Tensions flare at House session as Dems take aim at Trump travel ban

Democrats took the first step to repeal President Trump’s expanding travel bans Wednesday at a House Judiciary Committee session that devolved into a debate on whether the restrictions amount to a Muslim ban and whether it’s OK to call Trump “occasionally honest.”

In a sometimes-testy committee markup, Democrats passed the “No Ban Act” to repeal Trump’s bans that apply to foreign nationals from seven countries – with an additional six countries on deck later this month.

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While the measure is unlikely to advance in the GOP-controlled Senate, Democrats panned the restrictions as a cruel Muslim ban that has torn thousands of families apart needlessly, while Republicans blasted the repeal as Democrats’ latest attempt to undercut Trump.

“This has nothing to do with religion. This has to do with securing our country,” said Rep. Debbie Lesko, R-Ariz., taking on Democrats for calling it a Muslim ban. “…If it really was, as you call it, a Muslim ban, why wouldn’t Indonesia be on this ban? I mean they have a lot of Muslims. This is just inaccurate. You are just spreading this falsity.”

But Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., said you have to look no further than Trump’s intentions when, during his 2016 campaign, he called for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.”

“How do we know [it’s a Muslim ban]? We know because the president, who is occasionally honest, told us so!” Nadler said.

Nadler’s comment sparked fury among the GOP. The top Republican on the committee, Rep. Doug Collins, then called Nadler “occasionally honest” several times and lamented that impeachment dragged the committee down a road lacking rules and civility.

Rep. Ken Buck, R-Colo., eventually asked for Nadler’s dig at Trump to be taken down.

Nadler said the “occasionally honest” line didn’t violate rules on decorum, was an exercise of his free speech and was “accurate.” Nonetheless, debate on the No Ban Act took a pause when the full Judiciary Committee took a vote on whether Nadler’s comments should be retracted. The effort failed and Nadler’s comments stood.

After Wednesday’s party-line passage out of the Judiciary Committee, the No Ban Act heads to a full vote in the House in the coming weeks. A similar bill has been introduced in the Senate, but passage there seems less likely with Republicans in control of the upper chamber.

State Department figures show that nearly 80,000 people have applied for entry into the United States from the banned countries between Dec. 8, 2017, and Dec. 31, 2019, and a little under 18,000 were granted a waiver to the travel ban and allowed visas to enter the U.S.

Republicans argued Trump is trying to keep Americans safe and rejected the label of a Muslim ban.

“There are 50 predominantly Muslim countries around the world and 45 are not subject to restrictions,” Buck said. “Afghanistan is not. Turkey is not. Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Indonesia and Egypt are not.

“What is this policy really about? Making sure we can sufficiently verify every individual who wants to enter the U.S. is not a criminal or terrorist,” Buck added.

The ban has been subjected to various challenges and has been revised several times. It’s currently subject to ongoing litigation.

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“It has been responsible for keeping families separated for now over three years,” said Madihha Ahussain, special counsel for anti-Muslim bigotry at Muslim Advocates, a group that has been challenging the ban. “We have students that have been unable to get back to their universities. We have people who have been unable to get urgent medical care. There’s been religious scholars or religious teachers that have been unable to come to the United States for teaching purposes. There’s a number of ways in which the policy has kept people from entering the country, simply because of their faith.”

Rep. Max Rose, D-N.Y., has been a vocal opponent of the travel bans. The issue has become personal to Rose, who has been hearing the “painful” stories from Yemini families in his district who have loved ones unable to escape the humanitarian crisis in Yemen.

“People cannot live in Yemen any longer due to this crisis. And when they’re forced to leave, they will … naturally turn to where their family lives overseas, which is in my district,” Rose said of his Brooklyn/Staten Island seat.  “And because … of the Muslim ban, they are unable to reunite and they have nowhere else to go.”

Rose has helped 22 people secure waivers to enter the country and reunite with their families. In his work on waivers he’s obtained government data showing that less than 0.1 percent of the stated reasons for visa denials have to do with national security reasons, Rose said.

“There’s no national security justification for this,” Rose said.

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He added: “This is a failed policy. And as quickly as possible, we have to do everything in our power to change it. So I’m proud that that’s what’s happening.”

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