President Donald Trump’s abrupt order on immigration and the resulting chaos and protests from many quarters have put Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in a bind, no doubt about it.
The awkwardness of McConnell’s situation is painfully evident in his public attempt to simultaneously straddle as many positions as possible.
McConnell’s office referred reporters to his Sunday appearance on ABC‘s “This Week” in which he voiced support for Trump’s desire to “tighten the vetting process” while also putting some distance between himself and Trump. McConnell said that “some of our best allies in the war against Islamic terrorism are Muslims,” that he opposes any religious test and that he was “obviously” against the exclusion and detention at airports of Iraqis who had helped the U.S. in Iraq.
But, try as she might, correspondent Martha Raddatz could not get a clear answer from McConnell on whether he supports Trump’s executive order.
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It even seemed to slip McConnell’s mind that he serves as a leader of one of the three branches of government. Twice he said the courts would determine if Trump’s order went too far — as if Congress is a mere disinterested bystander.
Certainly, Trump disrespected Congress as well as the relevant executive branch agencies by failing to consult them before issuing a poorly vetted order that caught international travelers in the air while putting this country’s refugee program on temporary hold, indefinitely halting refugees from war-torn Syria and banning citizens from seven predominantly-Muslim countries from entering the U.S..
Sen. Bob Corker, a Republican from Tennessee and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, is someone a Republican administration might chat with before issuing an order so disruptive to this country’s relations with the rest of the world. But Corker told reporters on Monday that he had learned of Trump’s order from reporters. “Thank you for that,” Corker told the press corps.
Trump’s people have yet to say how they plan to change the vetting process for foreign nationals entering this country.
McConnell must hold together a caucus fractured by Trump’s ascendancy, which inhibits him from speaking as bluntly as some of his Republican colleagues, including Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham who predicted that Trump’s order will “become a self-inflicted wound in the fight against terrorism.”
Trump’s action invites other countries to mistreat U.S. citizens, including U.S. military personnel. It shames our nation of immigrants. That shame was eased by the many spontaneous protests and shows of support for immigrants at airports and cities, including Louisville.
Kentucky’s McConnell is a bit like the dog who catches the car. In possession of the political power he’s long sought, McConnell may find that what’s demanded of real leaders in the Trump era is less slippery rhetoric and more clarity, both moral and constitutional clarity.