Donald Trump undermines his lawyers’ case for the travel ban

A quartet of intemperate tweets could sink the president’s efforts to ban travel from six Muslim-majority nations

Mr Trump’s advocates—highly skilled, hard-working lawyers at the Department of Justice—have been striving to explain to federal judges across the land why the president’s unprecedented effort to ban travel from six Muslim-majority nations is not the so-called Muslim ban he called for in December 2015, or even a “ban” at all. They’ve resorted to redundancy for emphasis: it’s not just a “pause”, but a “temporary pause” on travel from these countries. And it is rooted not in bias or animosity against Muslims but in the sober calculation of multiple executive agencies that vetting procedures of travellers from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen need to be re-evaluated for the sake of national security.

In the course of a few minutes, the president subverted this case point by point. First, using upper case letters and an exclamation point for emphasis, Mr Trump clarified how the order should be understood: “People, the lawyers and the courts can call it whatever they want, but I am calling it what we need and what it is, a TRAVEL BAN!” This suggests Mr Trump would not be satisfied with merely reviewing vetting procedures; he wants to keep people from certain places out of the country, full stop. And by preferring “ban” to “pause”, he is indicating the 90-day prohibition may be a prelude to a more enduring change in policy.

Second, Mr Trump harked back to his original order from January 27th, a haphazardly crafted document that applied to America’s lawful permanent residents and caused chaos at American airports by effectively rescinding visas from incoming travellers at 35,000 feet. “The Justice Dept. should have stayed with the original Travel Ban”, Mr Trump tweeted, “not the watered down, politically correct version they submitted” to the Supreme Court.

 This is a truly odd series of sentiments. Lawyers in the Justice Department serve at the president’s pleasure and carry out his policies. If Mr Trump wanted to stick with his first order banning travel, he could have directed the attorney-general to make that happen; his tweet makes it sound as if his own department went rogue.
.. As Corey Brettschneider, a political scientist at Brown University, observes, admitting that the first ban was not politically correct implies that both it and the second order unconstitutionally target Muslims, even if animus in the latter is slightly better cloaked: “No one thinks that targeting countries that posed an actual threat would be politically incorrect”.
.. But there is no sense in which the administration lawyers could seek a “much tougher version” of the travel ban from the Supreme Court; the judiciary does not make policy.
.. “In any event we are EXTREME VETTING people coming into the U.S. in order to help keep our country safe. The courts are slow and political!” But this tweet pulls the rug out from the administration’s stated purpose behind the executive order. Extreme vetting, the president reports, is already happening, without the travel ban in place. If the travel ban—or pause, or “temporary pause”—is only necessary to permit the administration to undertake a review of vetting standards, it suddenly has no justification at all.