WASHINGTON ― As part of their continued push against President Donald Trump’s executive order on refugees and foreign nationals, House Democrats held a forum Thursday with national security experts, affected immigrants and prominent Gold Star father Khizr Khan so that roughly two-dozen Democrats could further argue that Trump’s order is unconstitutional, inhumane and jeopardizes American safety.
Assembled in a Capitol Visitors Center room, Democrats conducted the faux hearing with Judiciary ranking member John Conyers (D-Mich.) acting as chairman and other top Democrats ― including Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (d-Calif.), Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and Democratic Caucus Chairman Joe Crowley (D-N.Y.) ― by his side.
Pelosi began by noting that members take an oath of office to protect and defend the Constitution. “In both cases, the Trump administration has violated that oath of office,” Pelosi said. “What they are doing is not only unconstitutional, it makes us less safe.”
Democrats are not giving up on their humanitarian argument, nor the claim that Trump’s executive order is unconstitutional. In fact, one of the witnesses, Andre Segura, a senior staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, forcefully argued that the religious preferences the executive order establishes violate the First Amendment and the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment. But Democrats do seem to have found their new favorite talking point against the measure ― that it is “strategically incoherent.”
Time and again, Democrats hammered the administration for issuing an executive order that, they said, would damage national security.
Hoyer argued this action could be “the tipping point” for individuals “teetering on the edge of radicalization.”
“Instead of making us safer, this ban will aid ISIS, both materially and as a potent recruitment tool,” he said.
Pelosi was particularly harsh on the Trump administration, not just for the executive order, but also for putting senior adviser Steve Bannon on the National Security Council.
“They’re taking actions like putting a white supremacist on the National Security Council, and saying to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Director of National Intelligence, ‘We’ll call you if and when we need you, but you’re no longer a permanent member.’ How does that make America more safe?” Pelosi asked. “National security by [a] white supremacist.”
Other Democrats did focus on an anti-American spirit to Trump’s executive order. Rep. Donald Payne Jr. (D-N.J.) said the forefathers of America would be rolling in their graves, and he read part of the inscription on the Statue of Liberty asking for your “tired, your poor, your huddled masses.”
“Are we supposed to take that off the Statue of Liberty now?” Payne asked. “Is this country closed to certain religious groups?”
But the security argument was the direction that Democrats seemed to be headed toward. And the national security experts on the panel were happy to back up the conclusion of Democrats that Trump’s executive order harmed our national interests.
One former assistant secretary of state, Thomas Countryman, said the United States had led a multinational effort to push back against an ISIS social media campaign that relies heavily on the notion that the West is an enemy of Islam. “This action has helped to reinforce that propaganda as a recruiting tool,” he said.
Countryman also claimed the order had damaged our relationship with key allies in Europe and the Middle East, making it harder for them to cooperate with the United States, and he expressed concern that the language was written without the input of agency experts or consultation. “If this is a precedent for how foreign policy will be conducted in this administration,” Countryman said, “you should be worried.”
The other national security expert on the panel, Michael Breen, the president and CEO of the Truman National Security Project and an Army veteran, focused on how Trump was going after the wrong things, claiming that for a terrorist trying to reach U.S. soil, the refugee resettlement program was “the worst option by miles.”
First, Breen said, you would have to go to an embattled country, then you would have to register with the U.N. as a refugee ― roughly 1 percent of whom get referred to the refugee resettlement program ― then you would somehow have to be lucky enough to be sent to the United States, then you’d have to complete an 18-step vetting process that takes about two years, which is more stringent, he claimed, than the background check for a security clearance.
Breen said if you were on a plane with a refugee, that refugee is “the single safest person on your flight.”
But it was Khan who was the main draw for most of the Democrats in attendance. Khan, who is an immigration lawyer, didn’t focus on the legal implications, or the humanitarian or security angle. He was there to make a political pitch.
“The only solution to these atrocities is to gain control of the Congress,” Khan said. “That is where lies the solution.”
He continued that he would become a mouthpiece for Democrats and try to help them win back the House and Senate.
“I will walk barefoot to every district that you will send me,” he said. “People are ready.”