Congressional Republicans are frustrated at having been cut out of the loop on Trump’s controversial refugee ban—even revealing that the State Department has been gagged from giving them new information.
The White House appeared to withdraw inside itself from the legislative branch on Monday—jeopardizing future deals with Congress by excluding them from consultation. In this case, not only did the White House fail to consult with any of its own agencies before issuing a refugee ban, but it now seems insistent on not being answerable even to elected lawmakers.
The State Department has been ordered not to talk to Congress about the executive order, said Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, whose state of Florida is a major international transportation hub for cruise ships and airline flights.
“We’ve reached out to State Department and we’ve been told the directive was that they’re not supposed to share any information today,” Rubio said Monday evening. “And I suppose it’s because… they are not clear what to tell us yet, but that cannot be a permanent position.”
Rubio had requested a briefing seeking answers to specific questions, and was told this could not be provided today, a Rubio aide said. The State Department later sent a general FAQ document to the senator’s office.
Confusion has been a dominant theme ever since Trump signed a presidential order Friday afternoon, which halted the American refugee program and temporarily prevented citizens of seven majority-Muslim countries from entering the United States.
The Trump administration has given differing responses to whether the order affected green card holders or Iraqi translators who were approved to enter the United States because they were in danger for working with the U.S. military.
The news, which occurred with little warning, left lawmakers flat-footed and struggling to explain how the order works to their voters—and nothing irks Congress more than irritated, confused constituents.
Republicans on Capitol Hill grumbled privately that it is far more difficult to defend a policy they weren’t informed about before it was issued, and that their expertise may have helped avoid some of the legal landmines that the presidential order faces.
“My view is that it should have been vetted by the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of State, the Department of Defense, and all of the affected agencies—then all of the obvious problems with it could have been identified,” added GOP Sen. Susan Collins.
Sen. Bob Corker is the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee who supported Trump during the campaign—and yet he still doesn’t fully understand it, three days after the presidential order was signed.
“We’re working with the administration to more fully understand what it actually means,” Corker said. Corker told The Daily Beast that his committee did not work with the Trump White House in any way to prepare the order.
And it’s not just Corker and his committee who have been cut out.
The House Homeland Security Committee, which handles immigration issues, was not consulted before the order was signed, one congressional aide confirmed; and Sen. Claire McCaskill, the top Democrat on the Senate Homeland Security Committee, told The Daily Beast that her committee wasn’t consulted either.
“It makes it a lot harder,” McCaskill said, for the Trump administration to try to get support on Capitol Hill if they don’t work with congressional committees or give a heads-up to lawmakers before making dramatic changes to the nation’s policies.
But even as Congress feels shut out for the Trump administration’s plans, its committees are gearing up to hold hearings to examine these policies.
“There’s no doubt there’s going to be multiple committees here that will want to know about the policy. And, more importantly, what they plan to do during the moratorium in terms of establishing the vetting criteria,” Rubio said. “We have more questions than we have answers, and I hope it’s going to change here.”