump’s young presidency at home and abroad, and has tested his capacity to impose his will on a political and legal system that he has vowed to master but that has resisted his demands.
Mr Trump typically prefers a fight, but drafting a new travel order would acknowledge that sometimes a president must find other ways to proceed.
Asked to describe what he had in mind for a new executive order, he said: “We’re going to have very, very strong vetting. I call it extreme vetting, and we’re going very strong on security. We are going to have people coming to our country that want to be here for good reason.”
White House officials denied news reports that the president would not appeal the case to the Supreme Court. “All options remain on the table,” Mr Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, said by e-mail late Friday.
A new version of the executive order would amount to a tacit admission that the administration would not be able to quickly or easily overturn the decision issued on Thursday by a panel of the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals. Even some conservative lawyers allied with the White House said there was little chance of prevailing right away with the Supreme Court, which is divided along ideological lines with a seat vacant.
Emboldened by the appeals court, Democrats attacked Mr Trump for trying to subvert US values.
“I promise you, we will fight back,” Representative Joseph Crowley of New York, chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, said in his party’s weekly radio and internet address. “We will resist. We will resist on behalf of what is American. And we will resist on behalf of the immigrants who came here in the past and who will come here in the future.”
Mr Trump has other ways to soldier on. The 9th Circuit decision left in place a temporary restraining order blocking the travel order, but did not rule on the underlying constitutional or legal issues of the case. The president could ask the full 9th Circuit to hear an appeal on the restraining order, or he could return to the lower courts for a battle over the merits, which would take longer to conclude.
The administration was still fighting battles in other courts across the nation. Lawyers for the Justice Department were back in court in Alexandria, Virginia, outside the nation’s capital, arguing against a preliminary injunction that would halt the travel ban from being enforced nationwide.
Given multiple challenges, the idea of starting over appealed to the White House.
White House officials could draft a new order that would address some of the concerns raised by the judges. A new order, for instance, could explicitly state that it did not apply to permanent legal residents holding green cards. After some initial crossed signals, the White House and Department of Homeland Security have said Mr Trump’s original ban does not affect green card holders, but the appeals court judges pointed out that was not in the text of the order.
The White House could also narrow the categories of people affected, or change the list of countries targeted. And it could take out provisions intended to give preference to religious minorities, who in Muslim countries would refer to Christians, among others. Mr Trump said in a television interview that he wanted to give preference to Christian refugees, but the judges expressed concern about a religious rule that could be discriminatory.
Mr Trump also has argued that the restrictions were necessary to stop terrorists from entering the United States, citing attacks in Europe over the last year. As the US has struggled with terrorism in the years since Sept 11, 2001, no one has been killed in a terrorist attack on US soil by anyone from one of those seven countries – a point noted by the judges – although some would-be attackers from them have been thwarted. The White House could try to offer a stronger rationale for why a temporary ban would stop terrorism.
In his own weekly address, Mr Trump told Americans he was “committed to your security” and would not be deterred by criticism of his order.
“We will not allow our generous system of immigration to be turned against us as a tool for terrorism and truly bad people,” he said.