WASHINGTON: A defiant President Donald Trump lashed out at protesters, lawmakers and even Delta Airlines as he struggled to defuse a mounting backlash over his ban on immigrants from seven Muslim-majority nations.
After a weekend of chaos at airports, mass protests and diplomatic outcries, criticism of Trump’s proposal even came from Barack Obama, who broke his silence for the first time since leaving office.
“President Obama is heartened by the level of engagement taking place in communities around the country,” Obama spokesman Kevin Lewis said.
“Citizens exercising their constitutional right to assemble, organize and have their voices heard by their elected officials is exactly what we expect to see when American values are at stake.”
Obama’s foray back into politics will only add to the White House’s sense of besiegement. For much of the last 48 hours, the embattled Republican president has been on the defensive.
“We actually had a very good day yesterday in terms of homeland security,” Trump insisted as he met with small business leaders early Monday.
In remarks at the White House and on Twitter, Trump variously tried to play down the impact of the order he signed Friday and defended the White House’s decision not to give advance warning to border guards, diplomats and travelers.
The new president also moved up a decision on his pick of Supreme Court justice to Tuesday — two days earlier than planned — as he sought to change the topic.
“Only 109 people out of 325,000 were detained and held for questioning. Big problems at airports were caused by Delta computer outage,” Trump claimed.
The order — which affects nationals from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen — caused confusion among US officials and led to at least four federal court injunctions.
“If the ban were announced with a one week notice, the ‘bad’ would rush into our country during that week. A lot of bad ‘dudes’ out there!” Trump claimed.
‘I’m stuck here’
Eltirmizy Mohamed, a 34-year-old Sudanese doctor, was traveling back to the United States when the order was rolled out.
After three years training at the Atlanta Medical Center, he was returning to Georgia to take up a full-time post, but was stopped while trying to catch a connecting flight in Qatar.
“I have served many homeless and poor Americans,” he told AFP in Khartoum. “My plans were to work in a rural area of Georgia where there are many such Americans in need of a doctor. But now I’m stuck here.”
Trump, a property tycoon who has never previously held elected office, sees the ban as making good on a promise to subject travelers from Muslim-majority countries to “extreme vetting.”
Around 48 percent of Americans support a freeze on immigration from “terror prone” regions, even if it means turning refugees away, according to a Quinnipiac poll released Monday.
Counterterrorism experts warn that the ban could make essential cooperation with governments in Muslim-majority countries more difficult, while doing little to prevent attacks.
Iraq’s parliament backed reciprocal restrictions if Washington does not change course.
“I think the order is going to make the threat worse” said former CIA acting director Mike Morell, who has been an outspoken critic of Trump.
“It’s going to be a recruitment boon for ISIS,” he said, referring to the Islamic State group.
Moral outrage over the ban has been amplified by criticism of the White House’s competency — a potentially much more damaging charge for Trump’s reputation as CEO-in-chief.
Firms from Goldman Sachs to Google voiced their concern and the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell almost one percent — below the 20,000-point threshold lauded by the president just days ago.
“This is not a policy we support,” Goldman CEO Lloyd Blankfein told staff. “If the order were to become or remain effective, I recognize that there is potential for disruption to the firm, and especially to some of our people and their families.”
Google also warned of the impact on staff and the potential to create “barriers to bringing great talent to the US.”
“We’ll continue to make our views on these issues known to leaders in Washington and elsewhere,” the firm said in a statement.
Starbucks said it planned to hire 10,000 refugees worldwide over the next five years, while Airbnb said it would offer free accommodation “to refugees and anyone not allowed in the US.”
Although the White House put on a united front in public, behind the scenes, Trump’s allies were quick to point blame toward influential aide Stephen Miller.
Miller — the author of many of Trump’s biggest speeches — is considered a hardliner on immigration and is said to have supported the ban including green card holders and dual nationals.
Those provisions now look set to feature prominently in a case that could make it all the way to the Supreme Court. AFP