Kelly’s visit to Capitol Hill leaves lawmakers with questions

Kelly’s visit to Capitol Hill leaves lawmakers with questions

Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly speaks at a news conference at the U.S. Customs and Border Protection headquarters in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2017, to discuss the operational implementation of the president’s executive orders. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly came to Capitol Hill on Tuesday afternoon and admitted things could have gone more smoothly when it came to the rollout this weekend  of President Trump’s travel ban.

But he said speed was a priority when it came to the executive order, which temporarily bars refugees and other travelers from seven majority-Muslim nations from entering the United States.

Lawmakers described a rapid-fire meeting in which they peppered the newly-appointed secretary with questions, but getting answers that were neither terribly detailed nor substantive.

“Candidly, this briefing leaves me with a lot more questions than even when I went in,” said Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), ranking member on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.

Warner complained that parts of Kelly’s “characterization of what is taking place” were “completely divorced from the facts.”

Kelly’s visit to the Hill came after lawmakers — Republicans and Democrats — lashed out at the Trump administration for failing to give them a heads up about the order and implementing it in what many of them said was slipshod and hasty fashion.

Several lawmakers at the meeting said that though Kelly acknowledged past errors, he indicated the administration was done tweaking the order’s scope. He told members that going forward, green card-holders would largely be exempt from the restrictions, though they would still have to go through a special process upon returning to the United States.

“From their perspective, they have it where they want it to be,” Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee told reporters following the meeting. “From their perspective, they did what they wished to.”

Related: Angry Republicans lash out at Trump for not consulting them on travel ban

Kelly himself said he had some lead time before the order was issued, but it was unclear if he was aware of the details.

“He did give the impression that people at DHS had an awareness of it happening — that it was being driven largely from the staff level and primarily at the White House,” said Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), the ranking member on the Senate’s Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee, emerging from the meeting.

“It was pretty clear that the president wanted this executive order put in place, and he wanted it immediately and it’s not going anywhere,” McCaskill added.

Kelly promised lawmakers that the administration would be in better touch with Congress, and work with it to help constituents caught up in the havoc of deportations over the weekend, according to lawmakers at the meeting.

“The lack of guidance created confusion, and if you’re going to do an executive order you need to have the guidance to go with it before you put it in the field,” said House Homeland Security Committee ranking member Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) “The guidance should be standardized and not subject to interpretation of the person in the field.”


Karoun Demirjian covers defense and foreign policy and was previously a correspondent based in the Post’s bureau in Moscow, Russia.

Elise Viebeck is a national enterprise reporter for The Washington Post.

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