Few Republicans in Congress are willing to rock the boat over Donald Trump's immigration policy

Many elected Republicans - particularly those up for election in the House in less than two years - want to line up behind a winner despite the immigration clampdown

Rupert Cornwell
Washington DC
Monday 30 January 2017 18:57 GMT
A good chunk of Congressional Republicans agree with Mr Trump's White House order
A good chunk of Congressional Republicans agree with Mr Trump's White House order (Carlos Barria/Reuters)

A few have stuck their heads above the parapet. But don’t hold your breath. Despite some criticism from influential Senate Republicans, the party that Donald Trump hijacked on his way to the White House will for the most part quietly go along with the president’s refugee policy that has created uproar in liberal America and around the world.

The most visible Republican dissenters are the usual suspects: Senator John McCain of Arizona and his companion in arms, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. For them at least, it was a matter of principle: that the order issued on Friday night (and on Holocaust Remembrance Day of all days) was against both the tenets upon which American was founded, and might well be counterproductive, “a self inflicted wound in the fight against terrorism.”

For the rest however, it was anything but a display of profiles in courage. The widespread unease in Republican ranks at what is happening, at the damage being done to the country’s global reputation, is palpable. But the criticism is being voiced not at the substance of what has been done, but at the way it was done.

Take Bob Corker, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who said he supported the need for tighter screening, but that the order had been “poorly implemented.”

Which, to be fair, is putting it mildly. The planning was a shambles: it is unclear whether key government agencies involved, like the State and Homeland Security departments, were even informed beforehand, let alone properly consulted – as testified by the confusion over whether legal permanent US residents from the seven countries on the hit list, would be affected by the provisions.

But that’s as far as most Republicans on Capitol Hill will go. And the most important ones of all, not even that far. Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell adopted his usual tactics on Trump-related controversies, i.e of saying next to nothing at all. Meanwhile House Speaker Paul Ryan – who condemned candidate Trump’s talk of bans on Muslim immigrants during the campaign – declared his explicit support for the measures immediately after they were announced, and has stuck to that position since.

One difference of course is that Mr Trump is no longer a candidate (whom most Congressional Republicans never expected to win the general election), but president. Everyone wants to line up behind a winner.

That though is not the only reason. A good chunk of Congressional Republicans agree with the White House order. And even those that don’t agree need the vote of Trump supporters to win re-election (in the case of House Republicans less than two years from now).

And whatever the outcry in the liberal citadels along the coasts. Trump voters in the heartlands and the rust belt states that gave him victory presumably are delighted by the anti-refugee clampdown. After all Mr Trump is doing no more than what he promised on the campaign trail. For most elected Republicans, therefore, discretion is the better part of valour.

Protests across American airports in response to Trump's immigration ban

As for Mr Ryan, he has further reason not to rock the boat. He and Mr Trump had an uneasy relationship during the campaign. But since, a tacit bargain appears to have emerged – or so at least the Speaker hopes.

Ideologically the pair are poles apart: Mr Ryan is a traditional conservative, while Mr Trump is a populist and in some respects no conservative of all. But this is a rare moment, when Republicans control both the White House and Congress in its entirety, and Mr Ryan has a chance to push through the conservative agenda he’s been dreaming of for years: tax cuts and changes in the tax code, the rollback of Obamacare, and radical changes to the major entitlement programmes of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. Why imperil the presidential signature on such legislation by causing problems on refugee policy?

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