President Donald Trump pauses before signing an executive order about regulatory reform in the Oval Office of the White House February 24, 2017 in Washington, DC.
In his address to Congress last night, Donald Trump declared, “We cannot allow a beachhead of terrorism to form inside of America. We cannot allow our nation to become a sanctuary for extremists. That is why my administration has been working on improved vetting procedures, and we will shortly take new steps to keep our nation safe and to keep those out who will do us harm.”
The president was, of course, referring to his controversial Muslim ban, which has already failed in the courts, and which the administration intends to replace. Ahead of Trump’s speech, White House officials indicated that the new-and-improved policy would be unveiled today.
The unveiling has apparently been delayed. The Wall Street Journal reported today that the revised executive order will be signed “soon.”
Mr. Trump had been scheduled to sign the new order Wednesday, multiple officials said, but the event was postponed. It was unclear why the timing was changed but one person familiar with the planning said the White House was concerned about competing with messages from Tuesday night’s address to Congress.
A senior administration official told CNN said the decision to delay the new policy came late last night in response to positive reviews to Trump’s speech. The report added:
Signing the executive order Wednesday, as originally indicated by the White House, would have undercut the favorable coverage. The official didn’t deny the positive reception was part of the administration’s calculus in pushing back the travel ban announcement.
“We want the (executive order) to have its own ‘moment,’” the official said.
Politically, all of this sounds quite rational. Pundits are gushing over Trump exceeding low expectations, and releasing the new ban today would shift the coverage in a contentious way. It’s Public Relations 101: if you like how the conversation is going, don’t change the subject.
But let’s take a moment to acknowledge the brazenness with which the White House is playing politics with national security.
There’s no point in being naïve about the circumstances. Delaying the rollout of the new Muslim ban so as to not interrupt positive coverage of Trump’s speech is smart insofar as media strategies go, but the president and his team spent quite a bit of time telling us we’re all in great peril – which is precisely why we were supposed to believe the administration’s ban is vitally necessary to our national security.
A Democratic source today flagged this quote, for example, from Stephen Miller, who told Fox News in late January, “I think from a standpoint of national security, the most important thing was to roll out the order quickly and immediately.” The same day, Sean Spicer told MSNBC, “[T]here was a very short period time in which we had something execute that ensured that the people of the United States were safe…. What happened if we didn’t act and somebody was killed?”
A day earlier, Reince Priebus told CBS even a small delay in announcing the Muslim ban would have been dangerous, because terrorists “would just move up their travel plans.”
A week later, the president himself responded to court defeats by saying judges, through their rulings striking down his policy, have “put our country in such peril,” and “many very bad and dangerous people may be pouring into our country.” After all, Trump added, “The security of our nation is at stake.”
White House officials suddenly aren’t in a rush anymore. I wonder why that is.
The Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Intelligence and Analysis prepared a report for he White House last week that said the proposed ban isn’t necessary for national security. It appears Trump and his team are subtly acknowledging that they agree, whether they’re prepared to admit it or not.