Trump Defends Travel Ban, Supports NATO

Trump Defends Travel Ban, Supports NATO
James Borchuck/Tampa Bay Times via AP
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President Trump defended his immigration order to temporarily bar travelers from seven Muslim-majority countries Monday, describing his efforts to tighten up the system to identify visitors who seek “to destroy us, and destroy our country.”

Greeted with robust applause by a predominantly military audience at Tampa’s MacDill Air Force Base, home of the U. S. Central Command, the president dropped his oft-used term “extreme vetting” at a time when his authority to impose a travel ban has been temporarily reversed and remains under legal scrutiny in the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Attorneys representing Washington state, Minnesota and Hawaii argued Monday the president's order creates “chaos,” and a group of former secretaries of state and national security officials told the court the president’s order serves to bolster ISIS propaganda and recruitment by suggesting America is at war against all Muslims.

“You've been seeing what's been going on over the last few days,” Trump said without mentioning the legal challenge directly. “We need strong programs so that people that love us and want to love our country and will end up loving our country are allowed in.”

The president warned terrorists and their would-be adherents that his administration seeks to defeat Islamic State fighters operating in Iraq and Syria, and inside the United States, although critics have noted that no American since 9/11 has been killed in the homeland by travelers or refugees from Iran, Iraq, Syria, Somalia, Sudan, Libya or Yemen – the countries to which Trump’s ban applied. 

Monday evening, the Justice Department asked a federal appeals court to reinstate President Trump’s travel ban, aruguing immediate action is needed to ensure the country's safety.  A hearing was scheduled for Tuesday.

The president, in office less than three weeks, has tweeted multiple objections to the early clash between the executive and judicial branches. He wrote: “Just cannot believe a judge would put our country in such peril. If something happens blame him and court system. People pouring in. Bad!”

In his 12-minute CENTCOM speech, delivered after a weekend at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Trump stressed that “today we deliver a message in one very unified voice to these forces of death and destruction: America and its allies will defeat you. We will defeat them. We will defeat radical Islamic terrorism. And we will not allow it to take root in our country. Not going to allow it."

The commander-in-chief said the United States and its coalition partners are “prepared to fight,” even as Americans “pray for peace.”

He also suggested that terror attacks perpetrated by citizens from the countries he barred from travel to the U.S. were never reported by the news media. White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said there were “several instances” to support that claim, adding, “We’ll provide a list later.” He offered no examples.

Referencing George Washington and Ronald Reagan, Trump repeated his campaign vow to persuade “our allies to pay their fair share” of NATO defense costs, which be believes are disproportionately shouldered by the United States. “Been very unfair to us,” he said.

The president is expected to attend a NATO meeting in Europe in late May and the subject of shared responsibility has continued to be raised in his conversations with other heads of state.

Trump’s campaign threat to retreat from U.S. commitments to NATO unless allies pay up has not been entirely clarified since his inauguration.

“We strongly support NATO,” he said in Tampa before returning to the White House. “We only ask that all of the NATO members make their full and proper financial contributions to the NATO Alliance, which many of them have not been doing. Many of them have not been even close. And they have to do that.”

The United States foots the bill for about 22 percent of the 28-nation North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s spending, according to NATO.

Trump spoke by phone Sunday with the alliance’s secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg, referring in a subsequent written statement to America’s “strong support” for NATO. The two leaders discussed “how to encourage all NATO allies to meet their defense spending commitments,” the White House said. They also discussed “the potential for a peaceful resolution of the conflict along the Ukrainian border,” although the statement did not mention that Moscow helped trigger the conflict beginning in 2014.

Stoltenberg recently repeated NATO’s call to the government of President Vladimir Putin to use its “considerable influence” to end the violence in Ukraine, which has been supported by Russian-backed rebels. Nearly 10,000 people – more than half of them civilians – have been killed in the bloody conflict, according to United Nations statistics.

Trump, who aspires to a mutually supportive relationship with Putin and Russia, stirred controversy during a pre-Super Bowl interview with Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly when the host called the Russian leader “a killer.”

Trump did not challenge O’Reilly’s assessment, but replied, “There are a lot of killers. We’ve got a lot of killers. What, you think our country’s so innocent? You think our country’s so innocent?”

His remarks sparked an outcry among Democrats in Congress and several notable Republicans, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who told CNN, “I don’t think there’s any equivalency to the way the Russians conduct themselves and the way the United States does.”

Alexis Simendinger covers the White House for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at asimendinger@realclearpolitics.com.  Follow her on Twitter @ASimendinger.

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